Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: Armed Camps

Book Review: 'Armed Camps' by Kit Reed

1 / 5 Stars

By the late 1960s America’s  Intellectual Class, a group of people who are nowadays called ‘The Liberal Elite’, faced a dilemma regarding the increasing rise of violent behavior in society.

Some members of the elite embraced violence as an evil necessary for the Liberation of the Oppressed, and reveled (at a careful distance) in it under the guise of ‘Radical Chic’. This so-chic attitude toward violent revolution reached its bizarre apex in the case of Jewish American Princess Bernardine (Ohrnstein) Dohrn, who, with her husband (Friend of Barack) Bill Ayers, started the Revolutionary Youth Movement and later, the Weather Underground.

Other members of the elite believed that, while the tumult of the era had its justifiable roots in social and political oppression, the mass media had exploited violence for its own sake, and directly aided and abetted the release of something dangerous from the American psyche.

These liberals believed that unless the depiction of violence in the media and entertainment venues was ‘subdued’ by federal intervention (no liberal dared explicitly mention ‘censored’) the rate of rapes, murders, muggings, and other anti-social behaviors would continue to increase.

Kit Reed (the pseudonym of Lillian Craig Reed) was a New Wave-era SF author, still publishing today, who focused (as many New Wave writers did) on social issues, as opposed to traditional ‘hard’ SF.

Her short novel ‘Armed Camps’ (1969) extrapolates a fictional, near-future USA that has been generated by the new forms of violence spawned  in the 60s. 

Originally published in 1969, this Berkley paperback (158 pp.) edition was issued in November 1971; the cover artist is Richard Powers.

‘Camps’, which is set in the 1990s (or later), posits an America in which the nation is little more than a police state racked by anarchy and decay. The war in Vietnam has expanded into a global contest, and orbiting missiles threaten an instant Armageddon should tempers get out of hand. While the ruling class is sheltered to some extent from political and social violence, many young people have adopted a fatalistic approach to life, focusing on losing themselves in hedonism.

The story alternates  between two first-person narrators: one  is Danny March, a soldier who participates in staged, arena-like  combats against troops from opposing nations; flamethrowers are wielded by all contestants. This approach to settling international disputes presumably prevents nuclear war from breaking out. For reasons that are not disclosed until the last few pages of the novel, Danny has violated his term of service in the Army, and he is condemned to live chained to a pole on the grounds of a military base, filmed by television cameras, a constant reminder of the punishment dealt those who provoke the reigning order.

The other narrator is a young woman named Anne; as the novel opens she is suffering from severe emotional trauma from some undisclosed event. Anne finds refuge in Cambria, a rural commune devoted to life paced by peace, love, and understanding; its leader is a charismatic young man named Eamon.

As an anti-war, anti-violence novel, ‘Camps’ has a predictably downbeat tenor, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, author Reed doesn’t do much with her literary construction. The storylines of these two characters unfold in the form of overly lengthy monologues, often consisting of run-on sentences unmarred by the use of periods, a common affectation of New Wave artistes.

The  Danny March portion of the book is the weakest; Reed’s approach to framing his  monologues are clearly derived from Dalton Trumbo’s novel ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ (the antiwar novel of the 60s, although it was actually written in 1938). The introduction of a schizophrenic note to March’s inner musings is contrived, serving mainly to pad the narrative rather than imparting much in the way of momentum.

The alternate plot involving Anne and the fate of Cambria is a bit more engrossing; it does offer a more rewarding denouement, as well as providing a more original treatment of the ways in which good intentions collide with the reality of human nature.

Overall, I found ‘Camps’ to be too much of a slog to be very rewarding. Readers with a fondness for an antiwar novel with a quasi-SF component may find ‘Camps’ worthwhile, but everyone else is better passing on this book.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

'Heavy Metal' magazine May 1981

The May, 1981 issue of 'Heavy Metal' features Enrich's 'Enter Adam' on the front cover, and 'Cody Starbuck' by Howard Chaykin on the back cover.

This issue starts off with a two-page short story by William Burroughs titled 'Immortality'. It has something to do with cloning. It's not very good.

Also featured are ongoing installments of 'Bloodstar' by Corben, 'Tex Arcana' by Findley, 'Valentina' by Crepax, and (it just won't go away) 'Changes' by Howarth.

New pieces in this issue include the illustrated story 'Cody Starbuck' by Chaykin, 'The Immortal's Fete' by Bilal, and an interesting portfolio consisting of photographs of miniature sculptures fashioned by Dzintars Mezulis, a Latvian artist. These sculptures are very clever and date from a time before the whole SF and fantasy figurine (i.e., toys) market expanded into the juggernaut that it is today.

The best entry in the issue is one by Arthur Suydam, 'The Toll Bridge', which introduces his 'Mudwog' character. As always, great artwork and offbeat humor.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Killraven Amazing Adventures No. 37

Killraven: 'Amazing Adventures' No. 37
(July 1976)

‘Amazing Adventures featuring War of the Worlds’ issue No. 37 (July 1976) shows a franchise running out of steam. This episode, written by Don McGregor and illustrated by Craig Russell, is titled ‘Arena Kill’, and reveals the story of Killraven’s faithful companion Old Skull. Old Skull had a troubled childhood (needless to say) and wound up a gladiator in the Arena, fighting for the amusement of the Martian overlords. He and Killraven are teamed up to battle ‘Warr’, who employs a group of mutant spiders to aid him in his Arena contests.

Russell’s artwork is, as ever, quite capable in depicting the battle, but McGregor can’t resist overlaying too many panels with dialogue….and ending a life-or-death combat with a cutesy interlude involving a drunken raccoon....?! Even in the more innocent days of the mid-70s Marvel titles, the cheese is a little too much.

With only two more installments remaining, the Killraven franchise was on its way out the door; the only question was, how great of a sendoff it would receive……. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: 'Protostars' edited by David Gerrold

2 / 5 Stars

‘Protostars’ (271 pp.) was published by Ballantine in 1971; the cover artwork is by Gene Szafran.

David Gerrold came on the SF scene in the early 70s and since that time has enjoyed considerable success as a writer and editor of both his own work, and work for licensed properties. [His 1973 book ‘The World of Star Trek’ was really the first 'Bible' for Trekkies.] 

‘Protostars’ is unapologetic New Wave sci fi, and about as representative an example of the genre as any other anthology of the era. 

Each of the stories – which are new and never previously published -  gets a rather pretentious introduction by editor Gerrold, who imparts various anecdotes and bits of wisdom about Being A Writer.

My review of the contents:

‘What Makes A Cage, Jamie Knows’ by Scott Bradfield: a short-short by teenager Bradfield; calls to mind a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.

‘I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool is Empty’ by James Tiptree: in his intro to this story, editor Gerrold remarks that he can’t find any information about the mysterious James Tiptree, who communicates solely through a P.O. Box in MacLean, Virginia. Not until 1977 would the SF world know that  ‘Tiptree’ was the pseudonym of Alice Bradley Sheldon. ‘Swimming Pool’ is a satirical tale of a well-meaning hippie who arrives on a backwater planet with the most earnest of intentions.

‘In A Sky of Daemons’ by Larry Yep: a textbook example of the stylistic excesses of so many New Wave authors: characters identified by all caps (‘SHIVA’), italicized passages denoting Inner Musings, awkward switches in the narrative POV from first to third person, philosophical conversations with a sardonic AI that rules the world, etc., etc.

‘The Last Ghost’ by Stephen Goldin: in a formless Void, the spiritual essence of a recently deceased woman encounters that of a man in the grip of Angst and Anomie. Goldin also contributes the short-short story ‘The World Where Wishes Worked’, a fable with a trick ending.

‘Afternoon With A Dead Bus’ by David Gerrold: nature red in tooth and claw on the streets of the city. 

‘Eyes of Onyx’ by Edward Bryant: one of the better entries in the collection, a downbeat reworking of a Bible story set in a bleak, near-future LA.

‘Cold, the Fire of the Phoenix’ by Leo P. Kelley: things could get really embarrassing when a ‘mainstream’ SF author decided to embrace the New Wave movement, and did so via a story or novel that slavishly incorporated every artifice the Movement epitomized. This story is a great example. It’s the worst in the anthology.

‘Oasis’ by Pamela Sargent: a man with a unique ability – or curse - strives for solitude in the Sinai desert. While the underlying theme is not all that original to SF, author Sargent handles it well, and this is another of the better entries in the anthology.

‘Holdholtzer’s Box’ by David R. Bunch: a fable about human self-discovery; unremarkable.

‘The Five-Dimensional Sugar Cube’ by Roger Deeley: with the help of metaphysics, Boy Meets Girl. Lightweight, but not unrewarding, due to the presence of a red-haired swingin’ 70s chick.

‘And Watch the Smog Roll In’ by Barry Weissman: dark satire of a near-future California in the grip of toxic pollution, and a bureaucracy gone amok (rather uncomfortably close to the current reality).

‘Chances Are’ by Alice Laurence: editor Gerrold gives this slight tale (about a woman in a coma) five pages of introductory discussion. In the New Wave era, self-important, bloviating intros were part and parcel of many anthologies…..

‘The Naked and the Unashamed’ by Robert E. Margroff: satirical tale of near-future campus protests;  very early 70s in tenor.

‘My Country, Right or Wrong’ by andrew j. offutt: (no typos, spelling one’s name in lowercase was a ‘hip’ affectation for New Wave authors). This is a competent tale of a time traveler who goes from 1978 to 2078, and doesn’t like what he sees.

‘Side Effect’ by Pg Wyal: in this story’s introduction editor Gerrold assures us that author Wyal is indeed a real person, ‘a quiet-voiced…thoughtful individual’ who works in the offices of ‘Crawdaddy’ magazine (a smarmy 70s rock music mag), and someone who doesn’t much like to rewrite his stories (not a good sign). Nonetheless, according to Gerrold, ‘Side Effect’ is one of the best pieces in ‘Protostars’. 

In ‘Side Effect’ author Wyal does what so many New Wave writers did so frequently and so successfully: he blatantly copies William Burroughs’s prose style, an action calculated to turn New Wave editors like Gerrold into helpless, servile putty in one's hands……..

Monday, May 16, 2011

plustek OpticBook 3600 scanner

-lets you scan books without stressing the spine, magazines and comics without popping the staples from the cover
-good image quality, scans at 300 dpi take about 10 seconds
-scan software allows for auto 180-degree re-orientation of image when scanning alternating pages

-buggy software and hardware
-platen size of 9 x 11 1/2 inches; books with greater dimensions can't be accommodated
-skimpy on printed  manuals
-tested only on my PC running WinXP; performance with Vista or Windows 7 not evaluated


Over the past year I have been contemplating getting the plustek OpticBook scanner, which is currently selling for $239 (including shipping) at amazon.com (note that the merchant selling the scanners is J & R Music and Computer World). 

The reviews at amazon.com are mixed; some like the OpticBook, but some feel it's awful. With my 2010 tax return received, I thought I'd invest in one.

My Canon flatbed scanner provides good-quality images, but it's not designed for scanning the pages of books, and I don't want to break the spine of my books in order to get them scanned. Another problem comes with efforts to scan old copies of 'Heavy Metal' and comic books; too much flexing, and the covers can detach from the staples.

The plustek machine features an open-sided platen, so you can edge close enough to the book's binding to get the entire page captured, without necessarily stressing the binding. The scanner has a hinged cover that allows it to accommodate thick books.

I've been testing out the plustek for the past two months. It comes with a modest quantity of printed manuals and guides, and a software CD that installs three programs related to scanning and image analysis:

The software installed without any problems, but then I'm running WinXP; some users at amazon.com report problems with Vista and Windows 7.

After installing the software I did have to go into the 'Presto ! Page Manager' software and de-select my Canon scanner as the scanner / twain default source, and instead select the OpticBook as the default; if this is not done the scanner will not be recognized, even if it's plugged in to your USB port.

Scanning is relatively easy. You first select the 'Book' or 'Paper' buttons at the top corner of the scanner's button panel, then lay your book or document on the scanner, and then choose the larger buttons for either for 'color', 'grayscale', or 'text' scans:

A scan will be generated in a few seconds and displayed in a window using the 'book pilot' app, a simple, bare-bones desktop app. (There may be a delay if the scanner needs to warm up). If you are not satisfied with the image, you can select 'preview' and re-scan as needed.

Once you're happy with the scan size and image quality, you can then scan successive pages simply by placing your book on the platen and pressing the color / grayscale / text button on the scanner with each page.

A color scan, 300 dpi pass of a single page takes about 10 sec, a bit faster than on my Canon machine. You can have the imaging software save the succeeding scanned pages from a book into the same common file.

As you proceed with scanning and turn your book from right- to left- hand orientation on the surface of the platen, you can select to have these alternating page scans corrected for odd / even page orientation, so all scanned images in a file have the same orientation.

The following photos give an idea of the size of the OpticBook and what sizes of documents it can accommodate: 

The image quality from scans of pictures is pretty good and I really can't tell the scan image quality apart from the same image generated using my Canon flatbed scanner.

For text pages, depending on the format (color, grayscale, or text / pdf) used to make the scan, things also are reasonably good, as illustrated by these scans of a page from an old (1980) issue of 'Questar' magazine:

One thing I've noticed is that the hardware and software are buggy. Sometimes the bulb fails to light when you turn on the scanner, and I have to resort to re-plugging the power cord in the outlet and turning the device on/off/on again.

Sometimes lifting the scanner cover too high off the platen can cause the bulb to spontaneously go out, too...?! 

Closing the 'book pilot' software app, while leaving the scanner's bulb on, can sometimes make the scanner unresponsive when you decide to do some scans later on; more than once I've had to reboot my PC and the scanner to deal with this problem.

The Verdict ? 

Of course, I've only used the device for around 65 days, so after using it for another 6 months some major problems may come to light. But if you're looking for an affordable (i.e., under thousands of dollars) book scanner, the Optic Book is really your only real option (unless you want to make your own scanner). 

I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to someone who is contemplating scanning an entire book a day, but if you are looking for something that will provide good-quality scans of 10 pages here, 25 pages there, without destroying the binding of your books - particularly older books that are most vulnerable to damage - then it's not a bad option.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

'Flight Back' by Pepe Moreno
from the April 1981 issue of Epic Illustrated

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Interview with P. Craig Russell
(from the October 1982 issue of Epic Illustrated)

Craig Russell did much of the artwork for the later issues of the Amazing Adventures / War of the Worlds / Killraven series, as excerpted here at the PorPor Books Blog.

The interview is from the pages of the October 1982 issue of Marvel's 'Epic Illustrated', featuring an 'Elric' story illustrated by Russell. Russell provides some interesting observations on comic art, working with writers on titles for Marvel, and his forthcoming single-shot, 40-pp Killraven book (which Marvel released as a graphic novel in 1983).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Arthur Suydam's 'Mudwogs'
from 'Echo of Futurepast' issue 4

A bedtime story featuring an unpleasant incarnation of Humpty-Dumpty.

Suydam's artwork in this comic is outstanding, calling to (slightly warped) mind Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, or Maxfield Parrish. 

The double-page spread of pages 24 and 25 must have taken Suydam over a week of careful draftsmanship and coloring to complete. The detail (below) of the fat woman scooping egg into her mouth, including the bracelets on her wrist, the ruffles of the sleeves of her dress, and the vertical slats of the back of the chair she is sitting in, gives some idea of the careful penmanship at work here.