Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Deviates by Raymond F. Jones

Raymond F. Jones wrote many fine novels, but for some reason this Beacon paperback from 1959 is the one that collectors want. For example, I own a first edition hardcover of Jones’ This Island Earth, his best known work, and collector’s rarely show substantial interest. This Island Earth is not difficult to find. I own the Science Fiction Book Club edition from Shasta publishers out of Chicago. The original owner had slipped the 1953 Science Fiction Book Club pamphlet into the book. We collector’s do have esoteric tastes at times. Anyway, The Deviates was originally published in 1956 as The Secret People. Nobody wants that edition either. They want this 1959 Beacon reprint with artwork by Robert Stanley. The Deviates is a science fiction story, published under Beacon’s Galaxy Science Fiction imprint. This paperback is widely offered on e-bay, often listed as “rare” but it’s not rare. Action Comics # 1 is rare. The Deviates is everywhere. I see this book all the time. For the record, if anyone tells you this book is rare they’re either intentionally lying or ignorant of vintage basic book collecting. It’s become the trend to list something as “rare” in order to justify a higher price. There are hard-to-find titles from this era, but The Deviates is not one of them. The Deviates is a good book, and I recommend it. This is the story of Robert Welton, Chief of the Genetics Bureau, who discovers that the genetics program is failing. There are fewer Normals each year, and most amazingly of all, he learns that not all Deviates are flawed. In fact, some of them are telepathic – like Welton himself! He initiates a plan begun by his father, to form a group of secret people who are hiding in the Canadian wilderness. Born of natural mothers and bearing his genes, the colony comes under attack when a government committee learns of their existence. The Deviates is a dystopian novel, typical of the era, and strong on characterization. Jones imagines a frightening world that promotes itself as utopian, but is actually simmering with conflict. Welton and the other characters propel the narrative. I’m a fan of author Raymond F. Jones, and in addition to The Deviates, I can recommend This Island Earth, Son of the Stars (for young readers), The Year When Stardust Fell, and Renegades of Time. I may cover some of these at a later date. Jones began his career in the pulps in the 40s. Several of his books are available for Kindle.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Curse of Skull Canyon by Peter Brandvold

Some years back, when I read my first Peter Brandvold book, .45 Caliber Revenge, I appreciated his skill in creating characters, the quick pace, and hardboiled action. Since then, Brandvold has never disappointed. His books are a blast to read. Ole Mean Pete is predominantly digital now, and I finally joined the Digital Age and bought a Kindle. Well, I’m loading it up with Peter Brandvold books. The latest I read is The Curse of Skull Canyon, a sequel to Lonnie Gentry, which I recommend you read first. Lonnie Gentry is a thirteen-year old in the Old West who cares for his mother. In his first adventure he gets tangled up with some bank robbers, a pretty girl named Casey, and a saddlebag full of trouble. Lonnie Gentry and The Curse of Skull Canyon are a change of pace for Brandvold who has made a name for himself with his edgy, adult-oriented blazing Western adventure novels. Lonnie Gentry and The Curse of Skull Canyon are coming of age stories with a homespun feel, but still loaded with Brandvold’s action scenes and great characters. Young Adult readers should find these tales at the top of their list. Brandvold’s ability to handle diverse themes and exciting plots combined with wholly original storytelling is all on display in The Curse of Skull Canyon. There’s a supernatural element here regarding the actual curse of Skull Canyon, and I enjoyed the tension as Lonnie Gentry works to extricate himself from yet another dire circumstance. The Curse of Skull Canyon is a delight. I won’t be surprised if Ole Pete pens another Lonnie Gentry adventure, and if he does I’ll be happy to saddle up and ride along.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Earthstrike Agenda by Bobby Nash

I find it immeasurably enjoyable to read a science fiction novel where it’s obvious the author was having fun. Too many authors take themselves and their work so seriously, that the entertainment value is muted by their pomposity. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Bobby Nash. Here’s an author that jumps right into the tale with a gee-whiz attitude and spins an exciting Space Opera with all of the galactic world-building you could ask for. Earthstrike Agenda is New Pulp Fiction at its best, professionally written, thrilling and satisfying. The various elements of the tale will be instantly recognizable to readers, including a dash of Star Trek, Star Wars and Flash Gordon, all while weaving an original story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Nash creates a fantastic protagonist with starship captain Virginia Harmon who takes command of the ship, Pegasus, just as earth is about to face a threat from deep space. Nash creates a vibrant supporting cast, and devotes large chunks of multiple chapters to them. With so many players, I admired Nash’s ability to not only keep track of them, but to make them relevant. Earthstrike Agenda is decidedly Old School adventure writing, and I mean that in a positive way. The drama unfolds at an easy pace, builds momentum, and before you know it you’re racing along with Virginia Harmon, Dr. James Silver, Ensign Bailey and others as the fate of earth hangs in the balance. An expertly constructed Space Opera like Earthstrike Agenda shouldn’t be missed by any Sci-Fi fan. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent by Joe Bonadonna

This eagerly awaited follow-up volume to Joe Bonadonna’s classic, Mad Shadows, is exactly what I hoped for. This continuation of Dorgo’s chronicle is comprised of three novellas: “The Girl Who Loved Ghouls,” “The Book of Echoes” and “The Order of the Serpent.” This is razor-edged fantasy at its best. In the first tale, Dorgo has some romance going on in his life, with a witch. This is not a Harlequin romance. Bonadonna’s masterful prose is ripe with images, appropriately gothic, spooky as hell, and a delight for fans of classic fantasy-adventure fiction. I love Bonadonna’s world building. Laced with autumnal winds and lonely graveyards, Dorgo’s world is chilling and often deadly: “What little was left of Glacken lay to the south, between Widow’s Fell and Baloo Fen. The fire blackened ruins of Sahn Magnor, the old Estaerine church, stood on the outskirts of the ghost town. The cemetery lay behind the church and had been part of its once-sacred ground. I gave the supposedly haunted hamlet a wide birth, not wanting to encounter any demons or devils…” (p.30) I love this type of natural exposition where the writer can so deftly transport us into an imaginative and exotic locale. Dorgo never has an easy time of it, but I’m always rooting for him to overcome his tribulations. Bonadonna pits Dorgo against some fairly wicked creatures. In “The Book of Echoes” Dorgo learns about “The Book of Echoes” which seems to be on everyone’s mind. After being nearly killed, Dorgo learns that the book can open realms beyond time and space, and holds answers to all the riddles of the Echoverse, the secrets of life and death, and the Nine Levels of Attainment. But such knowledge has a price. Those who are pure of heart will become the Crystal Children, while those with evil intent will become Endarkened Ones. Bonadonna brilliantly structures the tale and populates it with plenty of weird characters, nasty monsters and rising tension. The third novella, “The Order of the Serpent,” ties it all together and pits Dorgo against a warlock, the leader of the Order of the Serpent. Engaging characters, artful construction, scenes dripping with mood, and a world of castles, goblins and wild monsters are all hallmarks of Joe Bonadonna’s Dorgo the Dowser tales. Impossible to put to down, Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent is a richly imagined collection. The great cover artwork is by Erika M. Szabo.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Writers of the Future 33

This year’s WOTF cover by artist Larry Elmore is a departure from the standard science fiction themed artwork. To celebrate the collection, author Todd McCaffrey penned a special short story inspired by Elmore’s art. This cover and McCaffrey’s tale, along with the vibrant 30-plus year history of WOTF, encapsulate the richness, relevance and excitement represented by the 17 stories and artwork included here. I look forward to this annual anthology, and always come away feeling inspired by this marvelous tapestry of tales. 

Here’s the rundown on this year’s exciting collection: Moonlight One by Stephen Lawson is a tight and thrilling science fiction mystery; The Armor Embrace by Doug C. Souza brilliantly handles the man versus technology theme; and Envoy in Ice by Dustin Steinacker is a thought provoking tale about intergalactic intelligence and issues of faith. Tears for Shulna by Andrew L. Roberts is a wonderful, richly textured tale that resonated with me long after I finished reading it; The Drake Equation by C. L. Kagmi wisely tackles some heavy themes relating to violence, decision-making and responsibility. It was at this point that I realized this year’s collection was maintaining the high standard of diversity in viewpoints and styles that have become the unofficial hallmark of the WOTF collections.

Acquisition by Jake Marley is a top-flight supernatural thriller while Obsidian Spire by Molly Elizabeth Atkins is a riveting fantasy story with great a great character in Varga, and one that I’m certain readers will want to learn more about (hint!). Gator by Robert J. Sawyer, who is one of the judges, offers up a sharp tale to demonstrate the attributes and successes that come with “spec” writing; A Glowing Heart by Anton Rose is rich fantasy tale about life and death, but mostly about life; The Long Dizzy Down by Ziporah Hildbrandt is a hard-core science fiction tale and brilliant from the first paragraph; The Woodcutter’s Deity by Walter Dinjos had me spellbound with its vibrant texture.

The Dragon Killer’s Daughter by Todd McCaffrey was inspired by Larry Elmore’s fantastic cover and adds another layer of enjoyment to this already stunning collection. Useless Magic by Andrew Perry defines responsibility and power with this deftly told tale; Adramelech by Sean Hazlett explores the nature of evil with concise prose and great insight; and The Fox, the Wolf and the Dove by Ville Merilainen is another exciting fantasy story. The final tale, The Magnificent Bhajan David VonAllmen is a wonderful story about an old wizard returning home to save the day, if he can.

Included also is the fantasy classic story, The Devil’s Rescue by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the WOTF contest. Hubbard’s tale is a personal favorite, and is included in the collection along with essays on creativity by Hubbard, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Elmore, and Bob Eggleton. Once again the annual WOTF volume refreshingly delivers a sampling of diverse and highly creative stories that I guarantee will keep you flipping the pages!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Warriors of Plasm by Jim Shooter

I’ve met Jim shooter a few times, and spoke to him only briefly. I don’t recall my exact words, but it was something like, “I’ll always love those Legion stories you wrote for Adventure Comics.” Those are words I suspect he’s heard thousands of times. His tenure in the comic book industry is legendary, from the time he sold his first Legion of Super-Heroes story to DC Comics in the 1960s, when he was just 14 years old. He went on to succeed Stan Lee as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics where he ushered in the “New Universe”, then on to Valiant and Defiant Comics, which published Warriors of Plasm # 1 in 1993. Everything he’s touched is highly creative, sometimes controversial but imminently entertaining. I suspect Jim shooter has been publicly vilified far more than any other comic book creator. I don’t have any insight into that, and I certainly don’t know him at all. Having met and spoken a few words with someone is not the same as knowing them. What I do know is this – I know talent when I see it. Jim shooter is a creative powerhouse. If his name is on something, I’m buying it. I know I’ll be entertained. His “New Universe” series at Marvel, especially, Star-Brand, is underrated. I was thrilled when he started Defiant Comics. Frankly, Warriors of Plasm was one of the best series introduced in the 1990s, a decade now infamous for the comic book industry’s implosion, the demise of independent comic book shops across the country, and the rapid disintegration of those two major brand names, Marvel and DC Comics whose titles were so bad by 1997 and 1998 they’re still scoffed at by longtime fans and collectors. There are a lot of reasons for all of that, but the bottom line is that basically comic books sucked. The corporations had taken over; and the men in high-water pants, penny loafers and ink-stained pocket protectors had fiscally analyzed and interfered one time too many. I thought Jim Shooter and Defiant Comics would usher in a new renaissance period; an era of unbridled creativity. When I look at Warriors of Plasm # 1 today I can see how close he came. I’ll go so far as to say that he did it for 13 magnificent issues. Those 13 Warriors of Plasm issues are still better than any single series being published by Marvel Comics today. With outstanding artwork by David Lapham and Michael Witherby, a bright color scheme by Janet Jackson, James Brown and Tom Ziuko, Warriors of Plasm # 1 remains a high-octane science fiction adventure. On the Org of Plasm, the Supreme Inquisitor, Lorca, sets a plan in motion to overthrow the rulers of Plasm who were responsible for the death of his true love, Laygen. The plan goes awry, but his effort results in five genetically modified humans who then find themselves responsible for defending earth from an invasion from Plasm. The five humans are a diverse group, and ultimately dysfunctional - a grandmother, an ex-military officer, a preacher, an auto-mechanic, and a young geeky girl who works as a cosmetics clerk. The visuals by Lapham and Witherby are stunning. Warriors of Plasm is one wild, wacky, weird and wonderful series, and over twenty years later I’m still pissed it didn’t run for at least a hundred issues. Jim shooter has never disappointed me, and these 13 issues are proof of his talent. I have over six thousand comic books in my collection, but the stuff that shines the brightest are titles like Warriors of Plasm. I believe a trade paperback was published that collected all of them. This post is for you, Jim, wherever you are. And, yeah, I still love those Legion stories you wrote for Adventure Comics. Rock on.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Alvin’s Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks

Those few of you that know me personally are undoubtedly familiar with my childhood tales of traveling the country with my parents. Those wonderful years were an education, and included a wild array of literature. Alvin’s Secret Code is a 1967 novel published at the height of the “Spy Craze” that swept the country. I Spy, The Man from UNCLE and James Bond were all the rage. It was this book and Codes & Secret Writing by Herbert S. Zim that led me to cryptology. This included my study of alphabet ciphers. I became adept at creating and using alphabet ciphers with other neighborhood boys willing to go along with the fun. Alvin’s Secret Code is silly and entertaining; and includes a thick dossier of material for any young brain to soak up. The main character is Alvin Fernald, who first appeared in The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald in 1960, and who subsequently appeared in 10 books. Hicks died in 2010 and his books remain popular. I am constantly encountering fans of his Alvin Fernald books. The premise of his Alvin Fernald stories was that Fernald would use his brain to solve problems and extricate himself from any difficult situation. His sister, known as the “Pest” and his friend Shoie serve as foils. Alvin’s Secret Code exploits the spy theme as Alvin decides to become a secret agent after reading The Great Spies of History in school. Hicks was a fine writer and takes a humorous approach to everything. The boy with “the magnificent brain” lands into trouble when he encounters a message he believes was written by a spy. Alvin’s Secret Code earned a permanent place on my bookshelf, side by side with Codes & Secret Writing by Herbert S. Zim, a 1966 title, also from Scholastic Books. There they reside still, the symbols and ciphers whirling to life out of the rainy mist of long ago Sundays when I penned a secret cipher and sat back to contentedly wait for a response from one of my co-conspirators. The code book is still hidden in the hollow part of the old oak tree in the park. A=5gt, B=u8g, C=ppl8, D=r4, E=2w, F=666, G=kkl97, H=qa, I=vh, J=3u, K=z5t, L=tg4, M=dsa, N=my7, O=6c, P=lb, Q=w9, R=zu, S=7ym, T=19j, U=f8h, V=6r9, W=9gy, X=tf3, Y=k1q, Z=8cx.