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From The Mists Of Obscurity…

The Guardians of the Galaxy movie has made a gaggle of money so far and enjoyed wide critical acclaim from the likes of Forbes Magazine  and others. In other words, Marvel and parent company Disney have struck gold again by trusting writer/director James Gunn to make a blockbuster film with incredibly obscure feature characters. I could go on and on about the greatness of Guardians, the cast, and Mr. Gunn himself, but I’ve done that already. The point of this post is to entertain the thought of what other obscure property might make a great feature film. So what are the ground rules? The characters could be from a comic book or graphic novel. Or from a novel or stage play. I’ll entertain a few titles, and then ask you, the reader, to chime in with a few of your own.

Wait, what? Click here for more clever Vulture posters.

Wait, what? Click here for more clever Vulture posters.

Suicide Squad from DC Comics tops my entries from the graphic novel department. You can read an issue #1 of this oft-reincarnated title in our copy of DC Comics: The New 52 vol 1. The basic premise of this title is simple. Lame super-villains get an offer of amnesty in exchange for performing sometimes deadly missions. This cool formula allows writers to play with otherwise ignored characters, but could this setup carry a movie? Would audiences flock to see a movie featuring the likes of Captain Boomerang and Bronze Tiger? I think they would if the producers employed marketing strategies similar to those used for Guardians.

Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett marks my choice for gamer fiction most likely to succeed in the right hands. Set in the Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi universe, this collection features three linked novels that detail the exploits of Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitor in the service of the monolithic Imperium of Mankind. He and his allies hunt aliens, heretics, daemons, witches, and other threats to humanity. I imagine if someone like Mr. Gunn handled this material, it could be movie gold.

Ari Marmel’s Hot Lead, Cold Iron offers a slick mix of fantasy and noir with detective Mick Oberon solving mysteries in 1930’s era Chicago. Yes, I know it sounds like Dresden Files, but Oberon’s Fae blood makes the “rules” of the book’s action a bit different than Jim Butcher’s Dresden stuff. The 1930’s era patois Marmel uses for Oberon’s narrative voice also makes the reading fun.

I usually do these things in three’s, but I’ll step out of my comfort zone a bit and suggest a fourth title, Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity, a haunting and sometimes uplifting account of families surviving in the face of utter poverty and hopelessness.  Read this and you will cry and also experience moments of triumph. Give this to the “right” film crew and you have an Oscar-candidate for sure.

Now it’s your turn. Give me some obscure titles that need the Hollywood treatment.

–Scott

 

 

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Douglas Adams Would Have Loved Guardians of the Galaxy

Is it heretical to suggest a favorite author, now passed on, might have loved something new and hip that’s just hit the scene?  I hope not, because I really believe Douglas Adams would have loved Guardians Of The Galaxy, the white-hot sci-fi movie that has burned up the box office and once again affirmed Marvel’s dominance as the house of ideas when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters.

The protagonists in Guardians and those in the works of Mr. Adams share a certain madcap glee in their roles. They don’t use the same methods. Adams’ work in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy actually lampoons the sort of all-out violence that Star-Lord and his crew of misfits employ to solve the pressing problems in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Despite this, some parallels still remain. Without spoiling things too much, the heroes of Guardians use cinematic violence to achieve their goals, for sure, but ultimately carry the day on the strength of their growing friendship and trust in each other’s abilities. While the Hitchhiker movie adaptation did not enjoy the runaway success Guardians currently basks in, I feel like Mr. Adams would have smiled at the amazingly well-realized CGI characters of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. While both characters generate plenty of laughs in Guardians, they also deliver some emotional moments. Their inhuman appearances juxtaposed with their all-too-human foibles helps communicate the notion of a galaxy brimming with possibility. Intelligent life exists in multifarious shapes and sizes.

Indeed, in many ways, Guardians marks the next step in post-racial sci-fi. We see this in the “good-guy” world of Xandar, an enlightened society teeming with sentient beings of all shapes and colors, living and loving together beyond the boundaries of racial identity. Writer/director James Gunn surely calculated all of this when putting this tour-de-force sci-fi epic together, but the movie’s first aim, like the works of Mr. Adams, is entertainment, and it scores big on that account!

If you have seen Guardians and you find yourself wanting more, or if you have not seen it yet and want a primer on Marvel’s spacefaring characters, now might be a good time for a short list of recommended titles.

Guardians1-cov Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers vol. 1. Anyone who wants to start at the very beginning need look further than this volume for the origins of Marvel’s first Guardians Of The Galaxy. This distinctively 1970’s take on the 30th century features plenty of classic comic book action, and wonder of wonders, thought bubbles! Yes, before it came uncool to reveal a character’s thoughts in today’s post-modern superhero comics (thanks, Brian Michael Bendis), writers could freely provide handy exposition and story elements by showing you what a character was thinking. If you like this one, be sure to check out Vol. 2 as well!

Guardians-Leg-cov Guardians Of The Galaxy: Legacy Vol. 1. In 2008 incomparable duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning revived Guardians Of The Galaxy. The movie that’s tearing up the box office like Michael Rooker chewing scenery would not exist without the stories in this collection. Along with artist Paul Pelletier, Abnett and Lanning redefined Guardians for a new era of Marvel readers. If you like this, be sure to grab Vol. 2 as well!

thanos imperative-cover The Thanos Imperative. It doesn’t get much more cosmic than this one! Abnett and Lanning once again deliver the goods as the Guardians, Nova, and a bevy of other characters first aid, then foil the plans of the Mad Titan, Thanos.

 

 

Battlebeyondthestars Battle Beyond The Stars. This campy Roger Corman sci-fi romp is not a Marvel movie, but its characters share the same misfit status and esprit de corps as the Guardians. It’s Seven Samurai in space, what more can a sci-fi fan ask for?

 

–Scott

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Swords & History

My last post mentioned a book called Desert Of Souls by Howard A. Jones. Thanks to eCLP, I was able to read Mr. Jones’ book shortly after that post went live, and I was not disappointed! Ostensibly historical fiction, if Desert Of Souls were ever made into a big-budget action movie, it would fall into the “buddy picture” category. Set in 8th century Baghdad, lead characters Asim and Dabir are devout Muslims in the employ of Jaffar, an important judge and close friend of the Caliph. As captain of Jaffar’s guard, Asim knows few equals when it comes to wielding a blade, and his companion Dabir possesses an unmatched level of scholarship and a perceptive eye Sherlock Holmes might envy. Together this formidable pair faces threats both mundane and magical–yes, Desert Of Souls includes supernatural elements that takes it out of the realm of pure historical fiction and into some nether region between it and pure fantasy.

Mr. Jones’ treatment of his Muslim protagonists offers a wonderfully full, real, and nuanced picture of Islamic culture and society in the 8th century, and his protagonists remain devout Muslims while also suffering the normal human foibles that make characters great. He even works in Sabirah, a strong female character who struggles with her role as a privileged royal daughter destined for a political marriage. Having devoured this tale in the span of less than a week (good time for a slow reader like me), I could not help comparing it to Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen Of The Road: A Tale Of Adventureanother “buddy-picture” historical fiction novel I wrote about a while back in this space. While Mr. Chabon’s novel is set in the 10th century and heels closer to pure historical fiction, it compares favorably to Desert Of Souls. Mr. Chabon is fond of calling the book “Jews With Swords,” and his lead characters, Amram and Zelikman, share similar traits of camaraderie won through action that Asim and Dabir possess.

While not historical fiction, if you try the two titles listed above and find “buddy picture” stories to your liking, you might also try some Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. If you want a print book for this CLP’s best option is Thieves’ House : Tales Of Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser.

If you just want some more sword-swinging historical action written in a classic pulp style, you can’t go far wrong reading Robert E. Howard’s amazing Gates Of Empire And Other Tales Of The Crusades. This phenomenal collection of pulp historical tales fails only in one capacity–it does not include a story entitled “Road of Azrael.” This tale would fit nicely into our newly coined “buddy picture” fiction category, as it pairs the Turkish sell-sword Kosru Malik and the Frankish knight Eric de Cogran in a desperate attempt to rescue a Frankish princess from slavery. This story directly influenced Mr. Jones, and he writes eloquently about it and his other sources of inspiration and research for Desert Of Souls here.

Reading this and the titles above has made me hungry for his second Asim and Dabir book, The Bones Of The Old Ones, a short story collection. Once I’ve knocked that one off, I will try one of Mr. Jones’ other inspirations, Howard Lamb’s Wolf Of The Steppes and Warriors Of The Steppes a bit of Cossack historical fiction!

In addition to the links above, you can click on any of the covers below to check out the library catalog record for that item!

Desert-of-Souls_cover   Gentlemen-of-the-road-cover Gates-of-empire-cover    Bones-of-the-old-ones-cover  Warriors-of-the-steppes-cover    Warriors-of-the-steppes2-cover

 

–Scott P.

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Song Of Ice And Fire Read-Alikes

Over the past holiday weekend I enjoyed unexpected access to HBO on-demand, and managed to watch the first three episodes of Game Of Thrones season four.  Needless to say, I was instantly reminded not only how much I love this show, but also the epic George R. R. Martin series that spawned it.  I feel like re-reading the whole series, but I also feel like it might be more productive to seek out something new to fill the void until Mr. Martin gets that sixth book out to us.

While I have recommended it before here in this space, I want to plug our Novelist database again. A lot of the titles I am going to mention below came from a Game Of Thrones read-alike search on Novelist. While I am not searching for carbon copies of Mr. Martin’s epic, I would like to at least match the tone of his series–gritty fantasy or even historical fiction with plenty of compelling characters.

Name-of-the-Wind_cover The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  The first book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, descriptions indicate this book possesses the necessary grittiness of Martin’s work, but with a good deal more magic. It also utilizes different point-of-view characters to tell the story, much like Mr. Martin does in his books. Mr. Rothfuss and this series has been recommended to me before, so that encourages me as well. Also encouraging is that the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear is also out and in our collection. The next installment, The Slow Regard Of Silent Things, seems to be due in October of this year, so if I do really enjoy it, I’ve picked a good time to start reading.

Iron-King_cover  The Iron King by Maurice Druon.  Brought to us from France by the same outfit who publishes Mr. Martin’s books, it’s no coincidence why the cover of this historical novel has a similar livery to the Song Of Ice And Fire series. Mr. Druon’s epic tale of the rule of the Iron King, Philip the Fair of France served as Martin’s inspiration for Game Of Thrones. A cast of flawed and fascinating characters populates this epic tale of ambition, violence and revenge.

Legions-of-Fire_cover Legions Of Fire by David Drake.  I have long been a fan of Mr. Drake’s sci-fi writing, but I have only read his shorter fantasy fiction, so this one would be a first for me. Set in a fantastic analog of the Roman Empire, Legions is the first book in a quartet of novels in the author’s Books Of The Elements series. Out Of The Waters marks the second title in the series, and the fact CLP also has it on the shelves makes this one another enticing option on my list!

Desert-of-Souls_cover The Desert Of Souls by Howard A. Jones.  Part of another series, this book could prove a good example of the sort of serendipitous meandering that results when using Novelist.  I found this title after plowing through a few of the database’s sidebars of suggested titles. Set in 8th century Baghdad, this quasi-historical novel contains some interesting fantastic elements, and is followed up by The Bones Of The Old Ones.

A few minutes poking around in Novelist gave me quite a few options to plan my next few weeks and months of reading!

I would also be much obliged for other title suggestions. Thanks!

–Scott

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Walking Between Worlds

Sci-Fi and Fantasy often provide new worlds for readers to explore. A purer form of escapism would be hard to find. In many cases a book immediately immerses you in a new world. If you read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, you start in the far future with dudes in powered armor nuking hostile aliens. A Game Of Thrones opens in a fantastic land with three desperate Nights Watchmen encountering the undead.

Of late I seem to be gravitating toward a slightly subtler brand of escape in my sci-fi and fantasy reading. Maybe it comes from my own interest in parallel and alternate worlds, but the idea of a character from our world discovering and crossing into a new one fascinates me. This is a sub-genre that in my experience has  no real name. So I’ll call it “threshold sci-fi,” as the characters involved often do pass through or cross some physical, or metaphysical line into another world. I’ll talk about one I’m reading now, and a few of my other favorites, and maybe folks who read this can add a few more titles that fit the label.

Skin-Map  The Skin Map by Steven Lawhead.  The first book in the Bright Empires series features the protagonist, Kit, a twenty-something Londoner with a largely unfulfilled life, meeting his 125-year-old great grandfather after taking an ill advised short cut in a dirty alleyway. Actually a ley-line bridging multiple “Earths” and time periods, the alley leads Kit to his long missing and presumed dead great grandfather, and opens  whole new worlds of danger and adventure to him. Sinister forces move through these worlds, and heroes and villains find themselves seeking a map etched on pieces of human skin. Finding the map will unlock the pathways to power and control of this amazing multiverse. After showing the usual befuddlement one would assume comes when everything you thought you knew about the universe proves untrue, Kit rises to the occasion and embarks on a grand adventure. This one is really hitting the “threshold sci-fi” sweet spot for me, and I cannot wait to finish it and move on to the next book in the series.

 

Neverewhere_cover  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  This one might be more “urban fantasy” than “threshold sci-fi,” but it still fits my newly minted category, I think. Modern Londoner Richard Mayhew makes a fateful decision to aid a homeless woman in distress, but finds more than he bargains for when she turns out to be a member of a heretofore unknown society of magical subterraneans. Torn from the safety of his humdrum life, Richard struggles to survive in a London Underground of magic and mystery. While Richard winds up a bit wimpy for my taste, Gaiman’s awesome world building abilities shine through and make you believe the magical realm beneath London really could exist. In the end Richard has to choose between worlds; he cannot live in both. This choice is often a feature of “threshold sci-fi.” Once a character crosses that line, he undergoes a transformation of some kind. Sometimes it’s physical, but often it represents a changed world view that makes returning to his old life impossible.

 

Imajica_cover   Imajica by Clive Barker.  I’ve written about this one in other posts, but I love it so much, I am going to talk about it again here! London artist John Furie Zacharias, also known as “Gentle”, becomes embroiled in strange events that lead him to revelations of other worlds connected to Earth by a strange void called the “In Ovo.”  While mind blowing in itself, Gentle quickly learns that beings from these other worlds want his girlfriend dead, and that he himself is part of a grander destiny that will force him to cross the In Ovo and accept his heretofore unknown powers. Another Londoner? Is this a pattern? I promise it’s not!  You don’t have to be a Londoner to become embroiled in a “threshold sci-fi” story, but author Clive Barker is British, and his almost lyrical ability to write both about London and the strange environs beyond the In Ovo make this massive tome of a tale worth the ride.

 

Gates-to-Witch-World_cover  The Gates To Witch World by Andre Norton.  I’ve written about this one before too, but the first book in this collection, Witch World, is quintessential “threshold sci-fi,” and bears mentioning again here.  Simon Tregarth (not a Londoner) is a desperate, war-haunted man hunted by assassins and forced to choose escape by the most desperate of measures, the Siege Perilous. In passing through it the person incurs its judgment and travels to another place worthy of his or her character and standing.  Tregarth gets the Witch World.  Norton takes the Siege Perilous from Arthurian legend and makes it the ultimate threshold of no return.

Plenty of other books and series feature threshold themes, mixing them with urban fantasy or straight-up fantasy trappings. The key for me remains the element of choice. Every good threshold story features a moment where the protagonist crosses over, and his or her life changes forever because of it.

Still, if you know of the location of any such threshold in our own world, Siege Perilous or not, let me know! While I am not a Londoner, I’d certainly be up for trying my luck! In the meantime, share any titles you might know of that fit into this tiny corner of the sci-fi genre.

Thanks!

–Scott

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Reading On Hiking

As summer creeps inexorably toward us and the weather in the northeast heats up, hikers and would-be hikers will take to trails near and far to experience the simple joy and occasional serendipity of walking in nature.  As one of those hikers, I thought it might be nice to highlight a few library resources that can help folks get the most out of their outdoor adventures.  While hiking remains one of the most broadly accessible physical endeavors–almost anyone can do it–certain techniques and approaches can benefit experienced and novice trekkers alike.  The following items provide excellent information on all aspects of hiking, and represent just a smattering of what CLP has to offer in its catalog.

Long-Dist-Hiking  Long Distance Hiking by Dan Feldman.  This book will provide critical information on excelling at long-distance hikes.  It covers aspects of nutrition, injury prevention, and camp site planning, and Mr. Feldman’s easy writing style makes it a highly accessible primer.  The subject matter works best for more experience trekkers, but it will prove invaluable for rookies prepping for their first-time long haul hikes!

Remote-Exposure-cover  Remote Exposure : A Guide To Hiking And Climbing Photography by Alexandre Buisse.  Expert photographer, explorer, and adventurer Alexandre Buisse offers a primer on getting the best pictures out of your outdoor adventure experiences.  A veteran of numerous excursions, Mr. Buisse discusses advice on getting the most out of your digital photography, including choosing the best gear, managing your time and photographic methods, and working without a tripod.

Hiking-Backpacking-cover  Hiking And Backpacking by the Wilderness Education Association.  A host of experts offer articles on the basics of preparation and techniques for getting the most out of your hiking adventures.  This primer provides ideal advice for beginning hikers, including handy quizzes at the end of each chapter that will test your knowledge of the material as you read it.

Solo-Hiking-cover  Basic Essentials. Solo Hiking by Adrienne Hall.  If you’re anything like me you might enjoy the idea of hiking alone.  This combines awesome exercise with the opportunity to think and move without the concern of companionship.  Sometimes you need that, but solo hiking offers its own challenges, and Adrienne Hall’s book addresses these issues.  Safe solo treks require planning, preparation, and care.

Complete-Walker-cover  The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher & Chip Rawlins.  When Field & Stream magazine  dubs your book the “hiker’s bible,” you know you’re doing something right!  While perhaps a trifle dated for 2014 (this was published in 2002), this handy little book has sold nearly a half-a-million copies throughout its publishing history, and much of the advice it dispenses includes timeless wisdom on making a successful camp, wildlife, and many other aspects of the hiking hobby.

I cannot write a post about hiking without also suggesting perhaps the most valuable hiking book ever published for Western Pennsylvania trekkers:

60-Hikes-cover  60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, Pittsburgh : Including Allegheny And Surrounding Counties by Donna L. Ruff.  Ms. Ruff’s book provides the most critical component of any hiker’s plan: a destination.  As the title suggests, this book offers sixty destinations to be more precise!  For folks who live in the Pittsburgh area, every entry represents an accessible escape not more than an hour’s drive from your front door!  You cannot ask for much more than that!

Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote from the great John Muir, America’s greatest naturalist and wilderness preservation advocate:

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.  John Muir, Our National Parks

Happy hiking!

–Scott

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The Prisoner Of Zenda And Other Tales Of Derring-do

zenda-coverI am not sure how I got to be my age having not read Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner Of Zenda, but I somehow managed it.  Mistake corrected, and therein lies a short library tale!  One of the great pleasures we librarians take comes with collection development.  That’s a fancy way to say “buying stuff.”  We get to shop for the library.  The lucky among us find ourselves managing collection areas we possess an affinity for.  I recently enjoyed the pleasure of bulking up the Downtown & Business library’s classics collection.  I decided I would try to acquire Dover Thrift editions for most of the titles I went hunting.  Why Dover Thrift?  It seems like Dover had public libraries in mind when they created this imprint.  Printed and bound in the USA with recycled materials, cheap, and still high quality, these softcover gems will deliver great value for our reading patrons!

With this mission in mind, I set about acquiring a somewhat eclectic group of classics from Dover Thrift, and among them was The Prisoner Of Zenda!  I will provide a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the book’s basic plot.  First published in 1894, Zenda tells the first person account of 19th century English traveler and bon vivant Rudolf Rassendyll, a man who is the distant cousin to soon-to-be-crowned King of Ruritania, a tiny (and fictional) eastern European nation.  On a lark, Rassendyll travels to Ruritania to see the coronation for himself, and finds that despite his beard and mustache, he remains a veritable body double for the young King Rudolph–yes, the king’s name is Rudolph too!  He soon finds himself caught up in a vicious political struggle for control of the little nation, and when the young King Rudolph suffers an assassination attempt shortly before his coronation, his desperate advisers convince Rudolf Rassendyll to take his place!  The ensuing action, intrigue, and romance plays out brilliantly, and Hope’s ability to carry this off spawned a whole new sub-genre of fiction dubbed Ruritanian Romance.  

Zenda also enjoyed many adaptations and more than a few parodies.   Most famous among the many theatrical versions of the story is the 1937 film The Prisoner Of Zenda with Ronald Colman in the dual role of Rudolph Rassendyl/King Rudolph.  We own a wonderful combo DVD that contains both this 1937 film, and the 1952 version with Stewart Granger in the starring role.

A few other tales of derring-do that evoke the same spirit as Zenda include:

Gentlemen Of The Road by Michael Chabon.  Mr. Chabon’s brilliant homage to the very genre Mr. Hope helped to create features action and characters that leap from the page!  A pair of adventurers in 950 AD find themselves in the Caucasus Mountains during a period of unrest in a small Jewish city-state, and become embroiled in a fugitive prince’s quest to regain power and keep his head in the midst of a raft of threats.

The Man In The Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas.  This Dumas classic surely influenced Mr. Hope’s Zenda, and the ideas of body doubles, royal imprisonment, and swashbuckling adventure feature heavily in its pages.

A Sundial In A Grave: 1610 by Mary Gentle.  Accomplished duelist and spy Valentin Rochefort embroils himself in a plot to kill King James I of England in Mary Gentle’s amazing historical thriller.

These adventures will be sure to keep you entertained on any journey to obscure European nation-states, or even just a trip to the beach!

–Scott

 

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