Book Review: The Invisible Library

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

One good way to introduce a new fictional character or world is to start off with a short adventure where the character gets to show off their competency and special abilities.  Usually this is at most loosely connected to the main plot which will show up after the mission is complete, being there to establish a baseline for the character’s normal behavior.  Thus when we first meet Irene, she’s infiltrating a Harry Potterish school of magic as the cleaning lady to steal a book.

The Invisible Library

Irene (a codename) is an acquisitions agent for the Invisible Library, a mysterious organization that collects rare and unique books from parallel Earths.  Her title of “Junior Librarian” is somewhat misleading; she was born to two Librarians and made frequent visits there in her youth (and you do not age while in the Library) so she has years more of experience than she looks like.  Also, she suffered a career setback about a decade ago that made her look incompetent and gets her underestimated.

Irene’s primary advantage besides her vast knowledge base (particularly in the field of books) is the Language.  Only those bound to the Library can use this paranatural ability; if Irene knows the right words to use, she can cause objects to do her bidding.  There are some severe limitations on what she can do with the Language, and using it tends to blow her cover, so Irene hesitates to solve her problems this way.

Upon returning to the Library from the first chapter mission, Irene has no chance to rest before being sent out on another case, this time with trainee Kai in tow.  Kai is impossibly handsome and has several secrets, some more obvious than others.

They’re sent off to a world that has vampires, zeppelins, the Fair Folk and Great Detectives.  It’s normally off-limits due to high Chaos contamination, so the Grimm variant they’re after must be important.  The local Library agent explains that the book went missing after the previous owner’s murder, presumably at the hands of notorious cat burglar Belphegor.

Complications soon heap upon each other.  Irene must work out which of the people involved is the real threat.  Is it Kai, who really does have too many secrets?  The deadly thief Belphegor?  Silver, the Fae ambassador of Liechtenstein?  The mad science-oriented Iron Brotherhood?  Rival Librarian Bradamant?  Earl Peregrine Vale, noted detective?  The renegade codenamed Alberich?  Or is it the Library itself?  And just where is that book?

This is a fast-paced adventure story with some neat worldbuilding and mostly likable characters.  The Language, chaos-spawned magic, draconic powers and technology all have their own strengths and weaknesses.  There’s some “meta” stuff as well; a chaos-contaminated world tends to have things happen as they would in fiction rather than in “real life” with plenty of coincidences and narrative tropes.

There is one clanger of a scene in which Kai pressures Irene to have sex with him and has difficulty taking “no” for an answer.  It’s meant to show that 1) Kai isn’t quite as familiar with modern customs as he lets on and 2) Irene has had plenty of sex, thank you, but not with the person her colleagues think she did.  There could have been other ways of showing these things.

There’s also the thing where everyone including Irene has a mysterious backstory, but we never get more than hints for most of them.

Primarily for folks who like the mashup of steampunk and fantasy.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books to facilitate this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

 

Book Review: Steal the Sky

Book Review: Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe

Detan Honding and his partner Tibal (“Tibs” to his friends) are rogues.  They steal and swindle for a living, moving frequently from place to place on the Scorched Continent.  To keep ahead of their victims, yes, but also for more important reasons.  Just now they’re stuck in the city of Aransa with a busted flyer.  When Detan tries to raise the needed funds, he finds himself hired to steal the airship Larkspur from its owner, former Imperial commodore Thratia.

Steal the Sky

Ripka is the city watch captain of Aransa, tasked with keeping the peace and punishing criminals.  She’s wary of Thratia’s ambition to become warden of the city.  While the Valathean Empire technically rules the Scorched Continent, Thratia may be trying to bring the city under direct Imperial control, which would mean more hardship for the selium miners the city’s economy is based on.  Worse, the reason the warden’s chair is open is that someone, probably a shapeshifting doppler, murdered the previous warden.  Ripka needs to track down this dangerous killer before they strike again.

Pelkaia is an illusionist; “doppler” is an Imperial word, and she considers it an insult.  Aransa has taken the last of her children; she’s got a list of those responsible, and they must all die.  And if a few other people die in the process, that might be okay with her.   Pelkaia is missing a few vital pieces of information, however.  Her vengeance may be misaimed, and that could cost all of Aransa dearly.

These people’s lives are about to collide as each of them attempts to achieve their own goals while thwarting the plans of those they consider enemies.

The Scorched Continent is an interesting fantasy setting.  A large landmass in tropical latitudes, it suffered a massive geothermal event that turned it into a volcanic wasteland.  As a result, the heat is oppressive even on a good day and much of the land is unable to grow more than scrub.  However, the volcanoes are the only known source of selium, which is a buoyant gas (like helium) but is also psychically sensitive, being able to be moved and shaped by those who are “sel-sensitive.”  Selium has many uses, including creating airships, so most of the major settlements on the Scorched Continent are near volcanoes so they can be mined.

And this has also affected the society they live in.  Sel-sensitive people are in a minority, and anyone known to have some talent in that area is drafted into working with selium in some manner, regardless of the social status they were born into.  The government “takes care” of them, but it takes permanent injury to be able to leave the job.  Detan has faked the loss of his sel-sense because he has a deadly “deviant” talent.  The Empire is rounding up any deviants for their researchers to experiment on, and he suffered enough the first time he fell into their hands.

The first comparison that comes to mind is the Locke Lamora books; I like the characters better in this one.  There’s much less of a cynical cast to the personalities; most of these folks are acting for what they believe is a good cause and care for people outside their immediate circle.  The villains are that way because they allow their personal ambitions to treat people who aren’t useful to them as expendable.  Detan’s selfishness is less about pleasing himself than protecting others from his dangerous temper.

There are multiple tight viewpoints, so at any given point we only learn what the current point of view character knows about events.  Detan, Ripka and Pelkaia swap out being the main protagonist, with one chapter near the end being from the viewpoint of a surprise character.

There’s a fair amount of violence, and Detan has medical torture in his backstory.  Tibs has what appears to be post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service when the Empire solidified its hold over the Scorched Continent  by suppressing the native Catari (of which Pelkaia is one.)

I found the world-building interesting, and there is already a sequel out.  This book was enjoyable, and I recommend it to fantasy fans looking for something new.

Manga Review: Showa 1926 1939 a History of Japan

Manga Review: Showa 1926 1939 a History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki

This is the first volume of Shigeru Mizuki’s  massive history of Japan during the reign of Emperor Hirohito, the “Showa Era,”  It was a long reign, covering most of the Twentieth Century, from 1926-1989.  In addition to the larger story of Japan, it is also his autobiography, as Mizuki’s earliest childhood memories coincide with the beginning of that era.

Showa 1926 1939 a History of Japan

This volume opens several years earlier, with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 which devastated Tokyo.  The repercussions of this, combined with fiscal mismanagement, created a financial crisis that crippled Japan’s economy.  The optimism and liberalization of the Taisho period took a huge hit.  Japan struggled along until 1929 and the worldwide effects of the Great Depression hit.

A combination of the Red Scare (the belief that Communists were about to take over), military successes and government incompetence led to the rise of right-wing organizations, especially military cliques.  Japan became ever more aggressive against its neighbors in Asia, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo and grabbing ever more territory from China.

Japan became a rogue state, leaving the League of Nations when that body attempted to intervene in its conquests.  Only Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy recognized Manchukuo, and Japan’s alliance with those nations was about to drag it into World War Two.

This is a “warts and all” history, which covers events that many Japanese schoolkids might not be taught in official classes, or have glossed over for them.  There are many painful topics in here, so despite childish hijinks in the parts dealing with Shigeru’s early life, I would recommend it for senior high school students and up.

Warts and all is also how Mizuki depicts himself as a child and young man.  Naturally athletic but lazy, bright but unmotivated, sensitive but engaging in fights both as part of a gang and solo.  It will take the horrors of war (as depicted in the third volume) to force him into a responsible adult life.  Perhaps he got some of it from his father, who is shown as a Micawber-like optimist despite his economic woes.

There’s a lot of names and dates, so the end-notes are very helpful–you still might want to have Wikipedia open to assist with some of the more obscure bits and to cross-reference what else was going on in the world at the time.  Some bits come across as very dry, making the personal stories a relief.

The art may be jarring for those unused to Mizuki’s style; many pages are drawn directly from photographs in a realistic style, while others are done in a very loose, cartoony fashion.  It’s also kind of weird to have Nezumi-Otoko (Rat-man) as the narrator of the more serious history portion-he would not seem the most reliable of narrators.

Overall, not as interesting as the third volume, which features Shigeru’s most harrowing experiences, but well worth seeking out from the library.

Comic Book Review: Essential Tomb of Dracula, Volume 2

Comic Book Review: Essential Tomb of Dracula, Volume 2 mostly written by Marv Wolfman and art by Gene Colan.

When the Comics Code restrictions on horror were loosened in the 1970s, DC primarily went in for horror anthology comics, while Marvel Comics based entire series around horrific heroes and villains.  One of these was the classic (and public domain) character of Vlad Tepes, aka Count Dracula.

Essential Tomb of Dracula Volume 2

This series revealed that Bram Stoker’s book (highly recommended if you haven’t read it, by the way) was highly fictionalized, and Dracula had not in fact finally died at the end of it, only being very inconvenienced.  He had been various places, doing various things, temporarily being put of commission now and then…and this storyline opened with him once again being awakened to start his reign of terror anew.

Opposing the Lord of Vampires was a crew of vampire hunters including Quincy Harker (the son of Jonathan and Mina), now an elderly man confined to a wheelchair by injuries received in past battles with Dracula; Rachel van Helsing (great-granddaughter of Professor van Helsing) a crossbow-wielder who wasn’t always as effective as she’d like; Frank Drake, a descendant of Dracula (before becoming a vampire) who had wasted his wealth and had to man up over the course of the series; and Taj Nital, an Indian man who had been rendered mute when Dracula injured his throat.  Independent of them were Blade, who only hunted Dracula because he hated all vampires due to the murder of his mother by Deacon Frost, and Hannibal King, a detective that Deacon Frost had turned into a vampire, who avoided taking blood from living humans.

Of course, Dracula didn’t just have vampire hunters after him, but people who either wanted to become lord of all vampires themselves or otherwise exploit him.  The most persistent of these was Doctor Sun, a Chinese scientist who’d been turned into a disembodied brain hooked up to a computer, who wanted to take over the world.

At the start of this volume, Dracula learns of the current whereabouts of an artifact called the Chimera, which re-sparks his desire to conquer the world himself.  (He’d had to put that on hold as a vampire army large enough to take over would promptly drink the rest of humanity to extinction, and then where would they be?)  Fortunately for the world, Dracula is not the only one after the artifact, and it ends up smashed.

Dracula has noticed his powers waning, and this leads him to a near-final confrontation with Quincy Harker, before learning that it is in fact Doctor Sun behind it, and the action moves to Boston.  There the cast adds nebbish “true vampire story” writer Harold H. Harold and lovely but ditsy secretary Aurora Rabinowitz, who act as comic relief.

After the Doctor Sun situation is resolved, Dracula takes control of a local Satanist cult and marries a woman named Domini, who he believes will give him a proper heir.  (The leader of the Satanists, of course, has other plans.)

Mixed throughout this volume are soap-opera subplots involving the various supporting cast, and interludes of Dracula’s adventures in other times and places.  Marv Wolfman’s writing is often excellent, but he sometimes doesn’t consult previous issues, resulting in some minor continuity glitches.  Gene Colan’s art is more consistently outstanding, and fits the mood well, especially in this black and white reprint.  (Some stories from the Giant-Size side series are included, with art by the less impressive but very competent Don Heck.)

Make no mistake, Dracula is the main villain here, and rare is the issue where he does not murder at least one innocent person just to remind us of that.  Much of his time is taken up with petty revenge against people who have crossed him and when he acts against other villains, it’s usually out of pride or personal vendetta.  Every once in a while, he does show a moment of kindness, but the door soon slams shut when his darker nature prevails.  Because he’s the title character, Dracula has what TV Tropes calls “Joker Immunity”; he can never be permanently killed off, only temporarily thwarted, so the heroes seem ineffectual.  (Quincy Harker broods about this frequently.)

These stories do take place in the Marvel Universe, though this series avoids most of the implications of that.  Brother Voodoo helps Frank Drake through a bad patch in his life, and Doctor Strange actually temporarily kills Dracula (but is hypnotized not to notice it’s not permanent until later.)

In addition to the expected violence (but relatively little gore–the Comics Code was still in effect), Dracula’s attacks on women are often treated in a sexualized manner.  There are some instances of suicide, both voluntary and forced.  Dracula is also depicted as being racist (mostly against Blade) and sexist (he is not at all kind to the memory of Lucy Westerna.)

And speaking of sexism, one story includes a woman who’s a bit of a “straw feminist”; the owner of a fashion house who only hires women even if a man would be more competent at the job (except one dress designer who might be gay given the coding) and who has an enormous grudge against the various men who tried to keep her down.  Dracula agrees to kill her enemies in exchange for information she can get more efficiently than he, but leaves her in a sticky situation at the end of the story.

Despite often high melodrama, there are some very well-written moments as well.

Recommended for vampire comics fans, Blade fans who want to see his early adventures, and those who enjoy Gene Colan’s art.

Book Review: The Curious Case of the Jeweled Alicorn

Book Review: The Curious Case of the Jeweled Alicorn by Michael Merriam.

We open in media res, as Arkady Bloom’s assignation with Countess Moretti takes a dangerous turn.  It seems that in addition to being a minor court poet, Bloom is also an agent of the Crown’s Supernatural Intervention Agency, and the Countess has stolen the key to a valuable secret formula.  Bloom survives the encounter with the aid of his African valet Chillblood, and goes on to accept his next assignment.

The Curious Case of the Jeweled Alicorn

This turns out to be attending a house party by the Baron de Blackmere the coming weekend.  The Baron will be showing off some artifacts to his eccentric guests, one of which might be the elusive perpetual energy device.  Several unpleasant parties would like to get their hands on that, I dare say.  Bloom’s assignment becomes more complex when the sidhe (the Fair Folk, his mother’s people) approach him with a request to obtain a severed unicorn’s horn (the alicorn of the title) which they need to restrain a rampaging monster.

Bloom must navigate his multiple goals and loyalties, while trying to figure out which of the Baron’s guests are after what–and perhaps have a little romance on the side.

“Steampunk” is a subgenre of speculative fiction set roughly in the Age of Steam (1770-1914) when rapid industrialization and steam engines changed the face of civilization.   It generally involves the use of steam power to do things that the technology  was not used for historically, and may indeed be impossible, such as clockwork dragons or spaceships.

This novella is in a smaller subgenre that adds fantasy elements.  This can be a difficult balancing act  as the author must build the world almost from scratch, and there are no established boundaries what magic can or cannot do.  The author does a reasonably good job of limiting the effects of magic in this case.

With a dozen plus important characters, multiple agendas and slam-bang action, there isn’t a lot of time for character development in this short book.  It’s a light confection and a fast read.  This is a small press book from Sam’s Dot Publishing, and there are a couple of typos.  You may want to bundle this with another book from the same publisher to beef up the reading time.

Book Review: Birthright: Book 1 of the Temujin Saga

Book Review: Birthright: Book 1 of the Temujin Saga by Adam J. Whitlatch

Temujin has always known he is special.  He is, after all, the clone restoration of Genghis Khan, endowed with strange alien powers and destined to conquer the Earth.  It is his birthright.

Birthright

Alexander Walker has never even suspected he is special.  He’s just a normal Iowa farm boy, getting up the nerve to ask the girl he has a crush on to watch fireworks with him.  But he too has a birthright, and this Fourth of July will be unlike any other.

Quintin MacLaren doesn’t really have a yardstick for “special”.  Brought up by an alien scientist, he only met other humans a short while ago, and they’re all immortal bounty hunters.  When the team gets a mission to the forbidden planet Earth, Quintin stows away on the ship.  Perhaps it is there that he will find his birthright.

These three young men are about to have a meeting that will change all their lives.

This young adult science fiction action book mashes together several different concepts: aliens, immortals, psychic powers, all in the service of a coming of age story.  Alex is our primary hero, the farm boy who is far more than he appears or ever imagined, soon joined by faithful (mostly) sidekicks and then extremely cool allies.  Quintin is his twin brother, created when aliens tried to cram too much awesome into one human body.

It takes a while to set up all the pieces, but the second half of the book is slam-bang action as Temujin tries to eliminate the one person (Alex) who can foil his plans for world conquest.  Boys and boys at heart should enjoy this immensely.

On the other hand, Temujin is literally a mustache-twirling villain, and the story pits our American(ized) band of heroes against the fanatical hordes of the East, a trope that raises some hackles.  This is also very much a boys’ adventure book–female characters are girlfriends, mothers and rescuees, whatever their nominal job description is.  Conservative parents might look askance at how intimate some of the rewards for rescuing are.

One of the characters also uses “sister” as an insult for his male teammate.  Repeatedly.  There may be a story behind that, but as is, it came off unnecessarily sexist.

The book’s plotline reaches a satisfactory conclusion, but Temujin is still around to try again (he’s in the series name, it’s not a spoiler.)

Recommended for teenage boys who like this sort of thing, but parents may want to discuss the “Eastern Hordes” trope with them.

Book Review: From Ghouls to Gangsters: The Career of Arthur B. Reeve Volume 1

Book Review: From Ghouls to Gangsters: The Career of Arthur B. Reeve Volume 1 edited by John Locke

Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936) was a newspaper reporter who decided to try his hand at writing fiction.  As it happened, he turned out to be very good at it, making a huge hit with his most famous character, scientific detective Craig Kennedy.  He became America’s most popular detective story writer from 1910-1920, and continued to do pretty well thereafter (despite a bankruptcy when a man who’d commissioned a  bunch of work failed to pay) until his death.  Mr. Reeve also worked on films and radio, and did true crime reporting as well.

From Ghouls to Gangsters

This first volume is a collection of short stories; the second volume has non-fiction by and about Mr. Reeve.  The first story appears to be his first sale, “The Cat that Didn’t Come Back” (1907), a gruesome but comedic tale of a man attempting to dispose of a cat’s corpse.  The majority of stories are about Craig Kennedy, a professor of chemistry who decides to use his knowledge of science to solve crimes.  He’s assisted by newspaper reporter Walter Jameson, the Watson-like narrator.

We begin with the 1910 story “The Case of Helen Bond.”  A man has died of a heart attack, but the fact that his safe was burgled the same night casts a suspicion of foul play.  Mr. Kennedy uses a primitive type of lie detector (and his brain) to crack the case.   The professor owes a great deal to Sherlock Holmes, but is considerably less eccentric.  In the Holmes tradition, the reader is not given all the clues, but must wait for Mr. Kennedy to sum up the case and how the science plays in.

That story was published in Cosmopolitan, but Kennedy stories appeared in many places, including Boys’ Life (which introduced a young nephew for him) and Country Gentleman.  By the 1930s, Mr. Reeve’s stories mostly appeared in the detective pulps, and took on a more “gangbusters” feel.  He was also beginning to reuse plot beats from earlier, out of print stories.

The science in some of the stories is a bit dated, particularly the case that’s solved by Freudian dream analysis.   As well, period ethnic prejudice pops up from time to time.  Mr. Reeve appears to have been progressive in his views of women for 1910, but some bits look odd from a modern perspective.

Mr. Reeve wrote several stories with female protagonists as detectives, including medical Dr. Mary Mannix and “secret agent” Clare Kendall.  One of the latter’s stories closes out the volume, “The Royal Racket” (1935).  Clare helps identify two corpses, and is then asked to advise a young couple that suspects some of their new social crowd might be less than honest.   The two cases are of course connected.

The Boys’ Life story “The Polar Flight of the ZR-10” (1924) is notable for not being so much a mystery as a speculative fiction story.  The title dirigible is being used to test a transpolar flight route between America and Europe, and finds a long-lost colony of Vikings.  The mystery subplot arises from a “beat the Reds” race that feels more 1950s than 1920s.

Overall, the stories are good, if mostly dated, and demonstrate Mr. Reeve’s ability to write to a specific magazine’s intended audience.  Most of the earlier stories were heavily edited for book publication to make them pseudo-novels, and the later ones have never been reprinted before, which makes this a good collector’s item for detective story fans.

 

Book Review: Double Jump

Book Review: Double Jump by Jason Glaser

Jeremy Chin didn’t notice anything odd about his world until the day it was destroyed by a sparkling dust dumped from an airship.  He dives into a swimming pool, and blacks out.  When he awakens in a hospital, Jeremy appears to be in a different world altogether.  He’s quickly recruited by Steel Serpent, a genetically enhanced soldier with a penchant for hiding in cardboard boxes, and Xartus, a snarky white mage (healer.)

Double Jump

In between deadly encounters, Jeremy learns that he is now in a place called the Lattice which was cobbled together from other destroyed worlds and which seems to run on video game logic.   As he gains other allies and develops strange new powers, Jeremy slowly begins to grasp what the enemy who destroyed his world is up to.  Can he learn the secret of the double jump before it’s too late?

This is indeed a tribute to a certain generation of video games, and many young adults will be able to tell who and what the various characters were inspired by.  The “world inspired by mashing together other fictional worlds” setting is one I’ve seen before (In this particular case, most recently in Wreck-It Ralph) , but it’s fairly well-thought-out here.

Jeremy is very much “the Chosen One”; events (and possibly the universe) revolve around him, he manifests new awesome powers as the plot demands, and he seems to break the local rules of physics.  Mind, this is a fairly common thing in video games, as the story points out.  He also seems to be remarkably unaffected emotionally by the destruction of his world.  Admittedly, the non-stop action doesn’t give him much time to think about that, and there are flashbacks that partially explain his numbness, but I hope that the inevitable sequel will have him dealing with the aftermath more fully.

The flashbacks are perhaps the most innovative aspect of the book; Jeremy’s memories are not internally consistent, something he realizes towards the end of the story.  Indeed, they suggest that the events are not necessarily taking place in “reality” in the physical sense.  I should mention for those who are easily triggered that suicide is a part of the story.

One aspect of the Lattice that may be problematic for some readers is the “Nons.”  There are less than ten thousand freewilled beings in the universe; the rest are automatons that blindly repeat actions and bestow quests.  The “heroes” have long since learned not to care about Nons since the quests are often dangerous and after a while the rewards are not worth it.  Jeremy has not learned this lesson yet, and does help out a few Nons…who know his name.  Hmm….

The female characters are depicted as competent, but there are some digs at the impractical costumes foisted on them in video games.  One, Min, is engaged in intensive study of the “Engine” (the rules that drive the Lattice) in an effort to overcome the embarrassing nature of her powers.

The suicide and some rough language may make this book unsuitable for younger or more sensitive readers; otherwise it should be okay for junior high on up.  (A scene involving Min would boost the rating to an “R” if it were visual.)

I am pleased to say that though this book was self-published, it looks good and has no memorable typos.  Recommended for video game fans and former video game fans.

 

Open Thread: Minicon 49

This past weekend, I went to Minicon 49 at the RadiShTree Hotel in Bloomington.   It’s a book-oriented science fiction convention with an older-skewing crowd, running around 500 people.  So it’s not overcrowded and a good place to talk to your once a year friends.

Art by Don Maitz, with additions by Pat  Scarramuza
Art by Don Maitz, with additions by Pat Scarramuza

This year’s theme was “Pirates and Airships” largely because the artist Guest of Honor was Don Maitz, who people who are not SF fans may know best from the Captain Morgan rum bottles.  (Fun information:  Mr. Maitz’s first draft of the Captain Morgan painting had the pirate in period-correct clothing, but he decided that the anachronistic outfit looked more “piratey.” )  Also on the Guest of Honor list were Jenny Wurtz (the Mistwraith series, and Mr. Maitz’s wife) and Catherynne M. Valente (the Fairyland series.)

Minicon 49 was listed as three and a half days, with some activities starting on Thursday, but I arrived Friday.   I attended the “Fandom or Fandoms?” panel, which discussed generational differences in how speculative fiction fandom is approached.  I stayed for the “Healthy Online Gaming: Just One More Turn” panel, which talked about online gaming addiction, how to prevent it, how to deal with it and how to spot if you have it.

Opening Ceremony (“ceremonies!”) were fun as always, with a rousing beginning,  Jenny Wurtz marching in playing the bagpipes.  I was saddened to learn that Blue Petal (a long time fannish personality who once played in a convention RPG I ran) had passed away.

After that,  I went to the “Navigating the World of Small Press Publishing” panel, with several authors and publishers discussed the joys and pitfalls of working with small presses.  One of the panelists didn’t make it as he was so busy selling his book that he lost track of time.  (Also because last minute mixups meant that panelists weren’t named in the programs.)

Late night was party time (I especially enjoyed the Helsinki Worldcon bid party) and Moneyduck.  For those of you who have not heard of the latter, Moneyduck is a game where you write a word or phrase on a piece of paper and pass it to the next person.  That person draws a picture of the words.   They then conceal the original phrase and pass it to the next person, who writes words based on the pictures.  Repeat until the paper has gone all the way around the table.

On Saturday morning, I went to the Catherynne Valente Reading, where she gave us a snippet from her upcoming Fairyland book.  Should be interesting.

That afternoon, I moderated the “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans” panel, the recommendations from which are in an earlier post.   There was a young woman in the front row who wanted to study moderation as she will be doing that for a Hetalia panel at ConVergence; that inspired me to do a good job, and I am told it showed.

Later that afternoon,  I also participated on the “Page 117” panel.   The idea was to pick a random page from a book, in this case the hundred and seventeenth, and read it aloud.  The panelists and audience then discussed whether they’d continue reading based on that page.   As it turns out, some good books have boring 117s.  One particular volume had a page that was so over the top macho action that it set me to giggles, even more when it was revealed that the protagonist was a woman.   All my entries were from books I was donating to the freebie table; they were all gone by the end of the day, and I hope the new owners enjoy them.

I wrapped up my panels for the day with “The Year in SF”  by which was meant primarily SF books.  There’s a few I am looking forward to seeing.  The parties I spent the most time at were the Ethel Romm Meet & Greet, and the Livejournal Party.

Sunday morning, I went to the Film Room’s presentation of “Wolf Children,” an anime movie about a widow who has to raise her kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.  It’s a bit melancholy.  After that was done, I stopped by the end of the Janny Wurtz interview.

My main panel for the day was “Maenads, Oracles and Madwomen”, which turned out to be mostly about Baba Yaga and how she is a liminal figure.  (One of the panelists mentioned how nice it was to be around a group of people who used the word “liminal” in conversation.)  After that, it was time for the “Mega Moneyduck Reveal” event.  A roll of paper had been set up by the Consuite, and the game had been played all weekend.  What started as the phrase “silent and very fast” wound up being something about birthday cake. There were some hilarious segues.

Closing ceremonies were also fun.  Catherynne Valente mentioned that she’d been nominated for a Hugo award; we’ll see how she does.  The ceremony culminated in the usual assassination of the MnStf President, and then it was time to go home.

The book I was reading for most of the weekend was “The Why of Things”, about causality.  it sparked several interesting conversations.  I’ll have a review of it up in a few days.  I also got to see pieces of three Syfy Original Movies, which all appeared to be parodies of giant monster flicks.

Next year is Minicon 50, which will be four (exhausting) days, and the planned guests of honor are Larry Niven, Jane Yolen, Brandon Sanderson and Adam Stemple.  You might want to get your registration in early.

Book Review: City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago

Book Review: City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist

Full disclosure: I was sent this volume as a Firstreads giveaway on the premise that I would write a review of it.   Also, my copy was an uncorrected proof, and small changes may have been made between it and the final product.

City of ScoundrelsLate July of 1919 was certainly a troubled time for the city of Chicago, and thus one ripe for interesting history. The book opens with an account of the Wingfoot disaster to hook the reader, then moves back to the beginning of the year to set the stage for the more politically oriented events. After the main narrative, there’s a summary of later events and finally a “where are they now” section.

The Wingfoot disaster involved an airship crashing into a bank, killing several people both in the Wingfoot and in the bank.  (After that, Chicago instituted flight restrictions.)  During the days that followed, Chicago was struck by a transit strike, a race riot and a sensational child murder that set off a massive manhunt.

The central figure is colorful mayor “Big Bill” Thompson, but space is made for the stories of others, including a ordinary Chicago woman, Emily Frankenstein, who happened to keep a very good diary. There are copious footnotes, a full bibliography, and an index.

The book is written in clear, understandable language and was a quick but not insubstantial read. I would have liked a bit more information on Chicago’s dealing with the “moron” problem after the events covered, but was otherwise satisfied.

Be aware that as a race riot is part of the history, there are quotes from racist people–and some early 20th Century sexism.

I’d especially recommend this book to high school history students looking for an interesting subject not as yet overdone.

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