Friday, December 9, 2016

Book Review: The Forest of Peldain

Book Review: 'The Forest of Peldain' by Barrington J. Bayley

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Forest of Peldain’ (223 pp) is DAW Book No. 640, published in August, 1985, with cover artwork by Ken W. Kelly.

On the water word of Thelessa, mankind is restricted to living on the Hundred Isles. Although there are rebellious islands whose tribes must periodically be subdued, overall, life under the Monarchy of King Krassos is pleasant, resembling the uncomplicated civilization of Earth’s Polynesian peoples.

But King Krassos of Arelia yearns for some signal achievement to define his reign. When a man named Askon Octrago visits the throne room, claiming to be a prince from the island of Peldain, King Krassos takes notice. For Peldain is the largest of the isles on Thelessa………but also the deadliest. Just meters past its shoreline is an immense forest made up of carnivorous plants…..plants such as the Trip-root…...the Stranglevine…..the Fallpit……the Mangrab Tree…..and the Dartthorn……

Octrago claims that he has traversed the dangers of the Forest of Peldain and survived…….and he wants King Krassos to furnish an expeditionary force, with which Octrago will return to Peldain, reclaim the throne, and pledge fealty to Krassos.

The thought of having the largest island on Thelessa under his realm is too attractive for Krassos to resist. He orders a force of several thousand men to be assembled and transported to Peldain. Leading the force is Lord Vorduthe, the most capable officer in Arelia.

In due course, the Arelian fleet disembarks on the shore of Peldain and its soldiers, wielding shield and sword, make preparations to venture into the Forest. Lord Vorduthe, aware of the stories of the hazardous plants, has prepared by incorporating flamethrower carts into his invasion force.

But Vorduthe has misgivings over the truth of Askon Octgrago’s story…..and as the Arelian force begins its foray, Vorduthe and his men will discover that the Forest of Peldain contains horrors far worse than those described by Octrago…….

I’ve read a number of sf novels by Barrington Bayley, and this one, like those others, has a clean, flowing narrative style. Its first half is really more of a horror novel than sf. The latter half of the narrative does realign itself into sf themes………..I won’t disclose any spoilers, but this section of the novel does seem a bit contrived.

But overall, ‘The Forest of Peldain’ is a very readable novel from a writer who often is absent from lists of the better sf authors of the 70s and 80s, but nonetheless probably deserves to be present and accounted for.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sci-fi books from the UK

Sci-fi Books from the UK

With the growth of 'e commerce', it's now a lot more feasible to purchase paperbacks from bookstores in the United Kingdom. They will accept online purchases made with a US credit card.

I got this set of eight from 

This vendor / bookstore collective has a large inventory of old Sphere and Panther sci-fi paperback books from the 70s. They charge a flat shipping fee of £ 2.99, which is about $3.79. Including the shipping charge, my eight books averaged $3.75 each, which is quite competitive with US online vendors.

The time between ordering and arrival for this particular shipment was 17 days.

Some of these books, like the Philip K. Dick title, are hard to find in the inventories of US sellers, so investigating UK merchants can be worthwhile. It's also well worth looking at these UK sellers for books in genres other than sci-fi, horror, or fantasy.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Spanish Comic Book Artists

Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art
coming January 2017

Here at the PorPor Books Blog I try to keep an eye out for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror - themed gift books that usually are promoted during the Christmas / Holiday season.

This season's top entry, Masters of Spanish Comic Book Art, is (unfortunately) not going to be released in time to be the ideal under-the-tree gift, but its publication date of 31 January 2017 is still close enough to make it worth mentioning in the 'Holiday Context'.

If, like me, you are a fan of the great artwork (by artists like Sanjulian, Esteban Maroto, and Jose Gonzalez) that appeared in the 70s for comic books, magazines, and paperback covers for American publishers, than this volume certainly deserves contemplation.

The book - which is published by Dynamite - is available for pre-order at online retailers. 

A preview of the contents in available here.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s

American Comic Book Chronicles:
The 1980s
by Keith Dallas
TooMorrows Publishing, March 2013

'American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s' (287 pp) is one of a series of books released by TooMorrows Publishing that chronicle the history of American comic books. Other volumes in the series cover the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s.

Like the volume covering the 70s, which I reviewed here, this is a great book. it adheres to the standardized format for the series, one marked by copious color illustrations and tiny, dense font.

The opening chapters of 'American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s' review the rather dire financial state of the comic book industry in the US in the period from 1979 - 1981. Sales were declining for all publishers, as ever fewer newsstand distributors were interested in selling comic books. 

Although Marvel remained the industry's sales leader, the executives of the company's parent corporation, Cadence Industries, were displeased with the low revenue the company was generating from comics. Only by arguing that comics still were a financially viable aspect of magazine publishing, was Marvel president Jim Shooter able to convince the Cadence executives that they should avoid cancelling all but a handful of titles.
As Dallas relates, there was hope that the so-called Direct Market would provide an increasingly viable outlet for comic book sales. But in 1979 there were only 800 comic book stores in the US, and it was not at all clear that the Direct market would grow to the degree necessary to keep comics afloat.

As author Dallas points out, while the publishers struggled to maintain their enterprises, Jim Shooter - having brought a much-needed degree of order to the Marvel editorial offices - began reviving the superhero genre by implementing a reboot of Marvel's X-Men lineup, as well giving greater freedom to new artists and writers, leading to Frank Miller's unique take on Daredevil.

With the gradual growth of dedicated comic book shops throughout the decade, the ranks in independent publishers grew in tandem, and their titles - like Nexus -were able to find shelf space and readership in ways that were simply not feasible in the 70s.

Dallas relates how the 'maturation' of editorial attitudes towards comic book content, and the decisions by both major and minor publishers to no longer ascribe to the Comics Code Authority, brought with it some degree of controversy.

By the middle of the decade, the growth of the Direct Market had begun to compensate for the shrinking newsstand sales market, and comic books had begun to thrive financially. Not only were Marvel and DC benefiting from the Direct Market, but indie titles like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were major hits.

Dallas devotes coverage to the battles between creators and publishers, Jack Kirby's dispute with Marvel being one of the most visible of these conflicts.

For DC, the decade began with the company still suffering from the aftereffects of the so-called 'DC Implosion' of 1978, which saw many titles cancelled, staff fired or laid off, and sales plummet. But during the 80s, the release of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight helped lead the company to a creative and financial revival. With the release of the blockbuster film Batman in 1989, in September of that year DC actually enjoyed a greater market share than Marvel, a major achievement given that Marvel had dominated the markets since the early 70s.

The final chapters of the book reveal how the financial strength of the comic book industry allowed publishers to release innovative titles that represented genres other than the superhero genre, setting the stage for the enormous expansion of the 90s. 

Throughout the book, Dallas's inclusion of callout boxes for topics dealing with the arrival of new approaches to formatting comic books, such as the abolition of thought balloons and third-person narratives, are interesting contributions.

Summing up, like its companion volume for the 70s, 'American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s' is well worth getting for anyone with an interest in comics, graphic art, and popular culture.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Victory (The Jacksons)

by Michael Whelan
illustration for the cover of the Jacksons' album 

left to right: Marlon, Tito, Randy, Michael, Jermaine, Jackie

The major single off this album was the song 'Torture'.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Book Review: The Runestaff series

Book Review: The 'Runestaff' Series by Michael Moorcock

5 / 5 Stars

All four volumes of what is labeled the 'Runestaff' or 'Hawkmoon' series first were published in 1967 - 1969, sometimes with different titles, by Lancer Books in the USA.

The Lancer books series apparently was not endorsed by Moorcock; accordingly, the 'authorized' version of the Hawkmoon series is considered to be that issued by DAW Books: The Jewel in the Skull (January 1977), The Mad God's Amulet (April 1977), The Sword of the Dawn (July 1977) and The Runestaff (September 1977). 

All feature outstanding cover artwork by Richard Clifton-Dey.

[Sequels to the 'Hawkmoon' titles, known collectively as 'The Castle Brass' series, consists of Count Brass (1973), The Champion of Garathorm (1973), and The Quest for Tanelorn (1975).]

The Hawkmoon novels are set several thousand years in the future, in a Europe ruled by Granbretan, i.e., Great Britain. Interestingly, Moorcock makes this far future Granbretan the villain, intent not only on conquering the rest of Europe, but the Middle East.......and perhaps the entire World. 

Opposing the Granbreton empire are an ever-dwindling collection of European provinces. In one such province, called Koln (i.e., Colonge), the Duke, a man named Dorian Hawkmoon, uses his military prowess to defy the Granbretan forces. When Koln finally is defeated by the overwhelming might of the Granbretans, Hawkmoon flees to Kamarg in Souther France, there to ally himself with Count Brass, ruler of Castle Brass.

Succeeding volumes in the series recount the various adventures of Count Brass, Dorian Hawkmoon, his sidekick - the loyal Oladahn - and the cryptic Warrior in Jet and Gold, in their efforts to deter the Granbretans. It becomes increasingly clear with each entry in the series that a mystical artifact known as the Runestaff is directing the actions of Hawkmoon and his compatriots, although Hawkmoon is none too pleased to discover he is a pawn in the schemes of the Runestaff. 

But it is only with aid the of the Runstaff and its accompanying artifacts - the Mad God's Amulet and the Sword of the Dawn - that Hawkmoon can even hope to deter the well-armed hordes of Granbretan soldiery........and their psychotic leader, Baron Meliadus, who has a deep and abiding hatred for Dorian Hawkmoon....... 

The four volumes in the Runestaff series each are under 175 pp in length, meaning that the series can be read relatively quickly. Moorcock's writing is unadorned and direct; there is little if any unnecessary exposition, dialogue is restrained, and the use of short chapters keeps the narrative moving at a quick pace.

It's worth noting that the combined four volumes of the Runestaff series occupies less than 800 pages. The brevity of the series is something I appreciated, given that modern fantasy novels have become extraordinarily bloated and overwritten. For example, the current 'Stormlight Archive' series by Brandon Sanderson has a first volume with 1280 pp, and the second volume,1328 pp. And there are eight more volumes to go........?!

What makes the Runestaff series effective is its villains. The Granbretans are not the reincarnations of past Dark Lords, or a cabal of Evil Mages who use corrupt incantations to direct Dark Forces against their opponents. 

They are in fact a race of aristocrats who are so jaded that only war, and its freedom to carry out all manner of perversions and atrocities, can satisfy them. The Granbretans take delight in raping and pillaging conquered villages, taking in the spectacle of the Sexual Gymnasts (!) at court ceremonies, and casually snuffing out the lives of their slaves and servants. The repellent nature of the Granbretans gives the conflict between them and Hawkmoon a nasty edge that is very much absent from modern-day fantasy series.

Summing up, although Moorcock was in many respects a one-man publishing factory in the 70s, much of what he wrote in that decade was of good quality, and the Hawkmoon / Runestaff series is the equal of the Elric series. 

While picking up the individual volumes is feasible, there are omnibus volumes that can be purchased for very affordable prices from your usual online vendors.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Judge Dredd Ladies' Night

Judge Dredd in 'Ladies Night'
script by Alan Grant (as T. B. Grover)
art by Brian Talbot
from 2000 AD Annual 1987

This Judge Dredd strip from 1981 features one of the more eye-popping color schemes in an early 80s comic, and a focus on sarcastic humor. But it's the great artwork of Bryan Talbot - of Luther Arkwright fame - that makes this comic really stand out.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Review: The Ends of the Circle

Book Review: 'The Ends of the Circle' by Paul O. Williams

4 / 5 Stars

‘The Ends of the Circle’ (203 pp) was published in April, 1981; the cover art is by Ralph Brillhart.

This is the second volume in the ‘Pelbar Cycle’, which ultimately comprised seven volumes.

Like the preceding novel, ‘The Breaking of Northwall’, this episode is set more than 1,000 years after World War Three led to the collapse of civilization. The stone fortress of Pelbarigan, located on the upper Mississippi River, is the home of a matriarchal society that is only slowly coming to accept wider interaction with the nomadic tribes that roam the Midwest.

As ‘Circle’ opens, a young man named Stel is finding his place in Pelbar society to be increasingly difficult, even dangerous. Stel has chosen to marry Arhoe, a woman of the Dahmen family, who are notoriously demeaning towards those males who marry into the family.

Although Stels’ affection for Arhoe is genuine, he can no longer suffer mistreatment at the hands of the Dahmen females, and, renouncing the family, sets off on his own into the winter wastes. His goal is a vague one: to travel the western half of what used to be the United States and see if the so-called Shining Sea of the West really does exist.

For her part, Arhoe is unwilling to see her husband abandon her and the Dahmen family; when word of Stel’s disappearance reaches her, she sets out to find him.

Most of the novel is taken up with the twin narratives of the journeys of Stel and Arhoe across the immense lands of the West. Dangers and perils abound, including standard-issue postapocalyptic cults, hostile tribes, and lingering rads from the nuclear blasts loosed a thousand years ago.

As with ‘Northwall’, much of the narrative is focused on the anthropological nuances of the nomadic tribes that roam this future America, many of which – although comprised of whites – author Williams models on Amerindian counterparts.

As sf novels written in the early 80s go, ‘Circle’, like ‘Northwall’, is much more readable than other novels of the era that dealt with sociological topics. Compared to bloated, meandering novels like Donald Kingsbury’s ‘Courtship Rite’, the Pelbar novels are shorter, more focused, and devoid of world-buildings so intricate that they eventually undermine their own narrative.

This is not to say that ‘Circle’ is flawless; it is not. Many of the dialogue passages have a stilted quality, and the pauses in the narrative during which Stel engages in some existential philosophizing are tedious rather than convincing.

With that said, ‘Circle’ is a good sf adventure novel, and another strong entry in the Pelbar Cycle. It’s worth picking up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Muskrat Love November 1976

'Muskrat Love' by the Captain and Tennille
November, 1976

November, 1976..........and at position number 4 on the Billboard Top 40 pop chart, it's the Captain and Tennille with their version of the song 'Muskrat Love', which originally was recorded and released by the band 'America'.

It's hard to describe the uniquely deranged nature of this vision of 70s cheese.......those watching it for the first time, are best advised to do so with caution.

I still remember watching it unfold, 
during an episode of The Captain and Tennille TV show, on our little 20 " black and white TV in the Fall of '76. 

What can you say about a live action / video montage in which people dressed in 'muskrat' costumes dance together, while Daryl Dragon (i.e., the 'Captain') plays 'pitter pat' noises on his synthesizer ? 

Only in the 70s, that's for sure.......

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Battle for the Planet of the Apes Part V

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Part V of VII
by Doug Moench (script) and Dino Castrillo (art) 
Planet of the Apes (Marvel / Curtis) No. 26, November 1976

Marvel continues the 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes' storyline in this November, 1976 issue of the Planet of the Apes comic magazine. The entirety of episode V, 'Assault on Paradise', is posted below.

(Links to previous posts: parts one and two and three and four)