Thursday, October 28, 2010
After the Good War, by Peter Breggin
January, 1974 Popular Library
One of the joys of any trash fiction fanatic is scouring the mass market paperback racks at the local second-hand books emporium. I've made countless discoveries of heretofore-forgotten novels this way, and this book, first published in hardcover in 1972 and released by Popular Library with a groovy psych cover in '74, might just take the cake. It's a sterling example of the also-forgotten sci-fi genre which was all the rage at the time: the turned-on psychedelic science fiction that catered to the freaked-out masses of the post-Woodstock generation. That brief time when sci-fi was dangerous, when it reeked of sex, drugs, and rock, before the genre was neutered by Star Wars.
Breggin posits a psychedelic America of the year 2212, a century after the so-called "Good War," when the United States became the supreme leader of the world. At a breezy 200 pages After the Good War dives straight in to this bizarre future society, in which a young man named Rogar and a young woman named Gambol commit the ultimate crime: falling in love. Breggin here delivers a satire, and goes full-on with it: this is a world in which '60s psychoanalysis and the Aquarian Age won, resulting in a sort of psychedelic 1984 in which Big Brother has you, literally, by the balls. For sex is the end-all, be-all in this world; people walk about fully nude save for translucent "packs" which cover their groins, newly-pubescents serve as "Cocksuckers," pubic hair is now called "Public Hair," and one of the highest standings a woman can achieve is to become a "Good Lay."
After the Good War is relayed through the journal-entries of Rogar, a historian who learns the truth of history through Gambol, the first free-thinking woman he has ever met. The people of this future society are molded from birth to become sort of hive entitities; group sessions are di rigeur, the government has total authority, and no one questions anything. Any sort of "odd behavior" results in "capping," in which someone is basically brain-fried. Government authorities cover the area, ensuring that everyone acts as is accepted, ordering unusuals to "free associate" to ensure they are not plagued with "The Hebrew Disease." Yes, even religion has been banned -- the "Hebrew Disase" of "guilt, shame, and fear" having been determined as what caused so much suffering in previous generations.
Through Gambol Rogar investigates the now-obsolete Jews and comes to identify with the Hebrews of the Old Testament. The Hebrews are swathed in mystery, for no Jews live in this future America: they have been gone for decades, and even blacks are kept in zoos, where whites go to gape at them and toss food over the bars which imprison them. Rogar and Gambol in their rebellion are true outcasts, with only one another to console in -- love itself is banned in this world, where pregnant women disappear and no one can remember their childhood.
This future is very much like Logan's Run, only without the enforced lifespan cutoff -- the same sort of retro-futuristic space age vibe of wanton hendonism and psychedelics, where technology is devoted to pleasure and humans live in domes sealed off from nature. The novel alternates between chapters focusing on Rogar's daily life and chapters focusing on the illegal documents he's come across, which tell the truth of history. These historical sections do begin to wear on the reader's patience, but they are necessary to show how this bizarre world came to be.
As the novel progresses, Rogar comes more and more to see himself as "the last American Hebrew" and he and Gambol devise a plan to escape the United States. This denoument is rushed, making one wish the novel was a bit longer; as it is, it seems a simple matter to escape the totalitarian/hive mind regime of America. Also, I have to admit I more enjoyed the sections in the kinky future world; the entire fabric of society is devoted to pleasure, but not in a "free sex" sort of way. We learn gradually that bodyparts don't even touch as the act is performed; an inflatable "bag" is used to separate the man and woman. "Safe sex" taken to an absurd degree, like everything else in After the Good War. This is another reason why I argue that the book should be considered a satire, rather than a "this could happen" sort of 1984 thing.
All told, this is an entertaining novel which could've been a fantastic one if it had been expanded a bit more. As it is, it seems rushed and too preoccupied with delving into the psychoanalytic rigamarole which caused the hive mind world of 2212. This however isn't a surprise, as Breggin is a noted psychiatrist. Despite his academic background, he's a very good author, which again makes one wish the novel had been given a bit more depth.
Here are a few passages, to give you an idea of the psychedelic future Breggin has created:
On my way to see her, National Weather Control was functioning as usual, and I was naked except for my sandals, the transparent Ball Pack around my genitals, and the palm-sized Pleasure Pack stuck firmly to the middle of my chest. I was, of course, appropriately Sealed In with the clear film that Dynamos and Good Lays must spray over their entire bodies. It made my Public Hair glisten in a luxurious triangle rising from within my pop-open Ball Pack and expanding into a great diamond of gray and black curls. (pg. 3)
A slight sickness came over me. A touch of the Hebrew Disease? I should be Obliviating myself in a Fantasy with some little Cocksucker. People have needs, and Love Sucks and Fucks. But going off alone damned near privately, that poses a threat to the entire Democratic bureaucracy. (pg. 9)
So much reading and thinking left me exhausted, but gratified, and I lay back in my contour recliner beside my Q Tube. I found my eyes closing involuntarily; myself hypnotizing me as my lids closed the last slats between me and the light. The darkness burst back into light within my head, and I reclined in a great golden bath, more golden than the most brilliant sun, than all the psychedelic lights going off at orgasm in a Pleasure Dome with a Playgirl; brighter I am sure than the atomic blasts in the Good War that incinerated everyone who Saw the Light. (pg. 34)
When everyone at our Pleasure Party was already high on two-and-three-LSD Equivalents of Punch, a young Good Lay in the corner began hallucinating into the blank Q Tube, and I resolved to take no more than One Quarter dose. (pg. 80)
I inserted my Mental Health Credit Card and watched the Security Monitor flash "Sound Mind, Sound Credit." Then I stepped into the great domed room and stood amid lurid lights, rising aphrodisiac scents, gyrating shapes upon the ceiling and the walls, and electronic orgasms popping through the sound system. The dome itself was an enormous inverted screen, beneath which I would become one small orgasm tuning up to the great environmental Coming. But even the breathing of the diaphragmatic floor beneath my naked feet failed to Turn Me On. (pg. 93)
Monday, October 25, 2010
Jack Sullivan returns in a second installment nearly as plodding and padded as the first. Once again "John Cutter" (aka John Shirley) proves that he can fill pages with the best of 'em, giving us another novel that could easily be cut down to half the length.
Now in New York City, Sullivan's tracing some leads he picked up in Talent For Revenge. Sullivan's wife was killed years ago, and he's still trying to figure out who was behind it. But his contact Malta has followed him here, and -- after a pointless scene in which he sets Sullivan up against a trio of thugs to "test" him -- Malta offers a new mission.
A gang known as the Meat Hooks is terrorizing the inner city, snatching runaway children and locking them up in some unknown location where the kids are drugged and used to satisfy the twisted needs of deranged perverts. Behind it all is a former Nazi named Van Kleef and his equally-sicko wife. One thing I admire about Shelley's series is how he bridges the gap between '70s and '80s-style men's adventure novels. The plot of Manhattan Revenge is as lurid as any '70s men's adventure novel, but it also features the gung-ho "guns, guns, guns" bravura that was all the rage in the '80s. (Not to mention that Sullivan gets laid -- and often -- which in itself is another '70s throwback in the sexless '80s world of Mack Bolan, Phoenix Force, and etc.)
Unfortunately Shelley doesn't capitalize on the lurid aspect, for once again he delivers a novel in which nothing happens but his hero stalking various low-tier henchmen and staking out various enemy strongholds as he plans his final assault. The twisted den Van Kleef has created is dealt with in a perfunctory manner, and instead we get endless scenes of Sullivan chasing down Meat Hook members and torturing them for info.
Did I say endless? Everything is drawn out here. If Sullivan chases after some punk, we get 5 pages of tiny type describing each alley, corner, and fire escape Sullivan lopes across -- and each scene ends exactly the same, with Sullivan killing the punk in question. Just like Talent For Revenge, we have here another protracted game of cat and mouse; we know from page one that Sullivan will storm Van Kleef's den and kill the man, and that's finally what happens. And just as in the previous installment, the climax goes exactly like you thought it would.
There are a few colorful patches in the otherwise monochromatic color scheme. This time out Sullivan has an accomplice, a private eye Malta's hired. Sullivan's pissed -- he works alone -- but the way these things go, of course, the private eye turns out to be a smokin' hot babe. This not only leads to plentiful sex but also what I want to think is a little genre parody from Shelley. For the lady constantly chastizes Sullivan for his "kill first" attitude, and Sullivan constantly calls her a "Liberal."
But Sullivan here is a bloodthirsty maniac, one who would do Johnny Rock proud. He murders countless Meat Hookers, torturing them with joy. Even when he tries to do good he's a sicko; my favorite scene is where Sullivan attempts to talk a youth out of the gang life, using as a prop a Meat Hooker Sullivan has just killed. Sullivan puts the boy's face up to the open gut wound -- "Looks like he ate a fast-food burger today! Well, just goes to show what that stuff'll do to you!"
Who knows, maybe Shelley intended Manhattan Revenge to be a satire of men's adventure novels. But at 200 pages of tiny-type padding, the joke is lost.
Friday, October 22, 2010
From the Spider-Man '67 cartoon DVD...I slept on this boxset a few years back, and my mistake. It's now OOP with steadily-climbing prices on the collector's market. The set contains all three seasons of the lo-fi Spider-Man cartoon which ran from 1967 to 1970.
Cult animator Ralph Bakshi took over the series for its second and third seasons, and imbued the affair with a psychedelic glow. Truly, this is a whacked-out series in Bakshi's hands, as Spidey glides across kaleidoscopic backgrounds and takes on increasingly surreal foes and situations.
Legend has it that this episode, Revolt in the Fifth Dimension, was not shown during the original broadcast of Season 3, due to its insane vibe. No one seems sure if this is true, but it sounds cool nonetheless.
Could you imagine any comics company releasing a cartoon like this in today's tepid world? And it was marketed to kids!
Do yourself a favor and track down the DVD set. I recently did, and the entire Bakshi run is just as psychedelically insane.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Ultraviolet: 69 Blacklight Posters from the Aquarian Age and Beyond, by Dan Donahue
October, 2009 Abrams Image Publishing
As I've mentioned before, I'm fascinated with blacklight posters. They hold a special appeal for me, so this book was right up my alley. In fact I liked it so much I picked up two copies, one for safekeeping, one for those whiskey-prone nights when I feel like turning on the blacklight and gawking at the eye-popping colors.
And the colors truly do pop; Ultraviolet is printed in UV-responsive ink, which means that the posters featured within glow beneath a blacklight, just like their original incarnations. (I've placed photos below of how a few of these posters look when under a blacklight.) Ultraviolet a hell of a way to save cash: a few years ago I was stung by the blacklight bug and thought about picking up some vintage posters. But vulture eBay sellers price them into the stratosphere; don't even get me started on the elusive Marvel Third Eye blacklight posters from 1971, which one dumb-ass eBay seller currently has listed for a whopping $899 each! (I luckily own two of them -- I plan to feature them here one of these days -- and I can vouch for their impact beneath a blacklight. But still...eight hundred and ninety-nine fucking dollars???)
Perhaps what's most surprising is it's taken so long for a book on blacklight poster art to be published. I can't believe no publisher has yet considered that the kids who had blacklight posters in the '60s and '70s (and beyond) are now adults who might enjoy looking back at this forgotten form of art.
I got my first blacklight when I was 3 or 4, back in the late '70s. It was a panther and it had glowing green eyes. Then in college I got a supercool one titled "Spectrum" at a Spencer's store. The poster was very psychedelic, with a black skull surrounded by layers and layers of tiny people and things. You could stare at it for dopefueled hours and keep seeing something new. (Unfortunately it's not one of the posters featured in Ultraviolet.) It's funny: "Spectrum" was copyrighted 1974, so given that I bought my copy in 1994 it must've been a pretty popular print. But those days of yore...lounging in my dorm room with my girlfriend, the lights off, the blacklight on, music blasting on the stereo...hell, what with the controlled substances and the premarital sex it was more like 1974 than 1994.
Then a few years ago I rediscovered blacklight posters, and I have to say these things are addictive. In a way you're getting two pieces of art for the price of one; I love how the colors and shades change when placed under a blacklight. I bought a few of them with the express intent of framing them up in my study room when we moved into our new house. We move in and guess what my wife declares -- they'd look too tacky. Drum roll, please.
Which brings me back to my opening comment -- Ultraviolet is a perfect way to recapture your blacklit youth while saving both time and money! Dan Donahue and Abrams Image are to be thanked profusely for bringing this book to print. 69 posters are featured, spanning from the '60s to the late '70s, with artist and publication info for each (where available). Even the Third Eye company is featured; their "Zephyr" (the third poster down in my photos below), an original print released the same year as their Marvel series, is my favorite poster here.
To put it simply, I own at least a thousand books. This one is my favorite.
Here are a few of the posters featured in Ultraviolet as they appear beneath a blacklight, taken with my patented crappy digital camera. Note of course that these photos do little justice to the pop these pages have in person. But at least they give you an idea of the colorful impact:
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Sabat even looks like Dr. Strange on the cover, but otherwise he bears no (prosecutionary) resemblance to the Marvel character. For one, he's a hell of a lot meaner -- Sabat comes close to being the most unheroic "hero" I've yet encountered in a men's adventure novel.
The "possessed by his evil brother" is one thing, but beyond that Sabat has his own issues: he was kicked out of the SAS for engaging in s&m sex with a superior officer's wife; due to speeding he runs over and kills an innocent pedestrian and brushes it off as "fate;" he suffers from such an overactive libido that he walks around with an erection after merely meeting a woman (and indeed he "pleasures himself" a handful of times during the course of the novel. Handful -- aren't I clever?).
The "Graveyard Vultures" in question are a coven of English-countryside devil worshippers who are digging up corpses for their black magic rites. In the process they've exhumed the corpse of a recently-dead girl, the bones of a century-dead black magician, and in general have sown much satanic mayhem, offering sacrifices of virgins and prostitutes. Sabat's called in by the Church to get to the bottom of it...and he'll take the job for the money, thank you very much.
But I'm jumping ahead; the novel itself opens with Sabat engaging in final battle with his corrupt brother Quentin, a black magician so consumed by evil that his body has gone skeletal. Quentin raises some corpses and Sabat fights them, but his lack of faith undermines him and Quentin basically wins; Sabat is only able to despatch him with his trusty service revolver, a leftover from his SAS days. But as a result Quentin is not vanquished and is able to reincarnate himself -- this time within the mind of Sabat.
The novel itself picks up an interminable length after that opening act of fratricide. Sabat, suffering from Quentin's countless taunts in his brain, arrives in the English countryside and researches the activities of these left hand-pathers. He avoids the cops, who themselves are investigating the exhumations and murders, and instead speaks with the local parishoner, an old man given to sucking noisly on his pipe. Actually, there's a whole lot of sucking going on in The Graveyard Vultures -- but not the trashy kind. No, I'm talking straight-up pipestem-sucking, which Guy N. Smith mentions in great detail several times, going on about the "gooey sucking" and other disgusting details, all of which caused my "Freudian Sense" to tingle into overdrive.
After checking out the local riffraff, nearly dying in a hotel fire caused by the coven, and masturbating a few times (umm...yeah), Sabat performs an exorcism on the chapel's graveyard. A psychic battle follows in which he defends himself against the coven's zombie demons, "raping" the woman in charge of them -- who it appears is a zombie herself in the psychic realm, meaning that our boy Sabat can chalk "necrophilia" off of his to-do list. But it's all an illusion, and Sabat comes to weathered but victorious. And now he knows for sure that said woman is involved with the coven: Miranda, a redheaded prostitute whom Sabat has seen about the village.
So what does Sabat do? Why, he pays her a housecall! But Miranda is happy to see him, and indeed comes on to Sabat with such vigor that soon enough he's stripped down, and, per her request, masturbating for her viewing pleasure. Sabat just can't get enough of himself, it appears. But it turns out Miranda's played him; she tries to kill Sabat with a knife. He stops her the only way he knows how -- impaling her with his own special little knife, which I guess is standard SAS training. After a good bit of lovin' Miranda is deprogrammed and reveals to Sabat that she's been forced into the coven; she'll be happy to help him defeat the bastards.
What follows is more sacrifice, demonic summonings, walk-ons from various voodoo gods, and our hero suffering from innumerable hard-ons (in between running over pedestrians, that is). And all the while his brother Quentin is there in his mind, taunting and berating him, which sort of reminded me of that old Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin movie All Of Me.
I've been familiar with his work for years but this is the first actual novel I've read of prolific UK pulpster Guy N. Smith. His writing is good, if a bit too pristine at times. I get a feeling of detachment from the narrative -- but then, this is something I've often noticed in UK trash fiction. This sort of spatial dissonance, as if the author wants to get down in the trash while at the same time ensuring he doesn't get dirty. I mean, for all of its many problems, you can't say that lurid trash like The Sharpshooter is afraid to go all the way into sordidness.
Sabat returned for three more adventures, plus two short stories, all of which were compiled in the 1996 omnibus Dead Meat.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
This is the start of a great series. John Bolt is a narcotics agent for the fictional D-3 agency, aka the Department of Dangerous Drugs. A 31 year-old with a running scar along his forehead and a lifetime of experience cracking hoods and international drug cartels, Bolt is the top agent at D-3, going after the toughest assignments. The latest case is a massive shipment of heroin coming into NYC; Bolt must figure out who is behind it, how they are working, and also determine which of his fellow narcs is a turncoat.
The book opens with a gory battle as Bolt and his fellow D-3 agents attempt to arrest high-profile French heroin kingpin Antoine Peray. But even imprisoned in an American hospital (recuperating from the bullet in the thigh Bolt gave him) Peray is still dangerous: he has placed a bounty on Bolt's head, and there are many willing to collect it. Not only that, but a black American heroin dealer named St. James Livingston has been working on a huge shipment with Peray, brining in a thousand kilos of heroin, the largest shipment in history.
Livingston has his own troubles: he's created a draught of heroin in NYC, hoping to make a huge score when he imports the massive shipment of heroin. But Peray's imprisonment hamstrings him. In an attempt to make Peray stay true to his deal, Livingston kidnaps Peray's daughter. Bolt is caught in the middle of all this, going up against two kingpins who both want him dead. Along the way he meets the daughter of a man he killed in self-defense years before, defends himself with nothing but a pot of hot coffee against shotgun-wielding street thugs, and engages in several battles of will against his D-3 boss.
Robert Hawkes was a psuedonym for Marc Olden, who these days is remembered mostly for his Black Samurai series. But if this first volume is any indication, Narc is actually the better series. It has all the Olden staples: sinewy prose, vivid action sequences, dollops of gore, colorful language, and good characterization. It also has more of a nihilistic feel than Black Samurai; Bolt is a die-hard cynic, he believes the world is rotten and is steadily going to hell. The nihilism goes into overdrive in a wonderful sequence in which Bolt flashes back to his training in "The Game," so called by the Japanese karate master who taught Bolt how to detect and deflect danger at every waking moment. (This martial arts bit also harkens back to Black Samurai, but the karate here is only marginal; Bolt mainly kills his opponents with a pistol or a custom-made shotgun.)
The series jumped over to Signet after this initial volume, with better cover art -- in fact, the Signet cover art came from the same artist who did the Black Samurai covers.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Anyway, this is now one of the coolest things I own. I'm a big fan of blacklight posters (part of me is still a kid living in the 1970s), and this print is "blacklight tested and approved." In fact I broke out my own light and snapped a photo on my crappy digital camera of how this baby looks under a blacklight:
It goes without saying that the poster looks better in person. The colors are dynamic and really pop. Under the blacklight they swirl even more, and Black Dynamite's eyes become inky pools of fury. Dave Hunter still has a few copies left at his website, where he also has some photos of the print's creation process.
Fight Smack In The Orphanage!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Baroness Penelope St. John-Orsini returns a mere month after the first volume of the series, The Ecstasy Connection, this time heading south into Brazil where she must infiltrate and destroy a militant colony of neo-Nazis.
These Fourth Reichers have developed a newfangled laser system which is powered by diamonds; the Baroness and her team have further been tasked with either confiscating this new weapons technology or destroying it. Along the way she finds the time to implement several new spy gadgets, have lots of graphic sex, and admire herself in various mirrors.
The Nazis are under the command of Heidrig, a high-ranking SS officer who served under Hitler himself. Now Heidrig lives in a fortress in the Brazilian jungle, surrounded by his fellow old-school Nazis and a new generation who retain the same fervor despite being raised in Brazil. The Baroness, again using her cover as a globetrotting model with her multi-ethnic team of fashion consultants and photographers, uses her beauty to lure Heidrig in so she can get a special invite into his fortress.
One of Heidrig's men is a waifish youth who is treated with respect by the older men, a psychotic punk named Horst who gets his kicks torturing women and feeding traitors to pirhana. It turns out of course that Horst is Hitler Junior; Heidrig reveals that Hitler didn't die in Berlin. Instead, Heidrig and his fellows snuck the Fuhrer into Brazil with them; and, before his psychosis-ravaged death, Hitler impregnated a local wench.
Despite this the villains this time out are no match for the Baroness and her team. You'd think born-again Nazis would make for some great opponents, but really they don't pose much of a threat. Even Horst is dealt with rather quickly. Unlike The Ecstasy Connection, which featured several well-staged action sequences throughout, Diamonds Are For Dying saves the fireworks for the end, which would be fine if they weren't so anti-climactic. For the most part the action on hand lacks the novelty of the previous installment, save for the bit where the Baroness fights off several Nazis while dressed in fetish lingerie. Her spytoys this time out include a bra-strap which when heated forms into a sturdy bow with a heavy pull, shoes which conceal plastique, and a grappel-firing gun.
Like I wrote, Diamonds Are For Dying was published a mere month after The Ecstasy Connection, and it reads like it. This novel is so rushed that it comes off like a carbon copy of its predecessor. Here again we meet the Baroness at one of her lavish parties, where again she has sex with a stranger, during which she's again alterted of her new mission. When arriving in her target location of Brazil, she is accosted by an attractive local man who has an air of mystery about him -- just as she was approached by a similar mysterious man in The Ecstasy Connection. And here too, despite her concerns the Baroness has sex with the guy. And here too, her teammates are attacked while following him.
On and on -- the entire novel comes off like a retread of The Ecstasy Connection, only with Brazil replacing Hong Kong and with half of the thrills. This is especially apparent in the sex scenes, which happen back-to-back. It's funny in a way; we read this super-detailed sex sequence between the Baroness and Silvio, her Latin lover...after which they'll exchance a few lines of dialog...and then they go right at it again, in even more detail. I admire the Baroness' sex drive, but it all comes off like padding, like a quick and dirty way to reach the page count.
Last time I wondered who "Paul Kenyon" was; thanks to the knowledgeable fans over at the Baroness Yahoo group, it appears that "Kenyon" was really Donald Moffitt. The jury's still out on if he wrote all of the 8 published books in the series (it's certain he wrote a few of the installments that weren't published), but at any rate Diamonds Are For Dying seems to have come from the same pen as the author who gave us The Ecstasy Connection. It just isn't nearly as good.