Monday, January 28, 2019

Book Review: Angels from Hell


January is Dystopia in England Month !

Book Review: 'Angels from Hell: The Angel Chronicles' by Mick Norman


5 / 5 Stars

Any overview of literature devoted to a dystopian England is obliged to include the four 'Angels' novels written by the one-man fiction factory, Laurence James, under the pseudonym 'Mick Norman'.

According to an interview with James conducted by Stewart Home, who provides the Introduction to 'Angels from Hell', James was working as a editor for New English Library (NEL) in the early 70s when he noticed that the biker novels by Peter Cave were among the publisher's strongest sellers. 

James drafted his own biker novel, submitted to NEL under a pseudonym, and NEL accepted it. Upon its release in 1973, 'Angels from Hell' was a bestseller and James quickly followed it up with three sequels: 'Angel Challenge' (1973), 'Guardian Angels' (1974) and 'Angels on My Mind' (1974).


Needless to say, the original NEL paperbacks of the 'Angels' series all have long been out of print and copies in good condition have steep asking prices. 

(I should point out that there are affordable digital versions available for all four books).


Copies of this 1994 omnibus edition (348 pp) from Creation Books have steep asking prices; I was lucky to get mine for about $20. 

Laurence James elected to set his 'Angels' novels in the near future, that is, 1997 - 1999. The UK has undergone economic collapse and an authoritarian government is in power, stifling dissent through violent actions by the police. Society has become colorless, grey, and conformist........save for the last gang of motorcycle outlaws in the country. Living an underground existence, careful about where and when they gather, the 'Last Heroes' chapter of the Hell's Angels has a charter signed by Sonny Barger himself. And a willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive........

My capsule summaries (spoiler-free) of each novel:

Angels from Hell: It's 1997, and 28 year-old Gerald 'Gerry' Vincent, and his girlfriend Brenda (who met each other at a Young Anarchists' meeting) have decided to abandon respectable society in order to join the sole surviving group of bikers in the UK: the Last Heroes. Having survived the brutal and disgusting initiation ceremonies (which the author revels in detailing), Gerry and Brenda find themselves accompanying the Last Heroes in a series of adventures, including participating in a film being made about the Angels (a plot device that gives James plenty of opportunity to satirize the artsy set). 

When the British government learns that the Angels exist, measures are taken to ensure that the chapter is eliminated. But Gerry and the Last Heroes are well aware of the danger. A violent confrontation between a small army of policemen and the Angels will determine if the outlaw bikers are to endure, or vanish into the mists of legend..........

Angel Challenge: Author James shows he's still dialed in to abundant sex and violence by opening this Angels adventure with a Traumatic Amputation in a Sensitive Place:

Gerry tried to stop the bleeding, but there wasn't enough left to tourniquet.

Unfortunately for Gerry and the Last Heroes, the English biker scene of the Summer of 1998 is disrupted by the advent of a new gang: the Ghouls. Led by the charismatic Evel Winters, who takes his name from a legendary American biker of the 1970s, the Ghouls are Glam Rockers turned outlaw motorcyclists: uniforms consist of the latest in 'lovely, soft, caressing silks and satins', and cosmetics ('I get my makeup from the "Quaint Fairy" range'). And to add further to their shock value, the Ghouls are.......bisexual !

The Daily Leader newspaper believes that sponsoring a reality show featuring the Last Heroes and the Ghouls is a sure-fire moneymaker. To entice the gangs to participate, a competition is arranged: a series of scavenger hunts held in the greater London area. This 'sporting challenge' draws a TV viewership of millions throughout the UK and Europe.

But what Gerry and the Last Heroes don't know is that the fix is in for the Angel Challenge.........

In this sequel, James is out to satirize the Glam Rock movement and he succeeds brilliantly. If had to describe 'Angel Challenge' , I'd say it's a cross between Velvet Goldmine and Death Race 2000.

Guardian Angels: It's 1999 and the pop music world is preoccupied with the tremendous success of two new bands, each fulfilling the needs of an eccentric category of female fans. 

For 'Foolsgold', a group comprised of adolescent boys, the fans are 'middies', middle-aged women who tend to rush the stage in an erotic fervor in response to the band's songs, such as 'Mother Love', 'No Baby Love for Me', and 'In Praise of Older Lovers'.

For Central Heating, a group comprised of veteran rockers, the fans are 'teenies', adolescent girls who shriek with lust and rush the stage when hearing songs like 'I'll Untie You if You Let Me', 'Meat Injection', and 'Sixty-nine Ways'.

For tour manager Rupert Colt, the problem is that the middies and teenies are so prone to violence that concert stewards are being murdered when the fans rush the stage (the teenies have a nasty habit of secreting knives under their clothing). The entire tour is in danger of being cancelled unless Colt can find someone tough enough to serve as security. 

As luck would have it, the Last Heroes are looking for work....

'Guardian Angels' is easily the most humorous of the 'Angels' novels. I frequently laughed out loud while reading it. James is intent here on satirizing the world of rock music and concert promoters, and succeeds with style and grace. There also are some bloody confrontations between the Angels and a new group of rebellious yobs, the suicidally violent 'Skulls'............

Angels on My Mind: the Spring of 1999 is warm and filled with flowers, but it brings little comfort to Gerry Vincent and the Last Heroes. Gerry finds himself imprisoned by a female psychiatrist who believes she can 'correct' his criminal nature via Depth Psychology (!).

The Last Heroes are obliged to sally forth without their leader when their brother gang, the Wolves of Wales, find themselves under attack by an upstart gang known as the Star Trekkers (the second-in-command of the Trekkers is a man named Spock, who has had his ears surgically altered into a pointy shape).

A brutal battle for survival looms between the Last Heroes, the Wolves, and the Star Trekkers............while a hapless Gerry Vincent can only hope that a lapse of security will enable him to escape his captor..........

'Angels on My Mind' takes a different tack from the previous novels in the series, focusing more on the character of Gerry Vincent and his past, than on typical Angel mayhem. 


The verdict ? Norman's 'Angel' quartet remains one of the most engaging, amusing, and effective portrayals of a dystopian UK. While the availability of the printed versions of the books is limited, obtaining the digital versions likely will be rewarding if you are a fan this genre of literature.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Immortals of Science Fiction

The Immortals of Science Fiction
by David Wingrove
Mayflower Books, 1980


'Immortals of Science Fiction' (113 pp) was published by Mayflower Books in 1980. It's a large (11 x 11 inches) trade paperback printed on high-quality paper. 

This is an odd title, one I don't remember encountering in the early 80s. It's primarily a book of sci-fi paintings commission to represent each of 10 'immortal' characters from (more or less) prominent sf novels. 

David Wingrove was, in 1980, primarily an sf critic; his monumental multi-volume Chung Kuo series was still 9 years in the future. For 'Immortals', he contributes the accompanying text, in which each of the Immortals is engaged in conversation by a anonymous Narrator.



'Immortals' is odd in that no attribution is given to any of the showcased paintings; instead, the book states that the 'Young Artists' supplied the artwork. The ISFDB indicates that the participating artists include stalwarts of UK sf art during the 70s: Les Edwards; Tony Roberts; Alan Craddock; Terry Oakes; Richard Clifton-Dey; Alan Daniels; and Stuart Hughes.
The 10 'Immortals' profiled in the book include Susan Calvin, from Asimov's 'Robots' novels; The Illustrated Man from Ray Bradbury's novel; Slippery Jim DiGriz from Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat adventures; Oscar Gordon from Heinlein's Glory Road; Lewis Orne from Frank Herbert's The Godmakers; Esau Cairn from Robert E. Howard's Almuric; Winston Smith from 1984; Beowulf Schaeffer from Larry Niven's novels; Winston Roomford from Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan; and Howard Lester from Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone.



It's certainly an eclectic lineup, although I'm not sure whether it was a lineup dictated in large part by the ease of securing permissions from various publishing houses.

Wingrove's text accompaniments are by nature rather limited, and really don't do much more than give a capsule overview of each Immortal.

As far as the artworks go, well, they obviously are representative of the sci-fi art of the 70s, and stylistically have more in keeping with paperback covers than portraiture per se. They do succeed in presenting the Immortals in a manner faithful to their authors' visions, although not in  particularly imaginative or novel ways.



I cheerfully admit to never having read many of the of books showcased in 'Immortals', having considered the novels of Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Herbert, and Niven being among the less impressive works of the genre. 

So it is that I can't really recommend 'The Immortals of Science Fiction'  save only to those who are particularly interested in the works of Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Herbert, and Niven and would enjoy seeing the major characters of those authors rendered in color in large dimensions on the printed page.
Others who may be interested in this book are those who are determined collectors of the 11 x 11 illustrated sci-fi books that briefly flowered in the later 70s and early 80s, books like Harry Harrison's Great Balls of Fire, Mechanismo, and Planet Story. 'The Immortals of Science Fiction' will fit nicely on your shelf alongside those titles.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Victoria Principal

Victoria Principal
1970s

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Review: The 'F' Certificate


January is Dystopia in England Month !

Book Review: 'The 'F' Certificate' by David Gurney

3 / 5 Stars

‘David Gurney’ was the pen name of the British writer Patrick Bair, who under the Gurney pseudonym wrote four novels for UK publishers: The 'F' Certificate (1968), The Conjurers (1972), The Devil in the Atlas (1976) and The Evil Under the Water (1977). These works all are out of print and some, such as The Conjurers, have steep asking prices.

Bair also wrote a number of novels under his own name, with the best-known of these the lurid thriller The Necrophiles (1969).

This mass-market paperback edition of ‘The 'F' Certificate’ (188 pp) was published by Mayflower Books in the UK in 1970.

The novel is set in the UK in the early 70s. Rising crime rates are exacerbated by the advent of a bizarre cult in which young people transform themselves into ‘Drummers’ by wearing black clothing, riding around on primordial Segways (called ‘batters’), and taking a heroin-like drug that renders them ‘moon-high’. A distinctive characteristic of the Drummers is their use of a handheld electronic instrument that emits – in a deafening manner - the rhythmic sound that gives the cult its name.

Large packs of Drummers have taken to wandering the English countryside in a zombie-like state; this doesn’t preclude them from carrying out acts of shocking violence, should something provoke them from their drug-addled torpor. England’s judicial system is in the midst of a major debate about whether the Drummers are an imminent threat to society, or simply wayward youths involved in unusual voyages of self-discovery.

As ‘The 'F' Certificate’ opens, feature film producer John Breen is distressed by what appear to be efforts by his senior partner, Nicholas Kerk, to clandestinely film Britain’s first XXX-rated film (one deserving the ‘F’ certificate of the book’s title). Breen views such an effort as an assault on decency and public morals, one that a crumbling England can ill afford to bear, but Kerk is adamant that by presenting such a film, British society will become more accepting of erotic movies – a breakthrough necessary if the financially struggling company is to profit from making and distributing ‘adult’ films.

To condition the UK for the advent of its first film with an ‘F’ certificate, Kerk has arranged for groups of young people to wander unclothed around British beaches, which of course sparks a frenzy of publicity by Fleet Street.

As the narrative unfolds, John Breen tries to discover where and when Kerk’s film is being made, with a view to preserving the company’s dignity and its good relations with the British Film Board. But his efforts are complicated by an alarming phenomenon: the Drummers are swarming the grounds of Lockets, Breen’s country estate……but a violent encounter with the Drummers soon will be the least of Breen’s worries…………

For me, ‘The 'F' Certificate’ was a middling read. Even by the standards of 1968, trying to generate melodrama by devoting a plot to the making of an ‘adult’ film was hardly provocative, and author Gurney’s efforts in this endeavor become less and less convincing as the novel wears on. Indeed, it’s the parallel plot thread involving the menace of the Drummers, and their criminal accomplices, that gives the novel its credible portrayal as a near-future dystopian UK.

Summing up, I can’t recommend searching out ‘The 'F' Certificate’, but if you happen to see it on the shelf of a used bookstore, it may be worth picking up.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Snowbound by Donald Fagen

Snowbound
by Donald Fagen
from the album Kamakiriad (1993)


With a late afternoon snowstorm coming down here in the Central Virginia area, I thought it meet and seemly to showcase one of the more imaginative video clips from the early 1990s (when music videos were at the peak of their elaboration and production values): the video for the track 'Snowbound' from Fagen's 1993 album Kamakiriad.


The video was produced by the French film director Michel Gondry (b. 1963) and incorporates stop-motion animation. The video's 'retro futurism' visual style is unique, and fits perfectly with the whole sci-fi concept that Fagen emplaced in Kamakiriad.

At Nervous Time
We roll downtown
We've got scenes to crash
We're gonna trick and trash
We're gonna find some fun
We hit the street
With visors down
With our thermasuits
Sealed up tight
We can beat the freeze
And get saved tonight
Let's stop off at the Metroplex
That little dancer's got some style
Yes she's the one I'll be waiting for
At the stage door

[Chorus:]
Snowbound
Let's sleep in today
Wake me up
When the wolves come out to play
Heat up
These white nights
We're gonna turn this town
Into a city of lights

We take the tube
To Club Hi Ho
It's about deadspace
It's a marketplace
And a party house too
Something new
From Charlie Tokyo
It's a kind of pyramid
With a human heart
Beating in an ion grid
A critic grabs us
And says without a smile
The work seduces us with light
Eviva laughs and we step out
Into the blue-white night

[Chorus]

We sail our icecats on the frozen river
Some loser fires off a flare, amen
For seven seconds it's like Christmas day
And then it's dark again
And then it's dark again


[Chorus]

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pink Floyd playing soccer

Pink Floyd Playing Soccer
UK, 1970s
left to right: unknown; David Gilmour; Nick Mason; Roger Waters; Rick Wright

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Book Review: Riot 71



January is Dystopia in England Month !


Book Review: 'Riot 71' by Ludovic Peters


2 / 5 Stars

'Riot 71' was first published in hardcover by Walker and Company in 1967; this Hodder Paperbacks version (223 pp) was released in the UK in 1968. 

While copies of the paperback version in good condition are hard to find and expensive when found, the hardbound edition is a bit easier to get hold of.

'Ludovic Peters' was a pseudonym used by the German-born, British writer Peter Brent. During the 60s Peters wrote six novels featuring the private detective Ian Firth; 'Riot 71' is the sixth (and final) of these novels.

'Riot' is set in the UK in 1971. Economic problems have brought deprivation and widespread unemployment, with the government helpless to do much about either. The presence of a large number of black immigrants is gradually becoming a source of resentment among working class whites, who see their already slim hopes of gaining jobs endangered by the presence of these 'interlopers'.

A cabal of white aristocrats, known as the Nordic Union, are eager to exploit this growing racial antipathy. As the novel opens, Gerald Hudson, the young, white leader of the Inter-Racial Integration Society (IRIS), is struggling to counter the Union's clandestine efforts to exacerbate racial tensions, but his efforts are complicated by the knowledge that the Union will not hesitate to commit murder to further its aims.

Ian Firth, and his doughty Welsh man-at-arms John Smith, selflessly agree to assist Hudson without seeking recompense. Firth soon discovers that the conspiracy set in place by the Union is complex, and extends into the higher levels of the government. But as England lurches ever further into racial violence and anarchy, can the efforts of Firth and his small team of allies avert complete disaster from overtaking the UK ? 

I finished 'Riot 71' thinking that the book would have been better served by being crafted as a standalone novel, rather than as an entry in the 'Ian Firth' series. Author Peters certainly has an interesting premise and doesn't belabor the narrative with kumbaya bromides, wisely allowing the violence to feed upon itself, with each party feeling they are in the right.  

However, the narrative suffers from regularly having to veer from its effective portrayal of a near-future UK wracked by bloodsoaked race riots to rededicate itself to relaying the actions of Firth and his allies, actions which often have a contrived tone more in keeping with spy or thriller novels. 

For example, one man is able to outwit and outfight a surprise attack launched by a team of thugs; villains launch into 'bwah ha ha !' speeches, after which their captives are imprisoned, rather than being immediately executed; and convenient blunders by the villains leave all manner of openings for Ian Firth and this colleagues to take advantage of. Add in dialogue that often is stilted, and I got the feeling that I had invested rather too much time into a novel that really didn't live up to expectations.

Summing up, I can't recommend 'Riot 71' as a must-have examination of a dystopian UK. To be fair, that may not have been author Peters's intention, but all the same, this novel represents a missed chance to be a memorable entrant in the genre.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Axolotls

Axolotls
by Caza
from Heavy Metal's Even Heavier Metal
1983


Those were the days.............in 1983, a surfeit of worthy material led Heavy Metal editor Julie Simmons-Lynch to publish an 'extra' issue above and beyond the monthly allotment. 

Such an embarrassment of riches...........!

Even Heavier Metal featured some fine entries from Jeronaton ('Between Shadows and Light'), Moebius ('Artifact'), Voss ('Pinky Warner and the Virgin Seekers'), Jimino ('For One Quarter'), and even a surprisingly lyrical, wordless comic from Liberatore ('Love Ain't Nothin' But Evol Spelled Backwards').

But the best entry in the magazine was Caza's 'Axolotls'. The color scheme pushed the boundaries of what even a 'slick' magazine could do back in those days. Despite its 'low res' character by modern standards, the genius of Caza's art is readily apparent..............










Sunday, January 6, 2019

Book Review: Pendulum


January is Dystopia in England Month !

Book Review: 'Pendulum' by John  Christopher

5 / 5 Stars

‘Pendulum’ first was published in hardback in 1968. This Lancer Books paperback edition (288 pp) was published in June 1969; the cover illustration is attributed to ‘Stivers’.

The novel is set in the late 60s / early 70s in the fictional town of Pallister, England. Lead character Rod Gawfrey is in his forties, an upright citizen, and a successful real estate developer. Coming home one night from a restaurant visit, Rod and his family are appalled to find that a house party being hosted by their teenaged son Stephen has gotten out of control, mainly due to the presence of some party-crashing yobs. A confrontation between an outraged Rod and the yobs results in the latter departing; however, the leader of the yobs threatens future retaliation against Rod.

Even as Rod takes measures to bring the police into the dispute, change is overtaking his comfortable middle-class existence. There are widespread demonstrations by college students over the inadequacy of their stipends, and worrying signs of economic troubles looming in the immediate future. With a swiftness that Rod can scarcely come to terms with, within the span of less than a year the UK is transformed into a third-world country.

Rod finds himself adapting to this disaster, with a belief that things will ‘sort themselves out’ before too long. But Rod learns that his troubles are just beginning. For the void of authority has been filled by young people, whose gangs roam the landscape in packs of motorcycles, taking what they please and meting out violence to those who resist.

And a pack of motorcyclists have decided to set up house in Rod’s estate……....….

‘Pendulum’ is very ‘British’ in its depiction of the disintegration of English society and the ascension to power of rebellious youth. The populace are in the grip of passivity, carefully maneuvering themselves to avoid provocation of the yobs until such time as the government can reinstate normalcy: 'hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way'.


The classic ‘American’ post-apocalyptic trope in which a survivor (or band of survivors) access a cache of automatic weapons and reinstate order through the use of concentrated firepower and macho posturings is never entertained. 

Author John Christopher (the pseudonym of the UK writer Sam Christopher Youd) is perhaps best known for his ‘Tripods’ trilogy, as well as sci-fi novels like The Death of Grass and The Little People. His narrative in ‘Pendulum’ is characteristically understated and deliberate; the descent into fear of Rod Gawfrey and his family is carefully plotted, and the advent of violence and mayhem never contrived.

Summing up, ‘Pendulum’ is a slow-paced novel, but one that depicts in a convincingly realistic manner how the social and economic upheavals of late 60s Britain could logically lead to the breakdown of society. I recommend getting a copy.

[While the original Lancer paperback has a steep asking price, the hardbound editions, a print-on-demand trade paperback, and a Kindle version are readily available. ]

Saturday, January 5, 2019

January is Dystopia in England Month


January is Dystopia in England Month !

It's time for another 'themed' month here at the PorPor Books Blog, when I focus on a particular sub-set or sub-genre of sci-fi (or other literature).

For January 2019, I'm going to be focusing on novels and nonfiction that depict England in a state of dystopia during the late 60s and early 70s.

Everyone is of course familiar with the dystopian England of the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange, but in fact, prior to the release of that film, there were a number of novels that were quite prescient in extrapolating the generational strife, and increasing economic malaise, of the late 60s into a hypothetical UK of the early- to mid- 70s.


Some of these novels, particularly the Angels from Hell series from Mick Norman (the pseudonym of writer Laurence James) have since become cult classics. Others, like the novels by David Gurney and Ludovic Peters, remain rather obscure.

So prepare for the vision of an England prostrated by a collapsed economy or an authoritarian government..........a crumbling, ruin-strewn landscape through which hostile tribes of bikers rampage and pillage, while erstwhile pillars of society wrap themselves in threadbare garments and ponder how to stretch their diminishing rations..........truly an England of hopelessness and despair !

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Daryl Dragon 1942 - 2019

Daryl Dragon 
August 27, 1942 – January 2, 2019


Daryl Dragon, the Captain from 'The Captain and Tennille', died at age 76 of renal failure on January 2 in Prescott, Arizona.

Growing up in the 70s meant hearing the band's songs on any Top 40 station from 1975 to the end of the decade.


Some of their material could be insipid, if not cheesy, a classic example being their 1976 cover of the America song 'Muskrat Love'. But they also did some great pop tunes, and in my opinion they are remarkably superior to many of the acts dominating the pop charts nowadays. Back in 1975, after all, there was no Auto-Tune.

The Captain and Tennille were skilled live performers, as this video of them singing their hit song 'Love Will Keep Us Together' shows.



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

1973 Ford Pinto by Eric White

1973 Ford Pinto with Tanguy Sky (3 Women)
by Eric White
2011, oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches