Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Read a Damn Book – 074: Alice Roosevelt and the Tunguska Menace”

Once again, I am reviewing an Art Horse production, so FULL DISCLOSURE: this book was written and illustrated by friends of mine. I try to be impartial when reviewing work by friends (and this is technically only the third such review that I’ve done, out of 74 reviews, and that doesn’t seem like too many to me), but bear in mind, I may be unconsciously biased when looking at this book, although I’ll try to be fair. Now, let’s take a look at the greatest piece of fiction with the most striking illustrations ever put on paper!

Daniel T. Foster and Michael J. King – Alice Roosevelt and the Tunguska Menace (2016)

Like the previous Etherverse title that I reviewed (Martian-American War), this book is presented in the dime novel style, with text and illustrations. The book is about 24 pages in length, and is nicely printed (by a local, Longview guy named Pat) at roughly magazine size, 8.5 x 11 inches. (It’s bigger and printed on nicer paper than a comic book, and even slightly larger than the last issue of Wired that I got.) The words were written by Dan Foster, who has affected a style similar to the old pulp stories of folks like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, which adds to the “vintage” feel of the book. Michael King’s illustrations, although there are fewer than in the last book, are still excellent, again drawing on the vintage pulp style, embellished with King’s trademark flare for detail (and crosshatching!)

The “Etherverse” books take place in an alternate historical timeline in which ether fills the void between planets, electro-magnetic engines have been powering Earth ships into space since the 1880s, and Teddy Roosevelt led his famous Rough Riders to Mars to help preserve the freedom and prosperity of the entire human race. In THIS story, the second book in the series, Teddy’s daughter, Alice, goes to Russia with sharp-shooter, Annie Oakley, to investigate a mysterious explosion in the Tunguska region which level trees for miles and sent a shockwave that shattered windows in nearby villages. What they find (no spoilers) is particularly unpleasant, leading to some classic pulp violence and lurid descriptions of the various encounters.

It’s a fun story, with solid characters, a sizable body count, and steampunk-esque weapons and airships all around. The content may be a bit gruesome at times, for some readers, but for fans of vintage pulp and adventure stories, it’s an enjoyable tale, with a satisfying, clever ending. And, again, King’s artwork is always enjoyable, contributing enormously to the tone.

I should mention that there are a few typos in the text, but nothing severe enough to derail the story. The only truly unfortunate thing is that most people, who don’t attend sci-fi or comic book themed conventions in the Pacific Northwest, will probably never run into Foster and King’s work. They are self-published and, as of this writing, do not have distribution for their books. Those interested in buying Art Horse titles will have to settle for a Facebook page and an Etsy store for now, although all of the Etherverse books are available through the Etsy shop. The cool thing, of course, is when independent artists and writers work together to make something NEW and interesting that never could have come from a corporate boardroom, and that’s what the Etherverse books are: two cool guys making some exciting adventure stories because they love exciting adventure stories. Go check them out! You’ll get to read some fun, steam-punk stories, and you’ll feel good for supporting the little guys!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Commander in Cheap of The P.E.W.)

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