The Acts of Simon Magus in the First Century AD: A Search in Secret Egypt, by Glendenning Cram – I read a review copy of this after the author commented on my blog post on Simon Magus, and announced that he was writing the book. Intended as the first in a trilogy, it’s told from the point of view of the young Simon of Gitta, who’s selected as a human sacrifice, but gets out of it due to new Roman laws. He leaves Samaria to study in Alexandria, serving as a galley slave along the way. In Egypt, he learns philosophy and theology from Philo, becomes the apprentice to a stage magician, and teams up with a witch in order to gain power. It’s written in a rather darkly humorous style, quite morbid and raunchy in spots, with the dialogue rendered in often sloppy Elizabethan English interspersed with modern language. Despite the not-too-serious tone, there does appear to have been a good amount of research put into the narrative, and there are a lot of clever references. Simon becomes the Good Samaritan of the parable, and he and his fellow students basically invent Gnosticism and Hermeticism while getting drunk during their down time.
The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson – Based on Irish mythology, the story has people wondering why there seems to be so much less time, and one boy offering to give more time to his mother as a birthday present. He journeys to Tir na n’Og, the land of eternal youth, and discovers that time has been leaking into this world. Music can also travel between worlds, and a lot of traditional Irish tunes originated in Tir na n’Og. The inhabitants are mostly just normal people, despite having some magic and being called fairies by the people of our world. The one person there who DOES consider himself a god is the Dagda. Aengus Og plays a significant role, and there are mentions of Fionn mac Cumhaill and Oisin. Each chapter ends with the sheet music for a song somehow related to the text, the majority of which are traditional. It was a pretty good read, but I wish there really were such a simple explanation for the lack of time in our lives.
America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom, by Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black – At least according to the book itself, the idea for this somewhat odd volume came about when Black was high on Ambien. This led to him taking a road trip across the country with John McCain’s daughter, examining various cultures and interviewing people, at least partially to see how much common ground there really was between liberals and conservatives. It switches off between authors, often covering the same events from each person’s viewpoint. Black is a Democrat and McCain obviously a Republican, although she is somewhat more liberal on certain issues, like gay marriage and global warming. One thing I also noticed, which they actually acknowledge in the last chapter, is that Black is a married family man with kids living in the suburbs, while McCain is an unattached party girl who admits to doing a lot flirting. Black is also a lot more uncomfortable around strippers. While they have heated arguments over certain issues, they end up being friends. It’s a funny and thought-provoking read, which includes visits to Graceland, Nashville, the Clinton Presidential Library, and Branson; as well as musings on how Mormons seem happier than most people and Yakov Smirnoff is still doing the exact same show he did in the eighties. I frequently found myself noticing how many contradictions there are within the stereotypes associated with the two political parties. Republicans are both corporate fat cats and gun-toting rednecks. Democrats are supposed to care more about the poor, yet there’s a lot of snobbery associated with us as well. I have to admit that I’m a little leery of Hollywood liberals myself even though I usually agree with them, because I have to wonder if anyone with fancy houses, private jets, and millions of dollars can really identify with those who have trouble making ends meet. Yeah, I know show business is fickle and actors and the like can go years without working, but I would imagine that people like Black still have more money than I ever will. Not that I’ve ever been destitute either, although I do feel I haven’t been given a fair shot by the working world. No, not as much as a lot of people, but enough that I think social programs to give people a leg up are a good thing, and tax cuts for the rich aren’t going to solve anything for the non-rich. Also related to liberal stereotypes, I’ve never really understood the association between the left wing and Whole Foods. I’m not saying there isn’t some truth to the stereotype; I’ve known people who had liberal attitudes and weren’t rich who shopped there. It’s just weird considering that it’s overpriced, run by a guy so greedy he didn’t to pay for health care for his employees, and advertising based on the assumption that their food is healthier for you without any actual scientific support. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted kale, but I don’t much care for cabbage, and I imagine it’s similar. The authors also speak to the connection between Republicans and country music, which has recently (some time after the publication of the book) come up in Ted Cruz’s pandering to country fans. Black makes the valid point that most modern country “isn’t country enough,” in the sense that it’s basically bland pop music with no real attitude. McCain points out that country music “celebrates brassy women who don’t put up with crap,” and that it’s “an industry where women are never too blond, allowed to be curvy and have extra meat on their bones, drink long-neck beers, and wear cowboy hats.” While such women may skew conservative, they’re certainly not the demure, submissive types that Religious Right preachers and their ilk favor. McCain also finds it surprising that Black is a natural on the shooting range despite never having handled a gun before. I’ve never shot a gun either, but I still see a major difference between firing guns in a controlled environment like a rifle range and having them in your home and being expected to use them in a stressful situation, sort of like between playing baseball and whacking an intruder with a baseball bat. There are probably other things I could mention, but since they’d likely have more to do with my opinions on various political issues than with the actual book, I’ll forgo them for now.
Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell – One of the collected volumes of this comic was a GoodReads recommendation, so I thought I’d check it out. I found it to be very much up my alley, sort of a mixture of fantasy and science fiction, including classical gods, fairies, magic, giant squid that live in the dormitories, and self-aware but stupid robots. Sometimes it can be a little difficult keeping track of all the characters, although at least they do all look significantly different. It varies between funny and kind of disturbing. I checked all the collected volumes out from the library, and now I’m following the strip online. I guess the print editions must have sold pretty well, since there are five of them out now. I do sometimes wonder if artists can make money selling things anyone can get online for free, but apparently it’s been working out for at least some of them.