book review: the mirror thief

I found Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief in the course of helping a library user learn how to download ebooks. I grabbed it as a random example from our Mystery & Thriller category and the blurb intrigued me. It’s a three-timeline story about 1) a vet home from Afghanistan trying to find an old gambler friend of his father’s in 2003 Las Vegas, 2) a homeless teenage grifter looking for the poet who wrote a book he’s desperately trying to understand in 1950s California and 3) an alchemist in 1500s Italy arranging the theft of mirror-making artisans for the Hakemi Sultan in Constantinople.

The three settings (the Venetian, Venice Beach and Venice) felt distinct in style of story and language, but connect reasonably satisfactorily. It wasn’t mind blowing but it was entertaining.

book review: the beats: a graphic history

I remember when Harvey Pekar’s comic The Beats came out and it got profiled on BoingBoing and I feel like I’ve seen it everywhere since. I’ve read a bit of Kerouac Ginsberg and Burroughs in my day, so I was interested. Those big three are well represented in a non-hagiographic kind of way. What really made this book for me was the information about all the Beats I hadn’t heard of. There are comics in here about a bunch of people who were also at Ginsberg’s first City Lights reading of Howl, and they are very interesting.

For instance, I hadn’t ever really thought about how anti-woman the big-name beats were until seeing some of this stuff laid out on paper. Having stuff about the women who were also creative forces at the time was really good for provoking at least a Wikipedia-binge or two.

book review: the black casebook

Batman: The Black Casebook is a collection of 1950s bizarre Batman stories that Grant Morrison used in his Batman RIP storyline. Basically he was looking at the same issue of “What if all this crazy crap actually happened to Batman in one lifetime? Even the batshit insane stuff from the 1950s?” that Neil Gaiman looked at in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? The Black Casebook is a testament to how batshit some of those 1950s stories were.

We’ve got Bat-Mite, Batman pretending to be Indian Chief “Man of the Bats” (seriously terrible), a pile of ridiculous international heroes inspired by Batman, an alternate universe where our Batman has Superman powers, and more. The stories are ridiculous, but it is interesting that Grant Morrison used bits of them to tell a contemporary tale. Interesting doesn’t mean entertaining though. I’d skip this unless you’re a real hardcore Batman aficionado.

book review: have spacesuit, will travel

I read Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel for my SF class. It’s weird how 1950s it feels (even as it namedrops brands like Goodyear and GE). The kid (who I think is way younger than he’s supposed to be because he talks with this really juvenile idea of adulthood) gets abducted by aliens because he’s out wearing his spacesuit he won in a soap jingle contest. It’s the kind of old SF where we have a Moon base and use slide rules. Which is cool and all for me, as a study of SF, but there’s no way I could recommend a book like this to a kid with a straight face today. The past that this was written in is so different that that would be the weirdness in the story.

Heinlein’s ideas of justice and what’s good and right come shining through especially in terms of what a man should be doing (smashing open doors and alien heads, learning hard sciences and being a bit belligerent).

Some people insist that ‘mediocre’ is better than ‘best.’ They delight in clipping wings because they themselves can’t fly.

One of the parts of that philosophy that I enjoy the hell out of is the complete denigration of people with narrow worldviews. Right off the hop the narrator is referring to “creeps who wouldn’t consider leaving Earth.” But the hero also has a very simple assumption that the way a white male “who can always get what he wants” sees the world is the way a human sees the world.

It was interesting and I’m glad I read it, but there’s way better stuff out there.

book review: now wait for last year

Another Philip K Dick book featuring disjointed time, I felt Now Wait For Last Year did more understandable stuff with the time travel than Martian Timeslip. It’s 2055 and there’s a drug that lets people shift through time (as it kills them). Dr. Sweetscent gets hooked on the drug by his vindictive wife after he’s assigned to be the UN General Secretary/Supreme Dictator’s personal physician. They say that every PKDick book, no matter what its setting, is about California in the 1950s. If that is true, 1950s Californian women were horrible creatures.

Sweetscent is smarter than some of the other protagonists Dick writes, and the fact that this book had fewer viewpoint characters (than either Martian Timeslip or Dr. Bloodmoney) made it a bit more conventional a story. There’s an action scene where Sweetscent shoots an alien military ship out of the sky (Earth is a reluctant ally to an alien race involved in a war with another alien race. The political situation is reminiscent of The Android’s Dream.) There are urgent messages to be brought back in time and sent forward in time to save all humanity, but in the end his personal problems kind of trump everything.

In any case, I’m really enjoying these novels. They’re all in this Five Novels of the 1960s and 1970s collection I got for Xmas.