Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Killraven Amazing Adventures No. 36

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 36
(May 1976)

The May, 1976 issue of 'Amazing Adventures: Featuring War of the Worlds' (No. 36) is the beginning of the end of the 'War of the Worlds' incarnation of the title. There were only three more installments (i.e., up to issue 39) remaining. The Letters column in this issue indicates that WotW has been on the verge of cancellation for some time, so the writing is on the wall. 

Unfortunately, 'Red Dust Legacy', the story for this issue, must not have done all that much to attract new readers; it's easily one of the more incoherent episodes in the Killraven franchise. 

Don McGregor's plot opens with one of Killraven's ESP hallucinations (which I have excerpted below), before shifting to a veiled introduction of our hero's brother 'Deathraven', followed by  confusing segments involving inter-generational Martian angst; a Martian 'hatchery'; and conflict between Killraven and his follower Carmilla Frost.

As always, the art - layouts by Craig Russell and art by Sonny Trinidad - is very good, but in this issue in particular it's overwhelmed with McGregor's overwrought script. 

In order to accommodate McGregor's plot machinations within the confines of just 17 comic pages, the artists are forced to use too many small panels too crowded with narrative text and speech balloons. It has an overall effect of making the book a chore to read and understand. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Review: 'The Ice People' by Rene Barjavel

3 / 5 Stars

In the Summer of 1974 I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and one of my initial selections was ‘The Ice People’ by French author Rene Barjavel. The novel , originally published in France in 1968 as La Nuit des Temps (‘Night Time’), is also available in paperback, but paperback copies in decent condition are quite pricey, so I instead got the hardbound SF Book Club version to re-read.

At the time I first read it, ‘Ice People’ seemed a decent enough tale, although the blurb on the book’s back jacket is a forewarning that this is very much a French novel : 

Barjavel knows how to tell a story. He also knows how to write about adventures so as to make young people dream, and to touch the hearts of women in the way he writes of love 

–Elle magazine 

The book is set in the near future (i.e., the late 70s or early 1980s), when a team of French scientists, exploring their patch of the Antarctic, come across an electrical signal coming up from the depths of the ice. An international force of scientists and engineers from multiple nations assembles at the ‘Square 612’ site to erect dwelling places, and to support a massive effort to drill through hundreds of feet of ice and discover the source of the signal. 

As the excavation progresses the team is astonished to finds the petrified remains of a vast, modern city that existed some 900,000 years ago. And when they reach the source of the electrical signal the team is even more astounded, for within a sophisticated chamber, frozen in stasis using technology considerably in advance of our own, are the bodies of a beautiful woman, and a man bearing scars indicative of exposure to some strange weapon.

Efforts are soon made to thaw the woman and discover the story behind the ruins of the lost civilization under the ice. But the political alliance among the nations contributing to the excavation team is a fragile one, and when the world realizes the nature of the amazing devices found beside the sleeping pair, the safety of the entire Antarctic expedition cannot be assured….

‘The Ice People’ doesn’t shy away from being a romance novel with SF overtones, but author Barjavel keeps the plot moving along a good clip, and there is a surprising amount of violence, as well as a suspenseful chase sequence, to make this a decent adventure story.

The social ‘message’ communicated in the novel’s later pages may seem preachy and naive to contemporary audiences. But at the time of the book’s publication, with the May 1968 revolutionary movement roiling France, such sentiments were very ‘hip’ and reflective of the approving stance many intellectuals displayed towards the youth behind the ferment then sweeping Western societies. 

While it can at times be a bit cloying, ‘The Ice People’ remains a good example of late 60s SF.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

'Starstream: Adventures in Science Fiction' Issue One (1976)

'Starstream' was a color comic book priced at 79 cents and published by Whitman / Western Publishing Company; four issues (all devoid of the Gold Key insignia) appeared in 1976 before the title vanished into obscurity. 

Issue one featured a painted cover by Richard Powers, so Western was perhaps trying to produce a book with better production values than the norm from DC and Marvel.

The books featured adaptations of stories by well-known SF authors. In the main these are decent enough stories, if not particularly adventurous in writing and style. Even though all four issues of 'Starstream'  lacked a Comics Code Authority stamp, like the Gold Key comics line they were clearly marketed for a young adult / juvenile audience.

Excerpted here from one of the issues (they had no date or month indicator on the cover, and a minimal indica) is a story adapted from  'The Music of Minox', a story by Howard Goldsmith from the anthology 'More Science Fiction Tales' (1974) by Roger Elwood.


Monday, March 21, 2011

'Salammbo' by Phillippe Druillet
from the March 1981 issue of Heavy Metal

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: 'Vector' by Henry Sutton

2 / 5 Stars

‘Henry Sutton’ was a pseudonym used by the American poet and playwright David Slavitt (b. 1935) when he was writing ‘popular literature’ for the paperback market during the 60s and 70s. ‘Vector’ was published in 1970 (Dell, 320 pp.); the artist who provided the striking cover design is uncredited.

‘Vector’ takes for inspiration a March 1968 incident involving Dugway Proving Ground, an Army test facility located in a remote region of Utah. It seems that in the course of conducting an open-air release of the nerve gas VX that involved spraying the agent from a jet plane, the Army screwed up and exposed Skull Valley, 30 miles away, to the gas. As many as six thousand sheep in Skull Valley were killed or permanently injured by inhaling VX. 

The Army initially tried to blame the sheep casualties on pesticide spraying, a half-witted excuse that fooled no one. The Army wound up paying compensation to the ranchers. As a consequence of the sheep kill, in 1969 President Nixon banned open-air testing of CBW agents.

(The 1972 film ‘Rage’, starring George C. Scott, also is based on the Dugway incident ).

With this novel, Sutton adopts the documentary style used by Michael Crichton in ‘The Andromeda Strain’, to relate a tale in which a virus, rather than a nerve gas, is accidentally released by a test plane. The virus drifts onto the small, dilapidated town of Tarsus, Utah. Soon a number of townspeople are ill with fever and a physician at Dugway, Captain Norman Lewine, makes a visit to Tarsus. What he sees raises deep misgivings within the good doctor, and thus a few hours later an Army intervention team descends on the stricken town.

But even as medical care is provided to the sick and dying, generals and administrators in Washington, DC are meeting to determine how to respond to the incident. Will the government tell the truth about the Tarsus disaster ? Or will it try to cover it up ? And if a coverup is put in place, what will happen to any survivors ? For the Intelligence Agency directors in DC care more about the preserving their elite weapons testing programs than they do about 70 people in some squalid little Western town…..

 ‘Vector’ starts off promisingly, with author Sutton ably mimicking Chrichton’s approach of relating events in a low-key, dry manner that emphasizes the immoral, clinical detachment of the higher-level admins surveying the accident’s consequences. The first 100 pages are engaging and hold the reader’s interest. 

Unfortunately, once the book hits its midway point the narrative starts to drag, and the novel suffers from being about 100 pages too long. I won’t disclose any spoilers, but I think most readers will see the denouement coming well in advance.

‘Vector’ is an interesting effort, but in my mind it can’t join ranks with ‘The Andromeda Strain’ as a must-have example of the late 60s – early 70s bio-catastrophe thriller.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Arthur Suydam's 'Mudwogs'
from 'Echo of Futurepast' issue 3

With the giant defeated, our hero now contemplates his pending Fatherhood.....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

'Heavy Metal' magazine March 1981

 The March 1981 issue of 'heavy Metal' features a cover by Matti Klarwein titled 'God Jokes', and a back cover by Jeronaton, one of his 'Champakou' -themed illustrations, titled 'I See Spots'.

Inside, there are continuing installments of Corben's 'Bloodstar', 'What Is Reality' by Ribera and Godard, 'Salammbo' by Druillet, 'Ambassador of the Shadows' by Christin and Mezieres; and some one-shot pieces:  'Milady 3000' by Magnus, 'Tex Arcana' by Findley, and 'Edward in Love' by Dominique He, which I excerpt below.

As always, outstanding pen-and-ink draughtsmanship by He.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Review: 'New Writings in SF 7' edited by John Carnell

3 / 5 Stars

‘New Writings in SF 7’, edited by John Carnell, was published by Bantam Books in August 1971; the interesting cover illustration is by David McCall Johnston. This anthology reprints stories originally appearing in British SF magazines during 1966 – 1967.

Colin Kapp opens the collection with ‘The Pen and the Dark’, in which the Unorthodox Engineers travel to the planet of Ithica to investigate a mysterious artifact. It’s a well-written hard SF tale.

Next up is Arthur Sellings’ ‘Gifts of the Gods’, in which the residents of a newly-constructed English exurb awake to find mysterious artifacts scattered on their lawns. The story has a very Roald-Dahl-ish flavor, mixing offbeat humor with a tone of increasing disquiet.

William Spencer contributes ‘The Long Memory’ , set deep in the bowels of an enormous city where everyone, and everyplace, is continually monitored by surveillance cameras. The ending is perhaps a bit predictable.

There are two entries by the same author, the prolific John Rankine:

Under the pseudonym of Douglas R. Mason, Rankine contributes the New Wave tale ‘The Man Who Missed the Ferry’. Set in mid-60s Liverpool, a clerk named Arthur Sinclair experiences some amazing events on his morning commute. Less SF than Speculative Fiction, the story suffers from Rankine / Mason’s use of a determinedly elliptical prose style, making it the least impressive story in the collection.

Writing under his given name, Rankine provides ‘Six Cubed Plus One’, which features swingin’ 60s dialogue and social mores. Some newfangled computerized teaching machines are installed at a high school, and when the setup births an AI, its vehicle for communication with the befuddled staff is a Marianne-Faithful lookalike named Sarah Joy. This story has a touch of pathos, reasonably clear writing, and indicates that despite his high-throughput approach to his craft, Rankine could produce something of quality when the mood took him.

Robert Presslie provides ‘The Night of the Seventh Finger’. In a newly built English exurb (rather a recurring setting in these stories), swingin’ bird Sue Bradley comes home late from a night of clubbing; her walk takes her by an abandoned house, rumored to be haunted. Also incorporating dialogue heavily laden with slang terms and uniquely British idioms, American readers may want to brush up on their ‘Groovy 1960s London’ vocabulary prior to reading ‘Finger’.

The final story in the anthology is the best. Vincent King’s ‘Defense Mechanism’ is set on a far-future Earth where the remnants of the population live amid the spaces of an enormous underground city complex. When some Aliens encroach on the turf of the first-person narrator, he is obliged to gather a posse and pursue the attackers and eliminate them. The dimly lit environs of the empty city complex are a perfect setting for a tale of pursuit and close-combat; there is an offbeat ending. 

All in all, ‘New Writings’ is a reasonably good 60s SF anthology, and readers interested in this era might want to pick this volume up.

Monday, March 7, 2011

'For the Next 60 Seconds' by Bob Larkin
from the Spring 1980 issue of Epic Illustrated

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Review: 'The Magicians' by James Gunn

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Magicians’ is based on a short story Gunn published in 1954 as ‘Sine of the Magus’; the novel appeared in hardback in 1976, and this Signet paperback (168 pp.) in July 1980. The artist who created the striking cover illustration is uncredited.

Casey Kingman is a private eye and down on his luck. Things are looking so dire that he’s on the verge of closing his shop and returning to substitute teaching when a little old lady named Mrs Peabody enters his dingy office and hires him to find someone- someone whose name she doesn’t know. But Mrs Peabody is paying well, so Kingman, armed with a description of a distinguished-looking man (think Mandrake the Magician without a top hat) heads for a nearby hotel and its Crystal Ballroom, where a ‘Covention’ is taking place. 

Sitting in the back row of the Ballroom, Kingman encounters a series of seminars and demonstrations that at first makes him skeptical and amused, then increasingly alarmed. For the participants in these seminars are not magicians in the sense of being practitioners of sleight-of-hand and illusion; they are genuine mages capable of performing feats that defy physics and the laws of the universe. 

Kingman learns that the leader of the mages, a sinister individual named Solomon Magus, is in fact the man he has been hired to trace. But tracing Magus won’t be easy, for he is dedicated to the darker aspects of magic and has no scruples about threatening the life of a too-nosy private eye. Within a matter of hours, Kingman finds himself facing all manner of otherworldly dangers. Unless he can discover the strange but logical philosophy that governs the use of magic, private eye Kingman will not only lose his commission, but his life….

With ‘The Magicians’, subtitled ‘A Science Fiction Novel’, Gunn places himself among a rather large body of SF authors who present the occult not as a supernatural phenomenon, but as the manifestation of alternate forms of energy and physics emanating from a universe parallel to our own. With the proper training, including the use of mathematical equations and symbols, anyone with adequate mental discipline can learn such feats as teleportation, telekinesis, and telepathy.

Unfortunately, ‘Magicians’ is really more of a private-eye adventure than an engaging SF thriller. The narrative, based as it is on a short story, is rather circumscribed, involving a small cast of characters with the action limited to the interior of the hotel. The expansion to novel-length is mainly achieved via the insertion of lengthy sections of dialogue, and the insertion of passages involving hallucinations / out-of-body experiences that present standard-issue scenarios of witchcraft and black magic. 

Things aren’t helped by the inclusion of  a plot thread involving a romance between Kingman and an attractive female witch; this further dilutes whatever modest suspense is generated by the evil designs of Solomon Magus, who comes across as the sort of mild villain one might have encountered in the Comics Code-era books like ‘House of Secrets’,  ‘The Witching Hour’, and 'The Many Ghosts of Dr Graves'.

As an example of 70s ‘occult’ novels, ‘Magicians’ really doesn't stand up well when compared to other works of that era (such as those reviewed at The Groovy Age of Horror or Too Much Horror Fiction blogs).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Oriental Dragon Fly
by Patrick Woodroffe, 1977
gouache and watercolor
from 'Dreamscape: The Best of Imaginary Realism 2007', Salbru Publish, The Netherlands 2007