Book Reviews

Peter The Great His Life and World by Robert K. Massie *****

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It is a dense read, slightly longer than King’s novel The Stand (and it took me most of the summer to get through) but I must say I was not bored or distracted reading this excellent and engaging biography.

Peter Romanov was Tsar of Russia (later upgraded to Emperor of All The Russias) from 1682-1725. It was equally a biography and a European history lesson for me.

The age of Louis XIV is in it’s twilight as the book begins and Russia is a not well-regarded backwater kingdom (or tsardom). Moscow or Moskovĭ was “Russia” at that time. Most Europeans referred to Russians as “Muscovites.” Massie starts off his book by describing the Muscovite/Russian character. They are not a conquering or aggressive people but rather a nation of defenders. Russia has been invaded constantly since the beginning from all directions. The fact that they are still a unified country after so many invasions, hardships, and wars proves one thing: Russians are tough motherfuckers.

Peter’s father, the Tsar Alexis, was not a bad tsar but he preferred to stay cloistered in the Kremlin and barely ever left it’s walls. But many of his policies, such as toleration of foreigners, set up the legendary reign and accomplishments of his famous son. When Peter was a child, the Streltsy, elite infantry troops with political power (think of the Nazi SS) rebelled and stormed the Kremlin. They did not like that Peter (who came from his father’s second marriage) was going to be the next tsar over his physically frail but older brother from his father’s first marriage. Peter witnessed them slaughter some of his beloved family members and he never forgot or forgave them. They would later pay for this uprising when his brother died and he became the sole autocrat… oh yes, they would pay dearly and gruesomely.

Peter could be both cruel and kind, which makes reading about his life quite interesting. Sometimes he would resemble his ancestor Ivan the Terrible, while other times he could be kind and just. He did altogether seem to be a rather logical king and his reasons for action or inaction were usually justified. But if anyone dared betray him, there would be no mercy. For example, he had is own unfortunate son and heir tortured to death. Because of this the title of Empress would go to his wife Catherine (who came from nothing) after his death.

The title “The Great” clearly implied that Peter did some things in his life. Some of them are:

– Built the first Russian Navy, literally from a single rotting boat.
– Founded the city of St. Petersburg, giving Russia it’s first warm water port and a new capital.
– Defeated Charles XII and Sweden in The Great Northern War.
– Lead a “Grand Embassy” to all of the major cities of Europe introducing Russians to Europe and Europeans to Russia.
– Reformed the Russian educational system and calender.
– Founded Russia’s first state newspaper.
– Created the flag of Russia (still used today).
– Organized the first standing army.
– Completely reorganized the government bureaucracy, removing automatic posts by blood and instead promoted people on merit. Many of his closest lieutenants and even his wife were originally common folk.
– Instituted tax reform to pay for his many projects and wars.

While he is regarded highly in Russia today he was not very popular with the people in his lifetime. His tax burden was so heavy than many peasants and nobles fled into Russia’s vast forests and frontiers never to be seen again. However, unlike our recent American administrations which are burdening future generations with outrageous debt, he paid for St. Petersburg and his many wars in full. He never had to borrow money from a foreign country or pay for any of it on credit. So the people of Peter’s time could take some pride in the fact that without them Russia would still be a backwater.

That is what is he is best known for, catapulting a medieval “oriental” country into a modern European one. Russia as a world power can be traced directly back to Peter’s reforms and forced Europeanization of his country. This is another reason why his overtly religious people thought he may be the antichrist. They didn’t like foreigners and their foreign customs.

The book reads like an exciting novel. The pace only slows when Massie leaves Peter and segways into the “World” in the title. It’s not just a book on Russian history but a book on every power in Europe around the year 1700. Louis XIV, William of Orange, Charles XII, Sultan Ahmet III… if you don’t know these names you will know them intimately by the end. The warrior king Charles XII of Sweden is an especially interesting character. Just as the Russian character was one of defense, that of Charles and Sweden was one of aggressive war and military conquest. Hard to imagine that with the Sweden we know today.

This is one of the best history books I have ever read. The fact that I was largely ignorant about Russian history did help me enjoy it more and much of the information was new to me. Highly recommended!

5 Tsars Outta 5

War Against the Mafia (1969) by Don Pendleton ****

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War Against the Mafia 
by Don Pendleton
1969
First appearance of Mack Bolan

There are few pulp heroes to gain traction since the 1930’s. One of those few is “The Executioner” Mack Bolan. Not only did he appear thirty years after the heyday of pulps, he became the most successful character in the entire genre with 600 original novels and counting. Writer Don Pendleton thought that there was a gap in the marketplace for principled men of action. It was this same gap in Hollywood in the 1970’s that lead to the rise of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Men crave strong role models and Dustin Hoffman wasn’t it. Bolan was different than pulp heroes who came before. Characters like Doc Savage, who at least tried not to kill, and always stayed on the right side of the law. In War Against the Mafia Bolan pretty much breaks all the laws.

I don’t need to say much about the character Mack Bolan because he is Frank Castle for the most part. The only difference is that instead of his family being targeted directly by the mafia for termination, they die indirectly. The details are grim and I could see how that experience would make any man go insane with rage. Bolan even throws his military career away just to make them pay. But Bolan is a man of principles and mere revenge isn’t a very principled stance. He is killing the mob so that they can’t hurt anyone else again. He is not content killing the few who destroyed his family, no, he must kill them all. Going from city to city, leaving a trail of bloody bodies. The story isn’t enough for one novel and Bolan’s war with the mob is not concluded until book #38 Pendleton’s final Executioner story. The rest of the series would be written by ghostwriters. Pendleton (who died in the 1995) was a Robert Heinlein/Bob Howard kind of tough guy, the likes of which you don’t see too often anymore. But the Executioners legacy lives on and you can still find out what Mack is up to at your local book store… book store did I say book store? I mean Amazon.com.

Apparently Bradly Cooper has control of the rights to The Executioner and is finally developing a feature film about him.

4 Guns Blazing Outta 5

The Man of Bronze (1933) by Lester Dent ***

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The Man of Bronze
by Lester Dent
1933
First appearance of Doc Savage

The Shadow became a huge hit for Street & Smith. They realized that there was great demand for exciting action/adventure heroes. They tasked Oklahoma pulp writer Lester Dent (forced to use the pen name Kenneth Robeson) with the job and Doc Savage Magazine was born. The first novel The Man of Bronze introduced Clark “Doc” Savage, the superhuman adventurer who would inspire nearly every comic book character of the Golden Age.

Unlike The Shadow, whose stories were about the realistic underworld of big city crime, Doc Savage used high tech inventions, futuristic vehicles, and unparalleled training to fight evil all over the world. He is referred to in the novel as being a “superman.” We have seen so many characters like Doc Savage in comics and films that it seems like old hat now, but in 1933 there was no Captain America or Wolverine, there was only Doc. The novel today is still very readable and fun. I think a younger person would really enjoy it. The plot has to do with an undiscovered valley in South America. Doc’s deceased famous father left clues for his son on how to get there, but an evil organization is trying to stop him. Doc dodges assassins throughout the book and then has to stop a civil war between warring factions of Mayans. As for the love of a beautiful Mayan princess, Doc will have none of it! His only love is for righting wrongs and high adventure. Doc’s companions just shake their heads, but will follow him to the grave if he asked them to.

Dent was not as talented a writer as Gibson, but what he lacked in prose, he made up for in imagination. Many action tropes can probably be attributed to him. Doc uses a fatal judo chop to the back of the neck which may be the first time that was used. One can see much of Bruce Wayne in Doc and is probably why Doc Savage comics never took off. The man in the batsuit beat him to it. Although popular in the 30’s after comic books surpassed pulps in the 40’s and 50’s Doc Savage faded into obscurity until the 60’s when his adventurers were reprinted in their entirety as paperback novels. It was the covers of these novels, painted by James Bama, that we got the well known look of Doc Savage with tattered shirt and exaggerated widow’s peak. The paperback run finally finished in 1990.

Shane Black will be directing a Doc Savage film starring The Rock as Clark Savage.

3 Pyramids of Mayan Gold Outta 5

The Living Shadow (1931) by Walter B. Gibson ***

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The Living Shadow
by Walter B. Gibson
1931
First Appearance of The Shadow

Walter B. Gibson was a freelance reporter and crossword puzzle writer who got the break of a lifetime when he just happened to be at Street & Smith headquarters in NYC looking for reporting assignments. A radio drama called Detective Stories had an unnamed narrator who would close with the line “The Shadow knows!” and listeners wanted to know more about this narrator. Street & Smith decided to make a character out of him. Gibson was at the right place at the right moment and lobbied for the assignment. Three weeks later he had written the first Shadow novel The Living Shadow where he introduced the titular character as well as supporting characters who would appear in hundreds of novels to come. To Gibson’s dismay Street & Smith insisted he use a pen name “Maxwell Grant” in case they used fill-in writers. Of the 336 Shadow novels, only 53 were penned by someone other than Gibson. He wrote more stories about a single character than anyone else in history, including comic book writers. Gibson was a writing machine and has the world’s record for the most published words in one year, 1,680,000. He made L. Ron Hubbard look slow by comparison. He wrote two novel length Shadow stories every month and usually delivered them a week before his deadline. Gibson also wrote over a 100 books about magic.

The Living Shadow is the most reprinted Shadow adventure, not because it is the best but merely because it was the first. The Shadow barely appears and is more of a string puller, a mysterious presence, directing the action of the plot. The hero of the novel is actually Harry Vincent, one of the Shadow’s agents. We get to see the underworld of The Shadow and New York City uncovered by Vincent as he becomes more deeply involved in The Shadow’s plans. Fans of the hit radio show may be surprised to learn that The Shadow of the pulps was not the same character from the show. Lamont Cranston is not his real name is just another one of his disguises. Nobody knows who The Shadow really is. Readers would later find out that his real name is Kent Allard, WWI fighter ace turned spy. Margot Lane was also a radio invention.

The novel begins strong as Harry Vincent dives into a great mystery. However near the middle I became a bit lost as nobody but The Shadow knows what is really going on. It is not until the last chapter that we find out it was all about an over-complicated gem robbery. Street & Smith asked Gibson to set the story in Chinatown so they could reuse some artwork from a previous story. It would end up having a big impact on the character as even The Shadow film from 1994 featured a Mongolian villain. As this was written in the 30’s there is some dated slang and references. The word “chink” is used perhaps twenty times, which would be taboo now. Overall it was a decent mystery, but was merely a first chapter in an on-going saga of crime.

3 Crimelords Outta 5

Last and First Men (1930) by Olaf Stapleton ***

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Last and First Men is probably the most unique sf novel I have ever read. Conceived as a future history of humanity the novel features almost no individual characters, no three act structure, and little dialogue. The basic concept is that a highly evolved human being 2 billion years in the future is sending a message back in time to us, the first humans in the 1920s (when the book was written). What he tells us is the history of our species for the next 2 billion years. In that time homo sapiens eventually go extinct but not before a new species of human evolves or is created. In all of the millions of years to come 18 distinct species carry on the human “career.” Some modern critics believe one should start with Chapter 4 and skip Stapleton’s speculation about the 20th and 21st centuries but I found those early chapters to be very interesting. As this was written before 1933 Stapleton would have had no idea about the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Therefore, he thought that it would be Italy who would start World War II. It’s an interesting historical artifact to read what an educated Brit thought the world was becoming before the actual WWII changed everything.

Stapleton still got many things right. The world eventually moves towards a one-world-government, nuclear war is a real threat to all life on Earth, and humans of this age are too stupid and irresponsible to exist with such high technology. We destroy ourselves. Out of the ashes come two new species. One that is more intelligent and has larger a brain than us and one that reverts back to Neanderthal savagery. The Second Men eventually fight a brutal war with Mars. The Martians in this book are unlike any alien I have ever read about but they are clearly inspired by H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds. They are in fact so alien that the humans don’t even realize that they are being attacked from another planet but believe it is some kind of Earth born plague at first. I can see why so many have lauded Stapleton’s vivid imagination. He seemed like an interesting man. He wrote books about philosophy before being inspired by Wells to write scientifiction (as it was then called).

The only complaint I have about this bizarre yet fascinating book is that it’s too long. I thought it would be over by the evolution of the Fifth Men, but no, it goes on for another 1.5 billion years until the 18th Men are living on Neptune. Obviously Stapleton’s knowledge of the outer solar system was only as good as the scientific data of the day. Pluto was discovered the year this book was first published. None of Stapleton’s works, even his more traditional narrative novels, have been adapted into films or TV series so he is not well read these days. However his influence on sf writers who came later was huge. Of Last and First Men Arthur C. Clarke said this: “No other book had a greater influence on my life.” H.P. Lovecraft was also fan: “Last and First Men—a volume which to my mind forms the greatest of all achievements in the field that Master Ackerman would denominate ‘scientifiction.’ Its scope is dizzying—and despite a somewhat disproportionate acceleration of the tempo toward the end, and a few scientific inferences which might legitimately be challenged, it remains a thing of unparalleled power. It has the truly basic quality of a myth, and some of the episodes are of matchless poignancy and dramatic intensity.”

In the final summation it’s a unique work of imagination and speculation. It really gets the creative juices flowing and is not like anything else I have ever read. It can be challenging or even boring to read as the human race itself is the main character but I’m still glad to have read it. The influence of the book is obvious. Frank Herbert probably read it as the idea of ancestral memories brought out by the Water of Life is similar to a concept in this book. Also Herbert’s scope of time in the Dune series seems familiar to Stapleton’s idea of history repeating itself. There are so many concepts in this book that were never thought of previously. I disagree with many of Stapleton’s conjectures (such as religion still being a thing millions of years in the future) but his ideas are different and probably plausible.

So it’s really a novel for the true science fiction fan who wants to read something different, something that is more famous for it’s influence, but I would call it a good experience in the end.

3 epochs outta 5

Last and First Men is in the public domain.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Last_and_First_Men.pdf

Triplanetary by E.E. Smith ***

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Alongside Asimov’s Foundation, Burrough’s Barsoom, Herbert’s Dune, and Heinlein’s Future History, E.E. Smith’s Lensman series is a seminal universe in science fiction. The first book in the series is called Triplanetary and establishes a united “federation” of planets allying Earth, Venus, and Mars. The beginning of the novel starts with an attack on Triplanetary by a “death star,” an artificial moon that is all but unstoppable. It uses “tractor beams” and “shields” to disable the Triplanetary ships and withstand their attacks. If it came out now it would seem to borrow heavily from the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars, but it was in fact the other way around. This was the first novel to coin the term “tractor beam” and first to invent invisible shields around space ships (called “screens”). It was also the first to use phaser beams (called “projectors” by Smith).

No one loves Doc Smith’s work for it’s incredibly insightful three-dimensional characters or for it’s witty dialogue. No, this is a war story pure and simple and is about shit gettin’ blow’d up. It’s great pulp action and was way ahead of it’s time. Smith had a keen understanding of science and technology and he packed this adventure yarn to the gills with it. It also features enough twists and turns to keep it interesting.

As the “death star” is about to completely obliterate the entire Triplanetary fleet… swooping in out of light speed comes an alien race to attack Earth. So a human civil war immediately turns, mid battle, into a fight for species survival. The aliens are interesting and original and their method of killing is… unusual. They suck all of the iron from the body, leaving behind a bloodless white shell.

Many critics lament that Smith was merely a pulp writer who never elevated his work to that artistic level of his most famous pupil, Robert Heinlein, but he did actually have a flair for description:

“Above her, ruddy Mars and silvery Jupiter blazed in splendor ineffable against a background of utterly indescribable blackness–a background thickly besprinkled with dimensionless points of dazzling brilliance which were the stars.”

Heinlein named many of his characters “Smith” in honor of his biggest influence, including Valentine Michael Smith of Stranger in a Strange Land. In addition to it’s influence on all of the epic science fiction that followed, including Star Trek and Star Wars, the novel also directly inspired Steve Russell to create the original video game Spacewar! in 1962. Even though sf has grown up out of space opera and pulpy adventure, this novel is still a fun read and would definitely make good young adult reading.

I read and reviewed the original version of the story as it appeared in Amazing Stories in 1934. Smith did go back and add a few chapters to better tie it in to his later novels in 1948. I heard that the original edit was better. This book is in the public domain and can be found online.

3 projector beams outta 5

Tales of the Jedi *****

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Tales of the Jedi is a Dark Horse comic series consisting of seven graphic novels. I had time to read them all after I was laid up after foot surgery. This series, which began in 1993 and ran until 1998, was one of the first stories to be told in the Expanded Universe after the Star Wars franchise had pretty much died out. There was of course the Marvel comic book series which told stories about Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo until 1986 when it was canceled. After the cancellation of Lucas’ Ewoks and Droids cartoon series, the property laid dormant for almost ten years. The resurgence of interest began in 1991 with the publishing of Heir to the Empire by Timothey Zahn, the first of the post Return of the Jedi novels. Back then Lucas still had input in these materials. Tales of the Jedi is based upon notes given to the writers by Lucas himself. The first two graphic novels are about the origin of the Sith race and how they came to be controlled by a Dark Jedi. Now the word Sith goes hand in hand with the term Dark Jedi, but the Sith were originally a red-skinned humanoid race that formed the basis of a Dark Side empire on the other side of the galaxy from the Old Republic.

The tale begins 5,000 years before A New Hope. In this time the galaxy is not yet fully explored. Hyperspace jumps are extremely dangerous because navigation computers have not been invented yet. So only the bravest or most desperate explorers take random jumps hoping to find a new trade route and gain wealth and fame. A brother and sister team accidentally discover a Sith homeworld and inadvertently lead them back to the Old Republic. And so begins the first Sith War.

This story was excellent, although short, and gives a good backstory to the whole Dark Side/Light Side of The Force. Lightsabers have cords connected to power packs that were worn on the back or belt. It’s a nice touch, showing that we are in the old days of the Republic. After this introductory story, the narrative then leaps forward a thousand years.

The later five graphic novels all tell a connected self-contained story with the same characters. This is where it gets good. The main characters are two young Jedi brothers, Ulic Qel-Droma and Cay Qel-Droma, and a female Jedi, Nomi Sunrider. Their masters are good characters as well but it is the students who have the greatest character arcs. I especially liked Nomi Sunrider, someone who never wanted to be a Jedi Knight. I love this cover by Dave Dorman of the moment Nomi first picks up a lightsaber and realizes that she is a Force sensitive. It has such a mythic-religious aura about it. I even like how Dorman painted the rim lighting on her hair to resemble a halo.

Her husband is a Jedi Knight who is surprised and murdered by a band of thieves. To protect her child she picks up his lightsaber and cuts them all down with remarkable ease. The Force guides her to her husband’s master and she begins her training. But throughout the story she is a true pacifist and refuses to pick up a lightsaber again. She is not merely Luke with boobs (as Rey is) but a feminine mother protector. She eventually falls in love with the doomed Jedi Ulic Qel-Droma.

The story centers on a resurgence of Sith power on a backwater planet. Ancient Sith texts and artifacts from the previous story are discovered and once the dark techniques are mastered, the new Sith begin to easily start taking over again. One of the brothers in the story, Ulic Qel-Droma thinks that he can learn to control the Dark Side, but as always, he succumbs to it and joins the enemy. So you end up with brother vs. brother and lover vs. lover. It’s pure Greek tragedy.

Tales of the Jedi was co-written by Tom Veitch and science fiction writer (co-author of the Dune Universe) Kevin J. Anderson. The art in the series is not the best, but it is also not the worst. This series came out during the comic book boom of the ‘90s when artists were being paid more than any other time in history. Star Wars was not a best-selling property then so they had to make do with what they had. One interesting thing the editors did was have one artist draw the characters and another draw all the tech like ships and weapons.

What really makes this series great is that it was adapted into a series of audio dramas sold on cassette and CD. These were full productions with professional actors, sound effects, and music. I am kind of surprised at how well these radio plays brought this story to life and elevated the characters in my mind. The writers of the dramas expanded and clarified the story from the comic series making it into a movie of the mind’s eye. The only bad thing about it is that they weren’t able to finish it. The audio drama stops mid-way through the saga. Probably because the series kept going until 1998 and by then audio dramas weren’t selling well.

Now that Star Wars is done as a film property, I have turned to the books and comics that I missed or could not afford in the ‘90s. The stories were based upon George Lucas’ notes and are much truer to the original saga. Tales of the Jedi could easily be adapted into a film trilogy. The audio drama is essentially a film without the pictures.

5 Dark Siders Outta 5

You can listen to it on YouTube. The entire story was also released in a series of two large omnibus editions from Dark Horse. The video game The Knights of the Old Republic was inspired by this series. It takes place 40 years after these events.

The Executioner #2 “Death Squad ” by Don Pendleton ***

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This book picks up right where War on the Mafia left off. Mack has a million dollar bounty on his head and every mobster in America wants to collect it. Bolan realizes that he may need some help. He recruits ten of his old ‘Nam buddies, all ruthless killers in their own right, and assembles a crack assassination squad. It would have been better if Pendleton had only shown Mack bringing in two or three old war buddies. With so many characters, it’s not possible to flesh them out in such a short novel. Half of them are pure stereotypes like the hippie, the Indian, etc. All of them easily agree to work for Mack, risking their lives and their freedom, merely for the thrill of killing and whatever spoils they can collect along the way. A little more conflict among the gang would have helped flesh out this straightforward story.

Because this is a team book it differs from the other Executioner novels. Mack is merely one of many characters which includes not only the Death Squad but also a cast of mobsters, hitmen, and cops. There is one glaringly absent character type… women. As in, not a single one. Mack doesn’t get laid even once, he’s just too busy killing. And kill he does. Now with a team he can wipe out entire Mafia families in one fell swoop. It is only when Mack finally underestimates multiple families ability to work together that things start to fall apart. Ten trained and heavily armed assassins can cause a whole lot of damage but there are only so many armed men they can kill at one time. Needless to say, after this experience, Mack decides that it’s best to work alone.

3 satchel charges outta 5

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? *****

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You would think that I would be reading old Batman comics this weekend with the death of Adam West, but instead I decided to read a more appropriate Superman story that I finally picked up. Heralded as one of the greatest Superman yarns of all time, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was originally published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 in 1986. When one hears the words “greatest comic story of all time” one name always comes to mind, Alan Moore. And so it is with this finale of the original superhero. Moore was hot off of Watchmen and retiring long-time editor Julie Schwartz wanted the best for his final send off. The most famous Superman artist of the sixties Curt Swan was brought back to draw both issues with George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger inking them.

The story is an “imaginary tale” of Superman’s last days. It has an epic, Lord of the Rings feel to it as Superman makes his final stand at the Fortress of Solitude, surrounded by his closest friends and lovers. All of his greatest villains team up all at once to make sure he dies for good. Even formerly mischievous and comic villains like Bizarro and Mr. Mxyzptlk turn to chaotic evil as they are simply sick of their foe’s existence. Superman realizes that he cannot take them all on at once, even with his great power. Lex Luthor’s mind and body are taken over by Brainiac who leads the assault and Superman’s lesser villains start to wipe out his secret identity, Metropolis and his friends.

The primary obstruction to Brainiac’s plan is of course the Justice League, so he forms an impenetrable force field around the Fortress that they can’t get past. Batman and Wonder Woman end up having to merely watch the final battle from the outside. What follows is complete carnage as Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang are slaughtered and the Fortress of Solitude is destroyed by a nuclear blast. Superman himself is forced to kill for the first time as it’s the only option. Batman has only one line in the story after the forcefield is dropped, but it’s a good one: “It’s like walking amongst the fragments of a legend.”

As the title insinuates, by the end, Superman is no more. The character was then rebooted by John Byrne in the Man of Steel mini-series that reset Superman’s timeline after Crisis on Infinite Earths. This would be a great story for Warner Brothers to make as an animated film. My only complaint is that two issues were two few. Four would have been ideal. As it is, the final twist is contained only in the very last page.

5 Legends Outta 5

A newly recolored version of the story can be read here
http://readcomiconline.to/Comic/Superman-Whatever-Happened-to-the-Man-of-Tomorrow/TPB?id=70445

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood *

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It’s been out for 30 years, but I finally read this often mentioned epistolary novel by Margaret Atwood. I have not read any of her other books and this is her best known. It really should not even be called a novel. It is the unstructured, stream of consciousness, rantings of a dull kept woman. The book is a fragment of an audio diary kept by the main character Offred who lives sometime in the near future. She has all of the intelligence of a subservient Christian housewife with uninteresting and meandering thoughts about her situation. Other than describing her dystopian reality (not very well I must say) Offred goes on and on about her simplistic feelings and desires. She makes the perfect slave for her religious masters. She does as she’s told and never disobeys in any real way. I kept wondering why I was reading about this character. Surely someone else in this universe would be more interesting to follow and listen to, like her friend Ofglen. Offred is simply a massive bore with no real insights or observations. I would call her one of the dullest characters in all of literature.

Some notes on this future world: Congress and the President of the USA have all been executed by fanatical Christian MGTOWs. In a twisted version of Snake’s ultimate dream, women become slaves that can no longer legally own property, hold jobs, vote, or even have names. They must take their husband/owners name, that’s why we get “Of Fred.” Offred doesn’t have access to books and seems fairly uneducated so we don’t learn what exactly took the human population down, but it seems to be either a nuclear war or some kind of radiation disaster. So Offred finds herself as a nun-like sex slave whose only reason to exist is to create children for a high ranking military commander. She is told that if she acts up her legs and arms can be cut off as only her torso is required for sex. The commander’s wife is a dried up old hag who lays under Offred during awkward ritualistic inseminations.

Even if one looks at it as an allegory for the struggle for women’s equality, it’s still boring and plotless. Nothing happens. NOTHING. Offred is a paranoid but willing rape victim in a Puritan/Nazi theocracy, the end. Her job is to lie down and get screwed. That’s her life. And much like Offred’s occupation, I wanted to lay this book down every time I started reading it again. I had to finish it, but it was a struggle. In between fuckings she watches dissenters get executed and tiptoes around her masters so as not to find herself in a noose. I would recommend it to feminists maybe, but not to science fiction or dystopia fans. You can’t out-kafka Kafka, which is what Atwood was trying to do. If you want to feel oppressed and depressed than read it, but I personally hated it. I am not a fan of Kafka either. It’s depressing for depressions sake. You could see it as a warning about religious fanaticism, but I think Arthur Miller covered that already in The Crucible.

1 Dystopian Nightmare Outta 5