Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: The Karma Corps

Book Review: 'The Karma Corps' by Neil Barrett, Jr.

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Karma Corps’ (239 pp) is DAW Book No. 604, and was published in November, 1984. The striking cover illustration was done by Les Edwards.

‘Karma’ was the 10th sf novel published by Neil Barrett, Jr. (1929 – 2014). It’s set on a nameless planet where, two centuries ago, a colony ship crash-landed. Despite reverting to a medieval level of technology, the survivors have created a small civilization, with its own stone-walled Citadel.

Lars Haggart is the Captain of the eponymous Corps; like the 221 soldiers under his command, Lars has no real knowledge of his past, for he is the reincarnation of a deceased member of the colony. What makes Lars and his soldiers special is their ability to instantaneously teleport across small distances, a skill shared by the some of the Demons, a race of werebeasts who also inhabit the planet.

As the novel opens, the Churchers, the theocracy which governs society, are in desperate straits in their perpetual struggle to hold back the demon hordes, who – for reasons unknown- are seeking to expunge the Terrans from the planet.

Using elaborate fortifications and field tactics to counter the teleportation abilities of the the demon armies has bought the Church some time, but that time is running out. The Church hierarchy is looking to Lars and his Corps to use their unique powers to bring about a decisive victory against the enemy.

But as Lars is to discover, the demons seem to have an uncanny ability to know in advance where he and his soldiers are going to teleport. And far from being the ultimate weapon, the Corps may in fact be a liability. Lars discovers that he will have to act on his own to discover the truth about the reincarnation process, and the strange territories that are home to the disembodied souls from which the Corps is drawn. But asking those types of questions can trigger the wrath of the Churchers….and a further fragmentation of a society teetering on the brink of extinction………

‘Corps’ certainly has an interesting, offbeat premise, but I found the book to be a disappointment. Barrett’s narrative is plainly designed to keep the reader turning the pages in order to learn the Ultimate Revelation behind the existence of the demons, the Corps, and the causes of the war between the two races; this narrative tactic of guiding the reader to the ‘solution’ behind the ‘planetary mystery’ is one he employed in his 1974 sf novel Stress Pattern.

Unfortunately, too much of the narrative in ‘Corps’ revolves around the political and personal squabbles and rivalries between Lars (who is not particularly bright) and the Churchers. These conflicts are framed as confrontations between emerging humanism and self-awareness on the part of the Corps, versus the orthodoxy and blind obedience fomented by the Churchers. Practically every page is taken up with extended conversations documenting these conflicts, while the main plot thread – the threat to existence posed by the demons - makes sporadic appearances.

When the Final Revelation came in the latter chapters, I found it underwhelming and rather perfunctory, as if the author had run out of energy and was simply looking to wrap things up a conveniently as possible.

Summing up, I have to label ‘The Karma Corps’ a dud. Reader are urged to instead seek out Neil Barrett, Jr’s next novel after ‘Corps’, Through Darkest America (1987), which is much superior.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lone Sloane: Delirius

Lone Sloane: Delirius
episode 1

This 1973 graphic novel compiles, in English, Druillet's Lone Sloane: Delirius comic, which first appeared in serial form in the French magazine Pilote from 1970 - 1971. 

[Copies are rare, and those in very good condition are expensive.]

The plot, as always, is not really very coherent, but the artwork more than makes up for it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Hacker Files issue 3

The Hacker Files
by Lewis Shiner (story) and Tom Sutton (art)
issue 3
DC Comics, October 1992

In this, the third installment of the 'Soft War' four-issue arc, Jack Marshall - out to Save the World - heads to the NORAD installation at Cheyenne Mountain, there to investigate the culprits who have placed a virus into the US military network. 

Jack's investigation reveals the hidden machinations of the Digitronix Corporation.....but not in time to prevent what may be World War Three...........

....also in this issue, the Letter Column gets up and running, and - not surprisingly - some of the submissions are indicative of some degree of eccentricity on the part of the writers.....but then, this is a hacker comic, not a superhero comic, after all.....

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: The Forbidden Tower

Book Review: 'The Forbidden Tower' by Marion Zimmer Bradley

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Forbidden Tower’ (364 pp) was published by DAW (book No. 256) in September, 1977. The cover artwork is by Richard Hescox.

This is the third of the ‘Darkover’ novels I have read and by now I am well aware that these novels are primarily melodramas, that focus on the interrelationships of a set of characters who usually are gifted with telepathy, and other extrasensory abilities.

Battles between fleets of spaceships, life-and-death struggles with alien invaders, intrigues involving rebellious mutants, and other elements of ‘action’ – oriented sf are not ingredients for Darkover novels.

Even with this qualification in mind, I found ‘The Forbidden Tower’ to be a weird cross between a sci-fi novel, and the vintage 1969 film about wife-swapping, ‘Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice’……. !

‘Tower’ is a sequel to Bradley’s 1974 Darkover novel, ‘The Spell Sword.’ The four main characters from that novel are present; these are: Andrew Carr, a Terran marooned on Darkover; his newly acquired girlfriend Callista Lanart, gifted telepath (or ‘Keeper’), and daughter of Don Esteban, leader of the Alton Clan; her sister Ellemir Lanart; and Damon Ridenow, longtime friend to Don Esteban and the Alton Clan.

Most of the narrative takes place within the confines of Armida, the Castle stronghold of the Alton Clan, and deals with the psychodrama attendant to Callista’s decision to marry Andrew…..a decision complicated by the fact that her training as a Keeper has left her frigid (?!). Andrew gallantly agrees to withhold acting on his Manly Desires, until such time as Callista can overcome her condition and participate in conjugal bliss as a truly Sensuous Woman.

For an sf novel written in 1977, ‘Tower’ shows the influences of the New Wave approach, and thus, the plot is primarily concerned with the ‘inner space’ of the four lead characters, and the complex mental pathways through which they communicate their emotions and intentions. This inevitably leads to much overwrought prose and contrived drama.

There are a few side-plots that, thankfully, intrude now and then to lend some momentum to the main plot. One of the side-plots involves treachery on the part of a clan member; another revolves around an increasingly bitter dispute with the overlords of the telepathic communication nodes that have been misappropriated by Damon and his friends. The conflict generated by this latter dispute serves as the grist for the novel’s climax, which, unfortunately, is underwhelming.

Summing up, ‘The Forbidden Tower’, like the other two Darkover novels that I have read, is really only going to be embraced by dedicated fans.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Heavy Metal magazine April 1985

'Heavy Metal' magazine April 1985

April, 1985, and on MTV, Murray Head's 'One Night in Bangkok' is in heavy rotation.

The April issue of 'Heavy Metal' magazine features a super-cheesecake front cover by Boris Vallejo, and a back cover by Michael Gross.

This issue also features the initial installment of a new serial by Corben, titled ' Bodyssey'. There are new installments of strips by Manera ('An Author in Search of Six Characters'), Pepe Moreno ('Rebel'), and Charles Burns's 'El Borbah', which I've posted below.....