Last Update 12/18/17

A Brief History of the Crimean War by Alexis Troubetzkoy, Robinson, 2006 

The war by England, France, and Turkey against Russia during the 1850s was a parade of incompetence on every side. It was the war that bridged the gap between modern warfare and the past, the last time the British army fought in bright red uniforms and the last cavalry charge during a declared war. Although the focus was on Crimea, the war was also fought on the Persian border, in the Caucausus, in the Baltic, and elsewhere. Florence Nightingale introduced cleanliness and organization into the treatment of wounded soldiers and the Light Brigade engaged in its fruitless charge against the wrong position. This book is more concerned with the politics and personalities than in the details of the military operations, which were embarrassingly incompetent most of the time. 12/18/17

Supernatural Psychology edited by Travis Langley and Lynn S. Zubernis, Sterling, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4549-2661-0

The title refers to the television show Supernatural. The book is a collection of pop psychology essays about mostly peripheral issues. Why do people believe in monsters and actually look for them? How do people handle really scary adversity? There are also essays on childhood traumas, how men communicate with one another, mental illness, folklore, and even one about the use of music in the program. I found about a third of these uninteresting and the rest mostly trivial and only related to the show in the broadest sense. Not awful, but I could only read a couple of the entries at a time spread over more than a week. 12/4/17

A Brief History of New Mexico by Myra Ellen Jenkins and Albert H. Schroeder, University of New Mexico, 1974 

This was actually a bit too brief. If you exclude all the photographs, there are only about fifty pages of text which cover everything from prehistory to statehood, but virtually nothing after that. The state was a significant battlefield in the war with Mexico and later in the Civil War. There is very little about the individual cities and much of it is generic and general, lacking the kind of anecdotal detail that makes histories really come alive for the reader. 11/30/17

Star Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction by James Gunn, McFarland, 2017, $25, ISBN 978-1-4766-7026-3

James Gunn was one of the first SF writers whose new works I actively anticipated. The Joy Makers remains to this day one of the books I've reread most frequently. Gunn wrote relatively little compared to some of his contemporaries ad pursued a successful career in academia. He would later write some excellent criticism, edit some fine anthologies, and continues to write fiction. This is his memoir, covering all the aspects of his life. Given how much ground there was to cover, it sometimes describes chunks of time in relatively brief terms, but the highlights are there and some of the information is fascinating. Who would think now that sales of 100,000 copies of a book would be insufficient to cover a $2500 advance? Gunn tells us about his first exposure to fans at a convention, his dealings with publishers, his family, his academic life in Kansas, and much more. This is surprisingly inexpensive from this publisher and a very good deal for the price. 11/19/17

Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building by Audrey Isabel Taylor, McFarland, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6516-0

I've been a fan of Patricia McKillip ever since Riddle Master of Hed. Her particular brand of fantasy is much more interesting than the endless tales of stolen thrones and quests for magical artifacts. A serious examination of her work as literature is long overdue. In addition to the settings for the stories, the author looks at how McKillip creates characters, how she makes use of standard fantasy devices and how she sometimes changes them. She discusses plot elements including the working out of mysteries, the role and nature of legends, and how the environment is shaped to suit both the characters and the themes of the stories. The obscurantism of much of academia is absent here and the book should be quite entertaining for fans as well as scholars.  11/9/17

The Case for Fanfiction by Ashley J. Barner, McFarland, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-6877-2

The assumption for this book is that fan fiction - stories written by amateur writers set in the worlds of professional ones - is considered "tasteless and derivative" but that this is unfair to its readers and writers. That might be at least partly true and certainly no one should be ashamed of what they choose to read, but the author's conclusion is that this is the result of misogyny, that female readers are the primary recipients of this scorn, and the author does not make a convincing case for this contention. The author clearly sides with fan writers and minimizes the concerns of the authors about their intellectual property rights. I am also very skeptical of her interpretation of copyright law - she appears to believe that if I write a Harry Potter novel on my website that explores new territory but don't charge money for it, that I am not in violation of copyright law. I doubt courts would agree with this, but even if they did, it would be very unfair to J.K. Rowling. To the extent that this book encourages quasi-legal activity I doubt it is what the publisher thought they were publishing. 11/7/17

A Brief History of Medieval Warfare by Peter Reid, Running Press, 2008

Despite the title, this is really about English warfare from 1314 to 1485, which means most of the book is about the Hundred Years War between England and France, with Scotland occasionally fighting on the French side. The English were the first to make use of massed artillery - archers in this case - and the French were very slow to adapt. The French also held onto chivalrous notions about battle far too long. As a consequence, England came close to conquering the entire country on a couple of occasions, but shortages of leadership or funds or both always prevented the final success. There is also a short section about the Wars of the Roses. 11/5/17

Romancing the Zombie edited by Ashley Szanter and Jessica K. Richards, McFarland, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6742-3

It looks to me as though the zombie boom in books and movies has pretty much run its course, but that doesn't mean that the analyses of the phenomenon will stop as well.  This is a collection of essays about how the zombie story has evolved in recent years and it's more about the movies than the books, although sometimes the movies are based on books. Warm Bodies and Izombie seem to be the most popular among the contributors, all of whom appear to be academics. I have to admit that for the most part the essays deal with the better examples, and most of the time I thought they made sense. There is a bit of preoccupation with romance in the zombie story, which strikes me as rather icky even at the best of times. One of the more entertaining collections of essays from this publisher, even if it is on a subject I thought I had long since overdosed on. 10/29/17

Blockbuster Science by David Siegel Bernstein, Prometheus, 2017, $24, ISBN 978-1-63388-369-7

This is the latest book to examine the science content in science fiction, although once again it concentrates on movies and television rather than prose, although sometimes at second hand given the movie Ender's Game, for example, is based on a novel. The usual subjects are covered - quantum physics, the limitations of the universe, parallel universes, artificial intelligence, robots, aliens, faster than light travel. The author does have a lighter touch than usual and some of his explanations and analyses are actively amusing as well as informative. A lot of this is going to be old hat to seasoned readers, but it might be quite enlightening for a lot of media fans. 10/15/17

T.E.D. Klein and the Rupture of Civilization by Thomas Phillips, McFarland, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-4766-7028-7   

Although T.E.D. Klein wrote only one novel and a handful of short stories (as well as editing the Twilight Zone magazine), he has made a significant impression on the horror genre and it is surprising that it has taken this long for someone to do a full length study of his work. The blurb claiming that his work is not popular with readers is untrue. Alas, this one is probably not worth your time unless you are academically inclined.  The prose style is sometimes painfully convoluted, and there are sentences that I reread several times without being able to determine exactly what the author was trying to say. Much of the text is not really about Klein and his work at all, but rather tries to establish "critical horror" as a subgenre, while considering various social issues that might affect the writer, or which might be examined through the writer. 8/7/17

Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster, Harper, 1997 

This is an account of the decisions and actions that led us into the Vietnam quagmire. The author makes no bones about blaming Robert McNamara as the primary villain, with Maxwell Taylor a close second. His analysis of the conflicting priorities that affected Presidents Kennedy and Johnson is quite interesting and while he believes that the Joint Chiefs were largely ignored, he has plenty of fault left over to accommodate them as well. Entertainingly written and quite engrossing. Photographs of the principle players might have helped. 7/27/17

Rose Motel by William M. Breiding, 2017,  $15

Fanzine fandom seems very distant to me nowadays, although I still have about twenty cartons of them in the attic. I recall fondly the days when almost every mail delivery included some mimeographed publication or another. William Breiding was active then and has continued to be active in the rather attenuated version of fanzines that survive, and this is a collection of his essays including work from 1980 to 2014. Although theoretically we were all SF fans, much of what got published was not really related to the genre, and that's mostly the case here. These are largely reminiscences of his life, sometimes related to fandom. They are humorous, sentimental, intriguing, and lots of other adjectives but most of all they are entertaining. The personal memoirs of ordinary people are often much more interesting than those of the rich and famous. 7/15/17

A Lit Fuse by Nat Segaloff, NESFA, 2017, $35, ISBN 978-1-61037-323-4

This is a biography of Harlan Ellison, complete with a large selection of pictures. The project was Ellison's idea and he provided much of the basis for the book himself, so it's not surprising that little time is spent on his various controversies. The author also seems to be much more familiar with Hollywood than with written science fiction, so the context in the latter case is not as well developed. I thought the first few chapters his childhood, life as a fan, and his early days as a writer were of the most interest and the material there was largely new to me. A complete bibliography would have been helpful, but perhaps prohibitively long. Ellison may well be the last successful writer whose work was almost exclusively short stories. 7/7/17

The Linguistics of Stephen King by James Arthur Anderson, McFarland, 2017, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-6834-5

Although this study does not include everything Stephen King has written, it does cover representative samples and most of his most successful novels, including Carrie, The Shining, Misery, It, and The Green Mile, as well as a handful of his short stories, including "The Body." The author examines each in detail, analyzing the plot structure which is often much more complex than it might appear and deciphering King's attitude toward real world issues as demonstrated in his fiction. The thematic analyses were the parts I generally found of most interest. The prose here is straightforward and intelligent while not succumbing to academic obfuscation.  King fans should find this entertaining and informative and those not as enthusiastic about King's work should find it enlightening.. 7/4/17

Secret Weapons of World War II by Gerald Pawle, Ballantine, 1957 

I wish this had been written in a slightly livelier style. It's a history of a variety of secret weapons developed during the war, not all of which were successes. The accounts are detailed but the prose is so dry that it was difficult to read more than a chapter at a sitting. I ended up spending about three weeks on this one. There is a nice selection of photographs. About half of these I had heard of elsewhere, but the rest were new to me. 7/1/17