Yes, yes it is. I plan to celebrate by going to Job Club. And anime, later.
Yes, yes it is. I plan to celebrate by going to Job Club. And anime, later.
TV Review: Michael Shayne
Michael Shayne is a private detective who works out of Miami. He was created in 1939 by Brett Halliday (pen name of David Dresser) for the novel Dividend On Death. He went on to star in a long-running book series (the later ones produced under the Halliday house name by other authors), several movies, a radio show, and the television series in 1960.
In the TV series, Mr. Shayne (Richard Denning) is a bit older (he’s a widower) but still in fine physical shape. He has a close (but not too close) relationship with his secretary Lucy Hamilton (played in the episodes I have by Patricia Donohue.) Unofficial assistants of Mr. Shayne are Tim Rourke (Jerry Paris), a newspaper reporter who exclusively covered Shayne, and Lucy’s college-aged brother Dick Hamilton (Gary Clarke) who was invented for the show.
Mr. Shayne’s contact on the police force is Lieutenant Will Gentry, who usually backs Shayne all the way, but is quick to turn on him when things look bad. (He’s an amalgam of the books’ Gentry, and a more hostile cop who showed up sometimes.
I watched three of the hour-long episodes.
“Shoot the Works” has Michael Shayne called into the case by one of Lucy’s friends, whose husband was found shot dead, but packed for a trip to France with two tickets. Also, $100,000 in bonds is missing. Was the murder due to the deceased cheating on his wife, or was it purely for monetary gain? Dick gets to show off his talent with the bongos, not that anyone else in the cast is appreciative. Content warning for spousal abuse.
“Murder and the Wanton Bride” features a client who dies with no identification except a matchbook with an appointment with Michael Shayne–that neither Michael nor Lucy knows anything about! The trail leads to a health spa, and Lucy must go undercover to help discover just what’s actually going on there. It’s a tangled web, helped not at all by a conniving woman (Beverly Garland) who’s manipulating everyone around her.
“Murder in Wonderland” has an accountant murdered in a cigar store while telephoning Michael Shayne. He works for the mob, and supposedly was carrying a coded list of illegal business contacts, but all that’s found in the man’s briefcase is a copy of Alice in Wonderland. While the police try to figure out how the code is concealed, Lucy is kidnapped in an effort to force Mr. Shayne to steal the book for an unknown person. The accountant’s daughter seems very bitter and hostile, does she have something to do with his death? Or is an even younger girl the real key?
The hour format allows these episodes to actually have a little mystery in them, with twists and turns. The cast is good, even if some of the attitudes are dated. This is some fine television viewing for the private detective fan.
Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Great Disaster Featuring the Atomic Knights by too many to list. Trust me, a lot of great names.
Between the late 1940s and somewhere in the 1990s, one of the most pervasive fears of the American public was atomic war. For the first time in known history, humans were truly capable of destroying all civilization, perhaps all life on Earth. One of the ways people dealt with this fear was science fiction. After all, the SF writers had forseen the possibility of annihilation well before such a thing was actually possible–and their stories would tell us the ways things might fall out. At DC Comics, this became a loose theme called “The Great Disaster.”
Unlike other Showcase volumes, this one collects not one series or character’s appearances, but a thematically linked set of stories, dealing with the aftermath of atomic war. As such, it provides a wide array of notable comics writers and artists.
The volume opens with a couple of stories about people traveling from after the Great Disaster to the present, or vice versa. This is followed by a collection of short-shock stories all titled “The Day After Doomsday”, presenting varied scenarios for what life after the Bomb might be like. Perhaps the most effective of these is the “Adam and Gertrude” trilogy.by Len Wein and Jack Sparling, but they all have their charms.
Then we have the feature event, the “Atomic Knights” stories. These were all by John Broome and Murphy Anderson. World War Three began in October 1986, and lasted less than a month, but wiped out much of human civilization, leaving a world without many animals or plants, and only a few pockets of humans struggling for survival. Into this world comes Sergeant Gardner Grayle. When he joined the Army, they discovered he was exactly average both mentally and physically, but during the War he was trapped in a bomb shelter that collapsed from a near-hit. The experience gave him traumatic amnesia, and only months after the disaster does he come to himself.
Grayle happens to be near a town named Durvale that was relatively untouched by the war, which is to say it’s a total wreck. It’s come under the thumb of the Black Baron (so named because of his hair color) who has managed to corner the local food supply. By coincidence, Grayle and a local school teacher, John Herald, discover that the suits of medieval armor in the museum have become resistant to most forms of radiation, including the ray-pistols used by the Black Baron and his men. There are six sets of armor, and soon Grayle and Herald recruit twin ex-soldiers Hollis and Wayne Hobbard, as well as scientist Bryndon (who is feared and despised for being one of those who made the bombs that ruined the world.) The last suit is deemed too small to be usable by any combat-ready man, so the Atomic Knight five set off. John’s sister, Marene Herald, who is small enough to fit in the last armor, takes it upon herself to follow them, and helps out in a tight situation.
The Atomic Knights became the new force for law and order in the post-apocalyptic world, fighting bizarre radiation-spawned monsters, evil dictators, the remnants of Atlantis and the mysterious mole people (who it turned out had actually caused the war.) Bit by bit, they began to make Earth liveable again.
These stories were all about the cool ideas, and were aimed primarily at children, so scientific plausibility and deep characterization were generally skipped. Bryndon being reluctant to discuss his pre-War research and the Hobard brothers being jazz fans was about as much as we learned about them as persons. Speaking of jazz, the early 1960s habit of only depicting white people in comics was on full display on a visit to New Orleans, where names of black performers are dropped, but there are no people of color in town. Marene, of course, is often excluded from dangerous missions and seems to have no particular skill set beyond “being feminine.” She even muses to herself that she’s “just a woman!” Perhaps appropriately, the last official Atomic Knights story from 1963 has her disguising herself as a boy and demonstrating some athletic talent.
Next up are stories of the return of the gods. There’s a one-shot about Atlas by Jack Kirby that doesn’t tie into anything in particular, but shared a resemblance to his Kamandi series, also set after the Great Disaster. The Kamandi series lasted long enough to get its own Showcase volume, so the next set of stories are Hercules Unbound, which ran 1975-77.
We open with Hercules bound to a rock, as he has been for the last millenium or so. Suddenly, the chains holding him snap–could this mean that Ares, who treacherously bound Hercules there, is dead? No time to think about that, as a blind boy and his dog are battling sea monsters nearby. Kevin, the blind boy, explains that he was in Greece when World War Three broke out, and he set out in a sailboat to see if he can get to his father, an ambassador to the Vatican. As it happens, Ares is in Rome, and very much alive, pitting the remnants of armies against each other for his own amusement. While Hercules triumphs against Ares’ champion, the opening chapter ends in tragedy for Kevin.
Hercules and his companions begin wandering the post-apocalyptic earth, encountering mad gods and mutants. There’s one person of color, a loincloth-clad hunter named Cerebus (not the aardvark) who is repeatedly referred to as “Nubian.” Yeah. The new-fangled “Women’s Lib” is mentioned a few times, mostly in association with Jennifer Monroe, a woman who was a model before the war, and mostly serves as a damsel in distress for Hercules.
Over the course of the series, it ties into OMAC, Kamandi and the Atomic Knights, despite these series not precisely being in continuity with each other. The last couple of chapters return to the question of why Hercules was chained to that rock in the first place; it answers some lingering subplots, ignores others, and flatly contradicts some of the earlier characterization. (The series had changed writers more than once in a dozen issues.)
After that are a few back-ups from Kamandi, and one last “The Day After Doomsday” shock story. To close out the volume, we have a Superman story from 1983. By this time, it was looking less and less likely that we would actually have an atomic war in 1986, and even if we did, it wouldn’t have the future-Fifties design aesthetic and cultural behavior seen in the Atomic Knights series. So when Superman suddenly finds himself in the Atomic Knights future, he is quick to point out the scientific implausibiliy of the scenario. Yes, this is hilarious coming from Mr. “The laws of physics are just mild suggestions.” Turns out it’s a virtual reality scenario gone horribly wrong, with the moral being “The task before man-kind isn’t to survive an atomic war! It’s to work in this world we’re living in to make certain such a war can never begin!” The story is also notable for giving Marene Herald a much more important role.
All together, this is a mixed bag with something for many comic book fans, including rare stories. It’s well worth a loan from your library, and if you’re a collector, consider buying it.
TV Review: Racket Squad
First, a bit of news: I have completed my coursework for an Associate’s Degree in Business Management, and should soon have the official recognition. It’s been a rough couple of years, so I am relieved.
Racket Squad ran on television from 1950 to 1953, telling fictionalized versions of actual cases where confidence artists and other racketeers bilked Americans of their money. Reed Hadley played Captain John Braddock, who narrated the episodes and provided tips on how to spot con games. (He would go on to star in the previously-reviewed Public Defender, which had a very similar format.) Each episode opened with a “City Police” car pulling up to “City Hall” and a police dispatcher intoning “rrRacket Squad!”
I watched six episodes on DVD:
While some of these scams are dated and wouldn’t work as well any more, others have been able to adjust to modern times. Altering checks has given way to altering credit card charges. Payday loan offices do much the same work the loan sharks did. And some rackets work the same as they ever did. As Captain Braddock often reminds us, “It could happen to you.”
“Kite HIgh” relies heavily on old-fashioned stereotypes about marriage and mothers in law–younger viewers may find the family’s behavior baffling. The most affecting story is “His Brother’s Keeper,” thank goodness it’s much easier for deaf people to get work these days. It’s a well done series for its time.
Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Aincrad original story by Reki Kawahara, art by Tamako Nakamura
Disclaimer: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
It is the year 2022, and commercially viable virtual reality equipment is now on the market. Of course, one of the first applications that comes to mind is Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), and the first one out the gate is Sword Art Online. Kirito (his online handle, real name Kazuto Kirigaya) was one of the lucky beta testers, and is looking forward to the full launch of ten thousand players.
Except that shortly after the game begins, all the player characters are summoned back to the beginning town, remodeled to look like the players themselves, and unable to log out. A figure who claims to be the game’s designer, Akihiko Kabaya, announces that they’re all trapped in the world of Aincrad, and won’t be able to log out until the 100th level of the game is beaten. Oh, and the respawn feature has been disabled, so if you die in the game, you die in real life.
And in case you were hoping for rescue from the outside? If anyone removes the VR gear or tampers with it, it will automatically kill the player, and this has been announced to the media.
Realizing that the area around the Town of Beginnings will rapidly become too overhunted for him to level up quickly, Kirito decides to go solo, as his beta tester knowledge allows him to punch above his weight, so he can go to the next town even at first level. He does invite along a noob (new player) named Klein, but Klein won’t abandon his friends, and Kirito doesn’t think he can protect more than one ally.
The story picks up again about two years later. with the Aincrad dungeon about three-quarters cleared, at the cost of four thousand deaths. Kirito has been very successful as a solo player, but suffers stigma as a “beater” because his character level is so much higher than most people’s that he triggers monster encounters that are lethal to anyone near him.
It’s at this point that Kirito runs into a girl named Asuna, who is known as “the Flash” for her superior sword skills, is highly placed in the powerful Knights of the Blood guild, and happens to be one of the few skilled cooks in the game. Oh, and she’s very pretty. Asuna won’t leave Kirito alone, and they’re soon in a relationship.
However, the already lethal world of Aincrad is about to turn it up a notch, and there are secrets not even the beta testers know.
This manga is based on a light novel series, which has also been turned into an anime. (One of three so far where the basic plotline is a person being unable to log out of a virtual reality game.) It adapts the first storyline, the Aincrad world.
This version of the story trims out many minor characters, including most of the women (which makes the gender imbalance even more noticeable.) It also has a tendency to make good characters good-looking and bad characters less so; the most prominent minor villain doesn’t even look human, and remember, that’s his real face.
The main villain is a real piece of work; in addition to what’s already been mentioned, it turns out he’s disabled another important player safety feature, but left it able to feel their pain. (It’s likely he didn’t realize the full implications of this particular act, he’s very low-empathy.)
This volume is mostly aimed at teenage boys; the female characters are all defined by their relationships to Kirito, and there’s a sequence of Asuna in her underwear with no equivalent scene for any of the male characters. (We also learn that it’s possible to alter the “moral code” setting to allow in game sex, but it’s not clear if the characters actually do this.)
Kirito is a loner with deep manpain through most of the story, though he lightens up a bit towards the end when he falls in love with Asuna.
The art is generally good, but many of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, resulting in the manga equivalent of “shaky cam”.
If you are already a Sword Art Online fan, this is a perfectly good addition to your collection. I’d also recommend it to teenage boys who like online gaming. Other people might want to flip through it in the library to see if the art style takes their fancy.
Update: The sequel to Aincrad, Alfheim Online, is considered to be a severe step down from the first storyline, taking all the parts that were problematic and goosing them up, as well as managing to be much more sexist. From the bits I have read, I strongly recommend stopping at the end of the Aincrad story and considering that the end of the series.
Book Review: The Green God by L. Ron Hubbard
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
This is another in the line of pulp reprints put out by Galaxy Press, and continues their tradition of excellent physical quality. I should also give a shout-out to GP’s distinctive shipping materials. This time, the focus is on adventures in the exotic land of China.
“The Green God” is an exciting tale of Lieutenant Bill Mahone of Naval Intelligence. It seems someone has stolen a jade idol, and the city of Tientsin has erupted in riots. There’s a minimum of exposition, and the lieutenant is in constant danger from the first sentence. Among other things, he is buried alive according to the customs of the local Chinese.
Bill takes quite a beating over the course of the story, and it eventually becomes a bit much for him still to be moving, even by pulp standards. There’s some on-screen torture, so be advised.
“Five Mex for a Million” is novella length, and requires a bit of explanation for the title. A “Mex” was a Mexican peso, which was used as a trade coin with and in China from 1732-1949. As it happens, Captain Royal F. Sterling has five Mex and a small silver coin in his pockets at the beginning of the story.
That’s not very much money for a man on the lam for murder (it was self-defense) from the Chinese military. He goes to the Thieves’ Market in Peking to buy local clothes for a disguise, but sees a mysterious chest and purchases it on a whim. The chest carries the ideograms for “Good luck”, “Long life” and “Happiness.” The contents of the chest? That would be a spoiler, but it leads Captain Sterling on an adventure to Outer Mongolia.
This story has a bit of romance, rushed though it may be. Sandra Kolita starts the story as a damsel in distress, but pulls her own weight quite well once Royal gets her out of the initial fix. Just don’t ask for realistic character development for anyone involved.
Both stories treat the Chinese as superstitious at best, and expendable fanatics at worst. This was typical of pulp stories of the time, but is still jarring to modern readers.
There is also a preview of “Spy Killer”, the lead story in the next volume. Violent sailor Kurt Reid jumps ship when he’s falsely accused of murder, but on land he may be in more danger from Varinka Savischna, sultry Russian spy.
There is a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to 21st Century readers, which should be helpful to most. As with all volumes in the set, the book is fitted out with the stock prologue and author biography. Because the book is such a fast read, and the repeated material makes it even shorter than it looks, casual readers may want to check their library or used book stores.
Still, this is exciting stuff, with non-stop action–great for a night’s escape from the everyday world.
Book Review: All Things Murder by Jeanne Quigley
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise I would review it. The copy reviewed was an advance uncorrected proof, and there may be changes in the final product.
Veronica Walsh has spent thirty-two years starring in the soap opera Days and Nights. Now that’s over and the only job offers she’s getting are old people medication commercials. Now might be the time to take an extended vacation in her quaint hometown in the Adirondacks. Barton is the kind of place where they still have small businesses, many catering to the tourist trade.
But there’s a threat on the horizon–a developer is about to put up a new mall, with all the big chain stores. Until Anna Langdon, owner of the “All Things” store and landlord to many of the other businesses, comes up with her own plan to scotch the deal. When Anna turns up dead the next morning, the developer would seem like an obvious suspect, but Anna’s heartless business tactics and fairly ruthless personal life turn up several other possibilities.
Veronica comes into the picture because she was next door at the time the murder was committed, Anna was going to meet with Veronica about a mysterious business proposition, and Veronica’s mother owns a business that rented its space from Anna. Plus, having gotten so used to the drama of soap operas, Veronica can’t help snooping around.
It helps that she’s enormously popular with the villagers, as a hometown girl made good. She’s also ably assisted by history professor Mark Burke and not so ably by her old co-star Alex Shelby.
As the first cozy mystery in a projected series, this book needs to introduce a sizable cast of quirky characters, as well as providing a mystery plot. I got confused several times as some of the minor characters tended to blend together, and I had to reread to figure out who they were supposed to be. The most notable character was Alex, since he wore his narcissism on his sleeve, and his reason for being in the area was suspicious enough to rouse my attention.
The mystery is not so much solved, as that Veronica has the solution dropped in her lap; though it does rely on her previously established good auditory memory.
I found the book only so-so, but people with an interest in the Adirondacks area may find it more captivating. Since this is a first novel, there’s plenty of room for improvement in later installments.
A quick note: Since this book is published by Cengage, the final product is likely to have end note content not available in the uncorrected proof, such as book club discussion topics.
My father is a retired prison guard. He was never a particularly scholarly person, but he worked hard at improving himself so he would be eligible for promotions and pay raises. He brought home books on spelling, improving your vocabulary, speed reading and the like. And after he was done, I would devour them too.
Perhaps I got my love of reading from Mom, but it was from Dad I learned the value of reading to gain new knowledge. That’s one of the reasons you’ll see reviews of non-fiction books on this blog. I want to learn, to stretch my mind around new ideas and facts.
Happy Father’s Day!
Tell me a story about your father and reading, or about your favorite fictional father.
TV Review: Miami Undercover | Richard Diamond, Private Eye
Miami Undercover was a 1961 series shot in Miami Beach, with Lee Bowman as private investigator Jeff Thompson and Rocky Graziano as “Rocky.” Mr. Thompson was employed by the hotel owners to perform undercover investigations to avoid alarming guests with the presence of an overt hotel detective. Rocky, a former boxing champ, provided muscle.
In the episode I saw on DVD, “The Thrush,” a radio disk jockey (a very young Larry King!) refuses to take payola to promote a particular record. He pays for this with his life. Since the killers made the mistake of doing this live on the air, the police have already figured out the Raven recording company is the probable culprit. But when they approached the singer (“thrush”) on the record she clammed up.
Jeff goes undercover as a New York booking agent. The crooked music producer is a relatively small-time gangster from the Midwest trying to move up in the world; he also owns a local nightclub where the thrush sings. Jeff plays the gangster and his hoods against each other in order to free the singer from their clutches.
Jeff is urbane and has an excellent rapport with the police. Rocky is played as kind of dim and gets ribbed a lot about his appearance, but his boxing fame comes in handy, as do his fists. The show is very dated, and the Mill Creek transfer is poor.
Richard Diamond, Private Eye was a television version of the early 1950s radio show, the TV series running 1957-60. Richard Diamond (David Janssen) is a light-hearted private detective (most people call him “Rick”, ) In later seasons, he had a leggy secretary named “Sam” , but the two episodes I watched were from the first season.
“Picture of Fear” has Mr. Diamond’s fishing vacation cut short when the woman he’s been pitching woo to takes a photograph of two men hunting who most assuredly did not want to be photographed. Rick has to protect her from their repeated attempts to get the film, or failing that, kill her. Rick is kind of annoyed when it turns out the woman took that picture deliberately; she’s a reporter.
“The Merry-Go-Round Case” Mr. Diamond is hired by the sister of one of his old friends. It seems this friend has become increasingly frustrated with hard work that leads nowhere, and became a criminal. One that allegedly killed a gas station attendant during a robbery. She wants Rick to track him down and clear the man if he can. It takes a while for Rick to realize that the merry-go-round of the title is literal, and not the name of a bar or club.
Mr. Janssen is good (he went on to star in The Fugitive), but the writing is only so-so in these episodes. These are perhaps not the best available examples to judge the series by.
Manga Review: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit by Motoro Mase
In an alternate-history Japan, the government immunizes all children as they enter first grade. But one in every thousand injection also contains a nanocapsule that lodges in the child’s heart. and somewhere between age 18 and 24, will activate and stop that heart. There’s a triple-blind system in place to prevent anyone from knowing just which injections contain the lethal capsules.
But just before the capsule is due to detonate, the name of the person is revealed to a government agency that delivers death notices known as ikigami to the victim twenty-four hours in advance. One such deliveryman is a bureaucrat named Kengo Fujimoto.
The frame story follows Fujimoto as he joins the Ministry, gets his basic training, and delivers the ikigami. He’s a bland character, which is deliberate. He’s drifted through his early life without any particular direction, and wound up in this job more or less through inertia. Each volume covers two deliveries.
This is where most of the action is, as the actual stories are asking the question, “What would you do if you only have twenty-four hours to live?” The answers are as different as the victims, who range from brilliant creative types who had their whole future ahead of them through average kids to criminals with nothing left to lose. There is, of course, a part of the law that punishes your family if you take the opportunity to go on a crime spree, but not everyone is deterred by that.
In the volume at hand, #9, the cases are:
“National Welfare Immunization” A young woman who became a nurse specializing in neonatal care because she was born prematurely and had to struggle for life, discovers that she is one of the Chosen. She infiltrates a school where the children are being immunized, and takes one hostage so she can confront their parents about the unfairness of the system. The doctor doing the immunizations is dealing with his own guilt, as he had personally injected one of the Chosen at the beginning of his career and was his personal physician for years. Can the situation be defused with only one death?
“Two Fallen In War” Many years ago, two men met in World War Two, and a series of incidents bound them together. Now, are those same circumstances repeating with their grandsons? Questions of fate and intention intertwine. Surprisingly, incontinence is a key point.
In the frame story, war threatens, and the Thought Bureau is finally concluding their investigation. Fujimoto must finally confront his misgivings about the National Prosperity Law and the injustice inherent in the system. He makes a decision, but what will that decision be?
One of the interesting aspects of the series is that other than the dystopian aspects, the alternate Japan’s culture is virtually identical to our world’s, with the same social ills and crime rate. In other words, the supposed benefits of the ikigami system are in fact pointless.
This series is marketed to the seinen (young men) demographic in Japan and has some intense violent scenes and generally mature readers subject matter. One chapter contains an attempted rape. Parents should heed the “mature readers” label.
Many of the cases presented are tear-jerkers, and intensely dramatic. The art style is suited for the subject matter. The final volume is due out in August 2014, but tentatively I recommend this series for fans of dramatic fiction.