Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Golden Road by Peter Bourne

There is a world of forgotten books and forgotten authors out there waiting to be discovered. The Golden Road came to me out of a used book dealer’s catalogue years ago. I was vaguely familiar with author Peter Bourne’s Drums of Destiny, and I was intrigued by the jacket copy for The Golden Road so I bought it for less than ten dollars. This G. P. Putnam’s Sons 1951 first edition has the slightly frayed original dust-jacket (in mylar), and the overall condition is average. The pages have begun to brown and the spine is loose. This copy was obviously read numerous times, and probably handed down and read by dozens of people. The Golden Road is well handled by Peter Bourne, dense at times, but the characterizations are realistic. I was interested in the tropical setting involving the building of the Panama railroad in 1850. The narrative doesn’t quite achieve the epic status that the sprawling story deserves. The protagonist is Boston-bred Henry Stewart and the story essentially recounts his adventures in the thirty-five miles of jungle between the Atlantic and Pacific. The sights and scenes include brothels with women of all races, murderers and bandits on the loose, and Stewart’s quest to bring an evil man to justice. There’s plenty of suspense, action and sensuality to keep readers turning the pages. Peter Bourne was once a best-selling, popular author who is forgotten. His other books all have this lush detail, and it’s easy to see why he was popular with readers. I wouldn’t rate him as great but he was capable and I found the book interesting. Peter Bourne was a pseudonym for Graham Montague Jeffries who also published under the name Bruce Graeme. The softcover editions of his novel Drums of Destiny with their sensationalistic cover imagery are sought after by collectors of vintage paperbacks.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Superman: The Coming of the Supermen by Neal Adams

This six issue mini-series created by legendary artist Neal Adams is a wild and meaningful story that should serve as an example that stand alone stories do have a place in today’s convoluted world of comic books. This exciting series takes place in a relatively traditional “universe” where Clark Kent and Lois Lane still work at The Daily Planet. Just suspend your disbelief and mentally place the story in whatever “universe” you want and go along for the ride. Long time Superman fans like myself will note that this series pays homage to Jack Kirby’s positive influence on the comic book industry.  In this story Superman is called upon to defend another world from Darkseid and the hordes of Apokolips. Meanwhile, three men wearing Superman’s costume are sent by the people of miniaturized Kryptonian city of Kandor to protect earth while Superman is busy elsewhere. Early on, Superman takes up with a little boy from the Middle East because a djinn asks Superman to protect the child. It’s all very mysterious, and complicated, but stick with it, because each issue reveals a little more, and it all makes sense in the end. By the way, Lex Luthor is in it, too. Each page is loaded with details. Neal Adams puts constant movement and action into his panels, and the effect is like a mental isometric exercise. The colors are vibrant – no surprise in this age where digital coloring and the high gloss paper have altered the texture of comic book stories. You can argue amongst yourself if that’s good or bad, but it works here. There are some really great pages of artwork that dazzled me. I want to mention an interview Neal Adams did with Jevon Philips from the L.A. Times. In that interview Adams talks about his take on Superman, Lex Luthor and more, but specifically points out his love for the late great Jack Kirby. Here is a direct quote from the interview with Jevon Philips: “I also love Jack Kirby, and I love Jack Kirby's characters, and I love that Jack Kirby could leave Marvel Comics after creating the Marvel Universe — and please excuse me folks out there, but Jack Kirby created the Marvel Universe — and came over to DC and created "New Gods," created a new universe. Bang — out of nothing.” I have met Adams several times and I admire him. I’m a Neal Adams fan, and because I’m a Jack Kirby fan, too, I deeply appreciate his comments. The Coming of the Supermen will undoubtedly be released as a trade paperback at some point, and I’m expecting this book will have a wide appeal. The strength of Adams’ artwork is evident on each cover scan shown here. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Girl on the Beach by Max Day

Celebrating a sizzling summer of beach blanket pulp!

Girl on the Beach is one of the many great Beacon Books we bibliophiles and literati hunt for with extraordinary zeal. Published in 1960, right at the tail end of the Beat Generation’s hip angst and at the cusp of the swinging Sixties groove, the cover blurb says it all: “From out of the sea she came to him, naked and unashamed.” Girl on the Beach is about a painter named Shad Crispin, a genius who specializes in painting beautiful nude women. One can easily imagine Crispin painting the cover for any Beacon or Monarch paperback from this era. Crispin can deftly capture the loveliness of the female form with his oils. Girl on the Beach attempts to answer the question you have when gazing upon such covers. Was she as lovely in real life as she is on the cover of this book? What is it like for an artist to be surrounded by naked women all day? How does he cope with such alluring females? Author Max Day answers those questions with 157 pages of melodramatic, steamy prose. Crispin contends with two women, Cynthia Greer, an uninhibited doll and the subjects of Crispin’s passionate painting; and Lissa Cloud, the nymph tossed his way one morning out of the sea and onto the beach. Lissa is a mysterious character, and her happenstance meeting on the beach with Crispin sets in motion the sometimes murky and sometimes clever plot. There is a subplot here involving the market for forgeries of Impressionist paintings, and it all ties together after the obligatory meaningful dialogue, sensuous temptations, and testosterone laced action. Girl on the Beach is a well-written potboiler, and one of my favorites of the early Sixties Beacon titles that I own. So many of the Beacon paperbacks that I’ve read share in the high quality of the prose that I’m no longer surprised when I encounter them. Beacon paperbacks still demand a loyal following, and for good reason. The stories are entertaining and for my money really defined the entertainment value that “pocket paperbacks” epitomized. Girl on the Beach by Max Day is worth tracking down.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

By 1964 John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me had been reprinted at least fifteen times. Griffin and his book are forgotten today, unheard of in today’s vast universe of digital exploitation and home-grown racism. The tragedy being that such an important work of non-fiction could strike a chord with a nation of believers, only to find itself banished in an age that supports religious hatred, racial division, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I don’t believe in those people, and I don’t believe that the America we have become is representative of our true potential. We have changed so much since 1964, and everything that we once held dear as a nation is now polluted. In 1964 Bill Cosby was at the height of his fame; Martin Luther King was making historic strides for Civil Rights, and Bobby Kennedy was undergoing personal changes that would impact his view on Vietnam prior to his own presidential campaign. And then they were dead, except for Cosby, who remained unblemished until he, too, fell upon the funeral pyre and became a zombie. Black Like Me was first published in paperback in 1962 and became a best-seller. White novelist John Howard Griffin had his skin chemically treated so that he looked like a black man, and he set out to discover how black people are treated in the deep south. The resulting book was a groundbreaking piece of journalism and a remarkable work of cultural anthropology. Griffin discovered immediately how racism effects the black community, and he is plainly disturbed at the prevalence of racism in American culture. He is outraged, and throughout the book I had a sense that his outrage was growing. As a result, his journalistic objectivity has been criticized because he involved himself directly in his story. Griffin has also been criticized for offering “the white man’s view” of racism. I believe those criticisms miss the point. Griffin’s book explores that evil part of American life that is still predominant today. Griffin argues that racism must cease altogether, or what will ensue is “a senseless tragedy of ignorant against ignorant, injustice answering injustice – a holocaust that will drag down the innocent right-thinking masses of human beings.” Griffin was right, and sadly, that’s where the United States is today.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Storm Lord by Tanith Lee

This first printing May, 1976 DAW paperback is missing the DAW number in the cover logo. For DAW collectors this is DAW # 193. The cover artwork is by Gino D’Achille. The Storm Lord is one of my favorite of those early DAW paperbacks because Tanith Lee’s writing is so strong. The book is long, 350 pages, and this was before thick paperbacks became the industry standard. The story is pure fantasy with sword and sorcery elements combined with themes such as racial prejudice. Raldnor is the bastard son of a king, The Storm Lord, who raped his mother and caused her death. Most of the novel involves his coming to understand and accept his destiny as the new Storm Lord. Set on an alien world and populated with different races, including telepaths, Raldnor’s  story includes court intrigue, social unrest, sinister plotting and some heroic fights. Tanith Lee is an imagistic writer, meticulous in her plots (or at least that’s the impression I have), and imaginative in her creation of characters and scenes. I have never read one of her books that I didn’t admire at some level. She must have been instrumental in the success of those DAW paperbacks because she contributed so many novels. It’s hard to believe this great novel is pushing forty years old. Over the years I have found copies in used book stores and given them away to friends and told them, “This is how a fantasy novel should be written.” Tanith Lee has several titles for you e-readers with a Kindle or Nook but I don’t see that The Storm Lord is available. I recommend tracking down a copy. While you’re at it try her books The Birthgrave, Black Unicorn, Biting the Sun or Death’s Master. Her page on Amazon can put you in contact with a variety of her books.