Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny

Creatures of light and darkness

Image used for review purposes only. Source.

Egyptian gods fighting in space. That’s what this weird little book is about. I wouldn’t call it a novel – the story isn’t comprehensible enough for that – but more of an extended prose poem, or even a collection of prose poems.

When I say that, what I mean is that we’re dealing with some very good writing here. Lots of literary fireworks. Zelazny does that thing where you have a long sentence that forms its own paragraph, with clauses separated by semicolons. Some chapters are written in actual poetry and the conclusion is written like a play. The book’s fantastic/futuristic setting affords Zelazny many opportunities for bizarre imagery, and he generally takes these opportunities.

Didn’t get much sense of a plot, though. Far as I can make out, Anubis trains a champion to restore order to the galaxy, and the champion makes an honest fist of it. He goes to a planet bursting with babies, watches a man commit suicide at a carnival, meets up with a tough nurse and later on it turns out that he’s Set. There’s also a verbose poet running about, three quarreling craftspeople arguing about pins, and Yahweh might be hiding in the backstory. To be honest, I would have put this book through a lot more editing before publishing it. The general vibe of awesome incomprehensibility put me in mind of some of Grant Morrison’s comics.

We don’t get so much in the way of characterisation, but we do get some very well-done character sketches. One character, the Steel General, stands out. At times a cyborg and others a normal meat-man, he is a weirdo who plays banjos and always supports the losing side in any war. And his horse has eight diamond hooves.

You can make your own decision whether or not you should read this book based on the above review. For myself, I’ll just boast that the edition I read may have been published as early as 1970. Only cost two dollars, as well.


Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, And Some Other Things – Various Authors

Noisy outlaws

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I’m passionately ambivalent about McSweeney’s. They’ve published some very good books, like Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital. On the other hand, there’s something self-consciously quirky about the way they present themselves that just irritates me.

Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs and Some Other Things mostly benefits from the McSweeney’s attitude. I’m guessing that’s where the fantastic image on the cover, and the colourful pictures on the inside come from. The cover is really special, as a physical presence this book is delightful as a book can get. The only real obnoxious McSweeneyism is the extremely long version of the title on the front page. It’s like a paragraph, and for some reason that annoys me.

This book is fantastic, though. It’s an anthology of children’s stories written by luminaries such as George Saunders, Neil Gaiman, and a foreword by that Lemony Snicket guy. Clement Freud’s Grimble also appears. The only author missing is Roald Dahl, and I know that one of his stories would have fit right in here. So would some Quentin Blake illustrations.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Unfriendly Blobs is the crossword placed before the author bios. The clues refer to the stories, and the answers are printed upside-down on a tiny box on the last page. This is a great idea that I fully intend to steal if I find myself editing a short-story anthology.

If you need to get some kid a birthday present, buy this book, read it and then give it to them. That way, you’ll be the thoughtful one!

Superman: Bottled City of Kandor – Various Authors


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Kandor was once the capital of Krypton, until the space-villain Brainiac shrank it and stuffed in into a bottle. That pink-jumper-wearing weirdo wanted to kidnap cities from all over the place and dump them on some planet, with himself as the ruler. He tries this routine on Earth, with Paris, New York, and Metropolis, only for Superman himself to put a kibosh on the scheme. Superman manages to restore each of Braniac’s cities to full size, with the exception of Kandor. That city he brings to his Fortress of Solitude, vowing to undo Braniac’s miniaturization.

Kandor existing in the Fortress of Solitude is the status-quo for most of these stories. Being stuck in a jar, I wouldn’t describe that as living, just existing. I imagine that for the Kandorians who survived the bottle period that it would be like surviving a siege. Superman and his friends can shrink themselves down and have adventures, and some Kandorians briefly leave the bottle, although the consequences aren’t pretty if they stay out for too long. Stories from this period include Superman and Jimmy Olsen moonlighting as Kandorian Batman analogues, Lois Lane and Lana Lang palling around with a Kandorian doppelganger of Superman, and various Kandorian villains mucking around on Earth. At the end, Superman does manage to fix the Kandor situation, although things don’t quite end the way he plans.

The nuttiest theme of the whole book was the large amount of doppelgangers. Superman has more than a few, some of whom are relatives and the rest you can just say ‘shared ethnicity.’ But to see the entire Daily Planet staff replicated within a shrunken alien city seems a little unlikely. Maybe I could find dopplegangers of all the people I know in a large city like New York, maybe Paris, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Daily Planet doubles are some of the Kandorians who occasionally leave their city, mainly to impersonate the journalists at events where they could be assassinated. It’s a strange thing to want to do, I guess, but the Kandorians are just that grateful to Superman. Plus it’s probably their only way out of the bottle, even if it is just temporary.

Silver Age Superman was a complete loon, which is really fair enough. I mean, the man does come from another planet. His eccentricity finds its finest expression within the Fortress of Solitude, where he keeps souvenirs of some of his adventures. In this volume Superman shows Lois Lane the room that he’s dedicated to her. It’s filled with mannequins of her and other souvenirs. The whole thing creeped me out, but Lane actually seemed flattered. From one stalker to another, I guess.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I liked the fantastic details of Kandor, the skewed priorities of Superman and his friends, and I appreciated the situations in which Superman’s powers left him. The dopplegangers of Kandor gave me a real Borges vibe, and some of the things that they do in the bottle city bought Calvino’s Invisible Cities to mind. I’d recommend it.