Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: Eyas

Book Review: 'Eyas' by Crawford Killian

4 / 5 Stars
‘Eyas’ (354 pp) first was published in August 1982 by Bantam Books; the cover artist is uncredited. The Del Rey Books version (357 pp) was released in March, 1989 and features a fine cover illustration by Steve Hickman.

The novel is set some 10 million years into the future. While California has fallen into the Pacific, the rest of the continent of North America remains intact. Man shares the continent with mutant humanoids; the centaurs live in the Midwest, while the lotors, a race descended from weasels, occupy the southern regions. A race of flying humanoids, called the Windwalkers, live on floating islands of vegetation supported by giant pea-pods filled with helium, and sail the wind currents around the world.

The opening chapters of ‘Eyas’ take place in what was British Columbia, where the ‘People’, the descendents of the Chinooks, continue to live a simple but fulfilling life centered on fishing and hunter-gathering. During the yearly gathering of the tribes, the small fishing vessel of Darkhair Fisher, a stalwart member of the tribe of the village of Longstrand, ventures into the mouth of the inland sea where it empties into the Pacific, and comes upon a large sailing vessel – a type of ship never before seen by the People.

As Fisher looks on, the sailing ship wrecks upon the rocks; after much effort, only three people are saved from its complement: the young boys Brighteyes and Eyas, and the young woman Silken. It is revealed that the ship and crew originated from the nation of Sun, far to the East, in what is nowadays western Texas, and was in desperate flight from another Sunnish vessel.

Darkhair makes a momentous decision: he will not only provide shelter to the trio of Suns, but his family will rear the boy Eyas as one of their own, while Silken elects to raise Brightspear.

As the boys mature, Darkhair comes to realize that the world of the People is much smaller and more insignificant than he has ever imagined. Far inland, the Suns make constant, merciless war on the other races of the continent, seeking new lands to sustain their ever-growing population. Brightspear is in fact the disinherited son of a Sun chieftan, and he will seek to reclaim his kingdom as an adult.

But so doing will bring him into conflict with Eyas, for he alone realizes that the advance of the Suns can only be stopped by an unprecedented alliance of Man and Mutants.

As the two men reach adulthood, the world of the People, and indeed North America, will be caught up in a war unlike any that has taken place before. And for Eyas, the key to victory will be understanding the strange artifacts of the Gods, artifacts that lie far, far above in the blue skies over the Earth……...

‘Eyas’ is a very readable novel. The conflict between the two Suns, Eyas and Brightspear, drives the narrative, and throughout much of its second half, ‘Eyas’ is really more of a military adventure with sf overtones. There is a large cast of characters, but the author shows skill in allowing them to be fully realized without overwhelming the storyline.

There are a couple of weaknesses to ‘Eyas’, and these are the reasons I couldn’t give the novel a five-star rating. One weakness is the inclusion of a subplot dealing with messages and premonitions from the dead – apparently in Hell – that are ‘beamed’ to Eyas and some of the other characters. As the plot unfolds, this metaphysical element comes to occupy more and more the narrative, and it meshes poorly with the othwerwise straightforward, realistic elements of the plot.

Another weakness has to do with the Cosmic Revelations that are hinted at early on in ‘Eyas’. In the final three chapters these Revelations make their appearance, but the sf tropes associated with them come so fast, and so glibly, that the novel’s denouement suffers as a result. 

Still, when all is said and done, ‘Eyas’ is one of the best sf novels of the early 80s; no small achievement when one remembers that sf at that time was in the doldrums, and quality short stories and novels were few and far between.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jack Kirby's OMAC

Jack Kirby's OMAC: One Man Army Corps

This 200-page hardbound volume, published in June, 2008 by DC Comics, contains all the  issues of 'OMAC ('One Man Army Corps) that DC released, starting with issue one in September, 1974, and concluding with issue 8 in November, 1975.

'Jack Kirby's OMAC' is in full color, but uses the 'newsprint' quality paper that draws some criticism from reviewers at online venues.

The book features a Forward by Mark Evanier, who indicates that Jack Kirby first envisioned the OMAC character ca.1968, during his time at Marvel comics. Kirby evidently was interested in creating a sort of near-future manifestation of Captain America, a character whose 'Go Team USA !' attitudes would seem obsolete and inadequate to cope with a world similar to that of the one outlined in Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock.

Kirby left Marvel before the idea of a 'Future Shock' Captain America progressed beyond the conceptual stage.

As Evanier relates, in 1974, DC's contract with Kirby called for him to deliver a minimum of 15 pages of completed artwork per week. Because Kammandi was doing well, DC's management suggested that Kirby do another sf-themed title, and so, Kirby recalled his concept of an updated version of Captain America from six years previously, and launched OMAC.

The opening issue introduces us to Buddy Blank, an undersized, hesistant young man who works as an errand boy in a large corporation. When Buddy stumbles on a clandestine sales operation, he is marked for elimination by his employers - until, that is, Blank becomes the target for a super-secret program: the conversion of an everyday, average citizen into OMAC, the One Man Army Corps.....

OMAC is the prime agent for justice in 'the world that's coming', an entity that reflects the Future Shock visions of a globe beset by the social upheavals wrought by the advent of new technologies.

In succeeding issues, OMAC, now an agent of the Global Peace Agency, and aided by the high-tech gadgetry of the satellite Brother Eye, takes on corrupt gangsters, megalomaniacs intent on conquering the planet, illegal body-swapping brokers, and hordes of monsters infesting the subways of New York City.

The artwork in OMAC is as good as anything Kirby did on his other titles for DC (and, considering his workload, Kirby's artwork was especially impressive). As always, Kirby's pencils (some of his draft pages are reproduced here) were ably inked by Mike Royer.

The writing is less rewarding. While most episodes start on a promising note in terms of content, with some even prefiguring cyberpunk themes a good decade before Neuromancer was published, all of the episodes seem to devolve too quickly into more traditional material, often consisting of well-choreographed, lengthy fight scenes, often with monsters reminiscent of creatures like 'Fin Fang Foom' and 'Torr' from Kirby's early 1960s comic books for Marvel.

The final two issues of OMAC show that Kirby was trying to direct the plotting into more imaginative directions, including one dealing with eco-disaster, and an awareness that OMAC was not invincible, nor always assured of victory. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled by DC after Kirby made a decision to return to Marvel in 1976.

Summing up, I really don't think 'Jack Kirby's OMAC' is sophisticated enough to appeal to modern comic book readers. The book is directed more towards those over 45 who are nostalgic over those long-ago days of Kirby's titles for DC, as well as Kirby fans and completists. They are more likely to enjoy this incarnation of  'OMAC'.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Heavy Metal magazine September 1984

'Heavy Metal' magazine September 1984

September, 1984, and in heavy rotation on the FM radio stations is David Bowie's song 'Blue Jean'.

The August, 1984 issue of Heavy Metal magazine was bad. The September issue, unfortunately, isn't much better. It does have a striking wraround cover by Luis Royo, however.

There are new installments of Benard and Schuiten's 'The Railway'; Druillet's 'Salammbo II'; Frank Thorne's 'Lann', and John Findley's 'Tex Arcana'. 

However, the rest of the content is mediocre. Kierkegaard's 'Rock Opera' persist in being published, Nicola Cuti's 'Things' is forgettable, and the most awful strip in the issue is a one-shot titled 'Sen Lubin from Ernst' by a duo named Victoria Petersen and Neal McPheeters. 

Perhaps the most interesting, and surprising, article in the September issue is the Heavy Metal '1984 Music Video Awards'. After having spent the interval from 1981 - 1983 regarding music television with some degree of the dedicated hipster's disdain, the magazine's editorial staff now enthusiastically embrace music videos, and devote 8 pages to showcasing their faves for the year (loosely interpreted as 1983, and the first six months of 1984).

Some of these videos ('Every Breath You Take' by The Police) will be quite familiar to anyone who watched MTV at that time; some are a bit more obscure - I'd completely forgotten those grainy, washed-out-palette, jerkily handheld camera - imitating Neil Young rockabilly videos like 'Wonderin'. 

Still other videos earning accolades from HM are utterly obscure - does anyone remember Jack the Ripper by The Raybeats ?! it's a retro surf-rock song with a spot-on video.....

In any event, below I've posted the text of Heavy Metal's 1984 Music Video Awards, so you can see for yourself what was hip and cutting-edge back in those long-ago days......

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: Antibodies

Book Review: 'Antibodies' by David J. Skal

2 / 5 Stars

'Antibodies' (220 pp.) was first published in hardcover in 1988; this paperback version was released by Worldwide Library in April, 1989, one of the books in the 'Isaac Asimov Presents' imprint. 

The cover illustration is uncredited, but is almost certainly by Vincent DiFate.

'Antibodies' is one of three sf novels published by David J. Skal in the 1980s, the others being 'Scavengers' (1980) and 'When We Were Good' (1981). All received critical acclaim, but Skal discontinued writing fiction after 'Antibodies', and instead concentrated on film history and criticism, particularly horror films.

'Antibodies' is a satirical novel, set in San Francisco in a near-future USA, in which 80s consumerism and pop culture pervade every aspect of life for those who are white and affluent. Lead character Diandra (we are never told her last name) is a young woman who works as a fashion designer for Croesus, an upscale clothing store associated with all that is trendy in fashion and art.

Diandra suffers from alienation, not just from society, but from her family, and from humanity in general. Luckily for Diandra, she has been contacted by an underground cult called the Cybernetic Temple. The cult has no physical presence per se, but rather, dispenses its doctrine via videocassette tapes filled with subliminal messages, and carefully managed social gatherings in which participants dress as exotic androids and eat a tasteless nutritional paste designed to promote their identification as 'artificial' persons.

The Cybernetic Temple has gained considerable notoriety by promulgating a theology that is the complete antithesis of humanism: the human body, and its functions, emotions, and morals, is little more than 'meat' doomed to gradual decay and dissolution. The Temple offers its acolytes access to new, cutting-edge technologies for organ replacement and, by extension, immortality.

As 'Antibodies' opens, Diandra is struggling to survive her final day at work, before leaving for the Central American enclave of Boca Verde, where the Temple's state-of-the-art facility will remake her as a cyborg, visually perfect, and immune to the sorrows and indignities of the flesh.

As the novel unfolds, we are introduced to a cast of California eccentrics, all of whom interact either with Diandra and the Temple. Some of these eccentrics, like the egomaniacal cult 'deprogrammer' Julian Nagy, see the Cybernetic Temple as an abomination that must be eliminated - particularly if so doing brings fame and fortune. 

Others, such as the artist and style dictator Venus Tramhell, are advocates for the Temple and ruthless in promoting its goals....which are quite different from those that the naive Diandra has been conditioned to believe.......

The back-cover marketing blurbs for 'Antibodies' describe it as a collage of ideas and concepts from David Cronenberg, Harlan Ellison, and J. G. Ballard, and to some extent, this is true, particularly in light of the inclusion of some splatterpunk scenes that counterbalance the satirical passages that take up much of the narrative.

However, sf novels that successfully pull off the trick of embracing satire for their entire length are few and far between, including those in the sub-genre of humorous sf, and the works of Ron Goulart and Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, all of which I have found underwhelming, if not tedious. And while I consider 'Antibodies' to be superior to anything from those authors, even at only 220 pp. in length, I found the plot beginning to tire by the time the final 30 pages unraveled.

'Antibodies' does succeed at mingling cyberpunk-era sf and social satire, and is worth picking up if you are a fan of either genre. But it remains very much a product of the time and place of the late 80s, and I'm not sure contemporary readers would find it particularly appealing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Car Warriors issue 1

Car Warriors
issue 1
Epic Comics / Marvel, April, 1991

'Car Warriors' was a four-issue miniseries published from April - September 1991 by Marvel's Epic Comics imprint. The series was based on 'Car Wars', an RPG first released in 1980 by Steve Jackson Games. The game probably drew heavily, in turn, from the 1975 low-budget, cult classic movie Death Race 2000.

The game was subsequently expanded for use with Jackson's GURPS system in the late 1980s, and in 1991 a card game based on 'Car Wars' was released; this may have been the impetus for the publication of the comic book series. 

While I'm always skeptical of the quality of comic books based on tie-ins to licensed properties, I was quite pleased with 'Car Warriors'. It's filled with quirky little touches of originality and flair. 

For example, the setting is not your usual Mad Max - inspired desert landscape, but rather, the US Heartland, albeit reduced to an economic and ecological wasteland, beset with anarchy and the threat of mass starvation. How many action comics have sequences set in Council Bluffs, Iowa ? Or Green Bay, Wisconsin ? 

The actual 'Death Race' locale is Michigan's Upper Peninsula, not the place one would ordinarily think of for such an event. The course goes from Fort DeLorean, on the shore of Lake Superior, south to Lansing. The betting is high, and some of the racers are among the nation's best. But the homicidal motorcycle gangs and cannibal tribes of the Upper Peninsula's wastelands are well-armed, well-informed, and looking for fresh meat among the contestants......

The hero is an alienated young Mexican man named 'Chevy' Vasquez, aka 'The Meaner Beaner' and 'The Mad Mex'. Once, long ago, when he was a child, Chevy Vasquez had a run-in with one of the Upper Peninsula encounter that left him with nightmares, night sweats, and a growing desire for bloody revenge.

While it offers a good dollop of explicit violence with each issue, 'Car Warriors' also provides plenty of sarcastic humor, which gives these comics extra appeal (to me, anyways).

It also helps that penciller Steve Dillon's artwork is well done, and well complemented by the inks of Phil Winslade and the colors of Steve Buccellato, giving the 'Car Warriors' comic books the appropriately gritty, 'entropic' sensibility this type of tale requires.

So, posted below is the entire contents of the first issue of 'Car Warriors'. Look for the remaining three issues to be posted in the coming months here at the PorPor Books Blog.