Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover art by Walter Velez.

The title of this book suggests it’s a parody of the “Rough Guide” travel books, but inside it’s more of an encyclopedia of people, magical beings, places, elements, hazards and so forth you might meet on the book’s suggested tours of Fantasyland. In this way, it’s almost a cross between a Dungeon-master’s guide, a Berlitz phrase guide, and a humorous encyclopedia with lots of in-jokes for those who enjoy reading fantasy. Many references are fairly obscure, but if you’ve read Tolkien, you’ll get a lot of it. The problem is that, as in trying to read an actual encyclopedia, there’s no plot. It’s amusing at times, certainly, but you can only read so many entries at a time. It took me several weeks to get to them all, even though the author is a favorite. There’s a fair amount of repetition and cross-referencing, and by the end of the book you have a pretty complete idea of what the tours it describes would be like, but I’d rather have read a book telling the tale of one of the tours, and having the “Tough Guide” used by the characters, as seen on the cover. Some entries are quite entertaining, others are predictable. One of my favorites is on Horses:

“Horses are of a breed unique to Fantasyland. They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind. They never otherwise stumble. Nor do they ever make life difficult for Tourists by biting or kicking their riders or one another. They never resist being mounted or blow out so that their girths slip, or do any of the other things that make horses so chancy in this world…”

And so it goes on to the conclusion that these horses are actually bred from plants!

Fun stuff, but not as much fun as a real Diana Wynne Jones novel. Mildly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE GILDED AGE by Mark Twain & Charles Dudley Warner

Title page found online, I read an ebook version. This was Twain’s first novel. He’d written many short stories before it, and two non-fiction books about travel, “The Innocents Abroad,” and “Roughing It.” Warner, a fellow writer, and Twain were friends and neighbors, and their wives challenged them to produce a novel better than what the women were able to find in the bookstores of their day in Hartford, CT. Twain wrote the first 11 chapters, which focus on the the Hawkins family of rural Tennessee and their friend and mentor, Colonel Beriah Sellers. Warner wrote the next 12 chapters which follow two New York City men from well-to-do families, Philip Sterling and Henry Brierly. The many later chapters were a tag-team effort, and a collaboration at the end. All these characters have one desire: to make it rich quickly in the American midwest, still essentially frontier territory in the years after the Civil War. Sellers is a dreamer and a schemer, leading the gullible Hawkins family on a move westward from Tennessee across the Mississippi into Missouri, where one scheme after another fails to work.

Along the way, the Hawkins family adds and adopts two orphans. One of them, Laura, grows into a woman of intelligence and beauty, and the latter half of the book often focuses on her, with and without the two New York Men, Philip and Henry. Those two get involved in a land surveying project in Missouri and soon meet up with Colonel Sellers and the Hawkins group. Later, Sellers, Laura, and the two men end up in Washington DC trying to get legislation passed that will have the U.S. Government purchasing land they own, or benefitting them in other ways. Laura is an excellent schemer in this area until she is derailed by the appearance of her former husband, George Selby, a man who had treated her very badly, and now arrives in Washington with a new wife. A melodramatic murder ensues.

This book has lots of social and political satire, and reveals the truth that politics has always been a corrupt game. One early effort by Colonel Sellers to get a federal grant for a railroad project in his home area involves lots of wrangling and “selling” by Sellers, Laura Hawkins and their friend Senator Dilworthy. They finally get half a million dollars for the project, a fortune in those days. But as they find out, once payoffs are made to all the congressmen who voted for the money, their staffs, and so on, Sellers and cohorts find they actually owe their new railroad company $10,000 each. While it has serious moments, there’s also a good deal of humor and romance on hand. Colonel Sellers and Laura Hawkins are the standout characters, the former being a sly con-man, the latter a charming con-woman.

It’s a long book, and at times did not entertain me as much as other Twain works I’ve read. The standout chapter in the early Twain ones is a steam boat race on the Mississippi with a disastrous conclusion that jumps off the page with excitement and thrills. Clearly this was an area that Twain was good at and would return to. I’m not a fan of politics, so the political satire dragged for me, though the characters got me through. It’s certainly an interesting look at a period of American history I hadn’t known much about, a time for big dreams and big schemes that often failed to come true.

Mildly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE FLASH #34

Image © DC Entertainment. Written by Joshua Williamson & Michael Moreci, art by Pop Mhan, colors by Ivan Plascencia, letters by Steve Wands.

Speedster Meena, once a S.T.A.R. Labs scientist, is back, after Barry Allen and Wally West were sure she was dead. Her story is that somehow she was absorbed into the speed force, and she’s returned to help Barry with the Negative Speed Force put into him by Reverse-Flash. They and Wally work together to study and try to remove it. Barry and Meena’s one-time romance seems to be back on the table. Then things happen to change it up again.


And Then I Read: HAL JORDAN & THE GL CORPS #31

Image © DC Entertainment. Written by Robert Venditti, art by Patrick Zircher, colors by Jason Wright, letters by Dave Sharpe.

The crossover with Superman seemed to be pitting them against the giant-headed villain Hector Hammond, but as we see in this issue, he’s actually in need of help from them instead, after being attacked by aliens who take over his mental abilities. They create the illusion of a perfect family life for Hal Jordan here on Earth, one that he finds comforting. Superman seems to have been played in a similar way, though we don’t get to see it. A fun combination of the two powerful heroes with a wistful coda for Hal before he’s summoned to the next interplanetary emergency.


And Then I Read: GREEN LANTERNS #31

Image © DC Entertainment. Written by Sam Humphries, art by Ronan Cliquet, colors by Hi-Fi, letters by Dave Sharpe.

Simon and Jessica have been sent ten billion years into the past, where they are facing off against Volthoom, the First Lantern, and his ring of every color in the emotional spectrum. Beside them are the first seven members of the Green Lantern Corps, but even with all their willpower and teamwork, Volthoom is proving tough to subdue. He wants to go back to his home planet even further in the past, but the rainbow powers of his ring are driving him mad, and making him an extremely dangerous foe. When the Guardians show up, things get even more interesting. And back in our time, in the Vault of Shadows, Rami the rogue Guardian has an emotional reunion with the last of the original seven Green Lanterns.

I’ve really enjoyed this storyline incorporating elements of early GL history, much of it new to me, and this final issue of it is excellent. Recommended.