Monday, September 26, 2011

Baltimore Book Festival

Yesterday my wife Lauren and I spent the afternoon at the Baltimore Book Festival. We were there largely for Lauren, because she had the first official signing for her new book Wicked Baltimore. Here she is signing it for one of her new fans:

If you have any interest in Baltimore/Maryland history, or you just like reading about the dark corners you don't normally get in history books, it's a fun read covering everything from Poe to political riots to grave robbing. Check out her own site for more info.

I did a lot of wandering around while Lauren was signing and selling copies. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association had a small tent there that featured readings and sold books by some local members as well as some fun games. The Maryland Writer's Association also had a nice little tent, which featured among other things a nice announcement from the Baltimore Review. They're re-launching their literary journal but as an online-only product.  They seem to hope it will allow them to publish a greater number of authors and highlight them in different ways. I wish them luck with the venture and may even send them something soon. 

I also spent a lot of time at the Radical Books Pavilion. Sponsored by Red Emma's, a Baltimore Bookstore and coffee shop that focuses on "radical politics", I was intrigued even if a lot of the material and other people there made me feel like a crazy right winger. I took in a really interesting talk by Dean Spade, a lawyer and law professor from Seattle who is a big spokesperson and advocate for gender, sexual and transgender politics. I have to admit I came not being at all familiar with Spade, but he's a definite rock star in his world. He spoke largely about the ineffectiveness of focusing on legal aspects like forcing the adoption of hate crime legislation and suggested that more locally-based pressures are required to create real change. It's not a world I know a lot about but I found it pretty eye-opening and couldn't help but wonder what, if anything, I can do in my position as a librarian in a moderate/liberal but fairly comfortable part of the country.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Rant: Mark Millar's Trouble

There was a lot of hand-wringing and anger when Mark Millar's Trouble first came out a few years ago....some of it justified, mostly not. People were angry because: 

1. The covers featured photos, not the usual drawings, of girls that look like teen girls acting sexy. Although I understand the criticism the photos are less racy than any fashion magazine and, really, than the art in a lot of superhero comics. Plus I think they were going for the whole Gossip Girl crowd.


2. The story features teenagers in the early 1960's having (gasp!) sex! Sure, you can call this a bit exploitative but let's face. Teens have sex. Or at least a lot of them do. Plus if you bother to read to the ending you'll see their sexual activities end up having real consequences (pregnancy, hurt feelings, loss of opportunities in life) that they are left to deal with for the rest of their lives. 

3. I think the real reason comics fans reacted so strongly to this is because Millar made this a complicated love mixup romance between May, her friend Mary, Ben and his brother Richard. If those names are familiar to you it's because they are the same names as Peter Parker's (you know, Spider-man) parents and Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Essentially, May cheats on her boyfriend Ben and gets pregnant by Richard, who is Mary's girlfriend. For reasons not worth getting into here friend Mary decides to lie for May and take the child for her own. So not only does it portray Peter Parker's nice old aunt as being a tramp in her teenage years, it also sets her up as his real mother, which all pretty much smacks comic lore right in face. And there's no way to get the ire of the comic book world faster than to write a story that even suggests something different than the known canon of superhero lore. Honestly, I thought it was kind of funny. 

Don't get me wrong. This is not a great graphic novel/comic book series. It's an entertaining older teen romance story  and it reminds me of a lot of the half-baked romance/comedies I grew up with in the 80's like The Flamingo Kid, but it's nowhere near bad. If you want to hate a series, fanboys, get over yourselves and at least hate it for the right reasons.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Moorcock's Eternal Champions

During the onslaught of Hurricane Irene a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I did what a lot of people probably did. We huddled up together in our powerless house, turned on some flashlights and read a lot. Although I ploughed through a bunch of graphic novels I had sitting around, I also pulled the first volume of Michael Moorcock's Elric series, Elric of Melniboné out of my stuffed bookcase.

If you aren't familiar with Elric, the character is essentially Moorcock's response to the extreme popularity and reverence the world had at the time for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga. Elric is the last emperor of a stagnate civilzation known as Melnibone. Elric the Albino, as he is often called, is physically weak and supplements his health with a regimen of drugs and herbs. Unlike the rest of his people Elric holds a tiny sliver of regret for the decadence his empire enjoys and sees it as a sign of the end of their generations-long rule. This makes him unpopular and a target by his family members who seek to end his life and steal his political power for themselves. To survive, Elric sets out on a quest for the magic sword Stormbringer, a powerful magic weapon that lives off the souls of any it strikes down.

The Elric books were first recomended to me back in high school. A friend at the time loaned me the first one; I remember taking it home, starting it after dinner and reading it straight through until 5 AM the next morning. Even by today's standards Elric is such a different hero, for lack of a better term. He does reprehensible, horrible things, but he also continually questions what he does, why he does it and why the world is as it is. That existential twist sparked something in me, so I went on to devour the entire series.

A few years later, probably half-way through college, I read something somewhere that cited Elric as Moorcock's first piece in his complex Eternal Champions cycle....something only vaguley hinted at in the Elric books. As I understand it, which is not very well at all, the Eternal Champion is a kind of reincarnation of a poweful, pivotally important being. Sometimes they serve good. Sometimes evil. And sometimes something in-between. This concept runs through a lot, although not all, of Moorcock's fiction, showing up in fantasy, science fiction, psychelic spy satires, and more.

Unfortunately most of the dozens of books that fit into the cycle are out of print, so I've picked them up randomly over the years when I find them in used book stores. Which has made understanding the whole over-arching concept of the eternal champion a bit difficult. Re-reading Elric of Melniboné made me want to figure out the whole thing out so I visited Moorcock's own website to figure out a place to start. There, in the forums, is a listing of all the Eternal Champion's titles and the suggested order of reading.

Oddly enough, the most suggested starting place is not the Elric books but another series called Von Bek. Set much later in time, and written a decade later, it seems an odd place to dive in. But it was suggested by both readers and Moorcock himself as a place to get a real foothold in the crazy multiverse he's created. I have an old copy of the first volume, The War Hound and the World's Pain, sitting on my shelf right now. There are so many books that tie into Moorcock's Multiverse and the Eternal Champion that I'm probably setting myself up for failure. But we'll see if I can figure this thing out.


Friday, September 02, 2011

Judging by the Cover: The Windhover Tapes

I have a rather odd love of old book cover art, particularly sci-fi and fantasy book cover art  because it has such a tendency to go completely crazy. I'll often pick up old books in the booksale at my library solely because of a crazy or really bad cover. This week I picked up a 1983 novel by Warren Norwood entitled The Windhover Tapes: Flexing the Warp.


The story itself doesn't sound too bad. Part of a series, this particular one seems to focus on "diplomatic troubleshooter" Gerard Manley as he tries to uncover an ancient legend. Plus it answers the question everyone's had on their minds since the dawn of time: how do we make a buxom space maiden even more inappropriately sexy? You give her a third breast.