Agaton Sax and the Colossus of Rhodes by Nils-Olof Franzén; ill. Quentin Blake (André Deutsch, 1972) [From the Swedish Agaton Sax och den bortkomne mr Lispington, 1966] There’s plenty of fun to be had following Swedish super sleuth Agaton Sax in his masterly pursuit of the world’s most dastardly criminals. The focus on bureaucratic filibuster and a sequence of muddles…
Butterfly Planet by Philip E. High (Hale, 1971) High’s prose is slapdash, his grammar shaky and his punctuation atrocious. His wealth of SF ideas offers some compensation but these gush forth as if from a newly struck oil well. Only having laid claim does High refine them (in subsequent novels).
After the Goat Man by Betsy Byars (The Bodley Head, 1974) A remarkable middle grade novel. By delving deep into the protagonists’ wistful ruminations—especially poor overweight Harold’s—Byars not only guides her characters to a precocious philosophical maturity (cf. Peanuts) but also holds the reader’s attention despite there being almost no plot.
Hood’s Army: Earth Invaded by Nathan Elliott (Dragon Books, 1986) Uncomplicated and fast-moving, this first book of Elliott’s middle-grade SF trilogy recalls the action machismo of Flash Gordon (with touches of Robin Hood). There’s nothing subtle about the invasion narrative or male-minded response. The robot AMOS, however, offers a point of uniqueness.
The Stranger, Series 1 by G. K. Saunders; dir. Gil Brealey (ABC, 1964) Early Australian SF. A cagey alien befriends three schoolchildren while seeking refugee status for his people. The Stranger is played seriously and contrives across six episodes (particularly through its incidental music) to maintain a sense of ambiguity vis-à-vis the extra-terrestrials’ true intentions.
Mission Earth #1: The Invaders Plan by L. Ron Hubbard (New Era, 1985) Hubbard wrote SF in a pulp style. While Mission Earth on the one hand offers a memorably characterised satire, on the other it is an insubstantial and oddly distasteful wad of fairy floss. Each chapter rattles along but very little actually happens.
The Complete Peanuts: 1993 to 1994 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books, 2014) Spurred perhaps by Rerun’s belated coming of age, Schulz bestows upon the Peanuts gang some nice little touches of character growth (Charlie Brown’s more active pursuit of the Little Red-Haired Girl, for instance). Unfortunately, his once-consummate penmanship is starting to look shaky.
Lucky Luke: Billy the Kid by Morris & Goscinny, trans. Luke Spear (Cinebook Ltd, 2006) [Original French language version published in Spirou magazine, 1962] Morris’ illustrations are as playful as ever but Goscinny’s script lacks the usual sparkle, overmuch being made of the central conceit (ie. that notorious outlaw Billy the Kid is an actual child) and in-story repetitions similar…
A Lemon-Yellow Elephant called Trunk by Barbara Softly; ill. Tony Veale (Chatto, Boyd & Oliver, 1971) What seems at first a tale of whimsy turns instead into a rather clumsily executed parable of individual worth and acceptance. Thankfully Tony Veale draws a creditable elephant (and round-snouted giraffes). The floating artwork and limited use of colours leave an impression.
The Complete Peanuts: 1961 to 1962 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books, 2006) By the early 60s, Schulz has more or less perfected his Peanuts strip: droll adult wit filtered through the eyes and actions of children (plus the irrepressible Snoopy) and interspersed with tour-de-force visual humour. This is a particularly good volume for Linus.