Friday, February 27, 2015

The Hacker Files issue 1

The Hacker Files
by Lewis Shiner (story) and Tom Sutton (art)
issue 1
DC Comics, August 1992

Science fiction / speculative fiction author Lewis Shiner wrote a number of comic book series for DC in the 1990s, starting with 'Time Masters' in 1990, followed by 'The Hacker Files' in 1992, and 'Vermillion' in 1996.

1992 was of course the apex year for the Early 90s Comics Boom, and DC and Marvel were flinging out new titles every month. But this was also a time when cyberpunk, hackers, and the hacking subculture were emerging as pop culture phenomena. So it wasn't too surprising when DC's management decided to act on Shiner's suggestions and release a comic book about ....well......... a hacker.

As Shiner notes in his introductory essay to the series (appearing in lieu of the Letters Column for issue 1) with 'Files' he is intent on a humanistic approach - making the hacker, rather than the computers, the focus of the story. Jack Marshall, the hacker in 'Files', is depicted as a scruffy, antisocial maverick who has little patience with Authority, but Nonetheless Has His own Principles to Which He Stays True. 

This might have been too idealized a portrait, but then again, Shiner was attempting something rather offbeat (even if the book was set in the DC Universe) by having a social outcast as hero.

In his introductory essay, Shiner indicates that he and DC editor Bob Wayne want their Hacker aesthetic to be readily distinguishable from DC's more conventional, superhero-oriented titles (this was something of a big departure from the company's 'normal' approach to comic book design at the time.....DC's more 'adult' imprint, Vertigo, wouldn't be launched for another year yet). 

However, the big weakness of 'The Hacker Files' is the artwork by Tom Sutton. Sutton's pencils are too loose and sketchy to be really effective, particularly for a book that can't rely on the types of frenetic action scenes that typify superhero comics. 

Sutton couldn't draw human faces very well, a major drawback for a book that revolved around depicting face-to-face conversations and interactions. 'Files' is further hampered by use of a murky color scheme from Lovern Kindzierski / Digital Chameleon. 

In future issues of 'The Hacker Files', Sutton's artwork would deteriorate even further............

But......... enough of the Aesthetic Arguments. Below I've posted the first issue of 'The Hacker Files', which features the first installment of the 'Soft War' four-issue story arc. 

(I'll  be posting the three following issues of 'Soft War' here at the PorPor Books Blog)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sandkings graphic novel

The graphic novel
Adapted by Doug Moench (writer) and Pat Broderick (art)
DC Comics, 1987

George R. R. Martin is of course well-known to contemporary readers of sf and fantasy literature. 'Way back in the late 70s he was a rising star in sf, primarily due to his short stories. 

The August, 1979 issue of Omni magazine featured his story 'Sandkings'.

[A television adaptation of the story was later aired in 1995 on the Showtime anthology series The Outer Limits.]

In 1987, DC Comics published the graphic novel adaptation (48 pp), part of its series of sf-based graphic novels.

The main character in 'Sandkings' is a young, wealthy, man-about-town named Simon Kress. Kress is a sadist, who enjoys acquiring carnivorous aliens as pets ('....I feed my shambler a litter of kittens').
In search of a pet that is even more exotic and dangerous than the ones currently in his inventory, Kress acquires Sandkings, small ant-like creatures with considerable intelligence.

Kress sets up a large terrarium in his living room and soon begins to play 'God' to the Sandkings.

Kress invites his social circle to visit his home, to observe the Sandkings; this enhances his reputation among the city's smart set.

Kress embarks on an extensive series of 'bug wars', pitting his Sandkings against a variety of animals, all for increasing monetary stakes.

As the weeks roll past, Kress becomes increasingly obsessed with his unusual pets, an obsession that eventually edges into mania.

But his unhinged state has its consequences....and the Sandkings escape their cage. Kress is forced to confront the unpleasant possibility that his erstwhile pets are no longer his to command.....

I won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that for Simon Kress, things are going to get worse before they get better.....

The original 1981 paperback anthology that contained 'Sandkings' now fetches exorbitant prices, so this graphic novel may be a more affordable way of taking in the story. I can't say that Pat Broderick's artwork is well-suited to the story; its style is to representative of the type of artwork that appeared in 80s superhero titles. But overall, the graphic novel is a faithful adaptation of the story, which in its time was a worthy treatment of the alien / monster theme. if you're a fan of Martin's work, or a fan of 80s sf, then it's worth searching out.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snake Plissken action figure

Snake Plissken action figure
NECA, February 2015

Action figure and action movie fans will both rejoice at this fantastic Snake Plissken retro doll based on the 1981 John Carpenter film Escape from New York ! Featuring the likeness of actor Kurt Russell, this Escape from New York Snake Plissken 8-Inch Retro Clothed Action Figure is poseable, and dressed in fabric clothing similar to the toy lines that helped define the licensed action figure market in the 1970s. Snake wears his iconic camo pants, muscle tee, and assault boots, and comes with a removable jacket, holster belt, and enough weaponry to take down a small army! Blister card packaging with removable protective clamshell.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: Faces in the Flames

Book Review: 'Faces in the Flames' by Peter Tate

0 / 5 Stars

‘Faces in the Flames: Fourth in a Series of Small Wars’ was published in hardcover by Doubleday in April, 1976.

Peter Tate (b. 1940) published a number of short stories and novels in the 60s and 70s, all of them nominally sf. Two of the novels, ‘The Thinking Seat’ (1969) and ‘Moon On an Iron Meadow’ (1974) are part of a loose trilogy – along with ‘Faces’ - featuring the ‘Simeon’ character.

‘Faces in the Flames’ is one of the worst novel’s I’ve ever read. Finishing it was a chore…...I had to ‘whittle’ it down in 10 page increments, over the course of nearly a month, before I finally closed the covers.

The novel is set in the near future – i.e., the late 70s or early 80s – and deals with the political and diplomatic intrigues surrounding the newly established central African nation of Zimbabwe (this is referred to here as a former Portuguese colony, apparently carved out of Mozambique; the ‘real’ Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, came into being in late 1979).

The UN is covertly supporting a ‘liberation’ front in its quest to wrest control of Zimbabwe from the conservative bloc supported by the Vatican (in Tate’s envisioning of the future, vicious religious wars between Catholics and Protestants are waged in third-world nations).

Pope Eugenio, who is Portuguese, sees the crushing of the rebellion in Zimbabwe as his holy mission against the Antichrist; conveniently, it also is a last-ditch effort to preserve some degree of Portuguese hegemony in Africa. To this end, Eugenio is quite happy to have captured rebels burned at the stake in public executions, as a deterrent to recruiting efforts by the rebellion. The rebels, for their part, are happy to respond with atrocities of their own.

As the novel opens, the hero Simeon is in Hampshire County of the UK, grieving over the death of his wife, Tomorrow Julie (trite names are part and parcel of ‘Faces’). Simeon’s history of activism has given him worldwide credibility as an interlocutor in political affairs, and he soon discovers that the agents of the Vatican, and the agents of the rebellion, both are intent on recruiting him to further their cause. 

The agents of the Vatican, led by an operative named Prinz, are the more ruthless and amoral of the competing factions, and they have no qualms about using violent methods to gain their objectives.

As the plot unfolds, Simeon discovers that the loss of his wife is but a prelude to a wrenching series of events that will see him make a decision to side with one faction or the other…. And either choice will endanger his life.

‘Faces in the Flames’ is only superficially sf; most of the plot is a poorly-sketched framework upon which the author hangs page after page of tedious, wooden conversations. 

Compounding Tate’s deficiencies as an author is his writing style, one that that can best be described as ‘stilted’, relying as it does on a relentlessly graceless mélange of slang; empty sentences; clumsy metaphors; and a habit of regularly and awkwardly inserting ALL CAPS words to communicate emphasis to the reader. 

Simeon, and the others among the cast of characters, are so forgettable, that by the time I completed the first third of the novel, I had lost all interest in them.

It remains a mystery to me why Peter Tate somehow managed to publish six sf novels during the interval from 1969 - 1979 ; I recognize that during the New Wave era, many poorly written novels were embraced and endorsed by editors anxious to demonstrate their credentials in promoting ‘speculative fiction’. But even so, someone should have delivered a polite Rejection Letter upon receipt of the manuscript of ‘Faces in the Flames’.

This one is best avoided.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: Siege

Book Review: 'Siege' by Edwin Corley

celebrating Black History Month 2015

 3 / 5 Stars

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to celebrate Black History Month by reading a book - fiction or non-fiction - that illuminates the Black Experience.

For Black History Month 2015, our selection is 'Siege' (349 pp), published by Avon in January, 1970 (the cover artist is uncredited).

The novel is set in the USA, ca. 1969.

'Siege' opens on an intriguing note: in the early morning hours of August 30, the bridges connecting Manhattan with the rest of New York and New Jersey are being blown up. The major tunnels connecting the island with the mainland also are being demolished. As Manhattan wakes up, its stunned citizens will discover that their island is under occupation - by the 'Afro-American Army of Liberation'........... !

After that prologue, the novel goes back in time by several years in order to introduce the cast of characters and their machinations: 

William Gray is a black militant and revolutionary, and a man convinced that only violence will change the minds of whites. His goal is to force whitey - by any means necessary - to provide blacks with their own nation within the boundaries of the USA.

Major General Stanley Shawcross, known throughout the Army by his habit of wearing two grenades on his chest, is one of the most decorated black officers in the Army. But as his tour in Vietnam brings him into contact with aggrieved black soldiers, he is starting to question why blacks should shed their blood in a fight against the yellow man, when in America, blacks are continually treated as second-class citizens.

Raymond Carpenter is a celebrated poet, journalist, and activist. His hatred of whites is deep and abiding, and Carpenter will do whatever is necessary to bring down the power structure, and replace it with one more amenable to blacks.

The Reverend Abner Greenbrier (a stand-in for Martin Luther King, Jr.) is convinced that peaceful protest can bring about an end to racism, and the oppression of the black man. But as the decade of the 60s wanes, he finds his negotiation-based approach to race relations rapidly falling out of favor with blacks who want change - and want it now.

Karen Davis and Laurie Franklin are beautiful, intelligent, liberated white chicks who sympathize with the plight of the black man and the black nation....and neither are averse to getting in on some integrated romantic action, especially when it involves the young black militants who scare their parents and the rest of 'uptight' white America.

As 'Siege' unfolds, these characters will experience tragedy and triumph, and their plan to take over Manhattan island - and force America to reckon with black anger - will come to fruition. But once they have their prize, will they be able to hold it ? 

Because whitey ain't gonna take the invasion of New York City lying down........

I had some misgivings about sitting down with 'Siege', mainly because the other Edwin Corley novel I had read - 1977's 'Sargasso' - was a real dud.

But 'Siege' is much better. The chapters are short and straightforward; the writing is crisp and to the point; the characters are interesting; and the plot does a reasonably good job of keeping the reader's attention.

The main drawbacks to 'Siege' are that too much space is devoted to elaborating the takeover scheme - the seizure of Manhattan doesn't actually take place until page 234. 

'Siege' also suffers to some extent from some rather trite 'Kumbaya' moralizing by the author, who was white. In fairness, this was not unusual for a novel about race relations in the US in the late 60s.

All things considered, however, 'Siege' is an interesting look at how racial tensions, and the rise of the Black Power movement, might have played out in a hypothetical manner. It's a book worth picking up.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Void Indigo issue 2

Void Indigo
by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik
issue 2, March, 1985
Marvel / Epic

The fact that it takes four months for the second issue of Void Indigo to appear suggests (correctly) that this title is in trouble....and Indigo was indeed cancelled after this second issue was released.

It's not too hard to see why Marvel's management decided to pull the plug. Gerber's plotting for the second issue is even more incoherent than what what he provided for the first issue. And Val Mayerik's artwork is even more rushed and makeshift (is the drawing of the girl in the bearskin dress on page 8 an example of truly awful foreshortening.....or does she really have a Giant Head ?!).

But.....the California craziness continues unabated: we have a nude hand-to-hand combat with a naked fire-angel (?!); a doctor gets all the skin on his hand burned off; there is a super-cheesy out-of-the body-segment involving Linette (who, of course, is nude); and the book's final page is a LOL experience......toss in truly bad 80s fashions.......and all of it makes me wish the final four issues had indeed been published in those long-ago days of 1985......