Monday, April 11, 2011

The latest wave of Oz reading

Like the title of this post says, I just got through my latest wave of Oz reading. I meant to write about each one as I finished it, but things just sort of slipped away from me. So here they are all in one massive dump (not necessarily in the order I read them):

  • The Ten Woodman of Oz by March Laumer. This is one of the late Mr. Laumer's more unusual books, and if you're familiar with any of his other books, you know that's saying something. In the year 1999 (you need to understand, this book was first published in 1987, so 1999 was a few years off still), the world has become so polluted that the effects are even seeping into Oz. So Dorothy and a group of ten woodmen, representing various regions of Oz, go out into the world to show our leaders how to use magic to power their industries, and thus not pollute any more. This is a world on the brink of World War III, with the Soviet Union deciding to take back Alaska and America on high alert as a result. But the Ozites's efforts prove futile, as nobody seems to actually believe in them, or take them seriously. But another solution arises, which will see a major change in Oz forever. It's a pretty typical Laumer romp through his own funhouse mirror version of Oz, but the horrible levels of pollution and final solution add a touch of poignancy to the story that he usually doesn't include.
  • The Wish Express by Ruth Plumly Thompson. This is one of Thompson's earliest unified works, having been serialized in the Philadelphia North American Public Ledger before she ever wrote an Oz book. I actually read this once before, in the reprint of Thompson's The Wonder Book, but there it was broken up with other stories in between installments. Here, it's presented as a complete whole short novel. The serialized nature of the story and that it's still early in Ruth's writing career both show through, but it's a fun little romp. Berens wishes to be somewhere else and someone else — and finds himself on a streetcar headed to a place where he can do exactly that. He has to contend with his fellow passengers (who all wish for something) and a few stops along the way first, however. When he finally gets to Somewhere Else, he finds that his wish isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Large parts of this book reminded me of The Phantom Tollbooth, and it is very much a Thompson book. If you're enjoyed some of Thompson's Oz books, you'll probably get a kick out of this. I don't recommend it as a first serving of her whimsy, however, as it is a little too cute at times.
  • The next one I can't tell you about, as it's an unpublished screenplay (!) that a new Oz friend gave me at the Winkie Convention a couple of years ago (yes, I'm quite behind on my Oz reading). But it's a clever premise, and with a few tweaks, I could see it as a movie of the week on Syfy, for example. I really need to write to my friend and tell her what I think (or maybe I'll just wait until the convention in three months).
  • Sam Steele's Adventures: The Amazing Bubble Car by L. Frank Baum was probably the one I was most looking forward to reading in this set, as it's not often I can read a new (for me) Baum title for the first time any more. This is actually the third title and third author under which this story has been published, having first appeared as Sam Steele's Adventures in Panama by "Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald" in 1907, then coming out a year later as The Boy Fortune Hunters in Panama by "Floyd Akers". Sam Steele, charged with taking a cargo around South America to California, runs aground in Panama, where (pretty typical for this series) he decides to go hunting for diamonds, even though the locals don't want any white men poking around their lands just to make themselves wealthy. It's a pretty typical boy's adventure story of the time, and one is left with the sense that Baum was writing this primarily to make a buck or two. This version of the book has been cleaned up a bit, and the promised unexpurgated version doesn't appear to be on Hungry Tiger Press's website any more, so I don't know what's been changed and how bad the original was. I think this book might have benefited from an explanatory foreword putting the story in context, such as the then-contemporary digging of the Panama Canal and the state of automotive technology. This version of the book is named for an unusual vehicle that Sam is also carrying, and that plays a big part in the adventure. The technology is pretty amazing, but I suspect very probable at the turn of the century, and our world may be very different if we were all driving compressed air all-terrain cars now instead of what's fueled by petroleum. If you like Baum's other works, particularly his adventure stories for older kids (now called "teenagers"), you'll probably enjoy this one. But readers sensitive to the portrayals of indigenous ethnic groups may want to give this one a pass.
  • Finally, the comics order came last week. Curiously, no Ozma of Oz again (which could mean two issues in next month's box, I hope), so the only Oz-related comic was Fables #103. Ozma is putting together her superteam to take the fight to the enemy, and figuring out strategy to help maintain her team's focus. And she also pretty ruthlessly tells a lot of characters who are trying out that they're not cut out for the job. She's the only Oz character who appears, and her Oz-themed superhero outfit is still pretty good. (I'd love to see a kid of about the right age and appearance wear this at the Winkie Convention some year.)

And that's about it! I don't know how soon I'll get around to the next wave, but there ought to be some very interesting developments in my Oz reading soon! And yes, I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Thanks for the various plugs. Just to clarify - the text of WISH EXPRESS we used is mostly from the Ledger - Thompson rewrote and condensed it a bit for the WONDER BOOK inclusion.

ALso, I will check on the AMAZING BUBBLE CAR expurgation page. It seems to have disappeared when we revamped the website last summer.