1. A brain more than 2000 years old has been discovered in a muddy pit. On examination it doesn’t appear to be mine, though, so I guess I’ll have to keep looking. (I know I left it around here somewhere.)
2. Ryan Harvey has posted a couple reviews of the new(ish) Spider collections from Baen at the Blog Gate (here and here). I was just reading the first volume over the weekend and now that my ears have stopped ringing I have to raise my virtual voice in tribute to the Spider. Up to now I’d just thought of Norvell Page as the author of Flame Winds which seemed to me (when I first and last read it decades ago) as just a bombastic ripoff of Harold Lamb’s Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Men.
But the Spider, despite some resemblances to other hero pulps like the iconic The Shadow, is really like nothing else I’ve ever read. The story, as Ryan fairly says, makes no fricking sense. Someone who could pull off the technological and industrial feats involved in creating a crew of gigantic killer robots would not use them for the strangely trivial ends that the villain does in “Satan’s Murder Machines.” The preposterous motive is there only to create a semblance of a mystery where the villain can be unmasked in the final scene, as in countless episodes of Scooby-Doo. The plot is an almost randomly selected string which serves to connect a set of bizarre action scenes where the Spider rams his car (or some other large vehicle) into a killer robot, or, armed only with a knife, he dives into the East River to combat one of the robots, or some of the equally crazy stuff his reckless sweetheart, Nita van Sloan, engages in.
This is pulp at its pulpiest, somewhat past the point of ripeness. Every fourth or fifth sentence ends in an exclamation point–often for no clearly defined reason! But Page is actually a pretty good writer and his evocations of the horrors wrought by the killer robots are genuinely disturbing. Plus, his broadly drawn characters are quite likable. After Nita rescues the Spider (by firing into a group of policemen–injuring no one but disabling their vehicle–and then sweeping her true love away from the scene on the running board of her coupe), the hero has her stop the car so he can give her a kiss. Doc Savage or The Shadow wouldn’t be caught dead doing something like that. (Maybe the radio The Shadow would; he was a bit more suave than his pulpish avatar.) The Spider‘s conflicted relationship with Police Commissioner Kirkpatrick (enemy of the Spider, but friend to the Spider‘s daylight persona, Richard Wentworth) plays out in interesting ways, not all of them involving explosions or gunfire.
Was good. I liked it.
I was not so crazy about the volume’s “foreword”, a fictionalized fragment about Norvell Page which assumes background for him and the Spider rather than providing much. I’d have preferred something less inventive and more informative–even a dramatis personae of regular characters for the series might have been handy.
3. On the political front, I can’t decide which is funnier: Bush having shoes thrown at him or Blagojevich’s comically inept corruption. Each, of course, is a smile painted on a dead clown: the reverberations from Bush’s bloody disasters will be with us for the rest of our lives, and Blago’s epic blundering is just one example of the damage that can be done by power wielded without thought for consequences, something we’re seeing a lot of these days (a point Frank Rich makes pretty well this week, so I won’t dwell on it). But let’s laugh while we can: the next show might not be as funny.