Action Park by Andy Mulvihill and Jake Rossen (2020, Penguin)
Those with memories of prior Night Owl columns might find the title of this book familiar; that is because this book is the place described in the Owl column from January 7, 2019. While the Owl provided information about the place from a person lived nearby but who never attended, this book is the joint project of a professional writer (Rossen) and one of the sons of the park’s creator.
Andy Mulvihill explains the basics of how the park came to be, albeit limited in details because of his age; he wasn’t yet a teenager when the specifics were hammered out. He saw his father, though.
His father’s sensibilities permeate the stories in the book, and even as Andy acknowledges the dangers to which his father regularly exposed guests he offers a very affectionate view of the man.
Because of that, there is an aspect of tribute book to the work… but it’s just as much about the daily operation of the park, warts and all, and the problems the staff encountered. People interested in how theme parks run will get some insight, as a result, but the larger lesson seems to be as a test of how rugged individualism worked in New Jersey during the 1970s and 1980. Mulvihill repeatedly stresses how people were in control of their own destiny inside the park… and then explains how many of those people couldn’t be trusted to act within their own self-interest.
Solomon Kane: Skulls in the Stars by Robert E. Howard (1978, Bantam)
Robert E. Howard will forever be best associated with his character, Conan. The barbarian adventurer has starred in multiple films, a cartoon, and dozens of novels and prose stories as well as hundreds of comic books. Conan was far from his only creation, though; he had other fantastic warriors, a Texan whose exploits were then-modern fables, stories of sailors seeking adventures overseas, and disturbing tales of horror.
Mixing many of those characteristics was Solomon Kane, a puritan wanderer who traversed the world in search of evil to destroy. He was tall and powerfully built, and most of his experiences involved confronting supernatural forces. Conan, moved toward the modern age, armed with a firm sense of moral righteousness and fighting horrible monsters… that’s Solomon Kane.
The greatest failing of the Kane stories is the writing itself. Unabashedly pulpy, the movement from fictional deep history into a more modern era hampers the sense of disconnect which helped to fuel his fantasies, but his reliance on supernatural events tempers the realism which could be found in some of his boxing and sailor stories. That said, the introduction of contemporary elements allowed Howard to write some stories which wouldn’t have fit his other characters.
There’s nothing here of particular depth, just a series of fun short pieces that will entertain most readers of historical fantasy. If this describes someone you know, it’s probably worth picking up one of the Kane books for them.