Archive for September, 2017

Review: The Mark of Zorro

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Given my love of serial fiction – especially comics – it may be surprising that I’ve never sat down and read the original Zorro story.  This is the 1924 The Mark of Zorro, a version of the serialized Curse of Capistrano story from Johnston McCulley, and it is a ripsnorter.  McCulley is a pseudonym who created many such mystery men.  It is easy to see why Zorro is the most famous.

Like the Sharpe‘s Rifles books, there is not too much to say about Zorro, except that it is a brilliantly written page turner.  Check it out sometime.


Review: Rootabaga Stories

Friday, September 15th, 2017

I heard of Rootabaga Stories from Robert Charles Wilson’s strong story “Fireborn” in Mashup, which is based on a line from one. Carl Sandburg wrote the collection for his children and subsequently published them.  The stories are Sandburg’s conception of what American fairy tales should be.  One of the first salient points Sandburg addresses is to underline the class mobility and fairness that are part of the American mythos by removing references to royalty.  It is pretty telling that these are hardly recognizable as fairy tales without kings and princesses.

Sandburg builds a world of echoes from his beloved American midwest that holds wide open expanses, robust cities, and mighty trains that connect them.  Typing that, it strikes me how well that reflects the structure of Grimm’s milieu with respect to Europe’s idealized past.  America’s idealized past is one of great plains compared to Europe’s dark forests.  Democratic cities form instead of serf-built castles.  Names are foggy echoes of what Americans imagine First Nations names to sound like, cross bred with Midwestern slang rather than Olde-Time-y European sounds.  Again, this shows the structure of Sandburg’s project.

Story to story Sandburg keeps enough consistency to solidify the world without being a slave to it. The result is a grounded Oz, if that makes any sense.  It is a remarkable and quirky example of world-building.  It’s easy to see why Wilson was inspired by it.

As befits an icon of American poetry, the language of these stories is unique and powerful.  The phrasing of his descriptions are singular without being self-consciously poetic. They stand alone without being obviously from Sandburg while on reflection they clearly bear his stamp.  Even if one finds the contents of the stories contrived or twee – which I don’t, but understand – Sandburg’s language rings.


Review: Tales of a Traveler

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Tales of a Traveler is a collection of classic suspense (ghost) stories from one of America’s first literary writers. Washington Irving shows his skill at producing these tales set in the framing sequence of a collection of men marooned by weather. As historically interesting as that is, the stories have been repeated many places and are really not that gripping any more.  Irving is a great writer, but very much of his moment here.  The very details and craft that made the stories gripping in the moment distances them from a modern reader.  It’s interesting to see these tales in their native form, but I cannot really recommend them.


Review: Mashup

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Gardner Dozios collects and edits a lot of SF and SF collections.  There is a story that Larry Marder is the Nexus of all Comics Realities in the sense that everyone working in comics knows him and that he gleefully links people up.  That’s how I think of Dozios.

In any case he gathered a set of interesting voices for Mash Up and set them loose with the simple mission to write him a short story that starts with the first line of a literary classic. Everyone’s game, of course and most of the results are fun and interesting.  In fact, overall the range of voices is broad.  No two stories seem cut from the same cloth, which makes it an interesting way to hear writers you’d like to hear more from.  All of this is leading to the correct conclusion that this is a diverting collection of stories from good writers.

Then there’s Mary Robinette Kowal’s Tour de Force “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”  It’s one of those short stories that the only real advice a reader can give is “read it.”  I’ll risk a few more words.  It’s about adventure, and the price of getting what you want, and love, and growing old together, and how small events change societies, and how gender bends peoples impressions.  And Hollerith cards. (And she even nailed the premise, weaving one of those themes through the chosen opening line, which few authors managed.) Go read it.

Recommended.  The Lady Astronaut is a must.