And now, book reviews! (#SFWApro)

SWORDS AND AGAINST DARKNESS III mercifully didn’t have any of the attempted rape-humor in the first two collections in the series. It does, however, have a depressing number of typos—having had friends publish with Zebra Books, I’m not terribly surprised, but given editor Andrew J. Offutt’s comments herein about the importance of professionalism, he must have been cringing. The best stories in this issue are Ramsey Campbell’s “Pit of Wings,” which once again merges horror with sword-and-sorcery well, and the first of Darrell Schweitzer’s tales of the damned medieval knight, Sir Julian. We also get Manley Wade Wellman, Tanith Lee and David Drake so it’s a good collect.
2387018Ah, optimism—WEIRD HEROES VOL. 3: Quest of the Gypsy by Ron Goulart (cover and interior illustrations by Alex Nino; all rights to current holder) was planned as the first of a six-book series, but we only got one more. Spinning off from a short story in the first volume, this has the amnesiac psi Gypsy battling bioweapon terrorists, robot sans-culottes, Tunisian pirates and a talking vulture in a chaotic, 21st-century Europe while trying to figure out who he really is and what this “game” he’s enmeshed in involves. Unfortunately, we never did get the answers.
Based on reader feedback, WEIRD HEROES VOL. 6 ran to SF rather than the action/adventure of the first collection. Unfortunately the switch doesn’t lead to a boost in quality: the only standout was Ben Bova’s time-traveling amnesiac superman Orion (who would go on to appear in novels outside the WH format). Ron Goulart’s ET detective Shinbet is fun but Philip Jose Farmer’s Greatheart Silver entry is tedious and Arthur Byron Cover’s Galacticu Gumshoe is way too self-conscious of being a hardboiled detective in a space adventure (that story makes me understand why some writers I know flinch from metafiction).
I’m idly curious if THE BEST OF JACK VANCE was his own selection as he admits tgat several of the stories are indeed personal favorites. While I didn’t care at all for “Sails” (the kind of obsess-over-tech set-up that kills my interest), the strangely convoluted societies of “The Last Castle” and “The Moon Moth” deserve to be here, as does the whimsical “Ullward’s Retreat” and the parallel-world story “Rumfuddle.” (“The waiter is Genghis Khan.”).
ON THE MAP: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield is an entertaining but scattershot look at maps ranging from the legendary British Mappa Mundi through Marco Polo, Mercator, the Silver Map (a medallion chronicling Drake’s round-the-world voyage), Britain’s Ordnance Survey, Churchill’s wartime map room and the modern debates over Google maps and what they do to our sense of the world (“Unlike a written map, digital mapping moves with you—so you really are always at the center of the universe.”). Unfortunately while almost all the bits are good (I could have done without the discussions of brain mapping and evolutionary psychology), Garfield’s breezy bouncing from topic to topic wore out its welcome much faster than in his Just My Type. This may be because the new book is 100 pages longer, or because I’d have liked a more serious touch at times. For example, while Garfield acknowledges in passing that maps are often a form of propaganda (how they present contested borders, for instance) he never devotes any space to that topic. And the fluffiest chapter, on mapping in videogames and D&D felt equally lacking: why not deal with fiction as well (L. Frank Baum had Oz mapped out more than a century ago). Interesting, but not satisfying.

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3 responses to “And now, book reviews! (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: For a few books more: Reviews (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: And some books (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Maps, shadows, and Dr. Strange: books read (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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