The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Fall Harvest of Books

Posted on | September 30, 2021 | Comments Off on The Fall Harvest of Books

— by Wombat-socho

When last we visited the Tonopah town library, I was fortunate enough to find Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files anthology Brief Cases; this time I found a copy of Galaxy: Thirty Years Of Innovative Science Fiction. Essentially a compilation of the various Galaxy Reader anthologies published throughout the 1950s and 60s, with some stories from the 1970s added, this is a good sampler of the kind of SF that Galaxy published until its demise in the late 1970s. Edited by former editor Fred Pohl along with Martin Greenburg and Joseph Olander, this is an all-star collection of stories from the magazine that was founded as a deliberate counterpoint to John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction, and includes short stories by Isaac Asimov, Algis Budrys, Jerome Bixby, Larry Niven, Zenna Henderson, and many other outstanding authors. Out of print, but used copies are widely available for cheap.

Alexis Gilliland is probably better known as a BNF* and cartoonist, but the man could write. In addition to the excellent Rosinante trilogy, he penned a fantasy trilogy about the adventures of the water mage** and (reluctant) adviser to royalty Wizenbeak. W.W. Wizenbeak is originally sent off to the northern wastes to found a farming colony for the kingdom of Guhland, but just as he manages to get things started, a civil war breaks out and he finds himself the target of the vengeful Witchfinder General and protector of the heirs to the throne. Managing to survive this and place his apprentice on the throne as Regent, Wizenbeak finds his troubles have only begun in the sequel, The Shadow Shaia, and they only get worse in the trilogy’s conclusion, Lord of the Troll-Bats.*** Unfortunately, the latter two books aren’t available from Amazon, but you can find them very easily and somewhat inexpensively through Alibris, which a lot of used book stores deal with in preference to Amazon. The flavor of the trilogy is more Three Musketeers than the usual medieval elf & dwarf crap (N.B.: there are no elves or dwarves in the trilogy, but there are dragons) and there’s plenty of political skulduggery if you like that sort of thing, and I strongly recommend it.

Since I’m currently in a protracted struggle with the 1969 major league baseball rosters, it occurs to me that I should recommend a few of my favorite baseball books. starting with Bill James’ New Historical Baseball Abstract. This is a huge mulligan stew of a book, containing snapshots of baseball history through the decades, spiced with sly jokes, amusing and terrifying anecdotes about the players, and pages upon pages of comments about the hundred best players at each position. Since it’s not trying to be the exhaustive reference book that Total Baseball is, the Kindle edition is probably okay, more so if big thick books strain you arms and your bookshelves. Another excellent read from Bill James is Whatever Happened To The Hall Of Fame? Frankly, I liked the original title, The Politics Of Glory, better, but it’s not my book so I don’t get a say. Anyhow, this is a history of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the players elected to it, and how they got there, along with some ways of thinking about what players are likely to go into the Hall, what players probably should have been elected, and quite a few players who arguably don’t belong there but were lucky enough to have friends in the right places. All of the preceding will probably piss people off, along with his comments on the Negro League players (in the Hall and out), but like almost all of Bill’s books, it will make you think. 

There are three newer editions of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four out there, not to mention the sequel I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, which is mostly about the screams of outrage and other reactions to the original book, which is a fun and funny look at Bouton’s season with the hapless expansion Seattle Pilots and contending Houston Astros in 1969 as a knuckleball pitcher. The great thing about Ball Four, you see, is that Bouton told the truth – he didn’t sugarcoat anything, he didn’t lie, and quite a few people – not all of them his teammates – never forgave him for it. 

There has been very little good baseball fiction, in my opinion. Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association is the kind of self-indulgent mainstream garbage you would expect from a third-rate Professor of Literary Arts at a second-rate Ivy League school, so of course the critics loved it. The UBA is the creation of a miserable accountant who loses himself in a self-invented baseball game and becomes entirely too wrapped up in his fantasies about the imaginary players in the eponymous early 20th-century league. Couldn’t finish it. Bernard Malamud’s The Natural is better, but still a downer with a depressing ending; the movie with Robert Redford is orders of magnitude better. On the other hand, W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is arguably better than his better known Shoeless Joe, perhaps because it’s less tied down to reality. A tale of one man’s quest to prove that a 2000-inning game between the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs and the amateur players of the I.B.C. actually happened, this surrealistic tale immerses you in the superstitions of the age and takes you on a strange trip into a fantastic world where a good-natured challenge leads to a seemingly endless nightmare – and yet, all ends well, for almost everyone concerned. I was also amused by his story collection Box Socials, which is mostly about small-town semi-pro baseball players and their lives off the diamond. 

*Big Name Fan.
**”Like a civil engineer, except with spells instead of bulldozers,” as one reviewer put it.
***How was this not a Meat Loaf album title? Jim Steinman, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!

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