During World War Two, Hungary was one of the Axis powers, with its own fascists led by the Arrow Cross Party. At first this seemed like a good idea, as Hungary gained back territories it had lost after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But late in the war, it became obvious that they were on the losing side. The Hungarian government tried to broker a separate armistice with the Soviet Union, only to have their country occupied by the Germans. As a result, they were forced to fight to the bitter end.
In late December of 1944 through February of 1945, the Soviet Army encircled the city of Budapest and besieged the troops and civilians within. It is that siege that gives us the title of this book, which contains thirteen short stories all of which tie into that event in some way, even if the characters are living in the Hungarian diaspora community in Toronto.
“The Atlas of B. Görbe” is about a struggling writer in New York City who turns to an older author of children’s books for assistance in finding his way.
“The Animals of the Budapest Zoo, 1944-1945” is set within the siege itself as the zookeepers come to realize they might not be able to keep themselves alive, let alone their charges, and the extreme steps one of the keepers takes.
“Sailor’s Mouth” takes place in Romania, where a man has come to adopt a child of Hungarian heritage. He may have become misled by his carnal urges. One of the themes in this story is “The Museum of Failed Escapes” that Judit, the woman the man is seeing, tells him about.
“The Restoration of the Villa Where Tíbor Kálmán Once Lived” concerns a deserter who joins the Communist occupation after the war. He takes over the home of a man who used to provide people with false papers to escape the Axis, and betrays their names to the Soviets one by one. But he gets the distinct feeling the villa is rejecting him…this one won an O. Henry award.
“The Beautician” is about a college student preparing his thesis paper. He finds a possible topic in the dark past of the manager of the club for Hungarian exiles in Toronto. But is that something he really wants to make known?
“Days of Orphans and Strangers” follows up on the Kálmán family mentioned in “Restoration.” One of them has been talking in his sleep, but not in the language you’d expect.
“Rosewood Queens” concerns the narrator’s relationship with her father’s lover, a collector of chess pieces (but never full sets.)
“The Encirclement” is about a lecturer on the topic of the Budapest siege, who finds himself with a persistent blind heckler who presents a different version of events. The details are too close to be fake, but that’s not the way the lecturer remembers it. I thought this story was the best in the book.
“The Society of Friends” features a long-standing love triangle among three Hungarian emigres. It reminded me a bit of the movie Grumpy Old Men. It shares a character with “Beautician.”
“The Miracles of Saint Marx” concerns a secret police officer’s search for a dissident who spreads tales of miraculous events. It becomes personal when one of those stories is about her. Also very good.
“The Selected Mug Shots of Famous Hungarian Assassins” is about a boy who handcrafts trading cards featuring what he says are Hungarian assassins. It seems to be all his imagination, until the narrator finds a book on the same topic years later… This story includes slurs against people with mental disabilities as a plot point, getting the boys in deep trouble.
“The Ghosts of Budapest and Toronto” is another tale of the Kálmán family. Ghosts are seen in two cities as separated members of the family miss each other.
“The Homemade Doomsday Machine” finishes the volume with a genius child who seeks the destruction of society and the Nazi atomic scientist who shares that interest. Has perhaps the happiest ending in the book. Has a character that seems too eager to diagnose the child as autistic, especially as she has no psychological or medical training.
Most of the stories are bittersweet, with a few downer endings. I found the writing competent but not compelling on average.
There are frequent mentions of rape, and suicide comes up a time or two. While the travails of the Jewish and Romani people in Hungary are mentioned, the emphasis is on ethnic Hungarians. There’s some period sexism and a number of the female characters express dislike of the patriarchal Hungarian family culture. Due to the heavy themes, I’d recommend this for college age and up.
Overall, I am glad I got the chance to read this. Books on the Hungarian experience are uncommon, and I discovered much I did not know. Recommended for other people wanting to broaden their experience.
Book Review: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
This is the life story of Chye Hoon, a Nyonya (Malaysian woman of Chinese heritage) who lives between 1878 and 1941, a time of great change in her homeland. Initially a willful child who wants to break out of her culture’s tradition (why shouldn’t a girl get the chance to go to school like her brother?), Chye Hoon grows into a young woman whose reputation for temper and independent spirit seem to doom her prospects for marriage.
But an enterprising matchmaker brings her together with a Chinese immigrant named Wong Peng Choon. Despite this being an arranged marriage and the pair never actually meeting until the wedding, things work out well. Peng Choon appreciates Chye Hoon’s cleverness and unwillingness to be cheated, and in return is a good husband. The young couple moves to Ipoh, a rapidly growing tin mining town.
The next decade or so is good to the couple; Peng Choon is much in demand as an accountant, and Chye Hoon has ten children! But then Peng Choon must return to China to take care of some family business. He perishes in that far-off land; while he was careful to make sure that Chye Hoon had enough capital for a couple of years, she knows that raising ten children will soon drain that, and jobs for widows with no formal education are few and low-paying.
Chye Hoon applies her cleverness and cooking skills to the problem, becoming an entrepreneur in the field of tasty kueh (Nyonya cakes of both sweet and savory varieties.) There are many difficulties involved in making the business a success, but she and her servants make a go of it.
Meanwhile, Chye Hoon must also raise her children, facing times of joy, times of heartbreak and times of great frustration. In this last category is the increasing influence of the British over the Malay States as they take firmer control of the government, and increasingly the young people adopt Western ways. Chye Hoon has become a traditionalist who fears that her people’s heritage will be forgotten in the rush to modernize.
Chye Hoon is based loosely on the author’s own great-grandmother, and apparently many family stories were woven into the narrative. The parts of the book that give a sense of the time and place are fascinating. Less helpful is that quite a few of the large cast are underdeveloped or vanish from the story–a couple of the sons get brief mentions at times just to remind us they’re still alive but not doing anything relevant.
The author has made some interesting stylistic choices; uneducated characters use traditional Malayan syntax, while those with formal schooling speak British English. (Even when they’re clearly not using that language.) There’s also frequent usage of traditional Malayan filler words and interjections, and the author has chosen to use the older transliteration of some words, as well as some language that is now considered pejorative. In places, this works well, and in other places it becomes intrusive. (It also kind of raises the question of just who Chye Hoon is telling this story to at the end.)
The story ends just before the Japanese invasion during World War Two, which gives a pretty obvious cue for a sequel with the surviving family members.
Worth checking out if you are into family saga stories, and especially if you are curious about Malaysian history and culture.
Magazine Review: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine July 2016 edited by Janet Hutchings
Frederick Dannay, who along with Manfred B. Lee wrote the Ellery Queen mystery stories, was asked by Mercury Press to be the editor of a new magazine that would print a higher class of detective stories than the general run of pulps, with the first issue of EQMM coming out in 1941. At first it was a reprint magazine, featuring classic tales by writers like Agatha Christie and Cornell Woolrich. But by the seventh issue, new stories began to appear, and one, “The Bow Street Runner” by Samuel Duff, was that author’s first professional sale.
Over the years, Mr. Dannay sought out new writers to appear in “The Department of First Stories”, many of whom went on to great success. His successors have carried on that tradition, and as part of the magazine’s 75th Anniversary celebration, the July issue #898 features new stories by authors who got their start in EQMM.
“The Staff of Asclepius” by Stephen Saylor features his Roman sleuth Gordianus the Finder. This one is set in his youth, when Gordianus and a friend were on a trip to see the Seven Wonders of the World. They winter in Rhodes, home of the fabled Colossus. During their enforced idleness, Gordianus learns of a shipping magnate named Rhosander who has suffered several bouts of illness, then miraculously recovered due to wacky cures he dreamed of in the temple of the healing god. Perhaps these episodes are the symptoms of some underlying illness…but they could also be slow poison. The illustration has male rear nudity, which is germane to the story.
“Department of First Stories: A History” by Marvin Lachman reveals the material I cited at the beginning of this review, but in much, much more detail, including a list of some of the most famous writers to debut in the magazine and their accomplishments.
“The Granite Kitchen” by David Morrell is a monologue to a real estate agent by a woman selling her home. She’s obsessed with making her homes just so, always moving on to a bigger project once she has it right. And either she has the unluckiest bunch of family and friends I have ever seen, or…. Chilling.
“Blog Bytes” by Bill Crider is a regular column of mystery-related internet sites; this time focusing on fans of the Ellery Queen stories.
“The Jury Box” by Steve Steinbock is a more traditional book review column. Among other works, this month it mentions several novels starring famous writers as the detectives, including A Riot Most Uncouth by Daniel Friedman, which I reviewed a while back.
“Get Them Out” by Nancy Pickard has a homeless man kicked out of a shelter for making a disturbance. The new janitor at an apartment building offers him a place to sleep in the basement, but his motives may not be altruistic. Ends on an ambiguous note.
“Black Monday” by John H. Sherman is a first story. Howard, a lab technician at a hospital, has been having problems with alcohol and painkiller addiction, and has missing time. His dreams of swimming have gone dark, and he can’t remember what he did last night.
“The Red Tattoo” by Percy Spurlark Parker is a noirish tale featuring Las Vegas private eye Trevor Oaks. He’s hired to find a man’s missing identical twin; the only clue is that the twin was seen in LV with a woman who had a red tattoo.
“The Hangman” by David Dean is the story of a cops-and-robbers game gone south, and the years later sequel. Depressing.
“Flight” by Trina Corey is set in a nursing home during the Vietnam War era (I suspect to avoid easy fixes by technology.) Rachel is crippled by multiple sclerosis, unable to speak or write. Perhaps that’s why a murderer has taken to coming into her room at night to gloat, knowing that she can’t tell anyone. But Rachel still has her mind, and there’s a young nurse that hasn’t lost her ability to care yet, and maybe there’s a way to stop the killer.
“The Man from Away” by Brendan DuBois takes place in New Hampshire and Boston. People tell Amos Wilson he’s too gullible, that his estranged wife is a gold digger he’s better off without. But when she is accidentally killed by tourists who then vanish, Amos feels obligated to do something about it. He may be long-suffering, but he’s not stupid. Satisfying.
“Consuming Passion” by Martin Edwards is about two old friends, one a master chef, the other a restaurant critic, having dinner together. It does not end well.
“The Peter Rabbit Killers” by Laura Benedict closes out the issue with a little girl whose mother has an obsession with cleanliness, and a neighbor girl who is bullying and not at all clean. Another creepy tale.
Overall, a strong issue with many fine stories. I liked “Flight” the best, while “Black Monday” and “The Hangman” were less well done. This issue is certainly worth picking up while the anniversary celebration is still on.
Magazine Review: The Saturday Evening Post 6/10/61 edited by Ben Hibbs
The Saturday Evening Post ran weekly from 1897-1963; after several format changes, it is now published six times a year. The Post was well known for its lavish illustrations and a combination of current event articles and short stories by popular writers. I got this issue from the month of my birth as an early birthday present. At the time, this magazine was printed in the broadsheet format, which is too large for my scanner–thus the truncated cover image showing only a part of Amos Spewell’s painting of tourists in Venice.
To entice potential customers at newsstands, the Post front-loaded the illustrations in spreads at the front of the magazine, and each of the articles and stories continued in the word-heavy back pages interspersed with a few cartoons. There were also many large illustrated advertisements–one for tampons is notable for not telling the reader what the product is, showing the product or saying what it’s used for exactly; if I didn’t know from the name of the product, I’d assume it’s some kind of skin cleanser or deodorant.
The Post was also known for having a staunchly conservative editorial stance, and this is on full display in an editorial expressing relief that leftist thought was vanishing from college campuses and conservatism was on the rise. “Of course, the battle isn’t over. Queer characters still appear on college campuses sponsored by ‘liberal’ groups.” Oh, if only they knew!
In the lively letters to the editor section, comments on an article about Bobby Darrin reveal changes in our pop culture, with people being shocked or pleased that he was willing to share personal opinions with the press even if they didn’t match the public’s desired stance. One letter writer asked why an article on “Presidents in Retirement” did not include FDR. The editor waggishly replies that the place that man retired to is not on the reporter’s regular beat. There’s also a couple of letters on segregation, responding negatively to a previous letter writer’s suggestion that since Southerners didn’t go to Northern states to demand segregation, Northerners should reciprocate about desegregation.
Let’s look at the contents.
“The White House Insiders” by Stewart Alsop is a look at President Kennedy’s political staffers (all men, all white-one had a black deputy) and how they helped him keep on top of what was happening in the country and the world. It goes into detail about JFK’s management style. The only top staff name most younger readers are likely to recognize is Arthur Schlesinger Jr., but Henry Kissinger is briefly mentioned as a second-stringer.
“Death of a Demon” by Rex Stout is part one of three of a Nero Wolfe mystery novella. The sedentary detective is briefly engaged by a woman who wants to show him the gun she will not use to shoot her husband. That’s…kind of suspicious, and when the husband turns up dead from a bullet wound, some questions are raised. Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s leg man, is pretty sure the woman didn’t do it, but there are gaping holes in her story. It’s certainly an intriguing beginning! Happily, this story was included in Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout, which you can probably get through interlibrary loan.
“How the Doctors Saved Chicago’s Burned Children” by Alice Lake is a look at how St. Anne’s Hospital dealt with the victims of a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in 1958. 95 people died immediately or in the aftermath, but this story concentrates on the survivors. Part of the credit for St. Anne’s quick and organized response goes to disaster preparedness they had undertaken after a fire some years before had caught the hospital unprepared for multiple victims. There are details of the treatment s used and updates on a couple of the survivors as of mid-1961. One of the treatments tried was using blood transfusions from recovering adult burn victims in the hope that their blood had antigens against “burn toxin.” (From the little I could find, research into this treatment has shown scant evidence of effectiveness.) For more on the fire, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Angels_School_fire
“Handsome Samaritan” by Phyllis Duganne is a story about an airline pilot driving to vacation in Florida when he stops to help some stranded motorists. One of them is a very pretty woman, but he’s supposed to be meeting his fiancee. The pilot comes to realize he is much more compatible with this new woman who is more interested in who he is than who she can make him become. I found this story uncomfortable, and skimmed to the end.
“The Poacher” by Gene Coghlan, set in Depression-era North Dakota, has two brothers growing up on an isolated farm, and using traps to earn a little pocket money. One brother is laid up with a broken leg, and the protagonist takes advantage of this to claim that a fur animal was caught in one of his traps, rather than his brother’s. Presumably he learned a valuable lesson about life, but the conclusion pages are missing from my copy. Unfortunately, Mr. Coghlan doesn’t seem to have any books in print.
“The Case of the Comical Banker” by Harold H. Martin, profiles Mills Bee Lane, Jr., then president of the Citizens & Southern National Bank in Atlanta, Georgia. Known for a jovial style (unlike the stuffy conservatism usually associated with bankers of the period), his business acumen turned the C&S into the largest bank in the South. You may be more familiar with his nephew, Mills Bee Lane III, who became a famous boxing referee and TV judge. Lane, Jr. was credited in the article for jumpstarting tobacco farming in the Atlanta area when cotton took a dive in the market.
“The Meaning of the Eichmann Trial” by T.S. Matthews was published about halfway through the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. (He was found guilty and hanged.) The article talks a lot about the trial conditions and the thoroughness of the Israeli court system. “Israel means to show the world that, in the British phrase, ‘justice is not only done but seen to have been done.” It also talks about the character of Israel as a country, and its people. The trial took place in a newly built suburb of Jerusalem, because at that time the Old City was in the hands of Jordan. This is a very moving article, and I think the best in the issue.
“Cop with Camera Eyes” by Thomas Walsh features a police detective with “photographic memory”, if he sees something, and it’s important to him at a later time, he will remember it clearly. It triggers when he notices the same person in the crowd three times during a date he’s having with his new neighbor. After safely returning his date home, The cop ambushes this tail. Surprise! It’s a federal agent! Seems the attractive foreign lady is suspected of being a Communist spy. Reluctantly, the cop agrees to keep an eye on the girl he has come to adore, but then she vanishes–and for the first time, the cop’s memory fails him at a critical moment. Can he crack the case before innocents are killed? It’s a pretty good story; I don’t know if it’s ever been reprinted, but Mr. Walsh’s Nightmare in Manhattan is considered a superior mystery novel and that you can find.
“Is Nature Getting Neurotic?” by Corey Ford is a humor piece about how over-complicated gardening and landscaping have become, requiring the homeowner to employ multiple specialists and expensive treatments just to keep the lawn alive.
“In the Best Interest of the Service” by Walt Grove takes us inside an Air Force base. A major must make a difficult decision because of the need for unit cohesiveness. A rescue chopper pilot is being accused of cowardice by one of his crew members. This is complicated by the officer being a Negro, and the crew member being a white man from the Deep South and the type of person who nowadays would be decrying “political correctness.” He doesn’t mean any harm by the N-word, he claims, so why shouldn’t he use it? But that does raise the stink of possible racism. Oh, and the chopper pilot is the major’s best friend on the base, so there may be the question of favoritism. Who will be getting transferred out? The resolution to the situation may be a little too convenient, but is satisfying, and inspires the major to take some steps in his personal life he’s put off too long. Mr. Grove wrote several action books about pilots, but it doesn’t appear any are currently in print.
“Comeback of the Giant Turtle” by Bern Keating is about efforts to increase the population of the green sea turtle (so called because of its distinctive green fat deposits inside the shell) in the Caribbean. Despite these and other preservation efforts, the green sea turtle remains an endangered species.
And finally, “The Big Swindle” by Clarence Budington Kelland is part 5 of 6. Twins Pet and Pete Du Chillon have finally come of age, and are attempting to make sense of what their guardian, Mortimer Norton, has done with the family company. It seems all sorts of shady shenanigans have been going on! The twins have some sort of scheme to expose the truth, involving a phony foreign prince and double-bluffing the man who runs security for Du Chillon Industries. This installment suffers from coming in the middle of the story, but I think it’s also a pretty bad story. Pet and Pete, as well as their beloved grandmother, are the sort of people who the author tries hard to convince us are very witty, but come off snide instead. The funniest bit for me was one of the supporting characters denying the possibility of a “twins threesome” in such a way as to make me think he’s thought waay too much about the topic (and also never mentioning sex because this is a family magazine.) Mr. Kelland is largely forgotten, but once was popular enough that Harlan Ellison called him out by name for lowering the tastes of the American public.
There’s also short poems (amusing but forgettable), jokes and cartoons.
This was a fun look back at a moment in time just before I was born. Copies of the Post in bad condition can be found relatively cheaply; issues in excellent condition, or with stories by top authors, will set you back considerably more money. Also, you can visit the website of the current magazine: http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/
Manga Review: Samurai Executioner Omnibus 2 written by Kazuo Koike, art by Goseki Kojima
Yamada “Decapitator” Asaemon is the o-tameshiyaku, sword-tester for the shogun and official executioner of criminals. It’s not a pretty job, but at least he has one in Edo-era Japan, during a time of peace. Without wars to fight, many of the samurai vassals are on tiny stipends, while ronin without lords can at least get paying jobs if they’re willing to be a bit flexible in their ethics. The merchant class is getting richer, while the underclass of urban poor swells and rural farmers are oppressed by their petty lords. The social conditions breed crime, so there is always plenty of work for Yamada.
This seinen (young men’s) manga series is by the creators of Lone Wolf and Cub, and shares many of the themes and settings. Unlike that earlier work, however, there does not seem to be an overarching plotline. The stories are episodic, and most could take place in any order. Two stories do, however, guest star young cop Sakane Kasajiro, an expert with his hooked chain. Yamada helps him discover new ways of using his weapon to protect lives.
Yamada takes a grim satisfaction at being expert at his craft, able to decapitate the condemned with a single stroke and thus minimize their pain. He was raised from early childhood to succeed his father as executioner, and has chosen to remain single to avoid condemning his children to the same path. (One story in this volume has him briefly reconsider, but it is not to be.) Yamada seems happiest when he can bring small moments of joy into a person’s life, and is often sought out for sage advice.
The first story in the volume has Yamada challenged for the post of sword tester by Tsukuya Bakushuu, a poverty-stricken and largely self-trained swordsman. They participate in a contest of suemonogiri, precision cutting. Tsukuya loses, but cannot accept this result. It ends in tragedy. To be honest, at least half the stories here end in tragedy, not surprising, given Yamada’s job.
The closing story is particularly hard to stomach. O-Toyo murders the woman her lover abandoned him for, and mortally wounds the cheater. However, it’s a slow death wound, and he could live up to four months with good treatment. Her execution will be in three months, and O-Toyo wants to outlive the man out of pure spite. As it happens, there’s one way for a woman to get her execution delayed–getting pregnant. Now, how is that going to happen when she’s locked in a women’s prison? Yes, the story is going there. There are other examples of female nudity and rape in these stories, but this is the most brutal. And then the ending comes, and it is even more brutal. Even Yamada is shaken.
Also outstanding is the story “Tougane Yajirou”, about an elderly police officer whose use of force is considered excessive even by the standards of the time, and who is much more interested in catching criminals than in preventing crime. Yamada disapproves, but there is a story behind the old man’s cruel behavior.
Koike and Kojma do a masterful job of depicting a world that is both very familiar in its everyday life, and alien in its way of thinking. This omnibus edition combines three of the Japanese volumes, and is presented in the expensive and time-consuming fully-flipped format, so it reads left to right.
Recommended for mature readers who enjoyed Lone Wolf and Cub or are otherwise fans of samurai action.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was offered or requested.
The subtitle of this book is “A Reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments for the New Millennium.” While a close look at what the classic rule set means to us in the 21st Century would certainly be a worthy project, it turns out that’s not the “New Millennium” the author is talking about. Instead, she means the spiritual New Millennium which has no fixed date, but represents humanity moving on from its current toxic ways into a better place.
What this results in is not so much a reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments, but using each of the commandments as a starting point for a riff on New Age philosophy. Alien wisdom, astrology, psychics, chakra energy and other such subjects are all mixed together in a stew of optimism and positive thinking. Those unfamiliar with every fringe movement out there might get confused when she uses the lingo without explanation as of course her main audience will get it. (For example, when she talks about being a “double Virgo” who dated an “Aries.”) She even uses the “10% of your brain” myth.
While the author has some good points about not letting toxic people drag you down with them, and finding the positive in any situation, they’re buried under multiple layers of dubious pseudo-philosophy and could be picked up from any number of more solid self-help books. Which is not to say that there aren’t some entertaining stories here about the author’s experiences in the New Age community.
The author at one point talks about her publisher and editor, but the book is self-published, and the spellchecker typos lead me to wonder about the editor’s existence or competence. The book was originally published in 1996, and this is an updated version from 2011. The most obvious revision is that one passage clearly was originally about the year 2000 (end of the Twentieth Century), but was patched to 2012 (end of the Mayan calendar cycle); the author wisely gives herself an out by saying that visible results might not arrive until 2017.
Not recommended for serious Bible scholars, or people who are triggered by heresy. Might be of some interest to New Age aficionados.
It is 1938, the tail end of the Great Depression, and San Francisco is trying to shake off its blues with a World’s Fair on Treasure Island. They’re going to need a lot of employees for that, and the prospect of a job draws Grace Lee all the way from Ohio. She’s from a small town where her parents were the only other people of Chinese ancestry; all these other people who look kind of like her is a bit of a shock.
It turns out that the World’s Fair can’t use a Chinese dancer, but there’s a nightclub called the Forbidden City that’s hiring, and they only want Chinese. On her way there, Grace gets some help from Helen Fong, a young woman from a traditionalist family, and when they arrive, they meet Ruby Tom, a vivacious woman who’s changed her name because Japanese-Americans have an even tougher time getting good jobs than Chinese-Americans.
The three women try out together, and although only two are chosen at that time, they form a life-long bond. However, each of them has secrets in their past, and those combine with their ambitions to turn them against each other as well. World War Two in particular raises the stakes, and their careers and friendship may never recover.
This book is loosely based on real life Asian-American entertainers of the mid-20th Century, and there’s an interview with some of those real people at the end of the paperback edition I read.
Grace makes a good viewpoint character for the first part of the novel; her parents were very insistent on her being “American” so she’s a complete newcomer to Chinese-American culture and the full array of prejudice faced by Asian-Americans outside of her small town. The reader learns along with her. Helen and Ruby also have sections from their viewpoints, but at first are concealing details from the reader as well as their friends–we don’t learn some important information about Helen until nearly the end of the book.
Some of the behavior of the protagonists is pretty shabby, and a couple of the betrayals go well beyond what would break most friendships permanently. Some readers may find it impossible to believe that the characters even speak to each other after what happens.
All three protagonists also have romantic difficulties. Mistakes are made, and attitudes change over the years. One of the characters winds up in a relationship that’s considerably less than ideal from just about every angle.
As you might have guessed, period racism and sexism play a considerable part in the story, as well as period homophobia. Grace’s backstory involves domestic abuse. There’s some use of period slurs, lampshaded towards the end by a modern-day (1980s) college student asking pointed questions about the attitudes of the past.
I’d recommend this book to people curious about the “chop suey circuit” that Asian-American performers were shunted into during the Twentieth Century–the “Random House Reader’s Circle” edition is designed for use by book clubs.
Book Review: The Hugo Winners Volume 5 1980-1982 edited by Isaac Asimov
The Hugo Awards are given out every year by the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon.) This series of books from 1986 collected the winners in the three short fiction categories: Novella (17,500-40,000 words), Novelette (7,500-17,500 words) and Short Story (less than 7,500 words.) Anything over 40,000 words is considered a novel. The volume is organized by year, in the order from longest to shortest, giving a kind of wave effect.
“Editor” Isaac Asimov spends much of the introduction detailing the history of the science fiction magazine Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, of which he was the figurehead. It’s relevant because 1980 was the first year a story from that magazine won a Hugo.
“Enemy Mine” by Barry B. Longyear was that story. Two soldiers from opposing sides are stranded on a deserted island–one of whom is a pregnant alien. To survive, they must work together, and come to respect each other and bridge the gap between their cultures. This one was made into a movie, and Hollywood inserted an actual mine run by enemies. Perhaps this was necessary as the emotional climax of the story is a three-hour recitation of family history, but Mr. Longyear was not well pleased. It’s an excellent story.
“Sandkings” by George R.R. Martin is a chiller about a man who collects exotic pets. The Sandkings of the title are hive-mind creatures vaguely reminiscent of ants. They come in sets of four colored “castles” which have wars until only one remains. Simon Kress, however, is a cruel man and does not want to wait for his pets to war in their own time. How does it end? It’s by George R.R. Martin, how do you think it ends? An outstanding application of horror sensibilities to science fiction.
“The Way of Cross and Dragon” is also by George R.R. Martin, the first time an author had ever won two of the short categories in the same year. An inquistor for a future Catholic church is sent to stamp out a heresy that venerates Judas Iscariot (and dragons.) The inquisitor finds it a particularly appealing heresy, well-crafted and visually attractive. But that’s not the real trap–there’s a more dangerous heresy underneath. Of note is that the heretics have vandalized the local equivalent of the internet and Wikipedia so that those doing research would find supporting evidence for the heresy.
Also in 1980, The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke took home the novel Hugo, and Alien won Best Dramatic Presentation. Barry B. Longyear was also picked as Best New Writer.
“Lost Dorsai” by Gordon R. Dickson is as you might suspect set in his Dorsai Cycle, a story universe where the resource-poor planet Dorsai makes its employment credits by hiring out its inhabitants as top-notch mercenary soldiers. This story tackles the question of what happens when a Dorsai decides that he will not kill humans under any circumstances. Even when he’s one of a handful of people in a fortress surrounded by bloodthirsty revolutionaries. What does make a man a hero, anyway?
“The Cloak and the Staff” is also by Mr. Dickson, making him the second author to win two of the short categories in the same year. Both he and Mr. Martin had won the third short category previously as well. The Aalaag are superior to Earthlings in every way, and hold our planet in an unbreakable grip. Even if somehow humans managed to rise up and kill all the Aalaag on Earth, the vast Aalaag Empire would simply wipe out the inhabitants and replant. Courier Shane knows this better than almost anyone else, and yet he finds that he’s sparked a resistance movement with a bit of graffiti. He manages to save one rebel for the moment, but there’s noting more he or anyone can do….
“Grotto of the Dancing Deer” by Clifford D. Simak concerns an archaeologist who goes back to the dig site of some cave paintings one last time. He discovers the title grotto, and its connection to one of the dig workers. It’s a rather sad story about a man who wants one person to know the truth before he leaves again.
Also in 1981, The Snow Queen won Best Novel for Joan D. Vinge, Best Dramatic Presentation went to The Empire Strikes Back, and Somtow Sucharitkul (S.P. Somtow) was Best New Writer.
“The Saturn Game” by Poul Anderson concerns an expedition to Iapetus, a moon of Saturn, which turns deadly due to a moment of inattention.
A bit of context for our younger readers–the turn of the 1980s is when role-playing games, especially Dungeons and Dragons, went from an obscure hobby to a cultural phenomenon. The usual cultural conservative distrust of anything new that kids get into converged with the 1980s “Satanic Panic” in which people sincerely believed there was a worldwide network of Satanists abusing children and performing human sacrifices. So many people worried that RPGs would either teach children how to perform actual black magic (see Jack Chick’s unintentionally hilarious Dark Dungeons for an example of this thinking) or make impressionable teens unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy and thus act out their violent pretendy fun times on real people. This last one was a bit more plausible; most roleplayers know that one guy who takes the game way too seriously, akin to the sportsball fans that have violent temper tantrums when their team loses.
Mr. Anderson’s story works with the latter concept; it never uses the phrase “role-playing games” as those died out during a bad time in human history–the future equivalent is “psychodramas.” Three-quarters of the expedition have been playing in the same game for the last eight years as their larger ship has been headed to Saturn. In the future, psychiatry has been replaced by pharmacology to balance brain chemistry, and no one thought ahead about the possible consequences. So when the players find themselves in a fantastic landscape that suits their story, they fall into a semihypnotic state acting out the play, and miss the real danger.
Mind, Poul Anderson also shows the strength that can be drawn from imagination, as the fantasy helps sustain the strength of the survivors, even as they know they must not succumb to it and ignore what must be done. One of the flashbacks is about the significant other who doesn’t “get” role-playing games, and is unable to distinguish between in-character romance and an actual affair between players. She forces the player to choose between her and the gaming group–it does not turn out the way she hoped.
“Unicorn Variations” by Roger Zelazny is more in the fantasy realm than straight science fiction. When a species goes extinct, a new species comes to take its place. And in a future where extinctions have become even more common, the unicorns have grown impatient to replace humans. But one human bargains with the unicorn representative. If he can beat it in a game of chess, the unicorn will not directly hasten the extinction of humans. Unicorns, as it turns out, are very good at chess…but the human turns out to have a surprise backer. If you have your chessboard handy, play along!
“The Pusher” by John Varley, is set in a future with relativistic space travel and time dilation. That is, time on ship passes more slowly than for those standing still. Six months on board is thirty years back on Earth. Ian Haise, a “pusher” (starship crewmember) doesn’t want to entirely lose touch with those on the ground, so he has a scheme to befriend children so that when he returns decades later, they will remember him and welcome his return. It’s an uncomfortable story, as Haise’s methods are strikingly similar to those used by a pedophile to “groom” victims.
1982’s Best Novel was Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh, Raiders of the Lost Ark took home the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo, and the Best New Writer was Alexis Gilliland (who beat out David Brin!)
This collection really strikes a chord for me as it’s in my early adulthood, and I read most of these stories first-run. It looks “modern” to me in ways that early SF doesn’t, and the field was becoming more diverse (even though all these stories happen to be by white guys.) It’s worth finding just for “Sandkings” if you’ve never read that story, but the others are good as well, especially “Enemy Mine.”
Oh, and “Sandkings” was also loosely adapted for an Outer Limits episode. Enjoy!
Izuku Midoriya’s dream is to become a superhero, like his idol All Might. The problem with that idea is that Midoriya belongs to the minority of people on his world who were born without a Quirk, a superpower of some kind. His former friend Katsuki Bakugo, who has a powerful Quirk and is naturally gifted, rubs this in at every opportunity, calling Midoriya “Deku” (no good qualities.) Midoriya has been training hard, but even when he meets his idol, he’s told that there’s no way he can become a superhero if he doesn’t have any powers.
But then Midoriya proves he has the heart of a hero, attempting to rescue Bakugo from a powerful villain despite not having a chance of doing so. All Might reveals that there is a way Midoriya can earn a Quirk, and go to U.A. High, the magnet school for aspiring superheroes. Izuku Midoriya can turn around the “Deku” nickname, and make it mean “never gives up.”
This shounen manga homage to American superhero comics was something of a sleeper hit; Mr. Horikoshi’s previous two efforts had a lukewarm reception, and the immediately preceding series, Barrage, tanked. So the online edition of Shonen Jump didn’t even bother running a preview when it debuted. But this time Horikoshi is firing on all cylinders.
The setting is an alternate Earth where superpowers began appearing about five generations ago–it’s not clear if it’s the present day with huge changes, or a future where fashion and technology stagnated. Eighty percent of the population was born with some sort of power, called Quirks. Most Quirks are pretty minor (has tail, can attract small objects to hand from a foot away) but others are very impressive (Bakugo can create firey explosions from his sweat, Mount Woman can become a giant.) There are many criminals who use their Quirks for evil, so there are professional superheroes who stop them.
There’s a lot to like about this series. Deku (as everyone winds up calling him) is not the idiot hero so common in shounen, but a thinker who wins battles and solves problems with observation and planning. Even when he earns the powerful Quirk “One For All” the power is difficult to use, so his brain is his greatest weapon. And yet he still possesses the compassion and courage of a true hero.
There’s also a good supporting cast. Bakugo makes a strong contrast as the kid who has had all the advantages handed to him by birth, and takes it as his rightful due. His arrogance and sense of entitlement make him an ass, and he doesn’t lose much of that even after learning that no one at U.A. is going to put up with his crap. He does, however, quit with the bullying after events in Volume Two.
Other classmates include nice (but dangerous) girl Ochako and the overly serious Iida, who get the most focus in this volume. Unlike other school-based series, where we only follow the hero and a handful of his friends, every classmate is a distinctive person and many will get spotlights in future volumes. There’s also an assortment of teachers with varying personalities.
The tone is closest to Bronze Age DC Comics; some bad things happen, but the general tone is optimistic, never overdosing on grimdark or angst.
As mentioned, there’s some bullying in the early chapters, and superheroic violence. There’s also fanservice in the form of female superheroes wearing skin-tight costumes (but not every female character chooses to do so.) Nothing a junior high or up reader can’t handle.
Highly recommended to fans of teen superheroes and those who like their comics light-hearted.
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it. My copy was an uncorrected proof, and there will be changes in the final product (notably, the proof is in black and white, while the real thing will be in color. Also, the cover will be much less cluttered with endorsements.)
Cece Bell developed profound hearing loss due to an illness when she was four. This children’s graphic novel is a memoir of her life from then until fifth grade. Most of the story is about Cece learning to cope with her hearing loss and the rather obvious hearing aids she was given to mitigate the loss. In particular, her adventures with the “Phonic Ear”, a powerful chest-mounted unit that came with a microphone for her teacher to use.
The title comes about when young Cece realizes that when her teachers don’t take the microphone off, she can hear them speak and what’s going on around them no matter where in the school they are. It’s like a superpower! So Cece imagines herself as the superhero El Deafo.
There is also a theme of learning about friendship. Cece makes several friends over the years, but there are difficulties with each one–sometimes it’s negative qualities of the friend, sometimes it’s Cece’s own self-consciousness and suspicion that causes problems.
The book is written for elementary school children, but has information that will be helpful for parents and other adult relatives, who should immediately turn to the back and read the author’s note. Parents are likely to get many cultural references that might escape children–Cece grew up in a time before television had closed captioning.
There’s some body function humor of the type grade school kids tend to love but many parents are distressed by, and one of Cece’s moments of bonding with her classmates may not sit well with adults who think that disobedience should be forbidden.
For whatever reason, everyone is drawn with “bunny” features, which does allow the hearing aids to be obvious. Cece’s deafness is depicted with empty word balloons, or nonsense words when she can hear some but not clearly enough to understand.
The obvious audience for this book is children with hearing loss and their families, but it will be of interest to any family whose children might encounter someone with hearing loss in their school or activities. And many children will be able to identify with Cece when her “specialness” doesn’t seem positive at all.
Update: In 2015, this book was a Newbery Honor selection, which means that it was a close runner-up for the prestigious Newbery Medal for children’s literature. Congratulations, El Deafo!