Book Review: Octavia’s Brood

Book Review: Octavia’s Brood edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha

One of the many uses of science fiction is to talk about current issues in a speculative setting.  One can posit a world in which current trends have become exaggerated to dystopian levels, or where a solution has been found to a current problem and what that would result in, or imagine how a change in the past would affect an issue…or even just go the allegory route by, say, having anti-Martian prejudice stand in for anti-immigrant prejudice of the current day.

Octavia's Shadow

This anthology is dedicated to science fiction stories on the theme of social justice issues.  It’s dedicated to the memory of Octavia Butler (1947-2006) a Hugo-winning author of works that touched on such themes as racism, alienation and the environment.  There are twenty stories and two essays by a variety of experienced and first-time authors.

The first story is “Revolution Shuffle” by Bao Phi.  Two Vietnamese-American young people in the middle of a zombie apocalypse are about to liberate an internment camp for Asian and Middle Eastern-descended people.  It seems that in this future, the zombie infestation was declared a terrorist attack, and the most likely suspects were locked up in special facilities to maintain zombie-attracting pistons “for their own protection.”  It reads like the first chapter of a YA dystopia novel.

The last fictional story is “children who fly” by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.  It’s a future starring her daughter in a globally-warmed Oakland, trying to preserve what’s left of the community through group disassociation.  “Evidence” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs also uses heavy author insertion in foretelling a future where material goods are no longer important but personal growth is.

Several stories are clearly in the Afrofuturism mode, such as “Lalibela” by Gabriel Teodros, about a time-traveling Ethiopian king.

The most stylistically interesting piece is “Sanford and Sun” by Dawolu Jahari Anderson, which is a script format tale about junk dealer Fred G. Sanford encountering cosmic funk musician and philosopher Sun Ra.  It’s a neat concept, but the “jokes” reminded me of just how much Redd Foxx’s comedic delivery skills carried the Sanford and Son show.  Without specifically imagining him in the role at all times, the lines fall flat.

Some of the stories feel like incomplete fragments.  “Aftermath” by LeVar Burton (about an African-American scientist developing a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, only to be kidnapped by people who want to skin her alive) and “Fire on the Mountain” by Terry Bisson (an alternate history where the Civil War went very differently indeed) are open about this as they are previews of longer books.  Others come off as essays more than stories.

Of the stories in this volume, the one I liked best was “The Long Memory” by Morrigan Phillips.  It takes place in an archipelago where people known as Memorials can access the memories of the Memorials who have come before them, back to the beginning of their line.  These Memorials have become an important part of the society as the rulers must consult them and their knowledge of history before each important decision.

A wealthy and ambitious politician has become an enemy of the Memorials for reasons including the fact that they remember his ideas turn out badly.  He manages to get enough of the government on his side to imprison the Memorials.

The protagonist organizes a hunger strike in an effort to bring the politician to the negotiating table (and also to remind the people that the Memorials have been locked up.)  She naturally wants herself and her colleagues to be freed, but also comes to the realization that the people of the Archipelago have leaned on the Memorials for long-term memory so much that they’ve lost the capacity to remember history for themselves.

The essays are “Star Wars and the American Imagination” by Mumia Abu-Jamal, which is about pretty much what you’d think, and “The Only Lasting Truth”  by Tananarive Due, which is about Octavia Butler herself, her work, and her legacy.

There’s also a foreword, introduction and outro discussing the themes and importance of the works included, and a set of author bios.

This collection is “important” more than “good”; the quality of submissions is uneven, but they are nevertheless interesting to read and contemplate, and I look forward to seeing the future work of many of these authors.  If you have an interest in social justice themes or Afrofuturism, please consider picking this book up.

 

Book Review: Classic American Short Stories

Book Review: Classic American Short Stories compiled by Michael Kelahan

This book is more or less exactly what it says in the title, a compilation of short(ish) stories written by American authors, most of which are acknowledged as classics by American Lit professors.  The stories are arranged by author in roughly chronological order from the early Nineteenth Century to the 1920s to stay safely in the public domain.

Classic American Short Stories

The fifty-one stories included begin with Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, a tall tale about a henpecked husband who drinks ghostly beer and sleeps for twenty years, right through the American Revolution.  The book ends with “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  A young man from Minnesota finds great success in the laundry business, but heartache when the woman he loves cannot settle for just him.  In between are ones that are very familiar to me, like “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (a murderer confesses his crime in an effort to prove his sanity) and stories that were new to me, like “The Revolt of ‘Mother'” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (a New England woman, tired of an unkept promise, takes matters into her own hands.)

There’s a wide variety of genres represented, from “realistic” slice of life stories through mystery and fantasy to outright horror.  The chronological order highlights the changing social attitudes depicted in the stories, particularly the two Edith Wharton stories about divorce.  Women are reasonably well-represented, and there are a couple of writers of color as well.

Of course, just because a story is “classic” does not mean it will appeal to everyone.  I found Henry James’ novella “The Aspern Papers” (literary buff infiltrates the household of a famous poet’s ex-lover in an effort to gain any memorabilia she might have of him) tedious and predictable.  I am not alone in this, but many other readers have found it fascinating.

Content issues:  Many of these stories have elements of period racism, sexism and classism; sometimes it’s dealt with within the story itself, but other times it pops up as a nasty surprise.  “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, about a boy who wants the finer things in life without the tedium of putting in decades of hard labor to get them, deals with suicide.

This is a Barnes & Noble collector’s edition, and is quite handsome and sturdy, with a leather binding, gilt-edged pages and a silk bookmark for a reasonable price.  However, the fact that it has a “compiler” rather than an editor is telling.  There are scattered typos; I do not know if they were caused by errors in transcription, or if the sources were not scrutinized carefully enough.  The author bios at the end are not quite in alphabetical order, and miss out Washington Irving altogether.

Overall, most of these stories are worth reading at least once, and many are worth rereading over the years.  Highly recommended to people who don’t already have their favorites from this collection in a physical book, or are curious about the stories they haven’t read yet.  It’d also make a nice gift for your bookworm friend or relative.

Book Review: Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology

Book Review: Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

As the subtitle of this volume indicates, it’s a collection of 29 short stories written from a feminist perspective. There are selections from the 1960s through the 2000s–SF, fantasy, horror and a couple of stories that seem to be included out of courtesy because of “surrealism.”

Sisters of the Revolution

The anthology begins with “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.” by L. Timmel Duchamp, an account of a journalist’s meeting with a woman whose use of language is considered so dangerous that a Constitutional amendment has been passed to specifically ban those words. The journalist has a photo-op with Margaret A. in the prison that woman is being held in, and the experience changes her. It’s an interesting use of literary techniques to suggest the power of Margaret A.’s words without ever directly quoting them.

The final story is “Home by the Sea” by Elisabeth Vonarburg, in which a gynoid in a post-apocalyptic world returns to her mother/creator to ask some questions. The answers to those questions both disturb and give new hope. Like several other stories in the volume, this one deals with the nature of motherhood, and the mother-daughter relationship.

There are some of the classic stories that are almost mandatory for the subject of feminist speculative fiction: “The Screwfly Solution” by James Tiptree, Jr. (men abruptly start murdering people they’re sexually attracted to, mostly women but the story tacitly acknowledges homosexuality); “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ (a planet with an all-female society is contacted by men from Earth after centuries of isolation–it originally ran in Again, Dangerous Visions, an anthology for stories with themes considered too controversial to be published elsewhere, times have changed); and Octavia K. Butler’s “The Evening the Morning and the Night” (a woman with a genetic disorder discovers that she has a gift that fits her exactly for a specific job, whether she wants that job or not.)

The anthologists have also made an effort to include stories that are “intersectional”, providing perspectives from other parts of the world. “The Palm Tree Bandit” by Nnedi Okorofor tells the story of a Nigerian woman who defies a sexist tradition and starts one of her own. Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Glass Bottle Trick” is a retelling of the Bluebeard story in modern Jamaica (this time the women avenge their own), and “Tales from the Breast” by Hiromi Goto, wherein a Japanese-Canadian woman discovers a solution to her breastfeeding problems.

Some other standouts include: “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters” by Eleanor Arnason (a fairy tale about language); “The Fall River Axe Murders” by Angela Carter (one of the stories that really doesn’t feel like speculative fiction, but is really well-written, set in the moments just before Lizzie Borden is about to get up and kill her parents) and “Stable Strategies for Middle Management” by Eileen Gunn (how far would you go to fit into the corporate culture? Would you let them shoot you up with insect genes?)

Tanith Lee’s “Northern Chess” is a fantasy tale of a warrior woman infiltrating a castle cursed to be a deathtrap by an evil alchemist. It’s exciting, but the ending relies on a now-hoary twist. Still worth reading if you haven’t had the chance before.

Most of the other stories are at least middling good. The weakest for me was “My Flannel Knickers” by Leonora Carrington, which falls into the surrealist category and seems to be about a woman who has rejected conventional beauty standards. Probably.

Rape, sexualized violence and domestic abuse are discussed; I’d put this book as suitable for bright senior high schoolers, though individual stories could be enjoyable by younger readers.

Recommended for feminists, those interested in feminist themes, and anthology fans.

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 4

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 4 by Go Ikeyamada

Quick recap:  Meguru and Mitsuru Kobayashi are fraternal twins who look a lot alike.  Due to a zany scheme, they switched uniforms and went to each other’s school for a week.  While there, each fell in love with a student at their sibling’s school, complicated by the fact of the disguises.  Now the week is over, but the romantic comedy is just starting!

So Cute It Hurts!! 4

In this volume, the Kobayashi twins go on first dates.  Meguru is out with the dashing Aoi Sanada, a tough but gentle lad who reminds her of famous Japanese warlord Date Masamune.  They get along quite well, despite Aoi being afflicted with anxiety attacks whenever a woman (including Meguru and his half-sister Shino Takenaka) gets too close.  So they can spend time together, but not touch.

Meanwhile, Mitsuru finds himself spending the day with “mean girl” Azusa Tokugawa rather than the lovely Shino.  She blackmailed him into a day with her in exchange for not revealing his crossdressing adventure, but Mitsuru didn’t understand what she meant and showed up in kendo dueling gear, while she’s in Gothic Lolita finery.  Onlookers assume it’s some sort of cosplay date.   Azusa is confused by her own feelings, alternating between anger at this stupid boy and being charmed by his good points.

But drama lurks in the wings.  Aoi’s trauma runs deeper than he’s been letting on, and Mitsuru may have waited too long to reveal his true identity to Shino.

Again, this is an adorable series with innocent feelings, and some amusing reaction faces, particularly from Azusa.  The crossdressing is mostly over, confined to an extended flashback.

Abuse in Aoi’s backstory is hinted at, and Azusa’s bullying is mentioned.  There’s also some brief non-graphic violence.  But in general, this is safe for its target audience of junior high readers.

If you liked the previous volumes, this one is also good.

 

Book Review: Slow Dancing Through Time

Book Review: Slow Dancing Through Time by Gardner Dozois in collaboration with Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, Susan Casper and/or Jack C Haldeman II.

The art of collaboration is an interesting one; two authors (rarely three) blending their skills to create a story neither could produce individually.  Ideally, the reader should be able to see the fingerprints of the collaborators, but not the seams between them.  Gardner Dozois wrote a number of fine collaborations in the 1970s and 80s, before taking on a full-time job as editor for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Slow Dancing through Time

This volume reprints fourteen of those stories, along with essays by the collaborators on the collaboration process, and afterwords for each story written by Mr. Dozois.  (It also has a list of his other collaborations if you want to hunt them down.)  The stories cover science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a couple of them on the edge between genres.

The first story is “Touring” (with Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick), in which Buddy Holly gets a chance to perform with Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.  It’s a Twilight Zone type story, although the language is saltier than Rod Serling would ever have been allowed to air.  The book ends with “Down Among the Dead Men” (with Jack Dann), a chilling tale of a vampire trapped in a Nazi concentration camp.  It was quite controversial at the time, and still packs a punch, despite where the horror genre went during the Nineties.

Standouts include  “A Change in the Weather” (with Jack Dann), a bit of fluff about dinosaurs that hinges on the last line (and provided the endpaper illustration), “Time Bride” (with Jack Dann) about the use of time travel to emotionally abuse a girl (and with a downer ending as the cycle continues), and “The Clowns” (with Susan Casper & Jack Dann), another chiller featuring a little boy who sees clowns that no one else can.

Some of these stories may be hard to find elsewhere, such as “Snow Job” (wth Michael Swanwick.)   This tale of a con artist and a time-traveling cocaine addict first appeared in High Times, which can be difficult to find back issues of.

Overall, the quality of the stories is good, but budding writers may find the essays on collaboration more useful to them.  Recommended to speculative fiction fans.

Book Review: The Dead Riders

Book Review: The Dead Riders by Elliott O’Donnell

Burke Blake is at loose ends in China when he hears of an expedition to the Gobi desert, reputedly near the site of Genghis Khan’s tomb.  He invites himself along on the journey to try to steer it into treasure hunting.  Several misadventures later, Burke and several other treasure hunters find themselves captured by the lost cult of Lovona, who worship Dakoalach, or as Westerners say, Satan.  Burke barely escapes with his life, but two years later in England discovers that the Lovonans might be just as world-spanning as they claim….

The Dead Riders

Mr. O’Donnell (1872-1965) was a self-proclaimed expert on the supernatural, best remembered for his books of “true” ghost stories.  He had a long writing career; this book was published in 1952 and this paperback reprint is from 1967.  One thing that comes through in the story is the amount of research he’d done to namedrop relevant real-world people reputed to be black magicians and Satanists (except Aleister Crowley, perhaps as a slight to the other man’s reputation) and cites (out of date) newspaper articles as background to the events.

We’re in tight third-person with Burke Blake, so much of the narrative is colored by his personality, which is that of a self-centered jerk who assures himself he’s not a misogynist even as he is odiously sexist towards the women he associates with.  It doesn’t bother his conscience in the least to consider diverting an archaeological expedition into a treasure hunt, and he spares nary a thought to others in danger when he is escaping captivity.

He’s also rather thick; when he discovers that a country house might be being used for Satanic rituals, it doesn’t occur to him to find out who owns the house (even after his government contact suggests doing so!) or make inquiries in the neighborhood.  Burke also completely whiffs guessing the mastermind of the villains, someone all but the dimmest of readers will suspect the moment the character shows up.

Oh, and he’s casually racist and classist as well.  This last rebounds on him towards the end when he discovers that other people don’t consider him as socially elevated as he himself does.  Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a good thing that women are attracted to him for no apparent reason, as it’s actually them that provide the plot’s forward momentum.  I leave it as an exercise to the reader if the author actually meant for Mr. Blake to be this awful, or sincerely believes this is the sort of fellow one should admire.

Admittedly, after recently finishing Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, any ordinary horror novel would have paled, but this one is particularly non-scary.  Part of it is that Mr. O’Donnell clearly had not updated his writing style from the early 1900s, which gives the story a feeling of happening in a setting divorced from 1950s culture–the denizens of the English part of the story seem to be much more in tune with earlier social norms.  The pacing is stodgy, with no Satanists showing up until chapter 15.

Despite the claim of a Lovona priest that “we are super-magicians and are acquainted with and can perform all manner of things outside the pale of Occidental Science”, the supernatural aspect of the book is distinctly lacking.  The magic show they put on to impress Burke with their powers consists of hackneyed stage tricks, and everything in the book that is attributed to magic could easily be explained as sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors.  Except the very last page, but by then it’s rather too late.

The English branch of Satanists turn out to be rather underwhelming as well.  Burke hears rumors of drug smuggling and “white slavery”  being backed by the Satan worshipers, but nothing is shown on page.  The villain does apparently have a collection of nude photographs, but we never see that either.  What we do see is a rather mundane prayer ritual in fancy robes, and a performance of slightly racy dancing.  Satanism in this book seems to have rather more in common with real-world scam cults that want your money than all-out human sacrifice and sex orgies.   The cult does, for some reason, have a waxworks collection that looks extremely sinister, but is not as I had hoped real people murdered and coated with wax.

There is torture in one chapter, conveniently titled “Torture”, which the easily triggered can skip.

Overall, this is a poorly-paced book that is unintentionally hilarious in places; I’d only recommend it to completists who collect any book that has Satanists as the villains (I know you exist.)

Book Review: 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories

Book Review: 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg & Martin H. Greenberg

This was my Halloween season read this year, an anthology commissioned for the Barnes & Noble stores in 1995.  There are indeed one hundred stories in this hefty tome, averaging about six pages.  They are not all about wicked witches, however–some witches are good, some are just mischievous and others are hard to pin down on a moral spectrum.

100 Wicked Little Witch Stories

The volume opens with “Gramma Grunt” by Donald L. Burleson, about a man returning to the streets of his youth and regretting joining in the taunting of an old woman; and ends with “Wall of Darkness” by Basil Wells, about a piece of architecture that should be left strictly alone.  The oldest story (1933) is “The Mandrakes” by Clark Ashton Smith, one of his Averoigne stories, in which a murdered woman gets revenge through the title plants (though her murderer really should have known better.)  Most of the stories, however, are exclusive to this book.

As might be expected, most of these short tales depend heavily on a twist ending, but a few play it straight with an ending foreshadowed throughout.  Sometimes good people win the day, other times evil triumphs, at least for now.  There are many variations in kinds of witches as well, the most bizarre of which is “Fish Witch” by Lois H. Gresh, with a witchlike species of marine life; it’s got a garbled ending.

Some standouts include:

  • “The Only Way to Fly” by Nancy Holder:  An aging witch who’s lost most of her magic through disuse is on a plane to her retirement home.  Does she have one last spark in her?
  • “There’ll be Witches” by Joe Meno:  Danny is haunted by witches that make him wet the bed.  Too bad the grownups never see them!
  • “Beware of That for Which You Wish” by Linda J. Dunn:  A woman who wants a son consults a wiser woman; the wheel turns.
  • “The Devil’s Men” by Brian Stableford and “The Caress of Ash and Cinder” by Cindie Geddes, a nicely matched pair of stories about witch hunts seen from the victim’s point of view, yet with mirrored perspectives.
  • “The Mudang” by Will Murray:  A skull collector discovers a two for one bargain in Korea.

There’s a few duds as well, but they’re short and over quickly.

Scattered among the stories are a few with scenes of rape, abuse, suicide and other triggery subjects.  There’s also a few iffy ethnic portrayals and those of you who are witches may not like some of the more negative portrayals.

You can probably find this for a modest price from Barnes & Noble; I see it’s been reprinted several times.  Or try the library if you just want to read the bits by your favored authors.

Movie Review: Stage Door Canteen

Movie Review: Stage Door Canteen (1943)

A troop train carrying soldiers to a base near New York City has typical troopers California, Dakota, Jersey and Tex on board.  Only Jersey has a steady girl, and he’s hoping they have some time before being shipped overseas to see her.   California’s never even kissed a girl, and Dakota has sworn off romance for the duration.  Tex would like a new girl, but it seems unlikely.

Stage Door Canteen

Meanwhile, several young hostesses get ready to work at the Stage Door Canteen.   This is a special servicemen’s club set up near Broadway where celebrities volunteer their time and talent to entertain the troops.  One of the women, Eileen, is less interested in the volunteer work than in being noticed by a Hollywood or Broadway scout, so she can advance her acting career.

Our troopers get passes as their ship is not ready to leave, so they come to the Stage Door Canteen.  Despite the restrictions (the hostesses are there to lend a friendly ear and dance partners to the lonely soldiers; no physical affection or outside dating allowed) Dakota and Eileen find romance blossoming.  Too bad there’s a war on!

This 1943 film is a tribute to the real-life canteen, and can be fairly described as star-studded.  Musicians like Count Basie and Benny Goodman,  comedians like Ed Bergen and Harpo Marx, and many cameos from performers like Lunt & Fontanne and Johnny Weismuller.  In real life, the canteen probably didn’t feature all these people at once, but all of them did appear at the Stage Door Canteen or the West Coast Hollywood Canteen at one time or another.

The story is paper-thin, only there to connect together the music and comedy acts.  The music is first-rate, and the format allows a variety of musical genres, from swing to religious.  The comedy is a bit more dated, and younger viewers may find themselves lost trying to figure out who some of these people are.  The wartime setting is often mentioned, with as many different types of servicemembers crammed in as possible, including the Allied forces.

That leads to a bit of puzzlement at one point where Chinese airmen are set to sail to China–from New York City.  (There are some mild ethnic slurs towards the Japanese.)

The film is long by 1940s standards, over two hours, but is in the public domain so you can probably find a good version online or on cheap DVD.  Highly recommended for fans of any of the artists involved–your kids may want to skip right to the music bits.

In fact, let’s have a moment with Gracie Fields singing “The Lord’s Prayer.”

TV Review: Decoy | The Shadow

TV Review: Decoy | The Shadow

Decoy is a 1957-58 series about Casey Jones (Beverly Garland), a female police officer in New York City.  She often goes undercover, thus the series title.  This show is noteworthy as the first TV cop series to star a woman in the lead role.  Like Dragnet, the series fictionalized real cases.

Decoy

As an undercover cop, Officer Jones often deals with the very human side of the suspects–many of them come off as sympathetic, or at least their friends and relatives do.   Jones narrates the episodes, and frequently addresses the audience directly at the close of a case.

Many of the episodes are in the public domain, and I watched six on DVD.

  • “To Trap a Thief”  After a robbery suspect is caught and the money recovered, it’s discovered that over half the money in the satchel isn’t there.  The arresting officer is one of several suspects, and Officer Jones goes undercover as a blackmailer to see which one has a guilty conscience.  The ending is happier than expected.
  • “High Swing”  A mysterious series of muggings takes a lethal twist when one of the criminals dies of a drug overdose.  Officer Jones attempts to take her place in the small gang.  Notable for its portrayal of a marriage that is both loving and extremely bitter.
  • “The Sound of Tears”  The only episode where we learn something about Casey’s personal life.  A man is shot six times by an unidentified woman,  and Officer Jones must work through the reminder of her own slain beloved.  It’s suggested that the remaining pain from this is why she never shows interest in any of the men who hit on her during the series.
  • “Night Light”  A ruby necklace is stolen, and Officer Jones poses as a representative of the insurance company trying to buy it back.  But the real story is that one of the criminals has a young son who he is putting on the path to crime, whether he means to or not.
  • “Fiesta at Midnight”  A recent arrival from Puerto Rico is mistakenly identified as a robber and murderer.   His only alibi is a young woman he talked to at midnight, who said she was getting married on Sunday.  Too bad she seems to have disappeared!  The solution to the mystery was fairly obvious to me, but it takes Officer Jones longer to catch on, in large part because one of the witnesses is outright lying to protect the real killer.
  • “The Come Back”  Counterfeit winning tickets are being passed at the racetrack, so Officer Jones poses as a crooked cop muscling in on the racket.  The criminal operation turns out to be bigger than suspected.  This episode is most notable for its guest star, Peter Falk, as a crooked racetrack cashier.

This is an interesting little series, and I especially recommend “The Sound of Tears” and “The Come Back.”

 

The long-running Shadow radio show and pulp magazine inspired an attempt at a television show as well, but only a pilot for The Shadow was made, “The Case of the Cotton Kimono.”

The Shadow

Lamont Cranston (Tom Helmore) is a criminal psychologist who is an on-call adjunct to the police.  He’s kept very busy, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Margot Lane (Paula Raymond.)  In this instance, Commission Weston is calling Cranston in on the murder of a woman who was dressed in a cotton kimono at the time.

The police have gotten nowhere, even having an officer from the woman’s home town come in to assist them.  Cranston is able to locate two likely suspects, the boyfriend and the woman’s music teacher, but not enough to positively link either of them to the crime.  So he calls on “our old friend” the Shadow.  Interestingly, the story never actually establishes that Lamont Cranston and the Shadow are the same person (though they have similar voices and never “appear” at the same time.)

The Shadow’s arrival is indicated by a flashing light, and those whose minds he clouds not only don’t see him, but become distracted and lose focus.  it’s a nice touch.

The leads are good, but the story is kind of plodding.  With the state of special effects on television being what they were in 1954, it might have been just as well this never made it into a full series.

Book Review: Jet Set

Book Review: Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Sex in Aviation’s Glory Years by William Stadiem

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an Advance Uncorrected Proof, and there will be considerable changes made to the final product, due to be in stores June 2014.

Jet Set

This is a chatty history of the period from 1958, the introduction of the 707 passenger jet, through approximately 1970, the heyday of fast, easy and almost affordable travel between the United States and Europe.  The book opens with an account of the Cháteau de Sully crash in 1962, the worst blow to Atlanta, Georgia’s society since General Sherman, as a 707 crashed in Paris with most of the Atlanta Art Association aboard.

But most of the book is less about the ordinary travelers of the period, or even the pilots and crew of the jets.  Instead, we get short biographies of the movers and shakers of the jet aircraft industry and airlines, the glitterati who made up the “Set” even before jets were added, and the various hoteliers, restaurateurs, movie folks and gossip columnists that gave the era much of its glamour.

It’s very much a “six degrees” book, with Celebrity A having been married to Model B, who then married Executive C, who attended parties for Movie Star D…There’s a lot of name-dropping.  Often, the narrative will flit through three or four different tangents before coming back to the story the chapter is telling.

There was an awful lot of sex going on in the Jet Set, it seems, with many of the people discussed having three or four spouses, and twice as many affairs.   Also a lot of sexism.  While there are stories of a few notable women who managed to beat the odds, becoming successful and influential in the society world, the Jet Set was not a hotbed of the Women’s Lib movement, which was going on elsewhere.

By the end of the time period discussed, a number of factors killed off the Jet Set era; skyjacking, inflation, the aging out, imprisonment or death of many playboys, and the youth movement making “cool” more important than “smooth.”  The final chapter describes the fate of many of the main people discussed.

There’s a scattering of black and white photos, and in the finished product there will be a bibliography and index.

The book’s style tends towards the gossipy, with more sober chunks interspersed.   I’d recommend it more for the casual reader who is nostalgic for the era, or would like to know what it was all about,  than the serious scholar.

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