Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: THE FABULOUS RIVERBOAT by Philip Jose Farmer

RiverboatOne type of meta-fiction that is considered a relatively new development by many readers puts a group of characters from many authors and stories together in a new book. In comics, this is epitomized by THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill. The first example I can think of in science fiction or fantasy is the novel “Silverlock” by John Myers Myers, published in 1949. In it, the title character finds himself in a fantasy world inhabited by dozens, perhaps hundreds of characters from other literery and mythical works. That book may have inspired writer Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riverworld” novels, of which this is the second. I read the first, “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” not long after it came out in 1971, but I only remembered the broad concepts, not much of the plot.

Riverworld is a mysterious future world that has been terraformed to create one very long river valley that winds in spiral fashion from one pole to the next, or so I imagine from the descriptions. On it are reborn men and women from Earth, real people from all times and places, but also literary characters from myths, legends, and stories, as in the Myers book. The protagonist is Samuel Clemens, writer Mark Twain, and his dream is to reach the North Pole of Riverworld where the truth about its creation may lie. To do that, he is determined to build a huge riverboat that he can pilot through the thousands of miles of river to its source.

As one learns in this second book of the series, his problems are immense. For one, there is no technology, no metal, and no industry on Riverworld. Basic needs such as food, clothing and “recreational” supplements like alcohol and drugs are supplied by the unknown creators of the place through devices called “grails,” set at regular intervals along both river banks. War, fighting and death are common among the many people and cultures on Riverworld, but if one dies, one is simply resurrected again, though usually thousands of miles away from where one was, interrupting any ongoing schemes or plans.

Sam has some powerful allies in his quest to build a riverboat, and soon makes dire enemies as well, who want the resources he goes about gathering and uncovering. It’s a fascinating story with many ups and downs, and a cast of characters that are quite entertaining, even though the book does not delve deeply into any of them other than Sam. It’s more of a plot-driven adventure story, but one that’s hard to put down. I enjoyed it, and I think I will eventually locate and read the rest of the series.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: POGO VOLUME 3

Pogovol3HCImages © Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc.

I’ve been gradually reading this handsome third volume of the complete Pogo comic strips over the last month or so. It takes me a while because, unlike some strip collections such as those for “Peanuts,” I can’t read very many pages of Pogo at a time. They’re so dense with things to look at, enjoy and understand — clever dialogue, jokes, satire, physical humor, amazing cartooning, lush inking, incredible lettering and more — that after a few pages my brain begins to feel overloaded and I start missing things. This time I decided to only read one month’s worth of dailies or three months worth of Sundays at a time. As the book covers two full years, 1953 and 1954, it took a while, but I feel I got more out of the reading experience this time. Continue reading

Rereading: TWO BY GEORGE MacDONALD

PrincessGoblin PrincessCurdieThe first of these books, “The Princess and the Goblin,” was a favorite of my childhood nearly 60 years ago, when fantasy books were much less common, and always something I was looking for. It was written in 1872, and has a Victorian style that might deter readers today, often very sentimental and “soft,” but the fantasy elements are enchanting (in the case of the magical grandmother) and scary (the goblins), and the writing is always heartfelt and honest. Princess Irene lives in a large royal house in the mountains with a governess, a staff of servants and guards, but no family. Her mother is dead, her father is far away running the kingdom in the capital, only visiting Irene occasionally. The area is one where mining is the main job for both humans and an underground population of goblins. Irene knows nothing of the goblins, which only come out at night, but one late afternoon on a walk with her governess, they get lost, and are menaced by a goblin. To the rescue comes a miner boy, Curdie, who scares off the goblin and returns them to the royal house. Thereafter, Irene and Curdie’s lives are intertwined. Irene finds her way to hidden attic rooms where her magical grandmother lives, watching over the house in secret, and Irene is shown wonderful things, but also given difficult tasks. Curdie, in the mines with his father and others, discovers a way into the goblin tunnels where he overhears a plot to steal the princess and destroy the human mines. It’s a great story, and though I’ve read it many times, I always enjoy reading it again.

“The Princess and Curdie” is a sequel which I never liked as well, and have only read two or maybe three times before, and not for decades. This time I found it more appealing than I remembered, but it’s  a political story with much less magic, and I can see why I didn’t care for it as a child. Curdie is sent by the grandmother to the royal capital, where Irene and her ailing father now both live, with a mission to set the kingdom on a better path. It’s fallen prey to evil men in high places who have taken most of the king’s power and are exploiting for their own gain. To help him, Curdie has a companion, a very strange Goblin beast, sort of a Goblin pet, but one that’s much smarter than the Goblins, and not evil. Curdie finds loads of trouble when he arrives in the capital, and his work is cut out for him even to reach Irene.

Both books are well worth reading, in my opinion, and George MacDonald’s own life story is a fascinating one, too. Friends with Lewis Carroll and other leading writers of his time, subject to many personal tragedies, and yet a loving husband and father, and a fine writer.

And Then I Read: TWO BY JANE LOUISE CURRY

ParsleySage

MagicCupboard

Jane Louise Curry has been writing novels for children since the early 1970s. Her most recent book came out in 2005. Over the years I’ve gradually collected and read and enjoyed nearly all her books, but these two, written in 1975 and 76, eluded me for a long time. I found them recently, the first in a Kindle edition, the second on Amazon as a used book. They’re connected, though they can certainly be enjoyed separately as well.

In “Parsley,” a present-day girl named Rosemary is sent to stay with her aunt in a very old family home in Maine, one she’s never seen. When she arrives, she finds the house, called “Wychwood” fascinating, and enjoys exploring the surroundings. There’s a small herb garden that’s fallen into disrepair, and through it Rosemary finds herself transported back to the past, the 1720s to be precise, when the house was actually the home of an old woman, Goody Cakebread, who the local folks considered to be a witch. She’s actually a harmless old lady except for one thing: she has a cupboard with unusual magical properties. Things put into it often disappear, but other things Goody needs appear there instead. Rosemary soon discovers she’s not the only one drawn to this time and place from its future, there are two others, a younger girl, Baba, and a boy baby named Wim. Before any of them can figure out how to return to their own time, they’re drawn into turmoil in the local town, where a preacher is determined to burn Goody Cakebread as a witch. The children and Goody try to escape, but are caught and thrown into jail, and things are looking grim for them.

In “The Magical Cupboard,” we follow the 1722 era adventures of another young girl, Felicity, who has ended up in the clutches of Parson Grout and his wife, the ones persecuting Goody Cakebread, and now in possession of her cupboard, though they don’t know how to use it. Felicity is taken to an orphanage run by the Grouts, which she soon discovers is really a forced labor home for the children they put there. The Grouts are running from their past bad deeds, and decide to head into the Maine wilderness to escape the law, taking their orphans along. The expedition is full of troubles, and when it’s attacked by Indians, things seem to be headed for a sad end.

Both these books are connected in interesting ways through characters and events, and reading the two together was fun, though I wouldn’t put them among Curry’s best work. I love any story involving time travel, though there isn’t very much of it here, but the characters are engaging and the plots are clever.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE SILVER AGE OF DC COMICS by Paul Levitz

SilverAgeFCImages © DC Comics.

The second volume by Paul on DC history (drawn from and expanding on the even more massive “75 Years of DC Comics”) covers 1956-70, and encompasses the comics of my childhood, at least those put out by DC. If you were a comics reader in this period, you’ll enjoy all the wonderful pictures of the covers, interior pages and descriptions of the series, genres, editors, writers, and of course the artists. I liked the fact that some of the comics covers were worn and well-read, rather than all the best possible pristine copies. Some of the more important creators get a spotlight of several pages, others just a paragraph, but it’s a large subject, and even with 400 pages to fill, not everything can be covered in depth. I was already familiar with most of the subject matter, so there wasn’t as much new material for me here, though I did miss plenty of the comics from the time, and it was fun to see so many of them represented. Continue reading