Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom – Peter Hogan

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Every Tom Strong story I’ve read is fantastic, even this one which happens not to have been written by Alan Moore. Robots of Doom involves Tom’s Nazi son teaming up with prehistoric automatons to change history for the worse. We need to hear more about Tom Strong.

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The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

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Oedipus Maas is an American housewife who becomes the executor of a millionaire’s will, only to be distracted by a postal conspiracy that dates back to the middle ages.

Once again, the thing that impresses me most about Pynchon is that he is one of the few authors whose characters can sing without it being awful. Unlike J. K. Rowling.

I’d classify this novel as a conspiracy comedy. Before I wrote this I had a whole list of similar novels drawn up in my head, but the only ones I can remember now are Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus Trilogy. (Crying of Lot 49 is better than those books). I was also going to talk about the typical traits of the genre, but I’ve forgotten all of those as all. Errrh… just imagine if The da Vinci Code was self-conscious about how silly it really is.

I’m fairly sure this is the shortest Pynchon book, so if this legendary author intrigues you, go check it out.

Convergence: Zero Hour Book Two – Various

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It feels like a month since I read this book, and I don’t fully understand its background. The DC comics franchise consists of a multiverse that flourishes or wilts on the whim of its editors, occasionally into one sole universe. Having one continuity makes things accessible for new readers, but the old fans really love the crazy and occasionally convoluted things that go on in that crazy multiverse. In Convergence a Superman villain steals a copy of Metropolis from loads of abandoned continuities and dumps them on this alien planet. Apparently it’s sentient or something, because after a year of protecting these cities under life-sustaining domes, a voice booms from the heavens commanding that all the heroes fight each other so that their city can be the sole survivor.

At least, that’s what I think is happening here.

Book Two sees DC’s nineties superheroes face a bunch of weirdos from the Wildstorm universe, a bunch of weirdos I know almost nothing about. That said, my favourite characters from that universe were the lesbian princess and her gay husband, who were forced to fight a version of Supergirl who read as though she were written by Douglas Adams. I need to read her original series.

Beyond that, the stories here are a mixed bag. I enjoyed seeing how Aquaman coped being isolated from the ocean, and this was the first time I’d seen Batman interact with his one-time replacement Azreal. The Green Lantern story did little for me, but Green Lantern stories rarely do. I’ve got a theory about that: for me the appeal of comics is how completely ridiculous they are, but nothing seems all that absurd in space. To my knowledge anything can happen out there.

Reading this book, I finally realised that Steel is essentially a Superman-themed expy of Marvel’s Ironman. I’m embarrassed that it took me this long.

While I enjoyed Convergence: Book Two, I can’t help but suspect that I’d have enjoyed it more if I had read the previous volume, before moving on to the rest of the series.

Earth 2: The Gathering – James Robinson

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Thinking about DC universes honestly hurts my head a little.

My understanding is that all their big superheroes started out in the forties and were rebooted in the seventies. Both continuities were published simultaneously. A Flash story happened where we learned that the original superheroes lived on Earth 2, and the newish ones were on Earth 1. Both worlds fused during Crisis on Infinite Earths, but then some other stuff happened and I have no idea what’s going on.

This book reboots Earth 2, so now we’ve got old heroes in a modern setting. What happens is this: Wonderwoman, Batman and Superhero all perish defending their world from an Apokalips invasion. So a new batch of heroes need to get themselves sorted to deal with the next big essential threat. There’s a Flash noticeably styled after Hermes, a gay Green Lantern with nature-based powers, and military experiment versions of The Atom and Hawkgirl.

Earth 2 really didn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a similar premise work better in JLA: The Nail, or because the reboot didn’t sit right with me. Read something else.

The Book of Lost Tales 1 – J. R. R. Tolkien

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I’m not the biggest fan of Tolkien. To me, his legendarium is so self-indulgently comprehensive that the needs of the reader are completely ignored. So why did I buy the first half of his Book of Lost Tales? Curiosity, and the low, low price of two dollars.

In all fairness, this book consists of several unpublished drafts cobbled together by his son. Tolkien was clearly writing this material as a hobby, and I seriously doubt that your hobby would distort an entire genre. I have a grudge against Middle Earth for being the prototype that every fantasy author copies, but you can’t blame that on Tolkien.

The Book of Lost Tales is a series of creation myths and ancient history lessons told to an old English mariner Eriol by a bunch of elves, who hang out in a cottage where children play in their sleep. Their house reminds me of that monstrous trap in Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always, but these elves seem like nice hosts, so far. I’ve only read the first half mind you, maybe they eat him in the end.

I’d describe Tolkien’s cosmology as somewhere between Zoroastrian and Norse, with a hint of Abrahamic platonism at the creation. Eru Illuvatar is an abstract demiurge who creates the material world by leading his children, the Valar, in song. Some of the Valar are so entranced by their creation they enter it and become gods. (That’s the Zoroastrian part, you’ve got a chief super deity and his helper angels, who are effectively gods. The abstract creator, that says Abrahamic platonism to me.) The gods have specific portfolios and cool names and they’ve even got a Loki/Satan figure, Morgoth. The Norse influence can be seem in that nod towards polytheism, as well as the appearance of elves, dwarves and the use of the rainbow as transportation.

Some of the titles, though, are pure Lady Gregory. She was an aristocratic Irish lady at the turn of the last century who translated Celtic myths into English, albeit into tortured prose. You can see her influence in his titles. Compare ‘The Coming of the Valar’ to ‘The Coming of Lugh’. If Tolkien hadn’t seen a copy of Gods and Fighting Men, I’ll turn in my fantasy fan card.

Tolkien’s most genius moment was having the sun created after the elves. Coming from a Christian background and being familiar with a few creation myths, as well as actual science, the idea of human-like life preceding major heavenly bodies is completely counterintuitive to me. In Tolkien’s revised Silmarillion, the sun first rose during an Elvish battle, and here it makes its debut in similarly distressing circumstances. Take a look at the sun on the cover above, and you’ll see a nifty little boat around it. Now that’s imagination.

His poetry, however, is dire. Tolkien is like the exact opposite of Thomas Pynchon, every time his characters open their mouths to sing, I skip to the next prose paragraph.

The tortured prose makes this book worthwhile only for Tolkien tragics. If you want to see mind-blowingly imaginative creation myths written in a way that’s accessible for everyone, I strongly recommend Rabbi Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews.

The Slave – Isaac Bashevi Singer

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Based on The Magician of Lublin and this book, Isaac Bashevi Singer has got to be one of the best authors I’ve discovered this year. The canon of classic literature tends to be a crapshoot for a sci-fi fan like me, with offerings ranging from genuinely creative work to tedious investigations of boring middle-class individuals that are presumably intended to remind the audience of themselves, but I say that Singer deserved that Nobel Prize he got.

The protagonist of The Slave is Jacob, a Jewish survivor of Cossack massacre who is enslaved in a peasant village where he is forced to work with animals. (Can’t remember how he wound up there, I assumed he was a refugee, but maybe he was taken there?) He falls in love with Sarah, his owner’s daughter. Both his Judaism and her Christianity makes any sort of relationship taboo, but they manage. For a while.

I think I’ve said this before, but at times Singer’s writing is so vivid he reminds of Bruno Schulz. I don’t know how to describe how he does it, what adjectives to use, but the effect he has on me is that the images in my mind’s eye are in super-detailed colour-saturated HD widescreen. Maybe it’s how he handles his tenses?

Singer’s prose might be too good, even. There’s so much historical verisimilitude here that I’d be convinced that he was a contemporary of Dostoevsky if it wasn’t for the publication date on the copyright page. Look, if you’re an alien from the future reading this, and you mistook The Slave for a primary source on eighteenth century Poland, I forgive you.

His depiction of the Polish peasants bordered on racist, at time. I can definitely understand Jacob seeing only the worst in his captors, but the way Singer describes them as brutal incestuous savages made me very uncomfortable. I don’t know if Polish jokes are still a thing in America, but this book certainly wouldn’t help.

You should still read this. As for myself, I’ve got my eye out for A Crown of Feathers.

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