Category Archives: Novel

#20BooksOfSummer22 ~ On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Channeling past summer blockbuster fun, I decided that I’d kick off 20 Books of Summer with Caribbean adventure and undead pirates: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers.

Yes, the book was loose inspiration for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. I haven’t seen the movie. I jumped ship on that franchise after the third film (I think), after very much enjoying the first one. That I can’t remember whether I’ve seen At World’s End is indicative of my philosophy here: I can forgive many sins for undead pirates, but even I run out of grace.

On Stranger Tides starts out pretty well. Jack, a young man bent on avenging wrongs to his father, is waylaid during a trip to Jamaica by pirates and pressed into their service. He also becomes wrapped up in the doings of a father taking his beautiful daughter to the Fountain of Youth for nefarious purposes. The first half of the book is concerned with traveling to the Fountain and avoiding the ghosts and insanities that plagues the path. It’s creepy and reminded me somewhat of Hodgson’s “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig'”. Unfortunately, the second half of the book is mostly a chase with Elizabeth becoming everyone’s McGuffin. It’s repetitive and, after giving Elizabeth a personality earlier in the book, disappointing. (I will admit that, while this is definitely not the Elizabeth of the films, my opinion of the character is probably colored by the movies.) There are also some instances of thick exposition and twist coincidence at the end that didn’t feel very earned.

Beat the Backlog: I purchased On Stranger Tides on Aug. 22, 2017 as a Kindle ebook.
20 Books of Summer: This is book #1 of (hopefully) 20.

Reading Notes, 5/5/22


Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

About mid-April, I was in the mood to read something neither old (19th century) nor new (21st century). I also wanted to actually finish a book for Spring into Horror. Mystery counted for the theme, so I picked the slimmest Patricia Highsmith novel that I had on my shelves.

Ray’s wife commits suicide early in their marriage. His father-in-law blames Ray and attempts to kill him. Several times. The majority of this book is Ray hiding out in Venice and trying to decide what to do about his angry in-law. Not much happens, really, yet I wanted to know more about the characters. Having read some of Highsmith’s Ripley novels, characters are obviously Highsmith’s strength. She write messy, complicated characters, which of course makes them feel real.

Since there was a bookmark from The Antiquarium tucked in it, I probably bought Those Who Walk Away there. The Antiquarium was chaotic, over-stocked used bookstore in downtown Omaha, NE. The store moved to Brownville, NE in 2006. Since I never visited it after the move, chances are I’ve owned this book since before 2006.

Deal Me In, Week 17

A❤️ “The Sycamore and the Sybil” by Alix E. Harrow – I read Harrow’s “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium to Portal Fantasies” a few weeks ago. Both were on my Eugie Awards list. This is a lyrical if depressing story. I know the end is meant to be victorious, but I get so tired of men being portrayed as wolves, even if they are wolves sometimes.


  • Bloodlines : Odyssey of a Native Daughter by Janet Campbell Hale – This is my morning reading.
  • The New Annotated Dracula by Bram Stoker & Leslie S. Klinger – If you know Dracula, you know that it’s an epistolary novel (at least in part) told in the form of letters and journal entries. About a week ago I came upon Dracula Daily, which emails parts of Dracula to you on the day they happen in the book. I’ve done this on my own in the past, but I was up for another reread of good ol’ Stoker’s masterwork. Also, I have this big, fat annotated edition that I bought and hadn’t read.

Book ~ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I love cover songs. I find that there are several sorts of covers. The low hanging fruit is the cover that is faithful to the original, but probably not done quite as well, often due to the talents of the vocalist. An example: Miley Cyrus’s cover of “Heart of Glass.” It’s fine, but Cyrus is not Debbie Harry. My favorite type of cover is when an artist brings their own signature style to a familiar song. Marilyn Manson is particularly good at this sort of cover. He does not try to be Annie Lennox; he makes “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” a Marilyn Manson song, while still keeping faithful to the original song’s mood and structure.

What does this have to do with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Because there is the rare cover that takes an original song, reworks it in a different style, and the new version become what is thought of as the standard. The most notable example of this is the song “Tainted Love.” Pretty much everyone knows the Soft Cell 1981 cover, but fewer people are familiar with the 1964 song (released as a B-side) by Gloria Jones.

Blade Runner, the 1982 film, is the Soft Cell cover: well-known enough to have spawned sequel novels, a sequel film, short films, comics, an animated series, and an upcoming limited series. Far fewer people have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick. And the two are more different than versions of “Tainted Love.”

Blade Runner. The term is never used in the novel. In fact (according to Wikipedia), The Bladerunner is a novel by Alan E. Nourse (about a dystopian society in which comprehensive health care is provided under eugenics laws). That novel was adapted into a screenplay by William S. Burroughs. The eventual screenwriter for Do Androids Dream . . ., Hampton Fancher, had a copy of the Burroughs treatment and thought the title was a good one.

Rick Deckard, Roy Baty, Pris, Rachel. These characters exist in both, but are fairly different. In general only the bare-bones of the plot make it to the movie: Deckard is a cop whose job it is to hunt down androids (never called replicants in the book) who have come to Earth and “retire” them. In the book, the pressures of wanting a better life for his wife—in the form of class status—overwhelms Deckard’s growing doubts about whether androids are people too (or whether he’s no better than an android). In the movie, Roy becomes the voice for these thoughts. In the book, Roy’s the mastermind, but is never given much to do. The female androids are a much bigger deal, mainly because Deckard’s attractions to them get in the way. Pris and Rachel are, in the book, duplicates of the same model.

Mercerism. Mercerism is absent from the films. Empathy is a big deal in the novel and Mercerism is this sort of new tech religion based on connecting with Mercer, a man who toils continually up a hill while being pelted with rocks. The whole human race can seemingly come together via communing with Mercer and his plight. Androids, of course, feel no empathy (maybe?) and cannot partake of the religion.

Electric Sheep. Faux animals provide a plot clue the 1982 Blade Runner and there are several comments in passing about the cost of real animals. In the book, there is a very middle class, keep-up-with-the-Jonses kind of pressure to own a real animal, which honestly give the novel too much of a 60s feel for me. On the plus side, real animals are given an almost religiously protected status, which makes the empathy test questions make sense .

Voigt-Kampff test. One of the few things that is lifted nearly word for word from the book are the Voigt-Kampff questions (Voight-Kampff in the movie). In the context of the book when presented with the scenario of “you’re given a calf-skin wallet” and the response is “I’d report them,” it’s because making something so frivolous as a wallet from an animal is illegal and immoral. In the movie, the questions serve as a slightly confusing bit of world building. Which is fine, not everything needs to be explained.

In general, though, I found the novel to be a product of its time. It’s big on ideas, fuzzy on details, and lacking in characterization. It is nice to know that Dick, who was dubious of Hollywood, was fairly positive about the movie adaptation. I can’t say I felt as immersed in Dick’s world as I have in Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which is a shame for book. It’s certainly a case of liking the cover better than the original.

#BeatTheBackLog Reread ~ The Last Unicorn

Picture of two editions of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. One is a fairly beat-up trade paperback. The other is a like-new hardback.

Katherine, how can a reread be part of #BeatTheBackLog?

For me, Beat the Back Log includes editions of books I’ve spent money on, but have not read. I don’t often buy multiple copies/editions of books, unless I’ve shamefully forgotten that I own the book in the first place. Usually, there is some reason for the repurchase/re-acquistion. My original copy of The Haunting of Hill House was water damaged during a trip to Florida. I decided to invest in a copy of Moby Dick instead of only rereading the Gutenberg ebook version because I want the experience of reading it in physical form and might decide to scribble in the margins.

In the case of The Last Unicorn, I purchased the copy on the right above in 1993 when I visited UNL’s bookstore the first time. I knew the animated movie that I had adored as a kid was a book, but that was the first time I saw it on a shelf. It had some wear on it when I purchased the hardback deluxe edition when it came out in 2007-ish. I figured, my old copy was getting worn out and this new one included the novella Two Hearts, which is a soft sequel to the original novel (which I also own in a collection). But then, every time I time I decided to reread The Last Unicorn (it’s one of my favorite books), I’d use the old copy.

At first, it was because of good college memories associated with the beat-up paperback: finding it at the bookstore, purchasing it along with a very over-priced chemistry textbook, reading it on a Lincoln–Omaha car trip. Then, it was because of negative associations with the hardback. See, in the 2000s–early 2010s, Peter S. Beagle had a resurgence as an author, seemingly sparked by his new business manager. This business manager was unfortunately a very unscrupulous man who ended up not only defrauding Beagle, but many fans of the author. His fingerprints are all over this deluxe edition. There’s an introduction by him, an author interview moderated by him, and just seeing his name by copyright symbols makes me a little sick. (If you don’t know the tale, Mr. Beagle eventually ended up suing said manager and won the suit. I don’t know how the fans have fared.)

But, I decided to finally read the deluxe hardback this month. And, honestly, I like my tatty paperback better. It has a nice font (I wish I knew what it was called) and I missed the illustrations by Mel Grant. The hardback also had some odd typography issues and was harder on my hands. As for the story? I’m always a little worried, on my fourth or fifth reading of a book, that I might this time find it boring. But I didn’t. There are always little things in The Last Unicorn that catch me, different things that resonate each time I read it.

Anthology ~ In Our Own Worlds

Cover for In Our Own Worlds, an anthology of LGBTQ+ novella published by Tor.

In Our Own Worlds is a four novella anthology featuring LGBTQ+ characters. It was a freebie I picked up from the publisher, Tor, in late 2019.

The first novella is The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy. Welcome to Freedom, IA, where the peace is kept by a demonic deer! Not everyone in town thinks a demon who brings retribution on “predators” is a good idea. I like the play on philosophy here, but the story seemed dependent on the reader just going along with character actions when those actions don’t have much reasoning behind them. It wasn’t that characters did outlandish things, but there was the occasional leap of logic that seemed to come out of nowhere.

I had high hopes for the second novella, Passing Strange by Ellen Klages. I have read and enjoyed Klages’s short stories in the past. In fact, this novella is why I picked up the anthology: Klages’s magical realism in 1940s San Francisco seemed like a slam dunk. Alas, as with Nebraska basketball, Passing Strange didn’t do as well as I hoped. I’ve become a bit aware of how authors present exposition and there were a lot of As You Know, Bob going on. Also, the use of magic in the story was very minimal. It almost felt like an overlay on straight (no pun intended) historical fiction.

The third novella was A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. I enjoyed this novella the most*. Okay, I’m not sure I entirely followed chronology, but that’s fine. Aqib and Lucrio are compelling main characters and I was in it for their story/stories. I also enjoy world-building that isn’t spelled out for me; I don’t need every thing explained. In a way, this is an interesting contrast to Passing Strange. Both could tell straight-up stories of forbidden romances, but use magic to solve problems for their lovers (though with consequences). A Taste of Honey just infuses the whole narrative with that magic/science.

* I decided not to read The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang. It really didn’t seem like my kind of story. Political machinations =/= A book for Katherine.

Book ~ Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

Nightmare Alley cover

Published: 1946
Audio book read by Adam Sims
Library check-out.

Considering its carnie characters and a plot involving fraudulent mediumship, I’m surprised that I hadn’t crossed paths with this novel sooner. It wasn’t until I heard that Guillermo del Torro was releasing a movie version (a remake, in fact) that I put Nightmare Alley on my TBR pile.

I didn’t care for this book, honestly. I wanted to like it more than I did. Most of this is because I really don’t enjoy the noir genre in print. Noir movies have the benefit of being stylistically interesting: the sparseness of character and setting is translated visually. In print, I feel like I’m left with a handful of miserable characters being miserable to each other. And Nightmare Alley is pretty much that.

I did enjoy the details of Stanton Carlisle’s cons. I haven’t read much on the techniques used in mentalism acts in the 30s and 40s, probably because many of the texts haven’t entered the public domain.

I don’t listen to many audio books, but Adam Sims’ reading was one of the best I’ve heard. I first checked out the movie tie-in version and didn’t care for the audio at all. Adam Sims pretty much kept this book from being a DNF.

Danse Macabre Around the Sundial Tonight

A couple reviews of books I finished a last weekend during Readathon:

Danse Macabre by Stephen King

Back in the late 70s, after Stephen King had become the go-to horror guy, he was approached to write a book about the phenomena of horror: why some people like it, why some writers write it, and why horror works. King decided, judiciously, to focus the field and write about horror between 1950 and 1980, both written and on film.

I first read this book back in college. At the time, I hadn’t read or watched much horror at all. Much of what King discusses was not really in my realm of knowledge (though weirdly, reading about horror media has always been almost as fun for me as consuming it). This book was, in fact what turned me on to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Anne Rivers Siddon’s The House Next Door, both of which I happily found in UNL’s library. It was definitely interesting to revisit Danse Macabre now that I’ve read and watched more of the titles mentioned.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

Speaking of Shirley Jackson . . . A second reread for me this month. This isn’t decreasing my “# of owned and unread books”.

I have in the past confused this book with We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Not hard to do, I feel. Both involve a very insular group of people living in big old house. The difference: Merricat (from Castle) knows the world isn’t ending because she’s not lucky enough for all the people she hates to be so quickly wiped out.

This book is wild. As I mentioned the first time I read it (in 2006), I’m pretty sure there’s a satirical element, but, other than pointing out the lunacy that can come from classism, I’m not sure I’m neurotypical enough to puzzle it all out. It is a very funny book with moments of WTF and a dollop of terror when Julia tries to break for town.