The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair (Penguin, 2016)
Many books focus on points of commonality to everyone: food, human interaction, popular culture. St. Clair’s book does this using something even more familiar to everyone who is not blind: color.
She’s not the first to address the topic, but her handling of it warrants attention. Not only does her research seem to be fairly comprehensive, the book’s design aids her presentation and makes for an attractive package to keep in any room of the house.
The beginning of the book is weighted down with necessary preliminary topics: exactly what color is, how our eyes work, the science of light waves, etc… The information is delivered competently and somewhat comprehensively, as if the author were an experienced instructor delivering short lectures to a college freshman class.
After page 35, the book comes to life. The pages are grouped into general colors with their hues given individual attention. Each color is given at least a page of focus, whether it be Amber or Umber, Scheele’s Green or Tyrian Purple. Typically, the origin of the color’s use as a dye or paint will be addressed, although that is sometimes swapped out for an explanation of a key cultural or historical event which is directly tied to that color.
It’s history for artists, and art for historians. It provides facts and information about your daily life and can even be used to choose paint colors if you hold the page edges up to the wall. It is a fun, if somewhat weighty, book.
Another Fine Myth by Robert Lynn Asprin (1978, Starblaze)
As the title suggests, this book is a broad farce of the fantasy subgenre. As with most successful parodies, it undermines many of the conventions of the format.
In this case, there are demons (who are really just dimensional travelers with a foreshortened title), incompetent assassins, a quest that really consists of a regularly interrupted long walk between two points, fictional quotes to dramatically open each chapter, a dragon who seems to be mentally equivalent to a Labrador retriever, magic that is far simpler than would seem, and more.
It’s a fun, light book that regularly injects subtlety into the overt jokes, keeping the style fresh. The author also manages to present the humor without excessively telegraphing it, enabling far more of the jokes to “hit” than miss. It is so successful, in fact, that the book has maintained a devoted following for decades.
That, if anywhere, is where the failing lies for this book.
The book was originally presented as the first in a potential series of four, if it had a positive reception. The follow-up three book contract was greenlit, with a new artist attached (the original book had illustrations from science fiction legend Kelly Freas, books two through four used cartoonist Phil Foglio) and they were released with great appreciation. Another two book contract followed. After the publisher folded, another publisher (Ace) picked up the series, eventually letting it die. Then another stepped in (Meisha Merlin) to revive the series.
Fans were happy to read the continuing adventures of the main character, but the books were a pale shadow of the early efforts. They were somewhat revived after Meisha Merlin took over, because a friend of Asprin, Jody Lynn Nye, stepped in with fresh ideas and a gift for light fantasy. For the most part, though, the series began on a very high note and immediately started a downward slide. Books 2 and 3 are funny, 4 is amusing, 5 and 6 hold promise, and after that a potential reader is better served just skipping through until Nye comes onto the scene.