Last Update 6/24/17

The Written Dead edited by Kyle William Bishop & Angela Tenga, McFarland, 2017, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6564-1

This is a collection of essays about zombie fiction, or rather, about fiction dealing with the movie version of zombies. Although the editors acknowledge the existence of zombie legends and stories before that period, they make little effort to differentiate and indeed it is the George Romero vision of the zombie that has displaced the traditional. That said, there are several essays on the subject that are more or less edifying, although very few actual works are examined, and those tend to be ones that have become motion pictures like World War Z and Warm Bodies. Mira Grant gets some attention and there is passing mention of Brian Keene, Joe McKinney, David Moody, and a few others. I was hoping for a wider range of subject matter, but what we do have is well written for the most part, though sometimes a bit too academic. 6/24/17

Wells Meets Deleuze by Michael Starr, McFarland, 2017, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6835-2

The author discusses the science fiction of H.G. Wells in terms of the philosophy developed by Gilles Deleuze. This provides some interesting new views of some classic novels, although on more than one occasion I felt that the author was imposing his own interpretation on text that did not really support his statements. The author's prose is, alas, occasionally prone to academese and becomes difficult to enjoy, if not decipher.  There is some interesting content - particularly about The War of the Worlds - but casual readers are going to find this rough going. 6/13/17

Not So Good a Gay Man by Frank M. Robinson, Tor, 2017, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8209-2

There are actually two autobiographies intertwined here. Frank Robinson was never a prolific writer but he turned out some very good and interesting work, starting with The Power back in 1956 and including thrillers including the very fine marginally SF novel The Donor in 2004. With Thomas N. Scortia he wrote a novel that partially inspired The Towering Inferno, one of earliest non-SF disaster films. Robinson includes herein an enlightening glimpse at life writing for the pulp magazines and then the world of technothriller publishing. But wrapped around all of that is his lifelong adjustment to the fact that he was gay, how it influenced those around him, and how he dealt with the obvious problems that surrounded his situation. As time passed, he became an outspoken advocate of gay rights. Some of the vignettes here are amusing, some sad, some enlightening, but all of them are well written and entertaining. Even if you normally don't care for autobiographies, you're likely to enjoy this one. 6/1/17

The Barbary Wars by Frank Lambert, Hill & Wang, 2007  

A history of the conflict between the newly minted US and the four Barbary states. The author goes into the political, military, and cultural conflicts involved. There’s not a great deal of detail but it’s a very good summary. I had not realized that the British were actually allied with the Barbary  pirates against the US. The author concentrates more on the politics of the situation than the military encounters, and the book could have used a couple of maps. 5/25/17

Genres of Doubt by Elizabeth M. Sanders, McFarland, 2017, $65, ISBN 978-1-4766-6562-7

The premise of this short, scholarly book is that the emergence of science fiction and fantasy novels in Victorian England was closely related to the rise of Darwinism and questions about the assumptions about supernatural events that had previously been a part of British culture. Some of her example are fairly obvious – Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau for example – while others like Phantastes and William Morris may seem less likely. The author makes a good case for her argument and the prose is not hobbled by academese. Casual readers may find this interesting, but the hefty price tag will likely send them to libraries rather than book stores. 5/22/17

Star Trek Psychology edited by Travis Langley, Sterling, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4549-1842-4  

I often wonder who buys these books that purport to interpret human psychology in terms of movies or television programs. This is a collection of essays that obviously makes use of Star Trek for that purpose. Several of them are actually examinations of Roddenberry's concept of the future, and those are variously interesting. Several are speculative, as in what happened to mental illness in the Trek universe. Most of the articles are written in clear prose and the level of interest will depend largely on the individual reader. 5/12/17

Gothic Stories Within Stories by Clayton Carlyle Tarr, McFarland, 2017, $65. ISBN 978-1-4766-6748-5  

Despite the outrageous price for this slender trade paperback, the text is quite interesting. The author examines the embedding of one story within another, specifically in gothic and supernatural tales. He examines familiar works like Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein and The Turn of the Screw, but also some likely to be less familiar to most readers like Melmoth the Wanderer, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and the work of Ann Radcliffe. His definition is wide enough that it includes Heart of Darkness and Bleak House as well. His observation that this device allows the author to place the familiar and unfamiliar in close proximity is interesting. Ask your local library to order a copy if you're interested. 5/9/17

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean by Edward Kritzler, Anchor, 2008

This purports to be a history book but it is more of a retroactive conspiracy theory. The author contends that the discovery of the New World was actually arranged by a secret society of Jews from Spain who knew they were going to be expelled from that country and hoped to find a new homeland. Columbus was also secretly Jewish. There are bits and pieces of actual fact sprinkled through the book, but there are far too many instances of "probably" and "may have" with nothing but the author's wish for it to be true to back up the statements. 5/7/17

The Children’s Ghost Story in America by Sean Ferrier-Watson, McFarland, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6494-1

Here’s a subject about which I knew very little. The tradition of telling ghost stories, around campfires and such, is obviously long established. But how did it start and where did those stories come from originally? Ghost stories for children actually only go back about two centuries, apparently, and for a long time the ghosts always turned out to be fake because it was thought that genuine supernatural tales would be too disturbing. The prose is more accessible than in similar, academic oriented studies and the author carries his theme right up to the present. I learned quite a bit from this one. 4/27/17

The Irish Vampire by Sharon M. Gallagher, McFarland, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6580-1  

Arguably the two most influential early writers of vampire fiction were Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan le Fanu, both of whom were Irish, hence this book. Charles Maturin is also covered, although his use of the vampire is more peripheral. The author summarizes the European vampire tradition as it existed at the time these men lived and speculates about how it influenced their own fictional treatments of the subject. This is more of a scholarly analysis than a book for the casual reader but it has some general entertainment value as well and is not paralyzed by the awkward and abstruse language that sometimes afflicts academia. 4/22/17

Battleship Bismarck by Baron Burkard Von Mullenheim-Rechberg, Naval Institute Press, 1980

The Bismarck's short operational life is one of the most fascinating stories to come out of World War II. I have read several other books on the subject, but this is I believe the first to be written by an actual crew member. The author was a gunnery officer assigned to the ship. He provides a good deal of detail that I had not encountered before. His occasional skepticism about the actions of the German high command and Hitler may or may not have occurred after the fact. There are also a good number of unusual photographs. For World War II naval buffs. 4/13/17

Saving the World Through Science Fiction by Michael R. Page, McFarland, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6309-8

James Gunn was one of the writers responsible for my lifelong love of SF. Scenes from The Joymakers in particular are still vivid in my mind even though I haven't read the book in more than fifty years - a situation I will have to correct soon. Most of his classic work has been out of print for decades, although he has started writing novels again recently and they have all been entertaining. He is also the author of some very important non-fiction about the field and has edited some first rate anthologies. This is a look at his life and works, both fictional and otherwise, and his efforts to bring serious critical attention to genre fiction. This was the best author profile I've read in a good many years. Although the prose is a bit dense at times, the insights into the stories struck me as accurate and enlightening and the biographical data was all new and interesting to me. The price tag is stiff for a paperback, but this time it's worth it. 3/18/17

Wonder Woman Psychology edited by Travis Langley & Mara Wood, Sterling, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4549-2343-5

I am routinely suspicious of the value of the various pop psychology books that are associated with movies or comics or other peripheral sources. They are generally more interesting for their commentary on the source material than for their applicability to anything else. This one is about Wonder Woman, so obviously there is considerable discussion of feminism. The essays examine things like Wonder Woman's upbringing, the philosophy of her culture, her role in the modern world, the thinking behind the creation of the comic book series, and other issues. Several of the articles were entertaining, a few informative, and a few I found slightly silly. With the new movie hovering on the horizon, this might attract more readers than would otherwise have been the case. 3/15/17

Monsters in the Classroom edited by Adam Golub and Heather Richardson Hayton, McFarland, 2017, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6327-2

This collection of essays examines the value and strategies of using monsters - drawn from mythology, modern culture, and other sources - as elements in the teaching process. As you might expect, the individual essays vary a good deal in approach and even basic philosophy. Some of them outline courses I think I would enjoy attending. Others seem to me to lack real substance. The rationale for some is better constructed for some than others as well. In a couple of cases, it seemed more like a game than an actual educational suggestion, while others I thought would be very worthwhile. Mostly of interest to educators looking for a new twist. 3/5/17

Shield of the Republic by Michael T. Isenberg, St Martins, 1993

I confess that it took me three months to read this very long history of the US Navy from 1945-1962. It was not really the author' fault, because the subject matter is itself very dry and does not lend itself to a narrative style except in a few places. There are some interesting descriptions of actual naval incidents, but much of the book deals with the political side of things, and while I was somewhat interested in that as well, the amount of detail exceeded my interest level. 2/23/17

Dimensions of Madeleine L'Engle edited by Suzanne Bray, McFarland, 2016, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-0-6435-4

A collection of essays about a writer best known for her fantastic fiction for younger readers. I confess that I have only read two of her books so I skipped around a lot in this collection, although some of the commentary on books I hadn't read did catch my attention. The articles are varied and quite well written, although the prose is a bit dense at times. The book also covers her short stories, religious writings, and poetry, none of which I have seen except for one of the short stories. Apparently L'Engle has been largely ignored in the scholarly press, which I find rather puzzling given her prominence as a young adult fantasist and the high regard in which her works are held. Hopefully this book will help address that shortcoming. 1/3/17