Lady Mechanika, Volume 5: La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Lady Mechanika, Volume 5: La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Lady Mechanika returns for a search into her mysterious past. This time, she finally has a few resounding clues thanks to the help of her close friends and allies, Archibald Lewis and Inspector Singh. As was to be expected, the search is difficult at best and perilous at worst. To top it all off, Mr Lewis finds himself in a spot of mortal trouble.

The chronological sixth volume in the series does not disappoint. The art, which has always been stunning, gets even more beautiful in this one. The new villains are splendid, as are the recurring characters. The story is magnificent and I personally can’t wait to see where it goes next.

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Winter in Madrid

Winter in Madrid

The Spanish Civil War: that allegedly heroic time of brave Republicans and Socialists fighting off dastardly Fascists. It is the time of Homage to Catalonia, of human beings “behaving as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.” The time of international brigades and socialists being either inspired or disillusioned, depending on who they encounter. It was Guernica, and it was the proving ground for so many terrible things the Germans and Italians would later unleash upon Europe when the “armistice for twenty years” that Ferdinand Foch had predicted would come to an end.

It is in the shadow of that cruel war that C.J. Sansom sets his novel Winter in Madrid. It concerns a young academic enlisted to serve British intelligence in the early years of World War II to find a British national lost after fighting for the international brigades.

I have seen this book described as a thriller, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. It’s a slower, more deliberate book than your typical Tom Clancy novel, and one that has relatively little focus on the purely military aspects of the war. Winter in Madrid is a character-driven story.

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Dexter & Sinister: Detecting Agents

Dexter & Sinister: Detecting Agents

This story takes place in Hammersmythe, where the rich are rich and those that aren’t struggle to make their way in life. One of the latter is John Sinister, down on his luck and sleeping on his sister’s couch.

Until he is asked by a wealthy family, whose children he used to be friends with, to look into the death of their eldest son. Determined to get to the truth about his friend’s death, John sets out on a chase involving murder, espionage, mechanical marvels and… a talking cat!

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Out of the London Mist

Out of the London Mist

One of the first things that struck me about this book is how apropos its title is: running through the entire novel is an all-consuming sense of dread brought out by what is best described as magical fog. It’s not hard to visualize the characters wrapped in clouds, appearing only in fading silhouettes as they walk through this darkened recreation of Victorian London.

Out of the London Mist, by Lyssa Medana, succeeds in its atmosphere, a steampunk London of the more fantastic variety. It’s a world where all things are permeated by an omnipresent aether, which powers airships. The aether can also be used to power other things, and it is one of those other things that drives the plot of the novel. The characters are an interesting assemblage of people from different parts of this version of London, including nobles and thieves, adventurers and mechanics.

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Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising (1986) is a classic of the World War III genre. Tom Clancy’s second book, coming on the heels of the enormously successful The Hunt for Red October (1984), depicts a NATO-Warsaw Pact war in the mid-1980s fought entirely with conventional weapons. (Although the risk of nuclear escalation is present.)

The book opens with Azerbaijani terrorists destroying the main Soviet oil refinery at Nizhnevartovsk. The Politburo, split between a war-wary general secretary and a warmongering defense chief, decides to seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to avoid economic collapse. Fearing that the West would intervene in such an attack, the Soviet leaders determine to eliminate NATO first.

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Everyday Fashions of the Fifties

Everyday Fashions of the Fifties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs

For the final installment in our catalogue book series, we are examining the pages of the era that is probably best known when people think about retro fashion: the 1950s.

When 50s fashion is mentioned, most will think of pin-up styles, sexy tops and pencil skirts, victory roll hairdos and big circle skirts. And greasers à la James Dean and Mutt Williams.

Or skirts with poodle appliqués and cute little cardigans, in soft pinks and whites and pastels of movies such as Grease.

If that is your view of the 50s, and you were hoping to find page after page of the such styles, you might find this book well, a little disappointing, because it will set you straight in no time.

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The World Set Free

In certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles there is a term “accelerationism”, referring to a belief that the problems of society should not be ameliorated but rather exacerbated in order to cause the collapse of a preexisting social order so that something else may be built on its ashes. The justification for this is simple: anarchy is a blank slate upon which any enterprising political elite can realize their dreams should they put the proper work into it and persuade the right people.

One such form of accelerationism comes forth in the writings of the Argentine Marxist writer J. Posadas, who advocated for nuclear war, which would destroy the capitalist order and, among the ruins, provide a way to build Marx’ classless utopia.

Posadas also believed in the necessity of contacting aliens who, by virtue of their technological advancement, must be more advanced according to Marx’ dialectical theory, a notion which has him painted as a loon by certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles on the internet.

However, he was not the first writer to put forth a similar idea.

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Everyday Fashions of the 1940s

Everyday Fashions of the Forties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs

If you have studied the pages of the volumes of previous decades in this series, you will find that this book is the least varied. That is because the 1940s were pretty fashion-stable. There were changes in the silhouette for both men and women during the period, but nothing like the dramatic shifts of 20s and 30s.

Nonetheless, if you are into World War II-era fashion, this is definitely a visual companion worth adding to your collection.

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The Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark

The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark

The second of the in-between, or “B”, chapters in Keno Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark (1998) takes place immediately after young Scrooge’s first American adventure in The Buckaroo of the Badlands (1992, annotations here).

Having left the employ of the Scottish-born Montana cattle baron Murdo MacKenzie, Scrooge is shipping two Texas longhorns aboard the famous Cutty Sark to the Dutch East Indies, where he will witness the eruption of Krakatoa.

The plot came easy to Rosa. Having decided he wanted Scrooge near Krakatoa in 1883, he discovered that the greatest sport on Java, the main island in what is now Indonesia, at the time was the annual Madura Island bull race, or karapan sapi. The Cutty Sark really did make a voyage to Australia for wool in 1883. There is no record she made a side trip to Batavia (now Jakarta) that year, but, writes Rosa in Volume 8 of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Don Rosa Library (2017), “prove that it didn’t happen, I dare ya’!”

Less easy was drawing the Cutty Sark, with its tens of thousands of square feet of sail and its ten miles of lines, in every other panel…

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Everyday Fashions of the 1930s

Everyday Fashions of the Thirties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs

Everyday Fashions of the Thirties deserves its own review by merit of the decade’s sheer diversity in styles.

Where the 1930s start out looking very much like the 1920s, you can spy the beginning of that typical 1930s silhouette in the early years. This book really shows how, year by year, the fashion gradually stepped away from the flapper days of the Roaring Twenties and toward the defining look of the 30s.

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