“They Bite”

This week’s (actually last week’s subject for discussion over at the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing — I’ve been busy.

Review: “They Bite“, Anthony Boucher, 1943.They Bite

Boucher’s story smoothly and efficiently moves from spy story to odd folklore and legend to crime story to human story. That’s entirely in keeping with Boucher. He edited and wrote science fiction and mysteries and also did the first translations into English of Jorge Luis Borges.

We first see our protagonist Hugh Tallant hanging around a U.S. Army air base in the desert of California. It’s pretty clear he’s a spy, checking out the gliders there. He doesn’t seem to be working for any specific foreign power. He’s a freelancer.

Looking through binoculars can be a bit tiring on the eyes. He seems to see a “little and thin and brown as the earth” shape out of the corner of his eye.

An old acquaintance of his, Morgan shows up. He’s a “prospector” like Tallant. He knows Tallant from their days in China and implies he’s willing to spill some unsavory, if unspecified, secrets about Tallant. Blackmail is in the air. Tallant tells him to come back the next day, and they’ll talk about it. Continue reading ““They Bite””

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“Personal Devil”

Looking through Joel Jenkins’ author page on Amazon, I came across a Lone Crow story that isn’t in either The Coming of Crow or The Condemnation of Crow.

Review: “Personal Devil”, Joel Jenkins, 2014.

Occult Detectives
Cover by Rob Davis and Jesus Rodriguez

Demon Hunter, Priesthood Bearer, Slayer of Dark Souls … Flapping Crow, Last of Your Tribe, and Doomed Man 

are the latest titles Indian bounty hunter and monster slayer Lone Crow gets in this story. The supernatural menace sneering that here is a kurdaitcha (though, in my bit of research, not having the powers of the similarly named being out of Australian Aborigine mythology).

Crow is summoned to California by Mormon gunfighter Porter Rockwell (who, just like in our history, is frequently accused of trying to kill Missouri Governor Boggs). Rockwell has been dispatched by Brigham Young to collect some tithes from the saints in California. They were paid to a Sam Brannan. Sam didn’t turn them over to the Temple in Salt Lake City.

The trouble is Brannan isn’t co-operating and seems possessed by some evil being. Rockwell thinks Crow, with his extensive dealings with forces beyond mere human evil, can help.

This story is long enough to give Jenkins some breathing space and deviates from the usual Lone Crow formula. The pair will go to San Francisco and confront the kurdaitcha and its freezing powers and a secret society, formed by Brannan within the San Francisco Vigilance Committee, gunning for Rockwell.

It’s another engaging installment in this weird western series with plenty of gunplay and supernatural menace. For Lone Crow fans, the story takes place after “The Vanishing City” and “The Five Disciples”, and this story has a three black and white illustrations as well.

 

For more reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

By the Light of Camelot

The review copy for this one was requested mostly because it had a William Meikle story, but I suppose I had a subconscious desire to return to a bit of Arthuriana after not reading any for more than 30 years apart from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

I’ve watched the movie Excalibur countless times, but I’m not any kind of Arthurian buff. Not so coincidentally, I have been listening to Professor Dorsey Armstrong’s King Arthur: History and Legend lectures from The Teaching Company which actually was a bit helpful in understanding a couple of names I came across in this book. In my English major days, I did read a fair number of the medieval Arthur texts – but there’s a whole lot I didn’t read too.

Review: By the Light of Camelot, eds. J. R. Campbell and Shannon Allen, 2018.By the Light of Camelot

The stories here roughly divide into two categories. There are the stories where the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur’s reign and the Quest for the Holy Grail are honorable institutions and men engaged in worthwhile pursuits. And there’s the stories where they aren’t, literary acid corroding the legend of Camelot.

Generally, when it comes to Arthur stories, I want the former though I enjoyed the last bit of Arthuriana I read, Roger Zelazny’s “The Last Defender of Camelot” which portrays Merlin as a dangerous fanatic. (And, after hearing Prof. Armstrong’s summary of the alliterative Morte Arthure, which sounds like a real downer, I’m interested in that too.) [Actually, in thinking about it, the last bit of Arthuriana I read was Charles Harness’ Cybele, with Bluebonnets.]

Let’s start with the fictional gripes about the Camelot’s legend.

Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “The Terrible Knitter” is well-told, a grim tale of Dysig, a Round Table knight, still alive and in the wreckage of England after the Norman Conquest. Tracking down yet another rumor of the Grail, he comes to Dent, a village that’s a “thin” place between worlds, plagued by vampiric locals. Like a lot of these tales, the sting is in the end. Continue reading “By the Light of Camelot”

No Man’s World

 

Low Res Scan: Black Hand Gang, Pat Kelleher, 2010; The Ironclad Prophecy, Pat Kelleher, 2011; The Alleyman, Pat Kelleher, 2011.

Don’t bother reading Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World trilogy.

Why shouldn’t you read it?

For exactly the same reason you shouldn’t watch one of those well-done science fiction tv series that lasted a season. You get enraptured with the mysteries, the struggles of the characters, and, as you get near the end, you realize, with a sinking feeling, that there is no way all the conflicts and plots and subplots are going to be wrapped up, the mysteries solved. Continue reading “No Man’s World”

Adventures in Reviewer Parallax: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras

On January 22, 2014, I was at a flea market in Texas.

I was in a hurry, and I’d heard the title of this Verne novel, saw it was polar story, so I grabbed it off the shelf without a closer look. I thought I was getting Verne’s sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

For the record, that would be Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery.

Review: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, Jules Verne, trans. William Butcher, 1864, 2005.

Adventures of Captain Hatteras
Cover: “The Explorer A. E. Nordenskiold” by George Rosen

This was Jules Verne’s second novel and the first of his Extraordinary Journeys, a series that continued for 50 years and 63 more books.

It was popular in its day. Four English were done in the 1870s, but Butcher, as the back cover would have it, “the father of Verne Studies”, says none were subsequently done until his.

Real polar explorers found it one of the most accurate pictures ever written of life in the Arctic — or so a footnoted source says.

There’s no doubt Verne turned over a library for this book. He was a devotee of polar exploration though somewhat hampered by not reading English. However, many polar chronicles had been translated from English into French.

The plot of this two-decker novel has the ship the Forward departing Liverpool on April 6, 1860 with Richard Shandon, second-in-command, on board. The captain, whoever he is, will show up later. Shandon is known as a reliable and knowledgeable seaman with experience of Arctic waters. Dr. Clawbonny joins the ship later in the voyage. He’ll be an affable, steadfast character with an encyclopedic knowledge of polar exploration and the polar clime – though most of it is was learned through books. He’s looking for more actual experience. Continue reading “Adventures in Reviewer Parallax: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras”

Middlemarch

Low Res Scan: Middlemarch, George Eliot, 1871-1872.1985fb54723a7a850be5cfda20c5e255

I’m not foolish enough to review an 800 page novel considered a classic and with so much attention already paid it. (I actually don’t know how long it really is. I downloaded an edition off Project Gutenberg and read it on my kindle.)

After hearing Jonathan Steinberg’s lecture on George Eliot and Middlemarch in episode 23 of the Great Courses’ series European History and European Lives: 1715 to 1914, I was curious about the novel. Also, there’s the nagging knowledge (but not guilt) that there’s a gaping hole from my English major days in regards to 19th century English novels.

The final impetus came from the weekly book club discussion on Luke Ford’s political podcast with Luke’s deadpan claim it was only 200 pages and you could read it in a couple of hours.

Is it worth reading? Very much so. I think you could make the claim that Eliot is as insightful, if not more so, about human psychology than Shakespeare. Continue reading “Middlemarch”

Science Fiction Trails #13

It’s time for another weird western review.

Review: Science Fiction Trails #13, ed. David B. Riley, 2018.

Science Fiction Trails 13
Cover by Laura Givens

To be honest, this issue was a disappointment. It was shorter than usual and a higher percentage of stories were ho-hum though there were a couple of bright points from two of the magazine’s old reliables.

I’m afraid the two newcomers don’t distinguish themselves.

Cynthia Ward’s “Six Guns of the Sierra Nevada” is actually a reprint of a story that first appeared 20 years ago in Pulp Eternity Magazine #1. It belongs to a time travel theme running throughout this issue. Carl Rhein seems to have been sent back in time by a shadowy cabal from the future in order to poison future American race relations by wiping out the Robin Hood Gang composed of all blacks. You have to be really good to get me to care about yet another story centering on what I’m told is the cause of all evil – racism, and this story isn’t, and its ending is a trifle murky.

There’s some racism in Paul J. Carney’s “The Warden of Chaco Canyon”, but it’s main problem is just that it’s kind of bland. It takes place in an alternate American West where prospectors have been hunting meteors with “star iron” – sought because of its use in protective amulets and bullets that will penetrate anything. However, the strikes have petered out after five years and prospector Hewitt wants to know why. He falls in with an Indian shaman who has his own ideas about what to do with “star iron”, and there are the ghosts of the town wiped out in the first meteor strike. Continue reading “Science Fiction Trails #13”