Abarat: Absolute Midnight, by Clive Barker – This is the third book in the children’s series about an archipelago where each island corresponds to an hour of the day. It’s been a while since I read the other two, so there were some elements I’d largely forgotten about. In this volume, Mater Motley has a plan to blot out the sun on all of the islands, her grandson Christopher Carrion turns up alive and much more sympathetic, Princess Boa’s consciousness is removed from Candy Quackenbush’s body and turns out to be rather nasty, and Candy’s alcoholic father in Minnesota has been possessed by the hats that used to belong to the wizard Kaspar Wolfswinkel. It can get pretty dark, not just literally but also figuratively, as might be expected from an author primarily known for horror; but at the same time there’s some definite charm. The Abarat is presented as a place where beings of all sorts, some mundane and others very bizarre, live alongside one another. Barker provides intriguing illustrations of many of these colorful characters. From what I hear, there are supposed to be two more books in this series. Considering how long the wait was for this one, and that Barker apparently almost died at the dentist’s office a few years ago, I’m hoping these sequels actually come to pass.
Crisis on Infinite Earths, by Marv Wolfman and George Perez – This collection of comics from the mid-1980s was on sale at Comixology a while back, so I decided to check it out, since it’s a pretty famous series. There have been a lot of homages to and parodies of it since then. Basically, the idea behind it was to reboot continuity in the DC Universe due to characters’ backgrounds changing over time, and heroes introduced in the 1930s not being old fifty years later. DC’s original solution was to present two Earths, one in which the older stories were canonical, and another where the heroes began their careers a few decades later. There were occasional crossovers between the superheroes of these two Earths, but it was still pretty confusing. The plot of Crisis involves two alien beings known as the Monitor and Anti-Monitor battling over the fate of many different versions of Earth. At the end, the heroes succeed in defeating the Anti-Monitor, but the two main Earths have been merged into one. I haven’t read that many DC comics, so I wasn’t familiar with all of the characters involved. The main thing I know about Power Girl, basically an alternate version of Supergirl for Earth-2, is that she’s a popular choice of portrayal for large-breasted cosplayers. It’s an interesting idea, but from what I’ve heard, DC’s continuity once again became incredibly complicated in the years that followed.
The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions, by Robert Rankin – This is the first in a series of four books set in a version of the late nineteenth century with steampunk technology; I’d actually read the next two before getting this one. It’s pretty familiar Rankin in many ways, with a lot of running gags and references to other fiction, conspiracy theories, and legends. H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds is presented as having portrayed an actual historical event, and in its aftermath the British government has established diplomatic relations with Venus and Jupiter. A lot of historical figures show up, although Rankin freely admits to fudging a lot of the dates so that the ones he wants to use are still alive in 1895. One of the most absurd is a young Adolf Hitler appearing as a wine steward and casino dealer. The character of Darwin the monkey is introduced, and he’s not yet able to talk. The main protagonist is a young man named George Fox who works for a shady circus owner called Professor Coffin, and joins him in the search for something known as the Japanese Devil Fish Girl. They’re joined by Ada Byron Lovelace, who in real life died in 1852 at the age of thirty-six, but here is still alive and well, able to serve as a love interest for George. Their strange adventures have them journeying on an airship and visiting the lost continent of Lemuria, where it turns out that the Devil Fish Girl is a sacred relic to all worlds. And as with many Rankin novels, it ends with the world nearly being destroyed. There isn’t much new here if you’ve read Rankin’s earlier stuff, but it’s fun.