Sunday, April 29, 2012
'Heavy Metal' magazine, April 1978
April, 1978, and 'With A Little Luck' by Paul McCartney and Wings is in heavy rotation on the airwaves.
The April issue of 'Heavy Metal' is on the stands, a genuine success as its first year of publication comes to a close. Robert Morello provides the front cover illustration.
Major advertisers are still some years away from buying ad space, but one mail order company - 'Moondance Productions' - is at least willing to purchase a full-page ad for Conan paperbacks and posters, and - get this - a record album of Harlan Ellison stories, narrated by The Man Himself !
This is how you got hold of sci-fi media in the days before the internet and amazon.com....
Most of this issue is taken up with ‘Paradise 9’, a lengthy, free-form strip which apparently was created by the artists of Metal Hurlant as a congratulatory present to the editorial staff of Heavy Metal for completing their first year of publication. Each of the major Metal Hurlant artists - Moebius, Duillet, Nicollet, He, Clerc, Macedo, etc. - contributed a couple of pages or so.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Book Review: 'Blood Red Angel' by Adrian Cole
3 / 5 Stars
Saddled with an awful cover illustration (by Duane O’Myers) that looks like it was initially destined for a romance novel, ‘Blood Red Angel’ (377 pp.) was released in November 1993.
Adrian Cole is an English author of fantasy and sf for the adult and juvenile markets. He has published several multi-volume series: ‘The Omaran Saga’, ‘Dream Lords’, and ‘Star Requiem’, as well as standalone novels.
‘Blood Red Angel’ takes place on an un-named world where the landscape is in perpetual twilight under an immense bank of clouds called the Skydown. The major city in this subdued terrain is Thousandreach, with towers stretching thousands of feet into the sky; in their palaces at the apex of these towers, above the Skydown, a coterie of decadent aristocrats – who have long since mutated beyond human form – rule the land as ‘Lightbenders’.
A hierarchy of Elevates, Skryers, and Providers - minor bureaucrats, lordlings, and wizards - live in the lower levels of Thousandreach, serving their masters among the Lightbenders in the hopes of ultimately joining their patrons as members of the omnipotent exalted.
A warp (known as the Overlap) in the space-time continuum serves to temporarily open portals to adjoining worlds, whose populations are raided by the Providers. The fate awaiting these abducted peoples, or ‘Externals’, is not pleasant: they are to be converted into sustenance for the ravenous Lightbenders.
Armies of specially created flying men – the ‘Angels’ of the book’s title – are used by the Elevates to keep order, and track down escaping Externals.
As the novel opens a young man named Ruarhi, from what may be Celtic-era Britain, finds himself captured by servants of the Providers and transported to the world under Skydown.
His struggles to escape his captors, and to discover a way back to his own world; his efforts are paralleled by those of a Blood Red Angel named Arterial, who becomes a hunted outcast from his clan.
Gradually, the two plot threads coalesce, as Ruarhi and Arterial join forces in an uneasy alliance with a rogue Elevate to carry out a plan to overthrow the Lightbenders, and bring freedom to the oppressed masses toiling in the dank underworld of Thousandreach.
In some ways ‘Blood Red’ is a ground-breaking precursor to the ‘dark fantasy’ novels and series of China Mieville (‘King Rat’, ‘Perdido Street Station’), Alan Campbell (‘Scar Night’), and Tim Lebbon (‘Echo City’).
Like those novels, ‘Blood Red’ is a lengthy work, highly descriptive in nature, with a narrative that deliberately avoids the optimistic character of traditional epic fantasy novels, to focus instead on a depressing landscape, whose inhabitants eke out their lives in ignorance of the great forces that have shaped their destinies.
And, like the dark fantasy novels of Mieville, Campbell, and Lebbon, ‘Blood Red’ suffers from weaknesses in terms of pacing. The central section of the novel stalls rather badly, as the author devotes considerable text to detailing the machinations and intrigues among the bureaucrats of Thousandreach.
The climax of the novel also suffers from too much exposition, as the author is unable to resist inserting one new plot development after another, draining excitement from the final confrontation with the Lightbenders.
Readers with the patience for a deliberately-paced, expansive dark fantasy novel may want to check out ‘Blood Red Angel’. Those who like their novels to have a more condensed character, will probably want to pass on it.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Book Review: 'Icerigger' by Alan Dean Foster
3 / 5 Stars
‘Icerigger’ (313 pp.) was published by Ballantine / Del Rey in March 1974; the striking cover is by Tim White. Succeeding volumes in the ‘Icerigger’ trilogy are ‘Mission to Moulokin’ (1981) and ‘The Deluge Drivers’ (1987).
Ethan Fortune is a salesman earning a comfortable living among the civilized worlds of the galaxy. While traveling aboard the liner Antares, a series of encounters with would-be kidnappers results in Fortune, and other passengers, crash-landed on the surface of the nearby planet Tran-ky-ky.
Tran-ky-ky is an ice world, its surface covered by land masses and frozen seas; a ‘warm’ day is one in which the temperature hovers around 32 degrees Farenheit. Not surprisingly, the little band of Antares passengers are in severe straits. Fortunately their crash attracts the attention of the planet’s humanoid inhabitants, a race of unique cat-people known as the ‘tran’.
The tran are featured in Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s 1979 paperback ‘Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials’:
Ethan Fortune, and a roustabout named Skua September, soon find themselves the de facto leaders of the stranded party of Terrans. The hospitable tran ensconce the Terrans in their citadel within the city of Wannome, and Fortune and September get to work asking their hosts for directions to the nearest offworld outpost. But with the medieval level of technology on Tran-ky-ky, getting from Wannome to the Federation outpost at Brass Monkey, a journey of several hundred miles, is by no means an easy task.
And things aren’t helped by the fact that The Horde, a migratory army of barbarian tran, will soon be descending on the city of Wannome. And if Ethan and Skua can’t help the tran defend their city, their chance to get off-world will be forever lost…..
‘Icerigger’ is a very capable sf adventure novel with ‘old school’ flavor. The icy world of Tran-ky-ky, and its cold-adapted feline race, are interesting creations, and Foster imbues his human and tran characters with varied personalities. Ethan Fortune and Skua September regularly find their wits and improvisational skills taxed by desperate combats and narrow escapes.
‘Icerigger’ isn’t perfect; Foster tends to get more than a little stilted and even cutesy with his dialogue, and some parts of the narrative rely on contrivances to get our heroes out of a jam.
But to be fair, ‘Icerigger’ doesn’t try to be a profound Speculative Fiction Novel as was often the case for some sf works of the mid-70s. Rather, this book is recommended for readers who want to sit down with an engaging, fast-paced novel that aims primarily to entertain.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
'Heavy Metal' magazine April 1982
The April 1982 issue of 'Heavy Metal' features a front cover by Jim Burns titled 'Zipper', and a back cover by Luis Rey titled 'Safari Between the Ears'.
This issue provides the latest installments of Corben's 'Den II', Segrelle's 'The Mercenary','Incal Light' by Jodorowsky and Moebius, 'Nova II' by Garcia, and 'At the Middle of Cymbiola' by Renard and Schuiten.
The Dossier is expanded to five pages and features reviews of 'Private Eyes', the latest album by Hall and Oates, as well as the Police's 'Ghost in the Machine' and the eponymous first-album release by the TomTom Club. These reviews come late after the release of these albums, reflecting the comparatively slow reaction time of print media back in the 80s.
Thing's aren't helped by an editorial decision to use a contrived 'New Wave' approach to formatting the layout in The Dossier section; the 'Heads or Tails' column is illegible.....
Overall, this is a mediocre issue. The serial comics are given only a few pages each, and the magazine is taken up with too many inflated essays.
In one essay, 'J. G. Ballard: Visionary of the Apocalypse', Toby Goldstein travels to England to speak with that author. Goldstein's writing has the pretentious quality of a grad student thesis:
With the arrival of the mid-sixties mental/physical/social/moral revolution, J. G. Ballard adjusted his milieu to pit so-called civilized invention against primeval ego needs. The personal apocalypse had begun.
In a lengthy Editorial, Brad Balfour informs us that he detests the term 'sci fi' because it gives the genre a puerile connotation, and negates the pathbreaking fiction produced by Disch, Dick, and Ballard.
Somehow Italo Calvino, and (inevitably) William Burroughs, are name-dropped in case some actual Literary Critics may be reading, and need to be persuaded that SF is Legitimate Art.
I've posted scans of one of the passable single-shot strips, 'The Moment' by Harry North.
Monday, April 16, 2012
The psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity in the early 20s to describe those times when the word 'coincidence' seems inadequate. Over time the concept has acquired a pop culture significance, and implies some sort of quantum physics-based connection underlying all things in the universe.
After being introduced to the concept via Arthur Koestler's book 'The Roots of Coincidence', Sting adopted the word as the title for the Police's 1983 album.
I personally though the whole concept was nonsense. Until March 26, 2004, when I opened up the Washington Post and saw a picture of two people attending a rally in Virginia for gay marriage. The appearance of one of these people, Dale Dugger, provoked some subconscious meme from my memory.
I'd seen that person before, somewhere, sometime...that distinctive hair style...the facial features, the horn-rimmed glasses.....
...and then I knew. I had indeed seen that person before. But in a painting of Jim Morrison done by the Belgian artist Guy Peellaert in his 1973 book 'Rock Dreams' !
The person standing right beside Jim bears an uncanny resemblance to Dale Dugger !
So, I no longer am a 'Synchronicity Skeptic'.
Maybe there is some underlying aspect of the quantum structure of the universe that ties everything, everywhere together, and every now and then we get a glimpse of that underlying interconnectedness.....
Here is The Thievery Corporation's remix of 'Strange Days'.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Book Review: 'Pig World' by Charles W. Runyon
4 / 5 Stars
Charles W. Runyon wrote a sizeable number of short stories and novels in the mystery, private eye, and sf genres during the 60s and 70s.
[Biographical information on Runyon via a Google search is surprisingly scant; he was born in 1928, and although the ISFDB indicates a death date of May 1987, Runyon is apparently still alive, although no longer writing.]
‘Pig World’ (190 pp.) was first released in 1971 as a hardcover volume in the SF Book Club; this Lancer paperback was issued in March 1973, with a cover illustration by Ron Walotsky.
The novel is set in the ‘near future’, i.e., around the year 2000. In the opening chapter we are introduced to protagonist Marvin Ross, an inmate in a particularly brutal maximum security prison in the Southwest. It transpires that the US is in a state of utter anarchy; the central government has collapsed, the country is divided into lawless territories infested with bandits and thugs; large tracts of land are too radioactive, or laden with nerve gas, to be habitable; and foreign armies contest for ownership of the Pacific and Canadian borders.
The novel then segues into an extended flashback, and we learn how Marvin Ross went from being a up-and-coming young businessman to a Weatherman –style revolutionary devoted to the violent overthrow of the ruling powers. However, circumstances intervened to deny Ross his opportunity, and now, as a condemned prisoner, he awaits the firing squad.
I won’t disclose any spoilers, but it’s safe to say that Marvin Ross will escape his prison and embark on a dangerous quest to regain control of the revolution from the despot who rules what remains of the USA. But time is running out; if Ross can’t enlist the aid of the Oppressed Proletariat, then the ‘Pig World’ of the book’s title will become a reality……
‘Pig World’ is a strange and interesting sci-fi take on the youth movement, and its revolutionary politics, of the early 70s (think of John and Yoko posing for a photograph while wearing army fatigues and berets).
Runyon asks ‘what if ?’ the movements of the Weathermen and the SDS somehow gained sufficient traction to have led to an overthrow of the government, and then mixes in a full load of sf tropes.
The first half of the novel moves rather slowly, but the second half – dealing with Ross’s travels and travails in the southwest US – reads like ‘Damnation Alley’, or the 'Radioactive Rambo' genre of survivalist fiction. It is also rather graphic in terms of depicting violence - readers will want to prepare for some Splatterpunk leanings.
Runyon’s female characters are stock ‘Swingin’ 70s’ young nubiles, perpetually aroused, and ever-ready to ‘give it up’ for the ideals of the revolution. His descriptions of pubescent girls, in particular, while not that unusual for the 70s fiction, will seem creepy and unsettling to modern readers.
In summary, ‘Pig World’ is a fast-moving, sometimes quite engaging, example of early 70s pulp sf, one that incorporates themes and political stances echoed only hollowly by today’s ‘Occupy’ movement.
The well-written action scenes, and the novel's clipped, declarative prose style (which in some ways prefigures the style of Cyberpunk authors like Gibson and Sterling) make up for the rather contrived final chapter.
This one is worth searching out.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Friday, April 6, 2012
Book Review: 'The Dakota Project' by Jack Beeching
1 / 5 Stars
‘The Dakota Project’ was published in hardcover in 1968; this Dell paperback (280 pp.) was issued in July 1971. The cover artwork is by Robert (Bob) Foster.
Foster illustrated many paperbacks in the 60s and 70s and used Steve Holland as a model, as the male figure on the cover of ‘Project’ reveals. Holland, of course, was the model for James Bama’s 'Doc Savage' covers for Bantam.
‘The Dakota Project’ is a first-person narrative on the part of a middle-aged British writer named Richard Conroy. As the novel opens, Conroy has arrived in North Dakota, where, logically enough, the Dakota Project is located.
Conroy is not overly impressed with the location of the project – a village surrounded by security fencing and mine fields, in the middle of the windswept prairie – but the vague thrill of working on a semi-clandestine endeavor, as well as a handsome salary, have induced him to sign on for a multi-year stint.
Conroy gets to work writing propaganda tracts, befriends a lesbian couple, and acquires a harelipped Mexican domestic (!) as a mistress. His superiors are pleased with his work, and as Fall turns to Winter, Conroy is promoted to the inner circle, where he learns of the Project’s true mission.
Conroy accepts this disclosure with some equanimity, reasoning that after his hitch is up, he can depart and re-enter civilian life without a backward glance. But when a high-ranking member of the Project recruits him for a possible coup, events start to lurch out of control.
Will Conroy side with the usurper and see his friends subjected to a dire fate ? Or will he rebel, and risk his life for a chance to escape the Project ?
Such a dilemma sounds like the ingredient for a good thriller, but unfortunately, ‘The Dakota Project’ is a dull and unimaginative read.
Author Beeching awkwardly tries to take the self-centered narrative peculiar to middle-aged white men, the same narrative that John Updike successfully mined with his ‘Rabbit’ novels, and meld it to a satirical thriller along the lines of ‘Dr Strangelove’.
Much of the novel is centered around long stretches of dialogue, in which the author shows to us his command of witty repartee. As well, there are plentiful monologues, during which Conroy muses about various frat-boy topics, such as how he best can get the lesbians into his bed, or how best to impress the Project directorship during administrative meetings.
The end result of these excursions into middle-aged male psychology is……… tedium.
‘The Dakota Project’ is unimpressive both as a near-future sf novel, and as a thriller. You’re better off passing on this title.