Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: Maynard's House

Book Review: 'Maynard's House' by Herman Raucher

2 / 5 Stars

‘Maynard’s House’ ( 262 pp) was published by Berkley Books in September 1981. The cover artist is uncredited.

As the novel opens, it’s the Winter of 1972/1973, and a young Vietnam War veteran named Austin Fletcher is travelling to Belden, Maine, where he has inherited the home of a deceased fellow soldier named Maynard Whittier.

Fletcher is a callow and self-centered individual who is completely unprepared for life in the snows and cold of the Maine wilderness, but trapped in a kind of existential anomie, he nonetheless proceeds to take occupancy of Maynard’s House. Fletcher gradually arrives at a kind of stumbling familiarity with living a 19th century existence, one devoid of telephone or electricity, obliged to use an outhouse, and reliant on a stockpile of canned goods for sustenance.

The locals believe the house to be haunted, and there are rumors of long-ago atrocities  linked to witchcraft. Fletcher gradually becomes aware that some of the bumps and creaks he hears in the house in the still depths of the Winter nights may have a supernatural origin.

As the season wears on, strange things begin to happen…………things that will culminate in a confrontation that Austin Fletcher is poorly equipped to survive………..

At the time ‘Maynard’s House’ was published, author Herman Raucher was a well-known and successful novelist. However, basing a 262 page novel on a plot involving a man and his haunted house is a formidable task for even a skilled author, and the book suffers from a surplus of padding in the form of internal monologues, the reading of Maynard's personal diary, encounters with Maine eccentrics, etc.

It’s also clear that Raucher took the easy path to lending momentum to the narrative, via the expedient of inserting plot developments that may be ‘real’, or, just as likely, phantasms derived from the increasingly poor mental state of Austin Fletcher.

Having labored to create an atmosphere of growing tension and menace through the first 20 of the novel’s 24 chapters, Raucher necessarily was obliged to craft a denouement that justified this elaborate narrative scaffolding. But in my opinion, the final chapters of ‘House’ are the weakest. Raucher piles on one horror cliché after another, leaving the reader with a mess of possible interpretations (none of which I found very convincing) for the spooky goings-on.

The verdict ? Only the most avid collectors of Paperbacks from Hell are going to want a copy of ‘Maynard’s House’. All others can leave this one on the shelf.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Warriors February 1979

The Warriors
released February 9, 1979

On September 13, 2015 some of the cast members of The Warriors convened at a fan fest on Coney Island, and were filmed riding the subway and greeting fans on the boardwalk.

Video footage of The Warriors: Last Subway Ride Home is available here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

'Thoughts of Movin On' by Brad Johanssen

'Thoughts of Movin' On'
Album cover art by Brad Johannsen
For the album by 'Lighthouse'

This is another of the album covers for the Canadian rock band 'Lighthouse' for which Brad Johanssen did the artwork.

(My posts for Johanssen's other works are here and here.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Book Review: The Dream Millennium

Book Review: 'The Dream Millennium' by James White

2 / 5 Stars

'The Dream MIllennium' first appeared in serial form in Galaxy magazine in 1973. This Ballantine Books paperback version (217 pp) was released in June 1974. The cover artwork is by John Berkey.

John Devlin is the captain of a un-named colony ship, dispatched at one-quarter lightspeed from a 21st century Earth afflicted with overcrowding, pollution, and rampant violence. While most of the two hundred people aboard are destined to spend the one-way voyage in cryosleep, Devlin is awakened at periodic intervals in order to assure the ship's AI that prolonged freezing hasn't converted him - and by extension the other passengers - into a Corpsicle.

Devlin also is awakened in order to make decisions about the potentially habitable worlds the ship is passing on its predetermined course. With each system that is rejected for one reason or another, the passing centuries bring closer the year - the Millennium of the novel's title - when the ship's infrastructure will fail from age and use, so Devlins' decisions are not lightly made.

But as the novel opens, Devlin is increasingly troubled by a phenomenon he has never encountered. For his stints in cryosleep are filled with vivid dreams, dreams of his days as nonhuman organisms at the lower end of the evolutionary scale. 

With each passing century spent in cryosleep, the dreams are becoming more and more disturbing............and Devlin is left wondering: is he being manipulated by some devious psychological programming emplaced in his subconscious prior to departure ? Or has the ship's AI decided, for its own purposes, to infect its human cargo with a creeping derangement ? Or is the entire experience simply a vivid hallucination.........and the ship has never even left the ground ? 

As the one-thousandth year of the voyage draws closer, time is running out for Devlin and his mission.............

For me, 'Dream Millenium' is an unsuccessful mixture of hard sf and soft sf. 

The portions of the novel that describe the technological and physiological challenges inherent in a lengthy interstellar journey are certainly believable, and reflect well on White's status as a specialist in the sub-genre of 'medical' sf.

However, the plot tends to devote most of its length to laboriously recounting the dreams that John Devlin experiences while in cryosleep...........and reading about someone else's dreams is not something I find all that exciting. 

Unfortunately White compounds the problem by having Devlin's waking hours preoccupied with recollections of his life on the dystopian Earth he has left behind. The impact of burdening the plot with exposition both about dreams, and about recollections, gives the narrative an overwhelmingly passive quality that lost its appeal with each successive chapter.

I actually came close to giving up on the book when a 'flashback' conversation between Devlin and one of the ship's designers, about the criteria by which the crew were selected for the mission, went on for 8 pages............!

The closing chapter provides a 'scientific' explanation for the 'dream millennium'. I won't reveal any spoilers, save to say that the rationale struck me as less than convincing.

The verdict ? Although 'The Dream Millennium' tries to meld the humanistic stylings of the New Wave Movement within a hard sf subtext, the effort never really comes together in a satisfactory manner. My recommendation is to pass this one by.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Teddy Choppermitz

Judge Dredd in 'Teddy Choppermitz'
from 2000 AD prog 760 (December 7, 1991)

I thought 1990's Edward Scissorhands was one of the most overrated movies of the decade. The whole 'tormented but saintly Goth' presentation was tedious and cheesy.

Leave it to the staff of 2000 AD to come up with a great satire, as they always do. No touchstone of American pop culture is safe around those guys. They simply have no reverence for Art !

I give you: 'Teddy Choppermitz' !

Monday, February 4, 2019

Real Deal Comix

Celebrating Black History Month 2019

Real Deal Comix 
by Lawrence Hubbard and H. P. McElwee
Fantagraphics, 2016

Here at the PorPor Books Blog we like to celebrate Black History Month by reading and reviewing a fiction or nonfiction book that illuminates the experience of Black America.

For Black History Month 2019, we showcase Real Deal comics. Be warned, though: some people may find this book offensive. 

In the late 1980s, two young black men who worked together at the California Savings and Loan building in Los Angeles discovered a mutual love for comics.  Lawrence 'Raw Dawg' Hubbard and Harold 'H. P.' McElwee decided to team up and produce their own comic book, one that depicted characters drawn from their observations of street life in L.A.

According to Hubbard, they submitted their prototype first issue to Marvel comics, and got back not a standard-issue rejection letter, but a typed letter that stated that their comic book was 'fucking insane', and 'we loved it', but also, 'Sorry, we can't use it'.

Hubbard and McElwee decided to take advantage of the boom in Indie Comics then taking place and wound up paying out of pocket for the print run of their first issue, which hit the stands in 1990. The reception was favorable enough for the duo to publish another 4 issues of Real Deal by 1996. 

In May, 1998 H. R. McElwee, only 43 years old, died of a heart attack. Using scripts written by McElwee before his death, Hubbard went on to publish Real Deal numbers 6 and 7 over the ensuing 19 years. Issue 8 was published in 2018 by Fantagraphics.  

I remember seeing issue 2 of Real Deal on the shelves of my indie comics dealer in the early 90s and eagerly reading it cover to cover. Those 1990s issues of the comic offered a lead story featuring 'G.C', a middle-aged black man who dressed in 70s style and had a habit of provoking bloody mayhem at the drop of a pin. The backup stories included 'The R Team', about an all-black commando team that took no prisoners, and 'Planet Dregs', a sci-fi strip. 

Hubbard has said that Real Deal is about 'Urban Terror' : 

Each story depicts the everyday struggles of the urban dwellers who strike out at each other out of the futility poverty and illiteracy brings them…………..These people live on the edge of a precipice with a kill or be killed foundation.

With the early issues of Real Deal long out of print and fetching steep prices, this Fantagraphics compilation of the first seven issues is a great way to get acquainted with one of the most provocative comics of the 90s. Like everything from Fantagraphics, it's a well-made hardcover book with the comics printed on glossy paper. Along with the contents of each issue of Real Deal, this compilation features reproductions of the color covers; color pinups; and a history of the comic, written by Hubbard.

In keeping with the concept of the 'Real Deal', these are comics that offer no excuses in their depiction of ghetto mayhem. Hubbard and McElwee infuse their tales with graphic violence and the darkest of humor. One panel will have you wincing, the next, laughing out loud.

Accompanying G.C. in his assaults on all comers are D.J. 'Rappin' Sammy; ex-con Chino Bill; G.C.'s homeboy, 'Ace'; and the mysterious 'Hooded Mack'. Providing comic relief is G.C.'s long-suffering wife, 'Poot-Butt'.

Used copies of 'Real Deal Comix' can be found at your usual online retailers for under $20, and brand-new editions for $26. 

If you want to see a comic that brings the urban violence of early 1990s L.A. as much to life as the Gangsta Rap of NWA, then you'll want to order a copy.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Burton and Cyb: The Tourist Business

Burton and Cyb
'The Tourist Business'
from Heavy Metal Havoc, 1995

'Burton and Cyb' stories that had originally appeared in Spanish in the magazine Zona 84 in the 1980s were still being translated into English and republished in various editions of Heavy Metal in the early- to mid- 1990s. 

They were actually among the best stuff to appear in those issues of Heavy Metal, which by that time mostly was preoccupied with churning out softcore porn. 

Here's another little gem from a 'special' edition of Heavy Metal on the newsstands in 1995........looks like our boys are setting up the overseers of an Italian piazza........

Monday, January 28, 2019

Book Review: Angels from Hell

January is Dystopia in England Month !

Book Review: 'Angels from Hell: The Angel Chronicles' by Mick Norman

5 / 5 Stars

Any overview of literature devoted to a dystopian England is obliged to include the four 'Angels' novels written by the one-man fiction factory, Laurence James, under the pseudonym 'Mick Norman'.

According to an interview with James conducted by Stewart Home, who provides the Introduction to 'Angels from Hell', James was working as a editor for New English Library (NEL) in the early 70s when he noticed that the biker novels by Peter Cave were among the publisher's strongest sellers. 

James drafted his own biker novel, submitted to NEL under a pseudonym, and NEL accepted it. Upon its release in 1973, 'Angels from Hell' was a bestseller and James quickly followed it up with three sequels: 'Angel Challenge' (1973), 'Guardian Angels' (1974) and 'Angels on My Mind' (1974).

Needless to say, the original NEL paperbacks of the 'Angels' series all have long been out of print and copies in good condition have steep asking prices. 

(I should point out that there are affordable digital versions available for all four books).

Copies of this 1994 omnibus edition (348 pp) from Creation Books have steep asking prices; I was lucky to get mine for about $20. 

Laurence James elected to set his 'Angels' novels in the near future, that is, 1997 - 1999. The UK has undergone economic collapse and an authoritarian government is in power, stifling dissent through violent actions by the police. Society has become colorless, grey, and for the last gang of motorcycle outlaws in the country. Living an underground existence, careful about where and when they gather, the 'Last Heroes' chapter of the Hell's Angels has a charter signed by Sonny Barger himself. And a willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive........

My capsule summaries (spoiler-free) of each novel:

Angels from Hell: It's 1997, and 28 year-old Gerald 'Gerry' Vincent, and his girlfriend Brenda (who met each other at a Young Anarchists' meeting) have decided to abandon respectable society in order to join the sole surviving group of bikers in the UK: the Last Heroes. Having survived the brutal and disgusting initiation ceremonies (which the author revels in detailing), Gerry and Brenda find themselves accompanying the Last Heroes in a series of adventures, including participating in a film being made about the Angels (a plot device that gives James plenty of opportunity to satirize the artsy set). 

When the British government learns that the Angels exist, measures are taken to ensure that the chapter is eliminated. But Gerry and the Last Heroes are well aware of the danger. A violent confrontation between a small army of policemen and the Angels will determine if the outlaw bikers are to endure, or vanish into the mists of legend..........

Angel Challenge: Author James shows he's still dialed in to abundant sex and violence by opening this Angels adventure with a Traumatic Amputation in a Sensitive Place:

Gerry tried to stop the bleeding, but there wasn't enough left to tourniquet.

Unfortunately for Gerry and the Last Heroes, the English biker scene of the Summer of 1998 is disrupted by the advent of a new gang: the Ghouls. Led by the charismatic Evel Winters, who takes his name from a legendary American biker of the 1970s, the Ghouls are Glam Rockers turned outlaw motorcyclists: uniforms consist of the latest in 'lovely, soft, caressing silks and satins', and cosmetics ('I get my makeup from the "Quaint Fairy" range'). And to add further to their shock value, the Ghouls are.......bisexual !

The Daily Leader newspaper believes that sponsoring a reality show featuring the Last Heroes and the Ghouls is a sure-fire moneymaker. To entice the gangs to participate, a competition is arranged: a series of scavenger hunts held in the greater London area. This 'sporting challenge' draws a TV viewership of millions throughout the UK and Europe.

But what Gerry and the Last Heroes don't know is that the fix is in for the Angel Challenge.........

In this sequel, James is out to satirize the Glam Rock movement and he succeeds brilliantly. If had to describe 'Angel Challenge' , I'd say it's a cross between Velvet Goldmine and Death Race 2000.

Guardian Angels: It's 1999 and the pop music world is preoccupied with the tremendous success of two new bands, each fulfilling the needs of an eccentric category of female fans. 

For 'Foolsgold', a group comprised of adolescent boys, the fans are 'middies', middle-aged women who tend to rush the stage in an erotic fervor in response to the band's songs, such as 'Mother Love', 'No Baby Love for Me', and 'In Praise of Older Lovers'.

For Central Heating, a group comprised of veteran rockers, the fans are 'teenies', adolescent girls who shriek with lust and rush the stage when hearing songs like 'I'll Untie You if You Let Me', 'Meat Injection', and 'Sixty-nine Ways'.

For tour manager Rupert Colt, the problem is that the middies and teenies are so prone to violence that concert stewards are being murdered when the fans rush the stage (the teenies have a nasty habit of secreting knives under their clothing). The entire tour is in danger of being cancelled unless Colt can find someone tough enough to serve as security. 

As luck would have it, the Last Heroes are looking for work....

'Guardian Angels' is easily the most humorous of the 'Angels' novels. I frequently laughed out loud while reading it. James is intent here on satirizing the world of rock music and concert promoters, and succeeds with style and grace. There also are some bloody confrontations between the Angels and a new group of rebellious yobs, the suicidally violent 'Skulls'............

Angels on My Mind: the Spring of 1999 is warm and filled with flowers, but it brings little comfort to Gerry Vincent and the Last Heroes. Gerry finds himself imprisoned by a female psychiatrist who believes she can 'correct' his criminal nature via Depth Psychology (!).

The Last Heroes are obliged to sally forth without their leader when their brother gang, the Wolves of Wales, find themselves under attack by an upstart gang known as the Star Trekkers (the second-in-command of the Trekkers is a man named Spock, who has had his ears surgically altered into a pointy shape).

A brutal battle for survival looms between the Last Heroes, the Wolves, and the Star Trekkers............while a hapless Gerry Vincent can only hope that a lapse of security will enable him to escape his captor..........

'Angels on My Mind' takes a different tack from the previous novels in the series, focusing more on the character of Gerry Vincent and his past, than on typical Angel mayhem. 

The verdict ? Norman's 'Angel' quartet remains one of the most engaging, amusing, and effective portrayals of a dystopian UK. While the availability of the printed versions of the books is limited, obtaining the digital versions likely will be rewarding if you are a fan this genre of literature.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Immortals of Science Fiction

The Immortals of Science Fiction
by David Wingrove
Mayflower Books, 1980

'Immortals of Science Fiction' (113 pp) was published by Mayflower Books in 1980. It's a large (11 x 11 inches) trade paperback printed on high-quality paper. 

This is an odd title, one I don't remember encountering in the early 80s. It's primarily a book of sci-fi paintings commission to represent each of 10 'immortal' characters from (more or less) prominent sf novels. 

David Wingrove was, in 1980, primarily an sf critic; his monumental multi-volume Chung Kuo series was still 9 years in the future. For 'Immortals', he contributes the accompanying text, in which each of the Immortals is engaged in conversation by a anonymous Narrator.

'Immortals' is odd in that no attribution is given to any of the showcased paintings; instead, the book states that the 'Young Artists' supplied the artwork. The ISFDB indicates that the participating artists include stalwarts of UK sf art during the 70s: Les Edwards; Tony Roberts; Alan Craddock; Terry Oakes; Richard Clifton-Dey; Alan Daniels; and Stuart Hughes.
The 10 'Immortals' profiled in the book include Susan Calvin, from Asimov's 'Robots' novels; The Illustrated Man from Ray Bradbury's novel; Slippery Jim DiGriz from Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat adventures; Oscar Gordon from Heinlein's Glory Road; Lewis Orne from Frank Herbert's The Godmakers; Esau Cairn from Robert E. Howard's Almuric; Winston Smith from 1984; Beowulf Schaeffer from Larry Niven's novels; Winston Roomford from Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan; and Howard Lester from Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone.

It's certainly an eclectic lineup, although I'm not sure whether it was a lineup dictated in large part by the ease of securing permissions from various publishing houses.

Wingrove's text accompaniments are by nature rather limited, and really don't do much more than give a capsule overview of each Immortal.

As far as the artworks go, well, they obviously are representative of the sci-fi art of the 70s, and stylistically have more in keeping with paperback covers than portraiture per se. They do succeed in presenting the Immortals in a manner faithful to their authors' visions, although not in  particularly imaginative or novel ways.

I cheerfully admit to never having read many of the of books showcased in 'Immortals', having considered the novels of Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Herbert, and Niven being among the less impressive works of the genre. 

So it is that I can't really recommend 'The Immortals of Science Fiction'  save only to those who are particularly interested in the works of Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Herbert, and Niven and would enjoy seeing the major characters of those authors rendered in color in large dimensions on the printed page.
Others who may be interested in this book are those who are determined collectors of the 11 x 11 illustrated sci-fi books that briefly flowered in the later 70s and early 80s, books like Harry Harrison's Great Balls of Fire, Mechanismo, and Planet Story. 'The Immortals of Science Fiction' will fit nicely on your shelf alongside those titles.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Victoria Principal

Victoria Principal