Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: COMIC BOOK PEOPLE by Jackie Estrada

ComicBookPeopleFCImages © Jackie Estrada.

Here’s a book I backed on Kickstarter which arrived recently, and it’s a gem. Jackie Estrada has been involved in the San Diego Comic Con from its beginning in 1970, and she was wise enough to have a camera with her. This large book is her photo album from the first two decades, and it’s full of terrific photos. Though I got into comics in 1977, I didn’t start attending the San Diego Con until 1993, so this book allowed me to visit the show through Jackie’s eyes and words, and see so many of the people I met in the business as they enjoyed the show during those years. Jackie’s comments are mix of identifying people and why they’re known with personal memories of them and the time and place. It really is like looking through a photo album with the author at your side.

ComicBookPeoplePageWhile the vast majority of people shown are from the comics and comic strips world, there are also chapters on famous figures from science fiction, movies and TV. San Diego always presented a mix, and Jackie includes photos from a few other shows, as on this page featuring one of my favorite writers, Robert Heinlein. (And rest assured it looks much better than this scan!) It was interesting to learn that Jackie and I had both been at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City where he was the guest of honor, but how about that photo of him in a Hawaiian shirt doing a sketch?

In addition to mainstream comics writers and artists, there are photos of people from underground comics, independent or small press, and animation. There are comic strip creators, and cartoonists. There are behind the scenes folks like editors, publishers and journalists. And while most of the photos were taken in black in white, there is a nice section of color photos as well.

In short, if you’re interested in the people behind the comics and media you enjoy, you’ll love this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Rereading: HIS LAST BOW by A. Conan Doyle

HisLastBow

Continuing my revisit to the entire Sherlock Holmes canon on my phone and iPad (first edition cover above). This book is relatively short, containing only seven stories, though the first, “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge,” was long enough to run in two parts in The Strand magazine. It’s a somewhat familiar idea with a man being lured to a remote estate in the country where a murder takes place, and the innocent visitor is under suspicion as the murderer, so he turns to Holmes to prove his innocence. One other character, local Police Inspector Baynes turns out to be nearly as clever and resourceful as Holmes himself, and the two of them race to the solution. Good reading.

In “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” a landlord comes to Holmes with complaints about a very mysterious lodger who has not been seen in person since moving in, and seems to have odd habits and cryptic communications in note form. Holmes takes the case, discovering that someone is communicating with the lodger through newspaper ads and signals from a nearby house. A sinister plot is uncovered, and some exciting action ensues.

“The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is both a cracking good mystery and a spy thriller, in fact perhaps the first such story ever. Stolen government weapons plans, a murdered body at a very unlikely place, Holmes and Watson breaking and entering, even Mycroft Holmes is involved. Great reading.

“The Adventure of the Dying Detective” has Holmes at death’s door, and very reluctant to allow Dr. Watson to treat him. Holmes says he his highly contagious and begs Watson to bring a specialist on rare infections to see him in his rooms. The man is question is clearly a shady character who is quite delighted to have Holmes sick and perhaps dying. He comes to gloat. Fine reading.

“The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax” has a somewhat gullible rich English woman disappearing in Europe, suspected of abduction or foul play. Holmes and Watson head to the continent to investigate and are soon on the trail of a suspicious bearded man, but the final solution takes them back to London again. Another enjoyable story.

“The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” brings Holmes to the moors of Cornwall, where a social evening of card playing has turned bizarre, leaving two men insane and a woman dead. Holmes suspects a rare poison is involved, and even puts his own life at risk with it during the investigation. A nicely creepy mystery.

“His Last Bow,” the final and title story is the only one in the collection I didn’t care for. It’s in third person, and is another spy story, not really a mystery at all. Holmes and Watson appear well into the narrative, Watson mostly off-scene, and while this adventure brings Holmes’ work to the brink of World War One, it does so in a way that seems sad and melancholy, as if the world Holmes knew and relished for decades has faded away, as has Holmes, only coming out of retirement for this last adventure.

In all, the collection is well worth reading and recommended.

And Then I Read: BIRDWING by Rafe Martin

Birdwing

Image © Rafe Martin, cover art by Matt Mahurin.

One thing storytelling is about is “What happened next?” A good story will leave you with that question, and sometimes you’ll continue thinking about the characters and what might become of them for a long time. Author Rafe Martin has taken that idea to great lengths in this novel, and very effectively. It’s based on the Brothers Grimm story, “The Six Swans,” in which six brothers are turned into swans by a witch, leaving one sister with the very difficult and years-long task of saving them. She succeeds, or almost. The youngest brother does not change completely back to human, he retains one swan’s wing. From this idea, Martin creates the world of Prince Ardwin, known derogatively as Birdwing. His wing is a great trial to him at times, but also a unique blessing, as it helps him remember the time when he could fly, and still allows him to understand and talk to animals. Ardwin’s life is often difficult, and many mock and scorn him, but he perseveres, learning to fight with bow and arrow, sword and spear, and making friends among those in the castle where he lives with his father.

Then emissaries arrive from a warlike neighboring king with a proposal and a gift. The proposal is to ally the two kingdoms through the marriage of Ardwin to their princess, and the gift is a mechanical golden arm. If the king were to accept this offer, Ardwin’s wing must be cut off. If the King refuses, war is likely. Horrified at the idea, Ardwin runs away with two friends, and later continues on his own. His first goal is the far northern lake where he and his brothers spent their summers when they were swans, and Ardwin has a very tough road there. What happens when he arrives is sad rather than comforting, and Ardwin is soon going south again, where he’s attacked by a snow lion, only the beginning of many more adventures. And, while the book at first seems a somewhat open-ended travel adventure, characters and plot threads weave together into a very satisfying story arc and resolution.

I thought this book was excellent in every way. It kept surprising me, the characters were terrific, and the creative imagination of the author in bringing this world to life is impressive. Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more books by Rafe Martin.

And Then I Read: HAWKMOON: THE RUNESTAFF by Michael Moorcock

HawkmoonRunestaff

Image © Michael Moorcock.

I’ve now completed the quartet of books I’ve been reading over the last few months, all on my iPad or phone, featuring swordsmen Hawkmoon and D’Averc, warlord Count Brass, Hawkmoon’s lady love Yisselda, and on the opposing side the very evil version of the British Empire, Granbretan, its King Huon, Baron Meliadus, and Lady Flana, among many other characters.

It’s a very rigidly plot-driven story. So much so that when, in the beginning of this book, Hawkmoon tries to change the “fate” decreed for him by the ever manipulative Runestaff, he is driven back to the correct plot course by a huge storm. The Runestaff itself proves to be unimpressive, though it apparently controls everyone in the story to some degree. I’d call it a stand-in for the author himself. There’s lots of fighting, treachery, sorcery, scheming, betrayal, slaughter, and treachery, as well as a fair amount of bravery, cleverness, luck and skill on both sides. The final battle in the streets of Londra (London) is epic, but I found I wasn’t much moved by it, or by the fates of some characters I’d been following through four books. It all seemed too planned, too regulated by the dictates of the plot. Moorcock crafted a story here which kept me turning the pages, and offered many interesting characters, but after the first book most of the emotional involvement seemed to fade. Yes, it’s inventive in some ways, but too predictable in others. I was rarely surprised after the first book of the quartet.

I will probably try other Moorcock fantasy novels in the future, but I can only mildly recommend this group.

And Then I Read: A BOOK YOU CAN’T FIND ANYWHERE

DrawnVenture

Image © estate of Arthur Ransome.

It’s the latest publication of The Arthur Ransome Society (hereafter TARS), published for subscribers recently. I expect there were some extra copies printed that will eventually be available from the TARS website, but their online sales process is currently unavailable. It’s a book of essays, which automatically makes it of little interest to most readers of this blog, I think. Normally I’d be one of them, but I love the writing of Arthur Ransome. Particularly his series of novels for children beginning with Swallows and Amazons and running to 11 more similar volumes. Those books led me to seek out other work of the author, and eventually to join TARS, whose yearly literary magazine is great reading, and who periodically publish little known works of the author such as this, not to mention having all kinds of activities for members in Britain and elsewhere.

These newspaper articles are weekly essays. Ransome had recently ended a long series of essays mainly about fishing, a personal passion, which have been collected in other books. As a favor to the publisher, he agreed to do this new column where he could write on any subject he liked, which actually turned out to be harder for him, and he gave it up after about two and a half years, but the articles he did write from 1929-31 are great reading. Some touch on politics, but the ones I liked best did not. I preferred the many articles that delved into human nature in one way or another, such as why other people’s games seem so pointless to us if we don’t follow them, how one’s profession affects the way we see the world, why travel is more often fun to plan than to experience, how we often read too fast, the joys of reading aloud, why city visitors to the country see it so differently than residents, and vice versa, the dust that once cloaked the British countryside, why those who exercise and preach about it are so annoying, the pleasure of being up early, and so many more.

I guess this review is more for myself than anyone, but if you have any interest in Arthur Ransome and his writing, I highly recommend TARS.