Wednesday, January 30, 2013

'Spider World' by Colin Wilson

3 / 5 Stars
‘Spider World’ was first published in the UK as a two-volume set: ‘Spider World: The Tower’, and ‘Spider World: The Delta’. A third volume, ‘Spider World: The Magician’ was released in 1992, and the fourth (and apparently final volume), ‘Spider World: Shadowland’, in 2003.

In the US, a mercenary Ace Books broke the first volume down into 3 individual mass-market paperback volumes: ‘Spider World: The Desert’ (September 1988), Spider World: The Tower’ (January 1989), and ‘Spider World: The Fortress’ (July 1989). Fortunately, Ace did not mutilate ‘Spider World: The Delta’, releasing it intact in February 1990 as the fourth volume of its particular incarnation of the series. All the Ace volumes featured cover illustrations by Luis Rey.

The Spider World stories are set in a future Earth where some calamity has caused invertebrates, such as insects, arachnids, centipedes, and other creepy-crawlys, to grow to sizes considerably larger than their current dimensions.

Flies are as big as a man’s fist; dragonflies are a foot long; centipedes can reach a yard in length; some wolf spiders are as big as ponies. Even some plants have mutated into carnivorous species capable of capturing and digesting a full-grown man.

The protagonist of the series is a boy named Niall, who lives in a desert burrow with his family. They are one of an ever-dwindling band of humans who have managed to escape discovery and extinction by the overlords of this new earth: a race of telepathic spiders, similar in size and appearance to giant black widows.

Every day, as they struggle for sustenance against the ever-hungry and ever- lethal animals of the desert, Niall and his family keep watch on the skies overhead. 

For the Spider Lords, in their far-off City, send out scout spiders in balloons. Their mission: locate the last remnants of humanity and make them slaves and victims of the Spider Lords. For the Spider Lords have a special liking for human flesh…

I won’t disclose any spoilers, save to say that over the course of the four US volumes of ‘Spider World’. Niall learns how, and why, the Spider Lords came to rule mankind. 

As Niall grows in age and wisdom, his goal of simple survival is transformed into something more ambitious: wrest control of the Earth from the Spider Lords, and restore humanity to its place as the rulers of the planet.

Throughout the series, on the whole, Wilson’s writing is clear and well-paced. There is plenty of action and danger for Niall and his compatriots, and plenty of revelations with each new chapter. 

The only real weakness of the Spider World series comes with volume 4, ‘The Delta’, where the narrative becomes too encrusted with detailed expositions about Wilson’s pet philosophy, a unique brand of humanism he dubs ‘New Existentialism’. This philosophy derives from a peculiar mélange of old school ‘occult’ doctrines, such as Theosophy and Rosicrucianism; modern academic disciplines, such as existentialism; and parapsychology. 

In Wilson’s philosophy, Man is hindered by his inability to recognize that he possesses an innate mental power, something Wilson refers to as ‘Faculty X’, that, once engaged, enables him to see the world without the blinders of self-destructive emotions and attitudes. When in possession of Faculty X, Man can enter a state of acute awareness of the world and its surroundings, and participate in this fully actualized world in ways otherwise unavailable to the Unenlightened. 

Throughout ‘The Delta’, various confrontations between Niall and the forces of the Spiders are couched in terms of our hero’s struggle to define and implement his understanding of ‘Faculty X’. As a consequence, the narrative loses momentum, as the reader is forced to wade through rather lengthy segments of text dealing with the subtleties of New Existentialism.

Taken as a whole, the Spider World series is a worthwhile read, provided that readers are aware that the narrative will grow increasingly didactic, culminating in some degree of trudging through the contents of  volume 4.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

'Hunter II' from Eerie magazine issue No. 67 (August 1975)

After the initial run of ‘Hunter’ in Eerie generated considerable reader approval, Bill Dubay decided to resurrect the character in a ‘Hunter II’ iteration, with the first episode appearing in Eerie No. 67 (August 1975).

Hunter II featured a brand-new protagonist, and a more concerted effort to tie the storyline into that of other ongoing features (such as ‘Exterminator’) in Eerie. Paul Neary was retained as the artist, and Budd Lewis continued to provide the plots.

Succeeding episodes – which I’ll be posting here at the PorPor Blog – appeared in Eerie Nos. 68, 70 – 72, and 74.

A standalone, final episode in the series as a whole, appeared in Eerie 101 (June 1979).



Thursday, January 24, 2013

'Great Balls of Fire: An Illustrated History of Sex in Science Fiction' by Harry Harrison

‘Great Balls of Fire’ is a trade paperback (120 pp) in landscape format published in December, 1977 by Grosset and Dunlap.

The cover illustration is reprinted from Ken Barr’s painting for the cover of the Marvel / Curtis magazine Doc Savage, issue No. 3, December 1975 (‘The Inferno Scheme’). 

The book is divided into 9 (roughly chronological) chapters, covering the genre from the pulp era up to the mid 70s. One chapter focuses on S & M themes, another on whether Conan (and other barbarian heroes) are gay (!?), and another on the implausibility of interspecies matings. 

Harrison’s commentary is casual and conversational in style, rather than pedantic. 

The book is of course heavily illustrated, and although the illustrations are large in size, some taking up an entire page, many of the black and white images are poorly reproduced.

There are magazine covers from the pulp era, panels from comics, and a surprising amount of material excerpted from Metal Hurlant magazine (at the time ‘Great Balls’ was being written earlier in 1977, the English version of Metal Hurlant, Heavy Metal, was just getting started).

I’ve posted some of the PG-13 illustrations to give an idea of the pictorial content ( I’ve not posted some of the few R-rated images present in the book, rather than risk the Blogger ‘adult content’ warning).

Needless to say, modern audiences used to the cornucopia of internet porn are going to find the content of ‘Great Balls’ tame, even quaint.

People under 30 will probably be greatly amused at the idea of 70s stoners seeking, and finding, titillation in the depictions of naked vampire chicks, naked barbarian girls, and naked female astronauts in the pages of Heavy Metal, Creepy, Vampirella, and 1984.

The nearly 40 years since the book was published have seen such change in the genre and in popular culture that ‘Great Balls’ is best read as a manifestation of 70s nostalgia.

Something belonging on the shelf alongside Jack Boulware’s excellent ‘Sex, American Style: An Illustrated Romp Through the Golden Age of Heterosexuality’ (1997).

‘Great Balls’ is right at home alongside your puka shell necklace, your  royal blue with orange trim Puma running shoes, your butternut-hued shag carpet, your roach clip, and your Brut cologne.... and 'Brain Salad Surgery', by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, playing on your stereo......

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: 'West of January' by Dave Duncan

3 / 5 Stars

‘West of January’ (343 pp) was published by Del Rey in August 1989; the cover artist is uncredited.

On Vernier, the planetary rotation is so slow that a single day lasts for centuries. Instead of longitude and latitude, territory is measured by months and weeks, respectively. One-half the planet – equivalent to the distance spanned by six months of longitude - is bathed in sunlight, and is the Day Side. The other half is spanned by six months of longitude and is in darkness – this is the Night Side. Monday is the same latitude as the northern poles; Wednesday the Equator; and Sunday the southern poles. As Vernier slowly rotates about its axis, the dayside months shift eastwards into twilight, and the darkside months shift westwards into sunlight.

[The book provides maps at the end of every chapter to help orient the reader to this peculiar feature of Vernier’s astronomy.]

The descendants of the Terrans who colonized the planet several thousand years ago have splintered into various races scattered around the daylight side of the planet: herdsmen who wander the vast grasslands, wetlanders who live in proximity to the swampy areas, snake men who dwell in the jungles, and sea folk, who live amid the waves, camped on giant rafts of floating vegetation.

Technology has atrophied to a stone-age level. A small but influential group of learned men, the ‘angels’, dwell in an encampment called ‘Heaven’ near the twilight side of the planet. 

From their redoubt, the angels venture outwards on large, wind-powered carts, to periodically urge the tribes – ignorant of their world’s astronomy - to move ever West, staying out of reach of the ever-advancing, devastating solar Equinox, in which sunlight strikes the surface at a perpendicular angle, with merciless intensity, for decades.

‘West of January’ is narrated in the first-person by its protagonist, Knobil, the undersized son of a herdsman. Over the course of the novel Knobil grows to adulthood, and experiences various adventures among the tribes populating Vernier.

In many ways, the episodic narrative of ‘West’ mimics, in a readable way, the traditional Burroughsian fantasy adventure in which a doughty swordsman sets out to make his mark across his strange and colorful world.

However, Knobil is not the typical Burroughsian hero. Author Duncan takes pains to cast Knobil as a more ordinary hero than most, someone lacking in imagination, and thus, our protagonist is regularly subjected to use, and abuse, by the less-friendly inhabitants of Vernier.

These passages of mayhem and misery help propel the story along, and in their abeyance, the narrative tends to drag; for example, I found the chapters dealing with Knobil’s sojourn among the Seafolk to be rather slow and rather dull.

‘West of January’ is a competent, if not particularly memorable, sf adventure novel. The premise of the centuries-long Day is worked into the machinations of the plot with some skill, and Knobil, despite his faults, is a likeable character. Readers with a willingness to be entertained by a novel with a deliberate, gradual approach to storytelling may find ‘West’ worth their while.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

'The Hunter' by Martin Springett
from the January, 1983 issue of Heavy Metal

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Father Shandor: Demon Stalker in 'The Devil's Dark Destiny'
from Warrior (UK), Volume 1, Number 3, July, 1982

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Spock, Messiah !

Book Review: 'Spock, Messiah !' by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano, Jr.
3 / 5 Stars

'Spock, Messiah !' (182 pp) was published by Bantam Books in September, 1976; the cover illustration is by Gene Szafran.

As the novel begins, the Enterprise is in orbit around the planet Kyros, conducting a survey of Kyrosian culture and civilization. There is a novel twist to this particular mission: via use of 'telescan cephalic implants', Away Team members are able to telepathically link with an unsuspecting Kyrosian citizen, not only adopting that individual's persona, but accessing their memories, and fluency in language, as well. This technology allows the Away Team to investigate a foreign culture with as little artifice as possible.

As is typical for Star Trek scripts and novels, Something Bad takes place to put the ship in dire danger. This time it's a massive radiation storm of unknown origin, emerging from deep space and heading for the Enterprise. It's time for the ship to leave orbit before the storm fries the crew.

However, when the warp drive fails to engage, Kirk and Scotty make a dismaying discovery: the trilithium crystals have been removed from the engines, and the Enterprise is unable to generate enough power to leave orbit.

To make matter worse, it seems that Spock has stolen the crystals (!) and retreated to Kyros. It emerges that the Kyrosian with which Spock has entered into telepathic communication is one Chag Gara, a barbarian from one of the more primitive tribes of the planet. 

Thanks to the cephalic implant, Spock has mind-melded with a fanatic. No longer a Vulcan science officer, Spock is now a revolutionary with a Messiah complex, a revolutionary with few scruples about forcibly converting the entire population of Kyros to a new religion.

With time running short before the radiation storm strikes the Enterprise, Kirk and McCoy beam down, posing as Kyrosian healers.

Their desperate mission: find Spock, subdue him, and retrieve the dilithium crystals.

But Spock has no intention of relinquishing his Holy War and the amazing array of emotions roiling within his new personality. Kirk and McCoy will discover that even when insane, Spock is not one to be trifled with.....

'Spock, Messiah' was just the second Star Trek novel released by Bantam, 'Spock Must Die !' being the first. 

Looking back nearly 40 years later, it's hard to believe, but it took well into 1976 before Paramount and Bantam came to the realization that Star Trek fans, having read and re-read the James Blish novelizations of the series scripts, just might be hungering for all-new content.

'Messiah' is one of the better ST novels, and its origins as a mid-70s novel have much to do with this. The book is filled with politically incorrect references and attitudes, things forbidden in contemporary novels, but placidly part of the pop culture landscape in 1976.

For example, the female crewmembers are depicted as beset with repressed sexual desires for Spock, something the mentally unstable Vulcan is quite happy to alleviate (!)  An attractive Ensign is not only the regular target of sexist remarks from chauvanists Kirk and McCoy, but contributes to the away mission by using nude dancing to seduce besotted Kyrosians (!)

The novel doesn't shy from overt violence; Kirk severs an opponent's hand, and Spock's legions of fanatics aren't shy about using force to Convert the Uncertain.

And, the novel doesn't shy from referencing Mohammed and the rise of Islam as apt parallels for Chag Gara's rise to power on Kyros.....try inserting that meme into a modern ST adventure !

Whether you're a Trekkie or not, 'Spock Messiah' is worth picking up if you can find a copy on the secondhand book shelves.

Friday, January 11, 2013

'Heavy Metal' magazine, January 1983

The cold days of January 1983 unfold…. . and in the latest issue of Heavy Metal, Joseph Chiodo provides the front cover, and Douglas Beekman, the back cover.

In the 'Dossier' section, Rok Critic Lou Stathis holds forth on Art Rock, while Merle Ginsberg rhapsodizes over every hipster’s icon of early 80s affection, the since-forgotten Laurie Anderson. 

Samuel Delaney (resolutely referred to here as ‘Chip’ Delaney) is the Interview subject. Disney’s newly opened Epcot Center gets a less than stellar review. Captain Beefheart, another obscure musician beloved by the 80s rock hipster set, gets some favorable coverage.

Some good material in the pages of the January issue; new installments of ‘The Ape’, ‘Yragael’, ‘Freak Show’, ‘Starstruck’, and ‘Den II’. 

Also appearing are several very good one-shots. One is Charles Burns’s Heavy Metal debut, 'Robot Love', featuring El Borba, posted below.