Review of Grace Zaring Stone's THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN

One of my “Complete The Series” reading challenges this year is the Vintage Movie Classics: Novels That Inspired Great Films series. I’ve decided to read each book and then watch the movie based on it, and review both in the same post (which may result in some very long posts, I admit). Here’s the first entry:

Bitter Tea Both Covers.jpg

 

BOOK REVIEW

TITLE: The Bitter Tea of General Yen

AUTHOR: Grace Zaring Stone

195 pages, Vintage Movie Classics, ISBN 9780804170864

$17.95

PREMISE: (back cover copy) The groundbreaking novel that was the basis for Frank Capra’s strange, shocking drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther.
 
Traveling to Shanghai to marry her medical missionary fiancé, the beautiful Megan Davis finds herself caught in the toils of civil war between Republican and Communist forces. Determined to save the inhabitants of an orphanage in a Communist-occupied city nearby, Megan joins a nighttime rescue mission that ends up under attack by a mob. She avoids death only thanks to the intervention of General Yen, who brings her to his palace, where they come to form an unlikely trust and companionship in one another. As the political climate sours and violence outside the palace walls escalates, the motives behind various associates of the General are called into suspicion, leading to an unexpected and irreparable betrayal.
 
Originally published in 1930, this absorbing novel of war-torn China was adapted into a film in 1933. 

With a new foreword by Victoria Wilson.

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

MY THOUGHTS: There is no doubt Grace Zaring Stone rights with a smooth, effective economy of words and an eye towards the poetic when it comes to describing her characters’ surroundings. There are lots of beautifully written passages throughout the book and one can see why when it was published in 1930 it captivated a larger readership’s attention. Despite the beauty of the prose and depth of character for the two leads (Megan Davis and General Yen), I struggled with the book’s very obvious Colonial “Christian vs. Heathen” attitude.

Victoria Wilson’s introduction discusses Zaring Stone’s intent to take “a white woman of good standing out of her safe milieu, putting her into a wild, exotic setting … where most (white) men would dare not venture.” The author certainly accomplishes this. Megan has barely arrived in China when she narrowly avoids death (or possible kidnapping) in the midst of a mob. General Yen saves her, and for the rest of the book Megan’s assumed comfortable position as White Savior’s Wife is called into question at every turn. It’s very obvious that only the attentions of General Yen are keeping her from death (or a fate-worse-than). But Megan’s “safe” assumptions about whether the Christian way is better than, or even right for, the Chinese who surround her are never really in danger of being challenged. She rebuffs every counterpoint the well-educated, English-speaking General Yen fields. Several times he calls her on her wish to change him to be more like the men she’s grown up with and learned about. Each time, she verbally denies it but her actions speak louder. (And this “we’re better than them” mindset is not limited to Megan; all of the non-Chinese characters express it, even the supposedly most-Christian of them; people like Doctor Strike may admire much about Chinese culture in general and about General Yen in particular, but they still think Christianity is more worthy.)

Ultimately, one of my problems with the book is that I don’t feel Megan grows at all from her experience. In the final pages, she admires General Yen’s nobility and willingness to die for what he believes is right, but she remains just as convinced as she was at the beginning that the Christian way is the best (perhaps only) way. She never quite says it, but there’s an undercurrent that she still believes if the General had just listened to her, things might have turned out differently. Which just drives home the characters’ attitudes that these in-fighting locals (remember, this is the Chinese Civil War, communists versus warlords), no matter how much great art they may make, are still savages. All of the Megan/Yen one-on-one scenes are electric battles of will and culture, and they are the most interesting scenes in the book.

I may not agree with her stance and her lack of growth, but there’s no denying Megan Davis is a strong character, one who spent a short time pretending to be a retiring wall-flower back in America before becoming engaged to a missionary in China whom she’d grown up with. She bucks the expectations that she’ll be a quiet, dutiful missionary’s wife by agreeing to charge into embattled territory to rescue children and staff from an orphanage with the older Doctor Strike. She’s the most well-developed female in the book, and none of the other female cast come close. Yen’s young concubine Mah-Li comes close to being as well-developed, although it’s more subtly done. She’s a complicated character: raised in one of Doctor Strike’s orphanages, now the mistress of a famous warlord but in love with one of that warlord’s aides – and she’s possibly a spy for the opposing Chinese forces. One of the questions never quite answered about Mah-Li is whether she betrays Yen simply out of love for Captain Li or if she’d have betrayed him eventually even without Li’s love and influence. (I also have to wonder how much Li really love Mah-Li, as opposed to how much he’s leading her on to use her for revenge against the General.)  The only other notable female character is Mrs. Jackson, the British woman in whose house Megan is staying at the start of the novel. Mrs. Jackson is the very stereotype of the condescending “Great White Hope” matriarch.

General Yen is of course well-developed as the male lead: a figure the reader is immediately intrigued with thanks to Megan’s first unnamed encounter with him after a car accident she witnesses as much as thanks to the glowing description provided by Doctor Strike. Strike may no longer be on the General’s good side, but that doesn’t stop the good doctor from admiring him. Yen is cultured, European-educated, full of charisma and strong opinions about right and wrong, loyalty and tradition, East versus West. He is the perfect foil for Megan, but in the end he is just as headstrong that his way is the only right way. His hubris absolutely would have led to his downfall whether Megan had come into his life or not. Again, the other male characters don’t come close to being as well-rounded. Captain Li, suffering aide and hostage to the General’s power, barely registers as more than a plot device; Megan’s fiancée is notable only for his total absence from the action; Mr. Jackson is a sad-sack whiner; and Doctor Strike is a stock mentor-figure whose presence really only serves to set up Megan’s expectations of General Yen. The only other remotely well-developed character is Yen’s American accountant Mister Schultz. Schultz is a manipulator, greedy and selfish and prone to drunken ramblings that cause problems for the other characters. If any character in the book has a redemption arc, though, it’s Schultz. He’s the only character I think comes out having learned something and surviving to maybe implement it.

Overall, I’d say the very Colonial tone of the book and the lack of character growth for either of the two leads puts this one at a three-star rating: I liked it, but didn’t love it, and I didn’t immediately feel like I need to go out and read more of Zaring Stonee’s work (commenters are free to tell me if they think I might enjoy any of her other books and why, of course).

 

MOVIE REVIEW

TITLE: The Bitter Tea of General Yen

DIRECTOR: Frank Capra

CAST: Barbara Stanwyck (as Megan), Nils Asther (General Yen), Walter Connolly (Jones), Toshia Mori (Mah-Li)

88 minutes, black and white, Columbia Pictures

Dvd: $20.95

PREMISE: (dvd cover copy) At the height of the Chinese Civil War, American missionary Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity) arrives in Shanghai to marry another missionary, Robert Strike (Gavin Gordon, The Bride of Frankenstein). As soon as she arrives, however, the couple must save a group of orphans from a fire. Injured and separated from her fiancé, Megan is rescued and taken to the home of General Yen (Nils Asther, Our Dancing Daughters). While Megan and the General grow closer, one of the general’s concubines seems to be secretly working for Yen’s enemies. Directed by the legendary Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life), The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a provocative romantic drama.

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

MY THOUGHTS: I think the description above indicates clearly the first thing about this adaptation that Capra got wrong: the introduction of a romantic storyline between Megan and General Yen. There wasn’t even a hint of an undertone of a romantic spark between the characters in the book – grudging respect, full-on aggravation, the potential for a friendship were all there, but romance definitely wasn’t. It casts the story in a completely different light.

Barbara Stanwyck is, as usual, terrific in the lead role. Her turns from naively enthusiastic wife to staunch defender of womanhood to conflicted potential lover are all believable. The Megan of the movie grows as a person a bit more than the Megan of the book, and that’s mostly on Stanwyck’s portrayal rather than anything overtly in the script. (Although the dream she has, in which Yen rescues her from what appears to be a Chinese vampire, might be a bit too on-the-nose as a turning point in her attitude. I could be wrong, but I think Nils Asther played both the General and the vampire.)

Setting aside the era’s penchant for casting white men as Asians, Nils Asther’s performance as General Yen is a study in predatory behavior and what we’d now call “gaslighting.” From the very start, Yen’s gaze is caught leering over Stanwyck; in a departure from the book, he never informs Megan’s fiancée and friends that she is in fact still alive (in fact, he revels in the fact that they think she’s dead), and every conversation they have is an attempt to get her into bed by making her question everything she knows. He evens admits at one point that her missionary zeal makes him both laugh and intrigues him. The strong-willed white woman is just another conquest potential conquest for him. The General Yen of the book is obnoxious but at least somewhat likeable; the General Yen of the movie is downright despicable. Asther’s accent also seems to be all over the place. Sometimes vaguely Chinese, sometimes reminiscent of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, sometimes almost British.

Gone are the electric battle-of-wills scenes of the novel. Instead, we get scenes of Megan’s clear manipulation by everyone around her: the General, the jealous-but-also-traitorous Mah-Li (whose betrayl is much more obvious from the get-go in the movie), and even fellow American Jones (Schultz in the book). Gone also is Yen’s noble sacrifice at the end of the book, replaced with a “all hope is lost” suicide-by-poison that is supposed to be nobly romantic but instead is just creepy as hell.

Walter Connelly’s Jones might be the character who, despite the name change, remains closest to the book version: Jones is manipulative, money-grubbing and a drunken lout. There’s something to be said for consistency.  Gavin Gordon’s Robert Strike (combining Megan’s fiancée with the doctor who leads her into trouble) barely affects the plot and isn’t seen again once he escapes the mob that threatens Megan. Captain Li, played by an actual Asian-American actor, has no lines (not even sub-titled).

What Capra gets right, of course, is the direction and cinematography: the fuzzy borders of Megan’s awkward dream, the dark fire-lit scenes of the destruction wrought by war, the intense close-ups during the main characters’ verbal battles and the sweeping panoramas of Yen’s country estate. I really wish he’d eschewed the romantic through-line and let Stanwyck really go to work on a true battle of the wills – although I suspect Asther would have been the clear loser in that case, Stanwyck is just that good.

APRIL 2018 READING ROUND-UP

Being the fourth of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in April:

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 8 books in April: 3 in print, 2 in audio, and 3 in ebook format. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #95 (April, 2018) edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Will McIntosh’s “What About Eve,” Ken Liu’s “Snow Train,” Suzanne Palmer’s “Lazy Dog Out,” and Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Old Women Who Were Skinned.”

2.       Locke & Key Full Cast Audio Production based on the graphic novels by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy this. I thought I would, as I loved the graphic novel series and the voice cast includes Haley Joel Osment, Kate Mulgrew and Tatiana Maslany. But I didn’t feel like the material translated well. Places where narrator exposition would have helped bridge scenes were lacking narration, and places where a narrator’s introduction were unnecessary had noir-style deep-voiced narration. The whole thing was a bit uneven to me. That said, there were some scenes that were absolutely terrifically performed by the cast. (I also could not find a full cast list anywhere on-line when I looked.)

3.       So You Want To Be A Robot and Other Stories, by A. Merc Rustad. Don’t want to say too much about this here because a full review should be forthcoming on Strange Horizons in the near future, but overall I quite enjoyed this collection.

4.       To The Stars by George Takei.  I like listening to memoirs narrated by the actual person, because you often get more insight through the way the person tells their own story. While there were parts of this I found intriguing (the details of his family’s internment and his mother’s near-loss of her American citizenship; the behind-the-scenes machinations of Leonard Nimoy that kept Takei, Nichols and Doohan involved in the Star Trek cartoon), there was also a lot of Shatner-bashing. I know there’s never been any love lost between Takei and Shatner, but there were points where it felt a little tiresome. I know when Takei originally wrote this, he wasn’t yet as publically out as he is now; I hope someday he’ll narrate the rest of his story to date.

5.       Saving The Date (1Night Stand #1) by ‘Nathan Burgoine and Angela B. Stone. Three years ago, Morgan was the victim of a brutal gay-bashing. He’s decided to “reclaim the date” of the event by creating new, happier memories – through a blind date set up for him by his therapist. Zach, a local cop, is newly divorced and trying to figure out how to tell his loved ones he’s bisexual when he’s set up on a blind date by a co-worker’s sister. They turn out to be each other’s dates. This is a cutely romantic, and very erotic, novella that links to several other of Burgoine’s short stories. A quick read but not lacking in emotional depth, with characters I’m looking forward to seeing more of (as well as wanting to see more of the 1Night Stand private dating service).

6.       A Wind in the Door (Time Quintet #2) by Madeleine L’Engle. Charles Wallace Murry is sick, and it might have something to do with the farandolae in his mitochondria, which seem to be linked to creatures destroying the galactic fabric of reality. In childhood, and even the last time I reread this series over a decade ago, this was my least-favorite installment in the Time Quintet. This time through, I got a lot more out of it, perhaps because of my own cancer diagnosis mapping so well onto the way Charles Wallace Murry falls ill.

7.       The Glass Falcon (Folley & Mallory #2) by E. Catherine Tobler.  This second, novella-length installment in Tobler’s steampunk-Egyptiana-shapeshifters series is no less fun that the first installment was. Damaged artifacts at the Louvre and vandalism in the Paris Catacombs are connected, and it’s up to Folley and Mallory to figure out how.

8.       The Scarlet Plague (Radium Age of Science Fiction #1), by Jack London. A grandfather tells his young grandsons the story of the Plague that virtually destroyed humanity and crippled civilization. It’s more of a novella, by the author of Call of the Wind. There’s some great descriptions of nature, and of how the plague spread, but it’s a bit heavy-handed on the “civilized elite” versus “uncouth servant class” divide.

 

That’s 8 books in February, to a Year-To-Date total of 53, which Goodreads says me puts me 18 books ahead of schedule for my 100 Books Challenge.  I didn’t read anything this month for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge or the “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge (I’m at 17 graphic novels for the year, and as the last full week of April was week #17 of 2018 I’m still at least on-track for the year-to-date). To The Stars (the George Takei memoir) counted towards the Bustle Challenge. The Glass Falcon and The Scarlet Plague continued two of my “Complete the Series” challenges. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “What Is Eve?” by Will McIntosh, from Lightspeed #95, April 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

2.       “Webs” by Mary Ann Mohanraj

3.       “The Elephant’s Crematorium” by Timothy Mudie

4.       “Mozart on the Kalahari” by Steven Barnes

5.       “The Old Women Who Were Skinned” By Carmen Maria Machado

6.       “A Place Without Portals” by Adam-Troy Castro

7.       “The Snow Train” by Ken Liu

8.        “Nitrate Nocturnes” by Ruth Joffre

9.       “Lazy Dog Out” by Suzanne Palmer

10.    “These Antique Fables” by Seanan McGuire, from the author’s Patreon page

11.   “This Is A Wardrobe Not A Door” by A. Merc Rustad, from the author’s collection So You Want To Be A Robot

12.   “Tomorrow When We See The Sun” by A. Merc Rustad

13.   “The Sorcerer’s Unattainable Gardens” by A. Merc Rustad

14.   “The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie” by A. Merc Rustad

15.   “For Want of A Heart” by A. Merc Rustad

16.   “Once I. Rose” by A. Merc Rustad

17.   “Where Monsters Dance” by A. Merc Rustad

18.   “A Survival Guide For When You’re Trapped In A Black Hole” by A. Merc Rustad

19.   “Thread” by A. Merc Rustad

20.   “Under Wine-Bright Seas” by A. Merc Rustad

21.   “Of Blessed Servitude” by A. Merc Rustad

22.   “To The Knife-Cold Stars” by A. Merc Rustad

23.   “Finding Home” by A. Merc Rustad

24.   “Winter Bride” by A. Merc Rustad

25.   “To The Monsters, With Love” by A. Merc Rustad

26.   “Batteries For Your Doombot 5000 Are Not Included” by A. Merc Rustad

27.   “…Or Be Forever Fallen” by A. Merc Rustad

28.   “Iron Aria” by A. Merc Rustad

29.   “What Becomes of the Third-Hearted” by A. Merc Rustad

30.   “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad

31.   “How To Become A Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad

 

So that’s 31 short stories in April, one per day (and one for luck, so to speak) bringing me Year-To-Date to 118 stories. As April 30th was the 120th day of the year, this puts me only 2 stories behind of schedule for the year so far.

March 2018 Reading Round-Up

Being the third of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in March:

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 22 books in February: 18 in print, 2 in audio, and 2 in ebook format. They were:

1.       DC Archives Editions: The Golden Age Green Lantern Volume 2 by Bill Finger, Martin Nodell and Irwin Hasen. A hardcover collection of long-out-of-print Green Lantern (Alan Scott) stories from the early days of the Golden Age, with his sidekick Doiby Dickles. What struck me was the absence of costumed and powered villains (he fights mostly mobsters) and the fact that the love interest he had in these early stories has been completely forgotten since the character was revived in the Silver Age.

2.       Lightspeed Magazine #94 (March 2018 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Seanan McGuire’s “And Men Will Mine the Mountains for Our Souls,” Ken Liu’s “Cosmic Spring,” Beesan Odeh’s “Al-Kahf,” and A. Merc Rustad’s “Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn.”

3.       Rings of Anubis (Folley & Mallory Book 1), by E. Catherine Tobler. The first of Tobler’s alt-history/steampunk/Egyptian legends series introduces us to former archeologist Folley, searching for the rings of the mummy that stole her mother from her, and Mallory, intrepid government agent and reluctant werewolf. Exciting, fast-paced and just fun. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

4.       Lumberjanes Vol 8: Stone Cold by Watters, Leyh, Pietsch and others.  The Roanoke cabin is excited for Barney’s first day as a Lumberjane, only to discover Barney’s whole cabin group has been turned to stone. Was it a gorgon or something more horrific? And how does a fomer camper-adversary fit into the mix?

5.       Tricks For Free (InCryptid #7) by Seanan McGuire. Antimony Price is on the run from the Covenant, estranged from her family, and working at LowryLand amusement park when she comes to the attention of the park’s secret board of magic-users. With help from new and old friends and her dead aunts Mary and Rose, can she remain off the radar but still save the day? This was a fun one, and I find the more I read of Antimony the more I like her (although Verity is still my favorite Price sibling of the current generation). And I really, really like Antimony’s boyfriend Sam.

6.       A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet #1) by Madeleine L’Engle. One of my childhood favorites, re-read countless times over the years, and it never disappoints. With a brevity of language that somehow is still descriptive and poetic, L’Engle sweeps us along on a journey across the galaxy with characters we come to love very much, faults and all.

7.       Changing The Grade by Jonathan Cornue.  Educator Cornue describes the need for a new, less “open to interpretation” method of grading student work, and discusses how hard the process of change will be for districts set in their ways. This is a book every educator, administrator, parent, and college admissions director should read and discuss.

8.       Coming To You Live: A Newsflesh Novella, by Mira Grant. As I haven’t gotten around to reading all of Grant’s collection of Newflesh novellas, I was really glad Orbit Books decided to release this one as a stand-alone ebook. It was great, after years of reading novellas focusing on various series secondary characters, to return to the point of views of the series’ original main characters, Shaun and Georgia Mason. This one opens up a new level of future possibilities for the series, and really packs an emotional punch for long-time readers.

9.       Widow’s Point by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar. The story of a haunted lighthouse told in the style of a “found footage” horror film: the main character is a paranormal investigator who narrates his experiences in the lighthouse, interspersed with his description of its bloody history. Very effective with the sense of unease, the chills, etc. Reminded me of the much longer House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

10.   Binti: Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor.  This was a re-read. Well, a re-listen. I’d read the second novella in Okorafor’s series last year, but it finally came out in audio once again with the amazing Robin Mills narrating, and I had to listen to it. It’s just as good in audio as it was in print, and I still felt all the emotions I felt on the first read.

11.   Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Rising by Jim Shooter, Frances Manapul and others. A collection from the Legion’s “ThreeBoot” period (which will mean nothing to you if you’re not a Legion of Super-Heroes fan). The art is great in places, not so great in others. The story itself is a bridge between earlier volumes and the next big battle for the team, so there’s lots of character building interspersed, but it all felt a bit hectic and disorganized. Not my favorite LSH story.

12.   Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith. I’d forgotten just how adorable and breezy this story (which I first read in monthly issue format) was. Smith captures the whimsy of original Golden Age Captain Marvel stories by Otto Binder and CC Beck, but adds his own story-telling voice and twists to the mix. I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading it.

13.   Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Volume 3 by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham and others. The end of a popular JSA arch that brought the Superrman from the Kingdom Come miniseries into the then-current DC Universe main Earth, and also addressed (in sections with art by Jerry Ordway) whether Power Girl could ever find her way back to the original Earth-2. This arch overall felt drawn out, especially here in the final section. Great art, some great character work, but it probably could have been a few issues shorter overall.

14.   Black Bolt: Hard Time (Black Bolt #1) by Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward and others. I have to give Saladin Ahmed credit: he made a character I’ve always found boring (Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans) interesting. He did it by removing the character from all of his traditional trappings and putting him in the middle of a “fight your way free with unlikely allies you’re not sure you can trust” situation. I’m interested to see where Ahmed took the story in volume 2 later this year.

15.   The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman. My second audiobook for the month. A lovely modern YA fairy tale about a runaway teen boy who finds refuge with a supposedly evil wizard in a magic bookshop hidden on the seacoast of Maine, who then gets involved in saving the local town and his mentor from another evil wizard. I loved every word of this, and all of the character development.

16.   The Bitter Tea of General Yen by Grace Zaring Stone. This was my March read for my 2018 To Be Read Challenge. A longer review will be coming in a separate post. Short version: it was okay, but didn’t blow me away the way the introduction thought it would. Part of Vintage Books’ Vintage Movie Classics series, which I’m also trying to work my way through this year (with the intent to see the movies based on the books as well, where possible).

17.   Dog Men: A Dresden Files Graphic Novel by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Diego Galindo and others. Another original graphic novel filling in the space between the novels Small Favor and Turn Coat in Butcher’s urban fantasy series. This one finds Harry Dresden, with a huge chip on his shoulder comprised of anger and guilt, and Mouse on an impromptu road trip with elder wizard Listens To Wind, investigating a bloody family slaughter that is not what it seems. There are ties to the previous OGN “Goblin, Ghoul,” and to the novels preceding this in the timeline. Diego Galindo’s art is among the best in the series.

18.   Astro City Volume 9: Through Open Doors, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

19.   Astro City Volume 10: Victory, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

20.   Astro City Volume 11: Private Lives by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

21.   Astro City Volume 12: Lovers Quarrel by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others.

22.   Astro City Volume 13: Honor Guard by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross and others. I got sick over Easter weekend and went on a bit of a graphic novel reading binge, deciding to finally catch up on one of my favorite, but long-neglected, series. Astro City is a complex and wonderful creation, Busiek’s love-letter to and sometimes criticism of the super-hero comics industry, and I hope he never stops telling stories set here, especially working with co-creator Anderson on art and Ross on covers. Some of these volumes are novel-length (“Victory” and “Lovers Quarrel”) and some are collections of one- or two-issue shorter stories (“Through Open Doors,” “Private Lives,” and “Honor Guard”), but they all show off Busiek’s world-building and his and his co-creators creativity. In the shorter-story volumes, various artists give Anderson a break, and it’s clear Busiek’s scripts were written to the skill sets of the individual artists. And while all of the Astro City volumes can be read in any order because of the way the tales jump around in the city’s history, it’s very clear this run from Vertigo is building towards something big a few more volumes down the road.

That’s 22 books in February, to a Year-To-Date total of 45, which Goodreads says me puts me 20 books ahead of schedule for my 100 Books Challenge.  The Bitter Tea of General Yen is the only book read this month for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge. A Wrinkle in Time counts towards the “Bustle Reading Challenge.” Twelve graphic novels exceeds my “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge and puts me ahead for the year-to-date there. Rings of Anubis and The Bitter Tea of General Yen helped me start a couple of the “Complete the Series” challenges. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Independence Patch” by Bryan Camp, from Lightspeed #94, March 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

2.       “Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn” by A. Merc Rustad

3.       “Cosmic Spring” by Ken Liu

4.       “The Effluent Engine” by N.K. Jemisin

5.       “The Dreamers of Alamoi” By Jeremiah Tolbert

6.       “Al-Kahf” by Beesan Odeh

7.       “And Men Will Mine the Mountains For Our Souls ” by Seanan McGuire

8.        “You Do Nothing But Freefall” by Cassandra Khaw and A. Maus

9.       “The Proving Ground” by Alec Nevala-Lee

10.   “The Haunted Ceiling” by H.G. Wells, from The Strand Oct 2016, edited by Lamia Gulli

11.   “The Adventure of the American Drifter” by Larry Millett

12.   “The Recitation of the Most Holy and Harrowing Pilgrimage of Mindy and Also of Mork” by Seanan McGuire, from Tricks For Free (additional novella in the hardcover release)

13.   “Now Rest, My Dear” by Seanan McGuire, from the author’s Patreon page

14.   “Last Call at the Last Chance” by Seanan McGuire

15.   “Cabbages and Kings” by Seanan McGuire

16.   “From A to Z in the Book of Changes” by Seanan McGuire

17.   “Pop-Pop” by Brian James Freeman, from the author’s Patreon page

18.   “The King of the Animals” by Josh Russell, from One Story #238, February 15 2018, edited by Patrick Ryan

So that’s only 18 short stories in February, far less than one per day, bringing me Year-To-Date to 87 stories. As March 31th was the 90th day of the year, this puts me 3 stories behind of schedule for the year so far.

READING ROUND-UP: February 2018

Being the second of my monthly reading summaries for 2018. Here’s what I read in February:

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 8 books in February: 4 in print, 1 in audio, and 3 in ebook format. They were:

1.       Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner by Donald E. Westlake. A prison break / bank robbery / military base caper /comedy of errors by a true master. There was at least a chuckle on every page, if not more, and Westlake made me really honestly laugh out loud several times. He piles the complications onto our hapless narrator, who just wants to get through it all in one piece. FULL REVIEW HERE.

2.       The Rainbow Comes And Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Loss and Love by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt.  Listened to this on audio, and loved the honest interplay of emotion between son and mother as Anderson learns more about his mother’s childhood and early marriages before discussing their shared history. Very, very touching.

3.       Lightspeed Magazine #93 (February 2018 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual great assortment of science fiction and fantasy short stories and non-fiction. Favorites this issue were Ashok K. Banker’s “The Goddess Has Many Faces,” Bogi Takacs’ “Four Point Affective Calibration,” Rahul Kanakia’s “A Coward’s Death,” and An Owomoyela’s novella “The Charge and the Storm.”

4.       Teenagers From The Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes, edited by Timothy Callahan. The Legion are among my favorite comic-book super-teams (I seem to really love teams whose adventures take place in the past, like the Justice Society, or the far future, like the Legion). This book of essays spans the published history of the group.

5.       Things Fall Apart (The Africa Trilogy #1) by Chinua Achebe.  A fifty-year-old classic of African literature that I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t read before now. Sparsely written but with true poetry in the language, it captivated me from beginning to end, and inspired me to seek out the other books and add the series to my “Complete The Series” Challenge for 2018.

6.       Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney. A collection of five wonderful novellas that each deserves their own review. Two (“Bone Swans of Amandale” and “How The Milkmaid Struck A Bargain With the Crooked One”) are retellings of familiar fairy-tales with new twists and points-of-view (Bone Swans retells The Pied Piper with a bit of “swan princess” and “three musicians of Bremen” tossed in; Milkmaid is Rumplestiltskin with perhaps a bit of “faerie queen” for flavor). The other three are completely original tales that don’t feel particularly fairy-tale-ish but still ring out in Cooney’s inimitable style.

7.       Darkstar and the Winter Guard by David Gallaher, Steve Ellis and more. A graphic novel collecting Gallaher and Ellis’ mini-series featuring Marvel’s Russian state-sponsored super-team (and which also includes a classic Hulk tale from Peter David’s acclaimed run on the book). I really wanted to love this, given how much I loved the characters back when Darkstar debuted in The Champions and then an early version of this team appeared during Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run … but for a variety of reasons, the story just didn’t grab me and I finished it feeling disappointed. I liked some of the newer characters, and missed some of the originals. I do wonder what Gallaher could do with the characters given a longer run.

8.       Shimmer Magazine #41 (January 2018) edited by E. Catherine Tobler.  A solid set of four spec-fic short stories by authors Sam Rebelein, Rebecca Campbell, Dee Warrick and Ian O’Reilly. I actually read the Rebelein story back in January, but read the rest of the stories this month. The Rebelein and Warrick both moved me in different ways, and the Campbell physically disturbed me (a good thing), and the O’Reilly was an excellent read as well.

So only 8 books in February, which Goodreads told me puts me six books ahead of schedule for my Goodreads Reading 100 Books Challenge.  Things Fall Apart is the only book read this month for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge, and along with Teenagers from the Future helped begin meeting the “Bustle Reading Challenge.” Only one graphic novel read in the month puts my “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge three weeks behind, and nothing I read in February helped meet any of the “Complete the Series” challenges that were on the list before I added The Africa Trilogy this month. All but the To Be Read Challenge were described HERE.

(Note: I am supposed to be posting full book reviews for the To Be Read Challenge, and have yet to post either. Longer reviews of Philip Jose Farmer’s Ironcastle (read in January) and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (read this month) will be posted soon.

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “Regulation” by Seanan McGuire, from Galactic Games, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

2.       “Minor Hockey Gods of Barstow Station” by Beth Cato.

3.       “Into the Green” by Seanan McGuire, from Bloodlines, edited by Amanda Pillar

4.       “The High Cost of Tamarind” by Steve Berman, from Time Well Bent, edited by Connie Wilkins

5.       “Blank” by Neil Bailey, stand-alone story e-published for Kindle

6.       “The Man With the Power to Kill With His Eyes” by Neil Bailey

7.       “Live in Brass” by Seanan McGuire, a “Patrick and Dianda” story from the October Daye-verse, self-published on the author’s Patreon

8.       “Eeny Meeny Miney Mi-Go” By William Meikle, ebook reward from the Occult Detective Quarterly Presents… Kickstarter

9.       “Black Fanged Thing” by Sam Rebelein, from Shimmer #41, January 2018, edited by E. Catherine Tobler

10.   “An Incomplete Catalogue of Mysterious Births, or, Secrets of the Uterus Abscondita ” by Rebecca Campbell

11.    “Me, Waiting For Me, Hoping For Something” by Dee Warrick

12.   “Held” by Ian O’Reilly

13.   “Filigree, Minotaur, Cyanide, Bloom” by Damien Angelica Walters, from Adam’s Ladder, edited by Michael Bailey and Darren Speegle

14.   “Ch-Ch-Changes” by Chaz Brenchley

15.   “My Father, Dr. Frankenstein” by John Langan

16.   “Swift to Chase” by Laird Barron

17.   “Faint of Heart” by Amanda Rea, from One Story #237, edited by Patrick Ryan

18.   “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias S. Buckell, from Lightspeed #93. February 2018, edited by John Joseph Adams

19.   “Jamaica Ginger” by Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl

20.   “Four Point Affective Calibration” by Bogi Takacs

21.   “The Quiet Like A Homecoming” by Cassandra Khaw

22.   “The Seventh Expression of the Robot General” by Jeffrey Ford

23.   “A Coward’s Death” by Rahul Kanakia

24.   “One True Love” by Malinda Lo

25.   “The Charge and the Storm” by An Owomoyela

26.   “Paper Trail” by Sabrina Vourvoulias, from GUD magazine, edited by Kaolin FIre.

27.   “Adrenaline, Inc.” by Mithran Somasundrum.

28.   “Life on the Sun” by C.S.E. Cooney, from her collection Bone Swans: Stories

29.   “The Bone Swans of Amandale” by C.S.E. Cooney

30.   “Martyr’s Gem” by C.S.E. Cooney

31.   “How The Milkmaid Struck A Bargain With The Crooked One” by C.S.E. Cooney

32.   “The Big Bah-Ha” by C.S.E. Cooney

33.   “Dirty Old Town” by Richard Bowes, from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May-June 2017 issue, edited by C.C. Finlay

34.   “Rings” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

So that’s 34 short stories in February, more than one per day. As February 28th was the 59th day of the year, this puts me 10 stories ahead of schedule for the year so far.

Reading Round-Up: January 2018

Reinstating what I intend to be a monthly summary of everything I’ve read, since I’m not reviewing every single book or story the way I used to try to do on Livejournal. Here’s what I read in January of 2018:

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in ebook format as “books.” I read or listened to 14 books in January: 11 in print, 2 in audio, and 1 in ebook format. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #92 (January 2018 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual fine assortment of sf and fantasy short stories and novellas. This month’s favorites for me were Catherynne M. Valente’s “Golabush, Or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy,” Sarah Pinsker’s “The Court Magician,” and José Pablo Iriarte’s “The Substance of My Lives, The Accident of Our Birth.”

2.       Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  A wonderful first-person gay coming-of-age story about two Latino boys in the Southwest in the 80s, endearingly read on audio by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I didn’t quite get the sense that Ari was as angry as the cover-copy made him out to be (conflicted yes, over-the-top angry not so much).

3.       Wonder Woman ’77 Meets the Bionic Woman, by Andy Mangels, Judit Tondora and others. Fun, fun, fun team-up between two of my favorite 70s TV icons. Mangels skillfully melds bad-guys from both shows into a formidable menace, and there are lots of great nods to both shows’ supporting casts (especially the female members). But there’s also an sub-plot that’s never resolved, indicating Mangels expected there to be a sequel mini-series/trade paperback. And Judit Tondora’s art is just wonderful to look at.

4.       Beneath The Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3), by Seanan McGuire.  The story of the portal-children at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children continue, this time with a quest into a Wonderland-like candy world that could have dire consequences for several members of the cast. What I love about these novellas is that you don’t have to have read the previous installments at all: McGuire tells you everything you need to know in each installment. But of course, reading them (in or out of order) gives you a much bigger picture to absorb.

5.       Sherlock Holmes and the Green Lama: Heir Apparent, by Adam Lance Garcia. Love Holmes pastiches, love the “modern pulp movement.” Not overly familiar with the pulp history of The Green Lama, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this crossover which draws on both the Lama’s and Holme’s overlapping experiences in Tibet. The tension is well-spooled-out, the action sequences well-done. I’m sure I missed some of the nods towards other pulp characters and settings.

6.       The Squirrel on the Train (Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries #2), by Kevin Hearne.  Another fun novella in the Iron Druid Chronicles narrated by everyone’s favorite Irish wolfhound, Oberon. The IDC novels and short stories told from the human characters’ perspectives are fun and exciting, but the voice Hearne gives Oberon is more endearing and intimate and just plain joyful.

7.       Binti: The Night Masquerage (Binti #3), by Nnedi Okorafor. The Binti trilogy of novellas concludes as solidly as it started: with amazing poetic prose, beautiful descriptions of people and places, action propelled by characterization, and at least one story twist I personally did not see coming. Folks whose first exposure to Afrofuturism was the Marvel movie Black Panther really need to check out this series.

8.       Lumberjanes Vol. 7: A Bird’s Eye View, by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho. After a couple of volumes where I felt the story had slowed or the art wasn’t quite up to the standard of the first few, I feel like Volume 7 is both a return to form and a departure, with several new interesting supporting characters introduced and other supporting characters returning and being given more depth – all without shirking development for the core cast. I hear there might me a television version in development, and I hope none of the spark and strength of these girls is lost in adaptation.

9.       Ironcastle, by Philip Jose Farmer, adapting J.H. Rosny Aine.  It’s taken me way too long to get around to reading this Farmer classic. I enjoyed it. There will be a longer review sometime next week, since this is one of the books I read to meet this year’s To Be Read Challenge, which requires an individual review to be posted.

10.   Superman: The Phantom Zone, by Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Tony DeZuniga, Rick Veitch, Bob Smith and others.  I loved this four-issue mini-series when it was published in the early 80s, before DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, as goofy as the story is. Gerber told a great story (although the follow-up story in DC Comics Presents was a bit more convoluted upon re-reading than I remembered). Colan’s art here is not necessarily his best compared to Tomb of Dracula, or even the Silverblade and Nathaniel Dusk minis he was drawing for DC around the same time, but it’s still fun. The man was a master of shadow and fluidity of movement.

11.   Kiss Me Like A Stranger, by Gene Wilder.  I can’t believe I haven’t read Wilder’s memoir before now. It’s become my habit to listen to, rather than read, memoirs if they’re read by the author, and I feel like I got a better sense of what Gene was trying to say (and what he was shying away from saying) by listening to him. I think, especially when it comes to the estrangement from his adopted daughter, he had blinders on as to what the problem actually was, but then again it’s very easy to judge from the outside things that aren’t as obvious when you’re in the middle. And his love for Gilda as well as the woman he married after her passing are very very strong and clear.

12.   Iceman Volume 1: Thawing Out, by Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti, Edgar Salazer, and others.  I really intend to write a longer blog-post about this eventually. As I said on Twitter, I felt like Grace really captures the act of coming out “later in life” (a subjective term, to be sure, but I think Bobby Drake coming out as gay in his late 20s, after having “come out” as a mutant in his teens, qualifies), and the different pressures and roadblocks that come with it. Bobby’s journey in these few issues very much matches my own coming out in my late twenties after years of trying to convince myself I was straight and having lots of failed relationships with otherwise wonderful women, many of whom are still good friends.

13.   Cry Your Way Home, by Damien Angelica Walters. A wonderful short story collection by one of my favorite authors, about which I don’t want to say too much here because my full review will be forthcoming at Strange Horizons in about a month.

14.   The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3), by Rick Riordan.  I have not been as captivated by the Magnus Chase books as I have by the Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series, but this concluding volume of the first trilogy (which features a short guest spot by everyone’s favorite son of Poseidon as well as Magnus’ cousin Annabeth) grabbed me. A slightly slow start gives way to a fast-paced adventure that resolves all of the extant main and sub-plots and gives us more depth to the supporting cast of Magnus’ hotel-mates.

So fourteen books in January, which Goodreads told me was a few ahead of goal for the month/year. Ironcastle is the first book read for the 2018 To Be Read Challenge. Four graphic novels meets my “one graphic novel per week” reading challenge, while nothing I read in January helped meet any of the “Complete the Series” challenges, nor the “Bustle Reading Challenge.”  Those Reading Challenges were described HERE.

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Streets of Babel” by Adam-Troy Castro, from Lightspeed Magazine #92 (January 2018 issued), edited by John Joseph Adams.

2.       “Golabush, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy” by Catherynne M. Valente

3.       “The Eyes of the Flood” by Susan Jane Bigelow

4.       “Someday” by James Patrick Kelly

5.       “Auburn” by Joanna Ruocco

6.       “The Substance of My Lives, the Accident of Our Births” by Jose Pablo Iriarte

7.       “Divine Madness” by Roger Zelazny

8.       “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker

9.       “A Thousand Nights Till Morning” by Will McIntosh

10.   “Written in Water” by Seanan McGuire, a Patrick-and-Dianda story, on the author’s Patreon page.

11.   “Guerilla Marketing” by Sanjay Agnihotri, from One Story #236, edited by Will Allison

12.   “Our New Lives” by Helen Coats, from One Teen Story #53, edited by Patrick Ryan

13.   “Trouble Comes” by Neal Bailey, stand-alone ebook available on Kindle

14.   “Tooth, Tongue and Claw” by Damien Angelica Walters, from her collection Cry Your Way Home, edited by Leslie Connor.

15.   “Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden In My Smile” by Damien Angelica Walters

16.   “On The Other Side of The Door, Everything Changes” by Damien Angelica Walters

17.   “This Is The Way I Die” by Damien Angelica Walters

18.   “The Hands That Hold, The Lies That Bind” by Damien Angelica Walters

19.   “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale” by Damien Angelica Walters

20.   “The Judas Child” by Damien Angelica Walters

21.   “S Is For Soliloquy” by Damien Angelica Walters

22.   “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters

23.   “Take A Walk In The Night, My Love” by Damien Angelica Walters

24.   “Falling Under, Through the Dark” by Damien Angelica Walters

25.   “The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter” by Damien Angelica Walters

26.   “Umbilicus” by Damien Angelica Walters

27.   “A Lie You Give, And Thus I Take” by Damien Angelica Walters

28.   “Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home” by Damien Angelica Walters

29.   “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice” by Damien Angelica Walters

30.   “In The Spaces Where You Lived” by Damien Angelica Walters

31.   “How The Marquis Got His Coat Back” by Neil Gaiman, the full-cast BBC Audio production available on Audible.

32.   “The Way Home” by Seanan McGuire, an Alice Healey /Tom Price “Incryptid” story, on the author’s website

33.   “The Lay of The Land” by Seanan McGuire

34.   “Target Practice” by Seanan McGuire

So that’s 34 short stories in January, more than one per day, putting  me exactly on schedule for the year so far.