Saturday, October 30, 2010

'The Dunwich Horror' by Breccia
from Heavy Metal magazine, October 1979 

PART TWO












Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'The Dunwich Horror' by Breccia
from Heavy Metal magazine, October 1979 

PART ONE



Saturday, October 23, 2010

'H.P.L.' by Jean-Michel Nicollet

Despite its brevity, one of the most artistically impressive features ever to appear in the early days of Heavy Metal magazine (October 1979)


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: 'Stickman' by Seth Pfefferle


3 / 5 Stars

‘Stickman’ (279 pp.) was published by Tor in July 1987; the cover art is by John Zielinski.

In an unnamed hellhole of a country in southern Africa, a delegation of US Senators arrives to investigate the massacre of a television documentary crew (‘Sporting Chic’) out in the bush. Escorted by a team of mercenaries and Governor Mobatasi, the local chieftain, the delegation journeys into a barren landscape wracked by drought and starvation. Once at the site of the murders, it becomes disturbingly clear that the ‘rebels’ responsible for the death of the television crew liked to collect the severed heads of their victims.

Kurt Dietrich, one of the more intelligent members of the mercenary team, suspects that something  otherworldly may have been responsible for the massacre. Was it the ‘Stickman’ featured in the primitive paintings made on the walls of a cave located near the massacre site ? Does the Stickman represent the embodiment of a warrior from the spirit world ? If so, can he be killed with earthly weapons ? As events quickly lurch into a disastrous confrontation between the delegation and a predator from another world, the prospect of another massacre at the hands of the Stickman seems likely.....

‘Stickman’ is certainly creepy and engrossing for its first 140 or so pages. Author Pfefferle keeps the Stickman’s on-screen appearances sparse, but holds the reader's attention by letting the squalor and brutal violence plaguing the postwar African landscape represent a parallel horror story in and of itself.

Unfortunately, the middle section of the book sees the action slow to a crawl as the author devotes way too much text to exploring the psychodramas between the various members of the delegation and its guardians. Page after page unfolds filled with squabblings, arguments, selfish behaviors, and various acts of domestic mayhem, until the point was reached where I wanted all of the characters to be snuffed out by the Stickman. [To be fair to Pfefferle, this sort of middle-act meandering is the bane of many horror novels, particularly ‘The Ruins’ (2006) by Scott Smith].

The narrative doesn’t regain momentum until the last 30 pages of the novel, at which time it does deliver on the requisite suspense. But I came away from ‘Stickman’ thinking that it would have benefited from being a good 60 – 75 pages shorter in length.

Readers looking for a decent mid-80s horror novel reminiscent of the 'Predator' franchise, and with a willingness to put up with a great deal of melodrama among the beleaguered party, may want to give 'Stickman' a try.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

'Skull' comix No. 4: H.P. Lovecraft issue



‘Skull’comix No. 4 (1972) was a special issue devoted to H. P. Lovecraft stories and contained some good material, such as Richard Corben’s ‘The Hound’, ‘The Hairy Claw of Tolen’ by Charles Dallas, and ‘Pickman’s Model’, with noteworthy pen-and-ink artwork by Herb Arnold, which I’m posting here.








Thursday, October 14, 2010

'Border Watch', SUNY-Binghamton, October 1978



Back in the Autumn of 1978, at my college campus of the State University of New York at Binghamton (SUNY-Binghamton, now renamed Binghamton University), student groups and organizations could procure funding from the Student Association to produce booklets and magazines for free distribution to the student body. 


Since SUNY-Binghamton prided itself at that time on being ‘The Berkeley of the East’, many of the publications were devoted to left-wing or proudly Marxist political pursuits. But there were student groups that sought to produce publications representative of what we nowadays would call geek or nerd culture.

Foremost among the geek publications was the L5 Society’s magazine about constructing space habitats in earth orbit. The L5 magazine had meticulously detailed artwork and technical essays and was arguably the most professionally produced magazine to be issued during my time at the campus.

For stoners and fans of magazines such as ‘Mad’ and ‘The National Lampoon’, a number of one-shot humor publications appeared on an irregular basis. October 1978 saw the appearance of 'Border Watch', a newspaper devoted to satirizing some of the more pretentious movements on campus.

The Letters column I’ve scanned here represents a satire of the Letters page appearing the official campus newspaper, ‘Pipe Dream’. The letters page in 'Pipe Dream' almost always featured at least one missive from some Aggrieved Group; here the Border Watch staff is on target with their parody of a letter from an outraged coalition of ‘the women of SUNY Binghamton.’

 

I’ve also scanned a cartoon that calls to mind Bill Griffith’s comix ‘Zippy the Pinhead’; as of 1978 Zippy was still very much an underground phenomenon and the idea that he would one day be the star of a syndicated strip in major newspapers in the US would have seemed very 'far out'.

 


Finally,  I’ve scanned an untitled but entertaining little strip that deals with Halloween, and what happens when you piss off a Wizard with your Trick or Treating.

  

For a paper put together part-time by students at a time when 'desktop' publishing was still a good five or six years into the future, ‘Border Watch’ was worth picking up, giving you something compatible to read while stoned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fractal leaves

From ‘Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos’ by John Briggs, p. 13, Touchstone / Simon & Schuster 1992

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Review: 'New Dimensions 12', edited by Marta Randall and Robert Silverberg

 
1 / 5 Stars

From 1976 to 1983, SF was a genre in the doldrums. The New Wave movement was dying out, but many authors - lacking the ability to come up with an alternative approach to their fiction - continued to produce New Wave content, albeit even more contrived and self-indulgent than its predecessors.

Even as the New Wave style succumbed, the runaway success of Star Wars in 1977, followed by that of Close Encounters and Alien, reignited ‘traditional’ SF as a commercial venture and publishers increasingly looked for works that were plot-driven, as opposed to the character- and mood- driven approach of the New Wave scene.

Some writers successfully adapted to the change in the landscape of SF. For example, Robert Silverberg abandoned the introspective style that had characterized much of his output during the 60s and 70s and released in 1980 one of his best, and best-selling, novels with ‘Lord Valentine’s Castle’.

But much of the rest of the field simply dithered, unsure of where to go, lost and aimlessly seeking a new direction, a new direction that wouldn’t arrive until 1984 and the publication of ‘Neuromancer’ and the advent of the Cyberpunks.

 ‘New Dimensions 12’ (1981; 223 pp., Pocket Books / Timescape, cover artist unknown) provides a rather depressing snapshot of the efforts to prop up the corpse of the New Wave movement even when it was clear that its time had come and gone.

The anthology leads off with Michael Swanwick’s ‘Walden Three’, about an L5 colony where all 10,000 inhabitants are required to be outfitted with an implant that guarantees happy behavior. A clown / standup comic / mime tries to rebel. This is the most ‘hard’ SF tale in the collection, but it’s pretty weak. Better things were to come from Swanwick as the decade progressed.

Gregory Benford contributes ‘Cadenza’, which deals with the familiar near-future scenario of the terminally ill person seeking Death with Dignity. It’s sentimental and predictable.

Newcomer Richard Grant provides ‘Drode’s Equations’, in which a man riding a train in a quasi-Victorian world ponders the Meaning of Life. What little plot exists is suffocated by a belabored prose style (this is the first time I’ve ever seen the verb ‘effulges’ in print ?!). No other story in the collection displays as severe a New Wave hangover as this entry.

Elizabeth Lynn’s entry, ‘The Woman in the Phone Booth’ is a story dealing – half-humorously – with alien abductions. It’s a sign of how slim the pickings were that this slight tale made it into the anthology.

‘Elfleda’, by Vonda McIntyre, is set on a planet where a hapless race of humans have been genetically engineered to resemble the centaurs, satyrs, and nymphs of Greek mythology. Their masters periodically visit with rather… lubricious… designs in mind. There is angst about this state of affairs on the part of the first-person narrator, a centaur named Achilleus. This story certainly has a provocative theme, but at the same time it carries with it a sticky, grubby sensibility. I finished ‘Elfleda’ thinking that someone like Joe R. Lansdale could take the concept and do something much more intriguing (and gruesome) with it….

‘Pain and Glory’, by Gordon Eklund, deals with a Jewish family gifted (or cursed) with the ability to draw upon themselves the physical and emotional pain of others. There is much angst about the psychological burden of employing this ability. There is an obligatory Holocaust flashback. Another ‘speculative fiction’ entry with little in the way of true SF content.

‘Parables of Art’ by Dann and Malzburg is a short-short tale dealing with the antics of two unhappy artists. Another bottom-of-the-barrel selection.

Michael Ward’s ‘Delta D and She’ is a cutesy tale of a young woman struggling to regain her identity with the assistance of AIs, which manifest as holograms beamed from kiosks scattered throughout the city. Over the course of the story the woman acquires the name ‘Pitspipple’. This entry is…really lame.

Tony Sarowitz contributes ‘A Manner of Speaking’, which places another young woman, this one named Elinor, in a dystopian, near- future setting. Elinor provides an unusual service to her clients, at some cost to her own personality. The story tries to evoke a sense of pathos and anomie, but instead comes across as one giant cliché of New Wave prose; for example, the story ends with this sentence: ’Silence like a pair of vacant eyes.’
  
Juleen Brantingham provides ‘The Satyrs’ and Dryads’ Cotillion’, in which a group of jaded aesthetes bicker and connive in preparation for a stylish costume ball. Unremarkable.

‘The Last Concert of Pierre Valdemar’, by Carter Scholz, is a short-short story that provides a satirical examination of the limits to which Artistry may go.

Peter Santiago C. (no, the single-letter surname is not a typo, but a stylish affectation) contributes ‘The Celebrants’, set on a far-future Earth in the aftermath of an invasion by an alien race called the tiiyn. Peace has been arranged between the tiiyn and the Earth’s surviving humans; an elaborate artistic ceremony is planned to consummate the treaty. Of all the stories in the anthology this one seems most like a New Wave piece written in 1971, so overloaded with figurative, empurpled prose that navigating even a single page induces fatigue in the reader.

In summary, even die-hard New Wave aficionados will find little to hold their attention among the contents of this volume of ‘New Dimensions’.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 32
(September 1975)

'Amazing Adventures' issue 32 features Killraven in 'Only the Computer Can Save Me Now', scripted by Don McGregor and illustrated by Craig Russell.

Killraven and his team of rebels are poking around the ruins of Nashville ca. 2019 when they come upon a remarkable glass structure dating from the 1990s (i.e., the pre-War of the Worlds era).

Wandering inside, the party triggers the building's 'octo-tympanum-view-scope' which, back when invented in the 90s, gives the viewer a series of hallucinations accompanied by a psychedelic soundtrack. Sort of like an 'acid trip' mediated by the 70's idea of the ultimate home stereo system.

Don McGregor's growing infatuation with the New Wave prose style then much in fashion in SF goes overboard here, with Russell's artwork struggling to overcome a burden of pretentious text. This is a 'deep' episode with minimal action and much angst among our cast of characters...in a way, very 70s in tenor and theme.






Monday, October 4, 2010

'Heavy Metal' magazine October 1979





In my opinion the October 1979 issue of 'Heavy Metal' was the best ever published. A 'theme' issue devoted to H. P. Lovecraft, the October issue featured memorable works from a number of contributors both veteran and new, including Moebius, Arthur Suydam, Serge Clerc, Alberto Breccia, and Jean-Michel Nicolett. 

Perhaps as a reflection of the quality of this issue, back copies in good condition are among the most expensive on offer at eBay and amazon.com.

Throughout October I'll be celebrating Halloween by posting stories from this issue. I'll lead off with Serge Clerc's 'The Man From Black-hole'.






Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: 'Blue Face' by G. C. Edmondson


4 / 5 Stars


‘Blue Face’ was first published in 1971 in hardcover by Doubleday, with the title ‘Chapayeca’. This DAW paperback (128 pp.) was issued in 1971 and features a cover illustration by Karel Thole.

Thanks to the best-selling books by Carlos Castaneda, by 1971 the Yaqui Indians of Mexico’s Sonoran desert were the Indigenous Tribe Most Beloved by White People. It was not unusual for hippies and wanna-be mystics to travel to Yaqui country hoping to meet, if not the superstar Don Juan Matus himself, then another brujo or shaman who could usher them into the sacred mysteries of the Yaqui experience.

One Yaqui religious ceremony that a tourist might witness was the Easter celebration, in which male members of the tribe would don masks crafted to represent a chapayeca (‘long nose’), an evil follower of Judas Iscariot. So how do the chapayecas figure into this SF novel ?

Things are not going well for anthropologist Nash Taber. The federal authorities want to talk to him about sheltering Yaqui Indians who are in the US illegally. He is in constant pain and popping pills from a back injury suffered in a car accident. He has diabetes. And his job as a university faculty member is looking less and less secure.

In a desperate effort to uncover the rumored last redoubt of the Yaqui and salvage his career, Taber travels to Mexico for a rendezvous with Lico, one of his Yaqui friends. After some adventures they do indeed arrive at the last holdout of the Indians, where Taber observes a chapayeca wearing a most unusual piece of blue plastic clothing. It turns out that ‘Chap’ is in fact an alien; his face, however much it may resemble a ceremonial mask, is real.

Once he recovers from his astonishment, Taber starts to scheme. If he can get this rather naïve alien away from the Yaqui and into the US, then there are all sorts of financial windfalls that could come their way. But maneuvering a way to bring Chap out of the desert isn’t going to be easy.

For one thing, the truculent younger men of the village have their own plans for the alien, and they aren’t going to let a gimpy gringo interfere with those plans. And the Mexican police are actively hunting for Taber, suspecting him of being a would-be revolutionary for the Yaqui cause. It’s going to take some very careful cross-cultural exchanges in order for Taber to get out of Mexico alive…

‘Blue Face’ is an interesting little book and represents one of the more engaging of the short novels that DAW books regularly issued to fill out its catalogue during the first few years of its operation. Author Edmondson employs a very spare, unadorned prose style that relies heavily on dialogue; but he is skillful at this aspect of his craft, and as a consequence the narrative flows along at a fast clip. The story is difficult to categorize, but is perhaps best labeled as a quirky mix of wry humor, interesting insights into Yaqui society, and brief episodes of violence and mayhem. 


'Blue Face' is well worth searching out.