Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book Review: The Palace of Eternity

Book Review" 'The Palace of Eternity' by Bob Shaw

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Palace of Eternity’ (222 pp) was published by Ace Books in 1969. The cover art is by Leo and Diane Dillon.

The novel is set in the far future, one in which Mankind is locked in an interstellar war with an alien race known as the Pythsyccans.

Mack Tavernor, the lead character, is your typical square-jawed, self-reliant, emotionally reserved Man of Action. Having witnessed his parents killed by the Pythsyccans on a planetary raid, Tavernor grew up with an abiding hatred for the aliens. Once he reached adulthood, he became a soldier decorated for his combat forays against the Pythsyccans.

Now retired, Tavernor has found a measure of peace and fulfillment as a resident of the planet of Mnemosyne, known as ‘Poet’s World’ for its particular attraction to artists, many of whom migrate from all regions of known space to live there.

As ‘Palace’ opens, Tavernor’s comfortable existence undergoes upheaval, as word comes that the Federation military is establishing its control over Mnemosyne. Rebelling against the quasi-fascistic strictures imposed by the military soon gets Tavernor labeled as a danger to the war effort. Once a hero, Mack Tavernor now finds himself hunted by the same military he fought for………..even as the threat posed by the Pythsyccans reaches a critical stage……….

Upon finishing ‘Palace’, I found myself with mixed feelings. Making allowances for the fact that the book was written in the New Wave era, the frequent passages early in the narrative that digress into philosophical matters, aided and abetted by flowery language, were negotiable, as the narrative as a whole is an action / adventure narrative – at least for the first two-thirds of the novel.

The last third of ‘Palace’ is where the narrative became more than a little overambitious. I won’t disclose any spoilers, although I will say that author Shaw abruptly shifts the plot from its conventional trappings in order to introduce deep, ‘cosmic’ issues. This metaphysical interlude is followed – somewhat improbably - by the resumption of the narrative dealing with the conflict between humans and Pythsyccans.

Summing up, the first part of ‘Palace’ stands as an engaging treatment of the traditional ‘humans Vs aliens’ theme to sci-fi. However, I suspect that the introduction of the book’s ‘cosmic’ segments likely won’t seem as novel or imaginative to modern readers as they did back in 1968, and the book’s closing chapters have a contrived quality that modern readers also may not find very convincing. Accordingly, I gave ‘The Palace of Eternity’ a rating of 3 / 5 Stars.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Rattle of Bones

Rattle of Bones
by Roy Thomas (story) and Howard Chaykin (art)
from Savage Sword of Conan, Marvel / Curtis, issue No. 18, April 1977

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Joyeux Noel by Jean Sole

Joyeux Noel
by Jean Sole
Heavy Metal magazine, December 1977

If any single cover from the early years of Heavy Metal could be said to display the quintessence of that magazine, then it surely has to be the cover of a 'biker' Santa Claus from the December, 1977 issue.

Sole's art was originally used on the December 1976 issue (number 12) of Metal Hurlant. An argument could be made that the background colors and layout of the Metal Hurlant cover are superior to that of the Heavy Metal version.

According to the Lambiek Comic Encyclopedia and his Wikipedia page, Jean Sole (b. 1948) began contributing art to the French magazine Pilote in 1971. Sole went on to become a major contributor to the comic magazine Fluide Glacial ('icy fluid') while also carrying out commissions for movie posters and theatre sets. A 2015 interview (in French) with Sole is available here.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Book Review: Var the Stick

Book Review: 'Var the Stick' by Piers Anthony

4 / 5 Stars

The three volumes comprising Piers Anthony's 'Battle Circle' had a rather haphazard release in the U.S. Sos the Rope (1968) was released in paperback by Pyramid Books, while Var the Stick (1972) was released by Bantam Books. Neq the Sword (1975) didn't even get a U.S. release, being bundled with the other two titles in the omnibus paperback Battle Circle published by Avon Books in 1978.  

The Bantam Books edition (172 pp) of Var the Stick was released in December 1983 and features a striking cover by Michael Hooks.

It's difficult to give a synopsis of the book without disclosing spoilers related to the content of the previous volume in the series, so my remarks necessarily are superficial.

'Var' is set in the same post-apocalytic North America as Sos the Rope, and features Sos himself, as well as other characters from that novel. As 'Var' opens, Sos investigates the pilfering of crops and discovers the culprit is an orphaned, misshapen boy who lives in the Badlands. After a series of adventures Sos befriends the boy, who is named Var, and trains him in the use of sticks as preferred weapons for ritualized combat within the 'Battle Circle' that governs the pecking order among the nomad tribes.

Var proves himself adept at combat in the Circle, and is chosen by Sos to conduct reconnaissance of the mountain redoubt of the so-called 'crazies', for Sos has a grudge against the mountain and its inhabitants. 

From Var's reconnaissance comes a series of events that will send him into flight across continents, facing myriad dangers from hostile tribes, the environmental hazards of the wastelands, and the unfathomable technologies left over from the ancient days of the Blast.........

'Var the Stick', like the other volumes in the 'Battle Circle' trilogy, is a short and engaging read, something that cannot be said of Anthony's other novels from the late 60s and early 70s. Whether this is due to a stance by Anthony that 'Var' was a simplistic action novel designed for quick production, as opposed to the more involved content of his 'regular' novels, is unclear. I will say that for 'Var' the plot relies on regular twists and turns to sustain momentum, and while there are some rather improbable hairsbreadth rescues, on the whole the narrative retains a sense of fun in its depiction of a post-WWIII world. 

[ Some segments of the novel may raise eyebrows among readers who are not overly acquainted with the more permissive and politically incorrect attitudes of 70s sci-fi........ ]

Summing up, if you have not yet read any of the Battle Circle titles, getting this volume, or the omnibus edition from Avon Books, is worth your while. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Alex the Droog 12" action figure

A Clockwork Orange Action Figure
12" Window Box packaging
Mezco, 2018

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim and we sat in the Korova milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.

The Korova Milk Bar sold milkplus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking.

This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Our pockets were full of money so there was no need on that score, but, as they say, money isn't everything.

Unlike the ONE:12 series Alex Delarge action figure recently released by Mezco, this figure is considerable taller (12"), comes in a traditional windowbox package, and has just two accessories - a sword cane and a mask. 

I am quite pleased with the fidelity of the figure. This is a high-end product with a very affordable price (about $40). If you are at all a fan Kubrick's film, then you should be asking Santa for this A Clockwork Orange action figure for Christmas.............. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Ten Years of the PorPor Books Blog

Ten Years of The PorPor Books Blog 

I can't quite believe it, but it's been ten years, and over 1,400 Posts, since I launched this blog on December 2, 2008 with a review of The Year's Best Horror Stories: Series V.

Back in '08 the presence of Google Blogger meant that you didn't have to learn html in order to start up a blog, nor pay a fee to have the blog maintained for you on a private server. So I sat down and composed some initial posts, and on December 2, I launched this blog.

My ambitions in starting the PorPor Books Blog were simple: I wanted to archive and share sci-fi, horror, and fantasy pop culture from the era of 1968 - 1988 with fellow Baby Boomers.

I also wanted to have a way of letting the younger generation of sci-fi fans know that there was a large body of worthy material from the New Wave era, up to the beginnings of Cyberpunk, that they would want to investigate. I wanted them to realize that sci-fi and fantasy novels didn't have to be 500 pages long in order to be engaging and entertaining.

Like most folks new to blogging, I was a bit naive back then, thinking that within a few weeks of starting up I'd have several thousand hits per day. Needless to say, after several months I had received less than a hundred...........I was disappointed and wondered how to build up my readership.

I reached out to Curt Purcell at the Groovy Age of Horror blog and asked if he could post a link to my blog. Curt of course generously agreed, and within a matter of days, my readership doubled. Curt also provided some useful guidance concerning what was permissible in terms of considering material to be in the 'public domain', or eligible for excerpting for 'review purposes', when it came to creating posts.

Nowadays I average about 425 Pageviews per day, according to my Google Blogger stats. For reasons that are a complete mystery to me, my most visited post of the past decade was one I did on genital herpes in the 1970s that brought in 16,371 Pageviews........?!

My appreciation to all who visit the PorPor Books Blog, whether you visit the site on a daily basis, or on a more occasional basis. I've spent quite a bit more money and time on the blog that I had anticipated, but it's been a very rewarding thing to do. So I'm looking to keep it going for another few years, if not longer.....!?

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book Review: Godsfire

Book Review: 'Godsfire' by Cynthia Felice
2 / 5 Stars

'Godsfire' (264 pp) was published by Pocket Books in June 1978; the cover illustration is by Boris Vallejo.

On a distant planet live a race of feline Manimals and their human slaves. Technology is at a medieval level, primarily due to the fact that the felines' civilization ekes out an existence wholly within the shadow of an immense, Saturn-like ring that circles their planet's equator. Within the shadow there is perpetual gloom and rain, and diets consist of fish, mushrooms, snails, and lizards.

The main character also is the smartest member of the felines: a young woman named Heao, who is of the scholarly caste. Heao has her doubts about the cosmology of her world as it is interpreted by the priestly caste, who preach that the ring is a 'skybridge', from which the Rainmaker god decants water. The brief glow of sunlight on the edges of the ring's northern and southern horizons at each dusk and dawn represents the 'Godsfire' of the book's title. The priests declare that the Godsfire is an actual conflagration, triggered by the Gods for purposes unknown, bu Heao has her doubts as to the veracity of this theory.  

The first two-thirds of the novel are occupied with detailing the world of the felines, interspersed with recitations of the various religious and political conflicts between the scholarly and priestly castes, conflicts which Heao attempts to exploit for her own purposes (sometimes with harmful consequences).

The final third of the novel sees Heao mount a long-pursued expedition designed to explore the territories outside the shadowfall. Accompanying the expedition is the High Priestess, who is actively seeking to discredit any challenges to her sacred interpretation of the World. Further complicating matters is the mystery of the origin of the human slaves, whose legends and myths speak of the land beyond the shadow as being the homeland of the Gods.

As the expedition progresses, it will uncover revelations about the nature of the world and its inhabitants, revelations that will threaten the existence of the feline civilization...........

'Godsfire' has much in common with the novels of C. J. Cherryh in terms of meticulously constructing an alien society and expounding on its social, political, and cultural idiosyncrasies as compared to 'our' civilization. 

Unfortunately, 'Godsfire' suffers from the same problems that tend to afflict Cherryh's novels: so much effort is expended on world-building that the plot becomes secondary. In the case of 'Godsfire', I found myself struggling to continue through the first two-thirds of the book and its seemingly endless stretches of conversations in which the felines argue and spar over one thing or another. 

The final third of the novel does see the long-awaited advent of a number of revelations and accompanying action sequences, but these - perhaps inevitably - have a rushed, contrived quality that could have been avoided with more energetic pacing in the earlier stages of the narrative.

Summing up, readers willing to exercise patience with the first two-thirds of the novel may find the closing chapters sufficiently interesting to impart some reward to completing 'Godsfire'. All others, however, are better off passing on this novel. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Alex the Droog action figure

A Clockwork Orange Action Figure
Alex DeLarge ONE:12 Collectible Figure
Mezco, 2018

Just in time for Christmas 2018 comes your very own Alex the Droog Action Figure !!!!!

Made for the higher-end action figure collector, this 'ONE:12' series reproduction stands about 6.7 inches tall. It's available from your favorite online retailers (pricing can vary, but is usually around $80).

Mezco also is marketing a 12" Alex figure in a traditional 'window box' package, with just the cane and a single mask as accessories, for around $40. I'll have a post on that figure forthcoming. 

Note that to complicate things even further, Mezco also makes a 'stylized' 8.5 inch Alex DeLarge action figure with a 'big head', also priced at around $'s easy to confuse these three models of action figures.

The ONE:12 edition of the action figure is elaborately packaged in a special slipcase box.

Your Alex figure comes with all sorts of clever accessories: a cane and knife; a glass of milk straight from the Korova Milk Bar; seven interchangeable hands; and two different interchangeable heads - one representing Alex in all of his Droog glory, the other, his visage battered after being worked over by his former mates 'Dim' and 'Georgie'.

I can't help laughing to think what the reaction would have been to such an action figure had it been released alongside the film in 1971. I'm sure there would have been a tsunami of outrage. It just goes to show you how times have changed.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hex issue 1

Issue 1
by Michael Fleisher (story) and Mark Texeira
DC Comics, September 1985

By the Summer of 1985 it was becoming clear to the comics publishers that the rise of dedicated comic book shops was going to revolutionize the sales and marketing of comics. 

This was welcome news, for this 'direct market', as it came to be called, was likely to rescue the entire industry from extinction as newsstand sales plummeted, and more and more distributors became indifferent to comic books and the few cents of profit they earned from each sale. 

Superhero titles were the main beneficiaries of the direct market, which led DC comics to contemplate reducing its lineup of non-superhero titles, particularly ones with poor sales records. A potential casualty of this attitude was the long-running comic Jonah Hex, which by 1984 was a bimonthly title.

As is detailed in essays available at DC in the 80sOne Fangirl's Opinion, and Matching Dragoons (warning: they have spoilers) longtime Hex writer Michael Fleisher was willing to radically change the title in an effort to revive sales.

'Hex', which debuted in September 1985, sent its hero into the year 2050, into a United States turned into a mashup of post-apocalyptic pop culture references like Mad Max, Escape from New York, and even the 1983 B-movie Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn

Below is the contents of the first issue of 'Hex'. If there is interest, I'll post additional issues.