Sunday, May 30, 2010

'Suburban Scenes: December' by Caza
from the May 1980 issue of Heavy Metal

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: 'Snowman' by Norman Bogner

4 / 5 Stars

I remember reading ‘Snowman’ (Dell, February 1978, 221 pp.) when it was first published and thinking that it was one of the better horror / adventure novels of the mid- to late- 70s, on a par with, if indeed not superior to, more widely promoted books such as ‘The Shining’, ‘The Stand’, ‘The Fury’, and ‘Jaws’.
Norman Bogner’s Snowman is hardly a Bigfoot in white fur. Rather, he is more of an alien monster: 25 feet tall, with a hide like a rhino, a chest bristling with spikes, foot-long fangs, razor-sharp claws, and an internal body temperature that lets him tunnel through solid ice and packed snow. And to top it off, he has ‘heat vision’ capable of starting fires from any combustible material (!)
Normally the Snowman lives in the Himalaya mountains, snacking on Sherpas and yaks, but when the climate changes and his food supply runs low, he sets off across the Bering Strait and winds up in the Sierra Mountains of California. Unfortunately for the newly opened Sierra Ski Resort, the Snowman has taken up residence on the upper slopes, and as the ski season opens and the crowds arrive, the temptation of munching on a wayward snow bunny or ski instructor is just too much to ignore…
When a gruesome murder takes place on a ski trail high up the mountain, Cathy Parker, Great Northern corporation’s publicist, must move quickly to stifle news of the killing and avert a public relations disaster. There are two men who have faced the Snowman before and lived to tell the tale: ace mountain climber Dan Bradford, and his Sherpa friend and guide, Pemba. On a previous expedition on Mount Everest, Bradford had seen the Snowman wipe out his entire party in an orgy of blood and violence. But no one believed his tale of a monster that roamed the slopes at the top of the world.
Now Bradford, physically and emotionally scarred by the carnage he has witnessed, is given the chance he has waited for: to mount an expedition into the Snowman’s lair and destroy the monster. But the hunt won’t be all one-sided: with the risk of avalanche ever-present, Bradford and his team will have to forego firearms and use unconventional weapons. And the Snowman is as smart as he is ferocious…..
‘Snowman’ isn’t a perfect novel; Bogner’s prose gets a bit too adventurous with the thesaurus (using the noun ‘cwm’ or the verb ‘bedizened’ !?). But more than 30 years after its publication ‘Snowman’ holds up as an entertaining read, and fully merits promotion as one of the better horror novels of the late 70s. The Snowman deals death in memorably grisly fashion, and the narrative moves along at requisite speed. The ultimate winner of the Man Vs Snowman contest is never a sure thing, and the novel’s final 30  pages are genuinely suspenseful. ‘Snowman’ is well worth searching out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Heavy Metal' magazine May 1980

'Heavy Metal' magazine May 1980

The May 1980 issue of Heavy metal magazine featured ‘The Fourteen Year Itch’ by Michael Karnack on its front cover.
The contents included the final installment of Jeronaton’s ‘Champakou’; ‘The Alchemist Supreme’ by Godard and Ribera; ‘Suburban Scenes: December’ by Caza; ‘First Love’ by Perry and Bisette; and ‘Only the Plitch’ by Bilal, among others.
One of the better comics in this issue was another werewolf tale by Corben, ‘The Spirit of the Beast’, which I’ve excerpted here. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Review: Ten Years to Doomsday

Book Review: 'Ten Years to Doomsday' by Chester Anderson and Michael Kurland

2 / 5 Stars

‘Ten Years to Doomsday’ was first published in 1964; this Jove paperback (158 pp) was released in 1977. The cover illustration is well done, but unfortunately the artist is uncredited.

When a Federation ship encounters an alien vessel in deep space, it is fired upon, and forced to destroy the alien ship in self-defense. It turns out that the alien ship is a scout for a vast fleet piloted by a race known as the Migrants, who are devoted to the destruction of everything in their path. The main Migrant fleet is only a decade away from encroaching upon Federation space, and the planet most likely to be the first in the sweep of forthcoming destruction is Lyff- a world where civilization molders at the medieval level.

Three Terran agents are sent to Lyff with daunting instructions: act covertly to provoke Lyffan civilization to advance to a point where it can offer a defense against the oncoming horde. And do it in just ten years.

At first the task assigned to John Harlen, Pindar Smith, and Ansgar Sorenstein seems hopeless: from bow-and-arrows to missiles in just a decade ? But it turns out that the people of Lyff have a remarkable ability to accept and improve upon new technologies, as well as an overarching religion that approves of advancement in all aspects of life. It may be a close call, but when the Migrant fleet enters the space around Lyff, there just might be a fleet in place to greet it…..

‘Ten Years’ is a humorous space opera, something of a parody of (or perhaps an homage to) the writings of Jack Vance. The Lyffans sport names like ‘Tchornyo Gar-Spolnyen Hiirlte’, and descriptions of Lyffan vestments use plenty of Vance-ian adjectives such as ‘vert’, ‘cadmium orange’, and ‘amethyst’.

Back in the mid-60s when it first appeared the story probably got a good reception, since this sort of light-hearted approach to SF was in vogue at the time. It’s a quick read, but there’s nothing in its pages that I can see modern-day readers getting excited over.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Science in Science Fiction

'The Science in Science Fiction' by Peter Nicholls

Australian author Peter Nicholls wrote several very good books on SF during the late 70s – early 80s: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (with John Clute) in 1979; The Science in Science Fiction in 1983; and The World of Fantastic Films in 1984. All are worth picking up even though they are dated.

The Science in Science Fiction is a large trade paperback with a suitably eye-catching cover illustration by Chris Foss. The book is organized into 12 chapters covering various topics dealt with in SF: ‘Journey into Space’, ‘Aliens’, ‘The Limits of the Possible’, ‘Powers of the Mind’, etc. The book is liberally illustrated with monochrome and full color diagrams, film and television stills, photographs, and illustrations taken from book and magazine covers. The text is written for the layman, rather providing more hardcore exposition; nonetheless more technically trained readers will find information of worth within the pages.

Not surprisingly some of the material is dated, but for many topics – the speed of light, gravity, time travel, etc., which have not seen any major revelations since 1983- the text remains relevant. Nicholls often refers to SF novels and short stories in his discussions of various phenomena, so you may get some leads in terms of looking for good SF of the era.

If you are wandering the aisles of a used bookshop and see a copy of Science it may be worth picking up, if only to see how science and SF were looking at things in the context of the publication date (for example, there is attention paid to Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ scheme; Uri Geller and his spoon-bending antics; the film Alien; and other science pop culture artifacts of the early 80s).

I've posted some scans of some pages below (while I could not scan the full page for fear of breaking the book's spine, the scans do give a sense of the book's interior).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 28

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 28 
(January 1975)

‘Amazing Adventures featuring War of the Worlds’ No. 28 (January 1975) appeared on newsstands in the late Fall of 1974. 

This issue, ‘The Death Merchant’,  continues the ‘Death Breeders’ storyline started in the previous issue. The script is by Don McGregor and the art and colors by Craig Russel.
With new recruit Volcana (a female version of the Human Torch) in tow, Killraven and his crew make their way to the Martian redoubt of Chicago, where humans are kept as slaves. Any newly birthed offspring are consigned to a gruesome fate: as morsels for Martian palates (!) This was a rather shocking plot device for a CCA – approved comic in 1974.
As with previous issues of ‘Adventures’ only 15 pages are provided for the Killraven story, with a two-page reprint of an old Marvel comic serving as the backup feature. As a result, while Russel’s artwork is reasonably good, McGregor’s script tries to do too much in too few pages, and the plot suffers as a result. The narrative abruptly jumps from page to page without much in the way of transition, and the excessive text boxes and speech balloons littering almost every panel occlude the action.
The letters pages offer some interesting insight into Marvel’s economic and circulation issues as 1974 drew to a close: a Bullpen essay titled ‘War of the Ratings’ reveals that issue 25, ‘The Devil’s Marauder’, sold poorly enough to give the editorial staff pause. ‘Amazing Adventures’ readers are encouraged to write in with their critiques of the series so that the Marvel staff can improve the book and its circulation.
This sort of self-disclosure was quite rare for Marvel books. Unfortunately, the obvious choice for improving the title- increasing the main story's page count back to 20 pages, and hiring more artists to relieve the over-extended staff – seems to have been non-negotiable.
Below are two pages excerpted from the story, depicting some combat between Killraven and his team and the overseers of the Death Breeder facility.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book Review: Technos / A Scatter of Stardust

Book Review: 'Technos' / 'A Scatter of Stardust' by E. C. Tubb
 2 / 5 Stars
‘Technos / A Scatter of Stardust’ is Ace Double No. 79975 (March 1972). The cover artist(s) are uncredited.
‘Technos’ is another installment in British author Edwin Charles Tubb’s ‘Dumarest of Terra’ series which, as of 2008, had reached 33 volumes. In this adventure Earl Dumarest, in quest as always for information about Terra, his birthplace, travels to the planet of Technos and its eponymous city-state. Technos is police state ruled by a paranoid  character named Leon Vargas, who shares power with a scheming, morally decayed group of councilors. It’s not too long after his arrival on Technos that Dumarest begins clashing with the authorities, but his resourceful ways attract the attention of councilor Mada Grist, who offers Dumarest passage off-planet…in exchange for a minor bit of assassination…
As with the other entries in the ‘Dumarest’ series, ‘Technos’ is a competent, if not remarkably original, space-opera. Fans and followers of the series may want to have it in their collection.
‘A Scatter of Stardust’, the other half of the Double, is a collection of 8 of Tubb’s short stories, published from 1955 – 1966 in magazines such as ‘New Worlds’ and ‘Science Fantasy’.
‘The Bells of Acheron’ deals with a forest of unique crystals located on the planet Acheron; the prospect of visiting the forest has the first-person narrator in a melancholy mood. With its rather florid prose, and emphasis on emotional responses to otherworldly spectacles, the story is very much of a pastiche of a Ray Bradbury tale.
‘Anne’ deals with the distraught survivor of a space battle.
‘Return Visit’ is a deal-with-the-devil story, in this case, the devil being a demon from another dimension; the human who has summoned the demon may be a little too cocky for his own good.
‘The Shrine’ is another Bradbury -inspired tale; in the far future, scattered Terrans come together for spiritual sustenance on a remote planet.
‘Survival Demands’ is about a telepath who knows too much about alien civilizations.
‘Little Girl Lost’ sees a young man obliged to befriend a scientist suffering from a dangerous delusion.
‘The Eyes of Silence’ deals with enforced isolation, and one man’s strategy for avoiding insanity.
In ‘Enchanter’s Encounter’ an arrogant psychologist confronts a would-be urban wizard; there is a clash between science and magic.
All in all, Tubb’s stories are competent, and were deemed perfectly acceptable for the era in which they saw publication. However, they make clear the rather staid, even insipid, character of SF short fiction in the years just prior to the advent of the New Wave movement. It may have been that Tubb was willing to write material with a more edgy tenor, but the editorial restrictions of the magazines of the late 50s and early 60s may have made selling such tales difficult, if not impossible.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Colorvision by Ron Cobb

'Colorvision' by Ron Cobb

This oversize paperback was published in 1981 by Wild and Woolley; I was startled to see copies selling on for $80 (!).

Ron Cobb (b.  1937) grew up in Burbank, CA, and in the early 60s worked as an animator for Disney. He served in Viet Nam  in 1963. Upon his return to Hollywood in 1964 he became a freelance artist and designer and did covers for 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' magazine. He also did political cartoons for independent press outlets. In 1972 - 1973 Cobb toured Australia, where he currently lives.

In the early 70s Cobb befriended Dan O'Bannon, then involved with the legendary low-budget SF film 'Dark Star', and designed the spaceship featured in the film. In the mid-70s O'Bannon moved on to bigger things with the 20th Century Fox production of 'Alien', and he recruited Cobb to do many the film's spaceship, interior,  and set designs. Cobb's contributions to the film tended to be overlooked for the more bizarre and memorable designs of H. R. Giger.

Cobb used his Alien work to win further assignments in big budget SF film production, working on the first 'Conan' film, and later 'Aliens', 'Leviathan', 'The Abyss' and 'Total Recall' among others. He continues to do design and concept art for movies, amusement rides, and video games.

'Colorvision' focuses on Cobb's early freelance work, his  concept art for 'Alien' and 'Conan', and impressive art for a John Milius film ('Half of the Sky') about mountain men, that never made it into production.

I've posted some scans of Cobb's art from the book.

Cobb's official web site is 'under construction' ...hopefully he'll get it up and running soon, and provide some more images for SF fans and art appreciators to enjoy. And hopefully 'Colorvision' will be printed again so more people can get hold of it for their collections.

'Nightscape', late 50s, ink, oil, and colored pencil

'The Door', late 50s, pen and oil wash


concept art for 'Alien', mid-70s, acrylic (top) and ink and felt tip pen (bottom)

'Close Encounter', concept art for 'Half of the Sky', late 70s, acrylic

'Discovery of the South Pass', concept art for 'Half of the Sky', late 70s, acrylic
(this is one of the most brilliant landscape paintings I've ever seen) 

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Bus by Paul Kirchner

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'Heavy Metal' magazine April 1980

The April 1980 issue of'Heavy Metal' features a cover illustration by Tony Roberts, titled ‘He Turned the Phindog to Stone’, with  ‘Perversity’, by Wotipka, on the back cover.
Much of this issue is taken up with Jeronatan’s ‘Champakou’, dealing with (‘frisky’) Central American Indians from ancient times, and a visitor from outer space. It’s well illustrated and written, and one of the better serial comics to appear in the early years of Heavy Metal. Also appearing were segments of Moebius’s ‘Airtight Garage’, Corben’s ‘The Beast of Wolfton’, and Caza’s ‘Suburban Scenes: November’.
Enki Bilal contributed a little four-page story, ‘Of Needle and Thread’, which I’ve excerpted here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: Monster Brigade 3000

Book Review: 'Monster Brigade 3000', edited by Martin Greenberg and Charles Waugh

2 / 5 Stars

Yet another anthology edited by the indefatigable Martin H. Greenberg (here aided by co-editor Charles Waugh), ‘Monster Brigade 3000’ (215 pp) was published by Ace books in 1996. The cover illustration is by Gary L. Freeman.

This anthology’s theme is the use of altered humans in warfare; while this might seem like the perfect topic to generate some action-packed tales, unfortunately, many of the selections are predictable expositions on the Meaning of What It Is to be Human. While the majority of the entries appeared in the 90s, there are some golden oldies from the 50s added in to round out the collection.

The first story, William Tenn’s ‘Down Among the Dead Men’, appeared in Galaxy in 1954. It’s about a spaceship pilot who must command a crew composed of androids recycled from combat casualties. As is typical with a Tenn story, there is little action, and much philosophical musing about whether such creatures: Are Not Men ?

Brian Hodge contributes ‘A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine’. It’s the Fall of 1942, and in a small French village, a young nun investigates the nocturnal visits of a mysterious stranger to the abbey stables. It turns out the visitor is a famous character from 18th century fiction; there are complications when a detachment of Nazis arrives to take control of the village. It’s a worthwhile premise, but the story suffers from the author’s overwrought efforts to be Profound.

‘The Monster’, by Joe Haldeman, deals with a Vietnam War veteran who witnessed a terrible atrocity while on a reconnaissance mission in enemy territory. Did the creature who committed the attack come from without…. or from within ?

‘The Eater of Filth’, by Gary A. Braunbeck, is really more of a zombie story than sf. Fallen soldiers from the Mexican American War arise in the night and lay siege to a village. Offbeat and original, coming across like something Joe R. Lansdale would write, this is one of the better stories in the collection.

‘Correspondence’, by Lawrence Schimel and Mark A. Garland, takes place on a future Earth in which the descendents of humans abducted by aliens, returned to their ancestral home, wage a race war with mutated strains of Homo sapiens. It’s a rather unremarkable treatment of the ‘we have met the enemy, and he is us’ theme.

Billie Sue Moisman’s ‘War, the Last’ presents Armageddon from the point of view of an angel participating on the side of Right. It’s an interesting mix of sf and ‘End Times’ biblical tropes, and another of the more interesting entries in this anthology.

Bruce Holland Roger’s story ‘In the Matter of the Ukdena’, despite its 1996 copyright, reads like a tale from the 70s New Wave era, what with its contrived mixup of italicized and varied- font paragraphs, the insertion of numerous stanzas of blank verse, and use of a prose style aimed at evoking the stilted nature of translated American Indian folk tales. Underneath its messy structure is something to do with an alternate history of the New World, in which Spirits in the air somehow prevented the subjugation of aboriginal societies at the hands of the invading Europeans. The inclusion of this tale in the anthology had me scratching my head in puzzlement.

‘A Zombie Named Fred’, by Jake Foster, is a readable, humorous treatment of the zombie-as-soldier theme.

‘Surface Tension’, by Peter Crowther, is a tongue-in-cheek story about explorers of an alien planet confronting the sudden arrival of an unusual breed of monsters. The story is meant as a sort of homage to those appearing in the pages of the EC science fiction comics of the 50s. My opinion ? ….meh.

Robert David Chase contributes ‘The Monster Parade’, in which a US commando on covert assignment in Mexico investigates disturbing rumors about the Space Corps. Featuring some unexpected plot twists, this is another of the better stories in the anthology.

‘Grabow and Collicker and I’, by veteran writer Algis Budrys, is about rejuvenated soldiers fighting the Civil War.

Dan Perez provides ‘Behind Enemy Lines’, placed in a near-future setting in which vampires dominate the world and seek to snuff out armed resistance offered by the dwindling numbers of ‘daylighters’.

From The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1956, Poul Anderson’s ‘Operation Chaos’ rounds out the collection. Set in an alternate universe where magic and mythical creatures are as normal as science and technology in our own world, warring sides use dragons, basilisks, and spells in their contest to control the western United States.

The verdict ? ‘Monster Brigade 3000’ is, like the vast majority of the Greenberg anthologies, rather unremarkable. You won’t be missing much if you decide to pass on it.