Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Does Woman Want?

What Does Woman Want?, by Timothy Leary
1976, 88 Books

Timothy Leary wrote his first and only novel What Does Woman Want in prison, after his 1973 arrest. Founding the one-off publishing house "88 Books" with his then-wife, Leary published the book in a limited run of 5,000 copies in 1976; coincidentally, my copy is number 88.

Posing as science fiction (or as Leary calls it in the opening pages, "Science Faction"), Woman is mostly a sequel to Leary's 1973 autobiography Confessions Of A Hope Fiend. It picks up directly after the events depicted in that book, with Leary and his wife holing up in Switzerland under the care of wealthy arms financier Michael Duchard, aka "Goldfinger." Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty, and Leary himself poses as "Tim Leri," an "acid assassin" sent to Earth to help us "primates" advance up the chains of consciousness. The book operates on three narratives, with a 1960 section detailing Leary's LSD experiments in Harvard, a 1971 section dealing with the aftermath of Confessions, and a future section set in 2575 detailing the future of the human race.

Woman is built around Leary's concept of the eight levels of consciousness, which Robert Anton Wilson examined in Prometheus Unbound and Antero Alli molded into a plan for action in Angel Tech. Speaking of Wilson, his imprint is all over this book, providing a blurb on the back cover and a concise introduction (RAW fans will remember Wilson discussed his friendship with Leary in 1977's Cosmic Trigger).

That metaphysical bent so prevalent in Confessions is stronger than ever here, with Leary's female consort again referred to as "She" and "Her" and so on; Leary again giving her the status of the Archetypal Female. (Incidentally, I know this is Leary's attempt at flattering her so much that he considers her a god, but really - isn't it a bit demeaning to his wife herself? As if she has no personality of her own, and acts only as the faceless avatar of some unknown god.)

This is a strange novel to grasp, as it's so disjointed. Parts of it are blow-by-blow recounts of Leary's mundane reality, hobnobbing with underground royalty on the beaches of France. Other parts are Burroughsian extracts of interstellar intrigue. Other parts seem to be torn from neuroscience journals, filled with psychobabble jargon. There's no unifying thread, no cohesive narrative for the reader to hang on to. The book does at least answer the question posed by the title (a question famously asked by Freud), with aliens descending to the Earth and telling mankind what woman wants.

As if realizing this, Leary rewrote the novel several years later. New Falcon published this version in 1987, and it too is now out of print. I haven't read this rewrite, though it's my understanding the novel is entirely different from its 1976 incarnation, with Christopher Hyatt (New Falcon guru and Leary follower) taking the role of the villain.

So, a rare find for the Leary admirer, but not one everyone would want to seek out. Parts of it are great, other parts boring, and other parts grating with the usual Leary egotism in full effect.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Enforcer #2: Calling Doctor Kill!

The Enforcer #2: Calling Doctor Kill!, by Andrew Sugar
April, 1973 Lancer Books

After the fantastic Enforcer #1, this second volume is quite a letdown. It's nothing like its predecessor, filled with needless and endless exposition, bland characters, and lazy plotting. It only cements my opinion that the first volume was conceived as a straight-up novel and not the first volume in an ongoing series; this "sequel" appears to be nothing more than a quick and dirty follow-up churned out to meet a deadline.

What makes it all the worse is that Calling Doctor Kill opens so strongly. We pick up with clone Alex Jason on vacation, trying to get over the disastrous events of Enforcer #1. His girlfriend, fellow clone Brunnie, was killed in the final pages of that novel, and Alex still can't accept her death. In his latest clone body he is of course oggled by his fellow vacationers in the resort, but Alex is too bereft with misery to acknowledge them. Until he meets an attractive young lady dealing with her own bereavement -- several pages of graphically detailed sex follows, a sure cure for any woes. But beyond the hardcore shenanigans this is actually a touching scene, as these two characters find strength in one another. A "regular" novel could've focused solely on this aspect...but this is an action series, dammit, none of that pansy stuff.

To wit, Flack appears in the middle of Jason's frolicking and breaks it up with grim news. Flack is Jason's contact with "Big John," the institute for which Jason serves as an Enforcer; Flack relays that Rosegold, head scientist at the institute and Jason's friend, has been kidnapped by the syndicate. Jason breaks it off with his lady friend -- clones can never have relationships with nonclones, after all -- and heads with Flack back to headquarters where they can plan out a mission to free Rosegold.

Here's where the novel starts to suck. Back at Big John Jason engages in tons of conversations with Flack about Rosegold and how he was captured; also endless theoretical and political debates with the young doctor Jason is about to impersonate. Rosegold it develops is most likely imprisoned in a syndicate-owned rehab clinic, and Jason is to pose as this young pathologist and break Rosegold out. If he can't break him out, then he must kill him. I had a hard time buying that Jason could pose as such a specialized doctor, but no matter -- the narrative completely skips over any possibilty of Jason having to fumble his way through a pathologist's duties. Instead, once Jason arrives at the exclusive, resort-like clinic, we're to believe that the place is so overstaffed that a pathologist is only here for appearance's sake.

The enemy this time out is Guider, a ranking psychiatrist who runs the clinic. Guider's a syndicate member and Jason's certain the man has Rosegold locked away in the violent ward. What follows is a lot more exposition as Jason's shown around the clinic, with useless rundowns on various patients, the layout of the place, and etc. Page filler. More page filler ensues with more good ol' graphic sex, as Jason meets and then enthusiastically screws Janet, a gorgeous Big John inside agent who works with children in the clinic. This bit leads to one of the more lurid elements of Calling Doctor Kill; one of Janet's patients is Dennis, a retarded child who is used as a "private sucking machine" (to quote Burt Hirschfeld) by various orderlies.

More lurid stuff follows; part of Jason's ruse is to stir up a revolt in the clinic, and to do so he berates the local union rep. This happens to be an irascible black man, and Jason takes the opportunity to call the guy every racial slur in the book. Yep, that's our hero. It all finally boils to a head in the last pages, as Jason is captured, bullshits his way out of a certain death, and finally locates Rosegold. In fact the ending is so rushed that it's upon us before we even realize it.

All told, a disappointing followup to Enforcer #1. Even the writing is a step down. I have the rest of the series and I can only hope the ensuing volumes improve.

In 1975 Manor Books took over The Enforcer series, republishing the volumes; here's their cover for Calling Doctor Kill:

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Way We Are

The Way We Are, by William Bostock
December, 1970 Avon Books

You'd figure anything with "supersonic sex-odyssey" proclaimed on the cover would at least be interesting, right? Well, in the case of The Way We Are, first published in hardcover in '69 and then in the mass market paperback incarnation shown here in '70, you'd be wrong. This is one boooring novel, as vapid and listless as its forgettable protagonist.

Again the cover blurbs oversell the novel's sordid aspects. Reading the back cover copy you'd expect this book to detail the sex-crazed adventures of a depraved young woman. Instead the novel is more of a study of a small group of characters in the New York City of 1969, artists and writers and spoiled rich kids, the way they interract with one another and use one another. There's quite a bit of graphic sex on hand but to get there one must endure interminable conversations between said characters which are about...nothing. Seriously, this novel has the most inane dialog I've ever read. Characters talk about what they're going to do this weekend, or where they went on vacation last year, or the last person they slept with, for pages and pages.

Daphne Ashbaugh is the protagonist, a spoiled 27 year-old with bigtime mental problems. Her mother killed herself when Daphne was very young and Daphne has never gotten over it. She lashes out against her rich father and his "mistress" in ways both verbal and bizarre; the novel opens with one of Daphne's many ventures into self-abuse as she picks up a guy in Central Park and then takes him up to her apartment. The man proceeds to beat Daphne into a stupor and then takes some cash before leaving, telling her to be more careful next time she picks up someone in the park!

From there it gets more sordid -- Daphne leaves her boring fiancee for a man named Ransom, a good looking dude who likes women but sleeps with men for cash. The two become a pair and the main focus of the novel; there's also Lance, a young writer whom Daphne develops a thing for, and Lance's girlfriend Louanne, who refuses to sleep with Lance for some reason. Yes, this is another novel of characters with insufferable hangups.

The strangest thing about The Way We Are is its similarity to Burt Hirschfeld's Cindy On Fire. Both novels are about wealthy young women who lash out at their parents and have sex with as many men as they can (I think Cindy wins the competiton, though). Furthermore, both women are ostensible basket-cases, doing time with various therapists; both women also resort to heavy drinking quite often and try to kill themselves with an overdose of sleeping pills. And both novels feature the same ending for their respective heroines: both Daphne and Cindy become pregnant by one of their many suitors and decide to carry the child anyway, foisting it upon some poor rube they will marry, a poor rube who is not the child's father. Most incredibly, even the names of the two heroines are similar: Daphne Ashbaugh and Cindy Ashe. Since Cindy On Fire was published in 1971 and The Way We Are was published in 1969, you have to wonder...

At any rate at least Cindy On Fire was a zillion times more enjoyable, with better characters and better writing. The only good thing about The Way We Are is the cover photo, featuring some anonymous swinging '60s chick. Our swinging model appears again on the back cover, looking just as great -- love the boots!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Acapulco, by Burt Hirschfeld
October, 1972 Dell Books

Acapulco was first released in hardcover in 1971, coming out after Hirschfeld's breakout hit Fire Island. And it's mosty the same novel, another "beach read" -- a large, diverse group of people come to a scenic locale and deal with their various hangups while getting hammered and having sex. Of the two I think Fire Island is the better novel, even though Acapulco is really good in its own right. There's just something missing here, as if Hirschfeld has spread himself too thin with the huge cast of characters and subplots.

At the center of the novel is Paul Foreman, a gifted director who, after hitting it sort of big with a low-budget film, now drinks himself to death in a Mexican slum. Enter Harry Bristol, loudmouthed producer who's shooting a new movie titled Love, Love (really) in Acapulco -- Bristol's got his star, he's got his crew, he's got his funding...he's got everything but a director, because he fired the last one after a day's work due to the man's insistence upon retakes. Bristol is a man who cares only for money and hopes to become rich with the success of Love, Love.

The filmmakers are the central characters of the novel, and we see how they affect and interract with others in the expat community of Acapulco (for a novel set in Mexico, there's only one or two actual Mexican characters on display). Prime among these fringe characters is Samantha Moore, a once-famous socialite now in the decline of her glory; she owns a massive estate in Acapulco in which she allows the crew to film a nude swimming scene. Clinging to Samantha is Theo Gavin, an entrepreneur who pretends to be wealthier than he is, and Charles, Theo's hippie son. The father and son have come to Acapulco to reconnect but it's a hopeless cause; and honestly Charles is a deadweight of a character, the male version of Cindy Ashe from Cindy On Fire. Just another bland rich kid who mopes and pines about the world.

Nothing much really happens in Acapulco, though there are some good setpieces. Samantha throws a Christmas costume party at her estate, in which guests come dressed as characters from Mexican history. This is a ribald scene filled with drunk jetsetters and royalty duking it out by the pool. Charles Gavin justifies his presence in the novel by going on an actual dopequest; with a trio of fellow hippies he goes off into the hills in search of "magic mushrooms." Hirschfeld writes the ensuing trip with a nice psychedelic touch. And, unlike boring Cindy Ashe, at least Charles comes out of his trip a changed man.

A lot of narrative is spent on the filming of Love, Love, which sounds truly awful. Imagine Love Story as directed by Dennis Hopper and produced by Roger Corman and you might have an idea. Paul Foreman, the director, is the ostensible lead protagonist here, but he too is a shattered man, a drunk who lashes out at everyone. Paul has a quest of his own, in another of the novel's good moments: he spots a gorgeous caucasian woman in the crowded Acapulco marketplace and is obsessed with finding out who she is. It turns out to be Grace Biondi, another American expat here to study one of the dangerous mountain tribes which lurk about Acapulco. Paul forces himself into her life -- Grace, too, has hangups she must overcome -- and the two gradually fall in love.

Hirschfeld includes all of the trash fiction standards: there's sex, drugs, even a bit of violence. A late plot development features Samantha kidnapped by another of those dangerous mountain tribes, but after a lot of setup Hirschfeld downplays the promised action. In fact, maybe that's the core problem with Acapulco. It just seems like a retread of Fire Island, only without the skill and craftsmanship of that earlier novel. But on the other hand, Acapulco has a bit more of an exotic flair about it, and it better captures the groovy sexadelic era.

As far as the actual writing goes, I'll admit I lack any objectivity when it comes to Hirschfeld's prose. For whatever reason I really enjoy his writing; he has a definite skill for putting you inside a character's head, for creating three-dimensional worlds and situations. I will say however that he's guilty here of a bit too much POV-hopping for my tastes. And also a few of the characters are too similar; Theo Gavin and Harry Bristol could've easily been combined into one character.

Speaking of movies, Acapulco would've made for a fine early '70s film. It again mystifies me that none of Hirschfeld's novels were picked up for a movie; the closest he got was when his '76 bestseller Aspen was turned into a TV miniseries.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Male Mystique

The Male Mystique, by Jacques Boyreau
April, 2004 Chronicle Books

Here's a great but forgotten book which is out of print but luckily can be found for super-cheap online. I'd recommend you snatch it up fast if you're into anything from the sexadelic late '60s/early '70s era.

Composed of magazine ads from various men's magazines from the late '60s on through the late '70s, this book is a true feast for the eyes. Printed on rough paper that makes the lurid colors pop, it's a window into a forgotten time.

Boyreau enlivens the images every few pages with some psuedo-scholarly prose, but for the most part he hits the nail on the head: things were just so much more alive then, so much more real. The ads here -- despite their purely commercial origins -- are alive with an animal pulse that's been neutered in today's bullshit world of mediocrity.

Covering everything from slacks to "male comfort spray," the ads bring to life a world that most likely never really existed: a sex-filled world of glamorous gals and studly guys. It's like a trash fiction picture book. Sure, a prude could whine that some of these ads are a bit too risque, even a tad misogynistic, but hell. At least they aspire to be something, unlike the soulless ads of today.

Here are a few random ads from the book, stolen from about the web -- I don't want to butcher them with my patented crappy digital camera.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dossier IX

Dossier IX, by Barry Weil
June, 1970 Pyramid Books

Published in the UK in 1968, Barry Weil's spy novel Dossier IX was released to the US market in 1970 by Pyramid Books, sporting the greatest cover blurb I've yet seen:

The freakiest sex. The wildest action. The far-out "in" thriller of the year.

Which should pretty much whet the appetite of any devotee of trash fiction. Unfortunately, the novel fails to deliver on the hyperbole, being instead a rather dull and routine spy thriller with the occasional bizarre touch. The cover had me hoping for some sort of late '60s TNT sort of thing, but Dossier IX is very much in the mold of Ian Fleming.

Jacob Asher is an Israeli secret agent on loan to British secret service, where he's assigned a headlines-making case: a traitorous British agent has escaped from prison and Asher must find him. Asher follows the trail to Paris, where he works with a cynical French agent named Cassegrain. After a run-in with a beautiful Arabic prostitute who tries to kill him, Asher realizes his cover has been blown and eventually learns that a group of Arabs were behind the attempt. This section of the novel is quite relevant, as the Arabs are attempting to gain atomic weaponry for their homeland and have worked out a deal with various levels of the French government.

Asher is called back and forth from Paris to London; much of the novel is wasted with meetings in which his British superiors recap everything that's so far transpired, as if we readers haven't been paying attention. Eventually sent to Switzerland where he works with a gorgeous French agent codenamed Minou, Asher at length tracks down his quarry, and it's here in the final pages that the bizarre stuff occurs. Most notably, one of the villains dabbles in necrophilia, and Asher comes upon a large formaldehyde tank filled with the corpses of three nude women.

Weird stuff for sure; unfortunately the rest of the novel fails to match it. Actually, I found the whole thing boring. Lots of talking and exposition -- and to make it worse, Weil is a terrible practictioner of POV-hopping. One paragraph we're in one character's head, the next we're in another character's...on and on until we feel like we're watching a ping-pong game. It's a terrible and confusing thing for the reader to experience and it's something every writer should stop doing right now.

All told, the novel is a slow-moving, dialog and narrative-heavy affair, the few sex and violence scenes dulled by the overly-complex writing style. So unfortunately, Dossier IX was a chance discovery that didn't pan out for me: kudos though to whoever at Pyramid wrote that cover blurb.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cindy On Fire

Cindy On Fire, by Burt Hirschfeld
April, 1971 Avon Books

As mentioned in my review of Fire Island, Cindy on Fire was my introduction to Burt Hirschfeld. I discovered the novel in the time-honored tradition: browsing the mass market paperback shelves at a local used books emporium. The title caught my eye, and I checked out the cover and its groovy illustration of partying people. But it was the back-cover copy that really drew me in:

Welcome to Cindy's world -- the decadent playground of society studs and jet-set perverts, of dirty old men out for naked young bodies and freaking hippies into acid-rock scenes. Follow her search for fulfillment -- out of her middle-class upbringing into the sordid glamour of international film making and on to a non-stop merry-go-round of exotic lovers. It's a trip too hot to forget!

By the time I got to "freaking hippies" I was already on my way to the register. The book seemed to offer all I demand in trash fiction: sex, drugs, rock, gorgeous gals. Globetrotting jet-setters living at the peak of mod fashion. But I soon discovered that Cindy On Fire was a psuedo-sequel to Fire Island, so I tracked that novel down and read it first. Really though, Cindy On Fire isn't much of a sequel and could be read completely separate from Fire Island. Though if features a few of the same characters, they don't impact the narrative at all; Cindy herself is the main character throughout, and she herself only received a few passing mentions in Fire Island. For whereas the former novel was a Harold Robbins-esque study of a large cast of characters and how they interracted with one another over the years, Cindy On Fire is a picaresque, following our bland heroine from one sexual misadventure to another.

But it's not as trashy as that back-cover blurb implies. Instead it appears that Hirschfeld here was attempting a sort of "commentary on the late 1960s" thing, and so the novel comes off like Candy meets Forrest Gump, with our heroine inadvertently encountering all of the countercultural milestones of the era while being chased by countless horny men.

Cindy Ashe is an 18 year-old knockout living in the New York City of 1968. The novel occurs at the same time as the final half of Fire Island: Cindy learns that her huckster father Roy has been arrested for murder. Cindy meanwhile is busy turning tricks for her heroin-addicted closet gay boyfriend BB (a great reverse image of Fire Island, where Cindy and BB appeared to us as wholesome teens). But after hearing of Robert Kennedy's death, Cindy freaks out and realizes she's wasting her life. She runs away from BB and his sordid life and vows to never prositute herself again. She finds herself in the artistic caul of downtown NYC, hanging out with artists and revolutionairies. Her closest friend here is Rafe, a strikingly handsome gay dude who serves throughout the novel as Cindy's surrogate brother/asexual lover.

After a brief lesbian fling with a female artist, Cindy hooks up with a young radical and goes with him and his pals to the Chicago Democratic convention. Anyone who knows their US history can suspect what's in store for her: after endless pages of hippie prattle, Cindy finds herself chased through the streets of Chicago by rabid cops who smash in hippie skulls with glee. Traumatized yet again by these events (Cindy is traumatized at least a dozen times in the novel), Cindy goes back to her home in New York where she convinces her mother to send her off to Europe.

Here the novel becomes a true picaresque. Over the course of a few hundred pages, Cindy goes from party-hopping with a pair of mod "birds" in London, where she falls in love with a deathly ill scion, to living in Paris with a French revolutionary who involves Cindy in the kidnapping of a former Nazi, to assisting Rafe (who pops in and out of the narrative with a complete disregard for deus ex machina) as an assistant photographer for a magazine pictorial on a big-budget Hollywood movie filming in Spain, where Cindy finds herself the sexual goal of the two male stars.

Yes, all of this really happens. It's like five books in one, and the depressing thing is that none of the segments have anything to do with each other. When Cindy finally returns to New York City around page 400 of this 515-page book, I realized with dismay that you could cut out the entire 300-page trip to Europe and it wouldn't make a difference. Cindy is unchanged by the events she endured, still as dumb and bland and naive as ever.

So, as usual, I have a theory. Before striking it big with Fire Island, Hirschfeld published a handful of novels under the name "Hugh Barron." These were moreso trash fiction than Fire Island, usually involving Hollywood harlots or depraved businessmen looking for new kicks. My suspicion is that the entire "Europe section" of Cindy On Fire is composed of material Hirschfeld planned to use for his Hugh Barron novels. I mean, what's more "trash fiction" than a group of French radicals kidnapping a former Nazi? But upon realizing that he could have a nice career publishing less trashy stuff under his own name, he just shoehorned this material into a quick and dirty sequel to Fire Island.

The problem is, the novel wants to be trashy but refuses to go all the way. Cindy is a bland and stupid character, never learning from her mistakes and living in a world of eternal naivete. She comes off like the protagonist of an R-rated Romance comic. And despite the cover blurb that Cindy is "a passionate young girl making all the scenes," Cindy throughout the novel is only searching for "true love;" she isn't some jet-setting nympho looking for the latest wild scene. Indeed, she runs from a few orgies in the novel -- and I'm not kidding, she actually runs from them. She goes to acid-drenched parties, strip clubs, meets all sorts of people who actually enjoy the ribald world in which they live, but Cindy herself pines and mopes her way through the novel, eternally picking one wrong guy after the next.

And the male characters on display are even worse, as impossible as that may sound. Each guy Cindy meets is a motormouthed asshole, going on and on about how great they are, how terrible the world is, and how they're going to change it. The French radicals are the worst. I can't tell you how numbing it is to read a hundred or so pages of one French revolutionary after another delivering endless banal speeches -- and they all sound the same! You could say this was Hirschfeld's commentary on the drone-like minds of the '60s radical set, but seriously, I could've picked up on the satire in about 10 pages or so. Every one of these guys is loathsome and despicable; at the top of the list would have to be Henri, the radical film-maker who blathers about "true art" for countless pages. It all drove me to drink.

The Hollywood film section in Spain is mildly better, but again it has nothing to do with the preceeding adventures. Adding further fuel to my theory is that Alain, the French radical who brought Cindy along on the Nazi-kidnapping scheme, here transforms into a fame-obsessed wanna-be actor, with no further mention of the revolutionary fervor which so consumed him in previous pages. It's as if Hirschfeld has made two separate characters into one. But the promise of an old-fashioned '60s/'70s Hollywood-sex trash fiction epic is denied as Cindy again buzzkills it for us; she falls of course for the meanest guy in the pack, a black American footballer who spends countless pages going on about being black in America. The novel, really, is just one speech after another, and it wears down your soul. But all of the speeches are so tiresomely dated. It's like the novel should've been published with an expiration date.

But then something magical happens. Around page 400 Cindy returns to New York and, after a few boring chapters of Cindy again resorting to a depression of pills and booze, traipsing from one 42nd Street grindhouse to another, it's as if Hirschfeld suddenly remembers who he is. For here he gives us some pure trash -- and if my theory is true then this section for sure was once a "Hugh Barron" novel-to-be. Cindy meets Adam Gilbert, a successful rock producer who throws orgies in his mansion and flies from one "recording crisis" to another. Cindy of course falls madly in love with the guy, but again here's another man who treats her like shit. Gilbert refuses to sleep with Cindy, and after she throws herself at him, begging, he orders her to pleasure him orally. For it turns out that this is all he wants her for, to make Cindy his "private sucking machine." And she goes for it, a willing slave, waiting for his command to drop to her knees at any time or place to blow him. Now that's trash fiction!!

It gets even trashier, too, and in a grand way: after ignoring Cindy for weeks, sleeping with various singers and movie queens, Gilbert finally has enough of Cindy's implorements for sex. "You want to get laid," he tells her. "Well, that's what you're going to get." After drugging her with some spiked booze, Gilbert plants Cindy in a sideroom and sends in four men who each have their way with her, one after another.

Cindy awakens to find herself in Bellevue, where she's been committed as a mental patient. After some banal parlaying with her shrink, she's discharged and lives again with her mother and stepfather. Bored with her meaningless existence, Cindy again plummets into a booze-and-pills depression, eventually becoming a world-class Easy Lay, sleeping with a succession of men. After a bizarre sequence where a guy on the street masturbates on her, Cindy breaks down yet again -- only a few pages after her previous breakdown! But this one finally has an effect on our girl's limited brainspan. And so, in the final pages of this endless novel, Cindy smartens up. She realizes she never has left the prostitution game, after all.

Throughout the novel Cindy has been courted by David Altman, a geeky guy her age who aspires to be a society-improving lawyer. Again, the bad Romance comic similarities -- Hirschfeld tries to "shock" us with this, as Cindy berates Altman when she first meets him in the opening pages, scoffing his advances, never responding to the letters he sends her during her European quest. But we all know where it's going. For, just like in those maudlin old comics like Teen Romance or Our Love Story, wholesome values prevail, and Cindy finds TRUE LOVE once and for all, in the last place she'd expect (the last place she would expect, that is...the girl's an idiot, you see).

Hirschfeld tied up this loose trilogy the following year with Fire In The Embers; this one featured Mike Birns, Hirschfeld's ostensible stand-in, and one of the main characters in Fire Island. Like Hirschfeld himself, Birns is a trash fiction author looking to publish "real novels" under his own name. I have Fire In The Embers but I've never finished it; rather than focusing on Birns's writing life it's about his gambling addiction. What's more boring to read about than gambling? And, like Cindy On Fire, it's too long for it's own good, coming it at nearly 600 pages. Several years later, in 1984, Hirschfeld capped the series with Return To Fire Island, another one I have but haven't read -- it appears to be about Cindy's old boyfriend BB.

Despite my qualms with Cindy On Fire, I still recommend Burt Hirschfeld's work -- there's something about his writing I find very appealing. He has a way to pull you into his narrative, to make his characters seem real. He's a definite craftsman and it's a shame he's been forgotten. But he left behind a huge body of work, one that's ripe for rediscovery.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TNT: The Missing Two Volumes

As mentioned in my reviews of the TNT series, volumes #7 and #8 of the original French series were not included as part of Charter's English translation. Below I've placed the original covers for these missing volumes, published by Editions Robert Laffont in 1979.

First up is #7: Le Grand Chaperon Noir (aka The Large Black Hood). I have no idea what the book is about, but the lady on the cover certainly intrigues me:

And next there's #8: Les Cobras De Lilliput (aka The Cobras Of Lilliput) which sounds unusual, even for TNT standards; it appears that our man Tony Twin is shrunk to Lilliputlian size in this adventure!

The smart thing to do would be for some publisher to release an omnibus edition of the entire TNT series, adding on new translations of these "missing" two volumes. I for one would love to know what we're missing out on!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Performance, by William Hughes
1970, Tandem Books

Despite the rekindled interest in Performance, this novelization has been forgotten. The movie's finally on DVD, there are manifold books out there about the film and its production, and you can even buy Donald Cammell's script, but this novel by William Hughes has been out of print for 37 years.

The first thing to be said is that Hughes was obviously working off an early draft of Cammell's script, or at least the shooting script. There are many mysteries around the multiple edits of Performance, and they all can be answered by the script. Long story short, Cammell wrote a story in which a thug on the run spends a day with a shut-in rock star, ending with the thug having gained a new lease on and appreciation for life, but still going off to his death at the hands of the thugs he was running from. While shooting Cammell changed the script to the darker storyline we know, one in which the thug (Chas) not only meets his end, but the rock star shut-in (Turner) does as well. Despite changing this, Cammell still followed his script in that things followed a logical progression of events.

The first cut of the film was rejected by the executives, who abhorred the violence and nudity. Cammell went to LA and recut the film, taking out some of the violence and nudity, but replacing them with a quick-cut esthetic which if anything made the film more visceral and shocking. Most of the changes were made to the first half of the film, Chas on his daily errands. Whereas the script and the first cut of Performance (and this novelization) followed Chas step by step, this new cut was all over the place, cutting to and from scenes of destruction with fury. So, whenever you read something like, "The original, more shocking version of Performance has been lost," know that the first version was in no way more shocking than the version which has come down to us.

As for this novelization, first of all Hughes' prose is dry as the Sahara. No fancy literary tricks here. Just a straight-up rendering of Cammell's script. However Hughes explains many things that the film leaves unsaid. For one, he clearly points out that Chas and Joey share a past that was much more than just friendship; explanation for why the two have such a loathing for one another. This is something the film only hinted at. We also learn more about the inhabitants of Turner's lair; Pherber is an artist, and Lucy supports herself by doing modeling work around London. Noteable also is that the novelization features the character Mojo -- featured in early script drafts but not in the movie. Turner's assistant, he shows up for one brief scene in the novel to fix Turner's tape recorder, and it is to Mojo that Turner says what would have been a great line in the film: "I can't now, baby. I have an orgy on." (Colin MacCabe mentions this line in his BFI book Performance.)

It's in the second half of the novel that the differences become so apparent. First, Chas has his way with Pherber, which of course doesn't occur in the film. This has a major effect on his personality (something Hughes strains to convey, but has difficulty doing so), but doesn't make for a permanent change. Then the cops show up, looking for the drugs they know Turner has on the premises. Apparently this part of the script was a big part of the film's funding; the executives were nonplussed to discover Cammell ditched the entire subplot while filming. For muddled reasons (again, the novel does little to convey the symbiosis between Turner and Chas, though I'm sure this is more due to the film relying so much on visual impact and import) Turner takes the fall, afraid the cops will discover Chas and his gun rather than the drugs.

After a fight with Pherber, Chas retreats to his room, where he has his encounter with Lucy -- something which does happen in the movie, but under different circumstances. This makes for a permanent change to his character. Again, Hughes struggles to relay just HOW a brutal thug like Chas can so thoroughly change within a day, just from being with two hippie chicks. Hughes even has Chas question this himself. But no matter, it was the sixties; stuff like that just happened.

An important note is that in the novel (and early draft of the script) Chas doesn't kill Turner. Instead, upon Turner's return from jail the next dawn, the two of them share an awkward moment in which Chas thanks Turner for all of his help. So then we lose all of the moments that made the film so unique -- Chas being dressed up like a Hashishin, being prepared for the murder of Turner (however the "Chas on drugs" scene remains, only in the novel it's marijuana that does him in rather than mushrooms). This makes for a less effecting but happier ending. Instead of being shot in his bed, Turner instead watches Chas being driven off by Harry Flowers, and somehow knows the journey will be his last.

While this novelization is a great item to have for the Performance fan, I wouldn't recommend spending too much on it. The book is super-slim and the print is small, but it conveys none of the impact or mystique of Cammell and Roeg's film. Fans who want to read the story but don't want to search for this novelization are recommended Cammell's script, which was published a few years back.

Friday, November 19, 2010

John Eagle Expeditor #2: The Brain Scavengers

John Eagle Expeditor #2: The Brain Scavengers, by Paul Edwards
May, 1973  Pyramid Books

Manning Lee Stokes serves as Paul Edwards  for the Expeditor series once again, dropping us back into John Eagles life a month after the events in the first volume of this series. And once again Stokes delivers a novel as if from another age, filled with terrain description straight out of Jack London and reeking of a male chauvinism unheard of even in the rarefied world of '70s men's adventure novels.

And like the first novel, The Brain Scavengers takes forever to get going. Its also longer than the average mens adventure novel, coming in at 220 pages. Stokes could've cut a lot of this stuff; indeed our hero John Eagle doesn't even appear until page 60, and the entire novel is basically him preparing for his mission.

In a way The Brain Scavengers is padding in its worst form; Stokes fills pages by hopping from one characters POV to another, but it's all immaterial because their thoughts and actions have little bearing on the novel. In particular he wastes a lot of space detailing the life of Suthinya, a gorgeous (of course) Russian scientist who lives in a hidden base in the midst of Siberia; here Suthinya heads a team who has extracted insane scientists from the US and other capitalist countries, where they aim to repair the damaged brains and coax the newly-sane scientists to work for the USSR. But rather than providing details on her scientific methods, Stokes instead focuses on Suthinya's romantic woes with a Russian commander.

It takes our heroes endless pages to discover this latest commie threat and devise a plan of action. Mr. Merlin, wheelchair-bound director of the Expeditor program, calls in his one and only Expeditor: John Eagle. Again the rudiments of Eagles training and prep are glossed over, and hes sent out into the Siberian wasteland. Once more in his chameleon suit and armed with his needle gun and trusty bow and arrow, this time Eagle has a new gadget: a nuclear grenade which can destroy six square miles. But the novelty factor of the previous volume is gone.

Indeed, the action half of the novel goes down without any big fuss; Eagle treks through the frozen wasteland, kills a few Russian soldiers, and gets into the hidden base. But then he meets Suthinya, and here the novel appropriates all the lurid charm youve been waiting for. For Suthinya has already rebelled against her Communist leaders and wants to escape with Eagle, only she fears him, and in fact threatens to break down entirely. So what does Eagle do? Realizing that women are the weaker sex," he knows that only one thing will calm down this complete stranger: bed medicine. Yes, Eagle takes Suthinya into a side room  moments after meeting her  and coaxes her into sex, where his manly passion will of course subdue her womanly fears. I couldnt believe what I was reading!

Of course it works, and Suthinya comes out of it worshipful of Eagle and ready to help him in any way possible. But really, that's about the extent of the action in the novel; even the escape is handled in a perfunctory manner, with Suthinya doing the big work while Eagle waits, using her credentials to smuggle the nuclear grenade into the depths of the hidden complex. Eagle himself only pulls off a few kills, and I must mention he comes off like a heartless bastard this time out, killing everyone  even those he promises not to kill  in order to accomplish his mission.

At any rate, this was Stokess last Expeditor novel for a while, so I'm hoping the next author opens up the series a bit more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flowers And Flesh

Flowers And Flesh, by J.X. Williams
1968, Pleasure Reader

I'm definitely trawling some forgotten fiction depths here. This has to be the most forgotten genre of all: hippie porn fiction. Flowers And Flesh is pretty rare and goes for big bucks, so I wouldn't advise seeking it out; it's certainly not worth the money sellers ask for.

For a pre-Woodstock cash-in on the hippie generation, the novel's actually pretty prescient in that the hippies are just as clueless as the older generation they rebel against. Our "hero" is Captain Kosmos, a hippie guru who descends on a midwestern town with his legions of followers, vowing to "save" them from their boring lives. His nemesis at first is local high school jock Joe, who after some LSD sex with his turned-on girlfriend becomes Kosmos's best pal and co-leader. Together they build a permanent commune outside the town, for hippies from all over to flock to.

The novel is more of a serialized affair, with Kosmos going on one crazy adventure after another. And it's a strange mix. For, moments after preaching peace and love, Kosmos is killing off his Hell's Angels enemies and murdering innocent townspeople who mock his hippie lifestyle. And for a hippie, Kosmos is as rich as Howard Hughes; he flies around in his own helicopter, dropping fragmentation grenades on his enemies. (There's a gruesome sequence where he puts a frag grenade in an old farmer's mouth and clamps shut the man's mouth as the grenade explodes, which goes beyond anything I've ever read in a men's adventure novel!)

Strange too is the way this book is written. "J.X. Williams" (a psuedonym, it goes without saying) proves himself capable of writing some great dialog and some truly mystical blather -- several times Kosmos preaches to his flock and the writing here excels. In fact, Kosmos' blather put me in the mind of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain, and his plea that everyone yield to the "sex force" Ka gives the novel an extra push, as if Williams knows more than he lets on. But for every moment like that, there will be another that seems to have come from a different author, a dashed-off and middling sequence filled with spelling errors and terrible dialog. I get the impression these bits are just padding, there to fill up the page count.

And guess what else fills up most of the page count? That's right, sex. There's a ton of sex in Flowers And Flesh. What more could you expect from a good ol' "stroke book?" But here's the thing...the sex here is pretty repulsive. There's nothing erotic about any of the plentiful sex scenes; people just screw, and that's it -- none of the purple prose one might expect from such shenanigans. And the sex scenes that are described are usually pretty gross, there for shock value...or something. Really, this aspect of the novel mystifies me. I mean, who was this book for? If it was for the "raincoat crowd" looking for some literary porn, then they would be dissatisfied; there was much more erotic and explicit stuff being published in mainstream literature (remember, this was the era of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susan).

I'm also confused about the mash-up of Kosmos' bicameral mentality. Throughout the novel he kills with glee, and then moments later he preaches love. I assumed this was Williams spoofing the hippie movement, following the old saw that beneath their LSD pacifism they were all just a bunch of nazis, but the thing is, this whole aspect is never addressed. I kept waiting for Kosmos to get some sort of comeuppance, but it never happened. Which is a shame, because the entire novel comes off like a satire -- Kosmos destroys an entire town without worry, but pages later freaks out because the cops show up at his doorstep and he's afraid they're going to find his dope stash.

Anyway, I'm giving this novel more thought than it deserves. It's clunky, trashy, seems to have been printed straight from the original typewriter manuscript, and is only occasionally enlivened by some psuedo-guru prose. The sex scenes add nothing, the action scenes are flat because they lack any realism, and the characters are caricatures -- bad ones at that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mini Marvels

Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection, by Chris Giarrusso
January, 2010 Marvel Comics

I generally steer clear of anything which proclaims itself as suitable for "all ages," but this book is an exception to the rule. Chris Giarrusso's Mini Marvels really does justify the description: kids will enjoy the goofy humor and pint-sized versions of classic Marvel heroes, while adults -- especially ones who grew up with Marvel comics -- will appreciate the in-jokes. In fact I think adults just might enjoy Mini Marvels more than kids.

I've only recently discovered the series. Giarrusso started up a "Marvel meets Peanuts" strip in 1999 which ran as "Bullpen Bits" in Marvel's editorial columns. As the years progressed Giarusso's art got slicker and the strips longer, some of them running into epic proportions as mini-series or special editions. This paperback collects all of Giarusso's Mini Marvels work (save a few Bullpen Bits; one of them, featuring Cyclops, I've placed below). This is by far one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

Giarrusso recreates the famous Marvel characters as feisty kids. But this isn't one of those stupid modern-day kids-centric hero deals; you know what I mean, shrill cartoons featuring little smart-asses who spout lame dialog at one another. Mini Marvels is several steps above that. These comics are funny, not stupid, and therein lies the difference. In other words, Giarrusso hasn't written a dumbed-down product to appeal to children; he's put real work into his stories and his art so that it not only appeals to kids but also resonates with an adult audience. It's a special kind of magic for sure. When I finished the book I actually missed these little guys.

Giarrusso pretty much does everything -- he draws all of the strips and writes the majority of them. A handful of quickies are written by others, and without a doubt those strips are the worst in the book; it appears that only Giarrusso knows how to portray these characters. He has a definite handle on the various major and minor Marvel personalities (keep an eye open for incredibly obscure characters hiding in the background), and he really seems to have an affinity fo the unsung Avenger Hawkeye. The scrappy archer appears in many of the strips and usually serves as the protagonist; it's nice to see a writer who knows that not every story needs to star Wolverine or Spider-Man. I also love Giarrusso's take on Iron Man, whose ego hasn't diminished despite his smaller stature here.

The biggest shame is that Marvel cancelled the title because they feared people would confuse it with their craptastic new cartoon Super Hero Squad. This nauseating animated series is all the things Mini Marvels isn't: it's stupid, crass, and seems designed to appeal to children brain-damaged from inhaling magic marker fumes. In fact it seems to have been written by those same brain-damaged children.

So, a smart and clever title was cancelled so that a stupid one could live. But then, that's the way of today's rotten world. If Marvel had been smart they would've given Giarrusso a steady job and sold the property as a Sunday comics feature with national distribution. With it's "Peanuts for the Marvel Age" mentality, I'm certain a weekly Mini Marvels strip could've become a huge hit.

I could just rave on and on about this book. There are only a few negatives. For one, I'm uncertain why that aforementioned Cyclops strip and a few other Bullpen Bits weren't included (numbers 2, 9, 10, 36, 37, and 44 respectively -- and it's a real shame that #44 wasn't reprinted here, as its "Wolverine as Charlie Brown" image is downright iconic). Luckily you can find all of the Bullpen Bits over at Giarrusso's website, under the "comic strips" tab in the Mini Marvels section. And another thing I don't like is the somewhat-smaller size of the book. It's not up to the usual trade paperback dimensions; I'm thinking Marvel's done this to appeal to the tweener manga-reading market, which only serves to increase my anger.

Below I've placed some samples of the various strips (freely stolen from about the web), from the early scratchy material to the later, slicker affairs.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Book of Stier

The Book of Stier, by Robin Sanborn
June, 1971 Berkley Medallion

Here's another primo slice of psychedelic science fiction. Actually, it's not exactly science fiction, even though Berkley labelled it as such; The Book of Stier takes place in the "future" of 1979, but it's pretty much the same world as 1971. The war in Vietnam still rages and hippies still roam the streets. The sci-fi element doesn't arise until over halfway through, when the novel takes on a sort of Illuminatus!-in-miniature vibe.

Our "hero" is Paul Odeon, a leading agent at an advertising firm (just like Darrin in Bewitched!). Odeon is assigned a new account: a music revolution has taken over Canada, all of it in the name of one Richard Steir. Steir's music is sort of a pagan/tribal/opera thing, something so unique that those who hear it are immediately enthralled. Steir's about to break in the United States, and Odeon is assigned to write some copy for the back of the LPs, introducing the singer and his beliefs to the country. And Steir is a man of many beliefs -- on the war, on nature, on sex, on how one should live.

Odeon takes the job and finds himself completely at odds with Steir's world. Odeon at 31 is older than the kids who flock to Steir, and would prefer to drink booze or smoke a little pot than inhale the mysterious, narcotic clay the "Snowchildren" of Stier always have with them. But as Odeon works the account he sees Steirmusic invading the minds of America's youth; they band together in covens with rigid hierarchies and wear nothing but white, the sole color which pleases their guru Richard Stier.

It's at this point we realize The Book of Stier is a satire on the entire counterculture/hippie movement (as if Odeon's sarcasm wasn't clue enough). For the Snowchildren shun drugs, instead preferring to sniff that mysterious clay, and do little to mess with the system, doing their own thing without rocking the boat. And, unlike the scraggly hippies, they wear uniform, pristine white, keeping themselves and their homes clean -- indeed, they're such clean-freaks that they gather together and clean the streets and alleys of America's cities.

Odeon finds himself further pulled into the mysterious mind of the still-unseen Richard Stier; the albums keep coming, the world's youth continues to change themselves in his image, but the man himself remains a shadow, only glimpsed in occasional publicity photos, where he appears as a white-clothed youth with golden blonde hair. As Odeon watches the world change he becomes consumed with finding out who Stier is. However, it soon arises that Stier himself has plans for Odeon.

Here the novel takes on a definite Illuminatus! vibe; Odeon is "initiated" by a handful of Stier's "high priestesses." Women who teach Odeon via dancing and sex the secrets of history, how the modern world was spawned from the ruin of Atlantis. Things continue to spiral out of control and soon Odeon is seen as an agent provocateur, with the US government shadowing him -- there follows a few hilarious bits with a gay CIA agent who accosts him. Now a man on the run, Odeon escapes to Canada, where he's determined to find the man behind the myth. As the novel rushes for its climax it becomes increasingly surreal, and when Odeon achieves his goal he finds the last thing he ever could have expected.

The Book of Stier is all about the search for a gifted artist who might not even exist; the same could be said of author Robin Sanborn. Who was this person? He (though of course it could be she) is a fantastic writer, delivering great dialog, narrative, and plot. Paul Odeon in particular is a wonderful creation -- he's one of the most cynical, sarcastic, and asinine "heroes" I've ever had the pleasure to encounter, delivering smart-ass lines with aplomb. Many sequences had me laughing out loud, something that's difficult for any novel to achieve. What I'm saying is, there's no way such a talented writer could churn out only one novel and then disappear -- doing some research I've found that only one other book was published under the name Robin Sanborn: Mohammed Wong Spouts, a 56-page book published in 1979 by Exposition Press which "explains that whales have brains more developed than those of humans."

There's no rule that says psuedonymous authors can only publish one book, so I really suspect that "Robin Sanborn" is a guise. If I'm correct I'd love to know who he/she was. The caustic tone and pitch-perfect comedic timing make me suspect someone like Michael O'Donoghue, but that's just guesswork. At any rate this is an enjoyable novel, one that pokes fun at the hippie movement while still retaining a funky-freaky vibe of its own, and it's definitely recommended to those who prefer their science fiction a bit trippy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Storming Heaven

Storming Heaven, by Gordon Rennie, Frazer Irving, and others
January 2007, Rebellion Books

Another one of those fortuitous web discoveries -- I was Googling something like "psychedelic superheroes" and came up with this slick trade paperback, which collects a host of stories drawn by fab artist Frazer Irving for the UK comic 2000AD. In particular the book features the Storming Heaven story arc, written by Gordon Rennie. It's about as "psychedelic superhero" as you can get and well worth the price of the paperback (which you can actually find for pretty cheap, even though it's currently out of print in the US).

From what I've discovered online, at the time Storming Heaven was being published in 2000AD, the current editor had a policy that all stories had to be fast-moving with lots of razzle dazzle. So then, most character and plot development was jettisoned in favor of action, action, action. This appears to have mortally damaged Storming Heaven, as this was a storyline which certainly needed some time to properly play out. Instead we have a 30-or-so page storyline in which characters are introduced in dialog, killed off in dialog, or glimpsed for half a panel. We really don't get to know any of the characters or even get a good look at this psychedelic world they've created, and it's all over before we know it.

Despite all that, it's still pretty cool, not just for the concept alone but also for Irving's slick art. Each panel is like a psychedelic painting in miniature. And the concept is one I've had in mind for years. It's little discussed today, but there was a brief time in which comic books (particularly Marvel characters) were embraced by the late '60s/early '70s counterculture. (The Hulk even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone -- back when the magazine was cool!) Hippie leaders like Ken Kesey often said that psychedelics could turn one into a turned-on superhero (indeed, Kesey's comment served as inspiration for this story), so I've often wondered why no comic creators capitalized on this. But Rennie and Irving have and, though compromised by editorial constraints, the story they've delivered is a good one.

It's San Francisco, summer of 1967 -- the Summer of Love. Professor Adam Laar, a Timothy Leary-type proclaimer of the virtues of LSD, takes a heroic dose of acid to prove his colleagues wrong. He is reborn as Dr. Trips, the first turned-on superhero. Irving gives him a super-cool design, with a flowing Day-Glo beard and blazing third eye:

A new dawn of man springs forth in Trips' image, a world of psychedelic superheroes who conglomerate in the Haight-Ashbury district. Here Trips proclaims his brave new world and urges people to overcome their "stupid monkey" brains and become "true humans." But evil threatens the idyllic world Trips proclaims -- evil in the form of Thomas Caliban (basically, Charles Manson). After a few sex magick rites Caliban becomes a sort of demon and assembles an army of zombielike followers. They assault Haight-Ashbury and a battle for the soul of mankind ensues.

It just all happens too fast. Rennie and Irving hurl several novel concepts at us: Trips enters the "psychedeliverse," a kaleidoscopic zone from which he gains his powers; lurking there is the cosmic fetus of his unborn child, which when born will be the first fully turned-on human being. The psychedelic heroes of the Haight band together in groups with colorful names, but unfortunately we don't see any of them. And it's obvious from the beginning that Rennie is developing an Isis-Osiris-Horus theme, but due to the editorial-mandated rush we have little chance to fully appreciate it.

Researching the book I also discovered an interview with with Irving in which he discusses Storming Heaven; you can find it here. As for the trade paperback, it features several other stories Irving provided the art for, most of them only a few pages in length. I haven't read them. I will however read Storming Heaven again -- it's unfortunate the story wasn't allowed to reach its full potential. Here's hoping Gordon Rennie does the proper thing and expands it into a full-blown novel.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Centerforce, by TA Waters
December, 1974 Dell

What a missed opportunity. This could've been THE psychedelic sci-fi novel of the entire countercultural movement of the early 1970s. Its "Easy Rider meets 1984" near future America of biker gangs, hippie communes, roving vigilantes, and overbearing governmental agencies encapsulates all of the countercultural staples -- there's even sex and drugs and rock. But the novel fails to deliver on its own promise, and instead becomes a pretentious trawl of a read. Pretension was also one of the staples of the counterculture fiction, as I learned to my dismay years ago when I read a batch of forgotten hippie fiction. CenterForce might be the most pretentious of the lot -- and I've read Stones of Summer!

In barely 200 pages the novel relays this "hippies against The Man" near future of what appears to be the early 1980s. It doesn't matter, though, because the novel's as "early '70s" as you can get. The hippie protests of yore have escalated so that now the government is killing its own; the CenterForce has been created to track down and eliminate home-soil hostiles. An entire stretch of desert in the Midwest has been blasted apart, but here the bikers and the hippies eke out their existence. Like Escape from New York, this barren wasteland is now theirs. But satellite technology tracks their every move as they travel to and from their little kingdoms; and, more dangerously, government-sanctioned vigilantes have clearance to shoot them on sight.

Ben Reed (think Waters was a Fantastic Four fan?) is one of the bikers, and we follow him as he heads on into the forbidden territory to meet up with his fellows. Along the way he evades CenterForce patrols with his augmented BMW chopper (which looks nothing like the Roger Dean-esque illustration on the cover!), takes some mescaline, and thinks about the various women he's slept with. Outside the biker-controlled town is the StarChilde commune, in which a virginal girl has come to seek spiritual knowledge; instead she meets Ben, which results in instant love.

But if only the novel was told in as simple a fashion. Instead, CenterForce is made up of elliptical chapters of two to three pages; many of the chapters aren't even narrative, but governmental dispatches, transcripts of hippie interrogations, diary entries, letters from one minor character to another, "translations" of Chinese poems (which turn out to have been written by a computer, ha ha ha), and, worse yet, sections of script complete with action, dialog, and camera directions. It's as if Waters tried every trick in the book to get around the fact that he had such little story to tell. He even gave each "chapter" titles lifted from the I Ching! Pretension so thick you could choke on it.

Anyway, it's a shame. This novel really could've been something.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

After the Good War

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

The Specialist #2: Manhattan Revenge

The Specialist #2: Manhattan Revenge, by John Cutter
April, 1984 Signet Books

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

Spider-Man Goes To Psychedelic Hell

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.