Last Update 12/10/16

Doctor Who Psychology edited by Travis Langley, Sterling, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4549-2001-4

This is one of those books about which I wonder what possible audience there might be. In this case, it's a collection of essays about the psychology of the Doctor (or Doctors since he has multiple personalities) and how they can help us understand ourselves, or how our psychology can help us to understand the Doctor. Some of these are done for their humorous aspects, and those were the most entertaining ones. Others try seriously to contemplate the mindset of someone who is effectively immortal and travels through time and space with impunity. On the whole the book is intermittently entertaining, but at least half the essays struck me as nonsensical, pointless, or too speculative. Your mileage may vary if you're fond of this sort of thing. 12/10/16

Lost Souls of Horror and the Gothic edited by Elizabeth McCarthy & Bernice M. Murphy, McFarland, 2016, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6314-2

This is a very wide ranging collection of short essays about authors, actors, artists, and others who have some connection to supernatural fiction or movies and who the authors believe are underrated, although a few of them are actually held in high regard like Robert McCammon, John Farris, and Ira Levin. The essays are all biographical and several include a photograph or a movie still. The essays are well written and frequently informative, but there is no real focus to the book despite the supernatural theme. It works more as a random reference than as something one reads from cover to cover. 10/30/16

The Week France Fell by Noel Barber, Day, 1976  

France collapsed in World War II so quickly that it came as a complete shock to the country. This is an account of the final week before the surrender, describing some of the reactions, the panic, the political maneuvering, diplomatic successes and failures, and a host of other sides of the tragic situation. It provides an intensely revealing snapshot of a country that has lost hope in so many of its institutions that it fell apart when external pressure was provided. It is important to remember that at the outbreak of hostilities, the French army was technically far superior to the Germans. 10/5/16

The Science Fiction Mythmakers by Jennifer Simkins, McFarland, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6809-3

The author of this book has an ambitious theme, the attitudes toward science, religion, and philosophy in the works of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, and H.G. Wells. The analysis in this case is often rather rarified. I found the essays on religion and Wells somewhat dense but interesting. Clarke and materialism was okay but I didn't find it nearly as interesting. Philosophy and theology in Philip K. Dick frequently became quite abstruse and I wasn't always sure that I was following what the author intended. Herbert's Dune has some interesting things to say about the messiah story, and this was probably my second favorite of the four essays. 9/10/16

The Gothic Worlds of Peter Straub by John C. Tibbetts, McFarland, 2016, $35, ISBN 978-1-4755-6492-7

With few exceptions, I have enjoyed everything I've read by Peter Straub and Ghost Story is one of my absolute favorite novels. One of the central themes of this study of his work is the idea that he takes familiar horror tropes and deals with them in unfamiliar ways, and that is certainly true of most of his work. His ghosts and vampires overlap with the traditional but have unique attributes. Straub's prose is also exceptional and the marriage of original ideas and good writing is rare enough to be remarkable. The author draws on articles by or about Straub, interviews with him, and other sources to examine some of his horror fiction, some of his crime fiction, and the themes and techniques common to both. I find myself quibbling about minor things while finding  that the general thesis provided some fresh insights and made me look at familiar stories from a slightly different viewpoint. 9/1/16

Alice in Transmedia Wonderland by Anna Kerchy, McFarland, 2016, $45, ISBN 978-1-4766-6668-6

Alice in Wonderland is, of course, one of the best known children's books of all time. This book is an extended look at how the story has been portrayed in various media forms over the years. The author covers the obvious like books and movies and television, but also original artwork inspired by the book, its influence on other writers, even a look at some erotica. There are illustrations, but nothing particularly racy. The prose is a bit dense at times and there were a few places where I skimmed over material that didn't interest me, but overall this was an interesting and often enlightening book. 8/27/16

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan, Scholastic, 2016, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-545-95612-4 

This is mostly an art book. There are brief excerpts from Grimmís fairy tales, each with a matching photograph of a piece of sculpture by Tan. There are more than seventy full color photographs of odd objects Ė some recognizable, some more abstract Ė each highlighting some aspect of the text. There is an appendix with summaries of each fairy tale to provide context for the excerpts and there is an introduction by Neil Gaiman. A few of the sculptures are very impressive, but almost all of them are interesting. An unusual concept for a book, carried off quite well. 8/14/16

Battleship at War by Ivan Musicant, Avon,  1986

This is an account drawn from interviews and diaries of the men who served on the USS Washington, which saw service in both the Atlantic and the Pacific during World War II. Although necessarily it recounts the historical battles in some detail, the book is more about the men aboard the ship itself, the way they lived under trying circumstances, and the cumulative effect of remaining at sea and at risk of attack for long periods of time. The ship was actually one of the less powerful of its kind, built just before the war broke out so that it had to conform to the limits imposed by treaty. Nevertheless it had a long and honorably term of service. 8/8/16

Traveler of Worlds by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Fairwood, 2016, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-63-7 

Interviews with authors are sometimes fascinating, sometimes boring, but a series of conversations with Robert Silverberg is a safe bet. The interviews cover his own work, writing in general, his political views, his career and relationships with other writers. As you might expect, parts are fascinating, other parts informative, and a few didnít pique my interest. The selection of questions is excellent, however, and this is on balance one of the better collections of interviews Iíve read. 8/3/16

The Coast Watchers by Eric Feldt, Ballantine, 1959 

This is another World War II memoir, but one which covers action not usually mentioned except in passing in other accounts. A handful of men were placed on strategic islands in the Pacific in order to spy on Japanese troops who occupied those islands and then report their activities by radio to their superiors. The author was part of one of the teams and his experiences vary from the tedious to the very exciting. Not quite novel worthy tension but an interesting alternate viewpoint of the war in the Pacific. 7/27/16

Panzer Leader by Heinz Guderian, Ballantine, 1952

These are the war memoirs of the man most responsible for the development of armored divisions for the Germans prior to and during World War II. He was better at that than at writing. Even allowing for the translation, the prose is dull and often loses focus, and the book is frequently disorganized.  Some of his accounts of battles Ė obviously told from the German point of view Ė are fascinating. He was one of the few prominent generals who disagreed openly with Hitler and managed to survive the various purges. This book was written while he was a prisoner of war. He was exonerated of all war crimes charges and frequently visited England after the war to socialize with his old adversaries. 7/16/16

The Physics and Astronomy of Science Fiction by Steven D. Bloom, McFarland, 2016, $35, ISBN 978-0-7864-7053-2 

I have never understood the trickle of books explaining the science of SF movies and television programs, which is usually so contrived and inaccurate that it verges on humor. Probably it is an attempt in part to educate the public, although I suspect fans of these shows really donít care. In any case, this is another of them and for a change it is actually somewhat useful. Rather than go from one show to another, the book provides short discussions of basic situations Ė artificial gravity, remote viewing, teleportation, plasma weapons, etc. Ė and discusses their possibilities and limitations, referring to media which has made use of them. There are a number of stills included, which actually donít seem to add much to the text. Would be SF writers might also find this useful, as it seems to include up to date thinking on various subjects and it included a few mild surprises. 7/6/16

Outlander's Sassenachs edited by Valerie Estelle Frankel, McFarland, 2016, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6424-8

I have only read the first book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and have never seen the television program, so this collection of essays was of limited interest to me, although that obviously would not be the case for the many people who enjoy either or both. The essays deal with the usual concerns of contemporary academics - colonialism, slavery, genocide, homosexuality, gender roles, etc. I found the last few essays the most interesting, one dealing with the transition from story to screen, the other considering the nature of time as expressed in the stories. I confess I skimmed over some of the earlier ones, not that they were badly written because in fact they are less opaque than a lot of academic writing, but simply because I did not know the characters or situations and had problems following the reasoning. Recommended for those who enjoy either media. 7/1/16