The Mastermind Of Mars


This seventh of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels was probably my least favorite so far. What does it mean to be disappointed in a book in a series of books that, we can all surely acknowledge, aren’t actually that good, at their best?

Mastermind reads like ERB fan fiction. By the way, did you know that some fans of the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs will call him ‘ERB?’

It’s ironic that it reads that way, because the main character, Ulysses, is a fan of the earlier stories (you see, John Carter would sometimes return to Earth and tell his tales of Martian adventures to ERB, who then published them. Well, Ulysses is a fan and when things go badly for him WWI, he… wills himself to travel to Mars (known to the inhabitants as Barsoom). There, he learns how to transplant brains into new bodies, marries a princess and all the usual derring do, but he seems to lake the verve of John Carter and the heroes of the first six books. But I will keep on reading them, gosh darn it!

Booktrain


We were driving back from one of the titular hot springs of Glenwood Springs, Colorado when was passed this bookstore. My better half saw the look on my face and said, let’s pull over.

It’s not a large bookstore, but doesn’t try to completist, but instead on having a nice selection. In classics and in poetry it had essays and poetry by the American philosopher of the outdoors, Wendell Berry, as well as a lovely looking edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. In sci fi and fantasy, there was Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself.

The largest single section were the racks of periodicals stretching down the length of the store and part of the back wall. Very near the door were their lit mags, including Lana Turner Journal, one of my favorite publications.

My better half also pointed out a large-ish selection of nudie mags – at least twenty different ones, partially covered by the shelf and wrapped in plastic. In these modern days, you don’t see that much anymore.

I Love Godzilla


Godzilla was on the other night. The terribly edited one with Raymond Burr spliced in and the most terrifying moments cut out (a mother and child crushed underfoot) in order to satisfy the delicate sensibilities of white americans.

But I love Godzilla so much.

The looping crescendos of the music, reminding us that Godzilla does not care about us, barely notices us. It’s not ‘scary’ music like the strobe light sounds of Pyscho or the rising, precision hunting of Jaws. Like the monster himself, it is merely inexorable.

To The Green Angel Tower


I finished the Memory, Sorry and Thorn trilogy (which, apparently, will have a follow up trilogy, with the first book coming out this summer).

There was, I’m afraid, a definite decline in the series. The first book did not reinvent the wheel but was, nonetheless, a reasonably creative take on the high fantasy tropes. The hero was a youth, but he never did turn out to be some destined hero of prophecy (or great wizard or even better than a decent warrior). The first book also took its time. Really took its time. Which was just fine.

As the series went on, the author started doing the George R.R. Martin multiple perspective thing and it didn’t work for me.

Also, the ending feels rushed and sort of implies that everything every character ever did was kind of pointless. And I’m also not entirely sure how the good guys won.

Recent Reading


Because Derek Walcott died, I started carrying Omeros in by satchel and reading from it, though not, necessarily, reading the book length (history? digression? epic) poem on the Caribbean in systematic fashion.

I finished Patrick Modiano’s In the Cafe of Lost Youth, my first stab at the Nobel Prize winner (as was Walcott, by the way). Similar to the next book on the list, I felt an immediate stab of disappointment at the ending, but then came around to it (coming around more fervently, though, than with the next book). The ending seemed too abrupt and unearned, but I came around to an understanding that the book itself was about the unknowability of others.

I finished the final book of the Tearling trilogy, Fate of the Tearling. I’m still not sure if this isn’t actually a young adult book. I’m still not sure if that statement says more about me than about young adult literature. But actually, I’m pretty sure that it says more about me. And, even more than it says more about me, it says a lot about the fantasy genre (and not in an entirely good way, however much I love it). I came around to the deux ex machina ending, but that didn’t make it earned and the book lost much of the goodwill earned from the first two, but credit where credit is due: this was a genuinely feminist series, with serious advocacy for birth control and female sexual agency. The final book also become decidedly anti-religious. Earlier books had posited the fantasy world’s church leaders as enemies, but now it got pretty anti-religious. Meh. Not going to argue that point.

Finally, I really loved The Dragonbone Chair, the first book in a series I had long heard about (and mentioned as a precursor to Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice, though this series has more magic in it, though it’s not necessarily hugely heavy on magic). Tad Williams hooked me pretty quickly (though he also takes his time, with something like half the book taken up with careful world building, done through the eyes of an awkward kitchen boy in his early adolescence) and as soon as I was done, I immediately downloaded the second book (sadly, not available at the library). My one quibble is that some of the world building uses some lazy thievery from the ‘real’ world. The great king, whose death opens the way for the turmoil that makes up the plot, is Prester John. Some of the cultures and their naming customs are too obviously taken from Western Europe. Not a major issue (and the world itself is quite unique), but just felt lazy.

Reading


I’m always reading several books at a time. Sometimes, too many. They pile up beside the bed in the dozens (to the consternation of my better half).

But I like to vary my reading based on moods (though lately, they have all been linked by classical Greece and Rome). I have a copy of some works of Cicero nearby and I finished On Duties but can’t seem to get into On Friendship nor On Old Age, but they’re all in the same tome and I feel like I should just finish the physical book.

I just finished reading though Stone’s The Trial of Socrates (not in the least because it vocalizes some of my nagging complaints about the Socrates of the Platonic dialogues, namely, that he’s a bit of a flat track bully; it’s also got some wonderful sounding close reading of the original Greek texts; I saw wonderful sounding because I don’t read Ancient Greek and have, really, no idea if his translations and interpretations of individual words is better or worse than others). If I have one criticism, it’s that he closes weakly, by going into a discussion of the etymology of terms for ‘freedom of speech.’ Not that it’s not interesting, but like the ending of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, it brings the (for lack of a better term) ‘narrative’ momentum to a crashing halt.

I finished the second volume of the sci-fi/space opera quartet, The Hyperion Cantos (the names of this one is The Fall of Hyperion). It’s not nearly so pretentious as the word ‘cantos’ implies. I’d compare it to some of Samuel Delaney’s wild space operas, but less formally complex and also less lyrical (even though the reconstructed personality of John Keats is a major character in The Fall of Hyperion). Shouldn’t keep you away from these books, if you like good sci fi. It’s a well thought out, well realized universe with some excellent literary flourishes.

Sally Wen Mao’s Mad Honey Symposium lies beside my bed and the title would have drawn me in, even if the poetry weren’t excellent (which it is).

Holiday Reading…


…has so far been weighted more towards trashy than classy.

Trashy has included Deryni Rising, by Katherine Kurtz, who is a name I’ve seen a lot, as a fan of fantasy, but have never read. It’s high fantasy in western medieval setting. A first novel (though written and published before I was born) and it shows. Characters are thinly sketched, but the potential is there. The entire novel takes place in a small geographic area and at least half of it takes place over thirty-six hours or so, which I as good sign – an attempt to do something a little different, as well as something focused on internal politics. That said, still needed some ‘seasoning.’ Also, there were characters known merely as ‘Moors’ who all work for bad guys and get exactly zero additional characterization, which I would suggest is borderline racist, if it weren’t so obviously fully racist.

Michael Moorcock has earned some literary cred, but he also wrote a lot of trash. Fun trash, but trash. Of his interlocking, slightly revisionist, high fantasy novels, the original Elric stories are, without doubt, the best. And the novels of Dorian Hawkmoon are, beyond a doubt, among the worst. Which makes the number of times I have read those novels inexplicable. And makes reading the original tetralogy again, during my holiday, incomprehensible. Hawkmoon, as a character, is boring (though on his companions, Huillam D’Averc, is, if thinly drawn, at least interesting and fun), the post-apocalyptic world of science and sorcery is not nearly as clever nor as relevant as Moorcock clearly believes.


But, at least I read the latest edition of Foreign Affairs. Too bad it was about how Trump is going to blow up the liberal order of progress and justice-based structures. So, um… yay! I read something worthwhile!