Review: JFK: The Dead Witnesses

JFK: The Dead Witnesses
JFK: The Dead Witnesses by Craig Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, let’s get the minuses out of the way early: This is a horribly-formatted book. It looks like your standard “well, just use the print book manuscript; they can’t be that much different, can they?” (And the answer to that question is… YES! Yes, they are!)

As for the subject matter, it is very informative. And kinda scary. I think most folks realize that Oswald wasn’t the sole shooter; there were a LOT of vengeful and powerful people involved and the US was subverted by a paramilitary coup. Luckily, unlike most third world nations, it only involved one man getting killed. Or it seemed to at the time.

Many of the 115+ deaths listed in this book do seem like coincidences, like heart attacks and the ubiquitous “natural causes”, but one does have to wonder. And given the fact that nearly everyone involved with any stage of the investigation is now dead, it’s doubtful the truth will ever come out at this late date.

It’s an interesting read for the conspiracy buff, and I think any US history/military aficionado will find this worth reading, if just the intricate web that’s weaved with the subject matter.

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Review: Snoopy: Cowabunga!

Snoopy: Cowabunga!
Snoopy: Cowabunga! by Charles M. Schulz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On the plus side, there weren’t any cartoons included in this collection that I had read before. Unfortunately, that meant most of them kinda sucked, since most of the really good Peanuts strips were published before 1974.

My tattered hardcover copy of Peanuts Classics was one of those books that helped me learn how to read, so I have a soft spot in my head for the strip. But let’s face it: Once you got to be older than ten or eleven, the series was rarely funny and never innovative. Mind you, it’s a marketing dream. It’s just not that great a comic strip.

Now the strips up until around ’74 had a certain elan; there were near serials in them with Snoopy’s journey to meet the Head Beagle, or going to the Moon, or the many battles with the Red Baron behind enemy lines. And Charlie Brown’s eternal struggles with the Kite-Eating Tree and his baseball team are all classics.

This collection has nothing but Snoopy-related strips, which is fine and dandy, but most aren’t even good sight gags, and the one serial-esque story is simply creepy. I’m not sure what was going through Sparky’s head when he wrote that one.

The other thing was the author’s info: “Charles Schulz is a legend”. Umm…yeah, sure. We KNOW that. You don’t have to shove it in our faces. We’ve seen the bloody lunchboxes and pencil sharpeners and whatnot; His CREATIONS are legend. You need to tone it down a bit. Those five words put me off from buying any more of these e-books. I’ll save up and get one of the Peanuts volumes that reprint the strip from the much more humble beginnings.

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Review: Betsy and Me

Betsy and Me
Betsy and Me by Jack Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those bittersweet books. It’s great to see Jack Cole’s work on his comic strip collected, but it’s also sad to realize this was his last work before he inexplicably committed suicide.

The comic strip itself is very funny and quite original in layout and verve. The artwork is reminiscent, to me at least, of Mel Lazarus and Miss Peach. Cole gives the strip some wonderful visual accents that make the stories flow with ease and with good humor.

There are only a few months of the strip collected here since, well, that’s all there is by Jack Cole. There’s an interesting introduction that covers the later part of Cole’s career in a good amount of depth, so if you get this and Fantagraphics’ Focus on Jack Cole, you’ll have pretty much every bit of info on this great creator that’s readily available.

You can usually find this little tome cheap on Amazon. More’s the pity that these sellers don’t know what they have in their inventories. This is a classic.

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Review: The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey

The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey
The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the better biographies I’ve read in recent years, it’s actually the first biography I’ve ever read about someone I actually knew and met, albeit just in passing.

The Man from Mars details the life and publishing career of early science fiction writer, editor and fan Raymond Palmer. He was a somewhat divisive figure in early science fiction, which really took itself far too seriously for the pulp magazine roots that spawned it. Palmer was an editor for a popular pulp, Amazing Stories, as well as having written (and edited) for the legendary Hugo Gernsback (known as the Father of Science Fiction). He was there almost at the beginning, but is relegated to a much-diminished position in history because of fandom’s ire. After being a major proponent of the legendary Shaver Mystery, as well as being (rightly) called “the Man who Created Flying Saucers”, there was quite a bit of ostracism leveled toward Palmer. He delved into many new age, occult and “Psi-Fi” topics over the years, all of which were usually derided by the majority of SF fans, who apparently preferred way too much “science” with their “fiction”.

This biography is excellent in that it takes no sides, and strives to give a very balanced view of a very interesting individual. It’s quite sad that little of his original fiction is readily available today – you have to search hard to find any of his fiction on the internet – considering the man had his own little publishing empire in Amherst, Wisconsin.

One of the major disappointments of my life was not to realize who that little hunchbacked man was, and believing the rumors about him being an angry old nut. I’ve always been a science fiction aficionado, and into UFology since I was a wee lad. How was I to know that that one of the guys responsible for two things I love doing was in my very backyard?

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 4

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 4
Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 4 by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another excellent masterworks, with the last of the wonderful Jack Kirby/Chic Stone collaborations on Fantastic Four. Really, all you need to encompass the true greatness of the “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” is the first five Marvel Masterworks (I’d have included the sixth if the reproduction was a lot better on it, but alas, it apparently is horrid).

Dragon Man makes his first appearance here, along with the Frightful Four, along with the returns of Dr. Doom, the Sub-Mariner and the Mole Man, along with a Wally Wood-inked guest-appeared by Daredevil. It’s hard to go wrong with this book if you’re a fan of good, old-fashioned proper comic books.

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Review: The Runaway Skyscraper

The Runaway Skyscraper
The Runaway Skyscraper by Murray Leinster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a tale that helped jump start the genre of science fiction in 1919, this is a surprisingly fun story. Sure, the rationale for the skyscraper going “runaway” is a bit hokey, but they didn’t have quantum mechanics back then, just H.G. Wells. It has that sensibility of the era it was written, so be forewarned, but give it a read.

Every sci-fi fan should experience the beginnings, so they can hopefully more appreciate the good stuff they have now.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 5

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 5
Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 5 by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is pretty much Jack Kirby at the height of his abilities, and features some magnificent character debuts! This collection of “the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” has the first tales of both the Inhumans and the Silver Surfer and Galactus. The stories are intertwined and continued in a way that’s rare to see even today, plot threads all over the place, but resolved nicely when it matters.

A proper Fantastic Four collector really needs only the first five volumes of the Marvel Masterworks series (I would normally have added the sixth, but the poor reproduction values reported on that one make me leery of including it) to have the heart and soul of the series and the FF.

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Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: The Fussy Homophobe

Apparently, according to the folks over at the Fussy Librarian, only straighFussyhomophobet people can have contemporary romances. Everything else is just gay and lesbian whatever, all rolled into one big category to fight it out on the shelves and screens of the literati.

A friend of mine who’s a very erudite and readable author just finished a romance novel and submitted it to TFL. Unfortunately, They won’t run the book in the “contemporary romance” category because it’s about a romance between two men. Now I’m sure that this is probably de rigeur for a lot of these fly-by-night promo places (and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re ALL fly-by-night since they’re vampires sucking the money out of indie author wallets), but if you’re paying money up front, you’d like to think that’s one thing in a capitalist society that can overcome those outdated and moronic social mores. In this case, they refunded half of my friend’s cash and are going to run it in the “Gay/Lesbian” category.

Now, mind you, there is nothing wrong with having a separate category for LBGT works, but if a writer is just writing a story and doesn’t necessarily feel the need or desire to put in that category, why should they have to? A simple romance story is a simple romance story, no matter who the imaginary participants happen to be.

Sure, the Fussy Librarian is within their rights. They are the Fussy Librarian, after all. Yet another of the vampires that prey on the promotional needs of writers, with stringent review requirements, since having a lot of reviews always means you have a better book. Not.

But c’mon, people! We’re paying you to promote our work. WE should be the ones who decide where it goes, not you and your homophobic instincts. If you want our cash, fucking listen to us! The customer is always right, right?