Thursday, May 31, 2012

'Questar' magazine August 1980: interview with Robert Bloch

While the bulk of the August 1980 issue (which actually was on newsstands in late June) of Questar magazine was devoted to the film The Empire Strikes Back, there also appeared an interview with writer Robert Bloch. I've posted it below.

Bloch had some interesting observations on writing for a living during the depths of the Great Depression; the prose styles of the New Wave movement; the lack of critical applause for Bloch's work; and the burden that comes with being best known as the author of the novel Psycho.

Monday, May 28, 2012

'The Voyage of Those Forgotten' by P. Christin and E. Bilal
from the May 1982 issue of Heavy Metal

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

'Spirit World' by Jack Kirby
DC Comics, Summer 1971

Upon joining DC comics in 1971, Jack Kirby was given a conditional green light by the management to investigate publishing comics and graphic art in newer, more varied formats. 

One of the more novel, but more short-lived, manifestations of Kirby's ambitions was the single-shot issue of 'Spirit World', which was released in the Summer of 1971. 

'Spirit World' was an effort by Kirby to produce material for an older audience in the manner of the Warren magazines. Apparently, Kirby wanted to release the magazine in  full color, but DC was intent on publishing the magazine in a cheaper black and white format. 

Indeed, DC was not overly enthused with the concept of 'Spirit World', and distributed it under the 'Hampshire Distribution' label, as part of what was intended to be a line of comic magazines under the 'Speak Out Series' imprint. Poor distribution meant that 'Spirit World' never really got off the ground.

Copies of 'Spirit World' in good condition go for $20, on up to $50, at e-Bay. A hardcover edition of the magazine, incorporating material from a second issue that was never printed, was released by DC in early May 2012 at a list price of $39.99.

I've posted one of the stories in 'Spirit World' below. 'House of Horror' is an interesting look at the sort of 'What If' question comics fans may have had back in the early 70s:  

What If Jack Kirby did a story for a black and white, non-code magazine like the Warren magazines ?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: 'Inverted World' by Christopher Priest

4 / 5 Stars

‘Inverted World’ was released first in hardbound in 1974, with this New English Library (UK) paperback edition published in June 1975. The trade paperback edition, featuring an Afterward by British sf critic John Clute, was released by New York Review Books in 2008.

‘Inverted World’ was Christopher Priest’s third novel. Priest is of course very well known as the author of the book ‘The Prestige’, which was made into a successful 2006 movie starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.

The protagonist of ‘Inverted’ is Helward Mann; his story unfolds in alternating first- and third-person narratives. Mann is born and matures entirely within the confines of a City named ‘Earth’, where the passage of time is measured in miles, not hours or days. There is an implication that the City is under some form of continuous movement, but detailed knowledge of the nature of this movement is withheld from the majority of the City’s inhabitants.

Day-to-day duties of life in this city are carried out by members of various guilds devoted to the creation or synthesis of food, clothing, and material goods. First-Order Guilds comprised of Navigators, 'Future Surveyors', Bridge-Builders, and Trackmen attend to the affairs of the movement of the City. 

When Mann comes of age, he asks to serve an apprenticeship in the 'Future Surveyor’s' Guild. His apprenticeship is granted, with the admonition that from now on, all knowledge of Guild affairs are to be kept solely within the circle of its members, under pain of instant execution.

The day after his apprenticeship is granted, Helward is allowed to exit the City. There he learns that the City is in fact a collection of structures with overall dimensions of 200 feet in height, and 1500 feet in width.

The City rests on a framework to which enormous wheels are attached; much of the work of various Guilds deals with the movement of the City along sets of rails which are continuously laid in front of its path. When all is going well the City moves at a pace of one mile per day. When the terrain presents obstacles, such as rivers, streams, or gullies, movement is halted until bridges are constructed from trees in the surrounding landscape. Once the obstacle is crossed the movement of the City resumes.

The landscape through which the City moves is one devoid of organized agriculture or other manifestations of human industry. Its inhabitants are poor, malnourished and ill-disposed towards the City; however, in exchange for food and clothing, they provide short-term labor for the construction of the rails and bridges demanded by the movement of the City.

As the chapters unfold, the reason behind the nature of the City, and the edicts that compel its continuous movement, are gradually disclosed to Helward Mann, and by extension the reader.

I won’t disclose any spoilers, save to indicate that the world through which the City travels is one that supplies constant revelations.

‘Inverted World’ is written with clear, straightforward prose, and cannot be neatly categorized as an archetypal New Wave tale, although its focus on human perception and psychology does give it a ‘soft-science’ component to go with the ‘hard science’ elements surrounding the City’s transits. 

The narrative unfolds with deliberation and care, and at times can be a little too indolent, as the Grand Disclosure seems oft-delayed by the time the novel’s later chapters arrive. However, author Priest delivers a satisfactory ending to his tale and I suspect most readers won’t feel cheated as they finish the past page.

In many respects, ‘Inverted’ serves as a kind of British counterpart to the influential 1975 sf novel by the American author John Crowley, ‘The Deep’. 

John Clute’s Afterward in the New York Review Books trade paperback edition is, not unexpectedly, awful. 

Clute’s writings (I am familiar with his entries in the 1995 edition of 'The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction') only get more pretentious with time; here, they involve the use of the verb ‘complexified’, and the phrase:

 “…abysses of indeterminacy and play.” 

Thus, the New York Review Books edition provides excellent examples of both good, and dire, prose simultaneously within its covers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

'The Black Knight' by Didier Eberoni
from the May 1982 issue of Heavy Metal

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: 'The Day the Sun Stood Still' edited by Lester del Rey

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Day the Sun Stood Still’ was first published in May 1972 in hardcover. This Dell Laurel-Leaf paperback edition (221 pp.) was published in October 1975; the cover artwork is signed [Andy ?] ‘Lackow’. While Lester del Rey is not listed on the cover as the editor, he did contribute the Forward.

‘The Day’ is a shared-theme anthology devoted to the topic of how the modern world might react to the stopping of the Sun described in some Bible passages, most notably Joshua, chapter 10.

Perhaps because of restrictions on content (Laurel-Leaf was a publication line devoted to Young Adults), the three novelettes all focus less on apocalyptic horrors, and instead center more on the sociological and psychological ramifications of a manifestation of the Creator at a time when ‘God Is Dead’ skepticism is well-entrenched. The stories are more or less set in the year 2000.

Poul Anderson’s ‘A Chapter of Revelation’ starts with the planet trembling on the edge of WWIII, as the US and China face off in the Yellow Sea over the fate of Korea. A middle-aged auto repair shop owner from Oakland, named Louis Habib, goes on television, and urges the world to pray at the same time, on the same day, for Peace.

Miraculously, the Sun stands still for an entire 24 hours as a result of this Moment of Prayer.

The narrative then takes a cynical turn, as religious groups and politicians try to co-opt the bewildered Habib into serving their causes.

Robert Silverberg’s ‘Thomas the Proclaimer’ also features a reluctant Prophet, in this case, a former drifter and con man who finds himself mediating the stopping of the Sun. In the aftermath, global society comes undone, and Thomas struggles with how to exploit his miracle. This tale also has a cynical tenor, as Silverberg takes the attitude that miracles are easy, it’s following up on them that proves a prophet’s hardest task.

The final tale, Gordon R. Dickson’s ‘Things Which Are Caesar’s’ is the weakest entry in the anthology. Over-long and unfocused, the story commences on the eve of the stoppage of the Sun, as Americans from all walks of life descend on a remote campground to await the miracle. 

Most of the ensuing narrative is preoccupied with having the characters engaged in post-miracle philosophical debates about The Meaning of It All. A taciturn onlooker named Ranald, who may be Immortal and a witness to Joshua’s feat, serves as a kind of neutral counterpoint to the mutterings of the modern people gripped by their existential angst. 

The story ends on a rather contrived note, as if author Dickson felt he had to impart some kind of Deep Message to justify his meandering storyline. 

In summary, ‘The Day’ is an unremarkable anthology, with its contributors adopting rather unimaginative approaches to what might have been a provocative topic (in more inspired hands). 

'The Day' is probably most interesting as an indicator of how much more sophisticated a vocabulary junior high and high school students were expected to possess back in the early 70s. 

Silverberg's story includes words like 'schadenfreude' , as well as a list of terms related to religious artifacts, that had me using an online dictionary. Nowadays, I suspect few members of various state Board of Regents English ('Language Arts') faculty would be able to grasp such terms.....

Thursday, May 10, 2012

'Heavy Metal' magazine May 1982

It’s May 1982, and in the Falkland Islands, fighting is underway between the Argentine invaders and the UK.

‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’, by The Human League, is in heavy rotation on the FM dials. Also getting a lot of airplay is the latest single by Genesis, titled ‘Understanding’. 

The May issue of Heavy Metal magazine is on the stands, with a front cover illustration by Corben and Townley titled ‘Spheres’. 

This is one of the few (only ?) HM covers to feature a fully clothed woman in a decidedly demure stance. 

The back cover is ‘The Detour’, by Moebius.

This is a good issue of HM, although the large number of text pieces is a surprise, in light of the dismissal of former editor Ted White in 1981, ostensibly for upping the magazine’s text content.

The ‘Dossier’ section is not only five pages long but it’s relocated to the first pages of the issue (just after a striking full-page ad for the latest Scorpions album, and another ad for the upcoming ‘Conan’ movie).

The Dossier has some interesting columns, including a scathing review of the latest (i.e., ‘Best of 1981’) SF anthologies by Bruce Sterling.

As of May ’82, the cyberpunk movement (although no one called it that) was just starting to get underway, and Sterling was known as the author of the promising novels ‘Involution Ocean’ and ‘The Artificial Kid’. The impatience of Sterling and the other proto-cyberpunks had with the sf establishment, and its increasingly lifeless approach to writing, is on clear display in his reviews of these anthologies.

Other columns deal with the revival of pop culture interest in the Third Reich and the Nazis; a review of the film ‘Quest for Fire’; a new biography of rocker David Bowie; and a look at the Avalon Hill board gaming universe.

A comic by B. K. Taylor, ‘War Games’, is a laugh-out-loud look at geek culture back in the early 80s.

One of the stranger entries in this issue is a three-page essay by one David Black, titled ‘The Third Sexual Revolution: Transcendent Eroticism in the Eighties’. Author Black predicts that the availability of video porn will energize 80s couples into pursuing Tantric Practices (!). 

Whether Black’s predictions came true or not (with the exception of Sting), is unclear. What makes ‘Third Sexual Revolution’ interesting is the absence of any mention of AIDS, which in May 1982 was known as GRID (gay – related immune deficiency), something which infected 'homos, hemophiliacs, Haitians, and heroin users'. 

Ahh, those innocent days....

In terms of its graphic content, the May issue featured ongoing installments of ‘The Incal Light’, ‘Den II’, ‘Nova II’ , ‘Zora’, ‘Yragael’, and ‘At the Middle of Cymbiola’, while Segrelles’ ‘The Mercenary’ closed out with its final episode. 

A number of good one-shot strips are featured, and one of the best, as always, is by Caza. I’ve posted ‘Exiled’ below.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

'Code Name: Slaughter Five'
from Eerie No. 70, November 1975

A downbeat 'overpopulation' horror tale, with art by Leopold Sanchez and story by Gerry Boudreau, and a vintage 'Soylent Green' sensibility.....