Book Reviews: Superheroes, Star Trek, Lady Detectives

As soon as she’d said it she knew she’d screwed up.
I eyed her speculatively. “Should I keep walking, or should I wait for the new girlfriend to arrive?”

How to Be a Superhero
In a nutshell, this book is about interviews with actors who’ve played superheroes, sidekicks, villains, antiheroes, and others. . . and it’s 588 pages long, so you can say it’s thorough.
After an intro where the author tries to prove the point that everyone loves superheroes, we go right into the interviews, but it isn’t just all the people who have played Superman and Batman and Spiderman; there’s Flashes and Captain Americas and Hulks, plenty of women. . . even Howard the Duck shows up. Not so much in Sidekicks and Supervillains, but for me the best part was Not All Heroes Are Super, which includes Spock, James Bond, even Agent Coulson. The book closes with questions for some of the creators: comic book artists, movie directors, screenwriters, TV series creators, even Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer. The interview with Stan Lee might be worth the price of admission alone.
Just like another book I recently reviewed on character actors, it’s the same questions over and over, though these are somewhat more pointed to the subject. Still, there are some unconventional questions that pop up every once in a while, and the best parts are when the interviewees appreciate them, especially if they’d never thought of it themselves. I’m not sure how much this would appeal to the causal movie fan, but if you enjoy superhero comic books, TV shows, or movies, this will probably be worth your while.

Star Trek: The Returned, Part I
For those familiar with the staggering amount of books written about the Star Trek Universe, this is the continuation of the series written by Peter David known as Star Trek: New Frontier. I remember reading the first collection of four stories a long time ago, and after a little research I’m quite surprised to see just how many there’s been since.
This starts with the aftermath of some big happenings in the previous story, which unhinge the main character; the first part is taken up with finding him and convincing him to come back to command his starship. Always fun when the Guardian of Forever is involved, even if only peripherally. Once he’s back the story goes into revenge for that thing that happened in the previous story, as well as a subplot involving his son and a couple of the main characters, who have changed dramatically since the last time I read about them. One of the reasons I originally read this series was the inclusion of the character of Robin Lefler, famously played by Ashley Judd in the Next Generation TV series. She doesn’t get much to do here, but since this story is going to continue past this book, it seems like a good setup for future involvement.
The best thing about the writing is the introductions of characters, which tells the newbie everything they need to know while not being too dull for those who know everything that’s going on. As someone in the middle of those two extremes, I found myself going from wondering who they were to instantly remembering them as soon as their main characteristics were described. But my point is this book can mostly likely be enjoyed by those who are coming in new to the series.

Rainy Day Women
This is another first person amateur PI story, the main difference from most being that it takes place in the late 60s, though it takes a while to realize that. Perhaps the author assumes you read the first in the series; it’s really not obvious until there’s a mention of the first moon landing. It takes place in Vancouver, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, mostly around the University of British Columbia and its chemistry lab, as well as the woman’s lib movement of the time, which is a huge part of the story.
It starts with a complete fakeout where you think the lead character’s trying to escape from an abusive boyfriend, only to find it’s something else completely. It made me laugh, so I forgive the author this joke.
While I enjoyed the setting and most of the banter, the plot—featuring more murders and attacks—and resolution. . . not as much. The author does a decent job of coming up with alternate suspects, but she stacks the deck too much for the reader to conceive it’s anyone but who it turns out to be (I know that’s vague, but I’m trying not to spoiler it).

Dead Man’s Legacy
A Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman—though she mostly works on boats—is sent to the Bahamas to do some undercover work, becoming friends with a rich and famous diva of the past to find out if she’s being abused. . . at least that’s what her boss tell her. Don’t know how she managed to get this job, but I assume it has something to do with the happenings in the previous novel, which I have not read.
The first part takes place in the Caribbean, but then she’s back in Canada and the tone drastically changes. Later on there’s a few chapters in Vegas, but except for the ending and a small jaunt further north everything takes place in the waterways between Ontario and the US, which involve a lot more than someone who hasn’t been there would imagine. Plenty of historical places, as well as the personal history of the not-so-diva’s family, keep the story going, so it’s safe t say the settings are what really work here. The main character deals with no less than four—and maybe more—guys who have crushes on her or just want to sleep with her; at times this was amusing, others cringe-worthy. The famous woman turns out to be the best-adjusted of her screwed-up rich family, and the Mountie is quickly on her side, which I think ruins her objectivity as she tries to solve a case where she’s not even sure what the crime is: fraud, human smuggling, drugs?
A solid 4/5, thought a bit uneven.


Poetry Tuesday: Bitter Wood

By Martin Carter

Here be dragons, and bitter
cups made of wood; and the hooves
of horses where they should not
sound. Yet on the roofs of houses
walk the carpenters, as once did
cartographers on the spoil
of splendid maps. Here is where
I am, in a great geometry, between
a raft of ants and the green sight
of the freedom of a tree, made
of that same bitter wood.


Travel Thursday: St. Vincent

So what does a person do in the Caribbean when he can’t stand beaches?
Find just the right island, of course.
St. Vincent would always be dragging the Grenadines around, even if only in name, but it was surely special enough on its own. The lush green rain forest that made up most of the island’s interior–special enough for the island to be called the “Tahiti of the Caribbean”–had some pleasant hiking trails, passing by vast banana plantations on the way to more traditional villages, untouched and unspoiled by tourism. The resorts, like most in the Carib and probably around the world, would rather cloister guests from the realities of life on St Vincent, preferring to lull them with rum punch and live but canned “Caribbean music,” whatever that was. But some of us actually want to learn about other cultures, or else relieve the boredom, especially when allergic to alcohol. You don’t need to be an anthropologist to be interested in people and communities; sometimes all you need is a photographer. . .
The spirited capital of Kingstown probably looks a lot like it did in colonial times, with locals rushing along the cobblestone streets exactly like tourists don’t. I ate on the shaded veranda of what the restaurant owner called an old planter’s house, which made me idly wonder what had been planted here in the past; probably sugarcane, which made my mouth water but my teeth wince while remembering places around the world where I’d relaxed just like this while chewing the sugar right out of the cane stick. When told it had been banana, I yawned and ordered dessert, figuring she’d be expecting me to go for the most exotic thing possible, instead crossing her up with my usual vanilla ice cream, though I made sure to warn her not to put all kinds of exotic sprinkles on it.
After that I walked over more rough cobblestone streets, thankful I wasn’t on a bike, and shot some arched stone doorways and covered walkways, which conjured up that forgotten era of colonial rule, easy enough to portray with the camera even when I had to wait till the computer to render it black and white. The one thing I’ll never get used to in the Carib, or anywhere else, is the humidity, the hot stagnant air that enveloped a whole town and makes you feel like you’re swimming in a bowl of paella. This was only amplified by the sounds of car horns, street hucksters and music; quite frankly, it was more than a bit jarring after the serenity of the rain forest, where the only sounds were dripping water and bird calls.
Because Kingstown is not a tourist destination in itself, more of a gateway to exploring the outer islands of the Grenadines, visitors only come here to use the bank or stock up on supplies before heading back to the quiet of the rain forest, or perhaps their yacht. Still, there are some things a tourist might enjoy, as I found out when I stepped into an art gallery. The first thing I saw was a painting of a nude woman reclining on a bed, long blonde hair flowing over both shoulders with just the right amount of strands to cover the nipples upon her large breasts. Every inch of skin was smooth as silk, and her piercing eyes seemed to hold on every watcher that checked her out, though I eventually fought that off to take in the rest. . . in case the owner or painter wanted to test me as to the color of the sheets or some such.
Shaking my head at such nonsense, and seeing they were about to close, I sighed my way back to the hotel, where I tossed myself on the bed and looked through the photos of the rain forest, as well as the two fancy gardens and the view from Fort Charlotte. After that it was a taxi drive to the airport for a sunset chopper tour of La Soufrière, the still-active volcano which had a history of violently erupting every once in a while. The guide/pilot, being more specific than the lit I’d been given, ticked off the dates: 1718, 1812, 1902, 1971, and 1979. The eruption of May 7, 1902, eerily just hours before a similar one on Mount Pelee on Martinique, killed almost 1700 people, most of them making up what had been the last large remnant of indigenous Carib culture. Before I could get too down about that, at least at the moment, the guide cheerily informed me that during the last eruption in April 1979 there’d been no casualties, due to the early-warning system put in place by some geologists who seemed to know what they were doing, for once.
As would of course be expected, I took many photos, and not just of the volcano. The island was mountainous and well-forested, and with most of the inhabitants living on the coastline, you wouldn’t think it would be easy to spot a building within all that woodland, especially when you didn’t want them to know you were on to them. . .
{The rest of this has been redacted by an intelligence agency too sissy to even give their name. . .}