Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Ossian's Ride

Book Review: 'Ossian's Ride' by Fred Hoyle

3 / 5 Stars

‘Ossian’s Ride’ first was published in 1959; this Berkley Medallion paperback (153 pp) was published in January 1961. The cover art is by Richard Powers.

The novel is set in the near future, that is, 1970. Ireland is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, thanks to the efforts of a cryptic entity called the Industrial Corporation of Eire, or ICE.

Founded in 1958, as a humble enterprise to commercialize chemicals extracted from peat, the ICE has overseen the advent of fission power and other advanced technologies within the boundaries of Ireland – but not does not share its knowledge and expertise with the rest of a bewildered world. Indeed, County Kerry, where the ICE is located, is closed to all visitors save those scientists from around the globe who elect to come and work for the agency.

The British government has viewed Ireland’s rise to power with mingled envy and alarm. Unfortunately, all efforts by the British to infiltrate the ICE and learn its secrets have been dismal failures, as the ICE is not only adept at counterespionage, but takes a mocking tone as it dismantles one British spy ring after another.

As the novel opens a young mathematician and recent Cambridge graduate named Thomas Sherwood is recruited by British Intelligence to discover the secret within Ireland. The hope is that Sherwood can credibly pose as a scientist with a legitimate interest in working for the ICE. Sherwood is sent to Dublin, there to contact one of the last remnants of the UK’s spy ring. From Dublin, his mission is to enter County Kerry, learn the ICE’s secrets of fission power, and bring them back to London……..

The cover blurbs for ‘Ossian’s Ride’ state that it’s a novel in the tradition of John Buchan’s ‘The 39 Steps’, and this certainly is true. Much of the plot in ‘Ossian’ deals with Sherwood’s travels amidst the bucolic countryside of Ireland, its quaint villages and cities, in the course of evading pursuit or seeking his next contact. While occasional episodes of violence give the narrative sufficient momentum, this is by no means a slam-bang adventure novel with explosions and gadgets.

‘Ossian’ is written with the clean, careful prose style that marks the sf authored by Fred Hoyle. I found it an easy read. But its major weakness is the ending; while I won’t disclose any spoilers, I will say that I found it unconvincing, as well as imparting a contrived character to many of the plot developments preceding it.

Summing up, if you’re looking for a well-crafted short sf novel, then ‘Ossian’s Ride’ is worth picking up. But be mindful that its Big Revelation is purely in keeping with the attitudes of sf from the late 50s.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cheap Trick: Dream Police

Cheap Trick: 'Dream Police'
released September 21, 1979

I remember when this album was released in September of had a very cool cover (note Rick Neilsen is toting a chain saw, with a dismembered female mannequin lying nearby). 

The interior gatefold and back cover also were pretty elaborate.

I didn't know it at the time, but the band made a music video to promote the album........this was two years before MTV even existed, so it was rather unusual for 1979.

Although the title track and the followup single 'Voices' are the best known cuts, there are a couple of other tracks worth listening too on the album. These are garage rock songs, genuine 70s stuff. 

The signature song in the album probably is the 9 minute 'Gonna Raise Hell' overambitious song, and arguably an outstanding example of 70s Excess (there is an segment where Robin Zander tries to screech and wail like Robert Plant........!) but also a song possessed of a kind of crazed energy and exuberance that is very rare in today's over-produced guitar rock........

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Review: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

Book Review: 'Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu' by L. Neil Smith
0 / 5 Stars

'Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu' (182 pp) was published by Ballantine Books in July, 1983. The cover artwork is by William Schmidt.

Lester Neil Smith (b. 1946) wrote three Lando Calrissian adventures for Ballantine; 'Mindharp' is the first of the trilogy, the other two being 'Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon' (1983) and 'Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka' (1983).

[According to PorPor Blog reader Edo Bosnar, 'Mindharp' is set prior to the film Star Wars IV: A New Hope, as Lando is in possession of the MiIlenium Falcon and using it to travel around various star systems in search of gambling venues, and easy money.]

When Lando hears rumors of The Treasure of Rafa - a priceless artifact located (logically enough) in the Rafa system, he decides to investigate. Unfortunately for our hero, he falls afoul of two reprobates on Rafa IV: Duttes Mir and Rokur Gepta. They make Lando an offer he can't refuse......... travel to Rafa V and retrieve the artifact: the Mindharp of Sharu.

The Mindharp is a musical instrument left behind by the Sharu, a humanoid race of considerable technological advancement, who mysteriously vanished thousands of years ago. If Lando can find it and bring it back to Duttes Mir and Rokur Gepta, he will be a wealthy man - or so they tell him.

He'll also be released from prison.

Lando has no choice but to agree to find the Mindharp. Accompanied by an eccentric old man named Moh, and a droid with the cutesy name of Vuffi Ra, Lando makes for Raffa V. 

But finding the Harp won't be easy: lurking at Raffa V are hostile tribesmen, crystal trees that leech away one's mind, and the knowledge that Duttes Mir and Rokur Gepta are the kind of men who rarely keep their bargains...........

While I always have reduced expectations when reading a Franchise novel, 'Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu' was a chore to finish. I kept plugging away, chapter after chapter, hoping that at some point the story would get better. But it never did.

L. Neil Smith wrote a number of sf novels during the 80s, which I have not read. Whether those novels are well-written or not is unclear. But with 'Mindharp', he was simply writing to pay the bills. His prose style throughout 'Mindharp' displays a deliberately campy style that gives the entire endeavor a hokey, facetious attitude.

Here's a sample of the book's dialogue:

Lando slammed a palm on the armrest of his chair: "Well, I'll be double-dyed, hornswoggled, and trussed up like a holiday fowl ! We were set up, Vuffi Ra ! Gepta must have had his convict spies watching the port for months - possibly years - to find a sucker with the right qualifications: gambler, spaceship-captain, with an unenameled droid and a weak mind. That's why neither a creepy old Tund magician nor that ugly neckless governor of his could play this hand themselves: they don't fit the Toka legend !"

The entire book is filled with this's painful to read. 

Even die-hard Star Wars fans are urged to pass on this dud !

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Battle for the Planet of the Apes Part IV

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Part IV of VII
by Doug Moench (script) and Sonny Trinidad, Yong Montano, and Dino Castrillo (art) 
Planet of the Apes (Marvel / Curtis) No. 25, October 1976

Monday, September 19, 2016

Battle for the Planet of the Apes Part III

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Parts III and IV of VII
by Doug Moench (script) and Sonny Trinidad, Yong Montano, and Dino Castrillo (art) 
Planet of the Apes (Marvel / Curtis) No. 25, October 1976

The entirety of this issue of the magazine was devoted to continuing the 'Battle' adaption....a team of three artists was recruited to handle the art chores.

Both Yong Montano and Dino Castrillo were Filipino artists, who did a variety of work for Marvel in the mid-70s.

I have posted Part III below; Part IV will be posted next.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Nebula Award Stories Number Two

Book Review: Nebula Award Stories Number Two
edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison

3 / 5 Stars

‘Nebula Award Stories Number 2’ (244 pp) by published by Pocket Books in September 1968. The cover artwork is by Jack Gaughan.

This anthology contains novelettes and short stories published in 1966, all of which either were selected for Nebula Awards, or placed on the 'Roll of Honor'. Thus, this collection is as good an example of the New Wave movement in its ascendancy as any of the era, including Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology from 1967.

In a smug Afterword titled ‘The Year in SF’, editors Aldiss and Harrison have a great deal of fun mocking the majority of entries in the sf magazines of 1966……..pulp-minded stories wedded to outdated notions of sf, stories that (in one of their more bizarre phrases) ‘annihilate thinking’....?! 

The digests that publish these stories are ‘living on intellectually unearned income, cannibalizing their past’.

In the minds of Aldiss and Harrison, it is the job of the SFWA to identify and promote genre works that have Literary Merit. In so doing, the SFWA will aid people in ‘….better understanding …..the dynamically changing world about them.’

Needless to say, my goal here at the PorPor Books Blog is to examine New Wave era works with a more critical eye than they received when first they appeared in those giddy days of the mid-60s. Accordingly, here are my capsule reviews of the entries in ‘Nebula Award Stories Number Two’.............

The Secret Place, by Richard McKenna: the Nebula Award 1966 winner for Best Short Story from the by-then deceased author of The Sand Pebbles. The plot deals with an Army officer searching for uranium deposits in an Oregon desert during the waning years of the Second World War. A troubled young woman from a nearby village may provide aid.

It’s easy to see why Aldiss and Harrison and the SFWA selected this story for receipt of a Nebula Award. Its sf content is muted, even absent; with its emphasis on the emotional and psychological states of the characters, it could easily have been printed in any number of general fiction magazines still on the shelves in 1966, such as The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, or The New Yorker.

But when read 50 years later, it’s the type of story that elicits – at best – a shrug. Bob Shaw's story (below) certainly was more worthy of the Nebula Award than 'The Secret Place'.

Light of Other Days, by Bob Shaw: this has since become a classic of 60s sf. It does a good job of combining the human element – in this case, marital conflicts – with an sf concept, in this case, a special kind of window that replays events from the past.

Who Needs Insurance ? by Robin S. Scott: Pete ‘Ace’ Albers, crewman and pilot aboard WW2 and Viet Nam war planes and choppers, is blessed with what seem to be unusually good luck………the kind of luck that raises suspicions……….. Combining a fast-moving, humorous prose style with sf elements, this story holds up very well when read 50 years later.

Among the Hairy Earthmen, by R. A. Lafferty: unconvincing fable about the Gods of Greek Mythology influencing human affairs.

The Last Castle, by Jack Vance: another classic of 60s sf. A novelette about Earth in the far-future, where a society of lotus-eating aristocrats faces extinction at the hands of rebellious alien laborers. Needless to say, this novelette reads as well now as it did 50 years ago.

Day Million, by Frederik Pohl: in the far future, sex and romance will have very different - even shocking - meanings then they do today. For this short story, Pohl has his first-person narrator relate the story in a 60s 'hip' vernacular: Cripes man, take my word for it. The result is painfully awkward and unconvincing.

When I Was Miss Dow, by Sonya Dorman: an alien race that can assume any form – and any gender – they deem convenient assigns one of their number to befriend a visiting Terran. A contemporary critic would undoubtedly praise this tale for its use of sf to explore Gender Roles and the Nature of Human Emotions. Be that as it may, this story is nothing special.

Call Him Lord, by Gordon R. Dickson: the arrogant prince of an intergalactic empire must make a social call to the archaic planet Earth. Another of the better stories in the anthology.

In the Imagicon, by George Henry Smith: Dandor relies on his virtual reality console, the Imagicon, to achieve the ultimate in escapism. This entertaining short-short story features satiric humor and, in its denouement, a clever twist.

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, by Philip K. Dick: the classic Dick story, and the basis for the 1990 film Total Recall. Howevermuch Dick has been praised for his imaginative approach to sf, this story demonstrates that as a prose stylist, he was not much better than the pulp writers that editors Aldiss and Harrison mock in their Afterward. There is awkward syntax.... wooden dialogue........ and characters who don’t speak, but Grate, in this tale………..

Man in His Time, by Brian Aldiss: editor Harrison, in the Introduction to this story, assures the reader that his fellow editor Aldiss didn’t know that this story was being selected for the anthology, thus – presumably – deterring accusations of editorial favoritism.

The story starts with an astronaut, returned from a Mars journey, talking to the thin air, and exhibiting other eccentricities. His wife and psychiatrist are trying to cope. After several pages go by, Aldiss reveals that the astronaut has been infected, so to speak, with the ability to perceive events 3.3 minutes in advance of everyone else on Earth.

It's an interesting concept, but unfortunately, Aldiss neglects to adequately frame the physics of this phenomenon, preferring instead to focus on the emotional and psychological interactions of the astronaut and his wife. This gives the story an obtuse quality. Although Harrison declares that this tale says ‘something vital ……about the human condition’, in my opinion, it’s a real Dud.

Summing up, ‘Nebula Award Stories Number 2’ has a sufficient quota of rewarding stories to make it worth getting.