Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.


CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by Tennessee Williams:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/16/2004]

Tennessee Williams's CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is another work where the sexual content is more explicit on the printed page. Though for this work, stage performances would also maintain this. It's only the classic film with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives that turns the explicit discussion of homosexuality into veiled references. Such was Hollywood in 1958. On the other hand, plays are meant to be seen rather than read, so read the play but see the movie. (I haven't seen the newer version with Jessica Lange and Treat Williams.)

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/26/2008]

Anyone who has seen the movie CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman should read the original play by Tennessee Williams (ISBN-13 978-0-811-21601-2, ISBN-10 0-811-21601-2) to get some idea of how restricted filmmakers were in 1958. Among other things, one could see the entire movie without understanding why Scooter committed suicide. On the other hand, we recently watched AIRPLANE!, a movie that got a PG rating in 1980, and would probably get an R rating now!

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/12/2018]

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by Tennessee Williams (1955) (ISBN 978-0-811-21602-9) has an underlying theme in common with DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller (1949) (ISBN 978-0-140-24773-2): mendacity,

In DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Willy Loman is constantly contradicting himself, and hence engaging in mendacity. In one line he says that Biff is lazy, then three lines later he says that one thing about Biff is that he is not lazy. In one place, he says he never taught Biff to steal, but elsewhere he tells him to go get some sand from the supply at the construction site. On page 80, Willy says Howard's father asked him what he thinks of the name "Howard" for his new son, but by page 97, he is saying that he actually named Howard. Most seriously, he is constantly lying to Biff about Biff's position at Bill Oliver's company, and has even convinced Biff that Biff was a sales manager, highly respected by Oliver, when in fact he was a shipping clerk who had to quit just ahead of being fired for stealing some of the stock.

In CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF the mendacity is of a more common and obvious kind: Brick is lying about his relationship with Skipper, Maggie is lying about her relationship with Brick, Gooper and Sister Woman are lying about the love of their children for Bib Daddy, and everyone is lying about Big Daddy's condition. In addition, just as everyone in DEATH OF A SALESMAN tells whatever lies will get them the best immediate result, in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, everyone is using their lies to jockey for the best position when Big Daddy dies.

There are other similarities. For example, Big Daddy treats Big Mama with the same high-handedness, rudeness, and cruelty that Willy does Linda. Big Mama refuses to give Big Daddy anything to ease his pain, while Linda refuses to do anything to stop Willie's self-destructive tendencies. Both Biff and Brick are football stars whose life went nowhere after that was over. (Was the name "Brick" inspired by "Biff"?)

One interesting cultural note: When CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was written the idea of refusing "twilight sleep" (an injection of morphine and scopalamine) for childbirth was fairly radical, and the idea of having the father present in the room during the delivery downright peculiar. Now the latter is common (it began about twenty years after CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was written), and "twilight sleep" was abandoned in the 1960s. Maybe Sister Woman was onto something.

To order Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from amazon.com, click here.


NIGHT OF THE IGUANA by Tennessee Williams:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/11/2003]

Our recent trip went through some of the South that I associate with Tennessee Williams--like Tennessee (although I suspect he wrote more about New Orleans, which we didn't get to). So I decided to read some of his better-known plays.

Now, "Suddenly Last Summer" is probably his most genre-related play, but I hadn't picked up a copy of that at the various book sales this year. And while his first published story was published in "Weird Tales", I didn't have that either. What I did have were "Night of the Iguana", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "A Streetcar Named Desire", and "The Fugitive Kind". Of course, so far I've managed only one, but I will get to others eventually.

At LoneStarCon II (Worldcon 1998), there was a panel titled "It's All SF: Science Fiction/Southern Fiction" whose description ran: "Why are so many Southern writers drawn to SF and fantasy? Are there distinctly Southern themes that appear in their works? What is the tradition of Southern SF that they draw upon (Wellman, Wagner, Leinster, etc.)? In what ways are SF and Southern literature not only compatible but natural allies?" Southern fiction was considered to be based on a set of tropes including the legacy of the Civil War, segregation, integration, civil rights, family, history, land, climate, and eccentricity. And the latter was considered to be best shown in Southern Gothic--Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams.

One person quoted Eudora Welty as saying that she heard family stories as a child which she didn't understand, but she knew there was passion, importance, and power in them. And when Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1950, he said, "The only subject matter worth the agony of creation is the human heart in conflict with itself." These certainly apply to Williams. And someone said that the South had a commonality in "Gothic and guilt," a phrase that certainly covers Williams's work.

"Night of the Iguana", for example, is set in a sleazy Mexican hotel run by a woman of (seemingly) low character. But she has hidden depths that become apparent as a priest with a weakness for young women brings his busload of tourists to the hotel just as everything in his life is completely falling apart. Also there is an old man with his spinster granddaughter, who provides aid and comfort in a way that Faulkner could appreciate.

To order Night of the Iguana from amazon.com, click here.


"The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/25/2004]

And I have to admit that I found "The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams unreadable. By this I don't mean it was in some strange stylistic mode, but that I couldn't manage to get into the story enough to keep reading.


WHO WAS THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK? AND OTHER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES by Hugh Ross Williamson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/14/2008]

WHO WAS THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK? AND OTHER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES by Hugh Ross Williamson (ISBN-13 978-0-141-39097-0, ISBN-10 0-141-39097-2) also begins with a somewhat anti-rational notion: that we can never really know history. At least Williamson does not go as far as some, and claim that there is no such thing as true history; he merely says we can never know everything that really happened, or understand it. This is particularly true of history according to the "Great Man" theory, he notes--since that theory assumes events are shaped by extraordinary individuals, there are no generalizations that one can make (e.g., "a decrease in the real value of money will bring about a revolution").

It is worth noting that the historical mysteries that Williamson discusses are almost all British, and often fairly obscure, at least to Americans. If you don't know who Perkin Warbeck purportedly was, his actual identity will be less than fascinating. And at least one--who murdered the Princes in the Tower?--has been discussed in great length elsewhere, not least of which is Josephine Tey's novel, THE DAUGHTER OF TIME.

To order Who Was the Man in the Iron Mask? from amazon.com, click here.


THE LEGION OF TIME by Jack Williamson:

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

THE LEGION OF TIME by Jack Williamson (ISBN 978-0-312-94283-0) (82 pages): They said this was a novel, but even with a generous estimate, my omnibus edition (a "Galaxy Magabook") seems to have only about 35,000 words for "The Legion of Time". But it cannot be the omnibus of "The Legion of Time" and "After World's End" together that is the actual nominee because, although both have a 1938 copyright, the latter was first published in a magazine with a 1939 cover date. And although Galaxy Magabooks had the bad habit of cutting the novels they printed, without actually indicating that they had done so, someone with access to the original serial says it comes in at 34,668 words. Since the leeway for the novel category is 5000 words, this should actually have been in the novella category. (For what it's worth, I appear to be the first person to point this out.)

THE LEGION OF TIME starts with a team, or rather, a leader and three sidekicks, which was very common in fiction at the time (particularly in such popular series as Doc Savage, which first appeared in 1933). We have four Harvard students: Dennis Lanning, blond and wiry; Wilmot McLan, a mathematician; Lao Men Shan, a Szechwan engineer; and Barry Halloran, "gigantic red-haired All American tackle." Then we get a couple of pulp adventure princesses, one good and one evil, before going on to an aerial battle in 1930s China. It seems as though Williamson wanted to include in this every type of pulp fiction there was. And in fact THE LEGION OF TIME is really just a pulp adventure novel, with the time travel aspects really minimal. When I am reading about our heroes fighting mutant ant-men in the future with knives and axes, it is hard to read this as hard science fiction. Yes, they are trying to make sure that the "good future" is victorious over the "bad future" (and guess which one has the mutant ant-men?), but other than a few convenient rays, there is not much futuristic about any of this.

Williamson seems fairly prescient when in this book (written in 1937) he describes someone as being blown up in 1940, fighting to save Paris. But when he also references "Las Alamos" as having secrets, which makes no sense in 1937 (even assuming "Las" is a typo for "Los", which it must be for proper Spanish), and mentions uranium and hydrogen bombs, then I begin to wonder if the version I read was updated in 1963 when Galaxy reprinted it. And guess what? Someone with access to the original publication text confirms that while the 1940 reference was present in the 1938 version, none of the others were. Galaxy strikes again!

All in all, this was a disappointment. I was hoping for a more traditional "time patrol"-type story, and maybe that is being unfair, but there you have it.

To order The Legion of Time from amazon.com, click here.


THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY by x:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/08/2016]

THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY by Jack Williamson (Unknown, Mar 1940): The introduction to the Lancer edition was written in 1968 and makes the same mistake that all discussions of the deciphering of Linear B made at that time: it gives sole credit to Michael Ventris. In fact, as I wrote in my review of THE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: THE QUEST TO CRACK AN ANCIENT CODE by Margalit Fox (ISBN 978-0-062-22883-3) (MT VOID, 03/21/2014), there were three main characters: Arthur Evans, Alice Kober, and Michael Ventris. Evans discovered the tablets, Kober made the majority of the breakthroughs in deciphering them, and Ventris used Kober's work to finish the job. There are parallels to the Rosalyn Franklin story: just as Franklyn did a lot of the work on discovering DNA but James Watson and Francis Crick got all the credit, so Kober made giant strides in deciphering Linear B but Ventris got all the credit. In both cases, the omission was in part due to the gender of the person but also in part because both Franklyn and Kober died before they could finish the job. And in both cases, there is now a belated attempt to correct the oversight.

This of course has little if anything to do with the novel, historical fiction that assumes magic works (or worked in ancient Crete, anyway). Williamson does a reasonably good job (he seems to be as much at home in historical fantasy as in space opera). I did notice that the names follow the usual "rules"--for example, the hero is Theseus and the sniveling toady is Snish. One finds it difficult to imagine the names being applied the other way around. On the other hand, the use of "thanks" instead of "thank you" does tend to jerk one out of the ancient-world feel. The Lancer edition also has a lot of typos (though "the rising sun was thankful to their long-chilled bodies" is probably not Lancer's fault).

"And Talos abruptly became totally motionless..." This brings to mind the scene at the end of the film WAR OF THE WORLDS when the spaceship crashes to the ground and just stops, without a bounce, a vibration, or even a shiver. As a special effect, it looks wrong, but as an expression of the magic of Talos, it is perfect.

To order The Reign of Wizardry from amazon.com, click here.


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