Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Guardian

Book Review: 'Guardian' by Thomas F. Monteleone

2 / 5 Stars

‘Guardian’ was first published in hardcover by Doubleday in September, 1980; this Fawcett Popular Library paperback (190 pp) was published in October, 1981 and features cover artwork by Paul Alexander.

The novel is set in Earth’s far future, thousands of years after Armageddon destroyed civilization. In the more remote and wilder places of the world, there are vast deserts where the rusting hulks of war machines litter hundreds of square miles, evidence that the Ancients unleashed a lasting and terrible destruction upon themselves. But Mankind has arisen once again, and the world is at a late 19th century level of technology, although some machines of the Ancients are still intact, the objects of wonder and veneration.

Varian Hamer is a young sailor and soldier of fortune who finds himself seeking greater purpose in his life than simply traveling from one port to another. One day, while waiting for his ship, The Courtesan, to set sail from the quays of the city of Mentor, Hamer observes an old man in a monk’s robe purposefully moving about the dock. 

Hamer is intrigued when the old man, named Kartaphilos, approaches him with a request: search the world’s wastelands for the location of the massive citadel housing the Guardian, a super-computer that retains all the knowledge and technology of the Ancients. For the man who finds the Guardian, and unlocks its secrets, will be positioned to transform the world and all its inhabitants.

At first skeptical, Hamer finds himself convinced when Kartaphilos shows him technology far advanced from any in existence in the known world. Accompanied by the stunning Tessa, the aged but experienced world traveler Stoor, and the mute but talented Raim, Hamer embarks on a quest to find the Guardian.

When the team finally does locate the impressive Citadel and the Guardian within its halls, they discover that far from being an inert, passive instrument awaiting its rebirth at the hands of the descendents of its builders, Guardian is very much concerned with its own plans for the future of the human race………

‘Guardian’ is one of Thomas F. Monteleone’s earlier novels and is comparatively weaker than his later works. The sf and adventure elements of the novel drive the narrative for the first half of the book, but after the encounter with the Guardian, which takes over at mid-point, the remaining chapters are really just a backdrop, against which the authors places overly labored expositions about Man’s Fate in the Universe, and what is required for an otherwise all-knowing, omnipotent AI to understand what it means to Be Human.

I can’t say that ‘Guardian’ is a must-have, but readers looking for a quick, but not overly innovative read that revolves around some of the more common tropes of sf may find the book worthwhile. If you do, you may want to try its sequel, ‘Ozymandias’ (1983).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: Trekmaster

Book Review: 'Trekmaster' by James B. Johnson

3 / 5 Stars

‘Trekmaster’ (397 pp) was published by DAW Books (DAW book No. 719)  in September, 1987. The cover artwork is by Michael Whelan.

After conflict and chaos caused the Federation to sever contact with its far-flung colony worlds for generations, the advent of political and economic stability has allowed the Federation to reach out to its long-lost constituents and welcome them back into the fold.

On the planet of Bear Ridge, its colonists, of hardy North American stock, have negotiated the long period of isolation by exhibiting a particularly tough strain of self-reliance. Although technology on Bear Ridge has reverted to a 19th century level, its King, Thomas Jefferson Shepherd, has succeeded in uniting its historically fractious duchies and principalities and petty kingdoms into one nation. Shepherd's goal: convince the Federation that Bear Ridge is worth admittance.

As the novel opens, a Federation sociologist named Sharon Gold has been stationed on Bear Ridge, there to observe Shepherd's leadership, and to recommend whether Bear Ridge should be granted admission to the Federation and all its technological know-how. 

T. J. Shepherd is confident he can charm Sharon Gold into granting his planet admission. For not only is he one of strongest, most experienced, and most ruthless warriors on Bear Ridge, but beneath his bull-headed personality, he is calculating and careful.

But Shepherd has carefully concealed a number of the more troubling issues affecting Bear Ridge from the attention of Sharon Gold. And unfortunately for Shepherd, his efforts to manage these issues, while convincing Sharon Gold of his planet's worthiness for Federation admission, are going to lead to violence............and the end of his own kingship......

'Trekmaster' is primarily an adventure novel, although it does showcase the political philosophies of its author, being an argument for the necessity of an autocratic ruler (rather than a participatory democracy) when times call for quick and effective decisions on life-and-death matters. 

Author James B. Johnson has quite a bit of fun mocking liberals, and their willingness to cloak actions made for their own interests with fawning rhetoric about 'representing the people'.

But Johnson also applies a note of ambivalence, even satire, to the attitudes of T. J. Shepherd and his close friend and confidante (who is tellingly named 'Summer Camp'). Shepherd is not only impatient with political maneuvers and protocols, but he is unwilling to acknowledge his own mistakes. These flaws tend to result in one avoidable complication after another, hampering his efforts to show the populace of Bear Ridge that he, and he alone, knows what is best for them.

'Trekmaster' starts off well, but its middle section tends to drag, as the ongoing political and familial intrigues grow more complicated and leech momentum from the narrative. Things don't really pick up until the novel's final 40 pages, when external and internal conflicts come to a head and can only be resolved with bloodshed.

Summing up, if you have the patience for a lengthy novel that is primarily character-driven, with a circumscribed landscape upon which various dramas and intrigue play out, then you may find 'Trekmaster' rewarding. 

It's conservative-embracing political philosophy certainly is a rarity among sf literature, and that also may make this novel worth investigating.

Monday, January 26, 2015

An East Wind Coming-advertisement

An East Wind Coming
advertisement for the novel by Arthur Byron Cover
published by Berkley Books, November, 1979
cover art by Boris Vallejo
Heavy Metal magazine, February, 1980

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Appointment by Angus McKie

The Appointment 
by Angus McKie
from Comic Tales, Tyneside Free Press (UK), 1988

'Comic Tales' is a UK trade paperback (52 pp; 1988) that compiles a number of Angus McKie's comics. I recognize some of the entries as comics that McKie published in Heavy Metal in the early 80s, but others I have never seen before (the book's contents / indica pages provide no information on the origin of the material). 

The contents are: 'Wurtham View', 'Tales of the Zen Masters', 'Tales of the Sufi Masters', 'The King and I', 'The Appointment','Superhero', 'Spirit of 67', 'Legend of the Magic Tone- Box', and 'Power to the People'.

Below is 'The Appointment', which mingles a well-known legend / fable with some great artwork and coloring from McKie.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


by Patrick Woodroffe

Patrick Woodroffe passed away last May, at the age of 73. During the 70s and 80s, Woodroffe was a familiar figure to sf fans, as his distinctive artwork was used on the covers of many Pan Books paperbacks in the UK, as well as for a number of publishers in the US.

Back in the late 70s, there were few trade paperback or hardbound books devoted to SF or fantasy art on the store shelves, a situation quite different from things nowadays, where the SF section of Barnes and Noble has a healthy selection of these kinds of books.

So ‘Mythopoeikon’, with its arresting blue-green cover, certainly stood out on the shelves when I saw it at my local Waldenbooks in 1978.

'Mythopoeikon' (155 pp., Paper Tiger, 1976) showcased Woodroffe's commercial art for book covers and album covers, and also his studio artworks and mixed-media pieces. 

Woodroffe, who was self-taught, was not as adept at drawing human figures as, say, Boris Vallejo, nor as adept at drawing spacecraft or other hi-tech subjects as Chris Foss or Angus McKie. But in terms of coming up with imaginative and eye-catching designs and compositions, he was quite skilled and innovative; witness his distinctive image of floating smiles for the cover of the George R. R. Martin book ‘A Song for Lya’.

Woodroffe used a variety of media to produce the works presented in Mythopoeikon, including oil, gouache, crayon, and something he called ‘marbling’. I’m sure that considerable time and effort went into creating such intricate designs, particularly in the era before Photoshop made it much more feasible for artists to incorporate these features as digital effects.

'Mythopoeikon', along with a number of other books of his artwork issued over the past few years, can be obtained for reasonable prices from your usual online vendors.

Don't be surprised if you find yourself moved to purchase an sf or fantasy or horror novel because its Woodroffe cover is eye-catching and intriguing - it's a measure of how skilled he was as an illustrator of this genre.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Patterns of Chaos

Book Review: 'Patterns of Chaos' by Colin Kapp

Award Books paperback, 1973

4 / 5 Stars

‘Patterns of Chaos’ first appeared as a serial in Worlds of If magazine in 1972. This Ace Books paperback (277) was published in May,1978, and features a cover illustration by Paul Alexander. 

[A quasi-sequel, The Chaos Weapon, was released in 1977 by Del Rey Books.]

As the novel opens, a young man named Bron awakens from a coma to discover that Onaris, the planet on which he is residing, is under attack by the rapacious fleet of the Destroyers. As phaser bolts rain down on the city, loosed by Destroyer cruisers circling in orbit, a confused and bewildered Bron discovers that he has 'voices' in his head- voices that originate from miniaturized transmitters surgically implanted in his brain.

The voices emanate from a distant team of three monitors of the Special Assignments Group of the Federation, three monitors who see everything Bron sees, and hear everything he hears. The monitors are able to carry out sub-vocal conversations with Bron; from these exchanges, Bron gradually discovers that he is the most highly trained secret agent in the Federation’s Stellar Commando unit. His mission: pose as Ander Haltern, a philosopher and theoretician of marked genius, and the leader of a religious cult on Onaris.

For reasons that are unknown, the Destroyers seek Ander Haltern. Posing as Haltern, Bron succeeds in being taken prisoner, and is held aboard the Destroyer flagship. There he learns the purpose of his Federation mission: discover the location of the Destroyer’s home base, so the Federation fleet can mount a devastating attack, and remove the menace of the Destroyers once and for all.

However, while aboard the Destroyer flagship, Bron joins its crew in witnessing a catastrophic event: a ‘hellburner’ nuclear missile strikes Onaris, and incinerates the entire surface of the planet....... and its population of 200 million. Initially, Bron accuses the Destroyers of the atrocity. But when Cana, leader of the Destroyers, invites Bron to analyze the missile’s trajectory, Bron comes to a startling conclusion. The hellburner didn’t originate from any Destroyer ship…..but was launched from the distant Andromeda galaxy, 700 million years ago.

Using his genius at understanding nonlinear dynamics – his ability to discern, and predict,  ‘the patterns of chaos’ – Bron shoulders the burden of confronting an attack from a distant, alien enemy – one armed with weapons far beyond the technology of the Federation…..

For a novel written at the height of the New Wave, ‘Patterns’ is surprisingly well-written and well-plotted, reflecting author Kapp’s preference for writing hard sf, although in this case with a proper leavening of styles derived from the New Wave. In practical terms this means that the narrative, while at heart a straightforward space opera, includes segments in which the hero undergoes psychic / paranormal phenomena which are related in a more ornate prose style.

As well, the author routinely employs adjectives and adverbs drawn both from the chemistry literature, and the more obscure sections of a thesaurus. Be prepared to encounter ‘anserine’ (goose-like), ‘eutectic’ (melting point of a substance), ‘thixotropic’ (fluids that thin when stirred), and ‘sonorous’ (producing sound), among others.

Having a protagonist with schizophrenia (albeit a unique type of schizophrenia) is the height of New Wave storytelling fashion, but I quickly grew tired of this 
plot device. These conversations, indicated in italic font, come so frequently throughout 'Patterns', and are so lengthy, that they quickly become an annoyance and a distraction to the narrative. 

Overall, however, ‘Patterns of Chaos’ is a consistently interesting and imaginative space opera, with an offbeat ending that ties things together without being contrived. 

When compared with the bloated, over-written space operas that dominate the store shelves nowadays (and the novels of Alistair Reynolds come readily to mind here) it’s a deserving read, and a book well worth searching out.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Heavy Metal magazine January 1985

'Heavy Metal' magazine January 1985

January, 1985, and on MTV, you can watch the latest video from Hall and Oates: Method of Modern Love'. Like so many of their videos, it's super-cheesy, but at the same time, a great rock song.

In the latest issue of Heavy Metal magazine, which features a front cover by Liberatore, there is not much worth noting in the 'Dossier' section, save for the book review page, titled 'Cystal Balls', which critiques two great 80s sf novels. 

Mike McQuay's Jitterbug (my review here) is hailed as  "...a scream - very hip, and deadly on-target about office politics and geopolitical behavior."

Sadly, the reviewer has much less praise for Harry Harrison's West of Eden, calling it a "hatchet-job", and "......Dino the Dinosaur Battles Tarzan the Apeman for the Fate of the Earth, a 481-page hardbacked sleeping pill...."

As far as the comics go, this issue of HM has new installments of "The Walls Of Samaris" by François Schuiten, "Tex Arcana" by John Findley, "The Hunting Party" by Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal, plus new material such as "Trance-End" by Lindahn and Lindahn, "Marlowskitz: Detective: Rock" by Riccardo Buroni and Ugo Bertotti, and the opening segment of a new El Borbah story, "El Borbah: Bone Voyage", by Charles Burns. All in all, a decent issue.

Here is that opening installment of 'El Borbah: Bone Voyage':

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Den II: Muvovum

Den II: Muvovum
by Richard Corben

'Den II: Muvovum' was one of the longest-running serials in Heavy Metal magazine, running in 13 parts from September, 1981 all the way to March, 1983. While these installments all were very short in length, each of them delivered the D-cup imagery, T & A action, and sly humor that made the HM readership fond fans of Corben's work.

This trade paperback from Catalan Communications was printed in 1984, and compiles the entire 13-part series. It's a quality trade paperback, with 'slick' paper and very good color separations that show off Corben's unique color printing process - all the more impressive when you consider this was the early 80s, well before PC-based coloring was a mainstay of the industry.

It's not necessary to have read the first installment of 'Den' ('Den: Neverwhere') in order to understand the comparatively simple plot of 'Den II'. Without disclosing any spoilers, Den joins his friends in Zegium for a trip to the neighboring territory of Muvovum, there to search for the powerful Stones of Nar, the magic of which can transport Den and his increasingly truculent girlfriend Kath back to Earth.

No sooner have Den and Kath been transported to Earth, when trouble arrives in Zegium, in the form of the Queen, who seeks the Stones for her own use.

Events get even more dire when Den's friend Tarn goes astray in the Dramite country of Muvovum. Be prepared for some uniquely gruesome monster action......

It's up to Den to return to Neverwhere and set things aright....but he's not going to have it easy.

The softcore porn sequences that may have seemed racy back in the early 80s will probably be observed by contemporary readers with eye-rolling amusement; however, no matter how young and hip you are, Corben's artwork should impress.

'Den II' is an entertaining comic, whether you're reading it for nostalgia value, as an accompaniment to getting stoned, or both. I was fortunate to get this reasonably good-condition copy of 'Den II' for $5. Unfortunately, copies of this trade paperback compilation in good condition go for exorbitant prices.........indeed, this is true for many of the compilations of Corben's work Catalan issued in the 80s. 

Maybe Dark Horse / New Comic Company, or UK publisher Titan Books, will reprint some of this work in new, affordable compilations.....?!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: The Year's Best Fantasy Stories: 2

Book Review: 'The Year's Best Fantasy Stories: 2' edited by Lin Carter 

4 / 5 Stars

‘The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 2’ (192 pp) was published by DAW Books (No. 205) in August, 1986, and features cover art by George Barr.

I got my copy way back in August, 1976, when I saw it on the shelves among the other sf paperbacks at Gordon’s Cigar Store. At the time, I found it to be one of the better DAW anthologies. Upon rereading it nearly 40 years later, how does ‘Year’s Best Fantasy 2’ hold up ?

One thing that has become quite clear over the intervening years is that in 1976, as far as publishers were concerned, the category of fantasy was very much a sub-genre of sf. Most mass market paperbacks that dealt with fantasy were either the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or ancillary titles associated with that work. Aside from the LOTR, there might be some barbarian adventure titles on the shelving, but that was pretty much it. The idea that one day, much of the shelf space at major book retailers would be devoted to fantasy, would have seemed …..well……. fantastical.

The stories in ‘Year’s Best Fantasy 2’ all were first published in 1975, and at that time, print outlets for such stories were few. Most of the stories appeared in digest magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, small press magazines like Anduril, or anthologies from specialized publishers like Arkham House.

Most of the stories in this anthology are as much horror stories as they are fantasy, a reflection of the fact that in 1975, the genre was still centered on the tropes inherited from the pulp era.

In his Introduction, editor Lin Carter commiserates over the failure of T
he Silmarillion, the fabled Tolkein epic perpetually In Preparation, to be released in 1975 (the book came out in 1977 and turned out to be remarkably dull). 

Carter is encouraged by the bestseller status of Richard Adam’s 1975 fantasy novel Shardik (which also was a colossal bore).

The stories:

The Demoness, by Tanith Lee: self-consciously overwritten, but entertaining, tale of a female vampire.

The Night of the Unicorn, by Thomas Burnett Swann: an allegory set in Mexico’s Acapulco region.

Cry Wolf, by Pat McIntosh: Thula the warrior maiden meets a shadowy pair of adventurers. A fast- moving, and effective, sword-and-sorcery tale.

Under the Thumbs of the Gods, by Fritz Leiber: unremarkable Fafhrd and Mouser story; our heroes mourn lost loves.

The Guardian of the Vault, by Paul Spencer: a warrior is assigned a very special guard duty. One of the better entries in the anthology.

The Lamp from Atlantis, by L. Sprague de Camp: mild horror story about a fabled talisman. Surprisingly well-written, for a piece of de Camp short fiction.

Xiurhn, by Gary Myers: Lovecraft / Clark Ashton Smith homage involving an outcast mage who seeks vengeance on his tribe. Ponderous prose.

The City in the Jewel, by Lin Carter: as the editor of the ‘Year’s Best Fantasy’ series, Carter had no real scruples about promoting his own work. Sometimes his work was awful. But this ‘Thongor’ story, although employing a self-consciously ‘pulp’ –style prose, is reasonably entertaining.

In ‘Ygiroth, by Walter C. DeBill, Jr: Another Lovecraft-inspired tale about dark doings in ancient lands. Competent, if not all that memorable.

The Scroll of Morloc, by Clark Ashton Smith: this story was actually written by Lin Carter, one of a number of putative Smith tales Carter fabricated from plot scraps and titles from Smith’s posthumous belongings. The value of churning out a Smith pastiche is questionable; readers should prepare to encounter a remarkably constipated vocabulary, including words such as ‘jungle-girt’, ‘zenithal’ (pertaining to the zenith of astronomical bodies), ‘antehuman’, ‘thaumaturgies’, ‘shamanry’, ‘desuetude’ (to fall into disuse), and ‘protoanthropophagi’, among others.

Payment in Kind, by C. A. Cador: the corrupt citizens of a desert city receive their comeuppance. Another of the better entries in the anthology.

Milord Sir Smiht, the English Wizard: a ‘Dr. Eszterhazy’ story about an eccentric mage operating in Davidson’s proto-Steampunk version of late 18th century Central Europe. It relies on humor; unremarkable.

Summing up, ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 2’ is one of the more rewarding volumes in the series. Well worth picking up.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Occupied Spaces

'Occupied Spaces'
by Brad Johannsen
Harmony Books, 1977

If, during the late 70s, you opened a copy of the Publishers Central Bureau mail order catalog of remaindered and overstocked books..... were certain to see listed one Occupied Spaces, a book of psychedelic artwork by Brad Johannsen.

Occupied Spaces (48 pp) was published by Harmony Books, a sub-imprint of Crown Books, who were the kingpin of remainder publishing and marketing in the 70s. They remain a force in retail bookselling even today, providing the 'bargain books' titles you see on the tables at the front of every Barnes and Noble.

Spaces contains some striking, intricate artwork, interspersed with excerpts of text and poems from sources as diverse as Arthur Rimbaud, science writer Louis Thomas, 'The Practice of Zen', and Johannsen himself.

Needless to say, Spaces belonged to that unique category of '70s stoner' art that Heavy Metal was soon to represent in such mannered glory......

Whether you are motivated by nostalgia, or the desire for appropriate visual accompaniment to getting stoned, Spaces is worth investigating. Copies in good condition can be had from your usual online retailers for reasonable prices.

Johannsen provided cover artwork for a number of books and record albums during the 70s, including High Tide, an illustrated compendium of stories and poems from Herman Hesse and Lao Tzu (.......very 70s.......). Unfortunately, used copies of High Tide are very pricey (starting at $95).

Interestingly, one of the reviewers of High Tide at relates an anecdote about meeting Johannsen:

I happened to meet Brad Johannsen in a conference room floating about the New York Public Library, where he opened a drawing book, borrowed some colored pencils from the art department, and instantly created a cover for a small booklet ... for cash (Brad was broke). Brad didn't own a single copy of his own books, and he had an interview coming up... so we agreed to meet again and I gave him my copy of his second book, Occupied Spaces.

Unfortunately, online searches for additional information about Brad Johannsen turn up little else. He was present when someone met Steve Wonder......and that's about all I could find.