Sunday, May 15, 2022

In Midlothian

In Midlothian

So I drove about 90 minutes to a used bookstore in Midlothian, Virginia, a western suburb of Richmond. I hadn't been there in about two years. I was astonished at all the development going on and how jammed traffic was, in the afternoon on a weekday, no less. 

I picked up a pretty good selection of paperbacks.

A new Qdoba restaurant has opened in the area (photo below) and I was determine to stop in. I last patronized the chain ten years ago (!), at a restaurant in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines. I would drive down to Clive from my home in Ames to go to the Half-Price Books store in Clive, and for lunch, I'd stop in at a nearby Qdoba. 

The Midlothian Qdoba served the food as I remembered it. Kind of like Chipotle. It was good. 

All in all, a nice way to spend a humid, rainy Spring day.........

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Match Point of Our Love

'Match Point of Our Love'
The Beach Boys, 1978

The Beach Boys' album M.I.U. was released in September, 1978. It is not considered one of their best albums. Mike Love, who had positioned himself as the leader of the band, insisted on recording it in a small town in Iowa on the campus of the Maharishi International University. 

Dennis and Carl Wilson were barely involved in the recording process, and Brian Wilson was in poor health; he later would claim he didn't remember making the album.
That said, at least one track on the album, 'Match Point of Our Love', stands the test of time as a catchy, AM radio-friendly song. Brian Wilson wrote the song (which features lyrics dedicated to tennis themes), and provided lead vocals. It's worth a listen..........

Monday, May 9, 2022

Body of Truth

May is No Place for Gringos Month !

Book Review: 'Body of Truth' by David Lindsey

4 / 5 Stars

'Body of Truth' (465 pp.) first was published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1993. This Bantam Books paperback edition was issued in April, 1993, with cover art by Jim Lebadd.

David Lindsey (b. 1944) began publishing the first of his 14 novels in 1983, most of these, like 'Body of Truth', are entries in the series featuring the Houston Police Department detective Stuart Haydon. Two of Lindsey's novels, 'Mercy' and 'The Color of Night', were made into films.

'Body of Truth' is set in Guatemala in the early 1990s. As it opens, Haydon is assigned to investigate a missing person, one Lena Muller, a co-ed and the daughter of a wealthy, and politically influential, Houston couple. It seems Lena Muller had been working as a Peace Corps member in rural Guatemala, and in so doing, had become involved in some kind of 'trouble'. 

Being fluent in Spanish, and having worked South of the Border on previous cases, Haydon flies down to Guatemala City and begins his inquiries both among the dissipated American expatriate community, and the American embassy staff. As his investigation proceeds, it becomes increasingly clear that Lena Muller had taken notice of some clandestine activities involving people in positions of power in the Guatemalan government. And those people are not kindly disposed to foreigners intruding into their business. 

As Stuart Haydon is about to find out, Guatemala in the midst of a brutal war against Marxist insurgents definitely is No Place for Gringos........

It's not easy to compose a crime novel that holds one's interest through all of its 465 pages, but to his credit, author Lindsey keeps the narrative from getting too static by leavening 'Body of Truth' with red herrings, some sharply rendered episodes of mayhem, and more than a few double-crosses (and double-double-crosses). Through the experiences of the cynical but dogged detective Haydon, the reader is brought to awareness of how duplicity and mendacity are part and parcel of the fabric of life in Guatemala.

However, 'Body' suffers from being overwritten. Too many descriptive passages take attention away from the plot; for example, at one point early in the novel, the author devotes half a page to documenting the ravages a January freeze has inflicted on the vegetation in Haydon's backyard. Then there are the soulful soliloquies (such as a parable about cicadas and starving children), uttered in a kind of poetic Spanish-translated-into-English, that one of the Guatemalan characters periodically launches into. These are intended to impart a depth to the storyline that presumably elevates 'Body of Truth' above the conventions of most crime or thriller novels. But I found these soliloquies to be stilted and unconvincing.

Then there are constant pontifications from the author that are intended to remind the reader of the immorality both of the Guatemalan regime, and the U.S. (for maintaining said government): 

One of the reasons why the Guatemalan army and the right-wing death squads had gotten away with their massacres and assassinations as long as they had was because Guatemala itself had always avoided major international attention.  

***

His was the story of Guatemala.........But sufrimiento was everywhere. Ugliness survived where beauty perished. The fact was that the land of eternal spring had vanished, and the land of eternal suffering had taken its place. 

***

On the other side of the plaza, to their left, the Palacio Nacional glowered biliously, a three story farrago of classic and colonial architectural motifs of light green stone........The sight of it angered and frustrated and frightened hundreds of thousands, even millions of the people it was supposedly there to serve.

These expressions of righteous indignation quickly become tedious.

The closing chapters of 'Body of Lies' maintain a leisurely pacing, obliging the reader to endure intricate descriptions of motoring on the Guatemalan highway system, and traversing the narrow roads of villages and rural locales. However, the novel's denouement avoids contrivance, while delivering some additional plot twists.

The verdict ? 'Body of Lies' succeeds as a 'No Place for Gringos' novel. Its length requires rather more investment from the reader than other entries in the genre, such as Ron Faust's 'In the Forest of the Night' (which also I'm reviewing), but provides an convincing picture of a country at a particularly fraught time and place in its history. As such, it deserves four stars.

Friday, May 6, 2022

War Games by B. K. Taylor

War Games
by B. K. Taylor
from the May, 1982 issue of Heavy Metal
B. K. 'Bob' Taylor was a regular contributor, 
with his strips 'The Appletons' and 'Timberland Tales', to the National Lampoon during the 70s and 80s. 

This comic was a foray into the Lampoon's sister magazine, Heavy Metal, and gently but accurately satirizes the fantasy gaming community as it was, way back in '82...........

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Book Review: Poso del Mundo

May is No Place for Gringos Month !

Book Review: 'Poso del Mundo' by Ovid Demaris
3 / 5 Stars

Accompanied by the Consulate's protective officer, I visited the Tijuana jail.....the first thing to assault the senses is the odor, so overpoweringly noxious that one fears it will leave a stain on his clothing. It is not only the putrescence of human waste, of sewage and gases, but a reeking blend of this and ages of decomposition, the decay of people and buildings, of mold and sweat and rust and fear and rot, a marasmus of steel and concrete, bringing forth a mephitic growth with a life of its own.

'Poso del Mundo' (180 pp.) first was published by Little, Brown in Hardcover in 1970; this Pocket Books paperback edition was published in July, 1971.

Ovid Demaris (1919 – 1998) was a United Press correspondent and reporter who, during the 1970s and 1980s, wrote 14 nonfiction books, mostly on organized crime and the Mafia. 'The Last Mafioso', Demaris's 1980 account of the life and times of mobster Jimmy 'The Weasel' Frattiano, was a bestseller (in a March, 1981 article in the New York Times, Demaris stated: ''I'm making more money out of the mob than they're making''). 

Demaris's 1970 book 'America the Violent' is a very readable, if depressing, historical overview of violence in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Demaris also wrote a large number of novels in the thriller and crime genres, including ‘The Lusting Drive’ (1958) and ‘The Extortioners’ (1960) for Fawcett's Gold Medal imprint. He wrote a series of books featuring the private detective Vince Slader. Many of these have been reissued as paperbacks and e-Books.

'Poso del Mundo', which loosely translates into 'Asshole of the World',  is something of a mix of investigative reporting and travel narrative. It's based on a tour Demaris made in the late 60s of the Mexican cities ('from Tijuana to Matamoros') adjoining the U.S. - Mexico border region.

At the best mancebia in Piedras Negras (it was bursting at the seams with ripsnorting Tejanos), I watched a floor show while cockroaches literally rained down on the table. After a while, convinced they were racing up my legs, I began stamping my feet to shake them loose and was congratulated by a table of ripsnorters for my enthusiasm.

The book's chapters examine brothels ('Cyprian Supermarkets'), the history of Tijuana ('Al Otro Lado'), Mexican police and prisons ('La Chicharra and the Little Monkey'), bribery as a way of life ('The Politics of Mordida'), cross-border smuggling ('El Contrabando', 'The Economics of Narcotics'), American gangsters at work and play in Tijuana ('Senor Tijuana is Gringo') and the futility of hoping or expecting that Mexico will change ('La Reforma Ultima').

Demaris of course realizes his Anglophone readers want things lurid and appalling, and for the most part, 'Poso del Mundo' obliges. The chapter on Mexican prisons and the hapless gringos incarcerated in them surely would have exerted a sobering effect on those Americanos contemplating travelling South of the Border, and remains relevant today. 

Then there are passages about gringo participation in some of the more clandestine features of life South of the Border:

For years the Paris Clinic, which recently went out of operation, was the biggest and classiest abortion mill in Tijuana. It provided a whole coterie of movie stars with well-publicized 'miscarriages.' The director, a leading surgeon, donated his morning hours to the local hospital; in the afternoon he tended to his private practice, and each evening he and his staff performed fifteen to thirty abortions in the basement of his home. 

Some chapters, such as 'Senor Tijuana is Gringo', belabor the intricacies of criminal machinations to an eye-glazing point of numbness, perhaps reflecting the author's desire to lend a note of journalistic authenticity to his voyeurism. These can make the book's 180 pages slow going at times, and are the reason I can't give it more than a three-star rating. 

Summing up, its lack of footnotes and sources limits the utility of 'Poso del Mundo' as a historical or sociological reference. However, it retains value as an observation of postwar Mexico  and a disquieting reminder that past efforts to 'improve' or 'reform' Mexico have been frequent, and patently unsuccessful. 'Poso' makes clear that the conditions showcased in Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Sicario didn't spring up overnight, but were present long, long ago............

Monday, May 2, 2022

May is No Place for Gringos Month

 May is 
No Place for Gringos 
Month !
The tank they threw me into was one of the worst there, with killers and dope fiends and homosexuals grabbing at you. The moment I came in, somebody noticed the mark on my finger left by the ring I had turned over to the guards, and they started beating me because they thought I was hiding it. 
-Poso del Mundo by Ovid Demaris

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to take a break from reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and horror media from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, and instead turn our attention to other genres of fiction and nonfiction. 

And there were flies. Many flies. And pariah dogs.

Jocelyn glumly regarded two large curs engaged in an indolent tug of war over the torn carcass of a third, headless and disemboweled. One had a front paw, the other, the tail. The vertebrae seemed not so much flexible as elastic. 
-Incident at La Junta by Oliver Lange

Before the Sicario movies, before Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, there was a body of fiction and nonfiction literature that dealt with hapless gringos who found themselves in places where being an Americano was a liability.......whether with the native population, the criminal element, or (worst of all) the federales.

And so, for May 2022, we've decided to focus on vintage books dealing with the misadventures of gringos who find themselves South of the Border. 

Whether it's in MAY-hee-COH, WHAT-a-Mala, or EL SAL-va-DOR, those hellholes offer nothing to witless gringos but perdition, depravity, and death !

....Haydon felt the first twinges of eeriness that was the city's gift to any arriving traveler who knew anything about the country's history. The low-powered streetlamps gave a macabre glow to the smoke that hung about the towering cypresses of the boulevard like an infernal breath. Haydon could not avoid thinking of what the smog consisted of, for he had seen more than a few bodies dumped in the garbage of the ravines, most of them mutilated and swollen like sausages from the tropical heat. 
-Body of Truth by David Lindsey


Sadistic caudillos who scheme to subject gringa women to Fates Worse than Death............... desperate inquiries into the fates of gringos Gone Missing in Guatemala's 'dirty war'..........and Mexican police whose easygoing smiles conceal a willingness to visit all manner of horrors on those Americanos who decide to hide out in the wrong places........

Come along, on a dangerous trip South of Border. 

Before we go, amigo, make sure you have a healthy retainer with a Mexican attorney, and the contact information for the U. S. consulate........it might make things a little easier for you when the trip turns into a nightmare............

Friday, April 29, 2022

Playboy April 1972

Playboy 
April 1972
Let's take a trip back in time to fifty years ago, and look through the April 1972 issue of Playboy magazine.

One thing readily is apparent: the magazine is thick. Two hundred and fifty pages, much of it advertising: liquor, shoes, clothing, hair spray, automobiles, motorcycles, cigarettes. Some 'hippie' and counterculture gear makes its presence known via the 'Marboro' mail-order poster vendor. The April issue is a reminder that 50 years ago print media was a major venue for marketing. The only magazine on the stands nowadays with a similar advertising page load is Vogue.

Also apparent: Playboy in April of 1972 was rated 'R'. No Private Parts on display. The young woman profiled below, Tiffany Bolling, was 25 at the time (at present, she is 76 and presumably in good health).


In the Letters pages, we have a missive from the inestimable Al Goldstein:
Much more sobering is a letter to the Playboy Forum from a soldier in Vietnam reminding the country that Americans were fighting and dying there well into 1972 (on March 30, North Vietnam launched its massive 'Easter Offensive' against South Vietnam):

The magazine is crammed with cheesey cartoons.
The April issue is a reminder that Playboy was a major outlet for both nonfiction and fiction pieces. An ongoing serialization of Michael Crichton's novel The Terminal Man is a prominent feature in this issue. There also is a California noir short story, 'One Way to Bolinas' by Herbert Gold (b. 1924), who was a very successful novelist and essayist in the postwar era. 

The quaint verb 'ball' (i.e., to have sex) is much in use in the pages of this 1972 issue.

There is a portfolio of 'erotic art', which is in fact a portfolio of paintings by Mel Ramos, who at that time was a star of the Pop Art movement.
There you have it. Fifty years ago men did indeed look at nudies, of course. But they also read for pleasure, consuming fiction and nonfiction content with a scope and diversity that is quite formidable when seen in the light of today's post-literate culture. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

James Bama: American Realist

James Bama: American Realist
Flesk Publications, October 2006
James Bama: American Realist (160 pp.) was published by Flesk in October, 2006. Flesk is best known as the publisher of the Spectrum series devoted to sci-fi and fantasy art.

The book is out of print, and copies that come up for sale have steep asking prices, often in excess of $100. I was fortunate to pick it up when it first was published, for $35.

James Bama passed away on April 24 at age 96. His longevity may have been due to the fact that he was a devotee of personal fitness (he was a weightlifter in his younger days, and was doing 100 pushups and 100 situps a day well into his 80s). 

This book provides a chronological overview of his career from the early 1950s, when he began working as an commercial artist at the Charles E. Cooper studio in New York City, and through the 1990s, when he focused on studio art inspired by the culture and landscapes of the American West.

One thing that clearly emerges from James Bama: American Realist is that Bama had a tremendous work ethic (in his younger days he would stay in the studio all weekend, sleeping on the couch and working on multiple compositions), one that saw him producing volumes of high-quality pieces on a weekly basis throughout most of his career in commercial art. At the height of his commercial art career, Bama was capable of producing a painting for the cover of a men's magazine, or paperback book, within 10 - 14 days.

Trying to assemble and analyze even a portion of this output is challenging, but editor Kane does a reasonably good job in selecting pieces that are most representative of Bama's commercial and studio works.

James Bama: American Realist offers the reader portfolios of Bama's compositions for the men's 'sweat' magazine market, the paperback book market, and advertisements and packaging for Aurora's plastic model kits of famous monsters, a franchise that has passed into Baby Boomer legend.

A lengthy interview with Bama, conducted in 2013 by men's magazine curator Bob Deis, is available here
Bama's most famous works, all 62 covers for the Doc Savage novels from Bantam books, are presented in the book, some as full-page reproductions.

The closing pages of the book are dedicated to the western art that Bama produced following his departure from the commercial art world.
The 'deluxe' signed edition of the book came with a DVD containing an 80 minute documentary of Bama by Paul Jilbert; unfortunately, the DVD has not been uploaded to YouTube.
The verdict ? Obviously, anyone who is a fan of the Doc Savage franchise, commercial art, and graphic art will want to have a copy of James Bama: American Realist in their possession, which makes the book's rarity and expense all the more doleful...............

Monday, April 25, 2022

Book Review: Bander Snatch

Book Review:  'Bander Snatch'
2 / 5 Stars

‘Bander Snatch’ (242 pp.) was published by Bantam Books in June, 1979. The cover artist is uncredited.

Kevin O'Donnell, Jr. (1950-2012) was a U.S. writer who produced more than fifty short stories from 1973 - 1998. In addition to 'Bander Snatch', he wrote the novels 'Mayflies' (1979), 'War of Omission' (1982), 'ORA: CLE' (1984), and 'The Shelter' (1987).

The novel is set circa 2130, in a dystopian USA where all the low socioeconomic status people have forcibly been relocated to an enormous pier extending from Ashtabula, Ohio out into Lake Erie. Known as The Jungle, the pier is essentially a giant slum, self-governed by gangs led by so-called 'Jungle Lords'. These Lords have a fractious, but rewarding, relationship with the federal authorities who arrange for the delivery of necessities to The Jungle.

The eponymous Bander is a 22 year-old Jungle Lord who, despite his youth, is a savvy and calculating ruler of the blocks comprising Township 25. Relying on his team of ‘Zulu’ lieutenants to carry out his orders, Bander is seeing success in his campaign to wrest greater control of The Jungle from his bitter rival, the Lord known as Catkiller.

As the novel opens, things are getting complicated for Bander Snatch and his Zulus. Bander’s girlfriend has disappeared, and the dissimulating federal authorities claim to know nothing of her whereabouts. Using all his skills in Jungle-bred spycraft, Bander discovers that said girlfriend is being housed in a government facility……a secretive facility whose function is unknown, but presumably not benign. 

Bander Snatch soon will find himself an unwilling participant in a federal project to transport a human being to a planet inhabited by a race of aliens who communicate through telepathy. 

Aliens who have a habit of summarily killing people who they find lacking in the niceties of telepathic ‘speech’……..

‘Bander Snatch’ is a two-star novel. While the opening chapters, set in the ruins of The Jungle, are engaging, the middle section of the book, which deals with the theme of First Contact, has a labored quality that is too replete with meandering internal monologues, and stretches of figurative prose (reliant on the frequent use of hyphens) designed to represent telepathic exchanges between our hero and the aliens. 

The closing chapters of ‘Bander Snatch’ return to the environs of Ashtabula and The Jungle, but here the narrative takes an uncertain journey into satire, with an emphasis on the plight of citizens confronted by the uncaring and inept bureaucracy of modern times. 

The verdict ? ‘Bander Snatch’ is at best a workmanlike example of 1970s science fiction. It's worth searching out if you are are a devotee of the genre's  'ESP' trope, but all other sci-fi fans can safely pass on this title.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Elli and Jacno Hand in Hand

Elli and Jacno
Main dans la main
1980
During the 1980s, Lou Stathis was the self-anointed ‘rok’ critic for Heavy Metal magazine. He specialized in being pretentious, often by referencing obscure bands operating outside the mainstream of rock music. 

I don't believe Stathis ever mentioned ‘Elli and Jacno’ in one of his Heavy Metal columns. But they certainly belonged to the techno-pop, New Wave ecology that Stathis liked to fawn over.

Elli Medeiros was a Uruguayan national who moved to France to seek a career as a singer. In 1976 she joined a French punk band called ‘Stinky Toys’, whose keyboard player was a Frenchman named Denis Quillard, who went by the stage name ‘Jacno’. When Stinky Toys broke up in 1979, Medeiros and Quillard formed ‘Elli and Jacno’, a synth-pop duo that had success in Europe and released four albums over the interval from 1980 to 1984.


Their 1980 album, Tout va sauter (‘Everything Will Blow’), featured the song Main dans la main (‘Hand in Hand’). There are several video clips of the song on YouTube


These songs from Elli and Jacno are very listenable examples of early 80s EuroPop. Also worth a listen is another minimalist synth-pop tune called Tic Tac Tic.

With her vinyl / leather short skirts and long brown locks, the photogenic Elli was the inheritor of the style and appearance of classic French female vocalists like Francoise Hardy and Jane Birkin. Indeed, despite the passage of 40 years, Elli remains the exemplar of the New Wave chick........!