Ellison’s anger and angst and pomposity was fun, or at least identifiable for the teen me. And over the past few years I’ve purchased his entire catalog of available works in digital format so that I can read them again. This is perhaps an unusual place to start, this collection of essays since it was his fiction that first attracted me, but in many ways it was my reading The Glass Teat that first got me interested in reviewing. Long before I started this book review blog (which I’ve been doing for eight years now!) I’ve been a reviewer of art shows for a local paper, a reviewer of books for West Coast Review of Books magazine, and a reviewer of live theatre for a Los Angeles newspaper, and I can pretty much trace it back to my having read this book.
The Glass Teat is a collection of essays and reviews from Ellison’s column of the same name in a Los Angeles newspaper where he reviewed and mostly disparaged the current slate of television shows (current from the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s mind you).
A few things struck me on this reading.
1) This doesn’t stand the test of time too well. The programs he talks about are now fifty years old. Do we really care that in 1968 Ellison thought that:
The two shows that really tell us where it’s at are The Outcasts and Mod Squad. These are the shows that dare to take the enormous risk of utilizing black folk as heroes. These are the shows that win the title hands-down for this being The Year Of The Shuck.
Not only are the shows out of date, but the idioms Ellison uses so frequently are also out of date. Ellison wrote to the people, here and now, of his time. He spoke to them as if he were one of them (he’d take issue with my “as if”) but 50 years later, we are not one of ‘them’ (even if we were back then).
2) I was a little surprised at how often Ellison’s supposed television review column devolved into rants. Rants about the television industry were probably in line with the topic of the column. Rants about how he was treated by other industry insiders was marginally in line with the column theme. Rants about politics, “the Man,” and ‘square’ school administrators who don’t approve of his language and aggression when visiting high schools seemed a bit outside the parameters of a television review column. But it’s Harlan Ellison. He pretty much did whatever he wanted and if he got shut down for not playing by the rules, it would just give him something more to rant about.
3) And my last impression here was noticing just how egotistical Ellison was. It’s certainly no secret he thought highly of himself, but it really comes through in these essays where he is wronged and maligned by others who don’t recognize him when he’s right. It’s kind of made me wonder about my younger self – the one who really ‘dug’ this guy.
Despite my above comments, I generally enjoyed reading this – mostly from a nostalgic point of view. But I really look forward to re-reading Ellison’s fiction.
Looking for a good book? The Glass Teat is a collection of mostly television reviews and essays by Harlan Ellison. Those who remember television in the 60’s and 70’s may find it fun to look back on what one cantankerous writer thought of television programs of the day.
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The Glass Teat
author: Harlan Ellison
publisher: Open Road Media
Kindle Edition, 279 pages
I have an undergraduate degree in theatre and am familiar with the works of Eugene O’Neill, having read or seen (or both) most of his body of works. I was only passingly familiar with O’Neill the man, the writer, from brief bios in college text books.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
The great quake of 1868 split California into scores of labyrinthine caverns, mostly flooded with ocean water. But the quake also revealed a new substance known as “ghost rock” which creative individuals have discovered can be useful for making some inventive weapons, among other things. Ghost rock provides the source for many steampunk-like inventions.
Right out of a classic 1950’s western, our hero is a gun-for-hire, haunted by his past (quite literally in this dark fantasy), who wanders into a town that desperately needs a hero-for-hire to rescue them from a mad scientist who’s creating an army of undead. Assisting our hero is a British-educated American Sioux because … well, why not? It takes place in the old west so some Indigenous Peoples representation needs to happen.
This was my second attempt to read the book. It is a long, drawn-out work that doesn’t even come close to living up to the expectations, given that it’s based on an RPG game and mashes westerns with fantasy and the supernatural. This should be a slam-dunk winner for a reader like myself who loves all these genres.
First, I should admit that I am not at all familiar with the role playing game game on which this novel is based. If that’s key to enjoying this book, then I shouldn’t have bothered trying. But I don’t see anything on the cover that warns me of this. And even if this warned in bold letters that this was based on an RPG, I’d still probably have wanted to read it, based on the themes and the fact that I’ve enjoyed some RPGs.
No, the problem here is that author Jonathan Maberry goes on and on describing every little aspect in great detail. It is exhausting reading through this, and not because of the high energy action but because this fractured fantasy world is full of varied pieces with no unify story. Okay… that’s not entirely true, but the unification is so remote and so far off in this massive book (475 pages that reads like 900) that it could just as well be non-existent.
I’ve liked Maberry’s work that I’ve read in the past. In fact it was his name as well as the western/fantasy/zombie story that had me interested. But by the end I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Maberry’s worked so long in the comic/graphic novel world that he’s forgotten how to write novel-length prose. I don’t know what his comic scripts look like, but I can imagine him going on at length to describe a scene, which gets interpreted into 4-6 panels of art so we don’t read all the description. But here there’s no artist to interpret and condense.
I wish I could have liked this because I put in a great deal of time and effort reading it, but ultimately this just doesn’t work.
Looking for a good book? You need to be really committed to wanting to read this book, and perhaps already familiar with the role playing game, to enjoy Jonathan Maberry’s Deadlands: Ghostwalkers.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Jonathan Maberry
series: Deadlands #1
publisher: Tor Books
paperback, 476 pages
I’ve been working in the arts for four decades and I’ve seen a lot of changes in how arts organizations approach the business of presenting arts programming. Treating the arts as a business is probably the biggest change I’ve seen. This might seem like an obvious direction, but I’ve known very few artists who are wise with a business sense, and fewer still who enjoy the business side of the arts.
Most arts business books I’ve come across have been about “producing” – gathering teams and resources in order to present your chosen art form. But to truly look at the business side of an arts organization one needs to understand the organizations strategic plan. What’s a strategic plan you ask? Well author Michael M. Kaiser has some answers for you in this book.
Kaiser takes the reader through, step by step, with all the essential processes to creating an arts business. One of the key ingredients is having and understanding the strategic plan. And yet this is surprisingly not as easy as it might sound.
The information presented here comes from actual instances of strategic planning and not simply ideal-but-unrealistic proposals. And while none of us reading the book are actually planning on running The Kennedy Center or The Metropolitan Opera, it is most beneficial if we were to proceed as though we were. Even the small town community theatre or symphony orchestra should be treated as professionally as possible and that starts on the business end, with a solid strategic plan.
Looking for a good book? Michael M. Kaiser’s Strategic Planning in the Arts is a must-read for anyone working in an arts organization and wants to see it step up to the next level.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Strategic Planning in the Arts: A Practical Guide
author: Michael M. Kaiser
publisher: Brandeis University Press
hardcover, 200 pages
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Barnum: An American Life
author: Robert Wilson
publisher: Simon & Schuster
hardcover, 352 pages
I was interested in this book based on this description:
Never be lost for words again…with this book of lost words. Have you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki, or to hammer home your point like a Thundergod? Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic videogames. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses, and pithy retorts to Ragnarök. Old Norse for Modern Times gives you the perfect phrase for every contemporary situation […] With over 500 phrases inside (plus the chance to add your own!) it is the perfect guide for Vikings fans, whether they are re-enactors, role-players, or simply in love with Ragnar.
What this doesn’t say is that this is a humor book and not an actual, useful language guide. (Okay … so I’m not sure how useful a language guide of an ancient language would be, but I think the description offers some suggestions.)
The book is filled with pre-defined phrases and since you’re not likely to go on a trip and need to communicate with some old Norse, the given phrases are geared more for fun with friends, such as:
I don’t believe in astrology. I am a Sagittarius, and we are skeptical. (Eigi trúa ek stjǫrnufrǿði þeiri, ek em bogmaðr ok vér erom engi auðtrúa flón.)
This looks like a job for Superman. (Mun verk þetta hæfa Ofrmenninu.)
Only dead fish follow the stream. (Aðeins dauðir fiskar fylgja árstraumi.)
You are the dancing queen. (Þér eruð dansdróttningin.)
Not sure how to read or pronounce this? There’s a brief (not quite two page) Introduction which includes a simple pronunciation guide for three of the unique letter (Eth (uppercase: Ð, lowercase: ð); Thorn or þorn (Þ, þ);Æ (æ)).
I followed a link in my digital copy of the book and discovered that there’s a series of book by author Ian Stuart Sharpe (Ión Stívarður Skarpi) set in the ‘Vikingverse’ and clearly this is to serve as a sort of addendum to the other works (books and comic books) in the series. (Actually, some of those other works look more interesting to me.)
This is fine as a novelty or humor book, but it’s not particularly practical and you have to really want to say some of these phrases in your D&D or other RPG games to want to add this to your collection.
Svo segi ég, bókagagnrýnandi.
Looking for a good book? Old Norse for Modern Times by Ian Stuart Sharpe is a fun book but has some pretty limited uses.
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Old Norse for Modern Times
author: Ian Stuart Sharpe
publisher: Outland Entertainment
hardcover, 102 pages
Let’s be honest. If you are thinking of buying this book, it’s because you are already a big Star Trek fan (or at least a Picard/Next Gen fan). You are probably interested in buying it because you are a Trek/Picard fan, or you’re thinking of it as a gift for a Trek fan. In any case, a review is not likely to sway you one way or the other.
This book is filled with quotes, spoken by Captain Jean-Luc Picard in any of his television or film appearances. Well … not filled with quotes exactly. More like – there is a smattering of quotes within. Sometimes there may be two quotes on a page. But that almost makes up for the pages of photos rather than quotes.
At best this is a coffee-table type of book. It’s something you leave out so that guests know you’re a Star Trek fan and that they can thumb through while you’re getting drinks or chips.
At less than best, it’s a bathroom reader. Something that you won’t get too involved in and that you can put away easily. The only problem with this as a bathroom reader is that it won’t tide you over very long because there’s not much to this book.
I love quotes – pearls of wisdom in a simple statement or sentence. I collect quotes (I’ve shared a few through my blog) and I have picked up more than a few books of quotes and honestly, I was hoping for something here that was either essay-like, taking a look at the Wisdom of Picard, or, if going with the quote idea, a heftier collection categorized by type.
To be fair, editor Chip Carter does give us five ‘chapters’ with specific themes to the included quotes. We have Philosophy and Humanity; History and Science; Literature and the Arts; Exploration and Adventure; and Politics, Leadership, and Diplomacy. The chapters have between 26 and 35 quotes each, and a small handful of photos.
Aside from the sparseness of the book, I was a bit disappointed that while Carter gives credit to the episode in which the quote was delivered (and the season and episode number of the show, he doesn’t give any credit to the writers … the people who put that wisdom into Picard’s mouth! (I know I could look it up pretty easily, but in that case I could just watch the episodes and not bother picking up this book, too.
To say I was disappointed would be putting in gently. This feels like just another attempt to make a buck off of Star Trek fans who will often buy things just because it says “Star Trek” or “Picard” on it. I’d rather save my money for a replica phaser.
Looking for a good book? The Wisdom of Picard, edited by Chip Carter, is a wise way to relieve some Trek fans of their money.
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The Wisdom of Picard: An Official Star Trek Collection
editor: Chip Carter
publisher: Adams Media
hardcover, 208 pages
If you have been following my blog for any length of time, by now you must know that I enjoy superheroes and superhero fiction. Finding books, as opposed to graphic novels (essentially book-length comics) was, at one time, relatively rare, though there’s been a bit of a boon in such titles.
I read the follow-up to this book (II, Crimsonstreak) awhile back and I wasn’t really enamored with it, but when I found this book at the back of a long queue of books to review, I thought perhaps the first book in the series might explain some things that I was missing in the second book.
The story (sort of): Chris Fairborne (the superhero known as The Crimsonstreak) is the son of superhero(ine) Miss Lightspeed and supervillain-turned-good Colonel Chaos. His mother is killed, his father takes over the world, and he, Chris Fairborne, is framed by his father, sent to a prison for criminally insane supervillains, where he plots, for three years, to make his escape. Meanwhile he watches newsfeeds of Crimsonstreak standing next to Colonel Chaos. Hmmm, how can that be?
There’s potentially a lot going on here, but for a story about someone with super speed, the book reads tremendously slow. Action is not the name of the game in this superhero tale, instead, reflection and planning, mulling and musing take up most of the pages which made this quite dull for me (sorry … I want to see my superheroes in action, or nursing wounds from a recent action).
There’s also a real sense of magic-wand-ness here. The authors waves his hand and something is cleared up or another character changes his ways or something on the verge of happening is no longer a threat. The author as deus ex machina is not something I want in my popular fiction.
As with the next book in the series, the book is loaded with extras. ‘newspaper stories,’ journal entries, and superhero biographies. I may have enjoyed these more than the story itself.
Perhaps this is just a case of Matt Adams the author and me, the reader, not being a good fit for one another. It happens. But as the reader/reviewer, I can’t recommend this book.
Looking for a good book? I, Crimsonstreak by Matt Adams is a lethargic superhero story that will not leave you wanting for more.
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author: Matt Adams
series: The Crimsonverse #1
publisher: Candlemark & Gleam
paperback, 351 pages
STAR TREK WEEK
If you are considering buying this book, then you likely already have a pretty good idea of who George Takei is. Most will know him from his being a regular on the original Star Trek television series (and movies). Younger audiences will know him for his social media presence.
In this biography/memoir, Takei talks about his early family life, which includes time spent in internment camps in Arkansas and California during WWII when George was quite young. Once out of the camps, the family returned to Los Angeles and lived in a “the largest Mexican American barrio in the United States.” In his early life after the camps, we get to know a little more about George Takei the student (high school and college) where we learn that Takei is motivated and competitive.
Takei is fortunate to get some early, professional acting, while in college, which put him in contact with some big names in American film. And then he went in for an audition/interview for a regular role on a potential new television series called Star Trek, where the producer was unlike what Takei had seen in other Hollywood types. He had good feelings about the man and the show even back in this very early stage.
Takei writes about the camaraderie among the cast members … with one exception. Star William Shatner appears to have been more focused on building his own stardom than on working with anyone else. The two most telling moments from this book are an early days moment when Takei brought some family to the studio for a tour of the set and when Shatner walked into the studio, Nichelle Nichols calmly steered the family in another direction so that there would be no interaction between Shatner and the guests. And when filming was completed for the first Star Trek movie that Leonard Nimoy directed, the cast all pitched in to throw a big celebration party for Nimoy. All except Shatner who claimed he was going to do something else for Leonard, but when crew members thanked Shatner for the party, he gladly accepted those thanks.
While Takei makes it clear what he thinks/thought about his ego-obsessed co-star, he is definitely politic in the way he describes it. Which makes some sense because after his Star Trek work, Takei delved into politics. The final chapters of the book follow Takei’s work in politics, the Star Trek movies, and just a little bit about Star Trek: The Next Generation, and ending with reflections on Gene Roddenberry’s death.
For those of us who are admittedly Star Trek fans – Trekkers (or Trekkies, depending on which generation you are from) – most of what Takei writes about his Trek days has long been circulating among the fans. Mention something at a Star Trek convention and people all over the world will start repeating it as gospel. It was nice to read it directly from the source.
For me, I liked some of the non-Trek reflections. His sense of family and the lessons he learned from his father are really touching and I think more important. It is so like a father to ‘encourage’ a child to take some earnings and invest it so that there is something for the lean times. I never knew about this side of Takei (the early investor in real estate).
The book only goes up to the early 90’s, so there’s 30 more years worth of material that Takei could easily (?) do a follow-up biography. I was a little disappointed not to get anything more directly personal (specifically what it might have been like to work in Hollywood as a gay man), but since he didn’t ‘come out’ until the early 2000’s, perhaps that will be part of the (my wishful thinking) autobiography, volume two.
Looking for a good book? To the Stars, by George Takei, is an autobiography of one of Star Trek‘s stalwart crew members whose early life in an interment camp during WWII and his political activism are as worthy of reading about as is his time as the Enterprise‘s helmsman.
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To the Stars
author: George Takei
publisher: Pocket Books
paperback, 416 pages
*** WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD***
Reading the old, Gold Key Star Trek comics, and then the John Byrne manipulated photo comics got me interested in seeing what the new Trek comics looked like. As I’ve been impressed with Amazon’s comic-reading app on my phone, I decided to buy this first issue of “Year Five”.
The book starts off quite ominously with Captain James T. Kirk sitting in his command chair on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, in deep shadow and with no other crew members around, and he’s narrating his Captain’s Log which suggests that this is the final log entry to go with the final, deadly mission of the ship. A figure approaches, with a weapon to Kirk’s head, asking if Kirk is ‘ready.’
We then fall into a flashback in which the Enterprise receives a distress call from Tholians and a landing party goes to render assistance.
And, after a little bit of action, we are ‘to be continued…’.
This very brief beginning of a story is a little frustrating and is one of the reasons that waiting for a graphic novel to put the entire story together in one book is worth the wait.
I found the story interesting, and I’d like to read the rest of it, though the doom of the opening pages is not as ominous as it intends to be if we are to believe this is part of actual Star Trek universe since we know Kirk and crew survive long enough to make a few movies.
The artwork is quite good (though I would have to admit to a bias for the Star Trek art by Gordon Purcell in the 1980-90’s) with coloring that is bold and striking (just look at that cover!).
Looking for a good book? Star Trek: Year Five #1 is well scripted and very nicely drawn comic, but it might be better to just wait for the complete story in a graphic novel format.
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Star Trek: Year Five #1
authors: Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly
artists: Stephen Thompson, Charlie Kirchoff (colors)
Kindle Edition, 33 pages
I started listening to Tori Amos with the release of her album Little Earthquakes. I have purchased or listened to all of her works since then. I wouldn’t say that I’m a dedicated fan – I know (knew) nothing about Amos other than what I interpret in her songs. Her music, her songs, to me, show incredible artistry and intelligence (which is something I think is often lacking in modern music). When I saw that Tori Amos had a book coming out, a memoir, I was quick to get a copy, hopeful that Amos would be as articulate with her book as she is with her songs.
I have certainly noted a political charge in many of Tori’s songs, but reading through this memoir and learning abut her ‘start’ – her early days in a piano bar in Washington, D.C. – I have a new appreciation of Tori’s understanding and her observing of the political landscape. Much of the first portions of the book discuss these early days and as we get to know Tori through her recollection, we come to understand how aware she is of the machinations of politics. How does a young, artistic woman survive in this sort of setting? This is really fascinating and eye=opening.
But I think what I enjoyed even more in this book, is her discussion of art, artists, and surviving the creative process. Amos knows what it’s like to sacrifice the art at the bidding of others. She also know that creating art is not inspiration, but lots of hard work (an awful lot of artists do not yet understand this concept). She mentions that she can probably name all of her songs that ‘just came to her’ on one hand.
And she talks about the jealousy of other artists – the jealousy we might have for a peer who has already ‘found her voice’ or his style, while we continue to struggle. Reading her thoughts on this is meaningful because we see that she understands – that she comes at this with first-hand experience.
I do think that you need to have an appreciation of Tori Amos the singer-songwriter to appreciate this book to its fullest, but the publisher refers to this book as having “compassionate guidance and actionable advice” which is very true and applicable to anyone, whether they are already familiar with Tori Amos or not.
Looking for a good book? Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos is a motivational memoir sure to offer encouragement to young artists of all mediums.
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Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage
author: Tori Amos
publisher: Atria Books
hardcover, 272 pages