Last Update 9/2/19

The Secret Agent X Companion by Tom Johnson & Will Murray, Altus, 2007

As should be obvious, this is a guide to the pulp hero series written by Paul Chadwick and others. Altus published all of the books in multiple omnibus volumes. This companion piece summarizes the history of the character and the history of the series, discusses its villains, provides plot summaries, and tells you probably much more than you wanted to know. Black and white reproductions of all of the magazine covers are included. The stories are very formulaic and this becomes quite obvious by reading the plot lines. 9/2/19

Weird Tales of Modernity by Jason Ray Carney, McFarland, 2019, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6803-1

This is an academic examination of the works of several pulp writers -most notably Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith - which contends that while their work may not have been of the same literary quality as that of their more distinguished peers in the non-pulp writing world, they were examining many of the same issues. This is undeniably true, given that all writers are influenced by their environment. There is special emphasis here on the reaction to change and uncertainty and the recognition that what is familiar to us today might well be gone tomorrow. The author supports his premise quite well and there were only a couple of times when I thought his enthusiasm for the subject seemed to influence his opinions. 8/16/19

Women's Space edited by Melanie A. Marotta, McFarland, 2019, $39.95,  ISBN 978-1-4766-7660-9

The subtitle of this is "Essays on Female Characters in the 21st Century Science Fiction Western." That puzzled me but the editor provides a definition of science fiction western (as opposed to space westerns), all of which seemed of no real use because it's an oversimplification, but it's her book, so let's go with it. She describes it as a subgenre, which it is not in prose, but the book discusses films and television almost exclusively and claims, with some justification, that Star Trek is basically a western, and with even less justification that Star Wars is as well. The idea that cyberpunk was mostly westerns is particularly puzzling. The book gets more on track with discussions of Firefly and Westworld (though Firefly seems to fit into space westerns rather than science fiction westerns since it takes place largely in outer space). The essays vary in quality and some of them are really reaching to make them fit the premise of the book. Gamora as symbolizing Native American women, for example. Very uneven/8/6/19

Weird Talers by Bobby Derie, Hippocampus, 2019, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-258-6

This is a collection of more than two dozen essays about some of the people who wrote for the pulp magazines, concentrating on Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and people who interacted with them like Seabury Quinn and Emil Petaja. Almost every essay provided information that I had not previously known, and a good portion of that was quite interesting. I recently reread a chunk of Robert E. Howard and he impressed me as a much better writer than I remembered. All of the information is referenced and sourced exhaustively - in fact so much so that it sometimes makes reading the text difficult. Quibbles aside this is a very informative and sometimes entertaining look at an era long gone. 8/6/19

Death in Supernatural edited by Amanda Taylor and Susan Nylander, McFarland, 2019, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6861-1

Although I have only seen a single episode, I have been surprised at the longevity of the television show Supernatural and surprised that more has not been written about it. This book really isn't about the show either. It's an examination of the various ways that people view and react to death, illustrated with examples from the program. You can probably guess the general range of subjects - superstition, grieving, etc. For the most part, the essays are more interesting when discussing subjects unrelated to the show and sometimes the references feel intrusive. About half of the contents held my attention and the others either restated what I thought was already obvious or fail to establish strong concerns.7/29/19

Dracula As Absolute Other by Simon Bacon, McFarland, 2019, $45, ISBN 978-1-4766-7538-1

Although he has occasionally been portrayed as the good guy on the screen, Dracula is normally evil, usually seductively as well as frightening. I once read that Bram Stoker used Dracula to represent venereal disease, a theory that would fit well with this book, whose premise is that Dracula has become a symbol for whatever disturbs us as a culture. The book examines that premise is the context of a fairly large number of vampire movies, and there is a filmography as well, although it contains movies that have nothing to do with Dracula and serves no real purpose. Some of the movies discussed have no connection at all - Jupiter Ascending for example - and the rationale for including it is a bit strained. Some of the commentary is interesting. Some of it, not so much. I don't think anyone would disagree with the basic premise, but some of the supporting arguments are rather a stretch. 7/25/19

Black Panther Psychology edited by Travis Langley  and Alex Simmons, Sterling, 2019, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4549-3400-4

This is another of those books that uses something from popular culture and media, in this case the Black Panther movie, to illustrate various psychological problems or issues. There are many others including Wonder Woman, Dr. Who, Westworld, Game of Thrones, etc. Obviously this one features articles about problems specifically related to minorities, but there are also pieces about self image, father-son relationships, women as soldiers, microaggression, the role of a king or a hero, and so on. All worthy subjects and sometimes the comparisons make sense, although in other cases they seem quite forced. Most of the articles are clearly written and not clinical.  There are also interviews on the subject with SF writer Christopher Priest and another with a member of the movie cast.