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.