Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wisdom for the Ages

Wisdom for the Ages
from Harry Fairfax
from The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Issue 7, November 1990, Dark Horse Comics

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Book Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Book review: 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said' by Philip K. Dick

2 / 5 Stars

'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said' first was published in 1974; this UK Granada / Panther paperback (204 pp) was published in 1976. The cover artist is Richard Clifton-Dey.

I'm going to start this review by cheerfully stating that I consider Philip K. Dick to be one of the most over-rated sf writers of the 20th century. 'Flow' does nothing to alter that judgment.

The novel is set in a dystopian USA in October, 1988. Protagonist Jason Taverner is a popular crooner whose records sell in the millions; the host of the highly-rated weekly variety program The Jason Taverner Show; the lover of the beautiful redhead Heather Hart; and a wealthy man. For Jason Taverner, life is very good indeed.

Until he wakes up in a bedroom in a seedy hotel in Los Angeles's Skid Row. With a wad of cash in his wallet........ but none of the identification cards that are necessary to function as a legitimate member of society.

Bewildered, Taverner makes phone calls to colleagues and acquaintances.......only to discover that they've never heard of him. 

Adrift in what seems to be a living nightmare, Taverner finds himself forming a precarious alliance with the fixers and document forgers who operate outside the law. But as Taverner learns more about the disturbing world in which he has found himself, a disquieting possibility arises.

Which 'reality' is 'real' ? Which reality is likely a hallucination: the reality of the Jason Taverner of fame and fortune, or reality of the Jason Taverner who is wandering Skid Row, dodging police checkpoints ?

Jason Taverner needs to find out. But can he evade General Felix Buckman of the L.A. Police Force long enough to discover the truth ?

I'm sure that someone, somewhere, at some time has rhapsodized about how 'Flow' forces the reader to confront his or her understanding of the Nature of Reality. Or something like that. 

But the 'reality' of 'Flow' is that, while the narrative is reasonably engaging, and succeeds in inducing the reader to persevere in order to learn what, exactly, has happened to Jason Taverner, the Big Explanation that serves as the denouement is too contrived, and too full of holes in its logic, to be anything other than a disappointment. 

Indeed, at times 'Flow' reads as if its main objective was to satirize the Hollywood nightclub culture of the early 70s. Jason Taverner is in fact a caricature of Dean Martin; Heather Hart, for example, is an amalgam of Joey Heatherton, Angie Dickinson, and Jill St. John. The cultural milieu within which these two operate is peopled with facsimiles of the VIPs and Beautiful People who partied with Dino, Sinatra, Hugh Hefner, and the other icons of the Playboy era whose glamour was fast fading with the advent of the 1970s. 

Underneath their boozy innuendo, wealth, and privilege, Dick signals to us, these individuals are so vacuous and self-absorbed that their lives are less 'real' than those of the outcasts struggling to survive on the mean streets of L.A.

Summing up, I can't recommend 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said' as a stellar example of 70s sci-fi. This one can be passed by.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Captain Marvel the Complete Collection

Captain Marvel: The Complete Collection
by Jim Starlin
Marvel Comics, 2016

I remember reading Jim Starlin's issues of Captain Marvel in 1973 and 1974. Although Starlin's run on the title was in actuality rather short, his skills in writing and art made Captain Marvel stand out from the other books in the Marvel lineup.

Much of my admiration for Starlin's work revolved around the high quality of his art. It wasn't unusual for other Marvel artists of that era, like Dean Colan, to meet their page count by taking shortcuts, but Starlin lavished care and attention on all of his efforts. This single page must have taken him several days to draw:

So it was nice to see Marvel package all of Starlin's Captain Marvel-related work in this 352-page 'Complete Collection' trade paperback. Along with comics from 1973 and 1974, it also contains the 1982 Marvel Graphic Novel The Death of Captain Marvel.

It's interesting to read these stories from the 70s and see the advent of Thanos from Iron Man No. 55 (February 1973):

As well, Starlin's introduction of the 'cosmic' aspects of Captain Marvel still has that aura that testifies to the influence of the underground comix scene:

I'm not sure how comic book fans under the age of 40 will react to this material; in some ways, the plots certainly are more approachable than much of what is featured in the current Marvel lineup. But readers familiarized with the Thanos storyline through the recent Avengers movies may find the Captain Marvel of the 70s too...........'trippy'....... to be all that endearing.

I'm guessing that Captain Marvel: The Complete Collection will appeal more to comic book fans over 50 than any other age group.

Unfortunately, if you want a 'new' quality copy of Captain Marvel: The Complete Collection you'll need to be prepared to pay at least $36 (plus shipping) at amazon. 

Some speculators at amazon are offering the book for an obscene $461. My advice ? If you're a fan of Starlin and Captain Marvel, you might want to pick this up sooner, rather than later................

Monday, September 9, 2019

Book Review: New Writings in SF2

Book Review: 'New Writings in SF2' 
Edited by John Carnell

3 / 5 Stars

'New Writings in SF2' first was published by Dobson Books in the UK in 1964; this Bantam Books paperback edition (150 pp) was published in October 1966. Most of the stories in this anthology were published in 1964, and were written exclusively for this volume.

The eccentric cover, which would seem to be more apropos for a book on entomology, is designed to signal that this is New Wave SF. So how well does 'SF2' reflect the New Wave ethos ? 

Reasonably well, in my opinion. My capsule reviews of the contents are as follows:

Foreward, by John Carnell: Carnell takes pains here to remark that he is an editor of 'Speculative Fiction', signalling to the world that the genre of science fiction has achieved sufficient maturity to be regarded as Literature. 

Hell-Planet, by John Rankine (pseudonym of Douglas R. Mason): when a damaged Fah' een spacecraft is forced to enter Earth's orbit, the enlightened, Thoroughly Woke aliens aboard are appalled at the content of the radio and television transmissions emanating from the planet. 

This novelette is one of the better examples of an early 60s effort to imbue SF with some type of Message. In this case, there is a note of redemption at the story's conclusion.

The Night-Flame, by Colin Kapp: in a near-future UK, the international arms race comes very close to home. A downbeat, well-crafted tale from Kapp, who in my opinion was one of Britain's best SF authors throughout the 60s and 70s.

The Creators, by Joseph Green: a multiracial coalition investigates mysterious artifacts on a deserted planet. The ending is unconvincing.

Rogue Leonardo, by G. L. Lack: when robots can create legal forgeries of masterpieces by Da Vinci, what, then, is Art ? A slight tale that editor Carnell probably included because it uses SF to say Something Profound abut the Human Condition.

Maiden Voyage, by John Rankine (pseudonym of Douglas R. Mason): yet another novelette from Mason, who seems to have been held in high regard by editor Carnell..........perhaps because Mason always met deadlines. Whatever. 

This story features Rankine's recurring character 'Dag' Fletcher, who is more than a little skeptical that the new spaceship Nova is all that the Space Project's bureaucrats seem to think it to be. When the eponymous voyage goes wrong, Fletcher has to mount a rescue mission on a hazardous planet. This is another of the better stories in the collection.

Odd Boy Out, by Dennis Etchison: published in 1961 in Escapade magazine ('Pleasure for Every Man'), this was one of Etchison's first short stories to see print. It deals with a trio of young people who are obliged to do unpleasant things in order to survive. 

While the story's concept is interesting, as usual, Etchison's tangential prose style makes it a labored read. However, the ending avoids the ambiguity typical of this author's later works, so I regard 'Odd Boy Out' as a success.

The Eternal Machines, by William Spencer: on the junkyard planet of Chaos, the caretaker, a poetic introvert named Rosco, preserves Humanism in age when it has long since been forgotten.

A Round Billiard Table, by Steve Hall: a scientist has perfected a method for conferring invisibility on objects..........and  it's totally useless. Or is it ? This is the type of story that Isaac Asimov routinely published in the SF magazines of the 50s and early 60s, stories mixing an element of hard science with wry humor. With the advent of the New Wave movement, this type of story rapidly went out of style.

Summing up, ''New Writings in SF2' serves its purpose as a snapshot of how the genre stood at the beginnings of the New Wave movement. it has enough entries of quality to make it worth picking up if you should see it on the shelves of a used bookstore.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Tower King episodes 10 - 14

The Tower King
episodes 10-14
Alan Hebden (writer)
Jose Ortiz (artist)
Eagle (UK) 1982

episodes 1 - 3 are here.
episodes 4 - 6 are here.

episodes 7 - 9 are here.

This set of episodes features post-apocalyptic Picts.....and Chieftan tanks ?!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Book Review: Zarasthor's Bane

Book Review: 'Zarsthor's Bane' by Andre Norton
2 / 5 Stars

'Zarsthor's Bane' (204 pp) was published by Ace Books in November 1978; this third printing was issued in July 1983. The cover art is by John Pound.

'Bane' is a 'Witchworld' novel. The heroine, a young woman named Brixia, is an outcast from a noble family, roaming the wastes of High Halleck as an outcast in the aftermath of the ruinous wars that have collapsed human society. She is accompanied by a cat named Uta.

Brixia meets up with a boy named Dwed, who is a squire to a warrior named Marbon. Marbon has suffered a serious head injury, and, in his few moments of coherence, is prone to spouting poetry about a long-ago Bane that brought ruin to a vast tract of Witchworld.

Despite her misgivings, Brixia decides to accompany Dew and Marbon in their quest into the depths of the wasteland. This entails confrontations with the remnants of Evil Powers still at loose in the High Halleck. Will the foursome - squire, warrior, cat, and wanderer - be able to overcome the malevolent forces gathering around them ? Or will the Bane triumph and leave the foursome prisoners in the Hell of the Bane's making ?

I picked up 'Zarasthor's Bane' expecting a 'typical' Witchworld novel; that is, one tailored for a Young Adult readership; bloodless; long on phantasmagorical sequences; overly reliant on stilted dialogue; a denouement that involves a young woman's realization that, despite the seeming humbleness of her existence, she is in fact the holder of awesome psychic abilities upon which the resolution of an age-old conflict depends. 

'Bane' is certainly these things, but it also seems tired and meandering, much more so than other volumes in the Witchworld series. This may reflect the fact that at the time she wrote it, Andre Norton (i.e., Alice Mary Norton) was in declining health.

Whatever the faults are inherent in the book's prose, this illustrated edition benefits from the line artwork of Evan Ten-Broeck Steadman. These plentiful illustrations strike a skillful balance of abstract and decorative styles appropriate for presentation within the pages of a mass-market paperback book (never an easy assignment). Indeed, Steadman's art kept me turning the pages even when the narrative became too plodding to hold my interest.

The verdict ? Unless you are a fervent Witchworld fan, 'Zarasthor's Bane' will not be a rewarding read. In my opinion, the earlier novels in the series are better investments.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Race of Scorpions

Race of Scorpions
by Leo Duranona
Dark Horse comics 1990

Leo Duranona is an Argentinian artist who did work for comics from Warren, Marvel, and Dark Horse.

In 1990 he published this 48-page, full-color, owner-created comic: 'Race of Scorpions'.

'Race of Scorpions' is set on a far-future Earth in the aftermath of an eco-catastrophe that has left the entire planet a desert.

A young boy named Dito, a girl named Alma, and a mysterious man known only as The Stranger find their paths intersecting when a treasure - in the form of an underground lake - is discovered. 

The trio embark on a series of adventures that pits them against Sand Pirates, an evil Emperor, and an army marching on the gates of the Golden City.

'Race of Scorpions' features some very nice artwork, in the European / Heavy Metal style,  from Duranona. Unfortunately, the printing process and lower grade of paper used by Dark Horse back in those days gives the artwork a lower-res quality.

Duranona's script isn't exactly the easiest to follow. Some conversations clearly lost something in the translation, and the narrative suffers from too few framing passages. However, the story does come together in the end, and does about as much as any story can do within the format of a 48 page, one-shot book.

All in all, it's a nice little sci-fi comic, and if you are a fan of the European and South American artists showcased in the pages of Heavy Metal in the 70s and 80s, then it's worth picking up. Copies in good condition can be had for under $6 including shipping and handling. 

(Duranona did several follow-up volumes in this series that also can be acquired for reasonable prices.) 

UPDATE: below are some (hopefully spoiler-free) panels from Book Two of 'Race of Scorpions'.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Hold On by Ian Gomm

Hold On
Ian Gomm
August 1979

As author Stephen Davis points out in his biography of Led Zeppelin, Hammer of the Gods (1985), early in 1979 the major record companies in the U.S. succumbed to the wisdom of the rock critics and signed up every 'Punk' or 'New Wave' band they could find.

By May 1979, records from all of these bands began to glut the market. Few people bought them.

According to Davis, the release of the Led Zeppelin album In Through the Out Door on August 15, 1979 'promptly saved the American record industry from bankruptcy'.

That might well be true, but some of the New Wave acts that released songs and albums in that Summer of '79 were actually pretty good (and no, I do not mean The Knack).

Among these worthwhile songs was one from the British singer-songwriter Ian Gomm (b. 1947) whose album Summer Holiday was released in the UK in 1978. A year later it was released in the US as Gomm with the Wind, and the single 'Hold On' got airplay on the FM album-oriented rock stations. 

I remember hearing it in August 1979 and thinking it was one of the better New Wave songs out there.

So here's a grainy clip of Ian Gomm performing 'Hold On'. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Book Review: Where Have All the Soldiers Gone

Book Review: 'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone' by Con Sellers

5 / 5 Stars

Connie Leslie Sellers (1921 - 1992) was a WW2 veteran who was discharged from the Army in 1956 (apparently for alcoholism). Sellers turned to writing pulp fiction, and ultimately authored over 230 novels in genres ranging from pornography, to melodramas, to crime, to romance, and even television tie-ins (Dallas). 

'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone' (174 pp) was published by Popular Library in February 1969. This was not an easy book to track down, as it's long been out of print, and copies in good condition have steep asking prices.

The novel is set in an undisclosed area in South Vietnam in the late 60s. Lee Boyd, the protagonist, is newly deployed and, as a conscientious objector, is assigned to be the platoon's medic. Boyd comes to Vietnam with plenty of baggage; back in his hometown of Monterey, California, he was an ardent antiwar protester, and the subject of considerable media attention, when he faced a four-year jail sentence for refusing to be drafted. 

Boyd ultimately chose to serve in Vietnam rather than spend four years in a cell. He arrives in-country filled with bitterness and self-pity over his fate, and determined to expose what he sees as the gross immorality of the U.S. military intervention (author Sellers makes clear that Lee Boyd is the physical embodiment of the antiwar sentiment inherent in the Pete Seeger song that serves as the novel's title).

The opening chapters of the novel detail Boyd's efforts to conduct his antiwar mission in the face of skepticism, even indifference, from his fellow soldiers. But as one combat mission after another unfolds, it becomes harder for Boyd to view the war with the simplified ideology he employed back in 'The World'. 

And as for Boyd's major nemesis in the platoon, the veteran Sergeant Garrick ? Lee Boyd finds that the seemingly brutal actions of the Sergeant must be viewed in a new light, as the platoon finds itself trapped in a ville and surrounded by a large force of VC and NVA regulars........

'Soldiers' is proof that for some 'one-man fiction factories' like Con Sellers, the act of issuing such large quantities of literary 'product' results in the fashioning of a capable writer. The novel is fast-moving and the frequent combat scenes convincing (likely benefiting from  Sellers's own experiences in the Army).

Its political stance is subtle, and incidental to the plot, rather than being a Message that the narrative struggles to accommodate. 

'Soldiers' is not perfect; the segments where Lee Boyd finds solace in the stifling bedroom of a Vietnamese bar girl derive a bit too much from Sellers's craft as a porn paperback writer. And the dialogue issued by the black GIs is more than a little unconvincing (few are the white writers who can keep their renditions of 'Black English' from sounding like unwitting parody).

But summing up, perhaps because of its straightforward narrative, and its treatment of the conflict at a time when the war was actually ongoing, 'Where Have All the Soldiers Gone' stands as one of the better Vietnam War novels. It's unfortunate that its long-out-of-print status makes prevents it from getting the recognition it deserves.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Space Relations, Donald Barr, and Jeffrey Epstein

Space Relations, Donald Barr, and Jeffrey Epstein

It's not often that a PorPor Book makes the contemporary news scene, but over at the Vice website I saw something that had me laughing.

(Vice is a news and commentary website aimed at the 'Millennial Hipster' readership; i.e., sample articles include 'how to make a gravity bong', 'meet the group urging people to stop calling the police', 'the midwest is about to have a weed revolution', 'I deal with grief through extreme makeup to make people look at me', etc.)

Becky Ferreira, a science reporter for Vice, writes that hipsters and news junkies are buying up copies of a 1973 sci-fi novel called 'Space Relations' by one Donald Barr who, it turns out, is the father of our current Attorney General, William Barr.

Ferreira is quite indignant over the content of 'Space Relations' :

By far the most disgusting aspect of the novel is its fixation on sexualizing adolescents, and its depictions of rape. Even the adult characters in the book are constantly infantilized. The novel is also rife with casually unsettling observations such as: “To me, pederasty seems utterly lacking in aesthetic appeal.”

For all its faults, speculators at amazon are offering 'Space Relations' for $998.

Over at eBay, other speculators are not only offering copies for exorbitant prices, but Donald Barr's other sci-fi novel 'A Planet in Arms', also has a steep asking price.

I think I might actually have a copy of 'Space Relations' that I picked up 7 years ago. It may be in a box in my basement. I've never read it. Maybe I will now.

If you have your own copy of 'Space Relations', and you're interested in selling it for a profit, well, you may want to sign up for an account at eBay.............?!

And if you have read 'Space Relations', let us know what you thought of it...........!