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 cohnditi

'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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Book Review: Mute

Book Review: 'Mute' by Piers Anthony

0 / 5 Stars

Prior to 1979, humorous, or comedic, sf was a sub-genre of sf; its most prominent representatives were Robert Sheckley and Ron Goulart. Whether or not you considered either writer particularly effective, the fact remained that neither was successful in bringing their work to the attention of the larger pop culture landscape. It was safe to say that a small readership treasured the sub-genre, and things were not likely to change.

But of course, in 1979 the status of humorous sf did indeed change - drastically - with the publication of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by the British author Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001). Adapted from a radio serial Adams had presented on the BBC in 1978, the novel was a major hit in the UK, and in 1980 a hardcover version was released in the US by Harmony Books and became a bestseller as well. By the time a mass market paperback version was published in 1981, Hitchhiker had become a pop culture phenomenon, with many book purchasers consisting of people who were not sf fans.

Needless to say, mainstream sf writers in the US were very aware of the tremendous success of the Hitchhiker phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, more than a few of these mainstream writers quickly moved to take advantage of the interest in humorous sf. One of the most successful was Terry Pratchett, whose 1983 novel The Colour of Magic kicked off the remarkably successful ‘Discworld’ series.

[ I freely admit to 
having never read any of the above novels, or of being all that fond of the genre of comedic sf. ] 

UK writer Piers Anthony (the pen name of author Piers Anthony Jacob) wasn’t slow to get on the humorous sf bandwagon, issuing ‘Mute’ (440 pp) in April 1981 as an Avon mass market paperback. The cover art is by Ron Walotsky.

‘Mute’ is set in far future, and features as its lead character a misshapen mutant named Knot; he is gifted with the ability to subconsciously convince people to forget ever encountering him (this gives author Anthony the opportunity to insert smarmy in-jokes about attractive female muties being seduced by Knot in a 'deja vu all over again' sort of way). 


As the novel opens, Knot is a job placement officer on the mutie planet Nelson; there, he is visited by the beautiful Finesse, an agent working for the Galactic Empire. Finesse is accompanied by Hermine, a weasel who can communicate telepathically; and Mit, a hermit crab that can predict the immediate future.

(Yep………cute, talking animals…….)

After much arguing, Knot agrees to join up with Finesse, Hermine, and Mit to combat a Threat to the Entire Galaxy. The Empire’s Central Computer has determined that only this group of unique beings has much of a chance to set things right. 

Thus begins a picaresque series of whacky adventures that have our team of heroes traveling all over the galaxy and facing all manner of perils…………..

‘Mute’ is an awful novel. It’s so bad I gave up at page 133. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Here’s one example why: early in the book, the team lands on a planet that is a giant chicken coop. Knot makes his way into an area of the coop that houses roosters bred for cockfighting, and accidentally frees them. This gives author Anthony an opportunity to have his character make the following remark:

‘Loose cocks’, Knot said.

This kind of forced, cheeseball humor isn't the book's only drawback. Add in the fact that the majority of the narrative consists of lengthy passages of dialogue in which the characters stand around and say witty things (in between efforts by Knot to get Finesse into bed), and you have a novel that is beyond lame.

Perhaps inevitably given his prodigious output, many of Piers Anthony’s novels were duds, while others (like Var the Stick, which I recently reviewed here) are very engaging. But ‘Mute’ is in definitely one to be avoided.