Book Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Mad by E. Randall Floyd
American history is full of offbeat people, some downright weird. The author was (like many a lad) fascinated by their stories when he was young. Then he got to interview Erich von Daeniken (Chariots of the Gods) and decided to make writing about unusual people a full-time hobby. This book is one of the results.
It contains 37 mini-biographies of interesting people in American history, arranged alphabetically from Jane Addams (social worker and pacifist) to Wovoka (Native American mystic and the leader of the “Ghost Dance” movement.) There are the really obvious candidates, like “Emperor” Joshua Norton of San Francisco and Nikola Tesla (eccentric inventor.) But there are also more obscure figures, like Giacomo Beltrami, who didn’t quite discover the source of the Mississippi, and Bernarr MacFadden (health nut.)
The writing is okay, but these are very short biographies, and some of the subjects have had entire (and much better) books written about them. There are no illustrations, no citations or bibliography, and no index. Your college professor isn’t going to accept this as a source!
While written for adults, I think this book would best serve as a gift to a bright teenager who can then look further for more information about any person that catches their fancy. It’s a good book for a quick read, and some interesting historical moments.
Book Review: Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic edited by David Sklar & Sarah Avery
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
This fantasy anthology has a dual theme, as indicated by its title; magic as transaction, and magic while traveling. The former theme brings to mind the classic Faustian bargain story, and the preface mentions that the editors got a bushel full of them, only a few making the cut.
There are eighteen stories, nine for each theme, divided into groups of three by subtheme, such as “Bad Roads.” Most of the stories are new, but some have been previously printed. Some standouts include:
- “Ghost Diamonds” by Scott Hungerford. A woman and her niece discover that compressing crematorium ashes into a diamond allows calling the ghost of the deceased. But they aren’t the only ones who have made this discovery, and someone’s been switching the ghost diamonds with fakes. But why?
- “Across the Darien Gap” by Daniel Braum. A guide attempts to take a hunted woman through the rain forest between Central and South America. His two-dimensional thinking may doom them. This one has been made into an episode of Psuedopod, a horror podcast, and is now being lengthened into a book.
- “Only a Week” by Joyce Chng. This one might actually be science fiction, set in a futuristic Chinatown. A courtesan seeks to regain her youthful beauty, but the medicine has side effects and can be taken only for one week….
- “And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear. A courier must cross the postapocalyptic Southwest to deliver vital supplies. But a deal she made years ago is coming due. Can Harrie finish her delivery with the devil himself in the way?
There’s a good diversity of protagonists, and both happy and sad endings. A couple of stories are perhaps a little too cliche, but the quality is generally good.
Unlike many small press books I’ve read lately, the proofreading is excellent.
I would recommend this book to fantasy fans in general, and modern fantasy fans in particular.
Book Review: From the Cross to the Church by A.C. Graziano
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it. The copy I received is the first edition, which has a number of typos I am told were fixed in the second edition.
This book is a basic introduction to the subject of the creation of the canonical New Testament and the formation of the Roman Catholic church from the early community of Christian believers. It covers what scholars now believe (although there are great differences in opinion among Biblical scholars as to details) as to when the books were written, by whom as far as can be determined, and where they might have been altered to match then-current concerns.
This is a fascinating subject for those interested in learning more about where the Scriptures came from. It is likely to be less pleasing to one whose framework for interpreting the Bible requires it to be immutable, and by the writers tradition has assigned, directly inspired by God.
I found this volume poorly organized, with bullet points not always recapping the previous material, and inserted in non-intuitive places. A chapter on documentary sources of Genesis is just sort of plopped down at the end.
The author does not claim any original research, describing himself instead as a “journalist.” To that end, the list of sources at the end of the volume, ranked by importance and accessibility (but not by credibility, let the reader beware!) may be of more use to the interested scholar.
If you need a quick introduction to the concepts covered here, this book will do. For better choices, consult your pastor or a Biblical scholar of your acquaintance