Bookmania reviews, Oct 1996

The Mummy!, Jane Webb Loudon

“In the year 2126, England enjoyed peace and tranquility under the absolute dominion of a female sovereign.” Not such a surprising first sentence for a science fiction novel, until you realize that Webb wrote _The Mummy!_ in 1827. Her vision of technological progress knocks me out: everything is steam powered, women wear big hats with fantastic, lit-up neon tubes instead of ostrich feathers, weather control increases crop productivity, passengers on trans-continental aerial balloon flights sleep on comfy air mattresses. But for some wacky reason, women still can’t vote!

Space of Her Own, edited by Shawna McCarthy (Asimov series, 1983)

Excellent collection of science fiction short stories by women. All excellent. The one that struck me most was “Belling Martha” by Leigh Kennedy. Gritty post-disaster, widespread cannibalism, outside of the walled city of Austin, Texas. Martha is sort of a feral teenager (if she is even supposed to be that old- it wasn’t clear). Breaks all the usual conventions of this genre- epecially as the teenage boy babbles on to Martha about his visionary belief in technology, and she is just looking at his arm muscles and thinking how MEATY they are. Yum!

Farrier’s Lane, Anne Perry.

Another mystery novel. Unremarkable, except that it holds up the usual good quality of Perry’s stories and characters.

The Best of C.L. (Catharine) Moore

Lurid, Lovecraft-ish science fiction with a sexy horror twist. Trashy and fun…. Midwest Henry was just another tough geek, haunting the dingy streets of the net. Little did she know, before she cracked the spine of this book, of the unspeakable pleasures and torments that lurked within, the nameless being that would thirst to drag her soul into the black depths of a vortex of madness from a dimension too terrible for any human to bear!

Other Nature, Stephanie A. Smith

More post disaster science fiction. Builds slowly & becomes almost unbearably intense. It’s bleak, and there are interesting gender-related tensions, but not dystopian… What I mean is, the pressures of decaying civilization don’t divide people along gender lines as in books like _The Gate to Women’s Country_, or _Walk to the End of the World_. Instead it is closer to Von Scyoc.. the fear of mutant children underlies everything. I have a longer review of this book which I’m posting on the Fem. SF pages soon. A book worth buying in hardback; gorgeous writing, hard to sum up in a paragraph.

In Viriconium, M. John Harrison

Vivid mythic characters and even more vivid sense of place, of the streets and cafes and apartments of the city of Viriconium. Incredibly compact and beautiful writing. I am saying beautiful, but really the scenes that stick with me are the most grotesque. This goes on the Golden Bookshelf of fantasy literature…

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Another fun mystery novel. Heavier on the obviously autobiographical feminist introspection than any of her other books I’ve read so far. She, Lord Peter, and the rest of the characters, are more fleshed out, more real. Coincidentally, I recently read Sayers’ translation of The Song of Roland.

Have His Carcass, Five Red Herrings, Strange Poison, all by Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey is completely uninteresting, until the later books when Harriet Vane appears. They’re good mysteries, but the timetables and alibis, especially in Five Red Herrings, made my eyes water with their hideous complexity.

Desert Peach series Donna Barr

The fictional and goofy adventures of Pfirsch, Rommel’s queer younger brother. Interesting to find a comic book that makes you sympathize with Nazi soldiers. We so very automatically think Nazi=bad guy, but when you think about it, your average soldier in the desert was miserable and clueless like any other soldier… I don’t know how accurate Barr’s research is but she seems to know what she’s talking about. The ways that the British and German soldiers interact in these stories remind me of Bruce Catton’s descriptions of Union and Confederate soldiers, calling unofficial truces and fishing from opposite sides of the same stream.

Immigrant Song, Colleen Doran

Another graphic novel. Has promise of interesting things to come, but so far, it seems like a standard “telepathic kids who escape from evil scientists” story. In short, good but not Fabulous.

The Sandman series Neil Gaiman

Fabulous graphic novels/comic books. I should put some links here….

Charlegmagne and His World, Friedrich Heer

Unremarkable history book, with lots of pictures of nifty Carolingian artifacts.

Souls, Joanna Russ rr

A somewhat disturbing science fiction novella: the story of Radegunde, prioress of a medieval nunnery, and a Viking invasion.

Collected Short Fiction of Ngaio Marsh

Techniques of Criminal Investigation

A dry and boring textbook. Good sections on interrogations, playing good cop / bad cop, how to investigate burglaries, explosions, and homocide. Why am I reading this? Because I got it for free, because I’m twisted, because it might be useful for writing mystery stories or playing detective characters in role-playing games, I guess.