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: 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.
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.