Come closer. I have a secret to tell. Yes, you must come closer if you want to know this stunning secret that will shatter your cerebellum! What could be so dangerous?
There’s more to the worlds than science fiction and fantasy.
I know! Does it shock you? It shocked me! On occasion I adventure out of my comfort zone to explore worlds that perhaps are not as wondrous but are just as entertaining to tour. But I also want to tell you about some worlds that derived from other media or perhaps became better known through other media. So come, join me on this latest tour of worlds I visited this last year!
The late L. Frank Baum led fourteen tours of Oz in his lifetime, leaving behind a landscape of whimsy. However, after the first six tours he wanted to start visiting other worlds… but his fans wouldn’t let him. As such, many of the later tours seem lackluster, especially compared to the first six. They still have fun and many fascinating characters, but it’s clear that the effort just wasn’t there. I guess you can’t trust him as much as a you can trust a carny. We never lose our verve, let me tell you. And if we do, well, what do you think the chili at the stand is made out of? Stolen children? Oh, my dear, we turn lackluster children into banana cream pies!
This year I took three tours of Oz: The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Rinkitink in Oz, and The Tin Woodman of Oz. Each did delight, though I get the feeling that The Tin Woodman was really brought about as someone pointed out a hole in the Oz mythology and Baum had to craft an entire tour to plug it up. (If you must know, the Tin Woodman, before he was tin, was engaged to be married to a Munchkin girl. Whatever happened to her?) Though more than a few of the plot twists were telegraphed a mile away, Baum is still plenty clever with his writing. If you only know Oz from the MGM movie, you owe it to yourself to check out the original novels.
Yeah, even a carny can be a bit of a fanboy.
Sometimes a carny needs to bark out a description of a ride he has no clue what it is. Is it a tilt-a-whirl? Is it a rollercoaster? Is it a key lime pie? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have no idea what the title of this book is, because it has three! So I’ll try to type it up this way: Weird Heroes vol. 5: Doc Phoenix: The Oz Encounter. This world was created wily Ted White and wacky Marv Wolfman. Doc Phoenix does therapy by stepping into their dreams, and this little girl keeps dreaming of Oz! But when the characters in her dreams step into real life, well, something’s afoot! I wanted to like this world so much more than I did. It felt like the first tour in an intended series of tours, so not enough resolved. Also, it’s clear the girl only knew the MGM movie, which only disappointed this fanboy carny. It was a curiosity I’m glad I encountered, but now it’s shelved and done!
Ma’am, I know why you come to the Midway. It’s not for the quality food, it’s not for the lights and sounds, and it’s not for the handsome face speaking these words to you. Oh, madam, it’s for the magic you remember from when you were younger! You wish to recapture and encourage that over and over again! And did you know, worlds work that way as well?
When I was but a young man and had not yet acquired my tall, tall hat, the television blared a show called Roar. My wise wife bought me the DVD set, and I have discovered it was not as fascinating as I recall. Yet, this year I came across a media tie-in novel I did not know existed! And so I visited the world offered in Roar: The Cauldron by shocking Sean Kiernan. And this world grabbed my attention with its exploration of Celtic mythology up until the last page.
Alas, media tie-ins can rarely affect the television realm from which they spawn.
However, it whetted my appetite to return to my DVD set and watch again! A fantasy realm that read like the best of Gaiman is never a bad thing! You spot this world lying about in a fifty-cent bin? Pick it up! It’s a world worth your visit!
Two for the price of one! If I sold you a ride like that, you could be assured of a good time, but if a book offers the same? Well! Two worlds in one hardcover: Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks by bright Ben Aaronovitch and Doctor Who: Prisoner of the Daleks by true Trevor Baxendale were a delight to visit. Well, mostly. Daleks are never a delight. And I can prove it! Have you ever seen a Dalek on a rollercoaster? No? That proves that they are dull and you should never invite them to a party.
The first tour novelizes an episode of the television show. And thus it goes. The second tour, though, introduces us to a Dalek inquisitor and a character I’d like to see more of. It felt like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command, Part II” where Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians. Except here it’s the Doctor and the Daleks.
I’m fanboying again, aren’t I, ma’am?
Forgive me. I forget myself and the persona I have cloaked myself in for this blog. Midway. Thing.
So! The first world here might not be the most stunning, but the second! If you enjoy the Doctor and revile the devious Daleks, then come tour this world!
How many worlds can you cram inside the covers of a book? And how few words does it take to create a world? Ma’am, how many words does it take for me to tell you about the Midway and for you to create the world yourself? I can describe the showman calling, the lights, the music! It doesn’t take long, does it?
But The World’s Shortest Stories edited by slick Steve Moss gives us a new world on every page, and told in fifty-five words or less! Not every world here is a winner, but many of them do tell complete and engaging stories in such a short span! I was glad to give these speed-tours a whirl. Ma’am, if you’re looking for a fast ride to match your short attention span, and the freak show over yonder doesn’t do it for you, try this instead!
Time’s Memory by graceful Julius Lester brought me to a fascinating world. What happens to the gods in west Africa when their people are enslaved and taken to America? What happens when the souls of the dead are not honored because of the chaos of plantation life? One god sends his son to teach the slaves how to honor those who have gone before, and many lessons are learned. The sorrow I felt on this tour was real, and if you’re looking for a speculative story that is decidedly not European, this one will satisfy you.
Ma’am, you may have noticed, but I am me, and I am exceptionally good at being me. (Let’s ignore that fanboy thing, shall we?) Ma’am, I could never be you. I could never be boring like you. Don’t act offended! Your husband thinks the same thing! But that’s why you match; you’re both boring. I, on the other hand, am anything but!
Kid, I don’t need the wisecracks.
What would happen if all the many you’s you’ve been would talk together? Would ten-year-old you enjoy the current you?
Still Life with Tornado by aesthetic A. S. King introduces us to Sarah, who may be having an existential crisis as she continues to meet herself. It’s a great world that tells us what it’s like to be a teen. Maybe you’ve forgotten, or maybe you are one. I’m not. I’ve not been a teen for a long, long time, but I find it’s useful to remember on occasion.
New York City is a world unto itself, and many people have set their tours there. Into the Lion’s Den takes us to the rare book room in the New York Public Library and a twelve-year-old witnessing the stealing of a single page! Devlin Quick is on the case! Furtive Linda Fairstein sets up a series with a young sleuth who’s gutsy. I didn’t always like the protagonist – she was a bit too sure of herself – and who likes someone who is always sure of herself?
Why are you looking at me like that, sir? Yes, I am always sure of myself, but I have reason to be! Would they award me such a tall, tall hat if I wasn’t always right?
Don’t tell my wife I said that.
The high seas call my name, and I must answer! Eventually! Perhaps! Or at least visit worlds where I can adventure on sailing vessels! But until this year, I’d never visited a world that focused on aerial combat. Well, it’s a good thing that Damned Good Show by dreamy Derek Robinson showed up. It follows the 409 Squadron of the RAF during the Phony War that preceded what we yanks call World War Two. Kind of. Sort of. Depending who you ask.
This world is full of dark humor that reminded me of the world of Catch-22. The characters are almost nonchalant of the ruthless world they live in. But the action and the emotion are real. I imagine the Naptime Author might enjoy this, though she might pick up on some historical inaccuracies. I didn’t, though!
Sometimes even a carny’s got to get away. And I’m not talking about Cheers. Sir, all men need to step away from the glitz and glamour and find something real to hold onto. And when I need that, I step away from the Midway and my shouting and visit a little town named Mitford. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by kind Jan Karon finally took me back. She’d stepped away from her world for a while, exploring other corners of her characters’ lives, but I am so, so glad she came home.
Sir, if you’ve never visited Mitford, you should. It may have made this carny shed a tear. Once. Perhaps. Don’t start here, though, sir. This tour is far along in the process! Go back and tour At Home in Mitford and continue the tours after that. Father Tim may be a boring protagonist if you consider many others, but he will hold your heart for a long,long time as he shepherds his little flock in that Appalachian town. No, not every world needs to be big and loud to be good.
Some worlds are so old they need new tourguides to show us the way. Osprey Adventures offers a series of tours taking you back to old, old tales, retold in simple form for adult audiences, coupled with fantastic art and commentary. Not every tour is of the best quality, but both of these held my attention. Myths and Legends: Hercules by friendly Fred van Lente and Myths and Legends: Charlemagne & the Paladins by jocular Julia Cresswell both tell us the stories in simple, 80-page volumes. If you’re behind on your ancient folklore, well, this primer will tell you all you need to know, and give you recommendations on where to go next. (I am a bit upset I’m missing Robin Hood in my collection. What kind of carny can’t scream about Robin Hood unless it’s based on a movie?)
Ladies and gentlemen, I am spent. Shouting the cosmos is not an easy task! But, I am almost done! There are yet a few volumes, a few worlds I visited this last year! Come back next week for a very special tour, as I look at books written by friends, along with one other special volume. Worlds a plenty, plenty to enjoy, and plenty to tour!