Tag Archives: Paper Girls

1950s computers, 1980s papergirls and modern voyeurism: movies and TV

In hindsight it would have been interesting to discuss GOG (1954) in the section of Aliens Are Here dealing with 1971’s The Andromeda Strain.

Like the later movie, Gog is a film about science and scientific research; where the Crichton adaptation makes scientific drudgery fascinating, Gog is plodding, talky and dull. That’s partly because where Andromeda Strain is tense — can we stop a xenobacteria from causing a pandemic? — the research scenes in Gog have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie.The plot centers on a series of mysterious deaths in a lab working on space research, including plans for an orbiting solar mirror that could destroy any target on Earth, so clearly our satellite has to get up before any foreign power tries it (the kind of thinking The Space Children later warned against). The mysterious saboteur could prevent that.

Dull as it is, Gog does have a couple of interesting elements. Gog and Magog are the screen’s first non-humanoid robots; the foreign power’s interference with the base’s central computer amounts to an early example of hacking. That’s not enough to redeem it though. Not a maniac, Dr. Burton — we have on our staff a cold, calculating killer.”

If you read this blog regularly you know I’m a big fan of the Brian K. Vaughn/Cliff Chiang Paper Girls comics series so no surprise I watched the Amazon Prime adaptation. PAPER GIRLS is  fun with its story of four kids suddenly caught up in a time war, though I think the originals are so cinematic the various changes to the original storyline were pointless. The best change is giving us a look at adult KJ, which somehow never happened in the comics. The most understandable is that while Mac handles cigarettes a lot, she doesn’t smoke any.

The changes I like least are number one, the lack of all the neat 1980s period references. Number two, the girls in the comics are acting on their own; here they’re constantly led around by one adult authority figure or another. That feels very unsatisfying, as if someone got cold feet about the kids trying to survive on their own in such a nightmare situation. In any case it’s been canceled, though I’ve no idea if the flaws I found are tied to that. “You just told me I’m adopted and you really think I want to listen to Whitney Houston?”

THE RENTAL (2020) is a clunky horror story in which two couples spend the weekend at an isolated coastal vacation house with suspiciously cheap rates — would you believe this turns out as disastrous as seeking refuge from thunderstorms in isolated castles? However it’s very oddly structured, starting off as personal drama (did the homeowner refuse to rent to a Muslim because he’s a racist? Will two of the quartet hooking up with the wrong person ruin everything?), shifting into Voyeur of Doom territory (the entire house is wired with hidden cameras!) then has the Voyeur turn into a Masked Slasher who kills them all. Thumbs down. “I’m not saying we can’t get away with it — I’m saying I don’t want to get away with it.”

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Chiang, all rights to images remain with current holders.


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Paper Girls: Farewell to the Four

I finished the Brian K. Vaughn/Cliff Chiang Paper Girls a year or so back, but never got around to reviewing the final volume. Eventually I figured I’d just reread the whole thing and roll it into an overall series review. That proved to be a good idea as I’d completely misinterpreted the last couple of issues the first time I read them.

The first volume opens Halloween morning 1988 in the suburb of Stony Brook when four paper girls meet during their rounds. Chain-smoking Mac is the tough one, the first girl to land a paperboy delivery job; Tiffany is a videogame junkie; KJ is into sports, but has a taste for science fiction; Erin is the newest papergirl in the neighborhood. This delivery route will be like no other because they encounter what appear to be aliens. Only why would an alien have equipment that has an Earth apple marked on it as a logo? It looks like what some of the girls have seen on computers in their school, but obviously you can’t have a computer small enough to hold in your hand.

It turns out the “aliens” are time travelers (it has a disfiguring effect if you travel too much) and before you know it the girls are bouncing across time along with them. It all takes place within Stony Brook, but ranging from the prehistoric past to the unimaginable future, from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century. Erin meets her future self in the second volume and discovers she’s a loser; Tiffany learns she grows up into an MBA drop-out turned club rat. Mac learns she’ll be dead of leukemia before she’s out of her teens. If you have any nostalgia, the series has a boatload of pop culture and political references, plus a recurring gag that their adult selves don’t remember everything perfectly (“I could have sworn we’d seen Freejack by ’88.”).

The girls encounter Quanta Braunstein, the inventor of time travel; Wari, a Paleolithic teen mother; and a comic-strip writer helping the time travelers change history. They have to, she explains: the 21st century is a dystopian nightmare of terrorists crashing planes into buildings, killers sending anthrax through the mail and cell phones addicting their users!The older generation, however, thinks tampering with time is a seriously bad idea. They’re out to stop the kids and the Paper Girls are caught in the middle. Plus they’ve got to deal with constant danger, treacherous clones, lesbian love and Mac’s looming death (they find a cure for leukemia, but it turns out she has the deadly time-travel wasting disease, which is incurable). I must admit I eventually lost track of how some of the plot threads in one era led into another, but the series stayed fun.

And then came the final volume. The girls have become scattered across time (Mac and Braunstein are on Earth watching the sun going nova), but eventually their future selves (or clones) bring them all together. They’ve brokered a truce in the war: no more time travel, no more attempts to change history, everything will be restored as close as possible to the original timeline. That includes wiping the minds of the four so that their future follows it’s predetermined path. The girls aren’t down with that: Erin and Kimberly don’t fancy their adult lives much, and none of the girls like that in the original timeline, they no longer hang out after ’88. However the adults inform them it’s for their own good and mind-wipe them anyway.

We return back to ’88, the morning after Halloween as the girls make one last ride together, more or less oblivious to their adventures in time. (Tiffany’s done her best to plant subconscious triggers to reboot their memories). As they approach a crossroads, a car that’s been tailing them suddenly cuts in front of the girls, forcing them to brake abruptly. Good thing, because if they’d gone through the intersection, a reckless driver would have hit and killed them. Instead, they’re alive and it’s just possible they’ll stay friends (though Mac’s still doomed, dammit); we see the driver was Wari, giving the girls a final Thank You.

I thought this ending was a cheat the first time I read it. Characters declaring “you can’t change the timeline,” then making a special exception for some reason always feels like a cheat to me, and I saw it more than a few times, when I worked on Now and Then We Time Travel. Rereading I realize the issue with preserving the timeline wasn’t keeping the time stream stable but simply a concession from the kids to the elders. Wari intervening might break the terms of the deal but it’s not going to destabilize the time stream.

That said, it still raises questions. We know the girls didn’t die in a crash that morning in the original timeline, so what changed? Was it the subconscious memory stimulus changing things slightly? Still, I found it much more satisfying than on first reading. Though Mac’s death still bites. But nevertheless I enthusiastically recommend the series.

#SFWApro Comics art by Cliff Chiang, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Four Kids, Four Paper Girls and more: Books read

FOUR KIDS WALK INTO A BANK by Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss has a quartet of nerdy twelve year olds encounter a bunch of vicious adult punks, then discover Paige’s (the one girl of the foursome) father hanging out with them. It turns out Dad owes them a big favor, so he’s going to help them rob a bank. Horrified, Paige convinces her friends the only way to save him is rob the bank themselves first … This is an odd mix of whimsy and realism, but it works, right up until the end — I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but a couple of twists just didn’t make sense to me. Still worth reading, though.

PAPER GIRLS has been a consistently fun series and Volume 5 of the TPBs is no exception. At the end of Vol. 4 (I can’t find my review to link to), Tiffany, Mac, KJ and Kristie found themselves in the distant future from which all the time travelers have been visiting 1988. Now they have to navigate around the alien setting, looking fora  way home, looking for answers and looking for a cure for Mac’s leukemia. Great fun as always, tying up a couple of questions from earlier books an ending on a heck of a cliffhanger.

SAGA Vol. 9 by Vaughn and Fiona Staples didn’t work as well for me as the earliest volumes. All the individuals scenes of Hazel, Marco, Alanna and the rest of their oddball cast are good and engagingly quirky, but taken as a whole, it feels like the creators are just randomly shuffling pieces across a game board. I find it hard to remember much that happened, and even the ending cliffhanger didn’t shock me as much as it should have. Staples and Vaughn have announced a year’s break to recharge, so I hope things pick up when they return.

THE FORBIDDEN GAME trilogy by LJ Smith started with The Hunter and continued with The Chase and The Kill. In The Chase, which I thought I’d reviewed already, Jenny and her friends discover her supernatural stalker, Julian, has escaped the prison they left him in. Now his monstrous creations are stalking and capturing them, and if Jenny can’t figure out where Julian’s stashing them, she’ll end up as his bride for eternity. Complicating things are the kids desperate attempts to explain everything that happened in the first book to unbelieving authority figures.

The Kill wraps up the series (though a couple of elements make me wonder if Smith was hoping for a sequel) as Jenny and the survivors of the previous book take the fight to Julian in the Shadow World. This turns out to be the creepy setting of an abandoned amusement park where souls get trapped forever and the hokey games have a deadly component. This is creepy but the character arcs for Julian and Jenny are particularly good; I also like that just as Smith pulled off a good Face Your Fears storyline in The Hunter, here she succeeds with an excellent Face Your Darkest Secrets scene. Someone should really make a miniseries of this some time.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Boss, don’t know the second artist; all rights to both images remain with current holders.

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Hellboy and Paper Girls: Books Read

HELLBOY AND THE BPRD: 1954 is the latest in the retcon series of Hellboy’s early days with the Bureau. While my favorite is probably “Black Sun” (mutants! UFOs! Nazi occultists!), the only weak story in the volume is the final one, “The Mirror” — it’s just filler that serves to showcase Richard Corben’s art. I’ve already included the stories in my Hellboy chronology; as there are a couple of stories already set in 1954 (“Nature of the Beast” and the corresponding scene in The Visitor) I’ve had to guess where they fit in. My assumption is that as Hellboy mentions being in England in 1953 in “Unreasoning Beast” and doesn’t make any reference to visiting England in “Ghost Moon” (which has a lot of English elements — and clearly seeds them for a future story), “Nature of the Beast” comes after them. I could be wrong.

Rereading PAPER GIRLS 3by Brian Vaughn and Cliff Chiang I found I liked it much better than the first time. KJ, Tiffany, Erin and Mac get dumped down in prehistory where they encounter a time-traveler from the future, a teenage cavewoman mother, three belligerent cavemen and lots of weird future technology. While I was turned off on first reading by the prehistoric setting (pretty stock), the characters held my interest this time around (as this was my copy instead of the library’s I didn’t have to rush so much).

#SFWApro. Cover by Stephen Green, all rights remain with current holder.

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Truckers, sex, pseudoscience and girl heroes: books and TPBs

THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WHEEL by RS Belcher makes me wonder if Highway Fantasy is the coming thing, as this shares a lot of elements with Sparrow Hill Road: America’s r0ads as a supernatural domain, phantom hitchhikers, demonic pacts at crossroads. The premise is that the Knights Templar are still around helping out travelers in the guise of state troopers, truckers, bikers and such. Now a supernatural serial killer working out of a town that doesn’t exist plots to commit a brutal sacrifice that will raise his dark god to destroy the world; can this motley group of heroes stop him? This is well done but doesn’t grab me like Belcher’s Weird Westerns — the nuts and bolts of trucking and forensic evidence didn’t interest me at all (but that’s more a YMMV thing than a flaw in the book).

SEXUAL SCIENCE: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood by Cynthia Eagle Russett looks at how breakthroughs in physics, medicine, phrenology and biology gave 19th-century scientists a chance to establish exactly what it was that made women inherently inferior to men — was it brain size? That women were simply more average and less individuated than men? Too emotional? Lack of maturity (children don’t have beards, women don’t have beards, so obviously women are immature men)? The need to divert their finite body energy supply to reproduction (the discussion of how researchers applied the Second Law of Thermodynamics to human bodies makes me understand why draining energy through masturbation was seen as such a threat)? Why yes, it does appear they might have been basing their ideas on sexism rather than science, though many of them were happy to pull the Different Not Inferior card (many of them recoiled from the implication women’s lesser intellects might make them unfit to be mothers). Very good, if depressingly familiar.

SCARLET ROSE: I Knew I’d Meet You by Patricia Lyfoung is a pleasant enough graphic novel about a proper young miss who to her grandfather’s horror is more interested in following the path of Robin Hood-esque “the Fox” than attending balls and making a good match. This was too familiar a set-up for me, but it’s YA so I’m not the target audience.

HOW TO FAKE A MOON LANDING by Darryl Cunningham is a collection of comics explaining that no, the moon landing wasn’t faked; yes, vaccines save lives; yes, global warming is a thing; and so on. While I applaud the intentions, there’s nothing new to me in the material and visually Cunningham’s work is very dull. I gave up midway through.

Rereading the second volume of PAPER GIRLS (this time following Volume One) by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang, I found it holds up really well. Mac, Tiffany and Erin arrive in the present (their future) and discover what’s become of them, with Erin decidedly unimpressed with her future self (it reminded me of Disney’s The Kid — no dog, no husband, and a stupid job?). Who’s the other Erin showing up in a spacesuit? Why doesn’t adult Erin remember any of this adventure? Very enjoyable, with some great pop culture references (“Oh my god, you grew up to be Airwolf!”).

#SFWApro. Cover by Chiang, all rights to image remain with current holder.


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Writing historical specfic with Romans and paper girls

SHARDS OF HEAVEN by Michael Livingston and PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang are both set int he past, one in ancient Rome as Octavian rises to power, one in the 1980s. They both faces challenges setting a story in the past, but while Vaughn brings it off, Livingston doesn’t.

Shards is a “what really happened in history” saga set during Octavian’s war against Antony and Cleopatra. When Octavian’s Numidian foster brother discovers the Trident of Poseidon, its power to command water guarantees victory in the battle. Beyond that, if they can unearth the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant from the Library of Alexandria, they’ll be able to wield power absolute on behalf of Rome.

My big problem was that the characters all felt contemporary to me. Cleopatra’s son, for example, is a major player. He’s the heir to Egypt’s rule, worshipped as a living god, revered by his people something I’d expect Egyptian royalty of that era to treat normally. But no, he’s written more like a modern celebrity uncomfortable with his sudden fame, more a president’s son than a future monarch. I didn’t buy it.

It’s more pronounced in the scene where a Jewish scholar reveals that artifacts such as the Trident and the Ark are literally shards of god,: to save us from a mechanistic universe, God had to die, and bits of his body fell to Earth, charged with power. The Trident is the same magical talisman as the staff of Moses and all gods — Yahweh, Olympian, Egyptian, Christian — are the same one deity.

That’s a pretty shocking set of revelations; even today being presented as fact would throw a lot of people for a loop. Livingston’s cast? They’re fine with it. They don’t come across like believers of 2,000 years ago, they sound more like the secular scientists of The Seventh Plague discovering the biological cause of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. I just couldn’t believe in them. Particularly the Jewish guy; even given that he already knows this stuff, the knowledge Yahweh and enemy gods such as Moloch and Baal are the same deity ought to have been shattering.

In PAPER GIRLS Vol. 1, the challenge is one I’m dealing with in Southern Discomfort, filling in background detail of the recent past. As someone who was in his twenties during the 1980s, I think Vaughn does a great job.

Much like Max Alan Collins in First Quarry, Vaughn tosses off period references without any context, apparently confident his readers will get it. This does make me curious: are the readers all people old enough to remember the 1980s? If not, do the references throw them?

The references are perfectly appropriate for the time, but some of them are particularly obscure. The 1980s War of the Worlds TV series. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. The latter, in fact, isn’t really tossed off, one of the protagonists’ moms refers to him as bringing on the Rapture by seeking political support from gays (or so I interpret her reference to “those people.”). It works for me because I remember Dukakis’ campaign, but millenials?

So am I wrong that when making these kind of references I should be as be unobtrusive and understandable as possible? In which case great, that will help if some of my 1970s references are too obscure. Or is it some other factor I haven’t thought of (not so great for me, probably). Either way, the series clearly works, so I guess Vaughn’s pulling the references off.

Cover by Cliff Chiang, all rights remain with current holder. #SFWApro


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Urban disorder, superheroes and 1980s teens: this week’s reading (#SFWApro)

URBAN DISORDER AND THE SHAPE OF BELIEF: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb and the Model Town of Pullman by Carl Smith looks at how three title events each raised fears that Chicago (and by implication any metropolis) was a festering breeding ground of chaos due to looters, socialists, anarchists, unionists and more generally the unholy mobs of the working class, who refused to behave in a middle-class manner or accept the dictates of the rich. The default solution was authoritarian steps such as calling in the army to keep order (plus multiple, apocryphal stories of looters post-Fire). Pullman’s model town for his employees represented a kinder, gentler approach — placing the lower orders in an environment where they could be trained up to middle-class standards of conduct (like the more militaristic responses, Pullman assumed the less say the working class had in this, the better. Reminds me of a great many other books, such as the discussion in Weeds of weeds as a metaphor for uncontrollable urban environments; dry but worth the reading.

FLASH: Running Scared by Joshua Williamson and various artists has Barry grappling with a personal crisis (should he reveal his identity to Iris?) only to be plunged mid-grapple into a return battle with the Reverse Flash (I’m guessing his frequent appearances on TV made someone think he was due for resurrection). Unfortunately what follows bogs down in the kind of retcon the Crisis on Infinite Earths supposedly put an end to — Thawne has to explain his pre-Crisis history, the Flashpoint arc, his backstory in the New 52 and what I gather is a new backstory for DC’s Rebirth soft-reboot of the 52. I really don’t think the story benefited from that, and the idea of Thawne dedicating himself to destroying Barry’s life has never worked for me either.

SUPERMAN: Black Dawn by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason starts well as the Kents begin to realize that everyone in the town of Hamilton where they live now is part of some sinister conspiracy, which seems to be targeting Jonathan. Unfortunately the creators crapped out when they resurrected Manchester Black as the reason. In the pre-New 52 universe he was an interesting anti-hero/villain; here he’s just one more self-righteous psycho vigilante who thinks Good can only win by playing hardball. A shame, as I do love the Kent family here.

After reading Volume 2 and 3, I finally got around to the first collection of PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang (cover by Chiang, all rights remain with current holder), which worked even though my reading order spoiled me for the big twists. It’s 1988 and a quartet of girls are delivering papers early one morning, only to encounter what appear to be alien invaders. Next thing they know, their small suburb is abandoned and pterosaurs are circling overhead … very good, with the same kind of retro references (“It’s like in that crappy TV show, War of the Worlds“) that everyone enjoys in Stranger Things (I prefer this version of the 1980s)


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China, Italy, the Old West, art theft and Paper Girls: books read (#SFWApro)


















KAI LUNG UNROLLS HIS MAT has the villains of the previous book descend on Kai Lung’s village, kidnap his wife and raze his home to the ground; with no allies and no money, can he cross China, track the bad guys down and outwit them with nothing but his storytelling skills? Well, obviously, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. However as with the first one this is a 1920s Orientalist fantasy of China, so if that’s not to your taste, avoid. Cover by Ian Millar, all rights remain with current holder.

TWENTY DAYS OF TURIN by Giorgio de Maria is a creepy Italian work from the 1970s, newly translated, in which a reporter investigating the eponymous reign of terror (individuals randomly attacked and battered against walls until death) discovers it was not only weirder than he imagined but that Sinister People would just as soon he not investigate it. The translator’s intro says this was probably intended as a veiled metaphor for the continuing presence of fascist and neo-fascist groups in Italy in the era it was written, but it works just as well as a magical realist Lovecraftian take. Also curiously prescient about social media in its portrayal of a library where people swap their diaries and intimate confessions.

SIXTH GUN: Sons of the Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt was surprisingly disappointing — this story of General Hume’s band of killers tries to make them more than generic thugs, but it didn’t hold my interest at all. Partly that’s because without Becky and Sinclair as the focus, this is just a lot of horrible, eerie things happening to people I don’t ccare about at all.

MUSEUM OF THE MISSING: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt looks at the history of the topic including outright robbery, conquest (while I’m familiar with Nazi art thefts, I hadn’t realized Napoleon likewise sucked up art from his conquered provinces), cultural appropriation from the Third World and some of the more horrifying incidents (the mother of one art thief tried to hide the evidence by throwing it in a canal). Houpt concludes that in some ways, things are getting worse (paintings are now used as bargaining chips in underworld deals, which makes them much more profitable to swipe) and the laws for recovering them are surprisingly weak (in much of Europe, even a stolen painting can be kept if you bought it in good faith). On the other hand, the Internet makes tracking and identifying stolen goods a lot easier, and the methods for planting GPS trackers on art are surprisingly cheap. A good read.

PAPER GIRLS 3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang was less fun than Vol 2 because time travelers in prehistoric times is such a stock set-up, certainly more so than 1980s tweens winding up in the present (in the previous collection). Still, the characters kept my interest so I’ll be looking for Vol. 4



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Paper Girls, Talking Apes, Wonder Woman and More: TPBS and Books (#SFWApro)

I’ve frequently complained that DC super-hero trade paperbacks are hard to follow, so I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pick up PAPER GIRLS 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang without having read #1. It seems that in that one, a group of 12-year-old paper girls stumbled into a time war; in this volume, they wind up in the present, which has the usual cultural shocks (“Spencer’s Gifts is gone but that doesn’t mean the future is post-apocalyptic.”) plus Erin meeting her future self and being decidedly unimpressed. Plus there’s another Erin counterpart, time coming undone, a floating hockey stick … and it all makes for great reading. The 1980s references (“You look straight out of AIRWOLF!”) reminded me of Stranger Things but I liked this a lot better.

HARROW COUNTY: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook is a good rural Gothic horror. The protagonist, Emmy, thinks she’s a normal girl despite some odd incidents, but her father, much as he denies it, sees a connection between Emmy and the witch the locals killed right before Emmy was born … Well done.

THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie worked much better for me than the preceding The Faust Act as Laura tries to figure out what the ending of that volume means for her, and for the pantheon. Plus the gods have to deal with a crazed stalker fan who seems intent on picking them off — or is someone trying the Prometheus Gambit (kill a god, gain their power). Not really a lot happening, but this held me despite that.

WONDER WOMAN: Flesh by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang is a big improvement over the previous volume, War, as the creators’ god-awful take on Orion only appears briefly. Here we get the history of the First Born of Zeus (quite good), Zola goes hunting for truffles (I was pleasantly surprised how that turned out) and the First Born making his move for the throne of Olympus. Unfortunately the scenes of Apollo torturing the First Born didn’t work for me for various reasons, which I’ll get into when I discuss the follow-up, Bones.

BANANA SUNDAY by Root Nibot and Colleen Coover has teenage Kirby struggling to fit in at her new school despite the awkwardness of having three genetically engineered talking monkeys following her around (actually it’s one monkey two apes). This is targeting a younger audience than me, I suspect, and the supporting human characters are weak, but the monkeys made this fun enough to keep reading — Go-Go the midget gorilla reminds me of Plushie with his priorities (“Banana! Nap”).

41m5aytyrnlI interlibrary-loaned SEERS, WITCHES AND PSYCHICS ON SCREEN: An Analysis of Women Visionary Characters in Recent Television and Film by Karin Beeler under the assumption this McFarland volume would cover everything from Medium to Bewitched but I should have read the description: Beeler’s focus is specifically on psychics/clairvoyants (“witches” gets in because of precog Phoebe in Charmed). It’s also geared for a much more academic audience than me, so I couldn’t get into it (and I must admit, I don’t agree with her analyses).

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (cover by Geoff Grandfield) was the Graham Greene spy spoof that inspired Tailor of Panama. The protagonist Wormold is a British vacuum-cleaner salesman in Havana recruited by British Intelligence for insight into local politics; as he needs money, Wormold simply makes crap up, which his credulous superiors swallow whole (though unlike the later novel, it’s more them buying into their own fantasies than any calculating motive). Very funny, though Greene can deftly switch to grim or violent without missing a beat; odd to read now as Wormold’s claims of a big sinister military project being built read like a foreshadowing of the Cuban missile crisis.


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