Thursday, December 30, 2010

Herovit's World By Barry N. Malzberg

Rejected Naked Lunch cover

Original copyright 1973, this is a Pocket Books 1974 reprint. 94c cover price. 159 pages.

Jonathan Herovit is a lecherous, scotch-soaked author of over 90 pulpy science-fiction novels written under the pseudonym of Kirk Poland. As Herovit's World kicks off, our protagonist is at the yearly cocktail party for the New League For Science-Fiction Professionals.

As usual, Herovit desperately tries (and finally succeeds) to lay one of the young female SF enthusiasts in attendance as a distraction from his home life, which is spiraling out of his control. Faced with his wife Janice’s post-partum depression, his own burgeoning alcohol problem, and an overdue novel that he has no desire to write, Herovit begins to hallucinate that his pseudonym is speaking to him and wants to take over his life.

As the pressure builds—his wife makes overtures at leaving him, constant threatening calls from his agent, plus a period of impotence— Herovit’s conversations with Kirk Poland (and even some of the characters from his many novels) become more and more vivid and conversative.

This is a very nervous novel, which plays to author Barry Malzberg's strengths, and, naturally, entire chapters are dedicated to awkward and unfulfilling sexual activity because old Barry is a pervert of the first degree.

Roughly halfway through the novel (right next to the full color Kent Cigarettes ad!), pseudonym Kirk Poland offers to completely take over his life and “clean up the mess” that Herovit has created. After a dark period of drunken introspection and intense anxiety, Herovit finally succumbs to the pressure, relinquishing his life to his alter-ego.

Kirk Poland has trouble adjusting to his new reality after so many years of insubstantiality, but the new man is not without an agenda. First, he burns the manuscript that has been festering on Herovit's typewriter in order to start fresh with some new material.

Secondly, Poland intends to give Herovit's wife Janice “a good fuck” to set her straight, but since he is technically a virgin he finds it prudent to practice on a prostitute, which leads to my favorite passage from this dirty little novel:  

“He pours virtually yards and yards of seed into the prostitute, feeling them uncoil within, whole ropes of sperm flung from the ship of self (he must save that phrase for use someday), and he uses these ropes to clamber toward some sense of self-discovery.” (106)

Unfortunately for Poland, Janice is already on her way out the door when he gets home from his tryst, hoping to dump the baby and bills on him. Kirk bemoans that he “came into the sequence too late” and drinks himself into a stupor. When he awakens, thoroughly defeated, ready to renounce his newfound reality, he is greeted by Mack, the hard-nosed alien hater and protagonist of his Survey Team series. Mack gladly enters the shell that was once Herovit to set things right by murdering all those damn aliens that fouled it up for him in the first place.

Herovit's World really wasn't all that terrible. The nervous energy Malzberg creates is almost palpable in its intensity, and Jonathan Herovit reminded me of many of the loathsome characters you can find in any Irvine Welsh novel. I would definitely recommend this over the god-awful Sodom and Gomorrah Business if you really wanted to pick up a trashy Malzberg novel. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Pulpaweek Timeline!

2010 is about to wrap up, so what better way to end the year than with a sarcastic timeline relating to the events depicted in the shitty books I read every week?

12,000 BC: (Time Slave, estimate) Brenda Hamilton arrives in the Paleolithic to gain an education in suffering and degradation to supplement her PHD.

1936 AD: (Dinosaur Beach) Time-sweep agent Ravel shoots a cyborg to 'death' in a shabby apartment after telling his wife he was just going out for a beer run. What a dick.

1953 AD: (The Well Of The Worlds) Clifford Sawyer plays the role of inter-dimensional Spartacus by sticking it to the snake people who have enslaved humanity and a rich asshole who put a kill-switch in his brain.

1977 AD: (Black In Time)'A black militant, a white supremacist, and a time travel device tangle in a fight to rewrite history and eternity!' Presented without comment.

1980's AD: (Camp Concentration, estimate) Louis Sacchetti is imprisoned for being a conscientious objector. They experiment on him with a strain of syphilis that boosts intelligence, which is unfortunately squandered on him as he spends the rest of the novel writing whiny poetry.

2002 AD: (Deus Irae, estimate) Limbless Tibor McMasters is sent on a pilgrimage through the nuclear wastes. Why? So he can paint a portrait of the malevolent atomic god he worships using  his metal claw prosthesis and a paintbrush made out of donkey hair.

2170's AD: (The Sodom And Gomorrah Business, estimate) Just your average buddy road trip novel with some added sexual assault and murder to spice things up.

2300's AD: (The Demolished Man, Estimate) Evil rich guy Reich throws a party so he can kill off his competitor, hoping he can then fool the telepathic police force and get off scot-free.

2600's AD:  (Under A Calculating Star, estimate) Captain Jorry takes us on a galactic treasure hunt that ends in a Quespodon revolution. Also: a green alien lady gets naked!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Time Slave By John Norman

They rejected the title 'Rape in Time'

“The author of the novels of Tarl Cabot on Gor, Earth's orbital counterpart, has turned his talent to the problem of time travel and our own world's primitive era.

What has happened to man since the days when his rugged ancestors battled the mastodon and the saber-toothed tiger and wrestled a living from the raw nature of an untamed world?

This was the directive that brought a dedicated group of scientists to devise a means of sending one of their number back into the Old Stone Age when the great hunters of the Cro-Magnon days ripped the world away from the Neanderthals and their save clan rivals.

It's a John Norman novel comparable to his epics of Gor and to the best jungle sagas of the mighty Tarzan.”
 -The Back Cover

DAW Books, copyright 1975. $1.50 cover price. 380 pages.

Oh man, where to start? This novel is even viler than Norman's Gor series, which is saying quite a bit. I think I will spare you most of my thoughts on this piece of shit and give you a synopsis. 

Dr. Brenda Hamilton—mathematician, feminist, bombshell—accepts a job under false pretense from Herjellsen, an octogenarian who definitely fulfills the 'mad scientist' archetype. It isn't until Hamilton has been at Herjellsen's Rhodesian compound for a few weeks that she discovers the madman is actually working on time travel, and that she is both a prisoner and one of the subjects about to be sent back in time.

This all sounds pretty standard, and it is, but right around page 50 is when Norman starts in with his bizarre dom-sub philosophies, so the whole story becomes murky. Before Hamilton can be sent back to the distant past (in the hopes that she will join a group of Cro-mags), her will must be broken by Herjellsen's lackeys until she is deemed ready for the submissive, slave-like existence that awaits her.

Here’s the old crank's explanation to Hamilton before he shoves her into a box for a one-way trip to the Stone Age: 

“’You must understand,' said Herjellsen, ‘that if you were transmitted as a modern woman, irritable, sexless, hostile, competitive, hating men, your opportunities or survival might be considerably less.’" (111)

Hamilton’s mission? To turn ancient mankind's eyes to the stars so that space travel hurries along, allowing Herjellsen to partake in exploration of the galaxy, because what the universe really needs is Herjellsen 'bad touching' his way from star to star. Why Hamilton? Because she was the sexiest virgin they could find on such short notice, plus chaining up learned feminists is apparently the hobby of Herjessen's second in command, Gunther. It only took a few pages for the man to get his results:

"’I'm a prisoner,’ she said. ‘I want to be fucked like a prisoner, used!’” (63)

Time Slave wouldn't be a John Norman book if women didn't revel in their captivity, which brings us to the middle of the book, where things get real. Brenda Hamilton, transported to an unfamiliar time, is naked and running through the forest with a leopard in pursuit when she runs into Tree, a red blooded Cro-Magnon hunter.

At page 143 is the first (of many, very unfortunate) rape scenes in Time Slave. Some go on for pages, none are really necessary. The next 100 pages chronicle Brenda's transformation from a (caricature of) a fully realized woman to a whimpering, sex-obsessed slave. Of course, this being a John Norman novel, she revels in this change and feels that she has finally become a 'true woman':

“For the first time in her life she felt the fantastic sentience of an owned, loving female... She had just begun, under the hands of a primeval hunter, to learn the capacities of her femaleness.”  (220)

The most unfortunate aspect of Time Slave is that there are, in fact, portions of the book about Stone Age man that aren't just a vehicle for Norman’s weirdo sexual philosophies, and they are actually pretty good. Plenty of action, along with the intricate detail devoted to each tribe's unique culture, plus some cool flora and fauna (cave bears!) could have been enough for a decent story in themselves.

Regrettably, more than half of this novel is lent to Norman's BDSM leanings, which involves a repetitive, preachy tone because the man is literally trying to convert you.

Time Slave is an interesting example of the sleazy underbelly of 70s SF, but I can't really recommend it on any other level.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dinosaur Beach by Keith Laumer

Cover is actually a good representation
of how muddled the story is
Appearing from the remote future, Nexx Central agent Ravel is emplaced in America, circa 1936. His mission: to undo successive tamperings of the time stream which threaten the survival of Mankind. He falls in love with a lovely, simple girl, Lisa, but in the midst of his happiness is called away to Dinosaur Beach.

Dinosaur Beach is a Nexx Central station located millions of years in the past, in the Jurassic Age. but shortly after Ravel's arrival, the station is attacked and destroyed, and Ravel begins a terrifying odyssey through time. For the attackers were another time-tampering team from still a different future era. And Ravel himself is not only in growing danger but the human world as we know it... -The (poorly written) back cover 

DAW Books UQ1021. Published 1971. 151 pages. 95c cover price.

Laumer starts Dinosaur Beach off strong with time-sweep agent Ravel abruptly awakening from a hypnotic state as a sleeper agent, which involved a happy marriage, to eliminate a rogue cyborg in the 'distant past' of 1936. Mission accomplished, our protagonist is zipped back to the Jurassic in order to have his memory wiped and a new personality laid over ita procedure Ravel is looking forward to since the wound from leaving his dear wife is still raw and painful.

Right around this point in the novel, which isn't too far in, I noticed the many this storys many inconsistencies. Granted, picking apart time travel yarns is a hobby in itself, particularly for the losers that flock to the SF genre (like myself). However, Dinosaur Beach had far too many to list in this little blog. E.g.: If Nexx Central is attempting to clean up numerous generations of abuse from the past, why destroy an anachronistic (for 1936) piece of technology like a cyborg, only to leave all of its parts for the natives to discover? Why are Nexx Central agents eating baby stegosaur and partying on the beach millions of years ago when their mission is to leave behind no trace? Laumer just doesnt make an effort to make the story logical, so after about 50 pages, I decided I wouldnt concern myself with paradoxes and plot holes.

Concerns about plausibility ditched, Dinosaur Beach becomes more enjoyable, but it still has its issues. A love story that takes up a good chunk of the book is tossed aside for a lukewarm 'twist' at the end, and the result is that the little emotional impact the novel was striving for falls flat. Likewise, the time travel itself takes us to very few exotic locales in favor of vague 'null spaces,' plus different variations of the titular beach that Ravel on which keeps finding himself stranded.

Im intrigued by the short story The Time Sweepers on which this novel was based, as I think Dinosaur Beach could be much more memorable if boiled down to a 30 page story about killing robots in the Jurassic. Maybe move the party to the Cretaceous so a T-Rex can crash it? Make that a cyborg T-Rex with lasers firing out of its little vestigial arms and now youre cooking with gas!

Altogether, this ended up being a filler week. Sorry guys!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Well Of The Worlds by Henry Kuttner

Thankfully the fire whips had nothing to do
with BDSM.. Enough of that!

Clifford Sawyer, investigating ghosts in a mine, finds ancient beings from another world and gets swept up in a titanic struggle between for control of a parallel dimension. description

When the curiously exotic millionaress Klai Ford started telling him about ghosts in a uranium mine, Sawyer knew he better be ready for anything in his investigations. But he didn't count on being drawn into a passage between dimensions and tossed adrift in a world of islands floating in the sky, where strange brutelike creatures were attacking the cities in a vast struggle for power. Lost in the new [missing section] realized that the key to [missing section] mysterious Well of the Worlds [missing section] the future of the universe [missing section] secret.
-The back cover, which is pretty damn mangled.

Ace Books F-344, published 1952. 40c cover price. 142 pages.

The old Ace Books from the 50s and 60s have been a lot of fun in my experience, andThe Well of the Worldsdoes not disappoint. Set in the (then) very near future of 1953, the story begins in fictional city of Fortuna, which is located at one of our planet's poles (Kuttner doesn't specify). The Earth's poles were discovered to be loaded with uranium, so Fortuna is a boom town with an economy centered on the lucrative mining of the radioactive substance.

Clifford Sawyer, an agent of the Royal Atomic Energy Commission (by Toronto), is sent to investigate the bizarre allegations being made by Klai Ford, who inherited her large section of the mine only a few months ago under strange circumstances. Klai tells Sawyer a panicky story about how the mine has been overrun by ghosts, and that she believes the man who owns the rest of the mine, William Alper (total rich guy name), is trying to kill her.

Sawyer is, of course, skeptical of such a bizarre story, but he becomes a true believer when Alper surgically implants a kill switch into his brain, divulges that he has been communicating with an inter-dimensional being, then get the three of them sucked into said other dimension. All of this takes place within the first 30 pages!

This is why we can't have nice things!
The remaining 100 pages ofthe Well of the Worldstake place on an alternate Earth where humanity is enslaved by the nearly immortal, serpentine, and extremely pretentious Isier. In this second phase of the book, Kuttner's imagery almost reaches the limits of the surreal, as the alternate dimension he paints is vividly colored and extremely ornate. The story meanders here and there, but the action is taut and Sawyer is an interesting character whose hand in the human uprising kept me interested throughout.

I would highly recommend this novel to those interested in SF from this time period. This is one well-written book that abandons many formulaic tropes for excellent storytelling and plenty of adventure.The Well of the Worlds effortlessly captures the sense of wonder that many genre books of the 1950's sought to capture, and I am glad to have stumbled upon it in a musty book reseller in Houston.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Psychopath Plague by Stephen G. Spruill

These guys look like Pez dispensers to you?
Forty-Nine days to Doomsday—

The computer projections left no room for doubt- in seven weeks, so many of Earth's people would have gone murderously mad that civilization would collapse beyond any possibility of recovery. There was no known cause for the outbreak of insanity, and only dilettante Elias Kane had as much as a hunch about its origin. With his giant alien servant Pendrake, Kane was prepared to risk his life to solve the riddle of the plague of psychosis- but first he had to evade the madness of the planet he hoped to save!
-The Back Cover

Copyright 1978, published by Dell SF. $1.75 cover price.252 pages. 

The Psychopath Plague kicks off in an underwater casino as the novel's protagonist Elias Kane gambles with a recently received inheritance. After a year of living in a shack and brewing his own beer, Kane has relocated to a lavish suite. Within the first ten pages, he wins the services of Pendrake, whom he frees outright, after which Kane loses his fortune by  playing what seemed to be a futuristic version of Risk.

Pendrake is a Cephantine, a race known for its honesty, servility, and for possessing incredible strength, bizarrely coupled with an extreme distaste for violence. The Chirpones, a race of penguin-like aliens that are so instinctually fearful of predators that they often die of fear if a human being so much as touches them, have recently begun trading entertainment technology with Earth and are introduced a few pages later. Pendrake informs Elias about the Psychopath Plague, a disease that makes even the most reasonable person murderously violent at the smallest frustration, after the ex-slaves previous owner makes an attempt on their lives.

There are numerous galactic suspects, as most of the galaxy views humanity as a barbaric menace, but Kane focuses on two—the human colonies of the solar system detest Earthies' and think of them as soft and frivolous, but rely upon the foodstuffs they create for survival. The Chirpones, although seemingly innocent and benign, came into the galactic scene immediately before the plague began. Elias Kane is tasked with discovering who is behind the Psychopath Plague, if anyone, and finding a way to stop it if possible, which involves a lot of planet hopping and galactic intrigue. 

The Psychopath Plague is a decent little story, but its attempts at fusing mystery and science fiction are clumsy and full of tropes. Inside this short novel you will find vague space travel technology, numerous humanoid aliens with very human habits and desires, a red herring suspect, and worst of the entire last chapter: a 'parlor-room' scene where Elias lays out exactly how he unraveled the mystery.

This book was entertaining at times, frustrating at others, and fluff throughout. Nothing spectacular here, bring on the next book!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch

Kris says thinks this look like a painting
created by a damaged 13 year old 
The back cover has no description.

Avon Books. 1972 (second printing of that year). $1.50 cover price. 175 pages. 

Camp Concentration is written in the style of a journal—inside it are the thoughts and feelings of Louis Sacchetti, an overweight, self-loathing, lapsed Catholic poet who has been sentenced to a prison term for objecting to a war in which the United States is using 'germ warfare.’ If that sounds pretentious as shit, well, that's because it is.

After a few set-up paragraphs in a standard prison environment, Louis is transferred to camp Archimedes, a military compound in which an experiment is being conducted on AWOL soldiers and conscientious objectors. Prisoners are injected with  Pallidum, an incurable form of syphilis that ravages the brain and is eventually fatal, but grants the infected with a profoundly higher intelligence for the last months of their lives. General Haast, the man in charge of this experiment, is using the collected genius of the test subjects not for the military matters required for his funding, but to discover the secret of immortality via alchemy. Yeah, you read that right. 

The plot itself wouldn't be all that terrible if it wasn't in Sacchetti's whiny, often incomprehensible diary. Disch goes out of his way to throw in every dark and dreary literary reference he can muster (lots of Faust), which does nothing to further the story and often bogs it down, especially when the last two paragraphs are in fucking Latin or French. I am not opposed to literary/sci-fi crossovers, but Camp Concentration ends up being little more than a pretentious mess. Especially towards the end of the book, the artistry nearly becomes gibberish-

“The sin of death spares the sons of David. Hope is a swampland under a glouting sky. A prehistoric wilderness of island-nights. Hinges of cell-mud. Hell grows, joylessly, out of the testes of the dying.” (page 116)

Yeah, I know this is supposed to portray Sacchetti's descent into Pallidum madness, but it’s absolute garbage and nearly incomprehensible. I think you can tell that I didn't like Camp Concentration much. Also—glouting isn't a word, since glout is already an action (actually glout can turn into glouting, just like swim can be swimming. It’s a gerund. But it’s insane that he even used the word, it’s so archaic!- Kris). There are dozens of made up words in Camp Concentration, all of them very annoying, none of them necessary.

Interestingly enough this novel was chosen by Philip K Dick as fuel for his constant letters to the FBI.  Check out these lunatic rants to the bureau involving Neo-Nazi's and Disch's supposed involvement with them:

Letter #1
October 28, 1972

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.


I am a well-known author of science fiction novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany (called MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, it described an "alternate world" in which the Germans and Japanese won World War Two and jointly occupied the United States). This novel, published in 1962 by Putnam & Co., won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year and hence was widely read both here and abroad; for example, a Japanese edition printed in Tokio ran into several editions. I bring this to your attention because several months ago I was approached by an individual who I have reason to believe belonged to a covert organization involving politics, illegal weapons, etc., who put great pressure on me to place coded information in future novels "to be read by the right people here and there," as he phrased it. I refused to do this.

The reason why I am contacting you about this now is that it now appears that other science fiction writers may have been so approached by other members of this obviously anti-American organization and may have yielded to the threats and deceitful statements such as were used on me. Therefore I would like to give you any and all information and help I can regarding this, and I ask that your nearest office contact me as soon as possible. I stress the urgency of this because within the last three days I have come across a well-distributed science fiction novel which contains in essence the vital material which this individual confronted me with as the basis for encoding. That novel is CAMP CONCENTRATION by Thomas Disch, which was published by Doubleday & Co.


Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Lane Apt. #2
Calif 92361.

P.S. I would like to add: what alarms me most is that this covert organization which approached me may be Neo-Nazi, although it did not identify itself as being such. My novels are extremely anti-Nazi. I heard only one code identification by this individual: Solarcon-6.
Letter #2
November 4, 1972

Inspector Shine
Marin County Sheriff's Office,
Marin County Civic Center,
San Rafael,
Calif 94903.

Dear Inspector Shine:

As you may recall, on or about November 17, 1971, my house at 707 Hacienda Way, Santa Venetia, was extensively robbed. The last time I talked to you, during February of this year, you informed me that you had broken the case; a man named Wade (Jerry Wade I believe) had been arrested with the Ruger .22 pistol of mine stolen during this robbery. I have been in Canada and now in Southern California and hence out of touch. Have any more of my possessions been recovered? Have there been any more arrests made? Do you have anything more you can tell me at this date?

While I was in Canada evidently my house was robbed again, during March of this year. I did not know this until what remained of my things arrived down here; my realtor, Mrs. Annie Reagan, had stored them, and at least one entire room of stuff is missing: the bedroom in which the control system of the burglar alarm was located, the one room not covered by the scanner. Obviously it was robbed by someone who intimately knew the layout of the alarm system and how to bypass it. I recall that Inspector Bridges thought that the November 17 robbery was an inside job, at least in part. I believe that this later robbery in March of this year proves it. Only two or three persons that I can recall knew the layout of the burglar alarm system. One was Harold Kinchen, who was under investigation by Airforce Intelligence at Hamilton Field at the time I left (Mr. Richard Bader was conducting the investigation; through Sergeant Keaton of Tiberon he asked me to come in and give testimony. It had to do with an attempt on the arsenal of the Airforce Intelligence people at Hamilton on I recall January first of this year). I have more reason to believe now than I did then that Kinchen and the secret extralegal organization to which he belonged were involved in both robberies of my house, although evidence seemed to point more toward Panthers such as Wade. I say this because this is Orange County where I live now, and I have come to know something about the rightwing paramilitary Minutemen illegal people here -- they tell me confidentially that from my description of events surrounding the November robbery of my house, the methods used, the activities of Harry Kinchen in particular, it sounds to them like their counterparts up there, and possibly even a neo-Nazi group. Recently I've obtained, by accident, new information about Kinchen's associates, and the neo-Nazi organization theory does seem reinforced. In this case, the November robbery was political in nature and more than a robbery. I have thought this for some time, but until now had less reason to be sure.

As to the motive of the assault I'm not sure at all. Possibly it had to do with my published novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany -- it was extremely anti-Nazi, and widely circulated. I know for a fact that Harry Kinchen and the Japanese relatives he had through his wife Susan had read it. Kinchen's Japanese-born mother-in-law, Mrs. Toni Adams, had read the novel in the Japanese edition. Beyond any doubt, Kinchen is an ardent Nazi trained in such skill as weapons-use, explosives, wire-tapping, chemistry, psychology, toxins and poisons, electronics, auto repair, sabotage, the manufacture of narcotics. Mr. Bader is of course aware of this. What I did not pass on to anyone, because I feared for my life, is the fact that Kinchen put coercive pressure, both physical and psychological, on me to put secret coded information into my future published writings, "to be read by the right people here and there," as he put it, meaning members of his subversive organization. As I told you in November, he accidently responded to a phonecall from me with a code signal. Later, he admitted belonging to a secret "worldwide" organization and told me some details.

The coded information which Kinchen wished placed in my novels (I of course refused, and fled to Canada) had to do with an alleged new strain of syphilis sweeping the U.S., kept topsecret by the U.S. authorities; it can't be cured, destroys the brain, and is swift-acting. The disease, Kinchen claimed, is being brought in deliberately from Asia by agents of the enemy (unspecified), and is in fact a weapon of World War Three, which has begun, being used against us.

In a recent confidential discussion which I had with my Paris editor, a close friend of mine, this editor ratified my conviction that to allow this coded "information," undoubtedly spurious, to get into print, would be a disaster for this country. These neo-nazis or whatever they are would "break" their own code and make public this phony information, thus creating mass hysteria and panic. There is, of course, no such new untreatable paresis, despite rumors we have been hearing from Servicemen returning from Viet Nam. I have contacted the F.B.I. on the advice of my editor-publisher friend, but I felt I should contact you, too. You may wish to pass this information about the coded information in novels onto Mr. Bader.

I will hope, then, to hear from you. Thank you.


Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Lane #3
Calif 92361.

P.S. Harold Kinchen introduced me to only one individual, who asked me to write for his underground pornographic publications; I refused. By accident I recently learned that this man, "Doc" Stanley, of Corte Madera, "was a student of the speeches of Hitler during his college days at the University of Chicago, advocating their doctrines and reading them to people." Neither Stanley nor Kinchen mentioned this to me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Demon In The Mirror by Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon

Grainy picture of a chain mail bra
“Tiana crosses swords with demons, barbarians, vampire nuns!

On a quest to find her lost brother, Tiana of Reme, foster daughter of a pirate captain, ventures on a dangerous journey toward her greatest challenge- the Battle of the Wizards!”
–The back cover

“Tiana, warrior supreme, sails her pirate ship on a perilous quest through the mists of alien lands!”
–The front cover

Copyright 1978 by Pocket Books (this is a later publication but no date is given inside). $2.50 cover price. 189 pages. 

Demon in the Mirror packs a lot of sexy, sexy action in less than two hundred pages. This book is very reminiscent of Robert E. Howard's dark fantasy novels, which makes a lot of sense given that Offutt penned half a dozen or so Conan novels in the seventies and eighties. Plenty of detail is given when it comes to A) Tiara's heaving bosom,  B) visceral gore, and C) the combination of the two. Here are some examples:

“Bloodstains marred her garb now, but she smiled. The clothing had been calculated; Tiana knew well her looks, and she well knew men. She'd been much on display, and, if those fool Narokans had chosen to gape at her body when they should have been plying their swords, why then that was their problem.” (11)

“Maltar's opague black eyes roamed the lovely figure, but with the dispassionate interest of a farmer inspecting a pig on slaughter day. Those exquisitely formed features, the rounded thighs crowding her snug short breeks, the full perfect breasts so displayed—all, he knew comprised a death trap.” (90)

“The dressmaker was more than expert, and she commanded a small army of seamstresses. In a few hours, Tiana was arrayed in a lovely gown of scintillant green silk. She loved it, not merely because its beauty enhanced hers, but because it was intelligently made... She particularly admired the exhibition the gown afforded her fullformed breasts.” (160)

There you go: approximately 5% of the allusions to Tiana's “perfect body” made in Demon In the Mirror. Luckily, the novel isn't entirely romance fluff. Offutt and Lyon craft a well-executed and somewhat interesting plot behind all the breasts and dismemberment. Like many “low fantasy” novels, Demon In the Mirror features a group of plotting wizards who send Tiana and her crew on a series of dire quests that will require both cunning and swordplay to accomplish.

In order to find the whereabouts of her missing brother, Tiana must seek out the dismembered and scattered pieces of the immortal and pretty damn evil sorcerer Lamarred. After the initial few set-up chapters, the remainder of the novel is a violent scavenger hunt during which the reader gets to watch Tiana bounce and jiggle her way around a vivid fantasy world, outsmarting  (and usually killing) anyone or anything who gets in her way. At one point, a completely naked Tiana 'slays' a VAMPIRE NUN. Actually, she kills quite a few monsters and bandits while completely in the buff, typically after she has been captured and tied up…

I approve of this book. Bring on the rest of the scantily clad trilogy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Black In Time By John Jakes

Cover of the year?
“Right On!

Into the time machine plunges Jomo, the black militant leader of BURN. "Revolution then" is his motto; he's going to rearrange history so the blacks get a fair shake- or, preferably, world dominance. 

But in another area of time, rabble-rousing white supremacist Billy Roy Whisk is also at work—fixing history so the slaves are never freed. 

Worlds spin in and out of existence, and through the paradoxes of time, one black man is pursuing Jomo and Whisk, trying to stop them before their experiments wipe out the world—forever”
-The Back Cover

'A black militant, a white supremacist, and a time travel device tangle in a fight to rewrite history and eternity!' -The Front Cover

1970 printing by Paperback Library. 60c cover price. 171 pages. 

It's fair to assume that Black in Time is a Blaxploitation novel, even though its 1970 printing predates that cinema craze, but this assumption does it a (slight) injustice. John Jakes' book, set in the (at the time) near future of 1977, focuses more on how historical events culminated in the racial tension of 1960's America's than the time paradoxes and constant action alluded to by the back cover.

Well, there are a few small paradoxes to be unraveled in the story, but they take backseat to a string of frenetic vignettes set in the distant past, plus loads and loads of dialogue. The characters in Black in Time love to prattle on about how justified their cause is in extremely ignorant but nonetheless entertaining and colorful rhetoric. At one point, Whisk declares he is going back in time to assassinate 'Martin Luther Coon' (Page 150), to give you an example of how outrageous the conversation can be. 

Black in Time, being a temporal yarn, is oftentimes not sequential, so a synopsis could be a spoiler-heavy mess. Nonetheless, here goes:

Harold is a young assistant professor who has been hand-picked by the Freylinghausen Foundation to utilize their vague time nexus in order to study, but never manipulate, certain eras of time. Doctor Freylinghausen had labored his whole life, keeping the knowledge of time travel to himself, until he could independently fund his foundation to keep it out of the hands of any government that would inevitably abuse it. Harold finds himself caught up in the racial struggle between Jomo, self appointed leader of BURN (Brothers United for Revolution Now), and Reverend Billy Roy Whisk of the All-American Apostolic Fellowship of the USA. These two groups have obvious real world counterparts, but in this story, both are more militant and set for immediate, all out war. Whisk and Jomo alike are looking to make their respective races completely dominant by using Harold and  the Freylinghausen Nexus. Oh yeah, and they each have very busty girlfriends who follow them around and back up their ideologies when needed, making it even more obvious that Jomo and Whisk are racial parallels.  

The story isn't all moral outrage and bluster, though, as it does attempt to tackle the often raised questions regarding race and time travel. Harold spends the first half of the book being blackmailed to help either one of these maniacs, and the second half using his knowledge of time travel and history to stop them from killing Ben Franklin, Mohammed, and baby Richard Pryor. (OK, I made that last one up.)

Unfortunately almost all of the plans devised by the two opposing racialists involve assassination, so this novel gets repetitive pretty quickly in its second half, the only exceptions being a few obscure historical references. Jakes' obviously did his research when looking for times and locales into which he could weave his story, foreshadowing his eventual jump into historical fiction in his subsequent work.

In the end, Black in Time is just trashy enough to kill mainstream appeal but not trashy enough to garner a weirdo cult following, leaving it in pulp novel limbo. 

Oh yeah, don’t read Black in Time if you cringe after reading a few N-bombs. Its usage is abundant, to say the least.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Under a Calculating Star by John Morressy

The little monster on the cover= half a paragraph
in the novel. 

“They had landed on the forbidden planet of Boroq-Thaddoi. They had made their way across the snow-covered desert and the vast graveyard of mangled spaceships. Now they stood gazing with awe at their destination, the Citadel.

The Citadel was unique in the galaxy. Some mad, brilliant architect might have dreamed this blending of the arts and materials of a hundred civilizations into a single monstrous edifice, but no known race could have erected such a thing. It dwarfed the nine walls of Skix, the great corridor on Clotho, the ageless pyramids of Xhanchos, even the legendary cities of Old Earth in the proud and violent centuries before the exodus. It was the monument of giants.

Somewhere in the perilous labyrinth behind these towering walls lay the secret that had eluded and destroyed all searchers for thousands of years... The secret that had to be found before the Great rebellion could begin...”

–The back cover

First published in the USA in 1975, this is a 1979 British edition by New English Library. Cover price 95p. 157 pages.

Under a Calculating Star is definitely not a book that can be judged by its cover, since the spiny bat monster depicted on the front (although cool) only appears in a page or two of the entire story. This is a really fun space actioneer that somehow, in less than 160 pages, crams three robust plots involving the two main characters. Part of the five-book Del Whitby series, Under a Calculating Star can be read on its own, as each book in the series runs concurrently and has a different main character, all weaving into the overall plot.

In Morressy's future, mankind has already spread throughout the galaxy, finding many humanoid aliens, and sometimes interbreeding with them, before moving on like interstellar gypsies. Having space travel thrust upon them by the “Old Earthers,” these diverse alien cultures—who were mostly at the technological equivalent of the iron age when the colonists arrived—still have not made many developmental strides in the following few centuries,  so many of their ships are aging relics left behind. Yes, this is a sci-fi story with sword fights and pistol duels rather than laser battles, a very golden era for a book published in 1975. 

The first third of this book, which involves the Citadel of Boroq-Thaddoi,  reminded me of the movie Krull quite a bit, mainly because the characters are killed in quick succession during their journey. Eight spacefarers, all with different skills and of different alien races, are systematically crushed, melted, or vaporized by the malevolent traps of the Citadel, until only a few survivors remain. In one scene, they shoot and chop a few dozen eyeless monsters, which also reminded me of the Mines of Moria in LOTR—certainly a good thing.

After escaping the grasp of the Citadel, the survivors divide up the spoils of their deadly journey (settling for a few jewels rather than the large sum they had hoped for) and take off for Xanchos, a trader world with an economy based upon gems and slaves. The word Xanchos made me go get some nachos and cheese that day, in case you were wondering. 

A true 'pocket book'
The second and third parts of the story rely on the dynamic differences between the races of two of the crew members. Kian Jorry, captain of the driveship Seraph, is a k'Tural'Pa (yep), a race nearly identical to humans and known for being manipulative, cunning, and mostly lacking in conscience. Axxal, Jorry's manservant, is a Quespodon with intelligence much higher than most of his race, who are often used as pack animals and slaves throughout the galaxy due to their musculature and subservient nature. Xanchos’ recent slave uprising led to a new ruling class in the months before the Seraph's arrival, and after touching down on the planet, each of the two shipmates react very differently to the power vacuum this has created. 

Jorry spends his days in the courts of the palace, weaving political intrigues and looking to dupe the newly anointed and power hungry nobility, who are all ex-slaves and of the near-human Skorat race. Axxal meets another Quespodon of similar intelligence to himself and they determine that their race's mental woes are an after-affect of their home world's atmosphere, since each of them are dozens of generations removed from their home world.

Predictably (but satisfying nonetheless), the captain spends the rest of the book chasing after avarice and power to his undoing, but the manservant looks to enlighten his people, which leads to a utopia.

This blog also has a very thorough breakdown of the Del Whitby series, which I used as a reference for the plethora of alien names in the book, and hopefully didn’t plagiarize.

Under a Calculating Star was a great find, and I plan to tear through the series (in order) as soon as I can find some more second-hand paperbacks by Morressy on some dusty shelves in some bookstore's basement.  Once again- Thanks to Kris Adamo for the edits, as I love the run on sentence. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Beyond By Theodore Sturgeon

Tilted Kilt in the background makes the photo
“Ted Sturgeon has created a brand of science fiction all his own—a lifetime work of unique emotional power, beauty, and wonder.
Nobody else could have written these stories:

Need – A man burdened with the talent to see what those around him really wanted.
Nightmare Island – The hideous creatures he saw weren't vision of delirium... But his dearest friends.
Largo – Music has charms... and curses.
The Bones – The dead can't speak—but there are things they can show you.

This collection, including the famous "Abreaction" and "Like Young", shows Sturgeon at the peak of his mastery of mind—and heart-expanding storytelling.” –The Back Cover

Copyright 1960, this is a 1980 print. Six stories at 187 pages. $1.95 cover price.

 Having vowed to give Sturgeon another shot, it was a pretty easy decision to pick up this collection of short stories based solely on the “floating skull with headphones” cover. I did enjoy Beyond more than The Dreaming Jewels, but could not shake the “poor man's Ray Bradbury” label I had given Sturgeon in the past.

The stories here are creative, but often lack any serious punch or “emotional power” as the back cover described. The opening story “Need” is the worst of the bunch, with bland characters and a mediocre plot device: a man with the extrasensory ability to sense other's strongest desires. “Nightmare Island” is a vast improvement: a washed up sailor going through delirium tremens while stranded on an island with giant telepathic worms was at least a bit different, if meandering at times. “The Bones” is also pretty cool, but so horror-lite that it ended up being forgettable in the end. I don't even want to get into detail with “Largo”, as music-oriented stories in Sci-Fi and Fantasy are often cringe worthy to say the least. I skimmed that one, I admit. 

Beyond ended up being worth the $2.50 admission fee for its cover alone, and the two good stories in the bunch showed me a little of why Sturgeon is considered one of the “underrated greats,” but the package was weak as a whole and did little to assuage my doubts about Sturgeon's work.

Anyone have any recommendations that will change my opinions of Theodore Sturgeon, some hidden gem that I have yet to stumble upon? I have heard good things about More Than Human, but I am still skeptical.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sodom and Gomorrah Business By Barry N. Malzberg

“Death and Disorder 104

Institute courses told a grim story about the Network—that savage world beyond the closely guarded Institute gates. But they wanted to see for themselves. They had to know. 

Were there really females there? Would their training as mercenaries prepare them for the wild bands of grisly subhumans?

They set out on a journey of discovery only to become the unwitting agents of forces that threatened to destroy the only world they'd ever known.”—The back cover

“Was there a world outside? Or only dust, despair, the void?”—The front cover

Copyright 1974, this is apparently a Pocket Books first edition. 95c cover price. 126 pages. 

"Hey, we need two heads sporting euro-mullets floating over a Cadillac while having some kind of seizure." –Art Director of Pocket Books

Malzberg was really cranking them out in the mid 70s: The Sodom and Gomorrah Business was one of six (!) novels that he had published in 1974. While I expected this to be a weird one after taking in the cover and back description, I still wasn't quite prepared for this story to involve as much vicious sadism as dystopian sci-fi.

The two main characters—the unnamed narrator and his pair-bonded friend Lawson—are two students at the "Institute for Urban Control.” The pair have become bored with the lectures presented by animatronic professors and the “homosex” that is the norm for the all-male student body.  As members of "Death and Destruction 104,” the narrator and Lawson are being groomed to be Enforcers: the pride of the institute and in charge of population control (murderous sweeps) of the Network.

Narrator and Lawson decide to go on a joyride into the New York City Network—a no man’s land full of society’s unwanted who have become lawless and tribal. The narrator and his fuck buddy pop some pills, requisition a car (a two-hundred-year-old Cadillac) and some pistols, then hit the road.

They cross the decaying barriers that circumscribe the Network, making sure to insult the guards because barrier duty is beneath them. The duo then stumble upon a family of Network denizens who beg Narrator and Lawson to help them escape into the "Landscape" outside.

Unfortunately for these innocent outcasts, the two young men have more murderous intentions—first, they shoot the pleading man to death, then, as the Narrator states, he “[sets] upon her like sainted Zapruder himself, and to prove the estimate of her humanity, my worth, my dismal need, I rape the shit out of her." (p. 38) (This Zapruder guy is the newly-sainted man who videotaped the JFK assassination, which the institute has students watch time and time again.)

After the worth-affirming rape, the narrator shoots his victim, and then her child, once it begin to cry, rationalizing it as a mercy killing since the child just witnessed the rape of his mother. Oh yeah, and he ejaculates again after riddling the kid with bullets.

Soon after this fun little chapter about family values, the two Institute students are captured by a band of Network toughs from "Westerly."  The Westerly gang kills Lawson, then attempts to "deprogram" the narrator, a process consisting of some light torture along with heterosexual sex in their harem, in the hopes that they can use the narrator for their revolutionary plot.

Malzberg only allows for two female characters in the whole story—one is raped and murdered, and the other is a submissive member of the westerly harem, a broken woman who does as she is told. I don't really know what point he’s trying to make with this novel, and it only gets murkier and harder to grasp from this point on.

At first I really enjoyed the promise of the Sodom and Gomorrah Business, with its dystopian-lite setting and staccato three page chapters, but in the end the story was a light stab at social commentary drenched in the sweat and blood of sado-masochism. The result is basically a not-nearly-as-fun precursor to Escape From New York.

I can't say that I recommend the Sodom and Gomorrah Business on any level. Probably the weirdest part of this book is that it is dedicated to Malzberg's daughter, which he also did in this little gem:

No thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

City Of The Chasch by Jack Vance

Blue Chasch, not as giant as displayed
Someone sent distress signals to outer space from the planet Tschai. It was Adam Reith's misfortune to be sent from Earth to investigate. Because when his ship came close to Tschai, it was torpedoed... and Adam escaped to the surface with his life and nothing else.

“Tschai was a vast planet and previously unexplored. Adam, taken as slave by humans, learned that there were four other intelligent but non-human races dominant on that strange world. And to find the mystery of the distress call and the vicious attack, he would have first to gain his freedom and then find a safe way to pass the city and the alien Chasch and their treacherous cousins, the Blue Chasch.

Jack Vance's Tschai novels are considered his masterwork, a constantly changing epic canvas of weird peoples, exotic lands, and surprising extra-terrestrial adventures.” –The Back Cover

Copyright 1968, my copy is a 1979 press. $1.75 cover price. 156 pages.

I got exactly what I was looking for when I picked up the first Tschai, Land of Adventure book—space travel, sword battles, colorful malevolent alien races, and plenty of beautiful women in need of rescue. The City of the Chasch is a very sixties sci-fi actioneer that fit perfectly with this blog, and was a nice reprieve from the massive amount of work being thrust at me from 9-5. I look forward to finding the other three books of the series, each of which follow a different alien race found on Tschai.

Adam Reith and Paul Waunder, scouts on an interplanetary expedition, are looking into a centuries old distress signal originating from a sector of unexplored space. Each is highly trained in survival on harsh planets, linguistics and the theory of language, and a number of combat methods. Unfortunately for Reith and Waunder, their mothership is destroyed as soon as they disembark for Tschai. All they see is  a violet 'torpedo' of light before the ship explodes, which sends them on a crash course for Tschai's atmosphere.

Adam Reith then witnesses the gruesome death of his partner while suspended from a tree in his parachute, where he remains for days until some rather antagonistic, tribal humans cut him down and take him as a slave, but not until after he watches some blue chitinous aliens make off with his scout vessel.

It doesn't take long for the interplanetary scout to make out the common language of Tschai, which enables Reith to gain the trust of a few tribesman—notably their "Onmale" Traz, a sort of temporary chieftain, who helps him to escape to one of the trading caravans that travels from city to city.

The rest of the story is chock full of dangerous encounters with numerous hostile races of Tschai, who all seem to be at a stalemate in their perpetual warring, consequently taking out their frustrations on the scattered humans of the steppes. Reith meets most alien life by either lopping off a limb with a sword he picked up, shooting them full of holes with his 'needler,' or vaporizing them with the seemingly limitless power cell from his emergency pack. 

One odd part of City of the Chasch involved a cult of females who burned off their breasts and were about to castrate Reith and have his space-babe raped by an ogre sized man, but that was the only hiccup in an otherwise very enjoyable story. 

City of the Chasch is the first entry of the series, and reminds me strongly of The Suns of Scorpio by Alan Burt Akers, which was also a blast. I would recommend it to people who, like myself, are fans of completely implausible action-oriented science fiction.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Deus Irae by Phillip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

Now THAT is a cover

“Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny take you on a dangerous journey across a devastated landscape in search of the great God of Wrath.

What chance has Tibor McMasters—one limbless heretic—against the awesome powers of the Dues Irae, entity behind World War III? Commissioned to paint his likeness, Tibor must first find him—travel through the frightening mutations of the holocaust... While his Christian companion acts on orders to sabotage his mission. 

A desperate plot... a perilous pilgrimage... the violent clash of good and evil, echoing in an alien terrain... Who will survive the scornful power of.. Dues Irae.”

 --The Back Cover

1976 Publication, 182 pages, $1.75. I bought a mint copy at Bucket O' Blood for $8.

'Deus Irae by Philip K Dick and Roger Zelazney- like Canticle for Leibowitz if you tore out every page and smoked a PCP laced joint with it' -@msears

The first few pages of Deus Irae made me groan—the meandering prose felt more like a writing experiment than an actual story—but luckily the book tightened up after the first few short chapters.

The Servants of Wrath, to whom the limbless artist (he has an apparatus) Tibor McMasters devotes his paintings, worship Carleton Lufteufel, ex-chairman of the Energy Research and Development Agency of the United States of America. Lufteufel is also the man responsible for reducing the world to ash and fallout in 1982.

In the 20 or so years since the nuclear holocaust, the Servants of Wrath have overtaken Christianity, the most prominent faith in the United States, especially in Charlotteville, where Tibor is slaving away on a mural of their God of Wrath. When Tibor has completed all of his mural except for the face of Carleton Lufteufel, it is decided that he will have to journey into the wastes and find the man himself, as none of the photographs the Servants of Wrath have are satisfactory.

After a brief loss of faith, in which Tibor expresses interest in joining the handful of Christians on the outskirts of town, the “inc” (short for incomplete human) gets on his cow-driven cart, and slowly begins his quest to find the God of Wrath himself. From this point on the religious musings, previously the driving force of the story, take a backseat to a twisted Wizard of Oz-style journey—plenty of chatty encounters with giant mutated insects, an automated repair facility with a haywire AI, giant mutated lizards, a telepathic packs of rats, another AI that feeds off the acid dissolved flesh of wanderers, and a crazy old drunk guy in a barn.

If that sounds entertaining whatsoever, then I recommend you pick up this bizarre little novel and get ready for a post apocalyptic romp through the paranoid and drugged out wasteland of Dues Irae

I am rather surprised that Deus Irae isn't touted as highly as some of Dick's other later works, and it made me interested in reading more Zelazny, an author I have yet to delve into.