Last Update 12/28/19

Science Fiction and the Dismal Science edited by Gary Westfahl, Gregory Benford, Howard V.Hendrix, and Jonathan Alexander, McFarland, 2019, $55, ISBN 978-1-4766-7738-5 

There is an odd pairing of themes in this collection of essays. One is the various ways in which SF deals with economic issues. The other is the economics of writing and publishing genre fiction. The contributors include George Slusser, David Brin, Howard V. Hendrix, Alvaro Zinas-Amaro, and others, so they are all well written and generally entertaining even though economics is itself usually considered a pretty dry subject. I was surprised at how little mention is made of Mack Reynolds, but otherwise this is what I would have expected from the blurbs. A bit pricey but you might get your library to buy it. 12/29/19

The Furies of Marjorie Bowen by John C. Tibbetts, McFarland, 2019, $55, ISBN 978-1-4766-7716-3

I recently reread a bunch of Marjorie Bowen's ghost and horror stories, so this title was well timed for me. This is the first book length study of her life and work, much of which was fantasy and horror, although she also wrote extensively in other genres. A few of her short stories are classics of their type, although the novels do not fare as well. She also wrote as Joseph Shearing, under which name The Spectral Bride is particularly noteworthy. There are illustrations and photographs relevant to the subject matter and a helpful bibliography. She does seem to be unfairly underrated in the genre, perhaps because her output was relatively small within the genre, and some of it disguised in historical novels or elsewhere. I found this one quite interesting. 12/22/19

How to Fart at Work by Mats & Enzo, Carlton, 2019, $9.95, ISBN 978-1-78739-305-9

Sometimes I get sent very strange books to review. This one is obviously humorous, a guide to breaking wind at the office. There is a kind of simple cartoon illustrating each situation, followed by a proposed solution, an expert evaluation of the situation, and a testimonial about its efficacy. A couple of them are mildly funny. Most of them are predictable and not very funny at all. Much of it feels like third grade humor - attempts to be mildly gross that don't quite make it that far. It's greatest virtue is that it is brief.12/21/19

Alcohol in Space by Chris Carberry, McFarland, 2019, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-7924-2

Although this discusses the role of adult beverages in science fiction- mostly in movies, that's really almost an afterthought. The book is primarily interested in the mechanics, uses, and speculations about alcohol in space in the future. There are discussions of brewing beer in orbit, providing drinking implements that work in weightlessness, and a general discussion of  farming in outer space to produce the raw ingredients. Although I thought this was a rather odd topic for a book, it was actually fairly interesting reading, avoiding most technical matters and presenting the material in an entertaining fashion. 11/4/19

The South-Central States by Mel White, Smithsonian, 1996 

This is part of a series of regional books providing beautiful full color pictures of flora, fauna, and geography on the region concerned. This volume covers Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Every state and national park of significance is mentioned, along with telephone numbers and other information, although I imagine at least some of it is now outdated. Sadly, almost every second page includes the words “endangered,” “rare,” “extinct,” “vanishing,” or some similar description. Excellent photography and a good guide if you’re vacationing in the area. 11/3/19

The Rise and Fall of American Science Fiction, from the 1920s to the 1960s by Gary Westfahl, McFarland, 2019, $45, ISBN 978-1-4766-7494-0

This is pretty much what the title describes, although necessarily it has to deal with complex and varied issues in a rather perfunctory manner at times. It also mirrors the taste of the author. What he considers the "fall" was the influx of tie-in novels to media, fantasy, military SF, and open ended series. While it is true that these trends have diluted the genre, one might well argue that there are still the same number or even more original novels being published today, and their quality compared to the past is a matter of opinion rather than fact. It is true, however, that the sense of community and a shared art form has disappeared forever. His summaries of events in the five decades before the "fall" (even using his standards I'd place that event a decade later) are quite well done, informative, logically constructed, and entertaining. I believe this is the best book from this publisher that I've read this year. 10/12/19

Furry Tales by Fred Patten, McFarland, 2019, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4766-7598-5

This is a collection of Patten's reviews of anthropomorphic SF and Fantasy. I read many of these when they first appeared. Some of them are familiar like Roger Rabbit, Watership Downs, and Bambi but the vast majority of them are less well known. There are even publishers who specialize in this subgenre. Patten discusses them at length and provides supporting essays covering the overall background. There are reproductions of a lot of the covers. This kind of story does not appeal to everyone's taste, but for those who do like it, this is as close to indispensable as you can get. 10/8/19

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.