Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sin or Salvation

'Sin or Salvation'
by Jay Kinney
from Young Lust Number 1, October 1970



Young Lust was founded by Bill Griffith (who went on to become a superstar of the comix movement with 'Zippy' the Pinhead) and Jay Kinney as a satire of the romance comics of the 50s.

Eight issues ultimately were published, most during the interval from 1970 - 1980. According to Kinney,

Forty years ago, DC and Marvel were still cranking out "romance comics" such as Young Love. Bill Griffith and I had the bright idea to create an "adults only" satire of the genre, Young Lust. It became one of the top three best-selling underground comix, along with Zap Comics and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. These were two of my best strips for the comic: my memoirs of Fifth Grade and a satire of the Maoist Cultural Revolution. 

'Sin or Salvation', in which a coed tries to decide between two suitors: a hippie, and a clean-cut ROTC cadet, with a surprise twist revealed in the last few panels, is one of the more amusing comics featured in issue one. It illuminates the culture wars taking place in the late 60s - early 70s.




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: A War of Shadows


September is Outbreak Month.......at the PorPor Books Blog !

Book Review: 'A War of Shadows' by Jack L. Chalker


1 / 5 Stars

'A War of Shadows' (314 pp) was published by Ace Books in 1979. The outstanding cover illustration is by Luis Royo.

'Shadows' is set in the near future, i.e., the late 1980s. As the novel opens, a series of strange and terrible diseases are striking America's small towns. The symptoms vary from one locale to another, but include mass blindness, mass mental retardation, mass catatonia, and mass amnesia. The attacks display a peculiar pattern: after the initial wave of illness, no further cases are observed. Nothing overtly suspicious - the deaths of large numbers of animals, tainted drinking water, overflights by crop-duster planes - can be associated with the outbreaks.


The government tries to cover up the extent of the outbreaks, but it is increasingly clear that no ordinary infectious agent can be responsible, and that someone is waging Germ Warfare against the USA. Dr Sandra O'Connell and Dr Mark Spiegelman from the National Disease Control Center (NDCC) are assigned to assist with the government's investigations.

In due course, O'Connell and Speigelman are stationed at Fort Detrick, Maryland, given access to well-equipped laboratories, and tasked with finding out what type of organism could be causing the outbreaks. There they make a fateful discovery......and learn that they are fighting a war against a clever and resourceful enemy, one who hides within a complex web of conspiracies...........


'War of Shadows' was a real disappointment. Even making allowances for the fact that the book was published early in Chalker's career, it suffers from too many weaknesses to be a worthwhile read.

For one thing, although 'Shadows' presents itself as an 'outbreak' novel, after the first 70 pages the epidemic plot is abandoned, and the book turns into a 'thriller' involving a terrorist organization's efforts to seize control of the US. 

Having read no other of his novels, I am open to arguments that sf is Chalker's strong point; however, the thriller genre is not, and in 'Shadows', there are too many plot contrivances (a heroine is just thin enough to squeeze through a fence to escape her pursuers; a rescue team arrives just seconds before the villains are about to escape) to give the plot the necessary sense of realism. As well, Chalker frequently interrupts the narrative to provide political commentary via internal monologues and speeches given by his characters; this commentary, which invokes classic 70s Paranoia over the Growing Power of Those Who Govern, quickly becomes tedious.

Another weakness of the novel is the author's prose style, which frequently reads like a first draft that received little, if any, editorial oversight. Often, the syntax of many sentences is so unclear that I had to re-read them multiple times to finally grasp what Chalker was trying to communicate. Making things worse is the fact that dialogue passages suffer from what could politely be called 'wooden' writing. 

The verdict ? 'War of Shadows' is a dud...........this one is best avoided.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Michael Jackson, New York City, 1977

Michael Jackson
New York City, 1977

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Vermillion: the series

Vermillion: The Series
by Lucius Shepard (writer) and Al Davison, John Totleben, and Gary Erskine (art)
DC / Helix, 1996 - 1997


In 1996, DC launched a new imprint, called 'Helix', designed to showcase sf comics. It was an effort to try and capture an older, more discerning readership in the manner of the Vertigo line, which by '96 was well established and one of the more profitable enterprises in the DC lineup. 



Unfortunately, even though the Great Comic Book Crash of '93 was three years gone, the industry still was deep in the doldrums, and the Helix line was cancelled in 1998. It turned out that most sf readers weren't all that entranced with the Helix titles, and the regular comic book readership was not all that interested in the material, either. 

That said, one of the more intriguing titles in the Helix line was Vermillion, created in partnership with Lucius Shepard (1943 - 2014), one of the 'first generation' cyberpunk authors whose first novel Green Eyes (1984) was among the novels selected for the influential Ace Science Fiction Specials series of the mid-80s. 




Vermillion, with Shepard writing all episodes and art chores split between Alan Davison, John Totleben, and Gary Erskine, lasted for twelve issues (October 1996 - September 1997). Very fine cover art was provided by William Michael Kaluta.


Vermillion - the name refers to a city the size of the solar system, in which most of the story takes place - mixed sf and fantasy with the occasional horror segment. 

The lead character is one Jonathan Cave, an antihero. His origin is never explained, but he is presented as a self-centered, affectless individual who - as the narrative progresses - discovers he possesses unique abilities, among them the ability to recognize aliens masquerading as humans.



The series had two major story arcs; in the first arc, issue 1 - 7, Cave finds himself aboard a massive starship, whose crew seeks to remake the universe with the aid of a supercomputer. Issue 8 is a standalone episode, and issues 9 - 11 deal with Cave's interactions with one of the Ilumi' nati, the race of aliens who secretly control the workings of the universe. Issue 12 is a standalone wrapup for the series.




One of the things that Vermillion does right is to have talented artists on its roster; Davis, in particular, provides meticulous artwork that showcases all manner of atmospheric settings and intricate architectural details, as well as embellishing many panels with little in-jokes and easter eggs. Davison also is skilled at drawing monsters, varieties of which are plentiful in the initial story arc.

Where Vermillion falls short is the scripting; not surprisingly, Shepard has a tendency to overwrite..........and too often the plot is subordinated to lengthy passages of dialogue and introspection, which in turn crowd out the artwork with excessive speech balloons and text boxes. Add in Shepard's determination to give the proceedings a phantasmagorical, metaphysical atmosphere, and Vermillion frequently gets more than a little self-indulgent.


Despite the problems with the script, Vermillion has some strong moments, particularly in issue 7, in which Jonathan Cave, seeking vengeance, infiltrates the home ground of one of the more unpleasant Ilumi' nati. Shepard makes this episode a horror story rather than sf or fantasy, and Davison's artwork is more than up to the task.



Issue 8 - which I've posted in its entirety here - is another high point of the series.

Summing up, Vermillion has enough high points to make it one of the more interesting attempts by a sf author to write a comic book series. Fans of Lucius Shepard's work likely will want to get the series, and comic book readers willing to take a chance on a more offbeat title, one endowed with very good artwork, may find Vermillion rewarding as well. 

The series has not been collected into a graphic novel, but full sets can be obtained from eBay for about $20.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Joboxers: 'Just Got Lucky'

Joboxers
'Just Got Lucky'
Fall 1983



If you turned on MTV in September 1983, it's likely that you saw the video for the single 'Just Got Lucky' by the UK group The Joboxers. The single, off their 1983 album Like Gangbusters, was released in May of 1983. The appearance of the video that Fall pushed single into the top 40 before the year's end.

It's a great song, and a great video............the little white dog in the green turtleneck sweater and tweed cap has become an iconic figure of the Music Video era..............


Your technique
It leaves me weak
My heart knows
It's the beat I seek

And I found it
(Just got lucky)
Oh yes, I found it
(Just got lucky)

I never worry
That your love is fake
I'm free and easy
And I'm feeling jake

'Cause I found it
(Just got lucky)
Oh boy, I found it
(Just got lucky)

'Cause I never felt
This way before
Like a dog always
Begging for more, yeah

I've been fooled
By love so many times
I gave up on all the silly rhymes
Kept my feelings
All inside my heart

A locked door
No key was cut
There was no fit
Now I'm such a very lucky guy
Gang way one side now
Come on here me say

We found the answer
And it's plain to see
(Come on here me say)
I'm for you and you're for me

'Cause I found it
(Just got lucky)
Together we found it
(Just got lucky)

I feel a quiver
Every time we kiss
The sky's the limit
With a love like this

'Cause I found it
(Just got lucky)
Together we found it
(Just got lucky)

'Cause I never felt
This way before
Like a dog always
Begging for more, yeah

I've been fooled
By love so many times
I gave up on all the silly rhymes
Kept my feelings
All inside my heart

A locked door
No key was cut
There was no fit
Now I'm such a very lucky guy
Gang way one side now
Come on here me say

We found the answer
And it's plain to see
(Come on here me say)
I'm for you and you're for me

'Cause I found it
(Just got lucky)
Together we found it
(Just got lucky)

I feel a quiver
Every time we kiss
The sky's the limit
With a love like this

'Cause I found it
(Just got lucky)
Together we found it
(Just got lucky)

'Cause I never felt
This way before
Like a dog always
Begging for more, yeah

I've been fooled
By love so many times
I gave up on all the silly rhymes
Kept my feelings
All inside my heart

A locked door
No key was cut
There was no fit
Now I'm such a very lucky guy
Gang way one side now
Come on here me say
Come on here me say

(Just got lucky)
(Just got lucky)

Your technique
It leaves me weak
My heart knows
It's the beat I seek

And I found it
(Just got lucky)
Oh boy, I found it
(Just got lucky)

'Cause I never felt
This way before

Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky
Just got lucky


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: The Ringway Virus


September is Outbreak Month........at the PorPor Books Blog !

Book Review: 'The Ringway Virus' by Russell Foreman


2 / 5 Stars

Russell Foreman (1921 – 2000) was an Australian author and artist. Among his friends was the author Nevil Shute, who of course wrote 'On the Beach’.

‘The Ringway Virus’ first was published in 1976. This New English Library paperback version (288 pp) was published in August 1977. The cover artist is uncredited.

The novel is set in the late 70s. As it opens the Lamberts, a British family comprised of husband Percy, wife Nell, and daughter Barbara, come into wealth. To celebrate, they set off on a lengthy journey to Australia, where they visit a remote hamlet in the outback. During their transit back to the UK Barbara becomes ill; she eventually is hospitalized in New York City with what looks like a severe case of influenza.

But the virus that has infected Barbara is no ordinary flu virus. It is in fact a highly lethal strain that will come to be called the ‘Ringway’ virus. As a team of British medical doctors struggle to characterize the agent and endeavor to create a vaccine, the number of cases – and deaths – continues to grow. Will a cure be found in time to prevent global catastrophe ? Or will the Ringway virus eliminate Mankind from the entire planet ?

I won’t be disclosing any spoilers to state that in some ways, ‘The Ringway Virus’ is much like ‘On the Beach’, but with a virus, rather than nukes, as the culprit. Indeed, ‘Ringway’ is not, as the cover blurbs would seek to have you believe, a medical thriller in keeping with ‘The Andromeda Strain’, but is in fact a melodrama built around the theme of an outbreak of plague.

The narrative is heavily reliant on dialogue, with little in the way of the documentary-style approach to exposition that is common in most ‘outbreak’ novels. The mechanics of the spread of the plague and the attempts by the public health establishment to address it almost always take place off-camera, and usually are related via telephone conversations: ‘That was Quiggley at the East Norwich Royal Infirmary. The news is not good – twelve new cases in the last twenty-four hours.’

The second half of the book covers the travels of the lead character, an epidemiologist named Michael Canning, around Australia. Here the epidemic recedes into the background, and the novel takes on the form of a travelogue; for example, author Foreman devotes nearly an entire page to describing how a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ – type Outback eccentric prepares to feed his dog some cooked lamb (!). Much space is devoted to conversations held on verandas, during which various supporting characters expound on philosophical matters.

Episodes of moralizing frequently crop up in the narrative of ‘Ringway’; these are aimed at Mankind’s Hubris, his relentless despoiling of the environment, his casual neglect of the less fortunate, his ruinous reliance on nuclear power, etc., etc. These episodes of moralizing quickly become tedious, particularly when author Foreman decides to rant against American involvement in the ‘War in Indochina’. Whatever momentum the story gains from the growing dangers of the epidemic is effectively neutralized by the inclusion of these sermons.

Although Foreman’s prose is straightforward and unencumbered, when all is said and done ‘The Ringway Virus’ doesn’t deliver as a medical thriller, and is nothing all that special as a melodrama. I really can’t recommend this novel to anyone seeking ‘epidemic’ thrills.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jerry Pournelle dies at age 84

Jerry Pournelle dies at age 84



Jerry Pournelle, born August 7, 1933, died on September 8 at age 84.

Pournelle was one of the few major sf writers who, during the stylistic upheavals of the New Wave era in the 70s and early 80s, continued to write stories and novels in the 'old school' manner, placing emphasis on plot and narrative. This stance likely was a reflection of Pournelle's conservative / libertarian political beliefs. Pournelle's willingness to write on military themes, without reflexively condemning the military itself, also made him stand out among fellow sf writers of the New Wave era. 

While he and frequent co-author Larry Niven did not always get the critical praise bestowed on other sf writers of the 70s and 80s, their novels were consistent best-sellers, and for me, a welcome relief from the increasingly self-indulgent nature of the New Wave as it began to decline in the latter 70s.



One of Pournelle's best novels was A Spaceship for the King (1973), which I reviewed here. If you read one novel by Pournelle, I would argue this is the one to read.

His collaborations with Niven, and later Steve Barnes, were by and large worthy of recommendation. While I thought Oath of Fealty was a dud, The Legacy of Heorot (1987) was a standout sf adventure novel based on a credible backdrop of a unique alien ecology.



Footfall (1985) also was a worthy novel, featuring sf writers as the heroes, rather than the usual square-jawed Men of Action.



Summing up, Pournelle, along with Niven, played an important role in keeping 'hard' sf commercially and culturally viable during a time when most publishers were concentrating on showcasing New Wave content. When publishers first began to return their attention to releasing hard sf novels in the late 70s, Niven and Pournelle played a large role in ensuring that the readership was there to welcome this change in the literary landscape. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Moebius' Airtight Garage issue 3

The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius
by Moebius
Issue 3, September 1993
Epic Comics

issue 1 is here

issue 2 is here