Books Read in July, 2020
Pleasure Thresholds 2020 Edition by Patricia Tallman
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
May, 2020 Locus
Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks
Aram's Secret by Mattias Lilja, Kosta Kostulas, Adam Palmqvist and Christian Granath (RPG)
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (r)
Lipstick Voodoo by Kristi Charish
June, 2020 Locus
The Maya: Palaces and Pyramids of the Rainforest by Henri Stierlin
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Meyer
Vaesen - Nordic Horror Roleplaying RPG by Nils Hintze, Rickard Antroia and Nils Karlen (RPG)
Broken Shadow by Jaine Fenn
And that was reading that I did in July of this year. This was a pretty good month of reading on my part, both in terms of the quality and quantity (about my monthly average) of the books read, and there was just one re-read in July. The variety of reading this past month was pretty good, but regardless, my bookcases are still stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ). The books I enjoyed the most were:
Pleasure Thresholds 2020 Edition by Patricia Tallman - In this autobiographical work, updated from the 2011 original in 2020, actress and stunt person Patricia Tallman looks back on a life on screen. From her earliest screen role in George Romero's Knightriders through her starring part in Tom Savini's re-make of Night of the Living Dead, her stunt work on STAR TREK (both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine), Jurassic Park and other big-budget movies, to her most memorable part as commercial telepath turned resistance leader Lyta Alexander in the five year sf novel-for-television Babylon 5, Tallman shares the struggle of maintaining an acting and stunt career while raising a son on her own. In this revised and expanded edition, she adds a chapter on the 20th and 25th Babylon 5 reunions as well as her newest business venture, Quest Retreats.
I've always been a fan of strong, talented women in science fiction, and Patricia Tallman is definitely that. However, as this book proves, Patricia Tallman can also tell a great story as well. The title "Pleasure Thresholds" is taken from a memorable scene in the original tv movie for Babylon 5, "The Gathering"; you can see the complete context clip of the sequence here.
The book contains her experiences working on the show, but so much more. Patricia has a conversational tone iin telling her story, from her beginnings in Illinois through her amazing experiences as a stunt woman in the likes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Jurassic Park. Her story then proceeds into the story of Babylon 5, including some (actually a lot!) of her experiences on the science fiction convention circuit with other members of the cast. And throughout the book are the many, many pictures that she took over the years that she shares with the reader in an open, thoughtful fashion. The book shares tales of Patricia's life, both happy and heart-breaking, of her time both on and off Babylon 5, but if you're also curious about the acting or stunt work professions, and about a seasoned professional and one's who's a bit...crazy in a good way, this book is definitely for you. Highly recommended!
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Meyer - This book is the first novel in the Harp and Ring Sequence. Long ago, poets were Seers with access to powerful magic. Following a cataclysmic battle, the enchantments of Eivar were lost - now a song is only words and music, and no more. But when a dark power threatens the land, poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a task much greater: to restore the lost enchantments to the world. And the road to the Otherworld, where the enchantments reside, will imperil their lives and test the deepest desires of their hearts. I pride myself on having a good grasp on fantasy plots and the tale that will be told, when one starts reading the book. In this case, a heroic young male poet named Darien fighting to win his love Rianna away from her cold arranged marriage. A young woman named Lin who wants to be a poet, even though her world says that's a job for men. And a wise old wizard who'd bring them together to fight an ancient evil. That's *not* what Last Song Before Night is about. This tale is one about acknowledging truth, and stories about truth always begin with a lie. But in fact, the story is also about art, where poetry is (quite literally) magic and the villain is the censor that must exist in order to promote the lies of self-protection and deceit among others. I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who might consider reading the book, but will say the following: The characters in this novel are very well conceived and portrayed, and are developed quite nicely from the start of the book to the end. None of them are what they first appear to be, or perhaps they are, but are merely dual-faced. For example, Lin is a defiant, independent woman who refuses to be kept down; Lin is a psychologically injured person who can't separate helping others from hurting herself. While this novel has a lot of internal thoughts and action, it also takes the characters from their home city with its warm, joyful atmosphere into cold winter woods. The book starts in a simple, mythical place about winning a contest and the person you love, but ends when you learn the truth about all manner of stuff, some of it even redemptive, but some of it very cruel. And that's what makes this book one of the best reads I've had in 2020 so far. I highly, highly recommend this book.
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages - Inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy, this is a novel set in San Francisco in 1940, which is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World's Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer "authentic" experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet. Six women find their lives as tangled with each other's as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where magic, science, and art intersect. This novel is author Klage's love letter to San Francisco, and to the women who love women. Set in 1940, as the world moves towards World War II, San Francisco is, as always, a magnet for misfits and black sheep. This novella is as much about the city itself as the people, not that one can really separate the two. The social aspects of life around 1940, assuming the author got them right (which I have no reason to suspect she didn't) were difficult and tough: open and legal prejudice against anyone who wasn't white, straight, and reasonably prosperous. Men on top. For the most part, I liked the period stuff best, but thought the present day framework was somewhat clumsy and I think mean-spirited. I liked the period stuff the best, but thought the present-day frame rather clumsy and mean-spirited. In essence, this is a love story between two people...but it's also about friendship and sticking up for those you care about, and about finding your place in a world that doesn't want you to belong. Author Klages writes with a clean prose style that allows the characters to take centre stage, and I liked the fact that there's a good deal of character development in a relatively short work. The book was a World Fantasy Award winner in 2018, so I think folks should read this book even if its subject matter isn't normally their thing.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (r) - This is one of those classic science fiction novels that I re-read every once in a while. Since the book came out in the month of my birth, I decided to re-read it again this year at that point, and don't regret it. I'm still amazed at how great this book is, even through the re-reads. What can I say about this book? It's the story of Gully Foyle, a grunt in the interplanetary merchant navy who is the sole survivor of an attack on his spaceship in a war between the inner and outer solar system. After six months scrambling to survive, a passing ship chooses not to rescue him; this becomes the catalyst for him to save himself and embark on an odyssey of revenge. It's a fast-paced science fiction thriller of retribution, a book of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, as Gully bounces between a weird space cult, underground prison, parties with the super rich, and nuclear exchanges in an increasingly deadly war. It's absolutely bursting with some great ideas, being about progress through struggle and power in society, and provides something rare from mid-20th Century sf: a strong feminist heroine. Just a great, classic science fiction read.
I pretty much enjoyed all the books that I read in July, but these are the ones that stuck out in my mind.
Overall, I managed to read 8 novels, 2 RPG and RPG products, 2 magazines, 0 comics, and 0 graphic novels in July. This brings the year total for 2020 to a set of numbers that look like this: 55 books, 14 RPGs and RPG products, 12 magazines, 68 comics, and 2 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)