Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: The Apocalypse Brigade

Book Review: 'The Apocalpyse Brigade' by Alfred Coppel

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Apocalypse Brigade’ (342 pp) first was published in hardback in 1983; this paperback version was released by Ace / Charter Books in April 1983.

The novel is set in the ‘near future’, i.e., 1989, at which time all the geopolitical nightmares birthed in the late 70s, such as the Iran Hostage Crisis, successive Oil Embargos, and the rise of Political Islam, have conspired to render the West a collection of ‘timid democracies’ led by particularly inept and spineless politicians…..

In the U.S., the president - a party hack named Vincent Todd Loomis - is paralyzed with indecision in the aftermath of an Islamic revolution that has overthrown the Saudi government, throttled oil production, and (worse yet) led to yet another hostage crisis, as radicals toting AK-47s parade captured U.S. Embassy personnel in Riyadh before the TV cameras, accusing them of crimes against the people.

Calder Smith Davis, wealthy magnate, philanthropist, and the head of the global nonprofit enterprise the New Peace Corps (NPC), offers to secretly negotiate with the radicals in an effort to free the captives. Loomis agrees, calculating that any failed rescue effort will reflect poorly on Davis, while a successful effort will make Loomis a hero and master statesmen.

But what Vincent Todd Loomis doesn’t know is that Calder Smith Davis is no George Soros, seeking to bring corporate benefit to the disenfranchised of the world. Davis is in fact the most dangerous of men……..a megalomaniac with a vision for how the world should be re-made, and the money and connections to make it happen……..

‘The Apocalypse Brigade’ was published in the era before ‘techno-thriller’ became a household word (Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October wouldn’t be published intil 1984). However, in many regards ‘Apocalypse’ qualifies as a proto-techno-thriller, one with some nods to the style of Robert Ludlum.

Alfred Coppel (1921 – 2004) was already a well-published, prolific author at the time ‘Apocalypse’ was released, so it’s not surprising that the novel is reasonably well-written. It adheres to the thriller novel style of the 70s and early 80s by having multiple sub-plots, a large cast of characters, and a main plot that takes so long to unfold that the eponymous Brigade doesn’t go into action until the last 40 pages. Although the denouement has some contrivances, it also doesn’t wrap everything up with a Happily Ever After fade-out, either.

I can’t see any younger readers being all that captivated by ‘The Apocalypse Brigade’, although Baby Boomers who remember the atmosphere of the late 70s, and songs like the Kink’s ‘Catch Me Now I’m Falling’, may find memories revived upon reading ‘Brigade’. As well, the conservative, hard-right political opinions that Coppel advocates for within his novel may – arguably – be just as relevant to our modern age as it was in 1981………..

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hawkmoon: The Jewel in the Skull issue 4

Hawkmoon: The Jewel in the Skull
First Comics, 1986
Issue 4 (November 1986)
art: Rafael Kayanan and Rico Rival, story: Gerry Conway

(Scans of issue one , issue two, and issue three)

The fourth and final issue of this saga........

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Reviw: Stars of Albion

Book Review: 'Stars of Albion' edited by Robert Holdstock and Christopher Priest

4 / 5 Stars

'Stars of Albion' (238 pp) was published in the UK by Pan books in 1979. All of the stories in this anthology were first published in various digests and magazines in the interval 1965 - 1978.

In the Introduction and Afterword, editors Robert Holdstock and Christopher Priest declare that the intention of 'Stars of Albion' is to showcase UK science fiction as its own unique genre. Holdstock attributes the unique character of British sf to a resistance to writing stories of an overly commercial nature; in this regard, British sf writers have an independence that allows them to approach the genre in ways that are arguably more imaginative, and less restricted, than writers in the other countries (..........namely, the USA). 

My capsule summaries of the contents:

Sober Noises of Morning in a Marginal Land (1971) by Brian Aldiss: a prisoner comes to a revelation about his imprisonment. Very much a New Wave piece, this is yet another awkward, obtuse effort by Aldiss to emulate Ballard.

A Place and A Time to Die (1969) by J. G. Ballard: two men contemplate an invading army. Ballard fans will undoubtedly declare that this story says something profound and insightful about the nature of conflict and the human condition, but I found it unimpressive. 

The Giaconda Caper (1976) by Bob Shaw: a sendoff of a private-eye short story. One of the more entertaining entries in the anthology.

The Vitanuls (1967) by John Brunner: an American MD stumbles across an unusual phenomenon when he tours a maternity hospital in India. The 'Population Bomb' atmosphere of this story is effectively conveyed, but I found the denouement to be too contrived to be effective. 

Whores (1978) by Christopher Priest: on leave from a war in which chemical agents are used to induce neuroses in the combatants, a soldier makes a fateful decision to purchase services from one of the Local Girls. One of the best stories in the anthology. 

Warlord of Earth (1978) by David Garnett: what happens when a Conan the Barbarian - type character finds himself teleported to California at the height of the Hippy Era ? An effective satire, one with spot-on humor.

The Time Beyond Age (1976) by Robert Holdstock: two androids are subjected to a morally questionable experiment to see how Homo sapiens fares when reared in conditions free of disease and environmental stressors. While the concept is interesting, too much of the story is devoted to exploring the states of emotional and psychological angst afflicting a lead investigator. 

Dormant Soul (1969) by Josephine Saxton: a woman mired in depression discovers that aliens exist - and they present themselves as angels. More of a fable about modern life and its discontents, than a sf tale. 

The Radius Riders (1962) by Barrington J. Bayley: hard sf tale of a ship's journey through the center of the earth. Imaginative and well-written, with a note of Jule Verne-style Steampunk.

Traveller's Rest (1965) by David I. Masson: a soldier on leave from the battlefield journeys south to lands untouched by the war; as he does so, he crosses latitudes not just of distance, but of time. A classic sf tale. 

To the Pump Room with Jane (1975) by Ian Watson: 'Soylent Green' meets Jane Austen. This story is imaginative, and prefigures Steampunk in some interesting ways, but is in the end undermined by an unconvincing denouement.

Weihnachtsabend (1972) by Keith Roberts: a novelette set in an England where Hitler Won. A bureaucrat in the English government is invited to a Christmas Eve celebration hosted by Nazi functionaries, where he learns of disturbing practices - some inspired by pagan rituals - among the part elites. This story borrows to some degree from the classic 1952 novel 'The Sound of His Horn', by Saban. While atmospheric, it does suffer somewhat from Roberts's oblique prose style.

Summing up, 'Stars of Albion' is one of the better late 70s sf anthologies. While some entries are duds, there are enough gems to make purchasing this book worthwhile. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Boone's Farm pop wine

Celebrating Boone's Farm pop wine

A nice little article about rediscovering the magic that was - and still is - Boone's Farm pop wines.

There's even a Fan Club !

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Valerian The Complete Collection Vol. 1

Valerian: The Complete Collection
Volume 1
Cinebook, 2016

Writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres launched Valerian in issue 420 (November 1967) of the Franco-Belgian magazine Pilote. The series continued to appear in various print outlets, primarily Franco-Belgian comic books (album de bande dessinee) in the ensuing decades, ceasing publication only in 2010.

Timed to accompany the release of the feature film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets on July 21 here in the USA, 'Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1' compiles English language versions of the four initial episodes of Valerian (also referred to as Valerian and Laureline) first serialized in Pilote: Bad Dreams (1967), The City of Shifting Waters and Earth in Flames (both 1970), and The Empire of a Thousand Planets (1971).

Since 2010, Cinebook has been issuing English translations of all the individual Valerian albums de bande dessinees, but these Complete editions offer readers the opportunity to gather the material in a more convenient and affordable manner.

Some English translations of Valerian comics are also available in a digital format.

Pilote was intended for what in the USA is called a 'tweener' or 'Young Adult' audience, so these initial episodes of Valerian should be read with an awareness of that audience in mind. This does not mean that Valerian, like many of the other comics published in Pilote cannot be enjoyed by adults; many of the strips that appeared in the magazine have since become comic book classics, like Asterix, Lone Sloane, and Blueberry.

The premise of Valerian is straightforward space opera: in the year 2720, Valerian is an operative for the Terran Galactic Empire. Teleportation allows people to instantaneously travel immense distances in time and space. On a mission to Earth's past, Valeiran befriends a peasant girl named Laureline, who soon becomes an operative herself. Together, they are sent all over the galaxy on troubleshooting missions.

This volume of The Complete Collection is a nicely produced book, with crisp color reproductions done on high-grade paper. (The cover price is $29.99, but of course you can find it for less, at your usual online retailers).

There is an extensive Introduction section designed to acquaint an American readership with the Valerian canon, as well as pointing out how influential the series has been on sf and pop culture worldwide.....

As for the comics themselves, I found them entertaining despite being aimed at a Young Adult readership. Although Christin's scripts apparently were designed to provide a satiric treatment of the political stances of French president Charles de Gaulle (?!), for all practical purposes, Christin's narratives move along at a satisfying pace. 

Given the comic's Gallic origins, there are going to be those moments that draw a 'huh ?' exclamation from any American reader.......for example, the Earth in Flames episode sees a reincarnation of Jerry Lewis from The Nutty Professor (1963) ?!

In these initial issues, artist Mezieres was plainly finding his way; his depictions of the human characters have a decidedly 'cartoony' look. But his rendering of landscapes and technological artifacts is good, and makes clear that as the series progressed, Mezieres would refine his techniques and produce some memorable imagery.

The verdict ? If you're a fan of those early days of Heavy Metal and Eurocomics like Barbarella, then you may want to invest in a copy of  'Valerian: The Complete Collection Volume 1'. 

If you're someone who is less familiar with the Eurocomics scene, someone more at ease with US and UK sci-fi comics like Star Wars, Star Trek, or 2000 AD, or more modern series like Black Science or Saga, then Valerian may or may not be your cup of tea..........looking at a digital comic or two may be a good way to gauge whether you'll find The Complete Collection a rewarding investment.