Housebound on a Blustery Day

Once again, my town is gripped with panic at the thought of experiencing... Weather.

Not snow panic this time-- just wind. We're having what Winnie the Pooh refers to as a "blustery day." The photo above is from the bottom of the bluff we live on, where, as you can see, Puget Sound is getting whipped up pretty high.

I got that picture off one of the local TV news sites; which is to say, the TV news that's that's warning everyone to stay indoors and stay warm and stay calm. (Speaking of calm, it occurs to me that there'd probably be less agitation among the populace if the TV people didn't get so all-fired excited about every weather system that comes through here.)

I don't really mind stormy weather. Personally, I think there's something pleasantly Gothic about sitting here amongst the books while the wind howls outside. We're not terribly outdoorsy, and though it hurts a little to miss the Jet City Comics Show this weekend, we really couldn't afford to go anyway. What's more, I have no justification to buy any more books until I whittle down the to-read pile here. The Shelf of Shame has once again risen to staggering proportions. I'm not buying very many new comics these days, but there are so many wonderful new collections of older material that I find I'm more behind on my reading now than I was when I was trying to keep up with what Marvel and DC were doing.

So here are the books I'm currently reading and the ones on deck.

Hard Case Crime sent along a set of four early Michael Crichton crime novels. It's almost as if they knew I'd be in all weekend reading.

These are the first four of eight. Crichton put himself through med school writing paperback originals under a variety of pen names and honestly, I think I like these better than the books he's famous for. None of the societal or cultural criticism that you find in later Crichton crime-story efforts like Disclosure or Rising Sun. They're just pure story, very much in the pulp tradition but with a modern sophistication. The original "John Lange" Crichton books were very hard to find and expensive when you did, so I'm glad to see them back in print. (If you're curious about the original editions, you can see them here at this blog post.)

Recently I lucked into a couple of hardcover comics collections that normally would have been way out of my budget. The first was Marvel Masterworks: Deathlok.

This retails for $64.99, which is just out of the question for a part-time schoolteacher and magazine writer, but I scooped one up on Amazon listed for about twelve dollars and I think there's still a couple of them listed for under twenty.

These are the original Deathlok stories from the run in Astonishing Tales back in the 1970s. These stories were really ahead of their time in both concept and execution.

Deathlok was another one of those 1970s Marvel series that worked as well as it did primarily because nobody in charge was paying attention, it was under the radar for the most part. Luther Manning was a cyborg, a soldier killed on the battlefield whose body is reclaimed and rebuilt by the villainous Simon Ryker. Manning is forced to share his consciousness with his onboard computer and the narration is actually made up of the constant dialogue between them. Manning is bitter and rebellious, complaining that he's not really alive but rather 'locked in death' (get it?) It was really too weird for most readers and probably most of Marvel editorial, but I always liked it. It was different, and the art was really startling and innovative, especially after Klaus Janson came on board.

It was too oddball to last, though, especially in the days before comics shops when it was hard to keep up with a regular series. It wasn't particularly new-reader-friendly and the series was canceled after a dozen issues or so. (Later, we'd have Blade Runner and Neuromancer and Robocop all riffing on similar themes, but Deathlok was way ahead of them.)

As was traditional for short-run Marvel heroes in the seventies, Deathlok's storyline was wrapped up in other titles. Marvel Spotlight burned off the last story that was originally scheduled for the canceled Astonishing Tales, and then Deathlok bounced around the Marvel Universe for a while meeting other heroes.

This book reprints everything from Deathlok's first appearance through the three-issue Captain America story that wrapped Manning's tale up. It's great to have it all in one nice hardcover, though the back half of the book feels a little choppy and weird, what with all the title-jumping as Deathlok's story meanders through different corners of the Marvel universe. I never got around to the later Deathlok series, the Michael Collins version, but I enjoyed these so much I may have to look into it.

From the other end of the genre spectrum, I'm equally delighted to have found a discounted copy of Doug Wildey's classic western Rio... in a stunning new archival hardcover from IDW. This is another book I lusted for but thought I'd never be able to afford.

The stories are pretty good, standard frontier adventure somewhere in the middle ground between the cynicism of Elmore Leonard's westerns and the square-jawed Louis L'Amour tradition. But what raises the level of the endeavor is Wildey's art, which is breathtaking.

The publisher says up front that this is meant to be an art book and it was produced with that in mind. Most of the book is scanned directly from the original art pages, and it's gorgeous. The occasional tape shadow or pasted-on word balloon's also visible but for me that's part of the charm.

This edition includes every Rio story ever done, including a couple that weren't ever published anywhere, and there's also a nice introduction from Mark Evanier. Can't recommend this one strongly enough.

And finally, a couple of Star Trek oddities that I'm enjoying a lot. (I know, there's been a lot of Trek stuff here the last few weeks, but people keep giving me books that are interesting enough to talk about.)

The first is Federation: The First 150 Years. Titan Books offered me a review copy and I said yes, mostly because I thought Julie would like seeing it, but I was curious myself.

It purports to be a history text of the Star Trek future, and it really does look like a history textbook. Though there's little new here for hardcore fans in terms of the content, it's an interesting perspective on the stories we already know-- Zefram Cochrane, the Organian Peace Treaty, Khan and the Eugenics Wars, all of that stuff. With the holiday season looming, it might make a fun gift for the Trekkie in your life; it's not the sort of book fans buy for themselves. Author David Goodman does a nice job of faux-scholarship, resolving several continuity glitches that have troubled fans for years and even managing to acknowledge the new J.J. Abrams stuff, though this project is very much Original Recipe Star Trek. The book is fun in the way other 'fake history' books like the various Sherlock Holmes biographies are fun.

The presentation is as classy as the other Titan art books I've seen, a beautifully-bound hardcover that's profusely illustrated.

Julie loved it, and she's more of a Trek person than I am, so there's that endorsement as well.

The other is a fun little book that came out in 1977 and, unlike other Star Trek material, as far as I know has never been reprinted anywhere after its initial hardcover and paperback appearances in the seventies. I'm talking about Joan Winston's The Making of the Trek Conventions: Or, How to Throw a Party for 12,000 of Your Most Intimate Friends.

Joan Winston was on the original fan committee that put on the first Trek convention back in 1972, and this is the tale of how that happened and her experiences over the next few years as Star Trek cons ballooned up into a phenomenon and then into a lucrative business. Ms. Winston stepped down before that point, preferring to retain her amateur status, but she remained involved with Star Trek stuff her whole life. Joan Winston was widely beloved in the fan community and this book will give you a glimpse of why that was; she genuinely seemed to like everyone. (The current stereotype of fans as an angry entitled mob would have bewildered her.) So this book isn't an exposé or anything like that, just an amusingly chatty memoir of what it was like back in the olden days when conventions were a fan thing and not a cash cow. There are lots of photos as well.

It's not for everyone, and Ms. Winston's prose style verges on breathless, but I am nevertheless enjoying it. If you've spent any time around the convention scene, Trek or otherwise, you probably would too.


That's by no means the entire stack-- there's the new Thor Essential, Thrud the Barbarian, a bunch of other cool stuff.

But the power just flickered, so I better wrap this up. Time to get back under the quilt and tackle the to-read pile again.

See you next week.

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