Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Review: The Teachings of Don Juan

Book Review: 'The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge'by Carlos Castaneda

4 / 5 Stars

'The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge' first was published by the University of California Press in 1968, after which it became a countercultural touchstone; having 'read Castaneda' became a mark of true hipness.

In 1974 Pocket Books released this mass market paperback edition (256 pp), which immediately became a best-seller. Succeeding volumes dominated the bestseller lists throughout the remainder of the 70s and on into the early 80s. 

It's hard to overstate how influential the 'Teachings' became on American, and worldwide, pop culture. The photography session the Eagles took for their first album cover is derived from Castaneda. Castaneda was gently satirized in the pages of 'The Furry Freak Brothers' underground comic. And the 1981 film Altered States had a Castaneda-inspired segment where the protagonist, played by William Hurt, participates in a peyote ceremony and acquires Cosmic Awareness.

The Eagles at Joshua Tree National Park for their first album photography session, 1972

The cover for the paperback version was the same as that for the hardcover version issued in 1972 by Simon and Schuster; the artist was Roger Hane (who also did the cover for the second volume in the Don Juan series, A Separate Reality).

Original cover art by Roger Hane

I remember reading 'Teachings' in early 1981, when I was in college, and finishing the book with an immediate desire to head to the Sonoran desert to locate Don Juan, take peyote and mushrooms under his tutelage, and become A Man of Knowledge. So many other people who read the book had the same idea, that a crisis of peyote over-harvesting has emerged.

By the time I had finished all four of the books in the initial Don Juan series I had begun to doubt their truthfulness. At the time there was no internet and no Google, and so getting information on the entire Castaneda phenomenon was not easy. Nowadays such information can be easily accessed and the fact that everything that Castaneda wrote was fake is now common knowledge.

I recently re-read 'Teachings' and despite my awareness that is fictitious, I found the book to still be many ways I wanted to believe it was true. Which, I suppose, is as good a measuring method for any work of fantasy fiction as any other criterion.

For those who are unfamiliar with the whole 'Don Juan' library, Castaneda claimed that from 1960 to 1965 he regularly visited the Sonoran desert to commune with a Yaqui Indian medicine man or 'brujo' named Don Juan Matus. Matus agrees who teach Castaneda to become 'A Man of Knowledge', albeit with warnings and admonitions that such a path is arduous, even fatal.

Meeting the shaman: lobby card for Altered States (1981) 

Castaneda's first person narrative relates how he learns to ingest psychedelic substances extracted from Jimson weed, mushrooms, and peyote; under the influence of these substances he experiences visions of otherworldly entities that bring with them profound insights into the existence of 'A Separate Reality' underlying our own.

I won't divulge any spoilers, save to say that the while 'The Teachings of Don Juan' ends on a note that suggests it may have originally been intended to be a one-volume book, its commercial and critical success led Castaneda to issue a number of sequels.

Whatever his faults, and however all-encompassing they might have been, Castaneda was a skilled writer, and he knew how to keep his readers engaged. There is little fluff or padding in the 'Teachings'; the chapters are short and to the point; the conversations have an air of authenticity; and Don Juan Matus is one of the most fully realized characters in fiction or nonfiction.

If you haven't yet read 'The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge', then I recommend doing so. The paperback edition is so ubiquitous in used bookstores that finding an affordable copy isn't much of a problem. And when you're done reading it you can draw your own conclusions about whether it contains a grain of truth........... or not.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Real Vision by Liberatore

Real Vision
by Liberatore
from Video Clips, Catalan Communications

A brilliantly disturbing.........or is it disturbingly brilliant ?.......comic from Gaetano Liberatore.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book Review: The Infernal Device

Book Review: 'The Infernal Device' by Michael Kurland
4 / 5 Stars

'The Infernal Device' (251 pp) first appeared in hardback in 1978; it was published by Signet Books in paperback in January 1979. The cover artist is uncredited.

Author Kurland (b. 1938) has written a number of novels in the sci-fi and crime / detective genres, starting in the 1960s and continuing to the present day. My review of his 1975 sci-fi novel Pluribus can be viewed here.

'The Infernal Device' features as its hero Professor James Moriarty, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. Succeeding volumes in Kurland's 'Moriarty' series include Death by Gaslight (1982), The Great Game (2001), The Empress of India (2006), and Who Thinks Evil (2014).

'The Infernal Device' opens in Turkey in 1885, where an American reporter named Benjamin Barnett has made the acquaintance of a young British naval officer named Lieutenant Sefton. Barnett takes up Sefton's offer to witness firsthand the demonstration of a Submersible craft, newly purchased by the Turkish government, in the Bosphorus Strait. Barnett is intrigued by Sefton's avowal that the Submersible heralds a new era in naval warfare.

However, as Barnett and Sefton look on, something very wrong takes place at the demonstration. Barnett soon finds his situation in Turkey to be a precarious one.......but Barnett has had the good fortune to have befriended the Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty. And by working with Moriarty, Benjamin Barnett will find himself enmeshed in a web of intrigue and danger, as Moriarty pits himself against an evil Russian genius bent on triggering global conflict.

Unfortunately for Barnett and Moriarty, Sherlock Homes believes Moriarty to be a villain in his own right...........and is intent on sending his archenemy to prison no matter the consequences.........

'The Infernal Device' doesn't really feature enough sci-fi content to be labeled a work of proto-Steampunk (although it uses technologies that certainly were cutting-edge for the Victorian era as its centerpieces). While Moriarty remains the hero (or villain) of the story, Holmes does make enough appearances to make the book a credible entry into the large library of Holmes pastiches, although perhaps less so as a traditional detective novel and more as a swashbuckling adventure tale.

Author Kurland keeps the narrative moving at a good clip, using well-written dialogue and well-drawn characters to give his novel an engaging quality that will have you finishing the book within three or four sittings.

Summing up, 'The Infernal Device' is an entertaining novel, and one fans of Steampunk will want to consider.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Burton and Cyb

Burton and Cyb
by Antonio Segura (story) and Jose Ortiz (art)
Catalan Communications 1991

These Catalan Communications graphic novels are becoming harder and harder to find, and those that show up for sale often have pretty steep asking prices. However, if you poke around you can occasionally find one for a reasonable price, and such was the case for this compilation of six 'Burton and Cyb' comics from the 1980s.

'Burton and Cyb' appeared in the Spanish sci-fi comic magazine Zona 84 in the mid-80s, and later in that decade English language translations began to appear in Heavy Metal. Several of those strips are compiled in this Catalan Communications graphic novel.

This graphic novel apparently was intended to be the first in a series, but sadly, Catalan went defunct in 1991, and the additional volumes never materialized. So quite a few Burton and Cyb tales remain uncollected.

Burton is a parody of the square-jawed All American action hero, while Cyb (short for 'cyborg') is a trigger-happy misanthrope. Both are amoral con men, grifters, and hardened criminals who have few reservations about fleecing gullible aliens. 

The stories featured excellent artwork by Ortiz, and Segura's plots always combined humor with an edgy, cynical undertone that often is missing from equivalent American comics.

Posted below is one of the entries in Burton and Cyb: 'The Jellyfish from Space', from Heavy Metal magazine, July 1989.

Monday, August 20, 2018

A Clockwork Orange and UK teens, 1973

'A Clockwork Orange' and UK teens, 1973

Nowadays films are likely to spawn their own niche in Cosplay culture, leading to the appearance of young people in elaborate costumes at comic book and geek culture conventions. It's all wholesome, good clean fun.

According to Chris Brown in his 2009 memoir of being a soccer thug, Booted and Suited,  the release of the film A Clockwork Orange in the UK during the early 70s led to quite a different outcome. 

Here's his insightful take on the tremendous impact the film had on the culture of the young, white, working-class fans of the Bristol Rovers football club, as they journeyed to a match at Chesterfield in April 1973:   

There had been a bizarre and sinister change in fashion and youth culture over the past 12 months. It was blamed on a joint attack on British sensibilities by a freakish American rock singer named Vincent Furnier, better known as Alice Cooper, and the eventual release of the classic, but very controversial Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange. Young men up and down the country had taken to wearing make-up. It was not worn in the same way that women wear make-up – to make themselves more alluring – but in such a way as to make us appear more menacing, more evil. Unfortunately this wasn’t just a fashion or a mere fad, it was something altogether more malevolent.

Whereas Alice Cooper and his snake and whips were purely theatrical, the menace of A Clockwork Orange was very real indeed. After much deliberation by the British Board of Film Censors the uncut film was eventually released in December 1971 with an X-certificate. Many provincial councils, however, refused to allow the British-made film to be shown in their local cinemas due to the graphic scenes of rape and violence – one scene shows a gang rape set to music by Rossini and another a vicious mugging set to the tune of ‘Singing in the Rain’. Eventually Kubrick himself pulled it from British cinemas in 1973 after the film had been linked to a number of horrific incidents, including the rape of a 17-year-old Dutch student in Lancashire by a gang chanting the words to Gene Kelly’s jolly show tune. A judge in another case spoke of the ‘horrible trend inspired by this wretched film’. The film remained banned in Britain for the next 27 years. However, what was really disturbing about the film was that it was supposedly portraying Britain in the future, when casual violence and gang warfare were a way of life for Britain’s youth. It was a true tale of life in Britain all right – but 1970s style.

In the manner of Malcolm McDowell’s gang leader, Alex, and his assorted Droogs, disorder reigned as innocent citizens were set upon in random and unprovoked attacks of ‘ultra violence’. Tramps in particular (one is set upon in the film) came in for unwarranted attention as delinquents the length and breadth of the country mimicked both Alex’s actions and his vocabulary with his boasts of going to ‘tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in blood’. Ludwig van Beethoven topped the album charts as thousands of adolescents clamoured to buy the soundtrack of the most controversial British film ever made. As the awesome effect of Clockworkmania raged, the strains of ‘Singing in the Rain’ echoed out from every football terrace in the country as a prelude to violence. I rushed to buy Anthony Burgess’s original 1962 book but its bleak vision of Britain in the supposedly not too distant future and its use of the bizarre Nadsat teenage vocabulary made it demanding and laborious.

Myself and a number of other young smoothies sported false eyelashes and heavy black mascara as we arrived in Chesterfield. Our minds were as warped and twisted as the town’s famous spire – and with our white overalls, white strides and single, solitary black leather-gloved hands we all thought we looked the epitome of terrace fashion culture. Brian Willis and the rest of the Tramps thought we looked total prats.

Lest anyone doubt that film - or by another name, Art - can impact human behavior and pop culture for good or for ill, they need look no further than what happened in the UK with the release of this one film. 

Somehow I don't think that Crazy, Rich Asians is going to have quite the same impact........

Friday, August 17, 2018

Soldier of Fortune: Horizons of Stone

Soldier of Fortune
'Horizons of Stone'
by Alfredo Grassi (story) and Enrique Breccia (art)
from Merchants of Death No. 3, October 1988
Eclipse Comics

Viva la revolucion ! But in the bleak and cynical world of early 1900's Bolivia that is the setting for the 'Solider of Fortune', sometimes the most idealistic ambitions can be subverted by the timely application of dinero............and violence.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Wot by Captain Sensible

by Captain Sensible 
August 1982

In August 1982 Captain Sensible (the stage name of UK musician Raymond Ian Burns) released the single 'Wot' in the UK. 'Wot' was a track off his album Women and Captains First. When released in the US, the single peaked at No. 24 in the Billboard Dance chart.

I remember seeing the video on MTV. Although the existing clip is decidedly low-res, the quirky humor of the video still comes through. 'Wot' is a great song, and well worth listening to all over again............

When I woke up this morning I was feelin' fine
But this cat starts banging man what a swine.
So I called reception but to no avail
That's why I'm telling you this sorry tale.

I went bang - I said shut up,
I went bang - I said rap up.

Well I'm aware that the guy must do his work
But the piledriver man drove me berserk.

He said captain, I said wot,
He said captain, I said wot,
He said captain, I said wot,
He said captain, I said wot d'ya want

Once a lifetime, twice a day
If you don't work you get no pay.
I been to the east, I been to the west,
But the girls I like best are the ones undressed.

Well, hello Adam, where you been?
I said a'stand aside 'cause I'm feelin' mean,
I've had a gutful of you and I'm feelin' bad
'Cause you're an ugly old pirate and ain't I glad.

He said captain, I said wot, ...
He said captain, I said wot, ...

When I woke up this morning I was feelin' fine
But this cat starts banging man what a swine.
So I called reception but to no avail
That's why I'm telling you this sorry tale.

I went bang - I said shut up,
I went bang - I said rap up.

Well I'm aware that the guy must do his work
But the piledriver man drove me berserk.

He said captain, I said wot,
He said captain, I said wot,
He said captain, I said wot,
He said captain, I said wot d'ya want

Once a lifetime, twice a day
If you don't work you get no pay.
I been to the east, I been to the west,
But the girls I like best are the ones undressed.

Well, hello Adam, where you been?
I said a'stand aside 'cause I'm feelin' mean,
I've had a gutful of you and I'm feelin' bad
'Cause you're an ugly old pirate and ain't I glad.

He said captain, I said wot, ...
He said captain, I said wot, ...

Sunday, August 12, 2018

West of Eden by David Schleinkofer

'West of Eden' by David Schleinkofer
cover art for the Bantam Book by Harry Harrison, August 1984

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Review: The Mind Parasites

Book Review: 'The Mind Parasites' by Colin Wilson

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Mind Parasites’ was first published by Arkham House in 1967. This Bantam Books paperback (196 pp) was released in December 1968. The cover artist is uncredited.

In his Introduction, author Wilson states that the novel was inspired by his reading of the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, who Wilson saw as an example of the so-called ‘Outsider’, which in Wilson’s lexicon refers to an artistic genius whose creative works often are misunderstood, or inadequately appreciated, by a world indifferent to new talent.

‘The Mind Parasites’ is set in the late 1990s. The first-person narrator, renowned archeologist Gilbert Austin, heads an expedition to Karatepe, a remote area of Turkey, there to dig for evidence of a Hittite civilization. Using a variety of high-tech tools, Austin is astounded to discover that nearly two miles belowground sits the ruins of a city – a city constructed using immense blocks of stone weighing as much as three thousand tons each. Is the city a construct of the ancient beings that are referred to as the ‘Old Ones’ in Lovecraft’s fiction ?

Gilbert Austin has little time to ponder the implications of his discovery, for with it comes a stunning, and disturbing revelation: dwelling in the depths of his subconscious are alien entities..….the so-called Mind Parasites of the novel’s title. The parasites are skilled at hiding themselves from detection from all humans, save those gifted with an unusual degree of mental self-awareness. Austin is dismayed to learn that the parasites have been controlling and manipulating human destiny for at least two hundred years.

As the narrative progresses, Gilbert Austin finds himself engaged in a potentially lethal struggle to rid himself of the Mind Parasites, and to alert an unsuspecting world to the reality of the aliens that have placed invisible shackles upon all Mankind. But the aliens have no intention of letting one man best them………and Austin is dismayed to learn that those who have, in the past, sought to free themselves from the aliens’ control, have died by their own hands………forced to commit suicide by the malevolent power of the Mind Parasites………..

‘The Mind Parasites’ was a disappointing read. While the premise certainly is interesting, the plot is perfunctory and underdeveloped, serving mainly as a scaffold upon which author Wilson can hold forth on his personal philosophy of New Existentialism. Page after page features characters launching into one exegesis after another dealing with the metaphysics of human nature and human existence, as interpreted through the lens of the New Existentialism.

The latter pages of the novel attempt to restore some momentum to the narrative, but here Wilson introduces some ‘cosmic’ plot developments that are so unconvincing that they give the denouement a contrived quality.

Summing up, ‘The Mind Parasites’ is not the best of Colin Wilson’s sci-fi novels. His revisiting of the theme in 1976’s The Space Vampires is a much better book, and one I would recommend over ‘The Mind Parasites’.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Science Fiction by Tom Bailey

Science Fiction
by Tom Bailey

I don't usually review contemporary music here at the PorPor Books blog, but after hearing the new single from Tom Bailey, Science Fiction (a track from the June, 2018 CD of the same name) I felt I owed it to the readership to recommend picking up the song. It's a great track that calls to mind the best of 80s techno-pop.

[Tom Bailey is of course best known as one of the three members - along with Joe Leeway and Alannah Currie- of the UK band The Thompson Twins. ]

The CD and associated merchandise are available at this web site. The mp3 files are available for purchase at amazon. 

[The additional tracks on the CD also are well worth contemplating.]

Friday, August 3, 2018

2nd and Charles

2nd and Charles
Covington, LA

Twice during the past few days I've visited the '2nd and Charles' store located on Rte 190 in Covington, Louisiana. These are my first-ever visits to this new chain.

2nd and Charles apparently is an offshoot of 'Books A Million', but unlike BAM, 2nd and Charles mainly sells used books. Along with used video games; comic books, CDs; a healthy selection of geek culture-based action figures (Aliens, DC Comics characters, Marvel Comics characters, Walking Dead characters, etc.); and strangely enough, even.........musical instruments ?!

The store's newer inventory is limited to display tables and shelving of current release hardbound books, puzzles, playsets, etc., mainly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

The front area of the store is plentifully stocked with Impulse Purchase items: vinyl bobblehead mini-dolls of DC comics characters, racks of trading cards, cheap sunglasses, 3-D laser-cut paper models of cars and tarantulas (!?), and all manner of candies based in licensed Geek Culture icons. 

The store is huge, with wide, spacious aisles.

As far as my particular experiences with this one store go, 2nd and Charles doesn't have much in the way of used sci-fi, fantasy, and horror paperbacks, particularly those of the years 1968 - 1988, the era covered here at the PorPor Books Blog. 

Only a portion of the store's shelf space is devoted to fiction, and simply trying to find the used paperbacks is something of a chore, because all the fiction books are shelved alphabetically by author, rather than by genre / subject. And the predominant format in the 2nd and Charles inventory is hardbound books. 

So (based on my visits to this one store, of course) I would say you are NOT going to find DAW books from the 70s and 80s, ACE books from the 60s and 70s, Bantam Spectra titles, Baen Books, Doubleday SF Book Club hardbound editions, Ballantine Books' Edgar Rice Burroughs titles, etc., etc. 

What few sci-fi paperbacks I saw on the shelves were from within the past 10 years.

2nd and Charles does segregate some books by genre. For example, I saw shelf space devoted to Star Wars and Star Trek:

I did take advantage of 2nd and Charles's large selection of graphic novels. Predictably many of these were volumes of The Walking Dead , and compilations of poor-selling titles from publishers like BOOM and Dynamite and Valiant. 

However, because they were running a special on multiple purchases of used graphic novels, I was able to get used copies of the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk omnibuses for $20 and $30, as well as some All Star Western graphic novels from DC's 'New 52' imprint for under $5.00 each. 

The verdict ? Based on my visit to this one store, 2nd and Charles is not going to be a go-to place for used sci-fi, horror, and fantasy paperbacks, However the sheer size of the place and its large inventories of Geek Stuff likely will make it worth visiting every now and then.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Maybe by Thom Pace

Theme song for the movie and TV show The Legend of Grizzly Adams
by Thom Pace

This was the theme song for the 1974 theatrical release The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and later for the TV show which began airing on CBS starting in February 1977.

Thom Pace (b. 1949) is a American folk singer-songwriter. A slightly different version of 'Maybe' was released as a single in Europe in 1980 and reached number one in Germany, no. 14 in the UK, and no. 23 in Australia.

'Maybe' perfectly captures the 'back to nature' movement that permeated popular culture back in the early 70s. 

Equip yourself with your Vasque brand hiking boots (worn with tube socks, of course), your brown corduroy slacks, a down jacket, and some granola, and make for the wilderness...........!

Deep inside the forest is a door into another land,
Here is our life and home,
We are staying, here forever in the beauty of this place all alone,
We keep on hoping...
Maybe, there's a world where we won't have to run, and
Maybe, there's a time we'll call our own,
Living free in harmony and majesty,
Take me home,
Take me home.
Walking through the land where every living thing is beautiful,
why does it has to end.
We are calling.. oh so sadly on the whisper of the wind as we send,
a dying message.