Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Reviews-Black Panthers, Heaven's Fall and Vampires

Black Panther-The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas
Emory Douglas was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He was its best known and most skilled and provocative artist. Often times political art, not to put too fine a word on it, stinks. Douglas’ work is the notable exception to this rule. Douglas has a commitment to social change and an ability to bring forth both strong engaging images of both humanity and depravity. These abilities work hand in hand to animate his art. If you know anything at all about the Black Panther Party and the movement of the sixties and seventies, you know who he is. And even if you don’t know who he is, chances are you’ve seen his art.

Black Panther:The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas is a collection of Mr. Douglas’ art. The book is over 200 pages with index, paperback and is about 8.5” by 13”.  It also combines the artwork with analysis of what was going on at the time, personal memories and media depictions of the era. The preface is written by the actor Danny Glover, who states that “ Certainly the art and images that Emory Douglas created played a significant role in that whole process which in turn created a sense of empowerment and entitlement. We are all the better for it.” If you want to talk about social realism, Douglas embodied it. This is a very worthwhile book. Recollections or praise are also shared by such luminaries as Kathleen Cleaver, Sonia Sanchez, Ishmael Reed, Amiri Baraka, John Sinclair,  Malaquias Montoya, Boots Riley, and Bobby Seale.
The Tempest Tales by Walter Mosley.
Have you ever read any of the Jesse B. Semple stories by Langston Hughes? Semple is a man, who is just as his name implies, is not the smartest man in the room but he has a sort of wisdom and insight that allows him to explain and understand more complex politics. He’s also not the sort of fellow that will make the same mistake twice, though he might make a variation on that mistake.  With a twinkle in his eye and tongue planted very firmly in cheek, the author Walter Mosley updates the Semple character (he dedicates the book to the memory of Langston Hughes) for modern readers.

Tempest Landry is not quite a thug or criminal although he doesn’t mind stealing if he can get away with it. He has a wife, a girlfriend and quite a few women on the side. He has a gaggle of children. He’s been in his share of fights but he rarely starts them. He’ll work hard when he has to but prefers not to do so.  
Tempest is “mistakenly” shot dead by the police when they are searching for another Black man. When his spirit appears in front of St. Peter, St. Peter reads a long list of sins and violations that Tempest has committed throughout his short life and condemns the man to hell. However Tempest is tired of being pushed around. He had good reasons for making some of the choices he made.  He honestly believes that he has not done enough wrong to go to hell and so refuses to go. This is the first and only time that any soul has ever challenged St. Peter’s judgment. The secret is that mortals must willingly accept their entry into heaven or hell. Otherwise heaven itself will fall and Satan will be in charge.
So Tempest is embodied again and sent back to earth with an angel as a minder, who must convince Tempest to accept heaven’s judgment. Of course Old Scratch has heard the news and is just as determined to convince Tempest to remain steadfast in his initial refusal.  Tempest is bound to teach both the representatives of heaven and hell something about what it means to be a black man, a poor black man in America.
This is a short book, barely more than a novella. Mosley does his usual good job of attention to detail and background. But the body of the book is really quite serious. It asks about what is the meaning of free will and predestination. It goes into some philosophical musings about religion. It has a blues sensibility. Good stuff.

Bite Marks by Terence Taylor
This is another addition to the vampire genre.  It’s set in NYC in the mid eighties. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It was good but there’s really not a lot of new stuff here. The twist is that the origin of vampires is moved away from Eastern Europe and given to a Moorish magician/alchemist.
Other than that a lot of the story will be quite familiar to readers. There are “good” vampires, who want to remain anonymous and confine their feeding to those who won’t be missed and “bad” vampires who have thrown their humanity completely aside, see all humans as either cattle or slaves and want to come out of the closet and rule openly.
Although the hook of the story is that the putative heroes, a feuding interracial bohemian couple , Steven and Lori, stumble across real life vampires while struggling to finish a book on vampires, the real protagonists of the story are the French vampire Queen, Perenelle, the leader of the faction of “good” vampires, and the Moorish magician and vampire who turned her , Rahman.
Rahman is searching for a way to reverse the curse of vampirism but still maintain immortality and he’s not too picky about how this is done. The monster of the book is Adam Caine, a vampire who has very strong ideas about who’s the master race. He sets much of the book’s events in motion.
This was an okay read but I was expecting a little more. It is first in a trilogy. His next book in the series “Blood Pressure” was much better. Taylor used to be a writer for children's television so it is interesting and a little unsettling in some respects that he had a story this grim and bloody just percolating in his head all those years that he was working for PBS, the Disney Channel or Nickelodean.

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