Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book Review: The Skin Trade

Book Review: 'The Skin Trade', edited by Douglas E. Winter

4 / 5 Stars

‘The Skin Trade’ first was published in hardcover in 1988 as Night Visions 5; this Berkley Books paperback (330 pp) was published in March 1990.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

Steven King’s name on the cover of a horror book was a major marketing plus throughout the 1980s, so it’s no surprise that his entries were showcased in ‘The Skin Trade’.

‘The Reploids’ reads like a sci-fi episode from the old Twilight Zone TV show. It’s not particularly memorable.

‘Sneakers’, about a ghost who haunts a stall in the men’s room of a building housing a recording studio, is one of those King stories built around an idea that might have sounded good in theory, but turned out to be underwhelming in the execution. So there’s a ghost sitting on the toilet seat……….how scary is that ?

‘Dedication’ is about Martha Rosewall, a black woman who works as a maid in a high-class hotel; she finds herself in a strange kinship with the drunk, but talented, white novelist whose rooms she cleans.

This story is less a horror tale than an effort by King to demonstrate that, even though he was white, and raised in an environment almost exclusively occupied by white people, he recognized the inherent Nobility and Dignity of Black People and Their Struggle against Bigotry and Racism. The Magic Negro – a stock character in much of King’s fiction – is here represented by Mama Delorme, a Conjur Woman who operates out of her apartment in the ghetto (!).

Dan Simmons was a prominent practitioner of the genre of ‘quiet’ horror during the 80s. He has three contributions to 'The Skin Trade':

‘Metastasis’: after Louis Steig suffers a head injury, he is able to see extradimensional creatures that no one else can see. And when Louis discovers what these creatures are capable of doing, his sanity is endangered………this story’s offbeat premise and creepy overtones make it one of the better entries in the anthology.

‘Vanni Fucci is Alive and Well and Living in Hell’: throughout the 80s mocking evangelical Christians was a favorite pastime for many writers. Here, Simmons targets a televangelist whose studio is invaded by a damned soul straight from Dante’s Inferno.

‘Vanni’ is too filled with righteous anger on Simmons’s part to be an effective satire. And it is  thoroughly eclipsed by David J. Schow’s markedly superior short story ‘Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy’, which came out just one year later.

‘Iverson’s Pits’: a Civil War ghost story set in Gettysburg during the 50th anniversary celebration held in 1913. This novelette relies heavily on atmosphere, but it’s done in a competent manner, and thus stands as another of the better entries in ‘The Skin Trade’.

In 1988 George R. R. Martin was perhaps better known as an executive producer of the TV show Beauty and the Beast, with Game of Thrones far, far in the future.

‘The Skin Trade’ is a novelette set in a decaying northeastern industrial town. Willie Flambeaux, a debt collector, asks stylish private eye Randi Wade to investigate the death of an acquaintance. Wade soon discovers that a clan of werewolves inhabits the city, and they don’t like strangers poking into their affairs………..

Part horror story and part detective story, ‘Skin’ has a fast-paced narrative, and plentiful helpings of  grue and gore. The denouement suffers from the failing too common to mystery tales: the machinations of Whodunit were so complicated I couldn’t understand them. That said, ‘Skin’ is much better than any of King’s entries.

The verdict ? The contributions from Simmons and Martin make ‘The Skin Trade’ one of the better horror anthologies from the 80s. Fans of Martin's works certainly will want to have a copy.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Burton and Cyb: In Search of the Lost Daughter

Burton and Cyb
'In Search of the Lost Daughter'
(En busca de la hija perdida)
by Jose Ortiz (art) and Antonio Segura (story)
from Heavy Metal magazine, May 1990

Dracula.........the 'mecca for degenerates'...........and a dominatrix with an electrified whip........?

Yet another laugh-out-loud adventure for Burton and Cyb.......... !

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Road in Autumn by Santiago Rusinol

Road in Autumn
by Santiago Rusinol
from the Art Contrarian blog

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book Review: New Blood

Book Review: 'New Blood' by Richard Salem

2 / 5 Stars

'New Blood' (187 pp) was published in the UK by Futura paperbacks in 1981; this US version was published by Signet in July, 1982. The artist who provided the striking cover illustration is uncredited.

The 'About the Author' note at the end of the book states that 'Richard Salem' is the pseudonym of 'a successful writer of historical fiction' and that 'New Blood' is his first entry in the 'modern horror' genre.

As the novel opens, it's 1985, and yuppie couple Clay and Holly Ryan are fast becoming fed up with life in New York City.

An acquaintance recommends Credence, a small town in West Virginia, as the perfect place for a young couple eager to leave the rat race behind. Clay and Holly decide to make the trip to see Credence and find it a charming village that could well be the showpiece of a tourism magazine. In short order, Clay and Holly take up residence in Credence and find themselves warmly accepted by the townspeople.

As the sultry Summer days unfold, the Ryans settle into a placid routine; Richard works on designing a community center for the town, while Holly works on her abstract paintings.

But Clay and Holly can't ignore the strange little quirks that are gradually coming to light about life in Credence. 

For example, why is it that no one looks like they are older than 50 ?

And why are there only six children in the town ?

And why are the townspeople so exquisitely careful around sharp objects ?

As Summer drifts into Fall, Clay and Holly Ryan are going to discover the deep, dark secret that governs life in the idyllic confines of Credence, West Virginia.......

The plot of 'New Blood' will be very recognizable to anyone who has ever read Thomas Tryon's 1973 novel Harvest Home. Like Tryon's novel, 'New Blood' moves at a slow pace, doling out its revelations sparingly, with brief little episodes of mayhem carefully inserted into the narrative to keep it from becoming too indolent.

The action picks up considerably in the closing chapters, but this is enabled by having the lead characters do stupid things designed to get them into trouble. The same characters also are gifted with the kind of superhuman strength and conditioning that are possessed by the heroes in action films. As a result, the closing chapters of 'New Blood' have a contrived quality. 

It doesn't help matters that the Big Revelations that accompany the denouement are overly complicated and unconvincing.

Toss in passages of dialogue that frequently qualify as being stilted, and the overall impact of 'New Blood' is further lessened.

The verdict ? I can't recommend 'New Blood' for anyone except those who are ardent collectors of Paperbacks from Hell. This one is best left on the shelf.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Raven Banner: A Tale of Asgard

The Raven Banner
A Tale of Asgard
by Alan Zelenetz (story) and Charles Vess (art)
Marvel Graphic Novel  No. 15 (1985)

In theory, this Marvel Graphic novel was precisely what the series was designed for: bringing more artistically oriented comic art to the public in the form of a higher-priced, higher-quality trade paperback. In this case, the art was provided by Charles Vess, the American artist (b. 1951) who probably is best known for his work on Neil Gaiman titles for DC / Vertigo during the 1990s. 

Vess is inspired by the great illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (he dedicates 'Banner' to Arthur Rackham) and this graphic novel certainly has a style in keeping with the illustrations of that era. 

'The Raven Banner' is set in the Marvel Universe, with Thor making a fleeting appearance. 

Zelenetz's plot does not seem to be based on a Norse Myth per se, but it does use the Giants from that mythology as adversaries for Odin and the people of Asgard.

As 'Banner' opens the Giants and the forces of Asgard are locked in battle. Asgardian warrior Grim Magnus is the holder of the Raven Banner, which - so long as it is held aloft - cements victory for Asgard. Unfortunately, as Magnus is struck down, his son Greyval Grimson, instead of taking up the Banner, is preoccupied elsewhere with wine, women, and song........... and the Trolls capture the Banner, and their allies the Giants put the forces of Asgard to flight.

When Greyval learns of this disaster he initially is indifferent. But the knowledge that the Giants are now emboldened to advance on Asgard, and put an end to the Gods, brings a dawning realization that he has shirked his duty and must make amends.

Aided by the Valkyries and Baldur, Greyval Grimson sets off on a perilous journey to recover the Banner from the lair of the Trolls...........

I found 'The Raven Banner' to be something of a disappointment. Zelenetz's writing had a lot to do with this; it is suffused with a stilted, wordy, self-consciously 'Olde Tyme Mythes and Legendes' flavor that rapidly palls. 

It doesn't help matters that Zelenetz introduces a talking, anthropomorphic otter named Oddbrand Otter to the story; Oddbrand likes to make cutesy, alliterative exclamations like 'deary deary' and 'do hurry do hurry'.

As for Vess's artwork, it really isn't suited for a narrative that is in essence a superhero narrative, one calling for the more traditional comic book style of dynamic poses, speed lines, and large-font sound effects. Vess's art often comes across as too static to give the story the visual 'punch' it requires.

The verdict ? Marvel certainly deserved kudos for trying to do something different with this graphic novel, but the execution falls somewhat short of the design. 'The Raven Banner' straddles the awkward middle ground of a book that is too staid for the superhero readership, and too lacking in edginess for the Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated crowd.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

House of Monsters from Horror Tales

House of Monsters
from Horror Tales (Eerie Publications)
Vol. 2, No. 1, January 1970

As Halloween 2018 draws near, it's time to up the horror quotient here at the PorPor Books Blog.

Dick Ayers went all-out with the mayhem in this tale from the third issue of Horror Tales

Ayers doesn't just render a severed limb, he lovingly pencils in torn arteries, torn ligaments, and exposed bone...............ulllettt !

Indeed, while it's likely the bloodiest of any story appearing in the Carl Burgos / Myron Fass horror comics of the 70s, other stories in the same issue were almost as explicit - ! 

They don't make them like this anymore...........nor sell them to kids, like they did in the 70s ! (Try passing this issue of Horror Tales around a contemporary junior high school, and see what happens............)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: Welsh Tales of Terror

Book Review: 'Welsh Tales of Terror' edited by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
3 / 5 Stars

'Welsh Tales of Terror' (188 pp) was published by Fontana Books (U.K.) in 1975. The artist who provided the striking cover illustration is Justin Todd.

This is one of a large number of horror anthologies published by Fontana Books in the 1970s that focused on particular countries or geographical areas, such as Cornish Tales of Terror, Irish Tales of Terror, London Tales of Terror, Oriental Tales of Terror, etc. These anthologies almost exclusively relied on stories in the public domain for much of their content. 

'Welsh Tales of Terror' features short stories (all, save R. Chetwynd-Hayes's entry, were previously published) as well as brief, half-page or one-page myths and legends originally collected in books devoted to Welsh folklore. 

Readers of this anthology will need to be prepared to negotiate the at-times indecipherable, vowel-less nature of many Welsh words and phrases. That said, the stories in this collection all are effective in providing the reader with an atmospheric portrayal of the landscapes, customs, and peoples of Wales.

Rather than critique each story in this anthology, I'll simply list the best of the entries. Glyn Jones's 'Jordan', about two con men who make the acquaintance of a sinister character, stands out, as does the low-key, but creepy, 'A Cry of Children' by John Christopher.

Wales's own literary giant, Arthur Machen, is represented by his 1895 story 'The Shining Pyramid'. Also visiting the theme of a hidden dimension or realm co-existing with contemporary Wales is Richard Bridgeman's 'The Morgan Trust'. Angus Wilson's 'Animals or Human Beings' has the black humor of a Roald Dahl story.

'Black Goddess', by Jack Griffith, takes the quintessentially Welsh occupation of coal miner and weaves in a ghost story; it's one of the better entries in the anthology. Also worth reading is R. Chetwynd-Hayes's 'Lord Dunwilliam and the Cwm Annwn', which pits a arrogant aristocrat against a menacing figure of ancient Welsh legend.

The remaining modern-day stories are not so much horror tales, as they are fantasy tales or fables. I found them to be rather underwhelming compared to the genuine legends and myths from Welsh folklore that are scattered throughout the pages of 'Welsh Tales of Terror'.

Summing up, those with a fondness for 'Old School' horror anthologies might want to collect a copy of 'Welsh Tales of Terror'. But if you're someone more conditioned to imbibe Paperbacks from Hell, then I suspect you'll not find this anthology all that exciting.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Drifting, Falling by The Ocean Blue

Drifting, Falling
by The Ocean Blue

The story goes that when The Ocean Blue released their first album (titled simply The Ocean Blue) for Sire Records in 1989, many listeners thought the band was British. For their second single, 'Drifting, Falling', the band, which hailed from Hershey, Pennsylvania, decided to have it filmed in their home town to make clear their status as an American Band.

The drizzly autumn landscape serves as the perfect visual accompaniment to the song's moody atmosphere. 

Never doubt that during the late 80s and early 90s, whenever they needed to feel Blue, even the most blase and fashionably alienated WHFS progressive-rock-hipsters could find solace and comfort in listening to 'Drifting, Falling' ................

[PS the band has a new album coming out soon............]

You may find you're all alone
All around you not a sound
Drifting, falling on your own again
The walls of cold and grey surround
They surround

You may find you're by yourself
Friends have all grown up and gone away
Drifting, falling you can't stop yourself
The walls of cold and grey surround
They surround

Drifting, falling
Watching all your dreams roll by
They roll by
Somewhere out there

She sees you and she sighs
My, my, my, my, my
You may find you're all alone
All around you not a sound

Drifting, falling on your own again
The walls of cold and grey surround
They surround

Drifting, falling
Watching all your dreams roll by
They roll by

Somewhere out there
She sees you and she sighs
My, my, my, my, my

Friday, October 12, 2018

Conan Vs the vampires

Conan Vs the vampires
by Dorian Vallejo
Savage Sword of Conan, issue 155, January 1989

Dorian Vallejo (b. 1968), the son of noted illustrator Boris Vallejo, only was in his early twenties when he began to get assignments for cover illustrations for Marvel / Curtis's Savage Sword of Conan magazine. 

This entry, which illustrates the story Behind the Walls of Night, certainly is effective in depicting a confrontation between the titular hero and a group of the Undead...........

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: The Haven

Book Review: 'The Haven' by Graham Diamond

4 / 5 Stars

'The Haven' (347 pp) was published by Playboy Press in 1977; artist Wayne McLoughlin provided the striking cover illustration.

UK author Diamond wrote several sequels to 'The Haven': 'Lady of the Haven' (1978), 'Dungeons of Kuba' (1979), 'The Falcon of Eden' (1980) and 'The Beasts of Hades' (1981).

I had been interested in getting a copy of the original mass-market edition of 'The Haven' for some time, but the fact that it has long been out of print has meant that copies even in poor condition have steep asking prices. I was fortunate to find an affordable copy from an online seller.

(A print-on-demand trade paperback of the book is now being offered at amazon).

'The Haven' turned out to be a pretty good read. It's an interesting mix of a horror novel and a fantasy novel.

The novel is set in a medieval landscape where all animals are capable of speech. Fourteen thousand souls, all that remains of Mankind, live in the cultivated grounds of the Valley. Surrounding the Valley is a vast and seemingly impenetrable forest, and within the forest lurk the Dogs: the implacable enemies of Mankind.

For two thousand years Man and Dog have fought: swords and arrows against claw and fang. Now Man makes his last stand in the Valley...... and shelters within its formidable redoubt: a massive castle called the Haven.

As 'The Haven' opens, Elon, the Lord of the Haven, is made aware of a disturbing new development: the Dogs have united under a charismatic and cunning leader known only as The Master. With rumors of thousands of dogs uniting to form a giant Pack for the sole purpose of eliminating Man from the world, Elon seeks allies among the Birds and the Wolves, and plans for what will likely be the final battle for survival against the Dogs.

Nigel, a young Lord and one of the more intelligent men in the Valley, argues for avoiding a pitched battle with the army of the Dogs. Nigel proposes an alternative: he will lead a scout team to find a path through the Forest and into the fabled New Lands, where the population of the Valley can find shelter and safety from the Dogs.

As the army of the Dogs closes on the Valley, Nigel and his small band of scouts set off into the depths of the Forest on their desperate mission...............

For the most part, 'The Haven' succeeds in melding horror and fantasy, in large part due to the author's willingness to include graphic scenes of violence and mayhem that prevent the narrative from having the predictable quality of many fantasy novels (where, despite all manner of tribulations, the Quest Party survives more or less intact and defeats the Evil Lord, leaving all to live Happily Ever After).

Author Diamond keeps his narrative focused on action, keeps his subplots to a manageable number, and avoids implementing a contrived 'Peace for All' cop-out...........make no mistake, there will be only one winner in the war between Man and Dog.

The verdict ? If you can get a copy of 'The Haven' for an affordable price, I recommend doing so. It has an offbeat quality that brings something novel to the Horror genre.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Tharg's Future Shocks issue 609

Tharg's Future Shocks
by Jose Ortiz
from 2000 AD issue 609
January, 1989

'Tharg's Future Shocks' were brief, one- to three- page stories that regularly ran in 2000 AD

In this entry from a 1989 issue of the comic, the talented Spanish artist Jose Ortiz provides some effective artwork for a downbeat story dealing with the familiar trope of the 'corpsicle' who is awakened...........to discover the future isn't all he or she hoped it would be................

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Antiques Store Finds

Antiques Store Finds

In upstate New York, there is an antiques store I visit every year or so. 

Sometimes, if my timing is right, I find that they have replenished their selection of vintage paperbacks.

This past week, I really lucked out !

They had a new inventory of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy paperbacks from the 1960s and early 1970s. All of these books were in very good condition. And they were $2 each - !

Save for a bit of browning on their edges, the Lancer 'Conan' titles all were in great shape considering their age.

Scourge of the Blood Cult is a rare find. Speculators at amazon are asking $80 for a copy in good condition........the market for vintage smut can be exorbitant !

I'm not familiar with Sarban's The Doll Maker, although I know that The Sound of His Horn is considered a classic.

I'm not sure when I will get to reading all these, but look for me to post my reviews whenever I do. And don't be shy about stopping in at antique stores to peruse their shelves: sometimes you can find some real treasures that you wouldn't otherwise find in a used bookstore.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Book Review: Bloodthirst

Book Review: 'Bloodthirst' by Mark Ronson
2 / 5 Stars

'Bloodthirst' (210 pp) was published by Hamlyn (UK) in September, 1979. 

'Mark Ronson' was the pseudonym of New Zealand author Marc Elward Alexander (b. 1929), who wrote a large number of paperback horror novels during the 70s and 80s, including including Ghoul (1980), Plague Pit (1981), and The Dark Domain (1985).

'Bloodthirst' opens with a prologue, set during the Second World War, in the Winter of 1945. A group of German soldiers are in retreat on the Eastern Front, and decide to take refuge for the night in a remote cemetery. Among the interred is a man named Nadasdy, the husband of the notorious 'vampire Countess': Elizabeth Bathory, who was executed in 1614 for allegedly murdering as many as 650 young women in an effort to retain her youth. Events within the cemetery take a fateful turn for the hapless Germans...........

The narrative then shifts to the present day (i.e., 1979) and a London hospital, where young neurologist Dr Peter Pilgrim is studying narcoleptic children (?!) in the hopes of finding a cure. 

A recent arrival to the hospital is a seemingly angelic little Swedish girl named Britt Hallstrom. Dr Pilgrim and the hospital staff soon are confronted with a series of bizarre incidents which threaten the lives and welfare of the patients, incidents which have at their center Britt Hallstrom. 

Pilgrim is convinced that a novel theory may explain these events: the thirst for human blood that underlies the ancient concept of vampirism may in fact be a communicable disease transmitted through saliva.

The director of the hospital, a prig named Dr. Henry Beresford, admonishes Pilgrim for embracing 'crank' theories, and warns him that continuing to promote such nonsense can damage the younger physician's career.

But as events unfold in the South of France, and in the trackless forests of Finland, Pilgrim comes to believe that his theory may be correct........with implications that portend disaster for Mankind.................

As a 'vampire' novel, I found 'Bloodthirst' to be mediocre. The opening chapters provide the reader with an interesting premise, but all to quickly the narrative takes on an ad hoc quality as the author tosses in poorly connected episodes of 'bloodthirst' mayhem, before transitioning in the middle chapters into a Gothic romance (?!) set in the Camargue region of France. 

By the time the narrative re-seats itself and continues its horror theme, the page limit threatens, and the denouement consequently has a rushed quality, one more in keeping with a 70s spy novel than a vampire novel.

Summing up, 'Bloodthirst' is neither an overlooked gem of vampire literature, nor a worthy entry in the 'Paperbacks from Hell' canon. I would avoid this one unless you are dedicated to reading every UK horror paperback ever released in the 70s............