Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2014 Evelyn C. Leeper.


IF CHINS COULD KILL by Bruce Campbell:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/13/2012]

IF CHINS COULD KILL by Bruce Campbell (ISBN 978-0-312-29145-7) is Campbell's informal autobiography--informal in the sense of sounding more like he was just talking to you rather than writing a book. And what you discover is that, while a star like Tom Cruise may live a life of luxury, someone like Bruce Campbell spends most of his working time in terrible conditions, covered with mud and being put through dangerous stunts.

I did find his take on California a little misguided. He writes, "I wasn't aware how lame the fruits and vegetables were back East until I set foot in a California supermarket. Suddenly, I had three choices of lettuce other than iceberg, and I could get strawberries." This was in 1982, and it may say more about 1982 than about "back East". (And since when is Michigan "East"?) Now, if I go into a store and see only three kinds of kinds of lettuce other than iceberg, it seems like a really poor store, and that is true in Massachusetts as much as the Garden State of New Jersey.

But this is a minor item and, after all, the book is not about produce. If you have enjoyed any of Campbell's work (his first big film was THE EVIL DEAD, but he may be best known for the television show BRISCO COUNTY, JR.), you will probably like this book.

To order If Chins Could Kill from amazon.com, click here.


GASLIGHT GRIMOIRE by edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/13/2009]

GASLIGHT GRIMOIRE: FANTASTIC TALES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec (ISBN-13 978-1-894063-17-3, ISBN-10 1-894063-17-1) is yet another collection of supernatural Sherlock Holmes stories. I have to admit that I was put off by the Foreword, in which David Stuart Davies lists several earlier volumes of this sort, such as SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET, GHOSTS OF BAKER STREET, and THE ITALIAN SECRETARY (by Caleb Carr). But then he pooh-poohs these, by saying, "However in general these stories were penned by writers who, for want of a better expression, were having a go at a Holmes tale unlike the authors featured in this volume who are very well-versed in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson and so can effectively blend the world of Baker Street with the world of the unknown." Well, la-di-dah.

Well-versed in Holmsiana they may be (and I am not convinced of that), but the fact is that the stories in SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET and GHOSTS OF BAKER STREET are better (or at least more enjoyable) stories. Interestingly, Smith does not mention that the majority of the stories in GHOSTS OF BAKER STREET actually have rational explanations.

One problem with this volume is that so many of the stories depend on familiarity with other works of fiction. In GASLIGHT GRIMOIRE we have "The Lost Boy" by Barbara Hambly, which is somewhat dependent on a familiarity with (and interest in) "Peter Pan". "The Things That Shall Come upon Them" by Barbara Roden depends on M. R. James's "Casting the Runes" as well as a whole raft of works with other famous detectives. (And though Roden may be well-versed in Sherlock Holmes she seems to confuse Baroness Orczy's "Man in the Corner" with Ernest Bramah's blind detective Max Carrados.) "Sherlock Holmes in the Lost World" by Martin Powell draws on another series by Doyle. "The Grantchester Grimoire" by Chico Kidd and Rick Kennett involves Carnacki. And "Red Sunset" by Bob Madison assumes knowledge of Raymond Chandler works, both Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op. While it is true that other supernatural Holmes stories draw on other literary characters, they are usually better-known ones such as Dracula. (He shows up here too.)

One reference I did enjoy (but again, was a bit obscure) was one to Jorge Luis Borges's "Funes, His Memory" (a.k.a. "Funes, the Memorious") in "Merridew of Abominable Memory" by Chris Roberson. This pastiche centers around the idea of memory, and in it, Watson tells Holmes of an obituary notice: "It is an obituary notice of an Argentinean who, if the story is to be believed, was rather remarkable. Ireneo Funes, dead at the age of twenty-one, is said to have had a memory of such singular character that he could recall anything to which it was exposed. Witnesses are quoted as saying that he could recall each day of his life in such detail that the recollection itself took an entre day simply to process."

My recommendation: the earlier "supernatural Holmes" anthologies are better; stick with them.

To order Gaslight Grimoire from amazon.com, click here.


MIDDLE PASSAGES: AFRICAN AMERICAN JOURNEYS TO AFRICA, 1787-2005 by James T. Campbell:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/19/2008]

MIDDLE PASSAGES: AFRICAN AMERICAN JOURNEYS TO AFRICA, 1787-2005 by James T. Campbell (ISBN-13 978-0-143-11198-6, ISBN-10 0-143-11198- 1) is about African-Americans' trips to Africa--some returning after having been kidnapped and sold as slaves, others visiting for the first generations after their ancestors were brought to America. Campbell does not present any sort of idealized picture. For example, several one-time slaves who were freed and then returned to Africa bought slaves of their own there, or even became slave traders. He writes how Liberia was funded before the Civil War by whites who hoped to get rid of "Free Blacks" so that the slaves would not have any role models to encourage them to aspire to freedom, and there would be no evidence for any argument that blacks were equal to whites intellectually et al. And the resulting society in Liberia was no "light unto the nations" either--the descendents of the emigrants from the United States set themselves up as a ruling class and the native Africans as basically, well, slaves.

The climax of all this is the reaction of Keith Richburg in the present who, after watching bodies from the Rwandan massacre floating downstream, said that while he realized the horrors of slavery, a part of him would be forever grateful to whoever brought his ancestors "out of Africa" to America and saved him from what Africa is like now.

Clearly, there is much to debate in Campbell's book, but his range, from the 17th to the 21st century, covering some of the best-known people in African-American history, is impressive and the book is certainly worth reading.

To order Middle Passages from amazon.com, click here .


THE BLACK STAR PASSES by John W. Campbell:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/16/2009]

I mentioned THE BLACK STAR PASSES by John W. Campbell (ISBN-13 978-1-557-42931-5, ISBN-10 1-557-42931-6) a few weeks ago as an example of early 1930s techno-babble. I read this (and its two sequels) when I was in high school--I'm not sure which year, but I can even remember where I bought the books. Arcot, Wade, and Morey were the quintessential nerds, who kept discovering new elements that somehow fit into previously unknown holes un the periodic chart, and could whip up invisibility devices or destruction rays overnight.

Of course, re-reading it I notice all sorts of negative aspects I had missed when I was younger. For example, they go to Venus (a Venus of oceans and only about 150 degrees) and find a giant airship attacking a city. Now they don't know anything about the two sides fighting or what the issues are, but because the city is so pretty, they decide to attack the airship and save the city. I guess I'm glad they didn't decide to show up while we were bombing Tokyo.

And do I need to mention that there are no women in the book-- anywhere?

I can't really recommend this book except for those who already know they like 1930s techno-babble hard science fiction. (If you're really into this stuff, the sequels are ISLANDS OF SPACE and INVADERS FROM THE INFINITE.)

To order The Black Star Passes from amazon.com, click here .


"Dead Knowledge" by Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell]:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2014]

"Dead Knowledge", Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell] (Astounding Stories, January 1938; John W. Campbell's WHO GOES THERE? [Hyperion Press]): While "Who Goes There?" has been reprinted all over the place, this Don A. Stuart story is almost impossible to find. I was able to read it because I noticed a friend had a copy of the Hyperion Press collection WHO GOES THERE? on her shelf and when I mentioned I would like to read a story from it, she offered to lend it to me.

"Dead Knowledge" has a three-man team, which made me think of the Arcot, Wade, and Morey stories that were my introduction to Campbell (THE BLACK STAR PASSES, ISLANDS OF SPACE, and INVADERS FROM THE INFINITE), but other than this trope there is little similarity. There is, however, a resemblance to "Who Goes There?" in the notion of a menace that is not a being like ourselves, but rather a more inchoate, insubstantial, amorphous/polymorphous being.

[One quibble: The story keeps referring to the sun setting in the east on this distant planet. I would expect that east and west would be defined on other planets by how the sun rose and set, or rather, east would be the direction of rotation, and west would be the opposite.]


"Who Goes There?" by Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell]:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/13/2014]

"Who Goes There?" by Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell] (Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1938; Ben Bova's SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2A): This is consistently voted among the best, if not *the* best, science fiction novella of all time, so unless the logical positivists mount a really strong campaign, I cannot see anything beating it, and I would not be surprised to see it win on the first round.

However, I will say that because this has been adapted into three movies (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), THE THING (1982), and THE THING (2011), it is important to judge this story on its own, and not based on recollections of the films. The story has no love interest, no reporter, no misguided scientist subplot, and no humor. The characters are all hard-boiled types, without the snappy banter of the 1951 film. It does have a fairly unenlightened view of aliens--pretty much all the humans decide this one is evil because it is ugly.


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