Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: God Stalk

Book Review: 'God Stalk' by P. C. Hodgell
4 / 5 Stars

‘God Stalk’ (284 pp) first was published in hardcover in 1982; this Berkley Books paperback was released in August, 1983. The artist who created the striking cover is uncredited. 

It was the first novel by author Patricia Christine Hodgell, who followed with a number of sequels. These constitute the so-called ‘Chronicles of the Kencyrath’, which has reached 8 volumes as of 2017.

‘God Stalk’ features a young woman named Jame as its heroine; as the novel opens, Jame –suffering from amnesia, and pursued by vengeful beings – is stumbling across the northern wastelands, seeking shelter of any kind. She finds it in the crowded and chaotic streets of the city of Tai-Tastigon, where a horde of gods and godlings are worshipped by a bewildering variety of sects, many at odds with one another and engaged in perpetual feuds and commercial rivalries.

As Jame becomes familiar with the labyrinthine streets and neighborhoods of Tai-Tastigon, she decides to take advantage of an offer from one Master Penari of the Thieves’ Guild: become his apprentice, and a member of the Guild.

This in turn leads to an unfolding series of adventures as Jame, determined to prove herself, decides to steal some of the most precious- and closely guarded – treasures of Tai-Tastigon. The price for failure is steep: perpetrators are likely to be flayed alive and left to rot on the bench of the Mercy Seat at Judgment Square

But Jame has advantages that she is only gradually coming to terms with: her nature as the member of the Kencyrath, a race gifted with superhuman abilities, yet cursed with a history of betrayal at the hands of its three-faced god.

As Jame makes her way through the increasingly roiled streets of Tai-Tastigon, her heritage and her membership in the Guild both will merge to bring revelations about the world and her place in it ……….. but these revelations may not be as benign as she has been led to believe……….

At the time ‘God Stalk’ was published, ‘adult fantasy’ was just beginning to make its impact felt in bookstores, and the shelf space at Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Barnes and Noble devoted to the genre was a fraction of what it is nowadays. That said, ‘God Stalk’ was something new and imaginative. It was not a re-imagining of Tolkein, and lacked elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons, Dark Lords, and all the paraphernalia that then defined 'fantasy' writing. There isn’t even a Quest in ‘God Stalk’. Magic exists, but is an occasional indulgence on the part of a gifted few.

I would argue that ‘God Stalk’ is one of the foundational novels for the sub-genre now known as ‘Dark Fantasy’. Hodgell’s city of Tai-Tastigon is as much a character as the individuals peopling its pages and certainly prefigures the cityscape of New Crobuzon in the 2000 novel ‘Perdido Street Station’ by China Mieville.

‘God Stalk’ shares similarities with the works of M. John Harrison, as it possesses the darker, morally ambiguous flavor that permeates his novels and short stories about Viriconium.

The novel isn’t perfect; the closing chapters have something of a rushed quality and the plot revelations disclosed in these chapters have a contrived, often confusing nature. But 'God Stalk' is a solid four-star novel, and a book that stands the test of time as a standout fantasy novel for the decade of the 80s.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Lucky by Greg Kihn

Greg Kihn 
April, 1985

In 1985 Baltimore-born rocker Greg Kihn released his album Citizen Kihn, with the song 'Lucky' the designated single. It reached number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on 6 April of that year.

The video likely would be criticized nowadays for its depiction of The Homeless, but it does feature the quirky humor and offbeat imagery (including a cameo from Zippy the Pinhead ?!) that marked Kihn's videos.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Sleazy Reader

The Sleazy Reader
issues 5 - 7 (October 2017 - February 2018)

The advent of amazon's Createspace self-publishing imprint has revolutionized the publishing of zines. There now are quite a few titles devoted to vintage paperbacks, that are available at amazon. These include the long-established The Paperback Fanatic, to more recent entries like Men of Violence, Pulp Horror, and the newest, Hot Lead, which is devoted to Western paperbacks.

These zines usually offer anywhere from 50 - 100 pages, and are priced from $7 to $15 each. They are published more or less regularly, and they feature higher-res reproductions of art, have coated paper covers, and inside, a non-transparent white-paper stock.

I recently decided to pick up three issues of The Sleazy Reader, which is priced at $8.99 for 58 pages. As the name implies, this zine is devoted to sleaze titles published in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s. 

While most articles deal with 'traditional' sleaze and cover swingin' stewardessess, illicit lesbian lovers, and concentration camp dominatrices, editor Justin Marriott is willing to broaden the scope of the zine, and thus features coverage of the 'drug abuser' and 'biker' genres appearing in vintage paperbacks and men's magazines.

The Sleazy Reader primarily is geared towards the 'serious' collector who is willing to pay quite a bit of money to pick up the rarer titles showcased in its pages. However, if you're like me, and you're more interested in seeing just what sort of crazy and worthwhile material remains to be discovered, then the zine can be just as rewarding. 

There are some obscure gems revealed in the pages of The Sleazy Reader that can be had for affordable prices, and I'm keeping an eye out for them. 

I mean, I had no idea Dick Schaap, the sportswriter and broadcaster well known to audiences in the 60s and 70s, wrote a 1967 true crime book called Turned On about an heiress who Loses her Way in the drug culture.......?! 

Summing up, if you're a fan of vintage paperbacks, The Sleazy Reader and its fellow zines provide good coverage of several genres and are sure to direct you towards some titles that are necessary to complete your collections.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: Jog Rummage

Book Review: 'Jog Rummage' by Grahame Wright

4 / 5 Stars

This strange little book first was published in hardcover in 1974, with this Pan Books paperback (205 pp) released in 1977. The cover artist is uncredited.

'Jog Rummage' was apparently Grahame Wright's only novel; the brief autobiographical sketch in the paperback indicates he was born in Leicester in 1947, worked for a time in the basement of a large department store, and lives in Tadworth in Surrey. According to his ISFDB entry, he died in 1977 at the age of thirty.

The cover blurbs rely on a review published in Cosmopolitan magazine (who would have thought Cosmopolitan would have reviewed a novel like this.......?!) that mused that Tolkein fans would like 'Jog Rummage'. But it's more accurate to say that 'Jog' has more in common with novels like The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down than with anything by Tolkein.

The opening chapters of the novel introduce the reader to the world of the Jogs (the type of animal they represent is never explicitly disclosed, but apparently, the Jogs are a kind of hedgehog) and the Rats. While the world is seemingly peaceful and idyllic, in the tradition of the classic British 'Talking Animal' tale, there are tensions between the two races of animals. 

Rummage, a Jog and the novel's lead character, is the most learned and wise of the animals. While aware of the enmity between Jog and Rat, Rummage is preoccupied with discerning the character of the world he lives in and its curious features, which include the Great Star, the landscape of the High Mountains, the Shadow, the frightening Swoops, etc. 

Author Wright's use of the convention of capitalized certain proper nouns - very much a classically 'British' writing style - signals to the reader that forthcoming revelations about the nature of the world of the Jogs and Rats will be a key component of the novel.

Which makes it all the more confusing when, on page 50, the narrative shifts completely, from the world of the Jogs, to a gritty English cityscape, circa 1974. 

The plot now revolves around a trio of disabled people: a little girl named Elizabeth; her father, referred to as Mr Morgan; and Uncle Tony Lemon. The struggles of these, and other characters, to eke out a living in a neighborhood undergoing the massive urban renewal that devastated many UK cities in the early 70s are readable, but at the same time, had me wondering if 'Jog Rummage' was less a fantasy novel than a psychological melodrama about a modern working-class English family.

However, it transpires that Elizabeth has discovered her own Secret Place, one within a navigable distance for a handicapped girl. A secret place amid the overgrown, rubble-strewn lots where buildings have been torn down. 

Hidden amidst the nettles is a narrow entrance that leads down to the dimly-lit basement of what once was a major department store. Drawn by some compulsion she cannot define, Elizabeth decides to descend into the basement..........with fateful consequences for All.

The few reviews of 'Jog Rummage' available online stress the unique nature of the novel, a nature that prohibits neatly slotting it into any sort of genre or category. In this I have to agree. While the middle chapters of the book can at times seem unfocused and meandering, if you persevere, the closing chapters possess their own logic and avoid contrivance. Accordingly, I give 'Jog Rummage' a four-star rating. This one is worth searching out.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Candice Bergen in 'Getting Straight'

Candice Bergen
in 'Getting Straight' (1970)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trashman Meets the Fighting She Devils

Trashman Meets the Fighting She Devils
by Spain
from Subvert Comics No. 1
Rip-Off Press, 1970

NOTE: this comic is likely to offend modern sensibilities..........

Monday, April 2, 2018

Book Review: Strangler

Book Review: 'Strangler' by T. Jeff Williams

3 / 5 Stars

'Strangler' first was published in 1978 by New English Library under the title 'Sonny'. This Bantam Books version  (217 pp) was released in the US in January 1979. The cover artist is uncredited.

T. Jeff Williams published one other novel, 1977's The Glory Hole, a Vietnam War drama.

'Strangler' is set in San Miguel, California, in the late 70s. The lead character is a twenty year-old named Sonny Sills. Outwardly, Sonny seems like a handsome, well-adjusted young man with a bright future. 

But in reality, Sonny is Batshit Crazy.........not only does he hear voices, but they tell him to abduct, rape, and strangle teenage girls.

As the hot days of August bake the dusty roads and city streets of San Miguel, Sonny takes up life as a serial killer.......and before long, city residents are consumed with fear. 

For detective Dan Eriksen, who is assigned to the case, the murders of young girls are particularly troubling, as Dan knows that his daughter Denice, a cheerleader and an all-American blonde, is exactly the type of girl most favored by the murderer............. 

I found 'Strangler' to be readable, at times suspenseful (particularly in its closing pages). The use of a smaller city and its rural environs as the setting, and the at-times poetic descriptions of the farmlands and beachfront landscapes comprising this setting, gives 'Strangler' a sense of place that well recalls the seemingly idyllic California of the 70s.

Author Williams uses the rather unusual device of having his narrative alternate between chapters related by Sonny Sills in the first person, and chapters describing the actions of Dan Eriksen related in the third person. Presumably this allows Williams to impart to the reader a detailed examination of the Mind of a Serial Killer, while also adhering to the more traditional style of the police procedural novel.

Williams doesn't shy from imparting a Splatterpunk sensibility to his descriptions of the murders of the helpless teens, giving the novel an edge of nastiness that keeps it from becoming too formulaic. However, somewhat inevitably, the middle sections of the novel tend to slow, and rely overmuch on cliches involving Dan Ericksen's troubled domestic life and his efforts to participate in the Swinging Seventies lifestyle.

The verdict ? 'Strangler' certainly meets the definition of a California Crazy novel. I can't say it breaks new ground in the 'Serial Killer' suspense novel, but it's competent enough to recommend it to fans of that genre.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Robny the Tramp in 'Scrap'

Robny the Tramp
by Juan Boix
in Chatarra ('scrap')
In 1976 the Spanish artist Juan (also spelled as 'Joan') Boix (b. 1945) created what would be a series of comics about Robny the Tramp (Robny el Vagabundo). Robny was a writer who decided to take up life on the streets as a means of finding artistic inspiration and insights into the human condition. The initial episodes appeared in Spanish magazines such as Spirit and Senda del Comic.

In 1981 the Robny stories were compiled by Spanish publisher Ediciones de la Torre in issues 22 and 27 of its Papel Vivo ('Live Paper') comic book. A one-volume compilation of the Robny stories was published in 2011 by Dolmen.

Sadly, much of Boix's work, including Robny, has not been translated into English. Perhaps IDW, as it is now doing with the early work of Esteban Maroto, will issue Boix's comics in English in nicely produced hardbound editions.

In any event, whether you are fluent in Spanish or not, the artwork in this Robny strip, titled Chatarra ('Scrap'), is exceptional and can be understood regardless of your language skills.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mike Hinge and Lou Stathis

Mike Hinge and Lou Stathis

This photo was apparently taken at a sci-fi fan gathering sometime in the 1970s. 

Mike Hinge (left) (1931 - 2003) was a New Zealand-born artist who contributed some memorable artwork to Heavy Metal magazine in the 80s.

Lou Stathis (center) (1952 - 1997) wrote the 'rok' (i.e., rock) music column for Heavy Metal during the late 70s and early 80s.

I don't know who John Singer (right) is.....?

The photo is credited to Steve Stiles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Delores Taylor RIP

Delores Taylor, RIP
27 September 1932 - 23 March 2018

Delores Taylor on a press junket for Billy Jack, Minneapolis area, 1970s

Delores Taylor died recently at age 85. While she was best known for playing schoolteacher Jean Roberts opposite her husband Tom Laughlin (1931 - 2013) in the Billy Jack films, she played a significant role behind the camera in helping Laughlin produce the films.