Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review: Them Bones

Book Review: 'Them Bones' by Howard Waldrop

4 / 5 Stars

‘Them Bones’ was among the first of the ‘new’ iteration of Ace Science Fiction Specials that saw print in 1984 (others being ‘Neuromancer’ by Gibson, ‘The Wild Shore’ by Robinson, ‘Green Eyes’ by Shepard, and ‘Palimpsests’ by Scholz and Harcourt). The cover art for ‘Them Bones’ (225 pp.) is by Marvin Mattleson.

The novel's overarching plot deals with time travel; specifically, the US in 2003 seeks to change the course of history and avoid the wars and destruction that have turned the nation into a radiation-soaked wasteland. By sending a force of scientists and soldiers back into early 20th century America, the hope is to alter the timeline so as to prevent the advent of armageddon.

Subsumed within this plot are three main storylines. One concerns the adventures of Madison Yazoo Leake, a time traveler who is sent into the past….but too far into the past, as it turns out. Leake winds up in what at first glance seems to be Louisiana, at the time before the Europeans colonized North America. But the mound-building Indian tribe that adopts him is clearly not lodged in the same timeline of Leake’s future, for there are Arabs sailing the Mississippi and woolly mammoths roaming the countryside.

Another storyline deals with the detachment of 147 troops and scientists sent through the time portal to rendezvous with Leake. Something has gone wrong and they have missed the target time and place; to make things worse, the local Indian population soon turns decidedly unfriendly.

A third storyline deals with a team of archeologists, who in 1929 are excavating mounds in Louisiana, in territory alongside the Mississippi river. When a laborer discovers a horse skull displaying what appears to be a rifle bullet wound, the excavation team realizes that they may find artifacts within the mounds unlike anything before encountered in a pre-Columbian dig….

‘Them Bones’ is a well-written SF adventure novel. Waldrop uses a clean, fast-moving narrative prose style and short chapters to keep his three intersecting storylines untangled and coherent. The Madison Leake story thread is the major one of the novel and features plenty of dry humor; in the last fifth of the book, it involves an exciting chase sequence that Mel Gibson may have ripped off for his 2006 film ‘Apocalypto’.

‘Them Bones’ continues to be one of the best entries in Terry Carr’s Ace SF Specials from the mid-80s.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


from the 1978 comic book by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy

Friday, June 25, 2010

 'Questar' magazine June 1980

Questar was a 8 x 11"  magazine published from 1978 to 1981 by MW Communications of Pittsburgh, with William Wilson serving as editor. The magazine was a 'slick', printed in color on higher quality paper stock, with a newstand / magazine rack distribution that placed it alongside more mainstream publications like 'Time' and 'Car and Driver'.

The runaway success of 'Star Wars' in 1977 had made possible the commercial viability of a new generation of SF magazines devoted to covering the genre in film and television. The leading publication of this type was Starlog, which debuted in 1976 and soon achieved a respectable circulation. The magazine Omni, first issued in October 1978, was aimed at a more sophisticated audience and was also enjoying financial and critical success. Questar was designed to fall somewhere in between the two types of magazines. It did not achieve the economic success of its competitors, however, and the magazine folded after issuing its 13th and final issue in 1981.

The June 1980 issue features a fawning interview with author A. E. Van Vogt. There's another interview, this one with uber-SF geek Forest J. Ackerman, and coverage of the upcoming big budget movie 'Conan'. I've excerpted an ad for various groovy sci-fi soundtracks:

There's a 'cheescake for geeks' section focusing on British SF and horror movie actress Caroline Munro:

There's a review of the movie 'Saturn 3', a great example of a cheesier late 70s -  early 80s sci-fi film:

There's also a worshipful in memorium piece about the mask-maker Don Post, Jr., who died in 1979, and whose company (coincidentally) bought a lot of ad space in 'Questar' :

Monday, June 21, 2010

'Going to Pieces' by Francois Schuiten
(from the May 1978 issue of 'Heavy Metal' magazine)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Review: 'The Overman Culture' by Edmund Cooper

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Overman Culture’ (191 pp) was published by Berkley in 1972; the cover artist is uncredited, but according to the ISF database is Paul Lehr.
Michael Faraday is a young boy growing up in middle-class surroundings in London during the latter half of the 20th century. But it’s a strange sort of London. The entire city is surrounded by an enormous, transparent force field; there is a world war going on, marked by ineffective, but frequent, bombing runs against the city by fleets of biplanes and zeppelins. Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill are alive and well and amble about the city on hovercars, while the cinemas show outdated films like ‘Gone With the Wind’. The population of the city is unusually small, and the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, such as Michael’s parents, are oddly emotionless and prone to vapid moralizing. Michael’s classmates at grammar school are named Horatio Nelson, Ellen Terry, and Emily Bronte; the significance of these names is lost to him because he is not expected to learn to read.
As Michael grows into a teenager he becomes increasingly aware that there is something artificial, even duplicitous, about the world he lives in. Against the admonitions of his parents and other ‘drybones’ in authority, Michael and his small group of friends embark on a covert campaign to learn all they can about the true nature of the city and their place within it. But every discovery they make only raises new questions, and as the scrutiny of the drybones grows more intense, Michael and his friends realize they are running out of the time they need to uncover the reality of their existence.
 ‘Overman’ will call to mind recent films like ‘The Matrix’, which also uses the theme of a protagonist struggling to break the confines of a world that seems artificial, and without giving too much away, the ending of Overman will echo that of The Matrix. The novel unfolds with deliberate pacing and reader is induced to continue as author Cooper, through the vehicle of the main character Michael Faraday, gradually discloses more revelations about the world of the Overman culture. 

The novel’s main drawback is that the narrative begins to drag well before the climactic Revelation is presented within the last 30 pages, and the Revelation itself is rather clichèd. Nonetheless, ‘Overman’ will be appreciated by readers looking for a slower-paced SF novel with a more contemplative tenor.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Monday, June 14, 2010

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 29
(March 1975)

‘Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven’ No. 29 (March 1975) appeared on newsstands in the Christmas / New Years season of 1974. 

This issue, ‘The Hell Destroyers’,  continues the ‘Death Breeders’ storyline involving Killraven's quest to free what used to be Chicago from control of the Martians and their human lackeys. The script is by Don McGregor and the art and colors by Craig Russel. 

Things improve page-wise with this issue, as the number of pages devoted to the Killraven story goes up to 19, with no filler material (such as reprints from Marvel stories from the 1950s). The reason for the return to the page counts routine for comics of previous years is unclear; perhaps the beleaguered Marvel staff is beginning to catch up with their workload. Or maybe Stan Lee came to his senses and canceled a bunch of books and assigned the artists to existing titles.   

Unfortunately, despite the increased pages given to him to work with, MacGregor can't help stuffing too much awful dialogue and text boxes into each panel, essentially overwhelming the decent art by Russell. There are also too many characters vying for attention - Killraven's crew has grown too big for its own good. Nonetheless the story does work up some momentum, and features some gruesome revenge upon the servants of the Martians.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon

Book Review: 'The Kar-Chee Reign' and 'Rogue Dragon' by Avram Davidson

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Kar-Chee Reign’ first saw print in 1966 as part of Ace Double G-574 with LeGuin’s ‘Rocannon’s World’. The sequel ‘Rogue Dragon' appeared the same year. This 1979 Ace paperback (377 pp. )provides both novels in one volume, albeit a volume designed to be marketed – somewhat deceptively - to the fantasy book-buying public. The cover illustration is by Olivia (De Berardinis).
The Kar-Chee Reign is set on Earth in the far future; most of the planet’s population has since emigrated to other star systems and memories of the home world have long since faded. What little humanity remains on the depleted planet exists at a medieval level of technology. A race of insect-like aliens, the Kar-Chee, have settled on the Earth to mine the few minerals and metals still within its crust; their advanced digging technologies regularly subject the planet’s surface to destructive geologic upheavals. To the Kar-Chee, humans are little more than annoying vermin, to be hunted and kept in order by another race of aliens, the ‘dragons’ of the book’s title.
Liam is an intelligent young man living with his tribe on an island chain near the present-day British Isles. When a Kar-Chee attack forces him to flee his settlement, he begins to question the passive fatalism that has marked human interactions with the Kar-Chee since time immemorial. Together with other young men from his adopted home, Liam embarks on a fateful mission to penetrate the vast mining operation of the Kar-Chee, his goal to discover what he can about the alien invaders. And maybe to find a weapon that can bring down the dragons and set humanity free….
‘Rogue Dragon’ is set generations after the events of ‘Reign’. Earth has been rediscovered by the colony worlds and converted into one giant ‘fantasy island’, where aristocrats from around the Federation come to join Hunt Clubs formed to stalk the Kar-Chee dragons amid the vast forests lying outside the few larger civilized areas. Shouldering high-tech blunderbusses, and accompanied by banner-waving teams of local recruits, parties of wealthy gentlemen can have a bit of excitement and drama on the Hunt, in between necessary bouts of idleness and repose.
Jon-Joras, a young aide-de-camp, is sent to Earth to make arrangements for a hunting trip by his lord and master, Federation legate Por-Paulo. When an introductory  dragon hunt goes awry, Jon-Joras abruptly finds himself lost in the wilds and embarking on a series of encounters with various groups of crude, and often violent, locals. Jon-Joras gradually comes to realize that the native Earth dwellers are less than pleased to see their territory reduced to a playground for wealthy off-worlders. There are conspiracies at work among these disgruntled peasants, and a mystery centered on the off-limits region of The Bosky Forest, where, it is rumored, the most lethal of the dragons yet live….
‘Reign’ is the better of the two novels, a serviceable SF adventure, if not particularly original. ‘Rogue’ suffers from too-slow pacing and contrived plotting. Both novels feature Davidson’s overly wordy and self-indulgent prose style. Readers will encounter plenty of  sentences with labored syntax, and words such as ‘epithalamion’ (a wedding poem or toast), ‘eructation’ (burping), ‘fructifying’ (to make fruitful or productive), ‘mulcted’ (to obtain by trickery), and ‘pumbled’ (which may not be a ‘real’ word to start with).
Despite what the book’s cover may imply, neither ‘Reign’ and ‘Rogue’ are fantasy novels per se, and as examples of mid-60s SF, they are unremarkable. I can recommend them for Avram Davidson fans only.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'Death Rattle' No. 1, vol. 3 

The first issue of volume three (1995) features a dramatic cover by Mark Schultz. The interior contents include 'The Day I Lost My Head', by Tim Eldred, 'Cut-Up', by Brian Biggs, and 'The Kiss' by Mark A. Nelson. 

The best story in the book is 'The Probability Chamber', about crooks on the lam who wind up in the laboratory of an astrophysicist, with a script by Schultz and outstanding black and white art by Roger Petersen.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reconstruction by Doug Webb

'Reconstruction' by Doug Webb

(keep clicking on the image to enlarge it.
other works available here)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

'Heavy Metal' magazine, June 1980

The June 1980 issue of ‘Heavy Metal’ features a cover illustration by H. R. Giger, titled ‘The Necronomicon’. The back cover, ‘In New York We Call ‘em the Jets’, is by Dameron.
Opening the June issue is something of a shock, due to the presence of a color advertisement (for the soon-to-be-forgotten movie ‘Hollywood Knights’ starring up-and-coming actors named Tony Danza and Fran Drescher) occupying the first two pages of the magazine – a sign that the mainstream world is starting to recognize that Heavy Metal magazine, bizarre as it is, may indeed have some marketing potential.
This issue features a Galley of selected Giger artwork, as well as the final installment of Jeronaton’s ‘Champakou’, along with an interview with the artist. Also among the contents are ‘Shipwreck’ by Caza, part two of ‘The Alchemist Supreme’ by Godard and Ribera; Berni Wrightson’s excellent ‘Captain Stern’, and ‘Localized Objective’ by Schuiten.
One of the more amusing strips is ‘Earth Vs the….’ by Bil Maher, which I’ve posted here, along with an advertisement for the Heavy Metal tee shirt by Arthur Suydam.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Blood Music

Book Review: 'Blood Music' by Greg Bear

3 / 5 Stars

Vergil Ulam is a brilliant, if socially maladjusted, scientist working at the Genetron corporation in La Jolla, California. Vergil has been doing unauthorized experiments with lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell: taking introns –lengthy stretches of ‘junk’ DNA present in every cell- and using the introns to encode information that can be processed and acted upon when injected into the lymphocytes.

When the Genetron management discovers that Vergil’s experiments are not only unauthorized, but a clear violation of NIH research regulations, they order him to stop his work and to destroy his so-called ‘noocytes’. But Vergil has no intention of stopping his work. He surreptitiously injects himself with his engineered cells and departs Genetron for unemployment benefits and a haphazard plan for the future.

But not long into his new and jobless lifestyle, Vergil notices something interesting. He has lost weight. His allergies have cleared up. His eyesight improves to the point where he no longer needs to wear contact lenses. He’s feeling fitter and healthier than he has ever felt before. He even has a girlfriend and an active romantic life. Could the noocytes in his bloodstream have somehow acted on their own to improve the health of their host ? It seems bizarre, and Vergil wonders if it’s all in his imagination..............

Greg Bear first published ‘Blood Music’ as a short story in Analog in 1983; the next year it won both Hugo and Nebula awards for best novelette. Bear expanded the story to a novel, published by Arbor House in a hardbound version in 1985; this Ace paperback (246 pp., cover art by Don Brautigam) was issued in 1986.

In my opinion ‘Blood Music’ worked better as a novelette. The new material Bear added to lengthen his narrative tends to give the second half of the book a meandering quality, as various sets of characters struggle to cope with the implications of the noocytes and the threat they present to the established order. But the novel does succeed in making the difficult transition from a narrative that starts with the small-scale events of a lab experiment gone awry, to a narrative dealing with genuinely ‘cosmic’ events, without straining scientific credibility by invoking mystical or supernatural causes.

‘Blood Music’ remains one of the more imaginative SF stories and novels to emerge from the 80s.