Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: The Castaways of Tanagar

Book Review: 'The Castaways of Tanagar' by Brian Stableford

2 / 5 Stars
‘The Castaways of Tanagar’ (319 pp) was published by DAW Books in April, 1981. The cover artwork is by H. R. Van Dongen.

Thousands of years after its founding, the colony world of Tanagar sends forth an expedition to the motherworld, Earth, to see if the planet has survived the Atomic Wars. The Tanagarians discover that the Earth has survived not just the wars, but also the geological upheavals that reshaped the landscape. Civilization has re-started itself, in the form of the Eurasian republic of Macaria, where technology has reached a level equivalent to that of the 1930s.

The intellectual elite that governs the Tanagaran expedition prefers to avoid an overt re-introduction to Terran society. Instead, an Away Team is to be secretly inserted into the countries making up what used to be North Africa. The goal of the Away Team: seek ways to covertly influence Terran society, in order to set it on an accelerated path towards technological progress.

The members of the Away Team are in no sense ‘ordinary’ Tanagarans. In fact, they are criminals, who had been sentenced to indefinite periods of suspended animation as punishment for felonies, such as murder and rebellion, committed on Tanagar. In exchange for agreeing to serve on the Away Team, these ‘castaways’ of the book’s title must resign themselves to spending the rest of their lives on the fractious motherworld.

Early on in the narrative, members of the Away Team find themselves split up, and forced to rely on their wits and stratagems in order to survive. One sub-plot revolves around the adventures of Cheron Felix, who has spent 8,000 years in suspended animation; Sarid Jerome, a revolutionary; and Vito Talvar, a young man of fatalistic bent.

The other sub-plot deals with the tribulations of two officers who inadvertently find themselves stranded on Terra: Cyriac Salvador, a Tanagarian equivalent of Mr Spock; and Teresa Janeat, a young woman unused to the rigors of life outside a spacecraft.

Will the Castaways be able to integrate themselves into their host societies and begin their work of genial subversion ? Will Salvador and Janeat find their way to the secret Tanagaran redoubt in the northern wilderness of Macaria ? Or will the best-laid plans of the Tanagarians come for naught when the inheritors of the Earth realize that there are people from the stars walking among them ?

At its heart, ‘Castaways’ could have been a routine, but engaging, sf adventure. Unfortunately, author Stableford decides to turn lengthy sections of his novel into forums in which he can declaim – in the form of conversations or monologues – on ‘deep thoughts’ concerning the rise and fall of civilizations and political systems. As well, Stableford frequently expounds on the ever-present contradictions between the base nature of Man, and the promise of enlightened Humanism. These tedious discourses sap momentum from the narrative, and make reading ‘Castaways’ a less than rewarding experience. 

Things do improve a bit in the last 40 pages, when a number of surprise revelations make an appearance, but these seem more than a little contrived. Throw in a utterly out-of-place episode of drug-induced, psychedelic ‘discovery’, and the inconclusive nature of the final chapters, and it’s hard to give ‘The Castaways of Tanagar’ a ‘must-have’ recommendation.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

'Peace' by Caza

'Peace' by Caza
from the July, 1983 issue of Heavy Metal magazine

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kris Kool by Caza

'Kris Kool' by Caza

I found out about 'Kris Kool', and Caza's webpage, via the 50 watts blog, a site devoted to offbeat book design and illustration. 

Caza's webpage is, of course, in French, but you can click on an English flag icon in the upper right corner to access the English language version. If you are a fan of Caza's works then be sure to check out the selection of eBooks available for download at affordable prices.

Among the older, out-of-print books available as eBooks is 'Kris Kool', Caza's first graphic novel / comic compilation. 'Kool' was published in 1970 by Eric Losfeld; printed copies are vanishingly rare. The eBook contains the entire original Kris Kool text, as well as supplemental material specially added to the eBook. [The price of 7 Euros translates into $9.00 US at current exchange rates.]

Reading Kris Kool is like stepping back in time to the late 60s and early 70s when I was a kid, and the psychedelic artwork epitomized by Peter Max (the pseudonym of German-born artist Peter Max Finkelstein) and the Beatle's film 'Yellow Submarine' were prominent.

However, even though he was just starting a career as a graphic artist, Caza's interpretation of the psychedelic art genre, as displayed in Kris Kool, is miles ahead of Peter Max.

The composition, draftsmanship, and coloration all are imaginative and pleasing to the eye. 

The text of Kris Kool is in French, but it's not necessary to know the language to get some idea of the plot. Kool is a sort of male, hippie, version of Barbarella.....

Caza inserts some adept visual humor, as in this scene involving a unique sci-fi 'love doll'..........
'Kris Kool' is well worth the download, which consists of both a pdf file, and an eBook file. I use Firefox's free eBook reader to view the book on my PC, and the preinstalled Lumiread software to view the book on my Acer (Android) tablet.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: Out There Where the Big Ships Go

Book Review: 'Out There Where the Big Ships Go' by Richard Cowper

3 / 5 Stars

‘Out There Where the Big Ships Go’ (191 pp) was published by Pocket Books in the US in October, 1980. The cover artwork is by Don Maitz. 

A shorter anthology, containing 'The Custodians', 'Paradise Beach', 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (later incorporated as the prologue of Cowper’s 1978 novel ‘The Road to Corlay’), and 'The Hertford Manuscript', was released in 1978 by UK publisher Pan Books.

Richard Cowper was the pen name of the English writer John Middleton Murray, Jr. Cowper released a number of sf and fantasy novels and short stories during the 70s and 80s.

All of the stories in ‘Out There’ were first published in various sf magazines in the interval from 1975 – 1980.

My summaries of the contents:

'Out There Where the Big Ships Go': a young boy, on holiday at a Mediterranean resort, comes to realize some sobering truths about the effect the introduction of an Alien philosophy has had on the Earth’s gestalt psychology.

'The Custodians': A monastery in a picturesque Southern European landscape holds some disturbing secrets about Man’s destiny.

'Paradise Beach': interesting variation on the theme of a landscape painting executed with such realism, you imagine you can step into it….

'The Hertford Manuscript': further adventures of The Time Traveler, from H. G. Wells’ novel 'The Time Machine'.

'The Web of the Magi': this novelette is an updated take on a H. R. Haggard tale. In the late 19th century, a doughty British Army officer comes upon a mysterious city sequestered in the remote mountains of Persia. Within awaits a beautiful sorceress, who holds deep secrets about Man’s fate in the Universe.

Like his contemporary, the UK sf author Michael Coney, Cowper produced well-written, carefully crafted fiction that used sf as a backdrop to explore psychological, emotional, and social interactions, rather than focusing on ‘hard’ sf themes and topics.

The entries in ‘Out There’ adhere closely to this mold; they are low-key in tone, and often embrace the melancholy, pessimistic atmosphere many English sf authors bring to their fiction.

Readers looking for sf with a more overt focus on action, and the dedicated  embrace of technology-centered themes that is characteristic of American sf, probably will be underwhelmed with the contents of ‘Out There’.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Star Raiders

'Star Raiders' by Maggin and Lopez
DC Graphic Novel No. 1, 1983

Throughout the early 80s, DC comics looked on with some degree of envy as Marvel exploited the popularity of Heavy Metal magazine by releasing first (in 1980) Epic Illustrated magazine, and then (in 1982) the Epic line of color comic books.

DC decided to get into the game in 1983 by publishing a series of Graphic Novels, priced at $5.95 and consisting of 48 pages. 

Rather than dealing with established characters and franchises in the manner of the Marvel graphic novels of the same era, the DC novels were based on original narratives, leaning heavily towards sf and fantasy content.

For its very first Graphic Novel, DC decided to release ‘Star Raiders’, based on the 1979 video game for the Atari 400 / 800 computer console. []Additional versions of the game were released in the 80s, and the most recent release, for the Xbox, PS3, and PCs, came out in May, 2011.]

 Written by Elliot S (!) Mangin (the presence of the exclamation point apparently is an artsy affectation) and illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, ‘Star Raiders’ didn’t have much more than pixels from the video game with which to develop content. Accordingly, the book borrows quite heavily from Star Wars

It also has a juvenile character to it, featuring plenty of cute aliens; a pretty, New Wave-ish space chick with an eyepatch and a scarlet headband (early 80s sci-fi fashion ‘musts’); and a reserved approach to showing blood and gore. These are indications that DC was having some doubts about how far they wanted to go in emulating the ‘adult’ themes of the Epic and Heavy Metal franchises. 


Despite its rather trite plotting, ‘Star Raiders’ certainly has well-done, if underexposed artwork by Lopez, and if it can be found for just a couple of bucks (like my copy was) it might be worth picking up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Odyssey by Navarro and Sauri

'The Odyssey' by Francisco Navarro (writer) and Jose Sauri (art)


'The Odyssey' (64 pp) was published in hardback  by Heavy Metal magazine; the book is undated, but apparently was published in 2006. It compiles all the comics originally published in serial form in 1983 in Heavy Metal.

The story of Odysseus needs to introduction, but Navarro's adaptation is a serviceable treatment of the legend. It's the intricate pen-and-ink artwork of artist Jose Sauri that really makes this graphic novel impressive.

Since all we know visually about ancient Greece is what has come down to us as illustrations on vases, urns, tiles, and other items, Sauri adopts the same illustrative style. 

The result is artwork with an emphasis on contrasting blacks and whites and linework. Graytones are layered onto the linework in a well-designed manner.

In a sense, Sauri's artwork is as 'authentic' a depiction of ancient Grecian culture as any (and the Frank Miller comic and film 300 comes to mind here, but in my opinion, Sauri's draftsmanship is much more accurate, and visually pleasing).

'The Odyssey' is worth picking up, particularly if you are a fan of Eurocomics and quality graphic art. At present, copies are available from amazon, and from the Heavy Metal magazine website, for around $10 - $12 without shipping. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

'Contagious' by Charles Burns from Taboo No. 1

'Contagious' by Charles Burns 
from Taboo No. 1

‘Taboo’ was a black and white horror comic anthology, nine issues of which were published, in trade paperback format, by Steve Bissette from 1988 to 1995.

Bissette saw the magazine less as a promising commercial venture (which it wasn’t), but rather, as an outlet for creativity otherwise not available to many of the artists and writers working for the major comic book companies. As well, there was a dearth of horror comics being published in the late 80s, and Bissette saw Taboo as filling a void.

Issue One, from Fall 1988, was something of a mixed bag. There were a number of worthy entries, as well as some real duds........I’ll be posting the better strips on a periodic basis. 

Leading off, is a nice little gem from Charles Burns, titled ‘Contagious’. This four-pager is a prequel of sorts to the enormously successful ‘Black Hole’ series that Burns would launch seven years later in 1995. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

'Heavy Metal' magazine, July 1983

'Heavy Metal' magazine, July 1983

It's July, 1983, and MTV and FM radio are dominated by The Police and the massive success of the Synchronicity album. But there are also some good songs that aren't in heavy rotation, such as Robert Palmer's 'You Are in My System', which mixes New Wave synths with a funk beat.

The latest issue of Heavy Metal is on the stands, with a front cover by Liberatore featuring the 'Ranxerox' character from Italian comics, who was making his US debut in this issue.

In the Dossier, we learn of Dennis Hopper's venture into indie filmaking....

The reviews of horror novels include Peter Straub's 'Floating Dragon', and Stephen King's 'Christine'. Also receiving coverage are Karl Edward Wagner's 'In a Lonely Place' story collection (very hard to find, and very expensive, nowadays) and Michael Shea's 'Nift the Lean'. There's also coverage of sf novels featuring women as their main protagonists.

 Marilyn Chambers, and her new R-rated action film, garner attention....

 ....and there is a spotlight on the new Playboy Channel.

Snicker if you must at the idea of 80s people finding titillation in video of young nubiles in 'aerobics' gear, but remember, this was a year or two before the VHS - mediated delivery of porn became commonplace, and eons before anyone ever imagined that personal computers, with the aid of a descendent of ARPNET, would one day channel bountiful smut to everyone's home....

I've posted the Ranxerox comic below. Its garish coloration and 'street sleaze' approach to storytelling were very much in line with Eurocomic sensibilities in the early 80s. I'll post the succeeding installments here at the PorPor blog in the coming months.