Delilghts Only for the Initiated

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How's that for elitist and snooty? Nah, on second thought, the only way to really enjoy these is with a crowd--that's why I invited y'all into my secret lair of "the-things-I-really-oughtn't-to-admit-to-even-knowing-about-but-which-will-
dispell-the-odd-notion-of-me-that-some-seem-to-have." AKA Guilty Pleasures:

The Mabinogion--and yes, even the Evangeline Walton series of four novels that takes the four branches and turns them out at bombastically amazing length. Everyone should know about the four branches--not because it's essential cultural information, not because it's great literature (although it is that too), not because it will make your brain bigger--no, just because it is fun. It's like the Tain Bo Culaigne translated by Lady Guest (you can even fine some of the older versions of the Mabinogion in the magnificent Lady Guest translation). What's more, often the translations include "side-stories" like "Culhwch and Olwen," a riff on the Arthurian Legend with a giant magical stew-pot. Yep--the Mabinogion is simply a treasure.

Locked Room Mysteries--Okay, it's a very tiny genre, tried by many, but perfected and executed at least fifty times successfully by John Dickson Carr under a variety of names. As with all of the prolific Golden Age writers, read enough and you'll see the plots repeated--sometimes shifting from short story to novel, often picked up and moved from one novel to another. However, if you are to dip into this genre, you should have a roadmap. It Walks By Night while not a favorite because it stars the least robust of the detectives does have the unique feature of being the only mystery I know of dealing with a decapitation in the locked room. The Three Coffins featuring the most frequently recurring of the Chestertonian Detectives, Dr. Gideon Fell. This has the unique distinction of a lecture on locked room murders and a subtle twist--a murder that takes place in the middle of a street watched from both ends by witnesses and yet not seen by either. Among my favorite of the Fell series--The Man Who Could Not Shudder, The Mad Hatter Mystery, and The Problem of the Wire Cage--not a locked room, this last one, rather a tennis court that shows only one set of footprints going out to a dead body that experienced a definite "hands-on" end. And finally, my favorite of the Chestertonians--Lord Henry Merrivale--these under the pseudonym Carter Dickson, erratically in print, and even paperback copies of some of these are incredibly expensive. I collected them more than twenty years ago when I had access to the amazing world of genre used-book stores in and around Washington D.C. My favorite of these Death in Five Boxes The Skeleton in the Clock and one considered the finest of the locked room genre The Judas Window in which a person in a room with one entrance, locked from the inside, and no secret passageways (I should have mentioned that Carr does not cheat) is murdered by a crossbow bolt. All of these are very rarified intellectual puzzles--characters are fun, but central to the action (as with Dame Agatha) is the puzzle under consideration.

Treasure Island, mentioned below. I don't know if this is just a boy's book, but I've read it two or three dozen times and no other book about the sea remotely approaches it. It may be quirky like my greater than forty-five readings of Tom Sawyer which I like much, much better than Huckleberry Finn.

Finally, I have a thing for time travel science fiction. I've read some fairly bad recent stuff which has gotten acclaim--Swanwick's Bones of the Earth moves from bad paleontology through bad morality into simple dullness, Cryptozoic, now much less well known, is Brian Aldiss's infinitely more sucessful version of the same. Julian May's highly literate "Pleistocene Saga" starting, if I recall with The Golden Torc, Robert Silverberg's uncharacteristically funny Up the Line, to the poignant, frightening, and tremendously well written The Domesday Book. One mustn't forget certain classics of this genre, Bradbury's "The Sound of Thunder" and C.L. Moore's (I think) "Vintage Season." (It was written under the pseudonym shared by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, but I think it is now attributed almost entirely to C.L. Moore.)

And let us not forget the highly Christian, highly symbolic, very eerily misshapen world of Cordwainer Smith--"Scanners Live in Vain," "The Game of Rat and Dragon," "The Ballad of Lost C'mell" and a great many others. These are so odd and of such startling originality that there is simply nothing else to compare them to. People have borrowed from them and ripped them off, but they have never succeeded in recreating the astonishing sense of Otherness that Smith attains. Very highly recommended.

Okay, enough for the short walk through the field of the less-than-highly-erudite that constitutes a good 70% of my collection of books. I think one of the reasons I read so many classics now is to make up for the years of wasted youth reading "mind-numbing rot." Well, so it has been called by others who have failed to acquire the taste.

(It should come as no surprise that among my favorites are Jack Vance and C.A. Smith, whose highly ornate prose is ever a pleasure. Nor should any be astonished when I say that I don't share their enthusiasm for Gene Wolfe. Some of the Short Stories have been very fine, but I'm afraid that most of the full length works have yet to find a warm space in may heart. I've read many of them and can appreciate the finer qualities, but they simply don't speak to me the way many of these works do.)

To come, perhaps later--the amazing world of the lesser-known Golden Age--Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit and Anthony Boucher, Frederic Brown, and if that hasn't bored you completely to tears, you can listen to me wax enthusiastic about the wonders of the prose of Lord Dunsany, David Lindsay, and E.R.R. Eddison--an author with a book having the unlikely title A Fish Dinner in Memmison. And this doesn't even mention Joy Chant and Hope Mirless.

And if there's too much hissing and spitting, you may be subjected to my disquistion on Mary Roberts Rinehart, the queen of the "Had I but known then what I know now" school of mystery--who nevertheless created some of the fanciest tricks in the mystery book. And finally, you might be subjected to my life-long affection for Dame Agatha and everything she wrote, from autobiography through romance. Could create a character any thicker than tissue paper, but boy could she plot! Unlike the much better stylist Ngaio Marsh, whose writing and characters are quite fine, but whose mysteries are somewhat thin and unsatisfying. But I do go on when I had intended to stop.

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I received Cordwainer Smith's (Paul Linebarger's) "The Rediscovery of Man" (his complete shorter fiction) for Christmas. a wonderful thing. :)

About Time Travel novels: Robert Sawyer's "The Man who Folded Himself"

Now look what you made me do. In doing a quick search to figure out which letters to leave out of Fredric Brown's first name, I found out that Amazon sells From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown for the low low price of $29.

And I gave up lust for Lent!

Dear Tom,


But I was too lazy to look over at my bookshelf, or even glance at my "Screaming Mimi" e-file to see how to spell his name, so you see, you've done us all a service for the low-low price of $29.00 and a trip to the confessional!



Dear Tom,

I went and looked because I was a bit uncertain, but seeing the cover reminded me--like all the Nefsa series, it's well worth the money--and don't forget the novels in the companion books. Martian's Go Home is magnificent and I recently saw my copy with the Frank Kelly Freas cover (PB) going for a small fortune on E-Bay. It's a shame these things are so hard to come by.



What makes them even harder to come by is the fact that 40% of all SF paperbacks have been written by people whose last initial is "B," so it takes forever to check a used bookstore for Fredric Brown books.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 17, 2005 7:57 PM.

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