Sunday, August 18, 2019

Beauty and the Beast by Chris Achilleos

Beauty and the Beast 
by Chris Achilleos
Paper Tiger (UK) 1978

Every sci-fi fan and every stoner who lived during the 1970s was aware of this book. It was as indispensable as Bruce Pennington's Eschatus, Patrick Woodroffe's Mythopoeikon, or The Art of the Brother Hildebrandt, or any of the trade paperback collections of Frank Frazetta fantasy art you saw on the shelves of Waldenbooks.

I still remember when I first saw 'Beauty and the Beast': my younger brother's friend Mert brought it over with him one dreary Autumn night in '78 and we all agreed that this was outstanding art. Much too cool for Playboy, but just right for Heavy Metal (and Achilleos did indeed provide covers for that magazine).

Chris Achilleos was born on Cyprus of Greek ethnicity. After his father died while Achilleos was a child, his mother moved the family to London. Achilleos attended the Hornsey College of Art, and in the 1970s began a career in commercial art for UK publishers of science fiction and fantasy books, magazines, and record album covers.

Achilleos's skill with the airbrush gave his work a carefully crafted, 'clean' look that was much in demand as publishers began turning away from the more abstract and figurative styles of the New Wave era. 

'Beauty and the Beast' was one of the first books published by the Dean brothers under their Paper Tiger imprint, and one of the most successful. It's hard to imagine nowadays, where you can walk into Barnes and Noble and see a healthy selection of art books in the shelving of the sci-fi section, but back in '78 such things were rare.

These selections from 'Beauty and the Beast' should give you a good idea of how polished Achilleos's artwork was; these pieces could be mistaken for digitally produced compositions (which of course didn't exist in the seventies).

'Beauty and the Beast' features some of the artists' cheescake / softcore porn illustrations; more plentiful examples are provided in the followup volumes Sirens (also 1978) and Amazona (2004). Unlike 'Beauty and the Beast' these other compilations feature commentary text by the artist.

Copies of 'Beauty and the Beast' can be had for about $10 from your usual online retailers, so there's really no excuse for not having this book in your personal library if you are at all a fan of 70s pop culture, 70s sci-fi, 70s stoner art, and 70s fantasy art. And if you're not a fan of those things, but you have a deep nostalgia for that era, then that, too, is a good reason to get a copy.............

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Led Zeppelin at Knebworth

Led Zeppelin
publicity photo for the Knebworth Festival
Knebworth, UK
August 1979
left to right: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Bonham

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Book Review: One Very Hot Day

Book Review: 'One Very Hot Day' by David Halberstam

2 / 5 Stars

'One Very Hot Day' first was published in hardback in 1967. In June 1984, to tap into the burgeoning market for Vietnam War memoirs, Warner Books released this mass market paperback edition (230 pp).

David Halberstam (April 10, 1934 – April 23, 2007) was a U.S. journalist and writer, and among the first reporters to travel to Vietnam in the early 60s.

As a liberal, Halbertsam had no qualms about interjecting his political viewpoints into his fiction and nonfiction books about Vietnam. While an advocate for U.S. military intervention in the early 60s, by the early 70s Halberstam was a vociferous critic of the U.S. involvement, and even went so far as to publish a hagiography of Ho Chi Minh, titled Ho, in 1971.

The novel is set in South Vietnam in 1965, a time when the South Vietnamese government was rapidly losing the war in the countryside to the Vietcong. The lead character is a 38 year-old U.S. Army Captain named Beaupre, who agreed to serve as an Advisor to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) less from a sense of opportunity, and more from a desire to escape his deteriorating relationship with his wife.

Along with a young, idealistic West Point graduate, Lieutenant Anderson, Beaupre sets out with an ARV detachment on mission to investigate possible Vietcong redoubts, on the eponymous Very Hot Day. The novel's span, occupying no more than that single day, is understood to serve as a microcosm of Halberstam's perception of the U.S. effort in South Vietnam.

'Hot' is not an easy read. Halberstam employs a prose style reliant on a stream-of-consciousness narrative featuring lots of run-on sentences and lots of commas. Here's one of the book's shorter passages

Of all the Americans he was quite sure that Anderson was the best officer he had seen; brave, intelligent, handling himself well with the Vietnamese soldiers, speaking the language better than any American he'd ever seen; similarly he was sure that Beaupre was the worst, sloppy, careless, indifferent to the troops, contemptuous of the Vietnamese, and worse, he was sure he sensed Beaupre's fear.

With the plot consisting of little more than relating the physical travails of the march in the hot sun, much of the narrative is preoccupied with discourses on the psychological and emotional states of its American and Vietnamese characters. Staples of the Vietnam War narrative are included, such as the obligatory encounters with bar girls while indulging in R & R in Saigon; the segregation between black soldiers and white soldiers; and the deliberate distancing of senior officers from the boots-on-the-ground aspects of operations in favor of relating orders by from the rear over the radio.

The closing chapter tries to redeem with novel with a furious bout of life-or-death action, but it comes so late that it ultimately can't save 'One Very Hot Day' from being underwhelming.

The verdict ? While Halberstam's criticisms of the conduct of the war give 'One Very Hot Day' some degree of validity, when taken as yet another Vietnam War novel in a large ecology of such novels, it's not all that powerful or impressive. I really can't recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Bristol Board reaches 10,000 Posts

The Bristol Board
10,000th Post

The Bristol Board has always had a spot on my Blogroll. They just reached a major milestone with their 10,000th Post, so congratulations are in order to the Bristol Board.

The Bristol Board remains a daily, go-to blog for me. It always has some examples of great graphic art from the past 60 years. More than a few of its posts have led me to some overlooked gems in the fields of comic books, comix, art books, and other media. 

Here's hoping the Bristol Board goes for another 10,000 posts - ?!

Monday, August 12, 2019


by Chris Achilleos
for the album by Whitesnake
October 1979

Even by the politically incorrect standards of the 70s, upon its release in October 1979 this album cover caused quite a bit of controversy.

Achilleos would go on to do other album covers for other bands. As for Whitesnake, Lovehunter, which was the band's second album, was a modest success. The track 'Long Way from Home' made it onto the British charts. 

But it wasn't till lead singer David Coverdale dyed his hair blonde, recast himself as a younger incarnation of Robert Plant, and released the album Whitesnake in 1987 that the band became a household word in the US.  The album went 8X platinum, and its singles were unavoidable on FM radio and MTV all that year.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Book Review: Their Master's War

Book Review: 'Their Master's War' by Mick Farren

4 / 5 Stars

'The Master's War' (295 pp) was published by Del Rey / Ballantine in January 1988. The cover art is by David Schleinkofer.

'Master's' is a loose sequel to Farren's 1985 novel 'Protectorate', which I reviewed here.

For a young man named Hark, a member of the Ashak-ai tribe, life on his un-named planet means nothing more than eating, drinking, fighting, procreating, and dying of old age. Nothing has altered this primitive lifestyle for centuries.

But now, something is going badly wrong. The skies are filled with electrical storms that blow vast clouds of dirt and dust over the drought-stricken landscape. The herbivores upon which the Ashak-ai depend for sustenance have vanished, and parties of hunters from rival tribes are trespassing on the hunting grounds in a desperate search for food. 

The Ashak-ai shaman begins to murmur about the fulfillment of a prophecy: the time is coming for the Gods to once again appear in the land. And in the Valley of the Gods, representatives of the young men and young women of all the tribes will gather, and await whatever fate the Gods have planned for them.

What Hark soon will learn is that he and all of the other tribesmen and tribeswomen seeking the favor of the Gods are nothing more than cannon fodder reared by the omnipotent aliens known as the Therem. Along with an entire ecology of other humans and aliens conscripted from seed planets all over the galaxy, Hark will fight in the war for the Therem against their hereditary enemy, the Yal.

But as one bloody campaign after another unfolds with no sign of victory, Hark and his fellow humans will begin to question why they must die for their masters' aims and ambitions............

'Their Master's War' is an entertaining military sf novel. While it inevitably evokes the same war-is-hell flavor of Haldeman's The Forever War (and what 80s military sci-fi novel wouldn't), it has its own distinctly cynical viewpoint regarding the actions of its hapless human draftees. 

The reason I didn't award it a five-star rating is because the narrative takes its time in establishing its lead characters and settings. As a result, once the forecasted rebellion finally takes place, it has only a few short chapters with which to be accommodated, giving the ending of the novel something of a rushed quality.

Summing up, if you like military sf, or just a good space opera, 'Their Master's War' is a good example of how the subject was dealt with in a shorter-length novel. Copies in good condition can be had for under $10 from your usual online retailers, so it's worth searching out.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Father Shandor in color

Father Shandor, Demon Stalker
'Spawn from Hell's Pit'
from John Bolton's Halls of Horror
No. 2, June 1985, Eclipse Comics

In the mid-80s, Eclipse Comics got the rights to reproduce comics from early 80s UK titles, including Warrior. One memorable Warrior entry was 'Spawn from Hell's Pit', the inaugural episode of 'Father Shandor: Demon Stalker' which debuted in the very first issue of Warrior in 1982. 

You can see the original black and white version of the comic here.

One can question whether reprinting 'Spawn' in color, using the cheap plastic plates common in the mid-80s, is justified. I think Eclipse did a reasonably good job, considering the state of comic book printing back in those days. 

Whether in color or black and white, one thing is clear: John Bolton really could draw.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Luther Arkwright RPG

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Role Playing Game

In 1992 Bryan Talbot authorized the publication of a 'Luther Arkwright' role-playing game manual by 23rd Parallel Games, a UK company. In 2012 another RPG firm, Design Mechanism, announced the publication of a revised version of the game. An excerpt of some of the contents of the Design Mechanism RPG is available here.

The reviews I have seen for the Arkwright RPG deem it OK, but not much more than that. It likely will remain a curiosity, of interest to Arkwright fans if no one else. 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Book Review: The Five Fingers

Book Review: 'The Five Fingers' by Gayle Rivers and James Hudson

4 / 5 Stars

'The Five FIngers' first was published in hardback in 1978. This Bantam paperback edition (339 pp) was published in June 1979; the cover artist is uncredited.

According to a 1985 article in The Los Angeles Times that coincided with the release of a nonfiction book by Rivers, titled 'The Specialist', 'Gayle Rivers' was the pseudonym used by a 37 year-old British man named Raymond Brooks who, in his younger days, had applied for, but failed to join, the SAS. 

According to the Los Angeles Times article, experts in military affairs who reviewed 'The Specialist' were more than a little skeptical of Brooks's qualifications as a special forces veteran and International Man of Mystery. 

Under the 'Gayle Rivers' pseudonym, Brooks published a sequel to 'Fingers' called 'The Teheran Contract' (1982). Other thriller novels penned by Brooks include 'The Killing House' (1985)  and 'Hunter's Run' (1989).

So, if 'The Five Fingers' is fiction, how good of a story is it ? When I first read it back in 1979 I thought it was quite entertaining, and upon re-reading it, I have to hold to this assessment.

The book's premise is simple: in 1969 a team of seven special forces soldiers, code-named the Five FIngers, are given a mission to assassinate the North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. The assassination will require the Five Fingers to march north from Thailand, through Laos, into North Vietnam and across the border into China. There, at the village of Ta shu tang, Giap is scheduled to be attend a conference between the two countries. Upon killing Giap, the Five Fingers are to re-trace their route, maintaining strict secrecy all along the way.

Other than access to to caches of supplies hidden along their infiltration route, the Five FIngers will be operating on their own, with no support from the American military. If they are caught, then the U.S. government will deny any knowledge of the FIngers, or their mission.

Needless to say, General Giap never was assassinated, so the mission of the Five Fingers obviously doesn't come to fruition. Without disclosing any spoilers, I'll say that the plot forces our heroes to fight for their survival against overwhelming odds. And the Commies may not be their only adversaries..........

The book's narrative is the first-person viewpoint of co-author Rivers, who, we are told, is a member of the New Zealand SAS. The narrative is simple and unadorned, which makes the book a smooth read. 

'The Five Fingers' also is very much a 'splatterpunk' novel. Author Rivers doesn't shy from providing detailed descriptions of various Vietnam War atrocities he purportedly witnessed, as well as the nuts and bolts of bodily mayhem inflicted on men during firefights.

The verdict ? As an over-the-top 'commando' novel, 'The Five FIngers' presents the Vietnam War in a much different light from other fictional accounts of the war. It's certainly worth seeking out; although copies in mint condition of both the hardbound edition and the Bantam paperback have exorbitant asking prices, it's possible to find 'very good' grade copies for reasonable prices from your usual online vendors.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book Review: Body Count

Book Review: 'Body Count' by William Turner Huggett

4 / 5 Stars

'Body Count' was first published in hardback in 1973 by G. P. Puttnam; this Dell paperback version (445 pp) was issued in October 1983.

'Body Count' was the only novel published by William Turner Huggett (1939 - 2004). Huggett served in the Vietnam War as a Marine, and was awarded the Bronze Star. After leaving the Marines he became a well-regarded maritime lawyer in South Florida. Huggett died at age 65 of a brain hemorrhage, on the eve of a major trial involving a boiler explosion on the cruise ship SS Norway in 2003 that killed four crewmembers.

'Body Count' is set in 1969. As the novel opens Lieutenant Chris Hawkins takes command of Delta Company, Second Battalion, Seventh Regiment, Third Marine Division. Hawkins, who gave up his PhD program in order to volunteer for duty in Vietnam, is 'green' and thus something of a hazard to himself and his men. He is forced to quickly learn that much of his training in the US has not prepared him for the way the war is waged in-country.

The rest of the company is a cross section of American society: Hispanic and black men from the inner city, white men from small towns and rural areas, and an American Indian who (inevitably) is called Chief. Some of these men are cowards, some of them are brave, and all of them are counting off the days until they can leave Vietnam.

As the novel unfolds, Delta Company will learn whether Lieutenant Hawkins can become a capable officer and leader. But the learning curve is steep; forays against the NVA will leave little time for the Lieutenant to learn how to keep himself, and his men, alive.........

At 445 pages, 'Body Count' is a lengthy book, but for the most part it's very readable, more so than novels of equivalent length, such as Sand in the Wind and The 13th Valley. The author uses short chapters to continuously move the narrative from one member of the Company to another. The scenes of combat action, while highly convincing, are comparatively rare, with much of the novel devoted to covering the peculiar nature of duty away from the front lines. 

While not being polemical, author Huggett lays clear the conflicts between the 'rear echelon motherfuckers' (REMF) who were (are indeed still are, as the 'fobbits' plaguing our bases in the Middle East) the bane of the combat soldier. He also makes plain the drawbacks imposed on the American effort by the tendency of the brass to see the war as something to be Managed from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, or while circling overhead in helicopters.

The books suffers from a few too many segments in which Huggett explores the ramifications of the Peace Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the racial conflicts in the States for the men serving in Vietnam. I found these segments to be overly labored, and likely reflecting a decision by the author to give his novel a more expansive point of view than that expected of a simple combat narrative.

The closing chapter, which takes place in the A-Shau Valley, delivers authentic battle action and will reward those readers who are willing to stay with 'Body Count' through its slower passages.

Summing up, 'Body Count' is a sold four-star Vietnam War novel. Copies of the hardbound edition and the paperback edition can be had for affordable prices, and are worth picking up.

Monday, July 29, 2019

'I'm Easy' by Keith Carradine

'I'm Easy'
by Keith Carradine
July 1976

'I'm Easy' was first performed by Keith Carradine (the brother of Kung Fu actor David Carradine) as a acoustic guitar song in the 1975 movie Nashville.

In 1976, Carradine re-recorded 'I'm Easy' with greater musical accompaniment and released it in May as the lead single from his forthcoming album of the same title. The single peaked at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on July 31, 1976.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Book Review: The Vietnam War

Book Review: 'The Vietnam War' edited by Ray Bonds

5 / 5 Stars

'The Vietnam War' first was published by Salamander Books in the UK in 1979; in the U.S., this version (248 pp) was published by Crown, also in 1979.

In 1988 an updated edition (264 pp) was released by Crown under the 'Military Press' imprint.

A revised, third edition was published in 1997 under the Salamander Books imprint.

I still remember going into Oakdale Mall Waldenbooks on a cool evening in May 1979 (in my hometown in upstate New York, May was a 'sketchy' month, weather-wise: you could get light snow at the beginning of the month, and at its end, sweltering temps) and seeing this book on a table in the back part of the store. 

I was astounded. Up till this time, books on the Vietnam War had been limited to novels and biographies, like A Rumor of War and Born on the Forth of July.  

Leave it to the Brits to do what they do so well: these heavily illustrated, tiny-font, multi-author military histories, exemplified by the Purnell's History of the Second World War, a series of 128 magazines first issued in 1966.

[ Indeed, it would be another two years before the U.S. publishing industry caught up, in the form of Setting the Stage, the first volume in Time Life Books' 25-volume juggernaut, The Vietnam Experience. ]

Needless to say, I grabbed a copy of The Vietnam War and avidly read it. At the time it was the best single-volume military history of the war.

And, I would argue, it retains that status even today.

For one thing, it features a full-color section, titled 'Weapons and warfare techniques used in Vietnam', that excels in presenting those aspects of the war. The diagrams and illustrations are top-notch.

Being mindful that the contents of first edition of The Vietnam War were written 40 years ago, all in all, they remain reasonably valid as historical accounts. Not surprisingly, for a multi-author compilation they vary a bit in quality. However, reflecting the fact that most of the contributors are professional historians, for the most part they avoid overindulgence in editorial judgments and political rhetoric, and stay focused on narratives at the strategic and tactical levels.

One understandable gap in the book's coverage is the experience of the war on the part of the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese forces; there is a chapter titled 'The development of the Communist armies', by Lt. Col. David Miller, that is informative on the topic despite the paucity of sources available from the Communist side back in the late 70s.

It is unfair to compare The Vietnam War with Max Hastings' recent (2018) book Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945 - 1975, for at 896 pp in length Hastings' book has the advantage of length and access to the bounty of sourcing that has accumulated since 1979. 

But Hastings' book has its own flaws alongside its merits, and for those unwilling to tackle such a hefty volume, The Vietnam War remains a very affordable alternative. I certainly believe that The Vietnam War is as good as, if not better than, the other one-volume histories of the war that were published in the early 80s, such as Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History (1983) and Michael MacLear's The Ten Thousand Day War (1981).

Summing, despite its age, The Vietnam War still serves as a very accessible history of the military aspects of the conflict. The fact that copies in good condition still can be had for very reasonable prices makes it worth picking up should you see it on the shelf of your favorite used bookstore.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Tower King episodes 7 - 9

The Tower King
episodes 7 - 9
Alan Hebden (writer)
Jose Ortiz (artist)
Eagle (UK) 1982

episodes 1 - 3 are here.
episodes 4 - 6 are here.