Friday, November 29, 2019

Frost and Fire: DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel

Frost and Fire
by Ray Bradbury
adaptation by Klaus Johnson
DC Science Fiction Graphic Novel No. 3

For its third 'Science Fiction Graphic Novel', DC Comics adapted a 1946 short story, originally titled 'The Creatures that Time Forgot', by Ray Bradbury. 

Klaus Johnson was assigned to write and illustrate the graphic novel.

Without disclosing any spoilers, the premise of Bradbury's story is that a colony of Terrans has become stranded on a planet where time is speeded up and the human lifespan is only eight days in length. Winter and Summer - the Frost and Fire of the title - come as quickly as dawn and night.

Red-haired Sim grows up questioning this state of affairs, and the passivity of his tribe in the face of an ecology that renders them little better off than the flowers that bloom and die within the space of a single day. 

When he reaches adulthood, Sim - accompanied by his friend Lyte - sets off on a race against time to discover the truth behind rumors of possible salvation..........salvation in the badlands where the cliff-dwellers rain stones on interlopers, and from where no one ever has returned.............

This is not one of the better Science Fiction Graphic Novels released by DC. Johnson's artwork has a sketchy, hasty quality that fails to hold up well under the murky color separations in use back in 1985 comics printings.

As far as the story is concerned: as with most (all ?) of Bradbury's sci-fi tales, the scientific rationale underpinning the narrative is an afterthought, a simplistic fulcrum around which the story's drama unfolds. Readers hoping for a 'hard' sf narrative along the lines of a Hal Clement adventure will not find it in 'Frost and Fire'.

The verdict ? While some of the DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels are worth searching out, this one is not. It's strictly for those interested in completing their collections.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Review: The Leaves of Time

Book Review: 'The Leaves of Time' by Neal Barrett, Jr.

1 / 5 Stars

'The Leaves of Time' (205 pp) was published by Lancer Books in 1971.

Let me state at the outset: the best thing about this book is its cover, a brilliant piece of psychedelic art by the gifted New Zealand artist Mike Hinge (1931 -  2003).

'Leaves' has an interesting premise: in the aftermath of a battle against a race of ruthless aliens known as the Gorgons, soldier Jon DeHaviland finds himself teleported to an alternate Earth, and the city of Vriesborg, in the country of Vinaskaland.

Vinaskaland, which occupies the same territory as Canada does in 'our' world, is analogous to Sweden of the early 70s: progressive, peaceful, forward-thinking, and chock-full of gorgeous 'liberated' women..........!

Just when DeHaviland is thanking the Fates for bringing him to a Socialist Wonderland, he receives unwelcome news: a Gorgon has followed him through the teleporter.

Bred to be the ultimate supersoldier, the Gorgon is capable of assuming the form of any human, and its high IQ allows it to promptly be fluent in any language, as well as learning the cultural and social mores of the society within which it has chosen to operate. 

Once secreted among its foes, the Gorgon can manipulate politics to its own advantage - and world war is one such advantage. The Gorgon will use the chaos of conflict to place itself - and its clones - as the sole survivors.

Can Jon DeHaviland convince his new allies that their world is in peril from a quasi-invincible alien invader ? Or will the Gorgon succeed in turning those allies against DeHaviland........and engineer the destruction of Vinaskaland ?

'Leaves' was Neal Barrett Jr.'s second novel and it shows an author who is learning his way. Rather than a sci-fi novel, it's more of a late 60s spy novel / thriller with a sci-fi backstory. 

The narrative suffers from slow pacing and an overemphasis on dialogue; many chapters consist of nothing but conversations between protagonist DeHaviland, and various collections of alt-Earthers who are skeptical about his story of an alien supersoldier. 

The sub-plots and intrigues that burden the main plot pay yet more allegiance to the spy-thriller model, and lead to a denouement that struck me as having too many contrivances ('mind control' being one of them) to be effective. 

Summing up, I can only recommend 'The Leaves of Time' to Neal Barrett, Jr. completists.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

George Harrison 1976

George Harrison
screenshot from the November, 1976 video for the single 'Crackerbox Palace'

The video, which premiered on Saturday Night Live on November 20, 1976, can be viewed here.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Len Leone, Bantam Books, and the Modern Paperback

Len Leone, Bantam Books, and the Modern Paperback

Len Leone (1924 - 2013) was the Art Director at Bantam Books from 1955 - 1984. He was instrumental in bringing all manner of new approaches to paperback book design and illustration.

According to Lynn Munroe Books,

In 1965, Bantam art director Len Leone revolutionized the paperback publishing industry with THE TEMPLE OF GOLD by William Goldman. Before this book any blank white space on a mass market paperback cover was considered wasted space. Every inch of each cover had to be filled with color or text. Bantam started experimenting with white backgrounds, first with Mitchell Hooks, then James Bama. The concept really took off with THE TEMPLE OF GOLD. It was stark and riveting, with one figure in hyper-realistic detail and nothing else except a blank white background. 

As Brian Kane noted in JAMES BAMA: AMERICAN REALIST, “THE TEMPLE OF GOLD eventually sold millions of copies.” One of those was my copy and I remember it very fondly. This was the first of the “Bama White Bantams”, a style we are celebrating here. Bama created more of them after THE TEMPLE OF GOLD and other artists were enlisted to copy his style. Soon others publishers, notably Dell, Fawcett and Lancer, were putting out copycat covers. It was a clean and dynamic look.

An interesting article about Leone can be found here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Autumn Angels by Ron Cobb

Autumn Angels
by Ron Cobb

Monday, November 18, 2019

Book Review: A Century of Progress

Book Review: 'A Century of Progress' by Fred Saberhagen

2 / 5 Stars

This Tor Books edition of ‘A Century of Progress’ (315 pp) was published in September 1983; the cover artwork is by Bob Eggleton.

The novel opens in Chicago, 1984. Middle-aged, World War Two veteran Alan Norlund is sitting on a park bench, depressed and distraught by the imminent death of his granddaughter Sandy from cancer. 

Norlund is approached by a young woman named Ginny Butler, who makes Norlund a startling offer: if he will agree at some time in the coming weeks to drive an older-model truck for Butler, then his granddaughter will be cured. 

Norlund, disbelieving, shrugs off Ginny Butler, only to be astonished when, several days later, Sandy makes a complete recovery.

Norlund agrees to help Ginny Butler, and quickly discovers that she and her comrades have at their disposal technologies unlike any in existence….technologies that include time travel.

Alan Norlund’s assignment: travel to Chicago in the Summer of 1933, and place small ‘radio transceivers’ at various locations throughout the city. The implications of this assignment are not disclosed to Norlund, but he gradually learns he has been recruited to fight a most unusual war. This war is being fought by rival factions from their operations centers residing centuries into the future, and it is a very bloody and lethal war despite its covert nature.

Norlund soon becomes the central figure in the battle to determine the course of history…..and the pivotal actor in a campaign that either will see the world set free from tyranny, or condemned to it…..

The opening chapters of ‘A Century of Progress’ promise an entertaining and novel treatment of the time travel theme, with author Saberhagen doling out small revelations about the nature of the conflict in order to entice the reader to keep turning the pages. 

The opening chapters, most of which take place in 1930s Chicago, have a decidedly nostalgic, even elegiac quality in terms of relating that era of US history, and these chapters are novel’s best. 

Unfortunately, as the narrative progresses, Saberhagen’s failure to provide much in the way of a plausible backstory rapidly weakens the plot.

The best novels in the time travel sub-genre devote at least a modicum of attention to explaining the mechanics of how such travel is accomplished, and how issues- like paradoxes - are deterred, or accommodated. However, ‘Century’ lacks a plausible reason for the circumstances which have given rise to a conflict in which Alan Norlund, of all people, is a key figure. 

As the narrative progresses, these gaping holes in the backstory become ever harder to negotiate, and impart a perfunctory quality to the unfolding plot.

The climax of the novel has an ambiguous, contrived tenor, and left me to conclude that Saberhagen primarily saw ‘Century’ as an opportunity to write a Jack Finney-style, character-driven drama under the rubric of a sf novel, rather than a convincing time travel adventure per se.

Summing up, ‘A Century of Progress’ never fulfills its promise of delivering a good ‘Future Nazis’ or Wolfenstein: The New Order - style novel. It also doesn’t succeed as a time travel novel. Unless you are a die-hard Saberhagen fan, this book can be passed by.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Men of Violence All Review Special

Men of Violence
'All Review Special'
edited by Justin Marriott
June 2019

Here's another volume of interest to paperback collectors and readers from the publishing firm of Justin Marriott, producer of The Paperback Fanatic and numerous other 'bookzines' dedicated to vintage paperbacks.

(My review of The Sleazy Reader is available here.)

'Men of Violence: All Review Special' ($5.99, 93 pp) features reviews (limited to 250 words for an individual book and 500 words for a series) of over 100 paperbacks and comics published from 1953 to the present day, that fall (more or less) into the genre of 'Men's Adventure' fiction. 

Needless to say, we live in an era in which men rarely read for pleasure, the genre of Men's Adventure is regarded as affront to a Woke society, and any adolescent who brings a copy of Torture Love Cage (Jack Savage, 1959) to school probably will be expelled, and obliged to receive Counseling before being readmitted.............

The contributors to the 'All Review Special' all are individuals familiar with the genre (some are reviewers for The Paperback Fanatic and its associated titles). 

Along with expected entrants, such as 'Nick Carter', 'The Butcher', 'The Penetrator', and 'The Death Merchant', there are quite a few more-obscure series and titles that I'd never heard of, indicating that the genre is considerably more idiosyncratic than one might expect.

For the most part, the reviews serve their purpose in giving the reader an easily graspable overview of the novel without disclosing spoilers (this is important !). Not every title in this volume has a high rating, but there certainly are a number of entries for which my interest was sufficiently piqued as to send me to the usual online outlets to make some transactions.

Somewhat inevitably, some of the more worthwhile volumes in this 'All Review Special', being long out of print and sought after by collectors, are simply unavailable......... or have such exorbitant asking prices as to be unavailable (a seller at Abebooks wants $1,115.44 for a 'good' condition copy of The Rig, by Ronald Wilcox).
In such instances it's worthwhile to have read the 'All Review Special' to have an existing awareness of what to look for, in those trips to the used bookstore in search of hidden treasures.

For my part, I've picked up my own copy of Bloody Vengeance by Jack Ehrlich (1973).

Summing up, if you're a reader, a collector, or both, then I recommend getting a copy of 'Men of Violence: The All Review Special'. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Book Review: Best SF:1968

Book Review: 'Best SF: 1968' edited by Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss
2 / 5 Stars

Well, here we go with another of Harry Harrison's 'Best SF' anthologies, this one (246 pp, Berkley Books) published 50 years ago, in September 1969. The cover art is by Paul Lehr.

Harrison provides his usual matter-of-fact Introduction, noting that the success of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey has opened the eyes of the Literary Establishment to the maturity and sophistication of sf and will, hopefully, motivate the Establishment to accept sf as a valid literary endeavor on the part of its most skilled practitioners.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

Budget Planet, by Robert Sheckley: a rather underwhelming effort to cast the Creation as the equivalent of a real estate haggle. I have never felt that Sheckley's humorous approach to sf was all that impressive, and this story certainly doesn't change that assessment.

Appointment on Prilla, by Bob Shaw: On a remote planet, an Away Team confronts a malevolent alien. One of the best stories in the anthology.

Lost Ground, by David I. Masson: this story borrows its concept from Fred Hoyle's 1966 novel October the First is Too Late. In a patch of rural England, different acres represent different periods of time; traversing these acres can be hazardous. The story tries to do too much, leading to to an increasingly confusing plot. It doesn't help matters that Masson employs an oblique, overwritten prose style.

The Annex, by John D. MacDonald: Harrison fawns over the fact that MacDonald has deigned to write a SF story, his first 'in over ten years'. Unfortunately, 'The Annex' is a labored allegory with a denouement that most readers will see coming long before the story's end.

Segregationist, by Isaac Asimov: now Harrison fawns over the fact that Dr. Asimov has, over the past year, published ten (TEN !) books. What Harrison won't reveal is that just about all of these ten books are ghost-written.

Anyways, the story: in the future, people can elect to have their hearts replaced with artificial devices. Which can, in some circumstances, be a dilemma........the 'surprise' ending succeeds.

Final War, by K. M. O'Donnell (Barry Malzburg): in his introduction to this novelette, Malzburg admits it is an homage to Joseph Heller's Catch 22. And yes, 'Final War' does address the absurdity of the military system. A more competent author could have done this in five pages, but Malzburg requires 34........making this one of the most tedious and underwhelming stories in the anthology.

Harrison includes five reviews of 2001: A Space Odyssey, by editors such as Ed Emshwiller, and authors, like Samuel R. Delaney and Lester del Rey. These remind us how influential 2001 was when it first appeared.

The Serpent of Kundalini, by Brian W. Aldiss: this is one of the short stories that later would  be compiled to make up the 1969 fix-up novel Barefoot in the Head

The hero, a young man named Charteris, wanders a near-future UK in the aftermath of a war that used psychedelic drugs as weapons. There is much use of figurative language, designed to impart to the reader the psychological fallout of such a scenario. Probably because it's short, the story holds together, something that many of Aldiss's New Wave pieces were not wont to do.........

Golden Acres, by Kit Reed: an elderly couple find that their new Retirement Community is a little too perfect. One of Reed's best stories and one of the best entrants in this anthology.

Criminal in Utopia, by Mack Reynolds: in a future USA, Rex Moran decides to do the impossible: commit not just one, but a series of crimes, and get away with it. A competent tale, infused with humor.

One Station of the Way, by Fritz Leiber: what if the Christmas Story was a legend inspired by the actions of aliens ? 

In his introduction to this story, editor Harrison declares that 'Leiber is not a lesser writer', but 'One' is the worst story in the anthology, mainly because Leiber's prose is so appallingly bad, even by the standards of SF of the late 60s. For example, at one point in a dialogue exchange, a character says something 'titteringly'.........?!

Sweet Dreams, Melissa, by Stephen Goldin: another Talking Computer story. It tries to be Poignant, but falls flat.

To the Dark Star, by Robert Silverberg: a team of scientists observes the formation of a black hole. Since in '68 the term 'black hole' hadn't yet come into use, this story deserves credit for its determination to use cutting-edge physics as its theme.

The House that Jules Built, by Brian Aldiss: this is an Afterword by co-editor Aldiss. It's as good an example as any of Aldiss's highly inflated sense of his own self-importance. In labored prose, Aldiss invokes a Scholarly Tome titled Victorians and the Machine: The Literary Response to Technology by Herbert L. Sussman, and its relevance to the angst rising in Western society as the decade of the 60s comes to its end.

The verdict ? The presence of too many duds means that I can't recommend searching out 'Best SF: 1968'. For series completists only.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

American Grotesque

American Grotesque
The Life and Art of William Mortensen
Edited by Larry Lytle and Michael Moynihan
Feral House, 2014

Before there was Photoshop, scanners, digital artwork, or the artist J. K. Potter, there was William Mortensen.

Mortensen (1897 - 1965) grew up in Park City, Utah, and served in World War One as an Army camouflage painter. He returned to Utah and in 1920 worked for a year as a art teacher at a Salt Lake City high school, where he often would take female students into the surrounding countryside to pose for 'artistic' photographs (!). After a communication from the Board of Education, Mortensen was asked to leave the position, whereupon he decided to make for a locale more sympathetic to his artistic visions and departed in his sidecar motorcycle for Los Angeles.

Upon his arrival in 1921, Mortensen connected with the rapidly growing motion picture industry and became a well regarded supplier of still photographs for the major studios. During the later 20s he began experimenting with a variety of imaginative darkroom techniques for converting photographs into 'artistic' compositions, by (for example) superimposing montages or mattes onto his prints.

One of his most famous photographs, L'Amour, featured on the cover of the book, features a man in a gorilla suit. Mortensen used a self-designed 'texture screen' - a piece of film with minute cross-hatchings scored on its surface - in order to give the finished image the outward appearance of an engraving.

By the 30s, Mortensen was a superstar of the photography world. Major exhibitions featured his works, high-profile magazines like Vanity Fair featured his photographs, and his articles in trade journals were carefully studied by a generation of photographers eager to apply his methods to their own work.

Among his most striking images were a series of photographs taken during the 1920s for a projected pictorial history of witchcraft and demonology. Mortensen was canny enough to know that the artistic value of such an endeavor was measurably enhanced by the inclusion of nubile young women posed alongside fetish imagery..........

Mortensen's approach to photography began to fall from fashion in the later 40s and early 50s as more realistic photography (championed by Ansel Adams, among others) took hold of the public consciousness. Although Mortensen retained an interest to documenting the 'grotesque', he shifted emphasis to glamour and pinup photography while continuing to run a school in Laguna Beach devoted to teaching his methods. He died in 1965 from leukemia.

In the 1990s there was a revival of interest in Mortensen and his works and an acknowledgement that his role as an artist had been deliberately undermined by the 'mainstream' photography enterprise. In 2014 Feral House published a nicely produced hardbound book, American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen (300 pp). 

American features a biographical essay on Mortensen, along with an additional essays on his darkroom techniques. Mortensen's own essays on the nature of his art also are included, and there is of course an expansive portfolio of pictures representing the entirety of his career.

I'm not an avid fan of photography, but Mortensen was a true original and if you are interesting in the history of fantastic art, then perusing American Grotesque may be worth your while.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Chronicles of Kull volume 2

The Chronicles of Kull
Volume 2
The Hell Beneath Atlantis and Other Stories
By Roy Thomas et al.
Dark Horse Books, April 2010

This Dark Horse trade paperback (206 pp) was published in April 2010. It compiles the Marvel comic series Kull the Conqueror No. 10 (September 1973) and (following a change to the title as a marketing move) Kull the Destroyer Nos. 11 - 20 (November 1973 - April 1977).

[All of the Marvel color comics featuring Kull from the 1970s and 1980s have been compiled into a five-volume set from Dark Horse, titled The Chronicles of Kull. ]

[It should be noted that the black-and-white Kull comics that served as the backup features in issues of The Savage Sword of Conan magazine were packaged by Dark Horse into two trade paperback compilations, The Savage Sword of Kull Volume 1 (2009) and The Savage Sword of Kull Volume 2 (2011).]

Marvel never pretended that its Kull comics were top-tier, trading on the 'from the Creator of Conan !' association to drive consumer interest. 

Marvel chose to assign a revolving door of writers and artists to each issue on an ad-hoc basis. Of course, during the 70s the company's entire output had a frenetic quality, and perhaps because they received reduced editorial oversight, the Kull comics weren't as bad as they could have been. Or, maybe they were as bad as they could have been..........?!

With only 15 pages devoted to the Kull story in each issue, and most issues considered to be standalone storylines, the plots were inevitably overwritten and the panels overwhelmed by speech balloons and narrative boxes.

Gauging by the quality of the reproductions in this Dark Horse volume, scans of printed comics were used rather than the original artwork. This is unfortunate, as the color separations are awful, and the artwork (by veterans such as Alfredo Alcala and Mike Ploog) suffers as a result.

Of the 11 stories in this volume only one, 'By This Axe I Rule', from issue 11 of Kull the Destroyer, is based on an actual Kull tale by Robert E. Howard. The remaining stories all are in-house creations written by Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Doug Moench, and Gerry Conway.

While these stories vary in quality, it's perhaps only fair to acknowledge that all of these writers had other assignments at the time they were tasked with writing for 'Kull'. 

The verdict ? The relatively low asking prices for these Dark Horse compilations signal that they are not much sought-after, so if you are a dedicated Robert E. Howard or Kull fan, then getting a copy of any of the volumes shouldn't be that difficult. 

Given that the Kull the Conqueror comics of the early 80s featured art by such talents as John Bolton and John Buscema, I would say that volume 4 and 5 of these Dark Horse compilations are the more desirable entries.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Wear Your Love Like Heaven

Wear Your Love Like Heaven

I remember first hearing this song on the FM 'Album Oriented Rock' radio stations during the mid-70s. It was a revelation, because usually, if the station played anything by Donovan, it was 'Sunshine Superman', and more rarely, 'Atlantis'. 

'Wear Your Love' remains one of the quintessential songs of the Psychedelic era.

'Wear Your Love Like Heaven' was a track on Donovan's 1967 double album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden. In the U.S. the album was repackaged into two individual albums, one titled Wear Your Love Like Heaven, the other, For Little Ones

The song came to fore of pop culture in 2002 when it was used in an episode of The Simpsons titled 'Weekend at Burnsie's' (Homer is prescribed medical marijuana, and goes off on a psychedelic 'trip').
Color in sky, Prussian blue
Scarlet fleece changes hue
Crimson ball sinks from view
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love)
Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like)
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love)
La-la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la
Color sky, Havana lake
Color sky, rose carmethene
Alizarin crimson
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love)
Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like)
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love)
La-la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la
Cannot believe what I see
All I have wished for will be
All our race proud and free
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (wear your love)
Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like)
Wear my love like heaven (wear my love)
Carmine, carmine

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book Review: Seductions

Book Review: 'Seductions' by Ray Garton
2 / 5 Stars

'Seductions' (277 pp) was published by Pinnacle Books in November, 1984.

This was Garton's first published novel. Is it a classic of the 'Paperbacks from Hell' canon ?

The short answer is, No.

The novel is set in Northern California in the early 80s. The protagonist is a high school English teacher in his thirties named Donald Ellis. As the novel opens, Ellis has been plagued by vivid nightmares, which start off with visions of rivers of blood sweeping over hapless men, women, and children, followed by a woman's sexy voice promising to deliver all manner of erotic delights to Ellis, her spellbound listener.

Ellis's trepidation over the nightmares is reinforced by his latent ESP abilities, which include the ability to pick up on people's thoughts and intentions, as well as selected moments of precognition. Needless to say, Ellis and his nightmares are author Garton's unsubtle message to the reader that Something Awful is Coming.

Ellis's personal problems are complicating his romantic relationship with fellow teacher Anne Cramer, as well as his friendship with the nerdy student Kyle Hubbley. But these problems soon recede to the background as Ellis discovers that his younger brother Bill - a firefighter who lives in a house trailer - has become infatuated with a stunning woman named Eve. 

What Donald and Bill Ellis don't know is that Eve is not a woman, but a 'succubus', a creature able to disguise itself in human form. A creature capable of igniting an erotic frenzy in its victims, priming them for an encounter that always ends very badly............

Even making allowances for the fact that this is a first novel for Garton, 'Seductions' never really comes into its potential. This mainly is due to the leisurely pacing of the first half of the book, which spends too much time on character development (almost as if Garton was trying to avoid accusations of crafting a schlocky horror novel, and tried too hard to give the book 'depth'). The fact is, no amount of exposition is going to make an alcoholic, self-pitying high school English teacher a dynamic and engaging character......... 

The momentum picks up in the second half of 'Seductions', but mainly because the characters consistently overlook the obvious Warning Signs, either because these characters are besotted with the allure of the succubus, or consumed with one or another manifestation of personal angst and psychological travail that paralyzes their ability to think straight and take meaningful action. 

i won't disclose any spoilers, save to say that the rationale for the existence of the succubus tries to mix the supernatural with sci-fi.........unconvincingly, in my opinion.

Summing up, 'Seductions' doesn't stand the test of time as a worthy exemplar of Paperbacks from Hell. While copies of the 2014 trade paperback edition can be had for affordable prices, this one is for Garton completists only.