Book Review: Universal Station by Beth Brown.
This volume is by the Beth Brown who also wrote “All Dogs Go To Heaven”. Like that book, it’s a light fantasy about the afterlife. (Indeed, one of the main characters is a dog.)
Broadway musician Johnny dies in a plane crash during World War Two, and is met on “the other side” by his psychopomp, who happens to also be his beloved grandfather. Grand escorts Johnny to the eponymous station, a transit hub for spirits to rest and recover while they get ready to move on to their final destination.
Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of dead Nazis just now, and they launch a coup to take over the Universal Station and run it their way. Johnny and his now-talking dog must flee this onslaught.
Sadly, the charm of a talking dog is overwhelmed by the repetitive, preachy dialogue about the nature of the afterlife and how right Johnny’s grandfather, Grand, is about everything.
There’s a romance in the backstory, but if anything the dialogue in it is even more nauseating in its preciousness.
There’s a different book going on in the background that would be arguably more interesting, and whose midpoint would be about the end of this book. In it are all the actual action scenes, and the adventures of Johnny’s love interest trying to escape the Nazis.
This is an interesting curio, but it’s easy to see why it’s fallen into the memory hole.
Book Review: If I Were You by L. Ron Hubbard
Before L. Ron Hubbard got involved in…you know, he was a middling-good and prolific pulp author. The Golden Age Stories line is reprinting many of his stories in attractively designed paperbacks. This volume contains two short stories, , a preview of another, a glossary (really needed this time because of heavy circus slang) and a hagiography of Hubbard that does not mention…you know by name, just calling it “serious research.” Hee. It’s double-spaced in a largish typeface for easy reading.
The title story concerns a little person, “Little” Tom Little, who works as a circus midget, and then discovers a mystical method for bodyswapping with other people. He promptly decides to use this to swap with the tall, imposing ringmaster Hermann Schmidt. But Schmidt has troubles of his own, which could get Tom killed regardless of which body he’s in!
There’s a nice bit of foreshadowing early in the story, with what seems like random cruelty to Tom, but is actually a hint of what Schmidt’s issues are. The lion phobia, on the other hand, was a bit too telegraphed. The payoff to that is a very exciting scene, mitigating the obviousness. There’s a nice bit of ambiguity, too, in the motives of the Professor, who leaves Tom his books of magic.
The second story, “The Last Drop” is co-authored by the much better L. Sprague de Camp. A bartender foolishly creates a cocktail with some untested syrup from Borneo; growth and shrinking hijinks ensue. A fun story that at least waves at scientific plausibility as it goes by, in the form of the square-cube law. (The glossary explains it for the benefit of anyone who might have forgotten.)
While it’s a handsome package, and the stories are fun, the book is thin on content for the price. I’d recommend looking for used copies at a steep discount, or checking it out from the library.
Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark) by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves & Oclair Albert
When DC Comics rebooted their mainline universe in 2011, this left them free to rearrange the past of that universe . To fill in part of that timeline, we have this title.
After a brief moment at the fall of Camelot, we see the town of Little Spring, a relatively peaceful village that just so happens to be host to seven ill-assorted strangers. It’s a close call as to whether these strangers or the encroaching army of the Questing Queen is more of a danger. Nevertheless, it falls to this ragtag band of misfits to defend Little Spring until it can be relieved by Alba Sarum.
The “heroes” of this story don’t much like each other, and several of them aren’t very heroic at all. But like it or not, they have to work together…or do they?
This is one of the more successful reimaginings of the New 52. Paul Cornell does good banter, and blends what we “know” of various characters with new information in interesting ways. Several mysteries are set up, only a couple of which actually get movement in this volume, which contains the first seven issues of the series. Also, kudos to Mr. Cornell for a relatively diverse cast, and not pretending it was only white able-bodied men who did anything important in the Middle Ages.
There’s quite a bit of gory violence, and some dark themes–I would recommend this for older teens and up.