Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Science fiction for public administrators
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga is one of those heralded classics of science fiction that is assumed to be beyond reproach by genre purists. The first novel in the series, entitled simply Foundation, was published in 1951, but it was comprised of short stories that were originally published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine from 1942 to 1950. After finally getting around to reading the first Foundation novel, I found it didn’t live up to its stellar (no pun intended) reputation. In 1966, after the publication of the original trilogy, a special one-time Hugo Award for Best All-Time series was bestowed upon Asimov’s Foundation books. If reassessed today, I’m not sure that designation would stand the test of time.

Presumably thousands of years in the future, mankind has colonized thousands of planets, most of which are governed by a Galactic Empire. While the Empire does have its dystopian side, this big government generally keeps human civilization from devolving into utter chaos. Hari Seldon, however, foresees an impending catastrophic fall in the Empire’s future. Seldon is humanity’s foremost practitioner of psychohistory. Through a thorough analytical knowledge of human nature and complex modeling of historical probabilities, psychohistorians are able to provide detailed predictions of humanity’s probable future. With the end of civilization looming large, the Empire establishes a scientific foundation on a remote outpost, with Seldon in charge, to compile a Galactic Encyclopedia of all human knowledge. But is that the Foundation’s only purpose, or is there a hidden, ulterior motive to this monumental undertaking?

Foundation is well-thought-out, but it is a bit boring, and I never really cared about any of the characters. The main problem with this story is that there’s too much about government and fictional politics. It reads like Asimov was playing a role-playing game about how to manage an interplanetary empire, and you get to watch. This novel should be the monthly selection of a book club for city bureaucrats or foreign diplomats. In contrast, Frank Herbert’s Dune books also have a lot of government in them, but in addition they have a lot to say about religion, genetic engineering, the environment, and other interesting matters. The Dune world is multifaceted, whereas the Foundation world is rather one-dimensional. All the characters are defined by their bureaucratic titles, with only minimum personality, and one gets the feeling that they are all white men. I don’t recall a woman in the entire book. I also think it was a poor choice to give the two main characters—Hari Seldon and Salvor Hardin—such similar names. That must have been an intentional choice by Asimov, but it’s needlessly confusing.

Another mark against Foundation is that it ends on a low note. Of the novel’s five sections, which take place decades apart, the last part, The Merchant Princes, is by far the least interesting. The stakes feel a lot lower here than in the earlier sections, and the book’s only interesting characters—Seldon and Hardin—are long gone. This closing story presents a diplomatic conundrum that was so confusing I found it difficult to care about the result.

The concept of psychohistory is Foundation’s most original and intriguing contribution to the science fiction genre. The narrative possibilities of that concept, however, don’t seem to have been fully exploited by Asimov in this book. Perhaps one has to read the remaining three Foundation novels to get the full scope of Asimov’s glorious creation, but this first installment doesn’t make me want to read six more books in this world.

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Monday, May 29, 2023

Maigret’s Revolver by Georges Simenon

Unexceptional by Maigret standards
Maigret’s Revolver
, first published in 1952, is the 68th of Maigret’s 103 cases (including the short stories) written by Belgian author Georges Simenon. I’ve read about twenty of the Maigret novels and always find them entertaining, but this is one of the least impressive Maigret outings I’ve come across.

When Maigret comes home from work one day, his wife tells him that a young man had come to see him that afternoon. The visitor waited in the parlor for a while, but Maigret did not return, so he left. Maigret doesn’t think much of it until he notices that his revolver is missing from the room in which the young man sat waiting. He must have stolen Maigret’s gun! Unfortunately, Madame Maigret did not obtain any information about the visitor’s identity, whereabouts, or reason for seeking Maigret. She’s worried the young man might commit suicide. Soon after, the Maigrets dine at the home of a friend, Dr. Pardon. Pardon tells Maigret about a friend of his, François Lagrange, whose son has been behaving erratically and recently went missing. Could this be the same young man who stole Maigret’s revolver?

If so, it would be one hell of a coincidence. Nevertheless, that’s the belief-stretching premise that gets this whole mystery started. Maigret decides to track down the young man, Alain Lagrange, ostensibly to assist a friend of a friend but really in hopes of finding his stolen gun. In the course of his investigation Maigret uncovers a murder, which thus steers the novel into classic Maigret territory. Even so, this story feels woefully average by Maigret standards. It can never be said to be exciting, and it’s only moderately intriguing.

Simenon excels at drawing deep and interesting characters, but here the prime suspect is absent for almost the entire book, so you don’t really get to learn anything about him until the very end. The reader just rides along passively as Maigret follows his trail of leads. Maigret never seems too excited about the case, and his blasé attitude is contagious. Another odd and somewhat disappointing aspect to this novel is that the theft of Maigret’s revolver never really amounts to anything in the story. Other than drawing Maigret’s attention to the young man in the opening chapter, the plot element of the revolver isn’t really necessary. The book could do without it, but then what would the title be?

The final reveal at the end is another genre-bending turn from Simenon in which he makes the reader wonder who’s really the criminal and who the victim. While the penultimate chapter delivers the poignancy and pathos one expects from the resolution of a Maigret case, the getting there is a pedestrian trip at best.
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Friday, May 26, 2023

Magnificent Rebels: The first Romanticists and the Invention of the Self by Andrea Wulf

The Jena set and the birth of Romanticism
German-British writer Andrea Wulf wrote one of my favorite nonfiction books of the last decade, The Invention of Nature, about the Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt. In that book, Wulf demonstrated an exceptional talent for writing intellectual history in an accessible and even exciting manner. She does so again in her latest book, Magnificent Rebels, published in 2022.

Magnificent Rebels is a group biography of a coterie of philosophers, poets, and scientists who crossed paths in the city of Jena, a university town in what is now Germany, from 1794 to 1806. Alexander von Humboldt and his brother Wilhelm play supporting roles in this story, but this history focuses primarily on several men and women of letters who founded the philosophical and literary movement of Romanticism. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is the elder statesman and mentor of the group, as well as the glue that held the clique together while everyone else was bickering. The Jena set also included popular university lecturers Friedrich Schiller, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schelling. August Wilhelm Schlegel, his wife Caroline, and his brother Friedrich Schlegel were also major players in this social and intellectual scene, as well as their good friend the poet known as Novalis. Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel came late to the party and only enters the scene towards the end of the book.

Soon after the French Revolution, Romanticism built upon the idea that people were destined to be more than just slaves to despotic monarchs or even to nature itself. In their view, the human mind, the self, was a powerful force in not only understanding nature but also in shaping it. Counter to the Enlightenment, these Romantics placed more importance on imagination and emotion than on empirical science and rationalism, and they championed individual freedom over social duty and convention. I was also surprised to learn that these scholars were instrumental in rediscovering the works of Shakespeare and elevating him to the legendary status he holds today.

Particular attention is given to Caroline Schlegel, whom Wulf clearly admires as an independent woman who did not allow herself to be held down by the social restrictions placed upon women of her day. Though Caroline’s achievements were often attributed to her husband, here Wulf reveals her to be an accomplished intellectual and woman of letters in her own right and a worthy contributor to the Romanticist circle. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, Wulf’s depiction of Caroline sometimes flirts with hero worship, but as the book progresses the picture becomes less flattering. By the end, very few of these literary illuminati come out of this narrative with a spotless reputation.

As in The Invention of Nature, Wulf’s writing is impeccable. By delving deeply into the correspondence of these early Romanticists, she vividly brings to life the social dynamics between the movement’s members and the atmosphere of intellectual interchange that spawned their philosophical and literary breakthroughs. Wulf deftly renders complex concepts of Romantic literature and philosophy in concise and user-friendly terms without dumbing-down the content. At the close of the book, she also gives a thoughtful synopsis of the legacy of the Jena set in the thought of later intellectuals, particularly the American Transcendentalists. Wulf doesn’t always succeed, however, in convincing the reader of the importance of some of these revered writers’ works, which at times sound a little flighty and masturbatory. This Jena crowd were basically the college-town hipsters of their age, and their love affairs, spiteful squabbles, and catty insults often feel awfully petty. While I didn’t always care for the subjects of this book, however, I was always captivated by Wulf’s writing of them. 
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Monday, May 22, 2023

Essential Wolverine Volume 7 by Erik Larsen, et al.

Past his prime
Back when I used to habitually read Marvel Comics in the 1980s and ‘90s, one of my favorite titles was Wolverine. I kept up with most of the X-Men comics but always preferred Wolverine’s solo title. The issues from that era (now called Wolverine Volume 2, to distinguish it from Frank Miller’s miniseries of 1982, which is Volume 1) have been collected and reproduced in Marvel’s Essential series of trade paperbacks. Essential Wolverine Volume 7 includes Wolverine issues 129 to 148, as well as one crossover issue of Hulk (#8). These issues originally ran from October 1998 to March 2000. Frankly, that’s a little late for my tastes, and these issues demonstrate a drop in quality from what I remember of the Wolverine title I used to know and love.

Most of these issues were written by Erik Larsen, the same Erik Larsen who created The Savage Dragon for Image Comics. What I liked best about the character of Wolverine is that he had a mysterious past that he was working to uncover. Writer Larry Hama took full advantage of that in his extensive run of issues in the early ‘90s, in which he gradually revealed an intricate history of Logan’s work as a covert operative. These stories by Larsen, on the other hand, just seem to put Wolverine into battle scenes with not much story behind them. Often Wolverine doesn’t even know why he’s fighting who he’s fighting. The stories also get sidetracked by Marvel’s crossover mania of this era. Wolverine spends several issues in the personification of Death, one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, and the final issue of this volume presents him as a member of the new Fantastic Four, along with Hulk, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider. Wolverine’s solo comic used to focus more on grittier earthbound matters, but here Larsen and company deliver a lot of outer space and alien invasion storylines that would be better suited for the X-Men books.

The art has also taken a turn for the worse. Marvel’s Essentials series reprints comics in black and white on newsprint paper, which is fine for the classic “coloring book” style of comics art. By the late ‘90s, however, that pen- and brush-heavy style had been abandoned in favor of more Photoshop coloration. The issues in Volume 7, therefore, are scanned as grayscale rather than black-and-white art, which causes a great lack of clarity in reproduction. There is also a definite manga influence to the graphic style, with the figures exaggerated in a cartoony manner. Big action-packed splash panels are emphasized over sequential storytelling. About half the issues in Volume 7 are drawn by Leinil Francis Yu, who really has an exciting visual style with detail-rich figures and backgrounds. Sometimes he makes it hard, however, to figure out what exactly is happening in a given panel. It made me miss the glory days when Marc Silvestri used to draw the Wolverine title in a more traditional noir style reminiscent of classic comic masters like Will Eisner or Milton Caniff. In addition, I’ve never seen more lettering errors in a volume of comics. Almost every page has at least one typo, missing word, or duplicated word. It makes you wonder if they actually scanned the final art or mistakenly used some unedited working draft.

I’m old enough to prefer the classic Marvel style I grew up with, as exemplified by the comics of Jack Kirby, John Buscema, or John Byrne. When Marvel started to turn away from that style in the late ‘90s, I began to lose interest. I was hoping Essential Wolverine Volume 7 might be a nice trip down memory lane, but instead I found that by 1998 the Wolverine title was already past its prime. One would be better off rereading the earlier volumes by Hama and Silvestri, which can truly be called Essential.
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Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Begum’s Fortune by Jules Verne

Odd tale of dueling Franco-Prussian utopias
Jules Verne was a very prolific author. His series of Voyages Extraordinaires includes 54 novels published during his lifetime (plus a few published after his death, with help from his son). Within such a large body of work, famous masterpiece like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are far outnumbered by obscure oddities like The Begum’s Fortune, published in 1879. This book is a prefect example of how when one delves into some of the random titles in Verne’s catalog, you never know what you’re going to get, and the result is sometimes less satisfying than one would expect from an author with such an esteemed reputation.

The word “Begum” is an Indian title of nobility denoting the wife or female equivalent of a Raja. As Verne’s novel opens, one such begum, the widow of a French soldier, has passed away, leaving her immense fortune to her dead husband’s nephew, Dr. Sarrasin, a French physician. Sarrasin decides to dedicate his newfound 500 million francs to science by building an ideal city. Before he can collect his inheritance, however, a long-lost cousin comes out of the woodwork to claim half the fortune. This second heir, Dr. Schultze, is a German scientist who resents the fact that he has to share the fortune with a Frenchman. He therefore decides to build his own utopian city to outshine and crush that of his French rival.

Verne’s blatant objective here is to contrast the democratic and benevolent spirit of the French with that of the Germans, whom he sees as conceited, autocratic, megalomaniacal bigots bent on world domination. Some see this book as a prescient vision of Nazism, but it is really an expression of the animosity between France and Germany that escalated with the recent Franco-Prussian War and would continue through the two world wars of the twentieth century. Amid that political climate, Schultze can’t help but suggest Bismarck and Hitler. Schultze’s city, Stahlstadt, is an authoritarian military-industrial complex that manufactures weapons of mass destruction. Little is revealed about Sarrasin’s city, Frankville, other than an obsessive concern with sanitation and hygiene. By some weird whim of Verne’s, both ideal cities end up arising in Oregon, about 30 miles from each other. Somehow they operate as independent city-states within the boundaries of the United States; at least independent enough to declare war on one another.

Verne makes many bad choices in crafting this narrative. Whenever you think the story is showing some possibility of interesting or exciting developments, Verne makes a left turn in favor of the boring or ridiculous. At first you think the book is going to have something to do with India, but it doesn’t. Then it appears it’s going to focus on Sarrasin’s utopia, but Verne turns away from that idea. Just when you think a war is about to start, all action is negated by some dull, killjoy plot twists. Every time conflict seems to arise, Verne opts for a duller alternative. And while Verne’s odd choices are unexpected, somehow the book still ends up feeling like a predictable, formulaic Victorian romance.

In his attempt to depict the Germans as racists, Verne creates an unflattering ethnic stereotype of Germans that is in itself racist. It is also quite ironic that Frankville is built by Chinese laborers who aren’t allowed to live there because they are considered undesirable immigrants. Overall, Verne is usually one of the more egalitarian and politically correct authors of the late nineteenth century, but he really makes some missteps in this book. Even without the uncomfortable prejudices, however, The Begum’s Fortune fails merely by being a boring and poorly written story.
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Thursday, May 11, 2023

Eyes Like the Sea by Mór Jókai

Portrait of a lady in revolutionary Hungary
Hungarian author Mór Jókai (1825–1904) is a giant in the history of his nation’s literature and played a prominent role in Hungary’s political landscape during his lifetime. His novel Eyes Like the Sea was originally published in 1860 under the Hungarian title of A tengerszemű hölgy. This is an autobiographical work narrated by Jókai himself, in which he tells of his childhood playmate and first love, Elizabeth—also called Bessie—a beautiful woman with “eyes like the sea.” In adolescence, Bessie spurns Jókai’s affections, and each eventually marries someone else. Jókai grows up to be a practicing lawyer, but his real vocation lies in the arts. Though he has some talent as a painter, he achieves fame as a man of letters. The two childhood friends continue to connect over the years, and the book is mainly a chronicle of Bessie’s life through Jókai’s eyes. The author relates details of his literary and political careers, but much of the book is told through Bessie’s voice in a series of flashbacks and anecdotes.

If this book is strictly autobiographical, then one has to feel sorry for Jókai’s wife, who is only mentioned occasionally as “my wife,” while he gushes over Bessie, with whom he is clearly infatuated. Some poetic license seems apparent in the narrative, however, as Bessie’s adventures often read more like fairy tale than fact. Much of the story takes place during the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and its immediate aftermath. Jókai was an outspoken advocate for the rebels, for which he was subsequently persecuted by the Austrian Empire. The war episodes in the book, however, feel overly romanticized, sanitized, and replete with rich people’s problems (Jókai and Bessie being aristocrats). One can imagine people starving and slaughtered in the streets of Budapest, but Jókai chooses to tell us about the troubles Bessie has transferring her funds from one bank to another. As a war novel of two lifelong loves, Eyes Like the Sea bears some resemblance to a Hungarian version of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, with Jókai and Bessie the counterparts of Zhivago and Lara. Jókai’s novel is not anywhere near as well-written as Pasternak’s Russian epic, however. You don’t feel the impact of the war, and you don’t feel much for the (platonic) lovers either.

Over the course of the book, Bessie works her way through several husbands and lovers. I suppose one could see her as a strong woman navigating her way out of necessity through a nineteenth century world restrictive of women’s rights. Mostly, however, she just comes across as flighty and fickle, latching on to any man within reach, often for all the wrong reasons. In his telling of her love life, Jókai puts his heroine into some pretty strange situations, including bizarre episodes of wife-swapping. I would imagine some of these relationships might have been risqué by Victorian Era standards, but to today’s reader they often just seem goofy and unrealistically melodramatic.

I enjoy reading literature of various nations in order to get a sense of different histories and cultures. In this case, however, I felt like I was in over my head. I suspect few English-language readers know much about Hungarian history, and that lack of knowledge will prove a problem here. The reader is expected to have detailed knowledge of the historical events discussed, and even the literary references and the sense of humor are distinctly Hungarian and will be opaque to most outsiders. The English translation by R. Nisbet Bain doesn’t help much. One can overlook such cultural disorientation when the characters are compelling and sympathetic, but unfortunately Jókai doesn’t really accomplish that here.
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Friday, April 28, 2023

Maigret at the Coroner’s by Georges Simenon

A French observer in Arizona
Maigret at the Coroner’s
was originally published in 1949 under the French title of Maigret chez le coroner. It is the 59th of 103 Maigret mysteries (75 novels and 28 short stories) written by Belgian author Georges Simenon. I believe this is the 18th Maigret novel I have read, and it is the most unusual book of that bunch, bearing little resemblance to any other Maigret mystery I’ve encountered.

For starters, Jules Maigret, inspector for the Police Judiciaire of Paris, spends the whole novel in America. Maigret is on a training trip to the USA to observe the methods and techniques of various American police departments. It’s really more like a goodwill tour in which his American counterparts take him out for dinners and drinks. Maigret finds himself in Tucson, Arizona, where his American chaperone, an FBI agent, suggests he attend and observe a coroner’s inquest. Maigret is reluctant at first, but then becomes very involved as he watches the case unfold over the course of a few days.

A reputedly loose young woman has been found dead on a railroad track in the desert outside of town. The purpose of the inquest is to determine whether the death was an accident, or if there is sufficient evidence to bring a suspect to trial. On the night of her death, the woman had been partying with five military men from the local Air Force base. After much drinking and a drive out to the desert, the woman never returned. As Maigret listens, the five men recount their conflicting stories of the night’s events. The experienced French detective can’t help thinking how we would handle the case and the questions he would ask if he were running the proceedings.

Simenon is renowned for writing crime novels of great psychological authenticity, and his treatment of the characters and their motives in this book is no exception. Here, however, motives sometimes get lost amid a morass of minutiae. This is a far more detail-oriented mystery than any other Maigret case I’ve read. The story behind the woman’s death rests upon such matters as who got into what car at what time, and whose footprints were pointed in which direction. The reader sits through several different versions of these details, but it’s practically impossible to keep track of the specifics of all the testimony. The book even includes diagrams, but they don’t really help. The oddest thing about this novel, however, is that Maigret is really just a spectator at this hearing. He doesn’t do any investigative work or interrogate any suspects. Because Simenon is such a skilled crime writer, the mystery is very engaging, but one sometimes wonders why Maigret is even in this story at all.

The really compelling aspect of this book is Maigret’s internal commentary on American society. Simenon lived for about a decade in the U.S. and Canada, including at least a year in Arizona, so he had much opportunity to observe American life and culture, and, being a crime novelist, probably American law enforcement practices as well. Maigret finds America to be an astonishing land of plenty where even the poor people have cars, yet where many lead a rather depressing, morally bankrupt, and alcoholic existence. Through Maigret, Simenon delivers the Frenchman’s wry perspective on miscellaneous American customs, and what he notices is interesting and often funny to the American reader. Maigret at the Coroner’s is anything but a typical Maigret mystery, if there is such a thing, but, like just about everything Simenon wrote, this is an intriguing mystery and an absorbing read.
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Monday, April 24, 2023

Essential Thor Volume 7 by Len Wein, et al.

A mighty bore, but the art is very good
Essential Thor Volume 7
reprints issues 248 to 271 of Marvel Comics’ The Mighty Thor title, as well as Thor Annual numbers 5 and 6. These issues were originally published from June 1976 to May 1978. As with all the volumes in Marvel’s Essential series, these classic comics are reproduced in black and white on newsprint paper.

As this run of issues opens, Odin has apparently gone insane. Thor wants to help his father but also must stand against him as Odin’s mania threatens the safety of Asgard. Then Odin goes missing, and Thor must search for him throughout the cosmos, accompanied by the Lady Sif, the Warriors Three, and the Recorder, an android visiting from a distant star. This quest occupies at least half the volume, with the Asgardians running into various villains along the way, such as Hela and the Grey Gargoyle. Thor’s love life is in a confusing state. Somehow the souls of Jane Foster and Sif have come to occupy the same body (usually she’s Sif). That actually makes things easier for Thor but less interesting for the reader as it eliminates the compelling dilemma of his romantic relationships with the two women.

Thor is not one of the more interesting characters that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created during the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Though perhaps the most powerful of Marvel’s A-list heroes, he’s pretty low on personality. What makes him interesting is his supporting cast and the Asgardian world adapted from Norse mythology. The Shakespearean mode of Asgardian speech, laden with thees and thous, is appropriate for the setting and cast, but all the flowery soliloquizing does tend to slow down the pace of the stories. Thor was also low on good villains. Loki is his one big nemesis, but even he’s not anywhere near as interesting as a Doctor Doom, Magneto, or many of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four’s frequent and flamboyant opponents (talking about the comics here, not the movies). Loki only shows up for a few issues in this run, while Thor spends most of his time fighting giants, trolls, aliens, and robots. With his own stable of decent villains so sparse, Thor must borrow bad guys from other Marvel heroes, like Stilt Man (from Daredevil) and Blastaar (from the Fantastic Four). As for crossovers, the Avengers appear in one or two issues, and Thor Annual #6 features a team-up with the original pre-Star Lord lineup of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Since the stories are rather mediocre, the art is really the main attraction here. Roughly the first half of Volume 7 is drawn by John Buscema, probably the quintessential Thor renderer and likely the second most important artist (behind Kirby) in establishing the mighty Marvel visual style. Buscema is a virtuoso at drawing Asgardian scenery, costumes, and weapons. The second half of the book is drawn by Walt Simonson, another great Thor artist. Simonson had an epic run as writer and artist of the Thor title in the 1990s. Here in the 1970s he has not yet developed his idiosyncratic style of art, but his layouts are somewhat adventurous than the more classical Buscema. In both their capable hands, the Thor title looks like a million bucks, but one wishes Wein had given the thunder god more interesting things to do.
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Friday, April 21, 2023

Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, Volume 4 by Alexander von Humboldt

Disorganized and repetitive afterthoughts
Alexander von Humboldt
In the midst of his exploratory expedition to the Americas from 1799 to 1804, Prussian scientist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt spent a year in Mexico. His Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, published in 1811, is the detailed summation of his researches in that nation, which at the time also included parts of what are now California and the Southwestern United States. Also in 1811, an English translation of the Political Essay was published in London in five volumes. Because Volume 5 is a thin book of maps and charts, Volume 4 is really the conclusion of Humboldt’s essay on Mexico. Far from a crucial capstone to the work, however, this fourth volume of the Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain is less interesting or necessary than the previous three installments.

The phrase “Political Essay” is really not an accurate description of Humboldt’s study. This is really a comprehensive geographic overview of Mexico encompassing many natural and social sciences. In Volume 3, Humboldt mostly discussed the natural resources of Mexico. He begins Volume 4 by discussing transportation—the roads and ports of Mexico—to explain how those resources are exported to the rest of the world. This opening section is really the only original information in the fourth volume. Everything else seems redundant from previous works. After discussing Mexico’s main seaports of Veracruz and Acapulco, Humboldt then goes into an extensive discussion of the country’s tropical diseases, mainly yellow fever and the “black vomit.” Then, based on detailed statistical research, Humboldt estimates the amount of specie (coinage) circulating in Mexico, and the total monetary value of the nation’s trade in imports and exports. These are topics that Humboldt already discussed at length in previous books. All monetary values are expressed in piastres, which I believe is the Spanish coin of the time (other nations have also had coins called piastres), so today’s reader can only get a general relative idea of the amounts being discussed.

The text of the book is interspersed with many tables, which are a convenient relief from Humboldt’s data-heavy paragraph prose. Roughly the second half of Volume 4 is devoted to notes pertaining to subjects discussed in Volumes 1 through 4. One wonders why such a volume would need notes, since the main text of the book is so minutely specific in its presentation of data that it reads like notes anyway. The answer is likely that these notes present data that Humboldt compiled after the first three volumes were already in the process of publication. Only the most specialized historians will find these notes useful. To the general reader they just seem like digressions and afterthoughts.

In total, The Political Essay on New Spain really is an impressive, monumental work. The book is a pioneering masterpiece of what geographers today would call area studies. It serves as a detailed time capsule of the state of Spanish America at the dawn of the nineteenth century. That said, Volume 4 is the least vital piece of that grand design. Even the most ardent admirers of Humboldt and the most avid scholars of Mexican history are likely to find the volume a disorganized and repetitive mess.
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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Cemetery World by Clifford D. Simak

Earth: interstellar humanity’s burial ground
Cemetery World
, a novel by Clifford D. Simak, was originally published as a serial in three issues of the magazine Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact from November 1972 to January 1973. In 2022, publisher Open Road Media released an ebook that includes both Cemetery World and another Simak novel from the ‘70s, Destiny Doll.

Thousands of years in the future, mankind has colonized many planets throughout the galaxy. The vast majority of people were neither born on Earth nor have they ever visited humanity’s home world. Fletcher Carson, a native of the planet Alden, arrives on Earth for his first visit. Fletch is an artist whose medium of choice is the compositor, a large robotic recording device that captures stimuli for all five of the human senses. Fletch hopes to create a work of art that encapsulates what Earth is really like, not just what’s shown in promotional brochures.

Such brochures are put out by Cemetery, now the largest corporation on Earth. Though few humans have set foot on the planet, Old Earth has become an object of fond nostalgia. Billions of people want to be buried there, which has resulted in an industry of mortuary services and funerary tourism that dominates the planet. The undeveloped areas of Earth, however, those untouched by Cemetery, are still very much like the wildernesses of today. It is this authentic Earth ambience that Fletch hopes to capture in his art with the help of his two assistant robots. Cemetery wants to control humanity’s perceptions of Earth, however, and when Fletch defies their attempts at artistic control he becomes a threat to him that they wish to extinguish.

Like many a Simak novel—A Heritage of Stars, Where the Evil Dwells, and The Fellowship of the Talisman come to mind—Cemetery World is a quest novel, involving not only the flight of fugitives but also a treasure hunt. Much of the plot, therefore, is occupied by traveling and by camping in particular, with various monsters, robots, and ruffians invading Fletch’s campsites. This gives Simak the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the woods, a place he clearly enjoys, as evidenced in many of his novels and stories. Simak may be science fiction’s most outdoorsy writer, the genre’s preeminent pastoralist. As his characters of the future reconnect with nature, Simak asserts the importance of nature and the value of rural life in today’s world.

The idea of Earth as a burial planet is an interesting idea, but Simak doesn’t really explore it thoroughly. Cemetery just becomes another evil corporate empire bent on persecuting the book’s heroes. The commodity they’re dealing in doesn’t really matter much to the story. Simak often populates his books with bizarre beings, and here some of them come across a bit too fanciful. This novel is high on imaginative occurrences but low on any sort of logical (even sci-fi logical) explanation for them.

Cemetery World is not a great book, but it’s not a bad one either. As far as Simak’s bibliography is concerned, this is a middle-of-the-road work amid an exceptional career. Simak fans won’t mind spending the time on it. Those unfamiliar with Simak’s work would be better off reading Way Station, City, Mastodonia, Time and Again, or any of the volumes in the Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak series.
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Monday, April 17, 2023

The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells

New money/old money romance with unrealistic realism
William Dean Howells (1837-1920) was once nicknamed “the Dean of American Letters,” but despite his esteemed reputation his novels don’t seem to be widely read these days. The Rise of Silas Lapham, published in 1885, is likely his best known work. It was originally published in serialized form in The Century Magazine. Howells is considered by many literary critics to be the father of American literary realism, and many of the writers he favored in that genre would go on to become more recognizable names than himself, among them Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Hamlin Garland. During his lifetime, romantically inclined writers would criticize Howells for his concentration on the more mundane details of life. For readers of today who enjoy realist and naturalist literature, however, The Rise of Silas Lapham really isn’t realistic enough, and feels a bit too tethered to the sentimental conventions of an earlier age.

Silas Lapham grew up on a farm in Vermont. His family lived a modest rural lifestyle until one day his father discovers a mother lode of ore on the family land. This ore is high in peroxide of iron, a key ingredient in the making of mineral paint. After his father’s death, Silas Lapham establishes a mine and develops a successful paint business that makes him a millionaire. Despite its emphasis in the novel’s title, the trajectory of this “Rise” is mostly summarized in the book’s first chapter.

As the novel opens, Lapham now runs his paint empire from an office in Boston, where he lives with his wife and two grown daughters. The Lapham family lives a comfortably upper-class life, but Lapham still very much has the manners and personality of a no-nonsense Vermont farm boy. He couldn’t care less about fitting in to Boston society until he considers the prospects of his daughters and their finding a suitable match. When Tom Corey, the son of a blue-blooded old-money family of Boston aristocrats, shows an interest in one of Lapham’s daughters and in his paint business, Lapham and his family take the leap into society, trying to live up to the snooty Coreys, who look down on the Laphams as if they were hopeless hillbillies.

The romance that ensues between young Mr. Corey and Miss Lapham reads like something out of an old Victorian novel. As in any romance, an obstacle must be put in the way of the lovers’ happiness, and the one that Howells employs here is a bit ridiculous, a mole hill that’s made into a mountain. Another plot thread concerns Lapham’s business. Earlier in his career, Lapham bought out his business partner in a way that Mrs. Lapham considers unethical, and she insists that her husband atone for it. This dilemma also seems overblown because the business decision that Mrs. Lapham finds so egregious really doesn’t seem that bad. Her meddling leads to financial trouble for the paint business and the family. Unfortunately, Howells does not write about business with the perspicacity of Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser. Whereas either of those realist writers would have outlined the problem in minute detail, making the reader fell involved, Howells settles for vague references to “troubles” and “ruin.”

The Rise of Silas Lapham feels pretty contrived and formulaic compared to the groundbreaking works of realism written by Norris, Crane, and other of Howells’s protégés. The one commendable aspect of this work is that Howells doesn’t settle for an easy conclusion that panders to a popular audience. In that sense, this novel is a move forward from much of earlier romantic fiction, but the story here is still too firmly rooted in Victorian conventions to feel authentic.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Nova by Samuel R. Delany

Interesting sci-fi bogged down in melodrama and metaphor
Samuel R. Delaney’s science fiction novel Nova was published in 1968 and nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel the following year. The story takes place in the 32nd century. Mankind has spread to other planets. Earth is the home world to an interstellar government known as the Draco Sector, consisting of hundreds of inhabited worlds, but pioneer settlers have ventured beyond even its boundaries to farther stars, establishing the Pleiades Federation and the Outer Colonies. The main characters in the book are the interstellar equivalents of sailors. To conduct their work, almost all humans are equipped with cybernetic ports in their bodies through which they plug into the starships, computers, mining equipment, or other machinery that they use to perform their manual and intellectual labors.

Although humanity has emigrated far and wide into the vast heavens, Earth cultures have remained remarkably preserved through the centuries, with many people speaking Greek, Turkish, and Portuguese in space. One of the main characters is a gypsy. This multiculturalism seems pretty farfetched, or at least wishful thinking. If anything, mankind will likely become more ethnically homogenous over the next thousand years. Delaney, however, seems to revel in the romance of likening future space travel to the ancient days of Mediterranean seafaring.

These travelers of the 32nd century all seem to be scholars or enthusiasts of some 20th century writer or painter. Artworks of our recent past maintain an unrealistic level of esteem in this distant future, mainly so that Delaney can indulge in cultural criticism of the present day. Another of the main characters is an aspiring novelist, which gives Delaney the mouthpiece through which to pontificate on his own philosophy of literature. Another holdover from an earlier time that appears repeatedly throughout the novel is the tarot deck. Delaney presents a clever twist by making the majority of this future society firm believers in the tarot, while the few who denounce card-reading as mere superstition are considered kooks. Unfortunately, the tarot cards don’t really serve much purpose in the narrative other than that Delaney really seems to find them interesting, so the inordinate amount of time spent on them just feels like a waste.

All of these idiosyncratic literary touches just distract from the science of this science fiction, which is really quite interesting. Delaney’s conception of mankind’s colonization of the galaxy has the potential to develop into another Dune- or Star Trek-sized mythology. The method he has envisioned for how man flies and navigates his spacecraft through interstellar space is quite inventive and plausible within the fictional universe he has created. As the title of the book indicates, the plot of Nova also has something to do with the life cycle of stars, and the speculative astrophysics with which Delaney peppers the story results in some fascinating theories.

To enjoy these interesting ideas, however, the reader must wade through a melodramatic space opera, complete with a tortured romance and a villain who resembles Darth Vader as a high school bully. I liked the story of where these characters were going and what they were trying to accomplish, but their inner dialogues just seemed to amount to a lot of unnecessary digressions intended to add depth and interest to the story. More often than not, such musings ended up feeling shallow rather than profound. Nova is not a bad novel by any means, but it is hardly a timeless classic of its genre. The reader is left feeling halfheartedly interested and only partially satisfied.

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Monday, April 10, 2023

Hard Boiled by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow, et al.

Dystopian perversion and gore rendered in loving detail
Hard Boiled
, a graphic novel written by Frank Miller and drawn by Geof Darrow, was first published by Dark Horse Comics as a three-issue series in 1990. It was published as a trade paperback in 1993 and as a hardcover edition in 2017. It is this latter edition that I read. I have read that the 2017 release featured new coloring by comics colorist Dave Stewart. Some readers complained that the new colors altered the original work, but this is the only version I’ve read, so I can’t compare it to the original. The whole time that I was reading the book, however, I couldn’t help thinking how much Stewart’s striking coloring enhanced and intensified the artwork.

When Hard Boiled was first published, Miller was already famous for his gritty work on Marvel’s Daredevil and his Dark Knight graphic novels for DC. Dark Horse comics was a relatively young company at the time, but had already established a reputation for publishing daring work. As was characteristic of much of Miller’s work from this era, Hard Boiled is ultraviolent. In fact, it’s likely one of the most violent and gory comics ever published, and that’s saying a lot. The story takes place in a dystopian future reminiscent of Blade Runner. The main character is either a tax collector or insurance investigator (he’s not really sure himself), who will stop at nothing to hunt down and punish those he feels have broken the law, often putting himself in the way of bodily harm in the process. Hard Boiled is 128 pages long, and much of that is without dialogue. This is not really one of Miller’s more original or complex narratives. It bears some similarities to the film Robocop 2, which Miller wrote.

The real revelation here is Darrow’s art, which was like nothing else seen in American comics. With Stewart’s coloring, which calls to mind the colors of a Moebius comic, Hard Boiled resembles the European comics one finds in Heavy Metal magazine. Darrow’s distinct talent is to render every panel in hyper detail. When a car explodes, you see every nut and bolt that springs from the carnage, and the destruction of human bodies is rendered with the same exhaustive intricacy. This attention to minute detail extends to the backgrounds, in which Darrow renders the urban America of the future as a filthy landscape of wrecked cars, corporate logos, and perverse sex acts. Imagine if Where’s Waldo were porn, and you kind of get the idea.

One would have to be a little sick to draw these images, but I guess one would also have to be a little sick to enjoy them, which I did. Though the subject matter is dark and gruesome, Darrow sneaks a wry sense of humor into each disgusting panel. This really is a visual masterwork. Shortly after Hard Boiled’s original publication, Miller went in exactly the opposite direction with his Sin City series. Though the violent, film noir style of storytelling is similar, the art of Sin City, drawn by Miller himself, is stark black and white with an intentional lack of detail and brutal absence of nuance. In my opinion, Sin City was the greater contribution to comics. The stories are more complex and inventive than Hard Boiled, and the lengthier narratives allow for more character development of an interesting ensemble cast. Nevertheless, Hard Boiled is certainly a unique and intense experience. I’m not sure “enjoy” would be the right word for something this perverse, but this graphic novel will appeal to most Miller fans.
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Monday, April 3, 2023

A Brief History of Jazz Rock by Mike Baron

Really just one guy talking about his record collection
Although A Brief History of Jazz Rock, published in 2014, discusses bands and albums in chronological order, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this book is not a history but rather just one guy writing his opinions about his favorite albums. There doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot of historical research done. Author Mike Baron, who states “I like to read about music,” and “I follow jazz and power pop,” pretty much just talks about whatever bands he likes.

Baron asserts that jazz rock is different from jazz fusion, and on that I do agree. He spells out three criteria for a band to qualify as jazz rock: 1) instrumental virtuosity, 2) improvisation, and 3) must have vocals. Without vocals, in Baron’s opinion, it’s not jazz rock; it’s just jazz. One could quibble with the details, but Baron’s definition is not bad. He doesn’t always stick to his own rules, however. There are a few bands discussed in the book that he states are not really jazz rock, but he devotes a chapter to them anyway, simply because he likes them. There is an entire chapter on Dexys Midnight Runners, for example, highlighting their album with “Come On, Eileen.”

A music critic should not just write about what he likes; sometimes he has to write about music he doesn’t like, especially in any book purporting to be a “History.” Baron’s preferences encompass a rather narrow range of jazz rock, in fact it could perhaps be called horn rock or brass rock: Chicago, Tower of Power, Sons of Champlin, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears are among his favorites. No problem there. When I think of jazz rock, however, the first group that comes to mind is Steely Dan. Baron only spends two pages on Steely Dan, and only quotes someone else’s opinion. Baron doesn’t have to like Steely Dan, but how can you write a history of the jazz rock genre without having listened to their albums? Santana also gets the short shrift, perhaps because they do too many instrumentals? What about Traffic, War, the Keef Hartley Band, Jeff Beck’s jazz years, Ginger Baker’s Air Force? Some are mentioned once, in reference to some other artist, but none are discussed.

Baron writes like he might be a music critic for an alternative weekly newspaper. He’s better at writing about music than the average person, but his writing comes across as not quite professional. His tone is a bit too casual, and he talks about himself too much: e.g. “I saw so-and-so in concert once, and they were great,” “This is what my friend thinks of such-and-such a band.” There is a two-page chapter entitled “How to Clap,” in which Baron, I kid you not, instructs the reader in how to applaud. This book has the feel of something self-published. That is, it reads as if it were self-edited, or rather, not edited at all. Baron really could have used a good editor to tell him, “That’s not relevant,” or, “Elaborate on that,” or how to cite a source.

What Baron clearly enjoys is describing songs, which gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his facility with adjectives and metaphors. He truly does have a way with words, but such descriptions are not really helpful to anyone who hasn’t heard these songs. What’s more valuable is the biographical or historical content on the bands and their careers, but the quantity of such information is far exceeded by the song reviews. I was already a fan of some of these bands before I read this book. When it came up as a Kindle Daily Deal, I bought it hoping to be introduced to some artists with which I was unfamiliar. I came away from reading this book with a list of six or eight bands to investigate, so in that sense I got my money’s worth, but I could have gotten the same from a Google search or a list on somebody’s blog.
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Friday, March 31, 2023

The Coal War by Upton Sinclair

Too many facts, not enough feeling
The Coal War
is Upton Sinclair’s sequel to his 1917 novel King Coal. The Coal War was also ready for publication in 1917, but Sinclair couldn’t find a publisher who wanted to print it. After his death, the manuscript was retrieved from his archives of papers, and the book was finally published in 1976. The Coal War is a historical novel based on the Colorado coal miner strikes of 1913 and 1914, including the Ludlow Massacre. Sinclair based many of the events in the book on the testimonies of miners and their families during the inquiry following the massacre. He changed the names of all the people and places, however, so not even the state of Colorado is mentioned.

In King Coal, Hal Warner, a college graduate and son of a millionaire, decides to work as a coal miner as a sort of sociological experiment. All his life he has lived off the sweat of his father’s laborers, and now he wishes to see how laborers live. Appalled by the miners’ working and living conditions, he soon becomes a labor organizer working to unionize the miners. Much class conflict ensues between the workers and the mine-owning oligarchs and their minions, which brings us to The Coal War. In this sequel, the miners go on strike. The mine managers bring in scab workers, which leads to violent altercations. The governor calls in the state militia to keep the peace, but the militia soon turns out to be essentially mercenaries working for the mine owners. Hal’s participation in the conflict escalates from encouraging the miners in their strike efforts to leading them into armed battle.

The main problem with The Coal War is the same fault that plagued its predecessor: the fact that Sinclair views the events through an upper-class protagonist, rather than through the eyes of the workers themselves, as he did so well in The Jungle. The Coal War is slightly more palatable than King Coal simply because Hal isn’t slumming it in the mines any more. Rather, he adopts the more realistic role of a well-intentioned reformer, which is more believable for his character. What’s not credible, however, is the stark good-vs.-evil contrast between the saintly strikers and their draconian antagonists. For example, the militia men are all rapists, while the miners wouldn’t even dream of premarital kissing. After reading enough Sinclair books, one gets the idea that the author was a pretty straight-laced fellow himself, which reflects upon the heroes of his books, who are hampered by a gentlemanly Victorian propriety long after the end of the Victorian era. Writers like Jack London or Emile Zola lent more realism to their labor novels by acknowledging that shades of gray existed on both sides of the class conflict.

Sinclair no doubt based the violent incidents and tyrannical cruelty depicted in this book on real-life persecution suffered by strikers in Colorado. The problem is he catalogs way too many instances, to the point where the book reads like a desensitizing laundry list of atrocities. Just a few of such incidents, imbued with some emotional power and pathos, would have been far more effective, as demonstrated by Zola’s Germinal or Frank Norris’s The Octopus. Sinclair also writes about the woes of the miners with an odd tone of flippancy and sarcastic humor, as if to say “Wouldn’t you know it? Isn’t that just like those oligarchs!” The effect is similar to listening to late-night talk show hosts make jokes about the Trump administration while Mexican babies are locked in jail or insurrectionists are storming the Capitol. To his credit, Sinclair does manage to deliver an education on American labor history in The Coal War, but it’s a rather misconceived and tone-deaf vehicle for imparting this history lesson.

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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Maigret and the Loner by Georges Simenon

A gripping mystery despite the déjà vu
Belgian author Georges Simenon published 103 mysteries in his Inspector Maigret series—75 novels and 28 short stories. The novel Maigret and the Loner, originally published as Maigret et l’homme tout seul, is the third-from-the-last escapade of the Parisian police superintendent. The novel was published in 1971, and the story takes place in 1965. Though this installment comes late in Simenon’s career, he certainly hadn’t lost any of his storytelling skills. Maigret and the Loner is a gripping mystery from start to finish. It does, however, bear some striking similarities to an earlier novel in the Maigret series.

A vagrant is found murdered in a condemned building, where he had apparently been squatting for quite some time. The room is littered with a collection of useless junk that the man has amassed like a pack rat. The victim appears to have been shot in his sleep. Maigret is mystified by the motive, and also by the dead man’s appearance. Though dressed in the rags of a beggar, his face, hair, and hands have the appearance of a healthy elderly gentleman. This incongruity piques Maigret’s curiosity. Before he can catch the killer, Maigret must first establish the identity of the victim and determine what possible reason anyone could have for murdering this penniless loner.

Prior to reading Maigret and the Loner, the last Maigret novel I read was Maigret and the Bum (Maigret et le clochard, published in 1963). In both novels, Maigret investigates the murder of a homeless man. In both cases, the victim in question was neither born poor nor forced by destitution into vagrancy. Rather, both murdered tramps were successful middle-class men who left their wives and children and voluntarily chose homelessness as a lifestyle. Whether the Bum or the Loner, over the course of hunting down the killer Maigret must uncover the reason why decades earlier these men made this unusual life choice. This makes for a compelling story in both books. It still seems odd, however, that Simenon wrote two Maigret novels with this same premise. Of course, if you only read one, it’s not an issue. Having read both, I consider them both very good Maigret mysteries.

There is one plot element in Maigret and the Loner that bothered me as unrealistic. Maigret receives a tip from an anonymous caller that proves to be the clue that cracks the case. That in itself is not unusual; Maigret points out that police detectives often receive anonymous phone tips when conducting investigations. Upon receiving the call, however, Maigret quickly makes a pretty big leap in deduction to nailing down a suspect. It’s more like a leap of faith, actually, or a demonstration of extra sensory perception. That felt unrealistic compared to the rest of the novel and compared to Simenon’s work in general. On the other hand, the reader never does discover who made the anonymous call, which rings true to real life but seems oddly incomplete for a mystery story.

In the Maigret series, Simenon excels at writing police procedurals populated by characters of great psychological depth. Even an average Maigret mystery is better than most books by other authors in the genre, and Maigret and the Loner is a far better than average Maigret book. Despite a few reservations stated above, I was hooked from the first page and riveted until the very end.
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Monday, March 27, 2023

The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by Martin H. Greenberg

Hit-and-miss mix of old and new sci-fi
Published in 2010, The End of the World is an anthology volume of science fiction short stories, all of which present variations on the subject of the apocalypse, armageddon, the extinction of humanity, or the ultimate destruction of the Earth. The oldest of these stories is from 1944, the newest from 2007, but most were originally published from the ‘50s to the ‘70s. All of the selections were previously published in magazines or earlier anthologies. The book was edited by Martin H. Greenberg, a professional anthologist, and Grand Master of Science Fiction Robert Silverberg provides a brief introduction to the volume.

The nineteen stories in the book are divided into thematic sections, such as Bang or Whimper (the actual event of destruction), The Last Man (lone survivors), Life After the End (postapocalyptic societies), Dark, Distant Futures (dystopian horrors), and Witnesses to the End of the World (time travel to the apocalypse). A few of these stories make you wonder what they’re doing in an apocalyptic volume, like Lucius Shepard’s “Salvador,” which is just a war story with some sci-fi touches in which the world does not end. A lot of the authors here, particularly the more recent writers, aim for originality and cleverness or take a comical approach to the subject. What’s missing from most of this collection is some of that earnest horror and dread that earlier sci-fi writers instilled into their apocalyptic visions. The end of the world should be epic, but too often the selections here concentrate on small, quirky stories amid the general devastation. Silverberg discusses the history of apocalyptic fiction in his introduction, referencing such works as Camille Flammarion’s Omega, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, Jules Verne’s The Eternal Adam, M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud, and Garrett P. Serviss’s The Second Deluge. Reading some of the less impressive stories in this volume makes one long for those grandiose catastrophic speculations from a bygone era.

That’s not to say there isn’t some good or even great fiction in this volume. Every anthology is a grab bag with its own bad apples and gems. Among the latter category are Rick Hautala’s “The Hum,” which is quite chilling, though the ending ventures a little too far into fantasy. Norman Spinrad’s “The Big Flash” is a gripping tale of a heavy metal band leading mankind in mass hysteria towards armageddon. Lester del Rey’s “Kindness” is a poignant glimpse into man’s evolutionary future. George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame delivers a very suspenseful and crafty tale, “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels,” told from the point of view of a postapocalyptic mutant. Arthur C. Clarke’s “If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth . . .,” a story of a boy living in a domed-in colony on an uninhabitable world, deals one of the book’s better surprise endings.

Editor Greenberg saves the two best stories for last. Silverberg’s selection, “When We Went to See the End of the World” is a wryly humorous tale of several shallow couples at a party bragging about their time-travel vacations to witness the end of life on Earth. Poul Anderson, another reliable veteran, contributes “Flight to Forever,” a good ol’ sci-fi adventure yarn about two scientists lost in time, complete with a space opera and a corny romance, but nonetheless containing some serious and thoughtful ideas on mankind’s dismal future.

I’ve mostly concentrated on the positives here. The good entries are worth a read, but there’s plenty of mediocre fare here as well. I bought a copy from a Kindle Daily Deal, so I felt like I got my money’s worth, but a few of the stories really didn’t feel like they were worth my time.

Stories in this collection

“The Hum” by Rick Hautala
“Salvador” by Lucius Shepard
“We Can Get Them for You Wholesale” by Neil Gaiman
“The Big Flash” by Norman Spinrad
“Kindness” by Lester del Rey
“The Underweller” by William F. Nolan
“Lucifer” by Roger Zelazny
“To the Storming Gulf” by Gregory Benford
“The Feast of Saint Janis” by Michael Swanwick
“The Wheel” by John Wyndham
“Jody After the War” by Edward Bryant
“Salvage” by Orson Scott Card
“By Fools Like Me” by Nancy Kress
“The Store of the Worlds” by Robert Sheckley
“Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels” by George R. R. Martin
“If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth . . .” by Arthur C. Clarke
“Afterward” by John Helfers
“When We Went to See the End of the World” by Robert Silverberg
“Flight to Forever” by Poul Anderson

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