Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Books Worth a Look XV

These are the books I read in May 2003.

The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow (Dark Horse, 1996)
There's just something about Geof Darrow's ultraviolent Richard Scarry by way of Martin Handford's Where's Waldo? artistic style that impresses me like little else. This collaboration with Frank Miller, following up Hard Boiled, updates the Astro-Boy, Godzilla, and Iron Giant storylines as it follows the adventures of an eager yet ineffectual sidekick and a massive mechanical hero. While Frank Miller is usually the standout in all he does, it is Darrow's art that shines here as he depicts dinosaurs, vehicles, buildings, people, and carnage like few others. The faux vintage comics covers depicting the adventures of the Big Guy and Rusty between 1959 and 1995 are an additional nice touch -- especially the erstwhile educomics. True eye candy for the comics reader.
Pages: 80. Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

The Funco File by Burt Cole (Avon, 1970)
At first, I wished that this was a collection of short stories, as the vignettes read more like Fredric Brown's short fiction than a proper novel. But it all comes together well with an impressive call back to the book's opening at the very end -- which might be the most impressive aspect of the novel. I was also delightfully surprised how long it took to explain what the title meant. For the most part, the book weaves the experiences and adventures of several parallel antiheroes -- a man who can trace blue light in the air with his nose, an "AWOL soldier conditioned to kill by reflex action," a woman trained in the mystical arts of erotic love, and a backwoods boy -- who team up to help the computing machine that rules and runs the world learn why human anomalies are actually the norm. Slightly more complex and impressive than The Probability Pad, this is a fine example of counterculture-influenced s-f.
Pages: 254. Days to read: 10. Rating: Good.

Future Boston edited by David Alexander Smith. (Orb, 1995)
Much like Robert Lynn Asprin's Thieves' World or the shared-world stories written by Mike Resnick, this book collects the work of eight authors who outline the future history of Boston between 1990 and 2100. The city is reclaimed slowly by the sea -- on which Boston was built -- and aliens arrive, making for some fun speculative history. Largely drawing on members of the Cambridge Science Fiction Writers Workshop, the book includes several useful topographic maps inspired by USGS resources, as well as writing informed by a well-researched bible about culture, economics, physics, politics, and technology. Standout authors include Alexander Jablokov, Smith, Steven Popkes, and Sarah Smith. This is a wonderful example of locally inspired s-f with a strong sense of place. Kudos to all involved.
Pages: 384. Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

Interface by Mark Adlard (Ace, 1977)
A group of social engineering elite are sucked into a political web of intrigue as a highly dystopian mega-urban future is rewritten. The novel includes some notable extra-urban vignettes, as well as a Haruki Murakami-like mysterious cabaret singer and some nice Isaac Asimov-inspired robot characters. Even though the architect of the uprising was a pleasant surprise, much less his connection to the elite, the romantic resolution was relatively lackluster because, even though I'm a subscriber to the love at first sight school, I didn't feel the hero and heroine's connection warranted such loyalty or love. Still, a good first novel in this series.
Pages: 218. Days to read: 3. Rating: Good.

A People's History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael (Perennial, 2002)
Purchased to read in conjunction with a class on the American Revolution in Boston and Cambridge I took at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, this book is part of the series edited by the notable progressive historian Howard Zinn. Considering "how common people shared the fight for independence," the book looks at the folks who supported -- and often challenged -- the "founding fathers" of the United States. By analyzing the lost histories of how the working class, women, loyalists, pacifists, Native Americans, and African Americans contributed to -- and were affected by -- the Revolution, Raphael uncovers stories and context that I wish had been shared with me in junior high social studies. Raphael shows that the Revolution was in many ways a class struggle, but he also indicates that much of the conflicts were rooted in self-interest and ever-shifting alliances formed to further self-preservation -- and the nascent United States, even if it wasn't a truly unified collective fight for economic and political independence from England. A required read for any Media Dietician.
Pages: 506. Days to read: 28. Rating: Excellent.

The Probability Pad by T.A. Powers (Pyramid, 1970)
The third novel in a loosely linked series penned by Chester Anderson, Michael Kurland, and Powers, this is the conclusion of a wide-ranging countercultural take on science fiction. While I've yet to read The Butterfly Kid and The Unicorn Girl, I'm fascinated by the notion of a genre adopting the trappings of a subculture -- much less a subculture adopting a genre to further its ethos and ideals. Even though the bottom fourth of the first 10 pages of my edition was torn off, the book gives us a pretty good idea of what happens when a subculture and mass media intersect. While at least one author was based in Haight-Ashbury, the book is set in Greenwich Village, which indicates some sort of distancing, if not market segmentation. The three eponymous heroes discover a confusing plot to take over the planet and, in the end, outwit the invading aliens. There's the usual hipster lingo, as well as some inventive slang and use of typography -- and a righteous happening at the conclusion. If you're a fan or aficionado of the late '60s -- or science fiction -- this is worth checking out.
Pages: 144. Days to read: 2. Rating: Fair.

No comments: