Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (Stein and Day, 1960)
The Morning of the Magicians, Pauwels and Bergier's Charles Fort-...moreLouis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (Stein and Day, 1960)
The Morning of the Magicians, Pauwels and Bergier's Charles Fort-inspired catalogue of absolute nutterdom circa mid-twentieth-century, has long been forgotten by pretty much everyone. (Given some of the predictions made in this book, many of which had been conclusively disproved within the decade, this is not a surprise.) I read it for the same reason pretty much anyone else who seeks it out these days does--there's a section, actually a single sentence, on page 131 that inspired the 1977 revitalization of a movie subgenre that has persisted, on and off, to this day--the Nazi Zombie movie. "When he had recovered his speech he declared that he had just seen a phantom array of German soldiers in uniform lying on the bottom of the lake, together with a caravan of chariots and horses in their harness standing upright...", the authors report. In the DVD extras for the 1977 movie Shock Waves, which kicked the subgenre off again after almost thirty years of dormancy, one of the screenwriters (I think it was John Kent Harrison, but don't quote me) mentions that he got the idea for the movie from this book. Having been a rabid Shock Waves fan since I first saw it in the late seventies, my destiny was pretty much sealed at the moment I heard that. It took me some five years to track down a copy of this book. It then took me another year and a half to read it. And I can guarantee you, since if you've even heard of this book at this point in time you, too, are probably a fan of Nazi Zombie movies, the quote above is the only part of the book you need to read.
After a relatively brief introduction that acquaints us with some of the foundations of Pauwels and Bergier's thinking (and an intro, of course, to the work of Charles Fort), the book is divided into two sections, which had the authors been a bit less flowery could have been entitled "The Past" and "The Future". The former examines the supernatural/new-agey/totally insane ideas and beliefs behind the Nazi movement, including such wonders as Hollow Earth and the Doctrine of Eternal Ice. (Interestingly, there's not a single mention of the obsessive quest for the Spear of Destiny...) If you're going to read the book, this is the section to read it for; the stuff you will find here is fascinating, in a bat[censored for Amazon consumption]-crazy sort of way, and it's sobering indeed in today's culture to remember that it is, in fact, possible for a country of people who have no idea what their leaders are actually thinking to be controlled by a handful of wingnuts who have much more of a place in the asylum than in Parliament. The latter is where things get crazy, and to be fair, reading Pauwels and Bergier's catalogue of silliness is really no different than, these days, reading Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave or Rachel Carson's Silent Spring or even those MTV adverts thrown around by environmentalist groups back in the eighties (remember when the rainforests would be denuded altogether by 1985 and the ozone layer would be entirely depleted by 1990?). The difference, for which I have to give Pauwels and Bergier grudging props, is that these guys never offer up any of this stuff, save the stories of what has come before, as documented fact. Pauwels even says, a number of times, that he expects much of the conjecture in the book to be proven wrong as time goes on, but that the authors hope someone will take some of the threads they have gathered and run with them, in a scientific sense.
But this conjures up some questions, the most obvious of which is this: when you have just spent a hundred pages or so making fun of the Nazis for believing the crazy stuff they believed, and then you spend the next hundred pages cataloguing things that are, at base, just as nuts, how can you expect to have any of it taken seriously? ** (less)
Katherine Applegate, Sweet (17th Street Press, 1993)
The third book in Applegate's 90210-on-the-Atlantic series picks up where book two left off, and t...moreKatherine Applegate, Sweet (17th Street Press, 1993)
The third book in Applegate's 90210-on-the-Atlantic series picks up where book two left off, and then throws a couple of monkeywrenches into the mix: first, Justin's father shows up, creating a storm of emotion (especially when he reveals the real reason he abandoned the family in the first place); second, after a very close call with Immigration officials, Chelsea proposes to Connor. While some of the other storylines (Alec's relationship with Marta, Grace's continuing battle with the bottle) continue on in this one, those are the two main plot arcs. Applegate, who's probably written more juvenile/YA genre books than you've had hot meals (almost 150 are listed at fantasticfiction, and that's excluding the reprinting of the Atlantic City series as Making Waves seven years later), has this sort of thing down to a Barbara Cartland-like science, so you can rest assured that if you pick up one of Applegate's books, you're going to be entertained. I grant you two-dimensional characters and predictable situations, but let's face it, this is soap opera in book form. You knew what you were getting into when you picked it up. This is classified under guilty pleasure, and it is that indeed. *** (less)
Katsura Hoshino, D. Gray-Man vol. 2: Old Man of the Land and Aria of the Night Sky (ViZ, 2004)
After I read the first volume of D. Gray-Man some time a...moreKatsura Hoshino, D. Gray-Man vol. 2: Old Man of the Land and Aria of the Night Sky (ViZ, 2004)
After I read the first volume of D. Gray-Man some time ago, I didn't quite get all the hype, which comes from everyone from the expected otaku right down to the reviewer at Publishers Weekly, who calls the series “...a fantastic vision of Victorian England.” I'm starting to get it a little more, having now read the second volume as well, but it still doesn't rank with the classics, IMO. I'll give it a few more volumes and see where we get. In this episode, Allen is teamed up with Kanda (they don't like each other, of course) and sent to Italy to discover an Innocence that's currently being pursued by an akuma. The expected battles ensue. Rock 'n roll! Okay, maybe I'm not doing it the justice it deserves, because there are some glimmers of what could be amazing here. The relationship between the last living human in the city and the steampunk-like doll he guards is quite nicely done, even if it does seem at times like it exists solely as a way to highlight the differences between Allen and Kanda. That said, once we delve into that part of the story (the last quarter or so of the book), Kanda actually seems as if he's going to become more than a two-dimensional “evil good guy” who exists solely as a foil for Allen's good-heartedness and naivete. Not great, but not bad. ***(less)
Katsura Hoshino, D. Gray-Man vol. 3: The Rewinding City (ViZ, 2004)
With volume 3, I think I finally start to see where Hoshino is going with this seri...moreKatsura Hoshino, D. Gray-Man vol. 3: The Rewinding City (ViZ, 2004)
With volume 3, I think I finally start to see where Hoshino is going with this series, and the characters are starting to get interesting (and distinguishable). Still not one of my favorites, but things are better enough to keep me going, anyway. Allen and Lelalee are sent to a city where an innocence is suspected to be, and when they get there, they discover that the city keeps playing the same day over and over again, with only one citizen cognizant of what's going on. Coincidence? You know better than that, and so do the exorcists... ***(less)
Alison Stine, Lot of My Sister (Kent State University Press, 2001)
I am an idiot and returned this to the library before pulling quotes from it, so I w...moreAlison Stine, Lot of My Sister (Kent State University Press, 2001)
I am an idiot and returned this to the library before pulling quotes from it, so I won't be able to offer up evidence of anything I'm going to say here. You have my apologies. And I should probably also apologize for expecting this book to be some sort of mishmash of, say, Ira Sadoff and Debra Allbery (whom I consider two of the best poets currently working). You see, I've been trying to get my paws on a copy of Lot of My Sister for almost four years, and various library systems have failed me time and again. When you find yourself in a situation like that, especially with a book from an imprint that rarely fails to put out fantastic material, you run the risk of building the book up in your head to mythical proportions. In the case of Lot of My Sister, this risk was exacerbated by Stine's second book, Ohio Violence, released in 2008 and the subsequent winner of much praise and a pretty big award. (And with that title, the link to Sadoff was cemented in my head, I should note.) So when one out-of-the-way library finally scored me a copy, hopefully I can be forgiven for thinking this was going to be the second coming of Robert Lowell.
It's not. I'm not going to say anything against Stine's words, for as with many of the Wick poets, she is more than capable of putting them together in a way that conveys what she's trying to get across in a very effective manner. And while I don't normally apply this metric when reading poetry (I grew up on the surrealists, after all), back when I was a poetry student myself, knee-high to a grasshopper or thereabouts, Dave Smith introduced my class to what he called the “So What?” test when he was guest-lecturing one day. (He did so while critiquing another student's work, thankfully, not mine.) And it's always been in the back of my head, even though much of the time I consciously reject it. But it kept rearing its ugly head when I was reading some of the poems in this volume. A few of them just don't pass the test; it's not that I don't know what they're about, or that Stine doesn't do a bang-up job of showing me what they're about, I just wondered why she was taking the effort to illuminate them.
This is not true of the entire book, or even the majority of the book; it's two poems, three at most. In a book of twenty-five pages, that resounds a little louder than it normally would, but still, this is worth picking up. *** (less)
Ronald L. Taylor and Barbara J. Carter, Entertaining with Insects, or, the Original Guide to Insect Cookery (Salutek Publishing, 1976)
Many of Taylor's...moreRonald L. Taylor and Barbara J. Carter, Entertaining with Insects, or, the Original Guide to Insect Cookery (Salutek Publishing, 1976)
Many of Taylor's predictions have not come to pass thirty-five years down the line (frozen food manufacturers have not seen the light regarding frozen mealworm entrees, and however close we are to the line, we have not yet reached the phase of worldwide famine where people who don't normally do so have considered eating insects), which leaves Entertaining with Insects as something of an anachronistic curiosity in the year 2010. Not that the cool factor has been decreased one whit. The idea of cooking with insects has always appealed to me, for some reason, and so the minute I heard this book existed, I knew I'd have to check it out.
On the upside, it is exactly what it says it is, a book about cooking with insects (with an appendix that covers a few earthworm recipes as a bonus). On the downside, the mark of a single-ingredient cookbook, to me, is the breadth of stuff the authors come up to do with that ingredient (or dish; think Marlena Spieler's delectable book on macaroni and cheese as an example here). Taylor and Carter stay pretty basic (at least as far as seventies California cuisine; there are a number of recipes that manage to seem horribly dated, as well), and sometimes downright twee (insect canapes? I half-expected a fondue recipe to pop up). Still, if you're looking for a recipe for Chocolate Chirpies (and seriously, we all should be), you've gotta check this out. ***(less)
John Joseph Adams (ed.), The Living Dead (Night Shade Books, 2009)
I know I'm in the minority when I say this, and I know every voice from the peanut g...moreJohn Joseph Adams (ed.), The Living Dead (Night Shade Books, 2009)
I know I'm in the minority when I say this, and I know every voice from the peanut gallry will pipe up with exceptions, but as far as I'm concerned, it's pretty hard to go wrong with zombies. I don't care if they're slow zombies, fast zombies, rage zombies, Return of the Living Dead-style zombies, Simon-Pegg-in-the-convenience-store zombies, the lot. They're all awesome. And John Joseph Adams went looking for the best and the brightest to collect in The Living Dead. I'm not sure he entirely succeeded, but he hit most of the highlights. Brilliant bits from Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Lisa Morton, Dave Schow, George R. R. Martin, and Joe Lansdale. Stephen King's second-most-infamous story ever (behind “Survivor Type”). The best thing Dale Bailey ever wrote (which was turned into Joe Dante's Homecoming, in the Masters of Horror series), and I say that as someone who thinks everything Dale Bailey writes is sterling. The story for which Dan Simmons justly won a World Fantasy Award (beating out the Poppy Z. Brite story a few hundred pages farther into the tome). And John Langan's “How the Day Runs Down”, original to the book (the only story here that is). Everyone else describes it as “Our Town with zombies”, so I'll go with that, but it doesn't quite give you the entire picture. (And why do I keep thinking that Nina Kiriki Hoffman writes kidlit? Not judging by this story, she doesn't...)
It's not all that awesome. Kelly Link hits an uncharacteristic pothole here. Laurell K. Hamilton hits a not-so-uncharacteristic one with the story that eventually developed into the Anita Blake series, but pre-Anita, Hamilton's work wasn't much to write home about. (Did you ever read her Ravenloft novel? No, and there's a reason for that.) I;m never quite sure whether I'm going to love or hate any Harlan Ellison story I pick up. I'm still not sure on this one. Doug Winter's “Less than Zombie”, so pointedly amusing when it came out in the late eighties, now feels dated (and when's the last time anyone actually read Less than Zero?). Etc.
A lot of reviewers got on Adams for pushing the boundaries of the zombie genre in his selections for this volume, and if you're looking for a bunch of stories that stick close to the Romero canon, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you are fascinated by possibilities, check it out. *** ½ (less)
Been trying to figure out what to say about this one for just about forever now, and I've come to the conclusion t...moreJim Butcher, Blood Rites (Roc, 2004)
Been trying to figure out what to say about this one for just about forever now, and I've come to the conclusion that I can't really say anything about it I haven't said about the first five Dresden Files books. It's fun, it strains credulity, it's formulaic, it's pretty well-written, and if you're already hooked on the series you're pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it. Why do you need a review? If you're not already hooked on the series, go back and start from the beginning, because it'll make a whole lot more sense when you get to this point. Once you do, though, you'll have a good time. *** ½ (less)
Lord Timothy Dexter, A Pickle for the Knowing Ones (Minton Balch and Company, 1847)
I thought I had it all figured out. I was convinced that Lord Timot...moreLord Timothy Dexter, A Pickle for the Knowing Ones (Minton Balch and Company, 1847)
I thought I had it all figured out. I was convinced that Lord Timothy Dexter was a myth, the product of the fevered imagination of his biographer, J. P. Marquand, a man far better known for spinning tales out of whole cloth (he was responsible for Mr. Moto, as well as a number of nautical adventure stories) than for writing biographies of eccentric New Englanders. But the Internet, including Wikipedia, has not a small amount of information on Dexter, who according to Wikipedia lived from 1748-1806. Thus, I am putting aside the idea that the whole shindig is a hoax, despite my favorite piece of evidence: supposedly, in the second edition of the Pickle,, Dexter, who was known for not punctuating his work, included an entire page of nothing but punctuation and asking his readers to “solt and peper as they will”; this was, anecdotally, a favorite practice of a contemporary of Marquand's, James Joyce—whose mot notoriously unpunctuated work, Ulysses, came in 1922, three years before Marquand's Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, Mass.: First in the East, First in the West, and the Greatest Philosopher in the Western World. So there's still a tug in the back of my mind that says this outrageous philosophical “treatise” is nothing more than a joke being played on literary historians. But I will proceed as if it were not and review it straight.
Looked at in 2010, it is, above all, an artifact of a different time. After perusing it, some might also say of a different world; the Lord Timothy Dexter fan page on the Internet (which, by the by, has an entire facsimile copy of the Pickle available free for interested readers) drolly notes that Dexter, a businessman and philosopher, “never bothered to learn how to spell”. Indeed. He also had the philosophical acuity of a not-particularly-bright six-year-old. “To mankind at Large the time is Com at Last the grat day of Regoising what is that whye I will tell you thous three kings is Rased Rased you meane shoued know Rased on the first Royel Arch in the worid olmost Not quite but very hiw up upon so thay are good mark to be scene so the womans Lik to see the front and all people Loves to see them as the quakers will Com and peape and say houethe doue frind father Jorge washeton is in the center king Addoms at the Rite hand the present king at the Left hand...” (The present king, of course, being Thomas Jefferson.) if you are currently shaking your head and asking yourself “my god, what is he on about?”, you're not alone. (He's actually describing the archway leading to the grounds of his estate. The Dexter fan pages notes that of the over thirty wood-carved figures that once stood at Dexter's, only one remains extant, that of William Penn.)
May be found amusing by those who like books of heavy dialect (Riddley Walker comes immediately to mind), but is short enough to allow even those who can't stand this sort of writing to be astonished by what an idiot this guy was. ** (less)