Seafaring and Serpents

Sam Steele’s Adventures on Land and Sea, by L. Frank Baum – The six issues of Oz-story Magazine, published by Hungry Tiger Press from 1995 through 2000, all ended with a full-length novel by Baum. I’d read two of them, Policeman Bluejay and The Woggle-Bug Book (okay, that one wasn’t really a novel, but it had a lot of illustrations); but for some reason hadn’t gotten around to reading the others. This particular tale was originally published under the pseudonym of Captain Hugh Fitzgerald, and it introduced the character of Sam, who would appear in the Boy Fortune Hunters series, Baum’s series of adventure stories geared toward boys, released under the pseudonym Floyd Akers. It was later republished as The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska, despite the fact that, as David Maxine pointed out, there’s only one boy fortune hunter and he never gets to Alaska. Sam is boarding with an old woman while his father is out at sea, and when a visitor reports that Captain Steele has died, she claims he’d left his son with nothing but debt. Sam runs into his uncle Naboth Perkins, who owns part interest in a ship, and he offers to go into business with his nephew, bringing provisions to sell to prospectors in Alaska. They instead find themselves at an island covered in gold dust, and while the people living there are initially distrustful, they allow the newcomers to work in exchange for a share of the gold, and to sell them food. Sam soon comes upon a plot by some of the people staying on the island to betray the others and steal all the gold, and has to do what he can to thwart it. While I haven’t read Treasure Island, I can tell that there’s a fair amount of it in this story. There’s also a portrayal of South Sea Islanders (specifically from the Sulu Archipelago) that likely wouldn’t fly in a book written today, what with their stereotypical dialect. The N-word is used a few times to refer to them, although, as far as I can remember, not from their fellow crew members. And they’re also heroic characters without whom Sam wouldn’t have been able to expose the traitors, so it’s not like it’s a totally negative portrayal. Anyway, Captain Fitzgerald turns out to be alive after all, and father and son get back their money from the nasty widow and plan to have further adventures. It’s a very different style than Baum’s fantasies, although since I know it’s by him, I can see some similarities. I’ve started on The Flying Girl, but I haven’t gotten that far in it yet.

A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic, edited by Margaret Reis – I checked out the eBook of this from the library because I’d thought Gordon R. Dickson’s “St. Dragon and the George” sounded interesting. I didn’t realize at the time that the story was later expanded into a novel, so I might well check that out later; it was a pretty enjoyable tale about an assistant to a history professor being transported into a dragon’s body. I can’t remember all the other stories that well, but there were some that I quite liked. The styles vary a bit, not all being high fantasy, but also some science fiction and comedy. Not all of them really focused on dragons, but they all involved them in some way. Quite a few others were also later expanded into longer yarns. Anne McCaffrey’s “Weyr Search” became part of her first Pern novel, and while I know that’s a famous series, I have to say this excerpt didn’t grab me. “Two Yards of Dragon,” by L. Sprague de Camp, has elements of parody, with a guy who slays a dragon being arrested for breaking the game laws, and his partner being defrauded by a wizardly con-artist. Another comic one, Craig Shaw Gardner’s “A Drama of Dragons,” has a wizard who’s allergic to magic and his apprentice charged by a very minor duke with fighting a dragon, only to have the dragon and the woman he supposedly kidnapped ending up doing a song-and-dance act. Roger Zelazny’s “The George Business” involved a man and a dragon staging fights in order to attract mates. Lois Tilton’s “The Dragonbone Flute” is a sad one, as is George R.R. Martin’s “The Ice Dragon,” which isn’t intended to be connected to A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve written before about how Martin apparently wasn’t aware of earlier stories featuring ice dragons, but there definitely were some. Barbara Delaplace’s “The Hidden Dragon” is rather dark, being the story of a woman in an abusive relationship who finds out she’s able to control a dragon. Gregory Benford and Marc Laidlaw’s “A Hiss of Dragon” involves genetically engineered dragons that eat fruit. Mike Resnick’s “The Trials and Tribulations of Myron Blumberg, Dragon” is about involves a typical guy who suddenly turns into a dragon, much to the annoyance of his shrewish wife. It’s sort of a jokier take on the premise of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I hadn’t read anything by Orson Scott Card before (I mostly just know he’s really homophobic), and his contribution to this, “A Plague of Butterflies,” was just weird, something about a guy having sex while in dragon form with a woman in a hidden city. While not all of them clicked for me, that tends to be the case with anthologies, and your tastes in dragon fare may vary.

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