And Then I Read: THE OVERNEATH by Peter S. Beagle

I’ve been enjoying the writing of Peter S. Beagle a very long time, since discovering his fantasy novels “A Fine and Private Place” and “The Last Unicorn” in the late 1960s. He continues to entertain me. This collection gathers stories from various anthologies dated 2010 through 2016.

“The Green-Eyed Boy” is a tale of Beagle’s character Schmendrick the Magician just starting out in his ill-fated career, an important incident for fans of “The Last Unicorn.”

“The Story of Kao Yu” tells of a Chinese unicorn (of sorts) who helps a famous judge decide some of his most troubling cases…until the judge finds himself in moral jeopardy.

“My Son Heydari and the Karkadann” tells of yet another kind of unicorn, this one a fierce beast of Iran akin to a rhinoceros, and the young man and his girlfriend who help nurse an injured one back to health.

“The Queen Who Could Not Walk” asks, if you are raised with every privilege to offset your disability, what will happen when you are turned out into the streets with nothing?

“Trinity County, CA” wonders what might happen if lawmen trying to control illegal drugs had to deal with guardian dragons owned by the drug lords?

In “The Way It Works Out And All,” Beagle uses real-life fantasy writer and his mentor, Avram Davidson in a fun fictional adventure in which Avram has discovered The Overneath, a way to travel great distances quickly, but a dangerous one.

“Kaskia” features a laptop computer so inexplicable to its user that it might well be magic. The messages he’s receiving certainly seem to be from some other world than ours.

“Schmendrick Alone” is another tale of bungled magic that the wizard allows to get out of control.

“Great-Grandmother in the Cellar” is a chilling tale of a family secret that is not only their horror, but at times their savior.

“Underbridge” is a modern day troll story set in Seattle, and using an actual troll sculpture found there as the focal point.

“The Very Nasty Aquarium” asks, can an ancient evil reside in a simple aquarium decoration, and what happens when the water starts turning black?

“Music, When Soft Voices Die” describes four rooming-house inhabitants in a sort of Victorian steampunk London. One of them is experimenting with early radio devices, and unleashes voices from the dead that will not be silenced.

“Olfert Dapper’s Day” takes place in 17th-century Maine, where the title character once reported to have seen a real unicorn. Beagle’s development of this spare idea is fascinating.

All good stories, and recommended.

Sand Sculptures 2019

My friend Tim and his son Gabe were here the last three days for our annual beach visits and sand sculpting adventures. (You can find previous ones under the “Sand Sculpture” topic in the right menu of this blog.)

Tim was emulating the work of sand sculpture wizard Calvin Siebert on Saturday with this block structure. My tower, behind it, is nothing much, and was damaged by a wayward flying umbrella, so is hardly worth focusing on.

On one side of Tim’s sculpture he found a way to make this lattice pattern that we both liked.

Gabe made this large cutaway sphere, like the diagrams of what’s inside the earth, sort of.

Later in the day we enjoyed watching our work washed away by the incoming tide. By that time, Tim’s had become much smaller and simpler, with a hole in it.

On Sunday I made this rocket. Not terrible straight, but I thought it worked well enough. I wanted to get a point on the shaft, but couldn’t do it, so I put a triangle made separately on the top.

Tim did another Siebert-inspired structure that reminded us of the game Jenga.

Tim has found or developed all kinds of sculpting tools over the years, some are on the left in this picture, including tool boxes and trays of small ones.

A more finished version of Tim’s sculpture.

On Monday Tim suggested we try to make block letters out of sand. He came up with these.

Mine were smaller, horizontal and surrounded by a graphic which I thought came out rather well.

Tim is headed home today, so that’s it for this year!

And Then I Read: THE COLOR OF MAGIC by Terry Pratchett

I came to the Discworld series late, when most of it was already written. There are lots of titles, over 40. I read up on where to start. The advice was, don’t try to read them in order, pick a series within the series and follow that. I did so with the Tiffany Aching books — loved them — and the Going Postal books — loved them as well. Tried a few others at random. Finally, I decided to read this one, the very first.

While I’d been able to pick up the general geography and plan of Discworld from some of the other books, the first one makes it more understandable thanks to the wide range of action and Terry’s explanations as he went along. Why did I listen to all that advice, I should have started here! Giant flat disc with central land mass surrounded by oceans, which pour continuously over the edge. Disc on the back of four immense elephants themselves on the back of an even more immense sea turtle swimming through space. Got it. Established: this is a world not possible without magic. There’s plenty of that in the book.

The story focuses on Rincewind, who calls himself a wizard, but in fact he has almost no wizardly abilities due to flunking out of wizard school. He agrees to become the personal guide to Twoflower, a rich but clueless tourist from a faraway empire. Rincewind plans to pocket his large fee and skedaddle, but he’s forced to actually honor the agreement by the ruler of his home city, Ankh-Morpork to keep Twoflower’s empire from taking revenge for the trick. Twoflower has a list of events and places he wants to visit, all of them very dangerous or nearly impossible to achieve. His one important asset is a magical trunk that not only holds his fortune, but almost anything else Twoflower might need. The trunk has many small legs, and doggedly and unerringly follows Twoflower everywhere, even when left far behind. The trunk has teeth and a dangerous appetite when threatened.

Through these characters, we get to see many areas and their inhabitants on Discworld, even in the surrounding ocean. The flavor is humorous, at times satiric, but the characters are believable and entertaining, perhaps not least because they all have agendas that include getting some of Twoflower’s money for themselves. Is there an honest man or woman on Discworld? They’re mighty scarce.

A fun read, and recommended.

And Then I Read: BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #3

Lead story written by Stuart Moore, art by Alberto Ponticelli, colors by Giulia Brusco. Backup written by Tyrone Finch, art by Mauricet, colors by Lee Loughridge. Letters on both by Rob Steen.

This book continues to combine disparate genres and characters in an entertaining way. It opens in a 1975 where Martians have conquered the Earth (or at least New York City), and they are staging a battle between two captives: street fighter Lynda Darrk and martial arts master Jackson Li. Their other prisoner, Brita, has recently arrived from 2,000 years ago, and is a warrior herself. Before long, Brita and Lynda are back in Brita’s time where a super-intelligent monkey is making trouble. The Martians are there, too, but what happened to Jackson Li?

The backup, Major Ursa, is about a bear who has gained high intelligence through being sent into space as an experiment. Now he holds the key to further space travel, even though he’s being treated as slave labor. Ursa has an ally in Selma, another cog in the space program machine. Can the two of them sneak into the waiting space ship and get it airborne?

I’m not sure why these ideas work, but they do. Recommended.

Rereading: THE STAR BEAST by Robert A. Heinlein

Cover art by Clifford Geary

As has often been the case, I reread a Heinlein book on my way to the San Diego Con last week. I didn’t bring my hardcover copy (which does not have the dust jacket pictured above, sadly), I read an ebook version.

“Star Beast” is the eighth of the author’s juveniles series, science fiction novels written for young readers, most published by Scribners in the 1950s. This one came out in 1954. It takes place in a future Earth which has had spaceflight for a few centuries, and had contact with a number of non-terrestrial species and civilizations. The protagonist, teenager John Thomas Stuart XI, lives in the small Rocky Mountains town of Westville. The one unusual thing about his life is his pet, Lummox, a creature brought back from an early space expedition by his great-grandfather. At the time, Lummox was about the size of a dog, but he has continued to grow, and developed the ability to speak English in the manner of a child. Lummox is now the size of a small bus, and quartered in a large barn in John Thomas’ back yard, which he’s been forbidden to leave. The creature is obedient, but boredom eventually causes him to find a way to sneak out, and soon he’s caused a great deal of damage to property all over Westville.

John Thomas’ widowed mother does not like Lummox, and sees this as a way to get the animal destroyed. At first John Thomas and his girlfriend try to protect Lummox, but attempts by the town’s police chief to kill the beast (unsuccessful) lead them to engineer an escape into the mountains where they hope to hide out.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kiku, a career diplomat with Earth’s Department of Spacial Affairs, is having trouble negotiating with a new, powerful alien species, whose ship has arrived in Earth orbit. Their negotiator demands the return of a lost child they are sure is on Earth, though no creature similar to the Hroshi has ever been seen there. As you might imagine, these two stories soon intertwine in a very entertaining way.

I hadn’t read this fine book in a long time, and one thing that surprised me was how talky it is. I expect that of Heinlein’s later works, but this one is about two-thirds dialogue. Despite that, the story moves along well, and all the characters and ideas are clever and appealing. This is one of the funniest and most charming of Heinlein’s works. Highly recommended.