Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Vengeance Man By Dan J. Marlowe

“Nobody laughs at me and gets away with it.

Not even my cheating wife—a couple of bullets through the guts took care of her.

Not even the crooked senator.

Not even the blackmailing lesbian.
Not even the extortionist who'd taken the incriminating pictures.

But there were still some wise guys left who really believed they could kill me before I kill them. That's what damn fools are made of...” –The Back Cover
Original printing 1962, this is a 1974 reprint. 9fc cover price, 191 pages
Dan J. Marlowe’s The Vengeance Man is one hard-boiled murder story by, and a pretty sick and twisted one at that. A departure from the standard noir novel, Vengeance Man follows Jim Wilson, an out-and-out sociopath, as he ruthlessly climbs to power in the south. The book opens with Wilson shooting his adulteress wife in a motel after setting up a series of events to make it seem like a “crime of passion,” rather than the calculated murder it actually was. Soon released from jail because of juror sentiment rather than a technicality, Wilson embarks on a reign of terror that both revenges himself upon people, and, of course, benefits him financially.
Marlowe waits until after the inaugural murder to reveal that not only is Jim Wilson the sole benefactor of his late wife’s small fortune, but that he was cheating as well. In fact, all of his acts of revenge are undermined by the double standards he has for himself. Fortunately, we’re not expected to like Wilson, or any of the immoral characters throughout this book, considering they all spend the novel backstabbing and climbing over each other like obstacles. In just under 200 pages, our protagonist murders, blackmails, steals, and even rapes, in a one man orgy of hatred and greed. This doesn’t sound like a pleasant book, but Marlowe pulls it off almost perfectly.
The man could write. Oftentimes, Marlowe reminded me of Faulkner—a perverted and violent Faulkner, but Faulkner nonetheless. You get the vibe that Wilson, as the narrator, gives up trying to sugar coat his story after the first chapter. He goes on to unleash a torrent of woman-hating, absolute greed, and ferocity, all of which somehow didn’t get watered down by an editor. The end result: The Vengeance Man is a powerful book. Anti-hero in Jim Wilson is surrounded by a cast of characters just as immoral and debauched as he is, all of whom are in over their heads and are punished much worse than they deserve.

I recommend this book, but not to someone looking to get a chuckle out of a book with a shitty cover, as this is some intense reading. I know this write-up was all very vague, but almost any details would have been spoilers, this being a noir novel after all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bucket O' Blood Books and Records

Bucket O' Blood Books and Records is a store that opened up this month that I have been meaning to check out since day one. Upon seeing the sign my girlfriend made a remark that this place looks perfect for me, to which I have to agree. You don't see many used bookstores that have the words 'Speculative Fiction' emblazoned out front.

I was expecting the selection to be very thin, since the place just opened, but I was pleasantly surprised by a large selection of pulpy goodness on the shelves. The proprietor, a knowledgeable guy named Marc, was helpful in pointing out a few more books with ridiculous covers after seeing my selections. The prices are all competitive, even on the low side. I bought a mint condition copy of Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint for $3, and that was the most expensive item in my purchase. I think Pulp-A-Week might have an official store as I definitely enjoyed my experience at Bucket O' Blood more than any other used book store in this city, and I wasn't forced to tear though a water damaged basement where most stores keep their sci-fi novels. Maybe when Margaret Atwood was speaking of the 'Genre Ghetto' she meant musty, out of order science fiction sections that are so embarrassing to most book store owners that they have to be kept underground like some mutant child.

I can't vouch for the records, but a quick peek looked like they were mostly metal and punk oriented, which should intrigue many of my friends. I didn't see a power pop section, so I moved on back to the books.

In summary- Bucket O' Blood is a very cool little store for enthusiasts of lasers and space boobs like myself. You should all check it out as I am sure the already sweet selection will get more robust over time. It's nice to see genre books get some respect in this city for once, especially by a guy who is passionate and knowledgeable about them. Make sure to double check the hours online before heading over though, as they are all over the place.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Bromius Phenomenon by John Rankine

Troubleshooter for European space Dag Fletcher was involved in the mystery as soon as the Interstellar Two Nine disappeared in the gravisphere of Bromius. There must have been more to the loss of the starship than navigational error or mechanical failure.

The Bromusians were such a cheerful and sociable race that it seemed incredible they might be involved in interplanetary intrigue. But what was the purpose of the strange island Fletcher found?

He learned that answer soon enough. A barbaric ritual was enacted periodically there, a ritual that disclosed facets of the Bromusian personality successfully hidden from their galactic neighbors and as old as time- a barbaric ritual that this time would have Fletcher as its object...” –The back cover.

207 page. 95c cover price. Ace Books.

The Bromius Phenomenon is not the worst book I have read during this little project, but it is certainly the most poorly edited. Entire paragraphs are either missing or unwritten in this book, which made for a disjointed experience with terrible pacing. Dozens of words were misspelled, some confusingly so ("our" instead of "hour", "their" instead of "there"), and some intense grammatical errors greatly added to this reader’s pain. I skimmed quite a bit towards the end, but I still feel as if I read more of this novel than Rankine’s editor. I wish the story inside were compelling enough to make up for these issues. Instead, it was fairly boring, and the big mystery had no punch to it at all.

Dag Fletcher is an uneven character, alternating between stoic leadership and murderous behavior seemingly at random. Plenty of interchangeable humanoid aliens are burnt by the laser of the fearless leader, which only seems to have a 'stun' setting, so he can decide to use lethal force instead. When it came to females character development, The Bromius Phenomenon began and ended with what the girls were wearing and how horny they were at the moment. Rankine’s naming conventions are ridiculous—a spaceship christened the Interstellar X; a nearly indestructible ore (and the reason for the galactic intrigue) named Infrangrom; and a planet named Croton (which made me hungry for croutons).

I cannot even provide an adequate plot synopsis, as it rarely was cohesive, and interesting even less. Summarywhat you have here is pulp sci-fi at its lowest. Bad puns, an impossible-to-follow plot, watered down action, terrible dialogue, and wooden characters make The Bromius Phenomenon an awful experience.

If I ever procreate, I will read this book aloud to my children as punishment when they spill paint in the garage.

Edit: Perusing Rankine's wiki page, I discovered that this book was the fifth and final volume of the 'Dag Fletcher Series'. Maybe the first few books were better?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cabu by John Robert Russell

"Only Human?

George Piget was only human. A frail history professor with just a few months to live, he dreamed of having the power of a Caesar, the genius of a Napoleon, the ruthless cunning of a Hitler. Then one day he awoke from a deep sleep to find himself in the dark, primitive world of Cabu, where to be 'only human' was to be the highest form of life. At first he was terrified of the huge lizardlike beasts that stalked him on the vast plains, of the hairy subhuman creatures that made him one of their own. But then his memory of human history took hold, and he plotted to make his dream of world domination come true...' -From the back cover

Published 1974 by Pocket Books. 94 c cover price. 159 pages (which seems to be a theme). I picked it up for $2.75.

Another novel chosen based on a ridiculous cover (which reminded me of Altered States) that ended up falling short of its potential. Cabu could have been a pretty cool novel, but the execution was all wrong. The story does not have a very likable character in George Piget, which was apparently a deal breaker in the 1970's. The author attempted to circumvent the issue by having his main character tell his story, through dialogue to the also unsympathetic narrator. I am quite alright with main characters that I do not like, hell I have read enough Irvine Welsh to actually enjoy them, but two argumentative white professors going back and forth for 150 pages? Count me out.

The basic premise is flawed, but could have been pretty engaging if it had been pulled off. George Piget is a professor at a small college in Wisconsin, he has numerous health problems and is generally unsatisfied with his life. George starts having trouble sleeping, which he at first attributes to issues with his heart, until he has a lucid dream where he is born on another planet, to a Neanderthal-type people.

Yes, this novel clumsily begins with a deus ex machina. In this other world, which the tribe calls Cabu, George can control his other self while retaining all of his knowledge of 20th century mankind. Being a man of academia, he begins researching the stone age with the intention to better his tribe as soon as he can.

Our narrator is a fellow professor who likes to spend his free time hunting rabbits with some arrows he makes himself, so the two hit it off somewhat...and then talk for 150 fucking pages.

There are some cool parts to Cabu, all of which involved the amount of detail Russell put into his world-building. The Neanderthal tribe has an interesting primitive culture from the onset, and a lot of the flora and fauna has a nice 'semi-alien' feel to it. I particularly enjoyed when Piget's Neanderthal-self came of age sexually, and the Earth George (who was never very active in that department) began to find the 'hairy breasts and buttocks' of his tribe more appealing than your standard human female (which might have some white guilt about it).

The main scope of the book involves the main character forcing invention after invention on this docile and content tribe until everything goes to shit. With civilization comes political assassinations, jealousy, rape, and the attempted genocide of a different breed of man.
Unfortunately for Cabu's colorful and detailed stone age world, it ends up being just a vehicle for another 'civilization bad' storyline. Oh yeah, and there is a twist ending that was just as weak as the 'I starting dreaming and traveled across the universe' opening. Not recommended, friends.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Before the Classics- Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C Clarke

'Destiny in his hands-

Alvin hesitated for a moment. None of his people had left the City for uncounted millions of years. "Diaspar has everything," they said. "Why should we go outside into the desert?" But Alvin knew the fear that underlay the seeming free preference—the records he had studied hinted at the dark truth.

We are safe as long as we stay in Diaspar, the records said. If we leave... the Invaders will come again from the wastes between the worlds. And Man will not survive another such attack...

Alvin knew the risk—but he knew, too, that if he did not take it, mankind was doomed to a lingering death—slower, but as sure as any the invaders would bring.

Knowing the fate of his race rested in his hands, he leaned forward and pressed the vehicles starting button...'—From the back cover

Printed 1962, copyright 1952. 159 pages. 40c cover price.

My buddy Neal (of Poland) gave me this book with a glowing recommendation of Clarke's early work, so I figured it was worth a read and a blog entry. Every now and then I am going to switch it up with books by renowned authors before they hit the big time, in order to showcase their pulpy roots, as well as give my brain a bit of an airing out. I hope the two people that read this blog don't mind.

Against the Fall of Night is a quick read, and interesting throughout, and it is a good indication of the talent Clarke was beginning to realize. I suppose you could characterize this novel as 'post-apocalyptic,' as it takes place hundreds of millions of years after mankind is brought low by 'the Invaders'—a race of feared alien beings that are only alluded to throughout the book.

The survivors banded together in Diaspar, an automated megacity, and are now capable of living thousands and thousands of years because of the technological pampering they receive. The 'hundreds of millions' of years apparently haven't changed mankind much, considering the city was designed to keep them in a kind of stasis, and because their minds have adapted to their environment over the ages, so no one has attempted to leave the city for eons. The people in Diaspar are miserable, listless, and terrified of the world outside the walls of their refuge. Someone drum up a precocious teenage protagonist!

Alvin, our main man, is your standard 'budding adventurer' archetype. The only child born in the last 7,000 years, Alvin is bored to tears with his life in Diaspar. The never-ending tutelage he undergoes does little to temper his desire to see the world—a compulsion bordering upon heresy in his culture. In his endless wandering of the city, Alvin discovers an inscription on a stone barring him from the outside world. “There is a better way. Give my greetings to the Keeper of the Records. –Alaine of Lyndar.”

The Keeper of the Record, a man named Rorden, is cowardly by nature like the rest of manking. Despite this, Rorden helps Alvin begin his quest by researching any possible means to leave the city using the archaic (and only half understood) computers that have continue t compile history throughout the ages.

Anything from this point on is pretty spoiler heavy, so I will drop many details. There are pet giant insects, lots of robots, a good cast of characters, and some space travel. Cool stuff, very old school. The only glaring mistakes were misspellings of the City as ‘Daispar’ a number of times.

In only 159 pages, Against the Fall of Night manages to convey both wonder and a message without coming across as too whimsical or heavy-handed. Clarke touches upon the implausibility of immortality, the stagnation undergone by an empire after over-expansion, and manages to take a light stab at evolution while he’s at it. I enjoyed delving into Clarke's humble beginnings and reading Against the Fall of Night made me appreciate how refined and talented of a writer he became. I plan on reading Clarke's other 'Pre-2001' works as soon as I am able.

Not only is font in my yellowed copy enjoyably pulpy, but you have to love that cover. I think that looks more like a phallic space potato than a robot. Good stuff.

Thanks again to Kris Adamo for the 'Oh shit I'm busy!' edits.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Element 79 by Fred Hoyle

'A Fantastic, frightening plunge into the future; an era of interplanetary espionage; airborne orgies; galactic extravaganzas—when man is the servant of superior creatures from different worlds.' –Front cover
'Earthlings are dominated by the Devil, manipulated by Martians, headed for extinction at the hands of nonhumans... a horror-scope of the future, masterminded by one of the foremost astronomers of our time.' –Back cover
Published 1967. 143 pages. 60c cover price.
I opted for a book of short stories this time out, and a brief one at that, as I had a busy week and a holiday weekend cutting in on my 'shitty book time'. Lame cover, I know, but the promise of 'airborne orgies' sold me on this dog eared, musty, yellowed collection when I came across it in the basement of Myopic Books. Cool store—the basement smells like dust, water damage and the frustration of pulp novelists.
Fred Hoyle seems like he was a great, albeit controversial, astronomer/astrophycisist. He might have been a pretty good writer as well, but if that is the case, then Element 79 is not a good example of his work. There are fifteen stories in all—half of them science fiction, some of them less than a page long, most of them meandering, none of them coming to a satisfying conclusion. The stories within that did have a point were usually about how human beings are stupid, sex-obsessed animals that are going to be conquered by something or someone far superior to us.
I won't bore you with too many details with this book, especially since there isn't as much sci-fi inside as there is misogyny and white people complaining. There is the story about two lesbians, impregnated by the same man, who blackmail him into supporting them and their offspring financially. Really 'sexy' stuff, if you get off on hating women and all that. There is a story about birdwatcher who accidentally runs over two rare birds he was searching for because of his shortsightedness. Two pages of tedious details about bird-watching followed by a light stab at irony. I was promised space orgies and was given a story about people being collected for a galactic zoo, which was vaguely about animal rights and only had implied sex. Next book please!