Books acquired: “American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race,” Douglas Brinkley; “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts,” Andrew Chaikin
Books read: “The Golden Man,” Philip K. Dick; “The Golden Scorpion,” Sax Rohmer; “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
In February I read a collection of science fiction short stories, a pulp novel and a literary classic. As you can see from the titles above, I was golden. This month even the “books acquired” section is themed, but that was the doing of the friend who gave both of them to me, one as a belated Christmas present and the other as an early birthday present.
“The Golden Man” (1980): This collection of Philip K. Dick stories brought together pieces that hadn’t made any of his earlier collections, and it’s strong despite being a book of leftovers. The most delightful story is “The King of the Elves,” about an old man who meets some elves, becomes their king, doesn’t quite believe the whole thing but soon finds himself leading them into battle against a troll army. Heh. There are also stories of a homicidal pinball machine, a new religion based around a black box, a model train set’s small town that alters the real town it’s based on, and an America in which unwanted children are rounded up by a sort of dogcatcher and taken to the pound to be adopted or gassed. Dick is better known for his novels, and for good reason, but most of his stories are at least clever and often enough inventive. The cover, unfortunately, is ridiculous, basically a naked guy jumping through what looks like (but isn’t) an enormous bag of popcorn.
“The Golden Scorpion” (1919): As with Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, there is a beautiful multiethnic woman serving the bad guy against her will and an Englishman who loses his head over her even though his job is to track down the bad guy, and at the end despite enormous obstacles, etc., etc. Oh, and also a bunch of devil doctor stuff involving beakers and spiders, an opium den that is more than it seems and the de rigeur secret escape route via the wharves. A fun page-turner for those with antiquarian tastes (blogger raises hand).
“The Gilded Age” (1873): Twain is best remembered for his boyhood evocations, historical fiction and travel nonfiction, but it turns out he and his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner co-invented the Washington novel. Up to this point, Twain had written a travel book and some regional tall tales and become a popular lecturer, but he hadn’t tried any extended fiction. In an utterly contemporary story, he and Warner satirize the Reconstruction-era speculation economy, send up a wildly corrupt D.C. and give an era its name. The results can be tentative, and the chapters written by each man don’t always mesh comfortably. But “Gilded Age” is still worthwhile, the bloviating Col. Sellers is marvelous and naturally it’s fascinating to see Twain first turn his gifts toward fiction.
For the record, I bought “Scorpion” in 2001 at one of the old LA Comic and Science Fiction shows at the Shrine Expo Hall (those were the days), “Man” in 2009 at the annual LA Paperback Show and “Age” in 2010 at the Borders in Chino (RIP). So I cleared away some of my older unread books this time around. (What else is new?)
What did you read in February? You had 29 days, and I hope you used them well.
Next month: a science fiction doorstop of a book.