I had been reading historical books about pirates, and often the maps showed which country claimed what territory. And in all those maps, Spain was ovI had been reading historical books about pirates, and often the maps showed which country claimed what territory. And in all those maps, Spain was overwhelmingly prominent, so much so that I wondered how this half of the world ever had a revolution against Britain instead of Spain. How did Spain get so much, and how did they lose it all? This book explains all that quite well. I'd picked up some gleaning of that from the other books, but this one addresses the issue directly.
It is well-written and enjoyable, and lives up to its title. The one thing (and this almost had me give it less stars) is that it is gleefully declared a general history, which in the author's mind apparently means "not needing footnotes." Even direct historical quotes have no attribution. The one exception is if he takes a quote from another author, but then he only lists the author, and sometimes the book, but no page number. He does have a bibliography at the end, which is very helpful, but even general histories can cite a source!
That historian rant aside, a gripping book on the subject....more
**spoiler alert** It was interesting to read the first-hand account of the woman at the center of the Cottingley Fairies story - I'm glad that such a**spoiler alert** It was interesting to read the first-hand account of the woman at the center of the Cottingley Fairies story - I'm glad that such a memoir exists. Surprisingly, it is more of an account of that period in particular, than her memoirs in general. When I picked up the book, I had expected to hear more about her life as a whole than a focus on that point; but, since that's what I was wanting to read about anyway, it made for good reading.
She is very specific about how they made the fake fairy photos, and gives details I haven't come across elsewhere (which is why i always like primary sources!). One stand-out is a comment about the "Elsie and the Gnome" picture. She notes that the commentators, who believed it to be real, noticed that it looked like it had a belly button, which lead them to conclude that fairies gave birth! But she pointed out that it was the top of the hat-pin holding it up, showing through the paper.
Unfortunately, she is vague about the actual fairies she is supposed to have seen. She even says she wishes someone had asked her for more details at the time, because she just observed them, without really noticing particulars, or even the time of day. So it's hard to tell what she saw, even reading her own work. The fairies just mostly trip through the stream, although there are one or two incidents where it sounds like there was a lot of activity going on.
Another odd thing is the fairy photo that is supposed to be an actual one. While the figures don't look like paper cutouts, and are definitely different than the other photos, the faces and figures look like the same type! I was reading this in the hopes of clearing up a mystery, but just found new ones. Not a bad thing, really, when I think about it....more
An incredible book, the best novel I've read in a long time. In fact, I'd given up on novels lately, and have been reading history and other non-fictiAn incredible book, the best novel I've read in a long time. In fact, I'd given up on novels lately, and have been reading history and other non-fiction, since they seemed more interesting. But this book remedied that! It's got scholarship, doubt, faith, books, and is about the Grail on top of it. The most satisfying fiction book I've read in a long time!
And, since it's about the Grail, I'd like to comment on Grail literature in general, but first I'll say spoilers ahead.
I'm giving some advance warning here - I can't stand it when someone puts "SPOILER" and then types it right after that word, as if I can stop my eyes right exactly at the R.
So, some slight spoilers. Last chance to look away.
One thing I've noticed about modern Grail literature vs. Medieval Grail literature is the nature of the Grail, or rather, why the Grail is so hard to find. In modern versions (I hate to lump this book in with The DaVinci Code, since this one is infinitely better, but they are in the same genre), one can't find the Grail because someone is deliberately trying to keep it hidden. The hero is nore of a detective than a questing knight. In Medieval versions, it is the Grail itself that keeps one from finding it. In the Galahad myth, it will only reveal itself to the pure of heart; in the (in my opinion, superior) Percival version, the Grail isn't the goal but rather helping the Fisher King. Those too selfish to care are kept from the castle by the Grail, but the only reason to find the Grail is because the Fisher King lives in the castle where it is kept.
This book definitely falls into the detective version, although there are enough twists and character development to come close to a Medieval version. Which is one reason why I like it so much! In fact, not much action happens - a lot of it is characer - which makes it that much more interesting to me. If the author can pull off a Grail romance without sword-fighting action and still make it a gripping story, it's amazing!...more
The Dover edition that I read was actually in three parts: First, a 1933 introduction by R.B. Cunninghame Graham, then an 1893 introduction by AndrewThe Dover edition that I read was actually in three parts: First, a 1933 introduction by R.B. Cunninghame Graham, then an 1893 introduction by Andrew Lang, and finally the work of Kirk himself. After skimming the first two, it seemed better to go to the text itself first, which I will explain in a bit.
For Kirk's text, it is rambling, but not distractingly so, which, I suppose, fits the subject. A great deal of it is taken up more with second sight, i.e. being able to see the fairies, along with being able to see the future. On the whole, the book seems to deal more with seeing the future than with fairies, or at least the first hand examples he gives tend more that way. Nonetheless, the work is interesting, especially as the anecdotes related aren't purported to be a collection of folk tales as much as examples that he's tried to verify.
His weakest sections are where he tries to explain what the fairies are. His logic makes sense, but it's a bit like trying to reason out what bacteria do from hearing about what someone you never met saw in a microscope. I like his theory but it detracts from the usual, for lack of a better word, objective character of his reporting.
I read the Lang section afterwards, which was informative but rather dry, compared to the text. It didn't illuminate the text much, it just talked about more modern (at the time) examples or fakeries. Somewhat interesting in and of itself, but not as entertaining. I would have liked something that helped explain some of the more tortured grammar of Kirk!
Lastly, I read the Graham introduction. I'm sure he was trying to come across as charming, in presenting what was probably a passé topic to a post WWI audience. However, at this late date, it came across mostly as self-serving, pompous condescension. In fact, it was the reason that I read the sections in the order that I did - I realized if I read his part first, it would totally sour the whole book for me, and by the time I got to Kirk I would be so cynically tired of the whole thing that I wouldn't care.
Aside from the tone, Graham (and to a much lesser degree, Lang) misses the point. Kirk said people might not believe these things, but if they DID happen, then they are worthy of study. I used the microscope example earlier for this reason - Kirk said people thought things the discovery of America and bacteria were false, because they themselves had no evidence of it; but travel and a microscope dispelled that. And while his conclusions may seem foregone, I can't argue with his premise - if someone reliable DID say they saw little people, or the future, would it not be worth studying? Kirk himself said he was just presenting evidence, in the hopes that others more capable could follow up. I salute his honest inquiry!...more
The most interesting thing about this book is that it inadvertantly explains why the Cottingley Fairies photos were so significant. Doyle says he hadThe most interesting thing about this book is that it inadvertantly explains why the Cottingley Fairies photos were so significant. Doyle says he had already been writing an account of people who had seen fairies when he heard about the photos. Even he, who believed and thought the accounts he was recording seemed credible, had to admit that to an outsider, it might sound fake. But, if he were to have actual photos of fairies, that would render the rest of the essay more credibility. So the photos take pride of place in the book.
On the negative side, part of the book is made up of accounts other than by Doyle, one by a man full of himself, and the other a genuine wacko. Gardner was a Theosophist, and the one who got Doyle in touch with the girls and the photos. But in his last essay, he waxes eloquent about fairies, in great detail as to their lives, habits, etc., even while admitting he had never seen one. It's a gigantic mental exercise in creating a whole theory out of literally nothing. And I don't mean that because of any non-existence of fairies - fairies could be visible to everyone, and his theories would still be based on his own deductions, rather than any actual observation, or even talking to the people who claimed to have seen them.
The crazy one is Hodson, a clairvoyant who was sent out to verify what the girls saw. In Frances Griffiths' own memoir, she says they thought he was a fake, and decided to see what they could get away with. Elsie started by saying she saw a large fairy (which Frances said was the fairy godmother in a production of Cinderella they had seen) and Hodson totally went for it. Then he goes on to describe days' worth of fairy sightings, verifying what the girls "saw." On the other hand, it is an interesting description of what he thinks fairies are. Along these lines are the end of Gardner's essay, where he tells of the different types - and colors - of fairies throughout the world. Kind of fascinating, visually - I am an illustrator, and the various descriptions could be fun to draw. Like the blue, metallic-tinged wings of one or the yellow and green-striped bodies of another. It all sounds nothing like what Frances claimed to have seen, but it would make a good Dungeons and Dragons guidebook.
On the positive side, there is Doyle. He makes less claims than the other two, he's merely interested in setting out the evidence of the photos and the first-hand accounts. And, in fact, he's doing so so that people could be free to refute them. He couldn't tell the photos were faked; but if someone could have convincingly shown him they were, he would have accepted it. He had debunked fake photos himself.
In the introduction, he not only states this, but also that even if the photos were faked, it wouldn't really affect his Theosophic views - fairies were more of an interest than central to his theology. He just said it would be good if they were real because it would make life that much more interesting. And who am I to disagree with that?...more
The book is more informative than engaging, but nonetheless it is very informative. A succinct but thorough history of the Cardiff Giant, and the playThe book is more informative than engaging, but nonetheless it is very informative. A succinct but thorough history of the Cardiff Giant, and the players involved. What was most surprising to me is that the bulk of the action took place within a three-month span! I'll hold off giving details of it, since I don't want to post spoilers, but I had always assumed that events had unfolded over a much longer period of time.
Seeing photos of the giant, in situ in particular, were a bonus!...more
An enjoyable and well-researched book. It is almost a shame that it leans toward historical fiction narrative, because the bulk of the book is extensiAn enjoyable and well-researched book. It is almost a shame that it leans toward historical fiction narrative, because the bulk of the book is extensively researched. The number of things that come from actual letters or source materials is immense. I had always heard about these photos, and now I know a lot more about the children that took them. And, as always, the bibliography is fantastic. I had no idea that Francis Griffiths had left a memoir! That is defintely now on the reading list....more
I have to admit, I had first heard about Nellie Bly from a Google doodle honoring her! But she sounded interesting, and when I came across this book iI have to admit, I had first heard about Nellie Bly from a Google doodle honoring her! But she sounded interesting, and when I came across this book in the library I gladly picked it up. It was in the children's section of the library, so it only has so much information, yet it read well and was a good introduction to her life. And, as usual, the bibliography at the end, to her own works in particular, was helpful. I'll be looking up her own writing next! Her account of going around the world should be fascinating - it was incredible enough in short form, it should be amazing to here her own version of it!...more
This was a lot of fun! Fast-paced writing, good characters, and lots of twists and turns. It almost belongs in the humor section, the tone is so lightThis was a lot of fun! Fast-paced writing, good characters, and lots of twists and turns. It almost belongs in the humor section, the tone is so light-hearted. Like reading a penny-dreadful in novel form.
I have one nit-picky thing, that shouldn't detract from my estimation of it. The biggest is that sometimes, there is a lot of conversation where the plot doesn't seem to call for it. Like when they are being chased by flying robots. The conversation is important to the story, and I'm glad it's there, but it slows the action down (or rather, makes it seem like the flying robots are coming at them REALLY SLOWLY if they can converse like this). This happens when people are falling through air, being attacked, etc. The scenarios are good; the conversations are good; it would just be better if they weren't occurring at the same time.
But a gripping story, and I'm glad there is a sequel already written so I don't have to wait for it to come out....more
I loved Peanuts as a kid - Charles Schultz was a main reason why I wanted to become an artist! That was a long time ago, however, so I had mixed feeliI loved Peanuts as a kid - Charles Schultz was a main reason why I wanted to become an artist! That was a long time ago, however, so I had mixed feelings when I began the book. This ambiguity disappeared almost immediately, as Peanuts is just so good! While it may not always be laugh out loud 45 years later, it is still amusing, and the artwork is clean and great. Also, the strips are more nuanced than I remember, especially since my memory has been augmented by the animated specials. In the animated shows, everyone is a lot meaner - Charlie Brown gets picked on consistently, kids insult each other, they punch, etc. They are trying to create action and drama, of course, so that's an easy way to do it. In the strips, however, this is far less prevalent (though it is there), and more often than not it is about kids playing together. And that is the one thing that made this strip still enjoyable for me - the characters. They are more likely to have crushes, hopes, and anxieties than they are to pick on one another. Each one does have a character, and it is maintained consistently (or even allowed to grow). It also explains why the new Peanuts movie could work as well as it did - they just left out all the meanness that drove the plot in the shorter animations, and focussed on the characters as characters.
Rereading Peanuts throws my reviews of the Flash Gordon series into sharper focus for me. I love Alex Raymond's art, as well as science fiction, but it left me feeling lukewarm when all was said and done. After reading Peanuts, I realized why - Flash Gordon was all action, no character development. Peanuts is no action and all character, and that's the one that I want to read more of! I'll be checking out the other books in the series, both to relive good childhood memories and see it anew as an adult....more
**spoiler alert** This is an odd volume. and, for me, doesn't have the punch of the first two. It was a bit of a slog to get through. The adventures a**spoiler alert** This is an odd volume. and, for me, doesn't have the punch of the first two. It was a bit of a slog to get through. The adventures are still rip-roaring, but after Ming falls, it just seems like action for action's sake. Flash needs Ming to be interesting, to me at least. He can't fight him forever, of course, but it almost seemed like it should end, or go in a completely different direction if it didn't.
It seemed to take the different direction route at first - Flash, Dale, and Zarkov head back to earth. But it is in time for a war (a reference to what was going on at the time) so Flash is once again in action. After crash-landing his rocket on earth, that is. He's supposed to be a supreme pilot, but the number of rockets he crashes is amazing! But while the adventures on earth make sense, Flash loses that space-hero appeal in all of it, as it turns into a war comic. A war comic with rocket technology from Mongo, but still a war comic - the otherwordly outfits give way to very time-specific military uniforms. If you like war comics, it seemed like a fun one, but it was a surprising departure from the format.
Having shown that Mongo technology works, they need to fly back to Mongo to get more radium, which gets Flash back into space. On arrival, he once again crashes, this time on the hitherto unexplored continent of Tropica. I could go along with the earth adventures, even if they weren't to my taste, but this is where the whole thing falls apart. At first it seems like Tropica is a forest land, hidden from all. But the longer it goes on, it is another large, oppressive monarchy just like Ming's, with a new tyrant to overthrow. The really improbable thing (okay, I know it's all science fiction, but to use Tolkien's definition of internal consistency in fantasy) is that such a massive, industrial state would be unexplored and unknown to Ming is inconceivable. Ming had rockets - there's no way he could have missed an entire, technologically savvy continent that is not hidden in forest wastes but has giant cities.
To return to Ming, his end is somewhat anticlimactic. He just... disappears. Not vanishes magically, just drops out of the story. He's captured in a room when his general is shot, and then he isn't mentioned at all again. No word of prison, execution, or escape, he's literally just dropped from the story. I'm guessing they didn't want the new regime responsible for a political execution, and leaving him in jail never worked (Ming had escaped several captures), so that must have been the only solution. But it's disappointing - Ming could have at least gone out in flames in a rocket battle or something.
One last thing - the artwork suffers in the latter part of the book. Raymond's art is still good. But he enlisted, so someone else continued the last storyline he worked on, and it is very obvious it is drawn by someone else. What kept me going with these was the artwork; without Raymond, and without Ming, I doubt I'll read the continuing volumes. But it was great to read the entire run of the Raymond strips, and the first two volumes especially are great fun....more
I liked the concept of the book - that it was based on old radio programs, and the entire thing was in dialogue. There was no narration whatsoever, otI liked the concept of the book - that it was based on old radio programs, and the entire thing was in dialogue. There was no narration whatsoever, other than what the characters were speaking.
In practice, this only worked somewhat well. When there were long stretches of short sentences, such as "Really?" "Yes!" "Are you sure?" for example, that would go on for whole pages, I'd have to go back to see who said what. On the whole, though, this was minimized by having people use others' names in conversations, far more than they would naturally. As for describing action, this was worked out in a clever way Frankie, the main character, saw himself as living in a radio program, so he was prone to narrating his every move. Again, this worked well for a book entirely in dialogue. However, Frankie was so into radio programs that it seemed to border on mania. The idea of the plucky, imaginative character eventually got annoying, because instead of inspiring everyone with his imagination he tended to bother and disrupt everyone. Even the things he got right seemed more incidental than actually insightful.
But I did like the concept, and the actual transcripts from radio programs were fun to read. In fact, the author made one up that sounded so real, and entertaining, that I actually looked it up only to find out it never existed. A pity, because it sounded great! If the author wrote about Thorgun, Ice Age superhero, I'd read that!...more
As a continuation of the first book, a lot of my comments for that still stand: great art, pulp fiction storylines. There is one difference, and sometAs a continuation of the first book, a lot of my comments for that still stand: great art, pulp fiction storylines. There is one difference, and something I didn't bring up about the first collection.
In the first, like Buck Rogers, there is an ambivalent but present "Yellow Peril" tone against the Chinese. First of all, there's Ming the Merciless, with his name alone. But even if he were Bob the Merciless, he couldn't be more Chinese. His deity is the Tao; he dresses like Fu Manchu;, and, distressingly, his skin is yellow - by that, I mean bright yellow.
On the other hand, everyone in Mongo swears by Tao, yellow, brown, white, green, or blue. Further, there are good guys who look like Ming, Prince Barin being most prominent. His skin is just as bright yellow as Ming's, yet he is undeniably a good guy. It's hinted that he's the rightful ruler of Mongo, displaced by Ming, and he's Flash's best friend. Moreover, there is no horrible caricaturing of "Asian" features; Ming, Barin, and the others are rendered just as magnificently as Flash and Dale. And Ming is brilliant and brave, so a worthy enemy, not a craven one. So while it's undeniable that there is some sort of Chinese reference going on, it is fortunately not as bad as could be, and, given the time period, probably better than most.
I bring this up because by the time of the strips in this second collection, almost all of this has disappeared. Virtually everyone has the same skin tone as Flash, which might mean he toned it down intentionally. Or it might be that Flash keeps disguising himself as Ming's soldiers, so if he were the only one not bright yellow it would give him away instantly.
Another reason might be the approaching world war. The officers of Ming look less and less Chinese as the strip goes on, and more like German officials. The uniforms look more European, and the officers all sport monocles and mustaches. Whatever the reason, I was glad to see the bright yellow turned off!
That (I'll admit, lengthy) commentary aside, it's good rip-snorting fun, as always. A page turner, and I'm glad I have them all in one volume, instead of having to wait a week between each cliff-hanger! ...more
A good, concise history. Only 42 pages long, it still manages to provide a lot of information, though at a very introductory level. As such it is a goA good, concise history. Only 42 pages long, it still manages to provide a lot of information, though at a very introductory level. As such it is a good entry to the subject, and the further reading list at the end is very helpful....more
**spoiler alert** I read the first book, Armageddon 2419, in part of a larger anthology that I haven't reviewed yet. But that book was good enough to**spoiler alert** I read the first book, Armageddon 2419, in part of a larger anthology that I haven't reviewed yet. But that book was good enough to make me find this one as well.
The book is uneven. It starts out much in the vein of the first one. Then, as it seemed like it might be a rehash, the author launches into a lengthy, tw0-chapter explanation of the science behind all of technology. Which was hard to follow, and, in the midst of trying, realized that it was completely unnecessary, as all the science was made up. But after making it through that, the book picked up, and got even more interesting than the first.
Rogers is captured by the Han overlords (more on this later), and it is here, for the first time in the two books, that the faceless enemy is actually seen. This makes the book very interesting, and adds a whole new dimension to the plot. And are these villains overthrown? I hid this review because of spoilers, but one of the interesting things about both books is that they have built-in spoilers. The book is supposed to have been written, not as events were happening, but as Rogers was an old man, looking back at events that took place decades before. So, in a sense, you know what will happen, but you have to learn how, which I enjoyed.
As for race, in the first book and for most of this one, the Han seem like pure Yellow Terror propaganda - faceless stereotyped Asian enemies. However, once Rogers actually meets the Han, they seem otherwordly, and have whiter skin than his, as he's been out in the sun and they dwell in the artificial luxury of their cities. And in the end, it turns out that they are inhuman, with extra-terrestrial origins. When the Han have been overthrown, and people the world over return to their own rule, Rogers and Wilma go travelling. There they meet and praise various peoples, Europeans, Africans, and Chinese happily, because all of these are fellow humans. And this was in 1929, an era I wouldn't associate with racial open-mindedness. So while the tone of the writing may not be as it would today, I imagine his views were very progressive for the time.
Along those lines, he is even more progressive with his women characters. In 25th century America, with the people on the run from technological overlords, there is no room for fainting damsels that need to be rescued. In fact, there's one episode where he plans to leave his wife Wilma so that he can go on a dangerous mission. His crew-mates conspire to sneak her aboard, however. It turns out that acting as he did was the greatest insult a man could give a woman, but she forgives him, as he's from the 20th century. Someone with his primitve mentality can't be expected to realize this equality!...more