Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Wolfwinter

Book Review: 'Wolfwinter' by Thomas Burnett Swann


3 / 5 Stars

‘Wolfwinter’ (203 pp.) was published by Ballantine Books in November, 1972. The striking cover artwork is by Gene Szafran.

The novel is set in ancient Greece and Italy (Etrusca / Etruria), back in the days when Gods and heroes and the creatures of mythology roamed the earth alongside mortal man.

The heroine of the novel is a plain, rather awkward adolescent girl named Erinna; she resides on the island of Lesbos, and is friend and confidant of the poetess Sappho. Lesbos is – not surprisingly – presented here as a wonderland of Free Love. Orgies (alluded to in a mild way) are not unusual, and as the novel opens, Sappho urges Erinna to attend the Festival of Aphrodite – an orgy devoted to the arrival of Spring – and after some prodding, Erinna agrees, and has a liaison with a faun named Greathorn.

In the months after the Festival, Erinna is betrothed to Timon, a member of the idle rich of the city of Sybaris, a city in Etrusca. Timon recognizes that Erinna is pregnant by another man, but, in keeping with his indolent nature, agrees to have the child raised in his household.

Unfortunately for Erinna, when her son Hoofless is born, while he lacks the hoofs of a faun, he has two horns on his forehead. Timon will not abide with rearing a satyr’s son, and he orders that Hoofless be taken away from his mother and subjected to the cruel custom of Sybaris: unwanted, crippled infants are abandoned outside the city walls, on the Field of Wolves, where they are devoured by the unnaturally intelligent and ferocious White Wolves of the surrounding countryside.

Erinna has no intention of sacrificing Hoofless, so she escapes the city walls and travels to the Field of Wolves…there to try and save her infant son, an act of foolhardy courage that brings her into confrontation with the White Wolves….and involvement in the age-old war between the fauns of Italy and their canine adversaries.

‘Wolfwinter’ is the first novel by Thomas Burnett Swann that I have read. Swann (1928 – 1976) wrote nearly 20 novels and short-story collections, many of which were published by DAW Books and other sf publishers in the late 60s and early 70s. 


Swann, who was a homosexual, portrayed ancient Greece and Rome in a laudatory, even elegiac, manner for their lack of repression in such matters, although, as in ‘Wolfwinter’, he did not shy from disclosing the less salutary practices of these ancient civilizations, such as infanticide.

‘Wolfwinter’ is a fantasy novel in the sense that much of its narrative is occupied with lyrical descriptions of the forest, its fauns and dryads and other creatures, all living harmoniously in a sort of pastoral paradise. Its accounts of the charming, rustic habitations of the woodland denizens, their food and drink and interior and exterior décor, are told with the same detail and warmth with which Tolkein related the homely appeal of his hobbit-holes and the landscape of the Shire. 


It’s a reasonably engaging book, and, while devoid of much in the way of action, those few sequences in which the ravenous White Wolves are encountered are well-written, and injected sufficient momentum into the narrative to keep me interested.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dragon Chiang

'Dragon Chiang' by Tim Truman and Timothy Bradstreet



'Dragon Chiang' (44 pp) is a black and white graphic novel published in 1991 by Eclipse Comics. Truman did the script and art, and Bradtsreet, the inks.

It's set  in the same post-collapse America of Truman's 1985 - 1987 series for Eclipse, Scout.


'Dragon' Chiang is a Chinese trucker making the long, long drive from Beijing, north into Russia, across the Bering Strait causeway, south through Alaska and Canada, to finish in San Francisco. It's a journey he has made before, but as the American economy undergoes further disintegration, waves of refugees have been fleeing the US and entering Russia; as a result, crossing the borders has become more regulated....and more dangerous.


Dragon is known and respected among the border guards, the other truckers, and the rest stop managers all along his route. But that doesn't mean Dragon won't use the unique armaments that his futuristic 18-wheeler has at its disposal.

Nor does it mean that Dragon isn't going to be able to take a piss at the truck stop without getting into some trouble with 'Possum Man' and his fellow road trash......


Things only get more hazardous - and more violent - as Chiang proceeds into the continental US...........


Tim Truman's meticulous draftsmanship is on display here, benefitting from some nice ink work from Bradstreet.

In a three page Afterword essay, author Truman expounds on the inspiration for Dragon Chiang. It's  a long and eclectic list straight out of modern American Pop Culture, and includes the trucker / CB radio craze of the mid-70s; biker movies; sf novels like Damnation Alley; and Trashman, Spain Rodriguez's underground comic classic .


If you like the intersection of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior with Truman's offbeat take on a postapocalyptic US, then 'Dragon Chiang' is well worth picking up. Copies can be obtained for reasonable prices from many vendors; I might suggest MyComicShop.com as one of the better sources (note: I receive no recompense for that endorsement).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Night Winds

Book Review: 'Night Winds' by Karl Edward Wagner


4 / 5 Stars

‘Night Winds’ (286 pp.) was published by Warner Books in August, 1978. The cover artwork is by Frank Frazetta.

These Warner paperback editions of the Kane stories are long out of print, and command high prices; I was fortunate to pick this volume up for $2 at the Gordon St. Library booksale in Charlottesville last April.

“Night Winds’ compiles six short stories and novelettes first published from 1974 – 1977 in small press magazines such as Midnight Sun, Chacal, and Whispers.

All of the stories display purple prose and stilted conversations – Wagner was at heart a pulp writer. However, they are atmospheric, offbeat, and Kane stands firm as a distinctive type of antihero throughout each and every tale.

My concise summaries of the stories:

Undertow (1977): Probably the most poorly-written of the entries; Kane’s mistress enlists various soldiers of fortune and adventurers in an effort to help her flee from Kane's grasp.

Two Suns Setting (1975): wandering through a desolate, rubble-strewn landscape, Kane embarks on an adventure to find the ancient resting place of the King of the Giants. This is one of the better stories in the anthology.

The Dark Muse (1975): Opyros the Poet is desperate to write the best poem of his career; Kane obliges by assisting the poet to enter into a dangerous, but otherworldly, dream-world. A reasonably good mix of Lovecraftian ‘Randolph Carter’ – style adventure, and some more conventional sword-and-sorcery tropes.

Raven’s Eyrie (1977): On the run and in desperate straits, Kane and his band of cut-throats seek refuge in a decrepit inn. As night falls on the surrounding wilderness, the Lord of the Dead emerges from the depths of the Earth and stalks the night for victims. This story’s downbeat tenor and lively action sequences make it effective.

Lynortis Reprise (1974): Amidst the crumbling ruins and decay of a long-ago battlefield, Kane competes with a band of mercenaries to learn the location of a rumored hoard of treasure. Another tale marked by a cynical atmosphere, and a carefully crafted sense of allegory about war and madness; a theme not uncommon in fiction of the post- Vietnam era.

Sing A Last Song of Valdese (1976): A cold Autumn evening in the remote highlands; a priest finds himself forced to seek lodging for the night in a hotel filled with fellow travelers. As the night unfolds, criminals, and the consequences of an atrocity committed long, long ago, are revealed. More of a horror story than a sword-and-sorcery adventure, ‘Valdese’ is arguably the best of all the Kane tales.

Summing up, ‘Night Winds’ is a worthy collection of vintage fantasy / sword-and-sorcery fiction. Provided you can find a copy for a reasonable price, it’s worth searching out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Where Monsters Roamed by John Bolton

'Where Monsters Roamed' by John Bolton
from John Bolton: Halls of Horror, issue No.2, June 1985, Eclipse Comics



The House of Hammer was a UK magazine, published from 1976 – 1978, that featured stills and articles about Hammer films, black and white comic adaptations of the more famous Hammer movies, as well as a variety of supporting strips, all on horror / occult themes derived from the films. It resembled an amalgamation of the Warren's magazines Creepy and Eerie with Famous Monsters of Filmland

The artwork in HoH was very well done, and this was true of the 'backup' features; the most memorable of these may have been the iconic ‘Father Shandor’ series that showcased as its hero the priest from the 1966 film Dracula: Prince of Darkness.The Shandor strips were later recycled in the early 80s in the UK comic book Warrior.

The House of Hammer magazine lasted until issue 23, after which time it went into limbo, before undergoing a seemingly unending series of short-lived revivals by its creator, the unusually-named Dez Skinn.

John Bolton, at that time in the late 70s still early in his career as a comic book artist, did some outstanding work for HoH. In June 1985 US comic book publisher Eclipse Comics obtained the reprint rights for Bolton’s HoH strips and printed them, in color, in two issues of the comic book John Bolton: Halls of Horror.

Bolton provided new illustrations for the comic book covers,
and added new panels, some of these featuring a character modeled on Vincent Price (serving as the EC-style Horror Host) who introduced each story in the anthology.  

Eclipse retitled the strips, presumably to avoid copyright and / or licensing infringement. Thus, the adaptation of the 1966 Hammer film One Million Years B.C., which appeared in issue 14 of HoH (November, 1977), was renamed ‘Where Monsters Roamed’ when published in John Bolton: Halls of Horror.

The murky coloring probably detracts from the original black and white artwork rather than adding any enhanced visual qualities, and the reduction of the original artwork to fit the confines of the comic book page means the illustrations are quite small and cramped. But Bolton’s draftsmanship still shines through, despite it all. 

Posted below in its entirety, here is ‘Where Monsters Roamed’, aka One Million Years B.C., by Steve Moore (script), John Bolton (art), and Tim Smith (colors).















Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Sea

Book Review: 'The Secret Sea' by Thomas F. Monteleone

3 / 5 Stars 

‘The Secret Sea (222 pp.) was published in May, 1979, by Popular Library; the cover artwork is by Clyde Caldwell.

Bryan Alexander is a physics professor who has bullshitted his way into a job as an English professor at a small college in Maryland. There, he enjoys a comfortable, but boring and unfulfilling, existence. Then he gets a letter from a lawyer in Vermont: it seems Alexander’s Aunt Agatha has died and left him her country estate, along with a sizable amount of money.

Alexander embarks for Vermont, planning to use his inheritance to embark on his lifelong dream of leading a life of adventure, much as would a Victorian-era gentleman explorer. But his ambitions soon take on a different cast when he discovers a chest stored in the attic of his Aunt’s house. Within the chest is a journal written by one Durham Kent; a Durham Kent who, in the 1860s, claimed to have traveled through an interdimensional gateway located in the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

Kent’s passage through the gateway had led him to an alternate world, in which the submarine Nautilus sailed the oceans, captained by a man named Nemo. And, after returning to ‘our’ dimension, Kent had related his fantastic tale to an amiable Frenchman named Jules Verne……

Half-disbelieving Durham Kent’s journal, an intrigued Bryan Alexander decides to charter a sailboat and travels to the location in the Atlantic where Kent claimed the so-called ‘fluxgate’ existed. And to his mingled surprise and excitement, Alexander does indeed encounter a fluxgate….and in due course, he will meet Captain Nemo….and his sworn adversary, the maniacal Robur the Conqueror….

‘The Secret Sea’ represents an early work of Steampunk, although the sub-genre and its label didn’t really exist in 1979, the year of its publication. Author Monteleone stays true to the legend of Nemo and his submarine as outlined in Verne’s novels, taking some liberties with the identity and origin of Robur in order to provide the narrative with a suitable villain. The middle segments of the novel lag a bit, but things pick up in the last three chapters and the story finishes on a satisfactory note.

‘Secret Sea’ isn’t a memorable classic of sf, but it is an entertaining read, and displays an economy of length that is sorely lacking in the 600-page, series-fixated novels that dominate contemporary Steampunk. It’s worth picking up from the used-book shelves.
 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Art of Bryan Talbot

The Art of Bryan Talbot
by Bryan Talbot



'The Art of Bryan Talbot' (96 pp.) is a large (11.9"  x 9")  size trade paperback published in 2007 by NBM (Nantier, Beall, Minoustchine), a small press dedicated to publishing graphic novels and art.

Talbot (b. 1952) is one of most recognized graphic artists in the UK. This book provides an overview of his artistic output, starting with his work as an underground comix artist in the mid-70s.

 


Talbot's artistic skills enabled him to take on commercial artwork assignments for mainstream UK magazines and publishers.


Of course, Talbot's 'The Adventures of Luther Arkwright' gets deserved attention in this volume:


As does his work for 3000 AD comics, and such characters as Judge Dredd and Nemesis the Warlock:



In the 90s, Talbot produced 'Heart of Empire', the sequel to 'Arkwright':


As well as the graphic novel 'One Bad Rat'.


Some of Talbot's work in the 90s is less well known to American audiences, such his covers for the anthology series 'Neil Gaiman's Teknophage'..


The book closes with coverage of Talbot's work in the 2000s, most notably the 'Grandville' series of graphic novels. There also is a helpful 'Bryan Talbot Stripography' which lists his complete comic book and graphic novel output from 1971 to 2007.

'The Art of Bryan Talbot' can be found for affordable prices (i.e., under $10) at your usual online retailers, and it's worth getting if you are a fan of his work, a fan of the 'Arkwright' canon, or just someone who appreciates good graphic art in general. 

The book is well-produced, with the image reproductions at high resolution and the explanatory text assisting with, rather than competing with, the artwork. It's also sure to generate some severe 70s and 80s Nostalgia, particularly for UK readers.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Heavy Metal magazine July 1984

'Heavy Metal' magazine July 1984



July, 1984, and as I am driving from upstate New York down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to go to graduate school at LSU. On the car radio, the single 'Boys Do Fall in Love' from Robin Gibb's new album 'Secret Agent', is in rotation.  


'Boys' wound up being a modest hit that Summer, but it remains a great song, and epitomizes the synth-heavy, eletronic drum sound of mid-80s pop. 

After the BeeGee's 1981 album 'Living Eyes' tanked, signalling the end of the disco era with crushing finality, it was Robin Gibb, as a solo artist (with some help from brother Maurice), who let the world know there was more to the band than the one-two disco beats and over-exposed Barry-Gibb-falsetto that had come to be associated with the band's music. 

So 'Boys Do Fall in Loce' is on the radio, and the latest issue of 'Heavy Metal' magazine is on the magazine racks, featuring a front cover by Dave Dorman, and a back cover by  Ron Lightburn.

The Dossier section is one of the more ludicrous to appear in the magazine, focusing on - likely enough - Heavy Metal music, and showcasing an up-and-coming singer named.....Thor. 

Other bands in the spotlight include 'Manowar' and 'Slayer'. It's hard to tell if the HM staff ('Rok' critic Lou Stathis, along with Tim Sommer, Josh Ribakove, and  Jess Schalles) who wrote the Dossier intended that their coverage be facetious, or if they were playing it straight, but only those who grew up in the 80s can truly treasure the wonderful awfulness of these bands and their clothing/ costumes.





Other sections of the Dossier review sf books, and there is an interview with aging comedian Jerry Lewis (!) about his genuinely awful movie, 'Slapstick of Another Kind.'







The graphic content of the July issue sees a new series from Jeronaton, titled 'The Great Passage'; ongoing episodes of Thorne's 'Lann', Druillet's 'Salammbo II', 'The Hunting Party' by Cristin and Bilal; 'The Railways' by Renard and Schuiten; and 'TexArcana' by FIndley.

Among the better of the singleton strips is Alfonso Azpiri's 'Daymares / Nightdreams'. I've posted it below.