Books acquired: “Conversations With Jonathan Lethem,” Jaime Clarke, ed.
Books read: “Weird Heroes Vol. 1,” Byron Preiss, ed.; “Zorro,” Isabel Allende; “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes,” A. Conan Doyle; “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” Edgar Rice Burroughs; “Doomsman/Telepower,” Harlan Ellison/Lee Hoffman.
October was a heroic month, at least in my reading life. Knowing I would be reading the Allende version of Zorro, Pomona’s community read, I used that as an excuse to pick other books with larger than life characters.
“Weird Heroes” was a late 1970s series of eight paperbacks featuring modern takes on positive heroes by SF and comics writers, with a few pen and ink illustrations by comics-friendly artists. This first one was a mixed bag and unsatisfying, but it was an interesting idea.
“Zorro,” at 400 pages, is perhaps more Zorro than you need, but it provides a convincing origin for the 1840s character that involves the San Gabriel Mission, Spain, Portugal, pirates and royalty.
In “Jewels of Opar,” the fifth in the series, Tarzan suffers a blow to the head and loses his memory, reverting to his ape-like ways. Meanwhile, Jane is kidnapped, which I suspect will be her role in many of the remaining 19 books. Overall, an enjoyable entry in the series. Also, I might have a crush on La, the priestess of Opar. If anyone knows her, please let her know she does not have to choose a mate from the gnarled, grotesque men of her hidden kingdom because she has an admirer in the Inland Valley. Thanks.
“Casebook” is the final Holmes story collection by his creator. Not up to the quality of the earlier books, although it’s arguably better than “Valley of Fear,” but for fans, the pleasures of spending time with Holmes and Watson sweep away any petty criticism.
As for “Doomsman/Telepower,” that’s two short novels in one, both involving soldiers of the future. Published in 1967, after Ellison had begun winning SF awards, “Doomsman” is a novella he cranked out in 1958 that is laughably awful. (Four pages after telling us a character being tortured no longer has eyes, he looks at someone.) I’m not sure the publisher had his permission to rescue the story from magazine oblivion. Making matters more embarrassing, despite its cheapjack cover and publisher, this is among the easier Ellison books to find at used bookstores. Lore has it that Ellison at least once was asked at a convention to autograph a copy and instead bought it from the fan and tore it up right in front of him. “Telepower,” by the way, is far better.
I’d had hopes of reading another Fu Manchu book — the next one is “President Fu Manchu,” a timely title — but I ran out of time. Soon. My five books in October brings my total this year to 71; I’m now aiming for 80.
I’ve owned these books anywhere from a few weeks (“Zorro”) to two decades (“Doomsman,” which still bears the $1.25 price tag from Atlanta’s Book Nook, marked up from the original 50 cents due to its out-of-print status). “Weird Heroes” I owned as a teen, never read, sold, then bought back four years ago for another try. Reading that and “Doomsman” meant a lot due to their longtime presence in my life, even if the contents weren’t so hot. “Casebook” was bought this year but is another book I owned as a boy, and read all or most of back then. “Tarzan” was bought at Pasadena’s Book Alley in 2001.
What have you been reading? I’m sure you’ve all been making heroic efforts.