Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shells by Francois Schuiten

'Shells' by Francois Schuiten
from the June 1977 issue of Heavy Metal

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'The Gamesmen of Earth Prime' 
Epic Illustrated Fall 1980
The  Fall 1980 issue of Epic Illustrated has an illuminating look at the state of Geek Culture at the time, with an article about the Dungeons and Dragon and wargaming  scene titled 'The Gamesmen of Earth Prime'.

In the magazine's 'Overview' section, which provides capsule comments by editor Archie Goodwin about the contents of each issue of Epic, he describes how a fateful encounter with a Klingon planted an idea in his head ....

This in turn led to the commissioning of a lengthy article on the D&D and wargaming world, which I've posted below. (Although I doubt anyone under 40 will find this stuff all that intriguing).

Remember, this is the Fall of 1980, and there are no such things as 'personal computers' as we now know them, although some of my friends are taking classes in their electrical engineering curricula on 'microcomputers'. 

Video games exist, but they are the large coin-operated consoles, like 'Space Invaders', that are found in bars and arcades along with foosball tables.  

The idea that a D&D game, or an SPI wargame, could be played on a computer seems promising, but still a ways off ....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review: 'The Avengers of Carrig' by John Brunner

3 / 5 Stars

During the 60s and 70s John Brunner took a large number of his previously published short stories and novelettes and expanded them into novel-length pieces for the growing paperback and hardbound markets. DAW Books readily took these re-worked novels and added them to its own catalogue.

‘The Avengers of Carrig’ (DAW Book No. 369, January 1980, 157 pp.) was a 1969 expansion of a 1962 short story titled ‘Secret Agent of Terra’. The cover illustration is by Gino D’ Achille.

The story takes place on planet ‘Fourteen’, one of a number of earth-like worlds settled centuries ago by refugees of a planetary cataclysm. The refugees established a quasi-medieval civilization centered on the major city of Carrig. The Federation maintains a policy akin to the Prime Directive towards worlds like Fourteen, content to monitor events on-planet through covert agents who embrace the mannerisms and lifestyles of their adopted homes.

The civilization of Fourteen is ruled by kings, who assume power after proving victorious in ritual combat with a parradile, one of the race of intelligent pterodactyls native to the planet. When a stranger named Belfeour assumes the kingship in maneuver that stuns and amazes the citizenry of Carrig, the Federation’s agents realize that something untoward has taken place. 

The Federation dispatches a team of investigators to Fourteen; they include a grizzled veteran named Lagenschmidt, and a young woman named Maddalena. Through misfortune Maddalena winds up very much on her own, forced to deal with the natives on their own terms. Even as Carrig sinks under the rule of a tyrant, Maddalena struggles to enlist the citizenry to rebellion. But without weapons, modern technology, and communication with the Federation, the success of her mission is by no means a sure thing…..

‘Avengers’ is a straightforward sci-fi adventure tale, something that would have been at home in any issue of Analog in the early 1960s. It certainly has a more commercial flavor to it than Brunner’s works issued in the late 60s and early 70s, and this is not a bad thing. Readers looking for a cleanly written, fast-moving story with some inventiveness in terms of setting may want to keep an eye out for this novel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Epic Illustrated' Fall 1980

It's the Fall of 1980, and the FM radio stations are playing 'That Girl Could Sing' by Jackson Browne. And the third issue of Marvel's 'Epic Illustrated' is on the shelves, with a striking orange-tinted cover illustration by Paul Gulacy.

P. Craig Russell provides the first of a two-part series of Michael Moorcock's Elric adventure, 'The Dreaming City'. Starlin's 'Metamorphosis Odyssey', and Thomas and Conrad's 'Almuric', continue with their newest installments. 

There are a number of one-shot strips, including 'Libido' by Moench and Gulacy; 'The Worker in the City' by Goodwin and Lindall; Midsummer Night's Dream' by Wakelin; and 'Tombstones' by Jones and Saenz. 

Among the best of the one-shots is a brief three-page strip by Paul Kirchner, 'My Room', which I've posted below.

Monday, September 19, 2011

'The Old Wisconsin That I Knew'
from Death Rattle No. 18, October 1988

As the hunting season kicks off throughout the US, and the newspapers here in Iowa are filled with advertising inserts for hunting and fishing gear, well, it's the right time for a nasty little b & w strip by P. S. Mueller and Bill Hartwig......

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Google Blogger changes the way images are displayed

I'm not real happy about it, but Google's 'Blogger' dashboard has changed the way images are displayed when you (left-) click on them. 

Instead of getting a window with the image, you now get a slideshow, in which the images are rendered in smaller dimensions, too small to really read well (screenshot 1, below). 

So right-click on the slideshow image; select, 'View Image' (screenshot 2), and a new dashboard will open to display the image (screenshot 3); this image has the magnifying glass icon enabled to allow viewing in yet another window in which it should be at max resolution (screenshot 4). 

I don't like this new arrangement but that's what Blogger has done.

'Heavy Metal' magazine September 1981

The front cover of the September 1981 issue of 'Heavy Metal' is by Chris Achilleos, titled 'Taarna'; it's also the poster for the movie. The back cover is by Angus McKie and is titled 'So Beautiful and So Dangerous'.

This issue is heavy on series installments. Richard Corben kicks off another series, 'Den II', and there are installments in the ongoing 'The Immortal's Fete' by Bilal, 'Cody Starbuck' by Chaykin, 'Tex Arcana' by Findley, and 'Outland' by Steranko.

'The Eye of the Goddess Isliah' by Brocol Remohi, and Juan Gimenez's 'Infantrymen ! Infantrymen !' stand out as the best of the one-shot pieces.

The text columns that were given primacy by former editor Ted White have been shortened to two pages, retitled  'Dossier',  and relegated to the back pages of the magazine. I've posted the Dossier below. 

Needless to say, Lou Stathis continues to write pretentious 'Rok' criticism, this time fawning over David Eno and Robert Fripp  (every early 80s rock critic's objects of veneration). 

But even Stathis's writing stands out as readable and coherent compared to the two brief columns appearing alongside his.

A review of the novels of Robert Anton Wilson by Philip Jose Farmer, and a 'Quick Takes' review of 'The Raiders of the Lost Ark' by one Daphne Davis (?), both engage in such slavish imitation of William Burroughs's prose style that they sink into parody.....

Posted below is the latest episode in Steranko's 'Outland'.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: 'Burning Chrome' by William Gibson

4 / 5 Stars

‘Burning Chrome’ first appeared in 1986 as an Arbor House hardbound edition; this Ace paperback was released in October 1987 and features a cover illustration by Richard Berry.

These stories saw print in the interval 1977 – 1985 and are seminal entries in the genre of SF known as Cyberpunk (the term was coined in 1983 with the publication of an eponymous short story by Bruce Bethke in 'Amazing Science Fiction Stories').

At the time, in the early 80s, I was not really aware of what would come to be known as Cyberpunk. The truth was, genre SF at the time was pretty uninspired; the New Wave movement was long past its prime, and many of the ‘year’s best’ and other anthologies offered duds in terms of shorter fiction pieces. One bright spot for short stories was Omni magazine (where, in fact, 6  of the 10 stories in ‘Burning Chrome’ first appeared). 

Novels of the early 80s could occasionally be worthwhile (e.g., ‘Footfall’ by Niven and Pournelle), but many were mediocre (e.g., ‘Dragon’s Egg’ by Robert Forward). 

The advent of the ‘Ace Science Fiction Specials’ in 1984, and the publication of ‘Neuromancer’ as the marquee title, gave Cyberpunk and associated fiction a marketing profile that had not previously existed, and from then on it was easier to discover the genre.

My two cents on the contents of 'Burning Chrome' :

First up is ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ (Omni, 1981), the short story that inspired the film of the same name. ‘Johnny’ is as good an introduction to the genre as any Cyberpunk tale in the Canon. Reading ‘Johnny’ some 30 years after it first appeared, I’m struck by how readily this story’s approaches to style and content eclipse the majority of the material churned out by the New Wave scene over the period 1965 – 1981.

Next is ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ (Universe 11, 1981), in which a burnt-out, alienated photographer encounters ‘semiotic ghosts’ of a futuristic America that never was. This story, while devoid of the main trappings of Cyberpunk (such as neural interfaces with software / hardware, punk rock, and corporate machinations), nevertheless was a real influence on the development of retro-futurism in pop culture (a recent sculpture / art piece at the Burning Man Festival was titled ‘Raygun Gothic’).

‘Fragments of A Hologram Rose’ (Unearth, 1977) was the first Gibson story to see print, and it’s the weakest entry in the anthology, of value here mainly for the way it introduces some of the main tropes of the movement, such as  interfacing with computers and experiencing virtual reality.

‘The Belonging Kind’, co-written with John Shirley, was released in the 1981 horror anthology Shadows 4. I’ve read this story multiple times, and it remains absorbing and creepy in its treatment of urban alienation and the existence of a race of mutants quietly patronizing the city night life. 

It’s the perfect example of the kind of short story the New Wave authors would have given their right arm to write; highly original in theme and scope, but also written with a clear, well-managed style that inserts its metaphors and similes with care and forethought.

‘Hinterlands’ (Omni, 1981) deals with a psychiatrist who participates in ornate counseling sessions designed to debrief astronauts. On the surface this is a hard-sf tale that could conceivably have been created by a Larry Niven, or even an Arthur C. Clarke, but they would never have succeeded in imbuing their story with the unsettling undertone that Gibson weaves through ‘Hinterlands’.

‘Red Star, Winter Orbit’ (Omni, 1983): aboard a dilapidated Soviet space station, the crew contemplates mutiny.

‘New Rose Hotel’ (Omni, 1984): two black market data cowboys make a fateful decision to cross a corporate entity. A downbeat tale; in much of Gibson’s fiction, while the street-level strivers occasionally win one away from the multinational behemoths, the victory is often hollow.

‘The Winter Market’ (Stardate 1986): Virtual reality / entertainment engineer Casey befriends a crippled young woman named Lise.

In ‘Dogfight’ (co-written with Michael Swanwick, Omni, 1985), a gutter rat named Deke discovers an novel 3-D holographic video game. The story’s climactic contest  is well-written and suspenseful. 

‘Burning Chrome’ (Omni, 1982) is another quintessential Cyberpunk tale. Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack attempt to hack a corporate AI known as 'Chrome'. As with ‘The Belonging Kind’, the prose does everything the New Wave writers were trying to do, with an economy of effort rarely observed in those writers.

Monday, September 12, 2011

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

Friday, September 9, 2011

'Heavy Metal' magazine September 1977

Featuring a striking front cover by Pierre Druillet, the September 1977 issue of Heavy Metal had some good material within its pages. 

Posted below is 'It's A Small Universe' by Moebius, which depicts a massive head wound in gruesome fashion.....