Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: Welsh Tales of Terror

Book Review: 'Welsh Tales of Terror' edited by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
3 / 5 Stars

'Welsh Tales of Terror' (188 pp) was published by Fontana Books (U.K.) in 1975. The artist who provided the striking cover illustration is Justin Todd.

This is one of a large number of horror anthologies published by Fontana Books in the 1970s that focused on particular countries or geographical areas, such as Cornish Tales of Terror, Irish Tales of Terror, London Tales of Terror, Oriental Tales of Terror, etc. These anthologies almost exclusively relied on stories in the public domain for much of their content. 

'Welsh Tales of Terror' features short stories (all, save R. Chetwynd-Hayes's entry, were previously published) as well as brief, half-page or one-page myths and legends originally collected in books devoted to Welsh folklore. 

Readers of this anthology will need to be prepared to negotiate the at-times indecipherable, vowel-less nature of many Welsh words and phrases. That said, the stories in this collection all are effective in providing the reader with an atmospheric portrayal of the landscapes, customs, and peoples of Wales.

Rather than critique each story in this anthology, I'll simply list the best of the entries. Glyn Jones's 'Jordan', about two con men who make the acquaintance of a sinister character, stands out, as does the low-key, but creepy, 'A Cry of Children' by John Christopher.

Wales's own literary giant, Arthur Machen, is represented by his 1895 story 'The Shining Pyramid'. Also visiting the theme of a hidden dimension or realm co-existing with contemporary Wales is Richard Bridgeman's 'The Morgan Trust'. Angus Wilson's 'Animals or Human Beings' has the black humor of a Roald Dahl story.

'Black Goddess', by Jack Griffith, takes the quintessentially Welsh occupation of coal miner and weaves in a ghost story; it's one of the better entries in the anthology. Also worth reading is R. Chetwynd-Hayes's 'Lord Dunwilliam and the Cwm Annwn', which pits a arrogant aristocrat against a menacing figure of ancient Welsh legend.

The remaining modern-day stories are not so much horror tales, as they are fantasy tales or fables. I found them to be rather underwhelming compared to the genuine legends and myths from Welsh folklore that are scattered throughout the pages of 'Welsh Tales of Terror'.

Summing up, those with a fondness for 'Old School' horror anthologies might want to collect a copy of 'Welsh Tales of Terror'. But if you're someone more conditioned to imbibe Paperbacks from Hell, then I suspect you'll not find this anthology all that exciting.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Drifting, Falling by The Ocean Blue

Drifting, Falling
by The Ocean Blue

The story goes that when The Ocean Blue released their first album (titled simply The Ocean Blue) for Sire Records in 1989, many listeners thought the band was British. For their second single, 'Drifting, Falling', the band, which hailed from Hershey, Pennsylvania, decided to have it filmed in their home town to make clear their status as an American Band.

The drizzly autumn landscape serves as the perfect visual accompaniment to the song's moody atmosphere. 

Never doubt that during the late 80s and early 90s, whenever they needed to feel Blue, even the most blase and fashionably alienated WHFS progressive-rock-hipsters could find solace and comfort in listening to 'Drifting, Falling' ................

[PS the band has a new album coming out soon............]

You may find you're all alone
All around you not a sound
Drifting, falling on your own again
The walls of cold and grey surround
They surround

You may find you're by yourself
Friends have all grown up and gone away
Drifting, falling you can't stop yourself
The walls of cold and grey surround
They surround

Drifting, falling
Watching all your dreams roll by
They roll by
Somewhere out there

She sees you and she sighs
My, my, my, my, my
You may find you're all alone
All around you not a sound

Drifting, falling on your own again
The walls of cold and grey surround
They surround

Drifting, falling
Watching all your dreams roll by
They roll by

Somewhere out there
She sees you and she sighs
My, my, my, my, my

Friday, October 12, 2018

Conan Vs the vampires

Conan Vs the vampires
by Dorian Vallejo
Savage Sword of Conan, issue 155, January 1989

Dorian Vallejo (b. 1968), the son of noted illustrator Boris Vallejo, only was in his early twenties when he began to get assignments for cover illustrations for Marvel / Curtis's Savage Sword of Conan magazine. 

This entry, which illustrates the story Behind the Walls of Night, certainly is effective in depicting a confrontation between the titular hero and a group of the Undead...........

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: The Haven

Book Review: 'The Haven' by Graham Diamond

4 / 5 Stars

'The Haven' (347 pp) was published by Playboy Press in 1977; artist Wayne McLoughlin provided the striking cover illustration.

UK author Diamond wrote several sequels to 'The Haven': 'Lady of the Haven' (1978), 'Dungeons of Kuba' (1979), 'The Falcon of Eden' (1980) and 'The Beasts of Hades' (1981).

I had been interested in getting a copy of the original mass-market edition of 'The Haven' for some time, but the fact that it has long been out of print has meant that copies even in poor condition have steep asking prices. I was fortunate to find an affordable copy from an online seller.

(A print-on-demand trade paperback of the book is now being offered at amazon).

'The Haven' turned out to be a pretty good read. It's an interesting mix of a horror novel and a fantasy novel.

The novel is set in a medieval landscape where all animals are capable of speech. Fourteen thousand souls, all that remains of Mankind, live in the cultivated grounds of the Valley. Surrounding the Valley is a vast and seemingly impenetrable forest, and within the forest lurk the Dogs: the implacable enemies of Mankind.

For two thousand years Man and Dog have fought: swords and arrows against claw and fang. Now Man makes his last stand in the Valley...... and shelters within its formidable redoubt: a massive castle called the Haven.

As 'The Haven' opens, Elon, the Lord of the Haven, is made aware of a disturbing new development: the Dogs have united under a charismatic and cunning leader known only as The Master. With rumors of thousands of dogs uniting to form a giant Pack for the sole purpose of eliminating Man from the world, Elon seeks allies among the Birds and the Wolves, and plans for what will likely be the final battle for survival against the Dogs.

Nigel, a young Lord and one of the more intelligent men in the Valley, argues for avoiding a pitched battle with the army of the Dogs. Nigel proposes an alternative: he will lead a scout team to find a path through the Forest and into the fabled New Lands, where the population of the Valley can find shelter and safety from the Dogs.

As the army of the Dogs closes on the Valley, Nigel and his small band of scouts set off into the depths of the Forest on their desperate mission...............

For the most part, 'The Haven' succeeds in melding horror and fantasy, in large part due to the author's willingness to include graphic scenes of violence and mayhem that prevent the narrative from having the predictable quality of many fantasy novels (where, despite all manner of tribulations, the Quest Party survives more or less intact and defeats the Evil Lord, leaving all to live Happily Ever After).

Author Diamond keeps his narrative focused on action, keeps his subplots to a manageable number, and avoids implementing a contrived 'Peace for All' cop-out...........make no mistake, there will be only one winner in the war between Man and Dog.

The verdict ? If you can get a copy of 'The Haven' for an affordable price, I recommend doing so. It has an offbeat quality that brings something novel to the Horror genre.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Tharg's Future Shocks issue 609

Tharg's Future Shocks
by Jose Ortiz
from 2000 AD issue 609
January, 1989

'Tharg's Future Shocks' were brief, one- to three- page stories that regularly ran in 2000 AD

In this entry from a 1989 issue of the comic, the talented Spanish artist Jose Ortiz provides some effective artwork for a downbeat story dealing with the familiar trope of the 'corpsicle' who is discover the future isn't all he or she hoped it would be................

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Antiques Store Finds

Antiques Store Finds

In upstate New York, there is an antiques store I visit every year or so. 

Sometimes, if my timing is right, I find that they have replenished their selection of vintage paperbacks.

This past week, I really lucked out !

They had a new inventory of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy paperbacks from the 1960s and early 1970s. All of these books were in very good condition. And they were $2 each - !

Save for a bit of browning on their edges, the Lancer 'Conan' titles all were in great shape considering their age.

Scourge of the Blood Cult is a rare find. Speculators at amazon are asking $80 for a copy in good condition........the market for vintage smut can be exorbitant !

I'm not familiar with Sarban's The Doll Maker, although I know that The Sound of His Horn is considered a classic.

I'm not sure when I will get to reading all these, but look for me to post my reviews whenever I do. And don't be shy about stopping in at antique stores to peruse their shelves: sometimes you can find some real treasures that you wouldn't otherwise find in a used bookstore.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Book Review: Bloodthirst

Book Review: 'Bloodthirst' by Mark Ronson
2 / 5 Stars

'Bloodthirst' (210 pp) was published by Hamlyn (UK) in September, 1979. 

'Mark Ronson' was the pseudonym of New Zealand author Marc Elward Alexander (b. 1929), who wrote a large number of paperback horror novels during the 70s and 80s, including including Ghoul (1980), Plague Pit (1981), and The Dark Domain (1985).

'Bloodthirst' opens with a prologue, set during the Second World War, in the Winter of 1945. A group of German soldiers are in retreat on the Eastern Front, and decide to take refuge for the night in a remote cemetery. Among the interred is a man named Nadasdy, the husband of the notorious 'vampire Countess': Elizabeth Bathory, who was executed in 1614 for allegedly murdering as many as 650 young women in an effort to retain her youth. Events within the cemetery take a fateful turn for the hapless Germans...........

The narrative then shifts to the present day (i.e., 1979) and a London hospital, where young neurologist Dr Peter Pilgrim is studying narcoleptic children (?!) in the hopes of finding a cure. 

A recent arrival to the hospital is a seemingly angelic little Swedish girl named Britt Hallstrom. Dr Pilgrim and the hospital staff soon are confronted with a series of bizarre incidents which threaten the lives and welfare of the patients, incidents which have at their center Britt Hallstrom. 

Pilgrim is convinced that a novel theory may explain these events: the thirst for human blood that underlies the ancient concept of vampirism may in fact be a communicable disease transmitted through saliva.

The director of the hospital, a prig named Dr. Henry Beresford, admonishes Pilgrim for embracing 'crank' theories, and warns him that continuing to promote such nonsense can damage the younger physician's career.

But as events unfold in the South of France, and in the trackless forests of Finland, Pilgrim comes to believe that his theory may be correct........with implications that portend disaster for Mankind.................

As a 'vampire' novel, I found 'Bloodthirst' to be mediocre. The opening chapters provide the reader with an interesting premise, but all to quickly the narrative takes on an ad hoc quality as the author tosses in poorly connected episodes of 'bloodthirst' mayhem, before transitioning in the middle chapters into a Gothic romance (?!) set in the Camargue region of France. 

By the time the narrative re-seats itself and continues its horror theme, the page limit threatens, and the denouement consequently has a rushed quality, one more in keeping with a 70s spy novel than a vampire novel.

Summing up, 'Bloodthirst' is neither an overlooked gem of vampire literature, nor a worthy entry in the 'Paperbacks from Hell' canon. I would avoid this one unless you are dedicated to reading every UK horror paperback ever released in the 70s............

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Riddles by Jesus Gracia Sanchez

by Jesus Gracia
from Zona 84 No. 39, 1987

Jesus Gracia Sanchez was a Spanish artist who contributed a number of short comics to the Spanish magazine Zona 84 during the mid-80s under the pseudonym 'Jesus Gracia'. 

I was not able to find much information about Gracia Sanchez on the internet, but he apparently did not do much illustrative work after his stint in Zona 84.

The few comics he did provide to Zona 84 are striking in their use of an ornate, meticulous line art approach that calls to mind a mixture of the styles of the great Irish illustrator Harry Clarke (1889 - 1931); the greater Art Deco movement; and even classical Greek art.

Posted below is 'Bestiary: Riddles', from a 1987 issue of Zona 84.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Hombre from Heavy Metal Fall 1987

'Hombre' by Antonio Segura (story) and Jose Ortiz (art)
from Heavy Metal magazine, Fall 1987

Along with their 'Burton and Cyb' comics published in the 80s for the Spanish magazine Zona 84, the team of Antonio Segura and Jose Ortiz also were busy producing a post-apocalyptic story for the Spanish comic magazine Cimoc

Titled 'Hombre' (i.e., 'Man'), these strips were translated into English and published in Heavy Metal during the mid-to-late 80s.

Below I've posted the inaugural episode of 'Man / Hombre' from the Fall 1987 issue of Heavy Metal

Unfortunately, there are major problems with scanning this issue of the magazine due to the combination of underexposed print quality, and mediocre color separations. I've tried to compensate by Brightening my scans, but there is only so much brightening I can do before bleaching the colors too much and spoiling Jose Ortiz's great artwork. 

What can I say ? That's how it was, back in '87............

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Book Review: 'Svaha' by Charles de Lint
3 / 5 Stars

‘Svaha’ (276 pp) was published by Ace Books in January 1989; the cover art is by Joe Burleson.

At the time this book was published, prolific Canadian author de Lint (b. 1951) had established himself as a founder of what would come to be called the ‘Urban Fantasy’ genre.

During the 70s de Lint had written a considerable number of novels, short stories, and poems set in the so-called ‘Cerin Songweaver’ world, but starting in the 80s, he began to write fiction that often was set in modern-day Ontario and detailed the adventures of Canadians who willingly (or unwillingly) transported themselves into the fairy realms that exist alongside ‘our’ reality.

‘Svaha’ was an effort by de Lint to meld his urban fantasy themes with………….cyberpunk ?!  Whether or not you agree with my review of his book, you must agree that he deserves credit for this imaginative pairing.

‘Svaha’ is set in a near-future US where the government has collapsed, and a large tract of the northeast is a wasteland of abandoned buildings pitted by regular downpours of acid rain, and occupied by feral cannibals. 

Trenton, also known as the Megaplex, is the capital of the region; outside its walls lie the ‘squats’, a ring of slums whose population eke out their lives perpetually hoping that some turn of good fortune will permit them to live within the Megaplex. Lording over all these realms are competing factions made up of Japanese yakuza, Chinese tongs, and Japanese corporations.

The American Indians live aloof from this dystopia; through a combination of both hi-tech and mystical fonts of knowledge, they reside in Indians-only Eco-Topias, referred to as Enclaves. Surrounded by impenetrable barriers, the Enclaves preserve and celebrate Indian culture and tend to Mother Earth, while looking upon the tribulations of the Palefaces with indifference……….. and a certain degree of smugness.

As ‘Svaha’ opens an Enclave aircraft has crashed somewhere in the wastelands, and the craft’s computer chip – if it successfully can be decoded – promises to grant the user a complete knowledge of Enclave technology. The tongs, triads, yakuza, corporations, bandits, and raiders of the Megaplex and the squats all are vying to find the chip and make its secrets their own.

The Iroquois Enclave near Toronto has dispatched a warrior named Gahzee Animiki-Waewidum to recover the chip. It’s a one-way mission; Gahzee can never return to the Enclave, but he is dedicated to the cause of the People (as the Indians refer to themselves) and willing to die if need be.

The remainder of ‘Svaha’ details Gahzee’s efforts to traverse the wasteland and its dangers, and finding who holds the chip. So doing will require alliances with the more untrustworthy inhabitants of the squats. But Gazhee is not without formidable resources of his own, for he can access the separate reality known as the Dreamtime, where the gods of Indian myth and legend not only are real, but willing to bestow unique powers upon those they favor………..

I finished ‘Svaha’ thinking that it would have been a better novel had the ‘Injun Mysticism’ component been greatly reduced.

The cyberpunk segments of the novel will be immediately familiar to anyone who has read the early work of Gibson, Sterling, Kadrey, and Shirley: prose that is dense, highly descriptive, and filled with italicized idioms and phrases in Japanese (Nihongo). These segments propel the narrative and culminate in a denouement that stays true to the plot.

But the steady diet of segments devoted to Injun Mysticism are difficult to digest, and tend to sap the narrative of momentum. For example, author de Lint’s desire to lend his novel an authentic ‘Iroquois’ flavor means that within the book’s first few pages, the reader will have to negotiate a lumbering lexicon containing words like these: Mino-dae aeshowishinaug; Kikinowautchi-beedaudae; madjimadzuin; and Tci manaudjimikooyaun n’d’aupinumoon.

Too often the Injun segments come across as a too-earnest effort to pay ideological tribute to the wonder and majesty of the Amerindian Experience, ultimately serving to render the hero Gahzee as a kind of Redskin version of Jesus........?!

The verdict ? I can’t recommend ‘Svaha’ as a title worthy of being included in the cyberpunk canon, but its offbeat nature makes it attractive to those fans of the genre who are willing to plow through the Injun segments in order to get at the underlying cyberpunk goodness.