Thursday, August 31, 2023

Men’s Adventure Quarterly #8

Mens Adventure Quarterly #8, edited by Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham
June, 2023  Subtropic Productions

This latest installment of Men’s Adventure Quarterly focuses on Hitmen, and is a rare volume that doesn’t have a story from World War II, which is the era most associated with men’s adventure mag yarns. Editors Robert Dies and Bill Cunningham once again turn in a high-quality publication filled with full-color art, including a risque photo section. I love how they include this nude (or at least mostly nude) photography each issue, which really captures the “hide ‘em from your wife” spirit of vintage men’s mags. 

Another interesting thing about this MAQ is that it has some stories from the ‘70s. This makes sense, as after the WWII yarns tapered off the men’s mag editors of the day started focusing on more topical things, and after the success of The Godfather (courtesy former men’s mag writer Mario Puzo) one of those topical things was crime. Somehow Bob Deis has found long stories from this later men’s mag era; the majority of the ‘70s men’s mags I have all feature short stories, even the ones billed as “true book bonuses” being pretty short. But the last story collected here, from 1975, is the longest. 

This issue also features a host of guest editors…I mean a bunch of them! They all provide overviews of crime-centric books and movies of the era, and all are informative and well-written. I never have much to say about the opening pages of each Men’s Adventure Quarterly because it’s kind of hard to review an introduction! But they all offer nice insights into the field. A problem though is that some of the time these intros – and I don’t just mean the ones in this issue specifically – are a little too broad-based in their outlook, as if written for an Entertainment Weekly audience. I would imagine most readers of Men’s Adventure Quarterly are quite familiar with vintage pulp fiction and movies, and don’t need much in the way of background material on the subject. 

This is why Bob Deis’s intros for each story are always one of the highlights – he tells you all there is to know about the (usually uncredited) writers and artists. He also goes above and beyond by looking up how “true” some of the yarns here really are. This lends the books a bit of a snarky vibe, as it’s usually clear that the vast majority of these men’s adventure stories are wholly the product of the writer’s imagination. Actually I’d say more so of the editor’s imagination – I’m betting in most cases the editors would come up with an idea, get the artwork underway, and hire some writer to do a story that followed the setup, with scenes catered to the art. But hell I wasn’t there and don’t really know, so it’s just my guess. 

The issue follows the chronological format as the previous issues, thus the stories begin with the earliest piece in the anthology, “Setup For The Kid,” by Bill H. Hunter and from the Februrary 1957 Stag. This short piece reads like an excerpt from a Parker novel, featuring two hit men from a crime outfit as they go about a job. Interestingly, it’s mostly told via dialog, and thus has a different vibe than the standard men’s adventure mag yarn; it would be more at home in Manhunt. This one’s all about the prep for the hit, which goes down rather anticlimactically. Indeed the story itself is rather old hat, but it’s told with a nice crime-pulp vibe. I also liked how the titular “Kid” had a special scope for his rifle. 

The next one’s on more of a factual tip: “I Was Al Capone’s Hatchet Man,” by Dave Mazroff and from the March 1958 Man’s Odyssey. Bob delivers one of his typically-insightful intros here, detailing how Mazroff, unlike most men’s mag writers, wasn’t just making up this tale whole-hog. Mazroff, who did work for Capone, here tells a tale about Capone that’s interestingly formated like the typical men’s mag yarn. Many years ago I visited that old state pen in Philadelphia, and one of the cells there had been inhabitated by Capone; they’d decorated it like he supposedly had it in his time, complete with a radio and all these other deluxe trimmings, so even in prison he was a high-roller. 

Next up is “Killer With One Thousand Faces,” by Donald J. Brock and from the February 1963 Man’s True Danger. I also enjoyed Bob’s intro for this one, as he tells of his failed quest to prove that this story – touted as “true” per men’s mag conventions – really was true. As Bob notes, even the author credit is fake; supposedly this story is told to us by a cop who worked the case, but he doesn’t even insert himself in the tale until the end. The story itself is told in third person. It concerns an actor named Johnny Driscoll who has a penchant for disguise, and puts his acting skills to work in the life of crime. This one was pretty fun, with Driscoll impersonating mobsters – and even, as one test of his acting skills, sleeping in one night with eleven girls, all of them the girls of various stooges, and Driscoll able to fool each gal into thinking he’s their stooge! I also got a chuckle out of how we’re told, almost casually in the final few paragraphs, that this story takes place in 1929! 

“The Specialist” is by Greg Joseph, from the April 1963 Fury. This one’s about Vince Weber, a “death insurance salesman,” who goes to great lengths to concoct cover stories for his true job: syndicate assassin. We see him on a few hits, and are also reminded of the jiggly charms of the “top syndicate hooker” who poses as his wife in the suburbs. But crime never pays in these men’s mag yarns, thus it’s another tale with a “shock” finale. 

“Bugsy Siegel’s Ever-Lovin’ Top Gun” is by Anthony Scadato and from the August 1963 Stag, and like the Capone story is another based mostly on fact. It’s even more like a typical men’s mag story, complete with an opening in which Capone, in a hostpital, pulls a hit and then returns to his hospital room – to find the busty blonde nurse waiting there for him in his bed! This one has a very nice vibe, like a men’s adventure mag variation on Truman Capote in how it’s nonfiction (mostly) told like fiction. 

We get another of those fake “as told to” stories next: “I Hit The Hit Men,” by Jerry “Red” Kelly, as told to Win P. Morgan, from the November 1974 Male. This is an issue I have wanted for a long time, mostly because it contains that “frog man” story by Walter Kaylin I was obsessed with reading for years, until Bob fortunately included it in MAQ #5. This story clearly seems to be a take on that Joey book that came out at the time, the autobiography of the Mafia hitman which I still haven’t read. Like Joey, this one’s by a top Mafia killer who tells us about his job in practical, business-like terms. There’s some tongue-in-cheekery at play: “Red” tells us how a lot of the hitman stuff we see in movies is “crap,” as no real hitman would go for the fancy kills seen in such movies…and as the tale progresses, Red pulls off a bunch of fancy kills, like scuba-diving beneath a boat and planting explosives on it. This one has a great crime-pulp vibe, with memorable lines like, “His eyes were wide open as the bullet plowed into his brain.” 

“The Hit Man Who Turned Out To Be A Woman,” by Craig Campbell and from the March 1975 For Men Only, is notable because it’s another of those men’s adventure mag stories where the illustrations have nothing whatsoever to do with the story. The cool artwork shows a hotstuff female assassin putting on makeup and disguising herself for hits…but the story itself relegates the female assassin to supporting-character status, focused more on the determined Fed who chases her. Indeed there’s almost a horror vibe to this one, as the hitwoman is presented as a mysterious presence, one who shows up and whacks some Mafia stooge, then disappears…and then cops assemble and try to put the pieces together. But more importantly, now that we’re in the ‘70s things are a bit more risque: for her first kill the hitwoman wears a see-through blouse, and we’re told how the soon-to-be-victim is “staring down at the boobs.” Actually the writing for this one is very different from the men’s mag norm, with such oddball phrases as, “Gargulio’s chinless face…reminded Ross of the underside of a toilet bowl.” Bob doesn’t have much to say about author “Craig Campbell” in the intro, so I’m wondering if it’s a pseudonym. Indeed, the weird phrases and unusual story structure had me flashing back to the similarly-oddball work of contemporary crime fiction author Charles Miron. Oh, and I have to note for posterity: Ross, the hotshot Fed on the case, does not have sex with the sexy hitwoman! You’d figure that would be a given in a men’s mag yarn, but it doesn’t happen. 

Finally we have a suprisingly-long men’s mag story from the ‘70s with “The Day Castro Beat The CIA’s Mafia,” by Wayne C. Ulsh and from the October 1974 For Men Only. Another great intro, complete with James Reasoner stating that Ulsh was one of his favorite men’s adventure mag writers of the day. This story is more long-simmer, with a CIA agent named John Cogan trying to orchestrate Castro’s assassinatino in early ‘60s Cuba, Cogan retaining the services of a Mafia hitman named Marzano. It too features a memorably downer ending, with Cogan going to extreme ends to ensure silence…a secret job that’s now openly being discussed in a men’s adventure magazine several years after the fact. I do enjoy how some of these writers seemed to have so much fun with the “true” conceit. 

Otherwise there are a handful of pieces on various topics, most notably the very much in shape Betty Brosmer, and also a feature on the men’s adventure mags published by her husband, Joe Weider. I got into weight-lifting in the early ‘90s so have been aware of Weider for a long time; seeing his name always makes me chuckle, as the first car I ever bought was a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit (this was in ’97, so the car was not new), and it didn’t have power steering, so it was quite an arm workout to drive it. My buddy Ken would always call it “The Joe Weider Car.”

Anyway, Men’s Adventure Quarterly #8 is yet another highly-recommended installment of this excellent series, which will hopefully continue to run for years and years!

Monday, August 28, 2023


DJ, by Alan Jefferys and Bill Owen
No month stated, 1971  Popular Library

I discovered this obscure paperback, first published as a hardcover by Ashley Books in 1971, many years ago – and it seemed to be all I was seeking in trash fiction. A contemporary novel about high-libido radio DJs at the height of the rock era! Hell, even the first-page preview provided a glimpse of one of the DJs dropping acid before a little hippie-chick lovin’. 

But then I actually started to read the book (which is an unwieldy 447 pages)…and discovered that it wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. For one, the majority of the tale takes place in the pre-rock era, like the very early 1960s. Even worse, despite being titled DJ, the novel isn’t even really about the DJs! It’s more focused on the business end of running a radio station in New York City, with the jocks reduced to side characters and hardly any narrative at all spent on their on-air activities. Indeed, the main protagonist isn’t even a jock, but the director of the station, a savvy business-minded dude named Basil Kelcke. 

As it turns out, the novel is more focused on the business aspect of things. It’s also a clumsily-written novel. We’re introduced to the state of things in the mid ‘60s as Kelcke learns that his hit DJ, Daddy-O, wants to retire…because Daddy-O is sick of the drug-centric, moral-lacking rock music that is becoming popular and feels that he is contributing to the overall decline of society. He just wants to move back out to the sticks and raise his child in nature and whatnot. And mind you friends, this is like 1965! Well anyway, apropos of nothing Kelcke flashes back to how he hired Daddy-O in the first place…and this flashback turns out to be the exact same plot that started off the book: how Kelcke manages to replace a famous radio personality and not lose out on market share. 

So we flash back to the sticks and it’s now 1960…I mean the hopes of this being a no-holds-barred novel about FM rock radio jocks at the height of the progressive freeform era are just repeatedly dashed. Kelcke is known for fixing up failing radio stations and we see him accomplish this on a regional station…then he takes a job with WMBE in New York, and here he goes about hiring the guy who will eventually end up quitting, aka the aforementioned Daddy-O. But it’s all so focused on the business end of things – it’s about competition with the other stations, pleasing the numbers guys back at the office, shit like that. Absolutely none of DJ actually features a, you know, DJ doing a show on the air. 

There’s a humorous attempt at sleazing things up, per the style of the times, and sometimes it’s so egregious it made me laugh out loud. Like one part where a famous DJ goes home, blasts a classical LP on his turntable, jerks off, and…dies. Then we have a bit where cipher-like protagonist Kelcke is being cuckholded by some delivery guy…there follows super-explicit parts where this guy gives the goods to Kelcke’s wife, Millie, and, when the hotstuff gal who lives next door discovers them in the act, she gets in on it, too! But this subplot is dropped as soon as it’s introduced, having no ramifications on the narrative. 

That’s another thing. DJ is credited to two authors, and I don’t think they compared notes very often. In fact, there’s actually a titular “DJ,” and he doesn’t appear until halfway through the book. My assumption is one author wrote the first half of the book, which focuses on Basil Kelcke, and the other author wrote the other half of the book, which focuses on DJ, aka Daryl Jackson, Kelcke’s latest jock personality who replaces Daddy-O and becomes the hit WMBE DJ through the 1960s. Stuff that comes up in the first half of the book doesn’t pan out in the second half, and in fact Kelcke, ostensibly the protagonist of the first half, is hardly even a supporting character in the second half. 

But then there’s a lot of dropped stuff even in the first half; for example, Kelcke gets a lovely female assistant named Jeannie, one who is a radio superfan. One thing to remember, though, is that this is the early ‘60s, and thus her penchant for radio history is rooted in the old stuff, ie the Lux Radio Theater and stuff like that. Well anyway, she’s pretty and available but Kelcke is a strictly “I’m married” type (of course the ironing is thick given how his wife’s into a three-way affair), so there’s no hanky panky. But there are parts with her trying to find a guy, going out on dates, and none of it ever really goes anywhere. Indeed, she abruptly leaves the narrative with little fanfare and is never heard from again. 

There’s hardly any feel for the era, either. One of the things that pops up in the first half is the nascent rock movement, which Daddy-O isn’t fond of, but man there’s hardly anything topical about it…it’s just yet another “business thing” Kelcke must concern himself with. The book is so incredibly bland and unfocused, and misses out on so much potential. Even when things progress into the mid-‘60s later on, we hardly get any of the “sixties stuff” one would expect – the editors at Popular Library clearly knew what their readers would want, spotlighting a part where DJ (the guy) does LSD, but man this happens toward the very end of the novel…and almost seems to come out of a bad Afterschool Special from the ‘70s. 

I mean really…the tone of this novel is so unintentionally hilarious. According to DJ, if you take a job at a big-city radio station, you’re bound to be corrupted by the forces of evil, committing adultery, getting hooked on heroin, knocking up jailbait…hell, even robbing liquor stores. But you don’t have to worry about actually peforming on the air, because that’s the one damn thing these two authors don’t show us about the job. 

Oh, and DJ is so pathetic that the novel basically rips itself off; Daddy-O is really a back-to-the-country guy who just wants to fish with his kid and live in the woods and stuff, and doesn’t cotton to all that big-city shit. And the titular “DJ,” aka Daryl Jackson…is the same! Folks, more of that unintnentional hilarity ensues when Kelcke, who has discovered DJ in some regional station, brings him to New York and lets him familiarize himself with the city. I kid you not, folks, but DJ actually vomits in fear after a day out, being hit on by hookers and whatnot. It’s just so stupid and lame and pathetic. And DJ too has a button-downed wife back home, one who worries over him, etc, etc…just a retread of the material with Daddy-O. 

Since the novel occurs in a cultural vacuum there’s no insight into the rock happenings of the time, nor is there – believe it or not – anything about progressive freeform FM radio and how it cornered the rock market. But eventually DJ is swooned by a British band called The Glad Stones that takes him over to London and sets him off on an LSD trip…these guys are total ciphers, though, and the authors do nothing to bring them to life. 

Jefferys and Owen do have a gift for dark comedy, though; there’s a part where DJ is finally pushed into wanton behavior by his friend/enemy Rex, a guy who harbors a grudge because DJ beat him out of the WMBE gig; DJ ends up screwing a pretty young female fan…who turns out to be only fifteen. And he gets her pregnant! The authors bring a nightmarish vibe to it all, as DJ is called into the WMBE offices and questioned about his seduction of the innocent, and they almost casually mention he also got the girl pregnant. Later she shows up, after having gotten an abortion (paid for by WMBE!), and throws herself at him – and DJ literally runs away from her! 

But from here it gets even more darkly comic, with DJ spiralling into heroin addiction; again, hardly anything is made of his actual friggin’ radio job. I mean even the Glad Stones stuff doesn’t pan out; Kelcke sends DJ over to London as a big PR venture for WMBE, for DJ to become friends with the band and then officially welcome them for the station when they come to the US for their tour…but even all this is just sort of brushed under the narratorial carpet. Honestly, so much of DJ is told in summary that I had a hard time connecting with any of it. 

And that’s a helluva thing, because a novel about a rock radio station is a novel I want to read. Unfortunately, DJ is not that novel. It hardly has anything to do with rock or radio, despite being set in that world. Kelcke, Daddy-O, even DJ…all of them don’t even like rock music, and it’s really just treated as another trend WMBE needs to exploit to stay ahead of the competition. 

At least the finale packs an unexpected punch – though again it’s so over the top as to be hilarious. We flash forward to 1971, with DJ now destitute after saying “fuck” on air (courtesy that heroin addiction), and he needs some cash, and there’s a liquor store nearby that he decides to rob…a crazy, out-of-nowhere finale that’s rendered even more crazy with Basil Kelcke suddenly turned into a heartless prick on the final page. As mentioned Kelcke is barely a presence in the second half of the novel, which makes me suspect that Jeffery wrote one half and Owen wrote the other. But I don’t know, and to tell the truth I don’t really care – I’d say DJ is justifiably forgotten.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Mind Behind The Eye

The Mind Behind The Eye, by Joseph Green
No month stated, 1971  Daw Books
(Published in the UK as Gold The Man)

I found this one on the clearance rack of a local Half Price Books the other week and picked it up for no other reason than it had one of the more bonkers plots I’d ever seen: namely, a genetically-enhanced super genius operates the corpse of a 90-foot alien and masquerades as one of the aliens to discover whatever nefarious plans they have in mind for Earth. Indeed the plot is so out-there that the editors at DAW didn’t even bother to synopsize it on the back cover, instead running an excerpt from a London Sunday Times review. 

That’s another thing: the Times review, the small and dense print, the British misspellings (I mean a “u” in “color??” You all invented the language – you should know better!); all of it indicated that The Mind Behind The Eye was the product of a British writer. And also the copyright page states that the book was first published in the UK as Gold The Man. However, it turns out that author Joseph Green was in fact an American, one who worked in the PR wing of NASA during the space race. He published several sci-fi stories and a few novels, but this one for whatever reason was first published as a hardcover in England, with this US edition coming out as a paperback original. 

Now here is an admission, the first such admission I’ve made in all the years of running this blog: I couldn’t even finish this book. The concept was so ludicrous that I kept getting pulled out of the story. And despite appearing like a quick read – a mere 191 pages – the print is so small and dense that The Mind Behind The Eye is a ponderous and slow read. But it’s the plot that was my main hangup; I mean imagine, if you will, a book about a dude secretly operating a giant alien in all aspects of its life, even so far as banging the alien’s wife, and all of it is played totally on the level (the novel is dead serious), and maybe you’ll see what I mean. 

But I liked the setting of the book. We learn it’s around 2009, one of those “past future” scenarios I enjoy so much with space travel and whatnot. But in this world, giant friggin’ aliens attacked Earth’s Mars colony in 1989(!), then later sent bioweapons into Earth orbit, crushing most of the population. But that is just the framework, and in fact Joseph Green takes his time establishing all this. Our main plot concerns Gold, a perfect phsysical and mental specimen of 28 who is one of the two men on Earth who were given a few extra ounces of brain matter in the womb: a supergenius who no longer considers himself homo sapiens, but a new breed far advanced above common man. 

The other supergenius is Petrovna, a deformed dwarf a few years older than Gold, a supergenius created by the USSR. The Cold War still wages in this 2009, but has little impact on the storyline. Nor does the interesting, Colony-esque setup that the United States is now run by the friggin’ United Nations (seriously, just give them a few more years), with “Peacekeepers” running roughshod over the American populace. The opening features a memorable bit where Gold’s estate is invaded by Peacekeepers who have come to round him up, and Gold tells his loyal security force to stand down. 

But Gold isn’t being persecuted; instead, he’s being requested by the UN to take up a challenging task that might save the planet. And he’s not the only man for the job due to his super powers of the mind – it’s because he was also once a pianist! I mean folks it just keeps getting more and more bonkers. They give him a lift to the Moon – which happens quickly, and mostly off-page – and there Gold finally meets Petrovna, who has been running a secret program. It turns out one of the giant aliens has been captured, or at least the corpse of one; recently left behind on Mars by his fellows, the giant alien suffered brain failure due to lack of oxygen. An army of technicians has kept the body alive, and meanwhile Petrovna has had the dead portion of the alien’s brain scooped out and replaced with a two-level compartment in which a pair of human operators can control the body – every aspect of movement, save for involuntary things like breathing or catching oneself before falling down, all of which are still controlled by the remaining portion of brain. 

But it’s all relayed so factually, so blandly. The alien, by the way, looks much as depicted on the cover art of this DAW edition; in fact the illustration, credited to Josh Kirby, is quite faithful to how everything is described when Gold first views the body. It’s just a giant human body, and Green shows off his science background with a lot of off-hand musings on how giant human forms operate the same as smaller ones due to the laws of nature and whatnot. Meanwhile, Petrovna appeals to Gold’s egotism to take the job; Gold, we learn, quickly masters any challenge before him, and in fact even became a millionaire after a day or two on the stock market, and he feels there is nothing to challenge his massive intellect. 

Until now: Gold’s mission will be to go with Petrovna aboard this animated corpse, with Gold helming all the actions like moving and talking and whatnot, with Petrovna in the compartment below Gold overseeing all the body’s unconscious needs…like, uh, when it needs to take shit. An incident which is actually relayed in the novel (but again sans any humor). As for when our two heroes need to take a shit, Green has dealt with that in the novel, as well; there’s a toilet in the compartment and the waste will be flushed into the giant alien’s bloodstream, but given how much smaller humans are the waste won’t cause any undue harm and will be expelled via sweat or somesuch. Things happen, though, and the plan changes, and thus it’s Marina, Petrovna’s lovely young assistant, who takes up the unconscious-monitoring duties when the plan goes into action. 

But man it just kept pulling me out of the fictive dream. I mean Gold and Marina get the body back onto Mars (again, the trip relayed in almost casual fashion – but then the idea is that by 2009 travel to and from the planets is no biggie), and it’s discovered by its fellows. And Gold, who doesn’t even know the language, nor any of the customs of the mysterious aliens, has to feign his way through it all. He makes the body nod when he thinks it needs to, making the other aliens think he’s suffering from memory lost. It’s just so bizarre, like this alien doctor visits him and teaches him how to write, Gold manipulating the alien’s hand to pick up a pencil and write questions…just on and on like that, but we’re to buy it because Gold is so superhumanly intelligent that he can pick all this up with only a little bit of info to work from. 

As the novel plods on the reader begins to see Joseph Green’s intentions, and the title of the original British edition makes sense. Periodically we have flashbacks to Green’s youth, where he was raised in a sort of Government care center by technicians who would test him and whatever, and he’d often run away to experience life first-hand. This being a 1970s novel, that “first-hand” stuff would of course entail sex, thus we have a part where teenaged Gold ran away yet again for the express purpose of visiting a whorehouse, where he had a quick and dirty tussle with a small-breasted young black hooker named Lil’ Bit. 

But anyway, as mentioned Gold no longer thinks of himself as a human – or as a “man,” but here he is hiding in the body of a massive alien man, learning the life and customs of an alien world…in other words, learning how to integrate with society. And all the while there is lovely Marina working there with him, and sure enough the interest begins to grow – I forgot to mention, but another thing is that Gold is sterile (we’re told of his screwing hundreds of pretty women in an experiment to get at least one of them pregnant), and another indication of how he’s not a man. And meanwhile the alien he is impersonating has a wife, and kids, and again Gold learns how to value life while masquerading as this alien. 

But it’s all so friggin’ implausible! I mean here Gold and Marina are, light years from Earth – there’s even casual, off-hand interstellar travel, as the aliens take their recovered friend from Mars back to their home planet, off in another star system. How are Gold and Marina even expected to get back to Earth with the intel they’ve uncovered? What happens if someone on the alien planet decides to do a brain scan on their pal and see the two tiny humans hiding in a hollowed-out cavity? And more importantly, how could any of this plausibly work? 

This is why I had to throw in the towel on The Mind Behind The Eye. I just couldn’t bear it anymore. I mean I love far-out plots, but I can only go so far; a plot like this one actually needed a lighter touch to be a little more palatable. Otherwise Joseph Green is a fine writer…I mean he’s certainly invested in the tale, going to pains to make everything seem plausible, but I feel he set the bar too high for himself. At any rate, the book was worth the two bucks I spent on it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Mission: Impossible #4: Code Name: Little Ivan

Mission: Impossible #4: Code Name: Little Ivan, by John Tiger
No month stated, 1969  Popular Library

After a one-year gap the Mission: Impossible series returned with this fourth (and final) volume. Walter Wager also returned as “John Tiger;” he’d written the first volume back in 1967. That one tied in with the show’s first season; Code Name: Little Ivan ties in with the fourth season. Series regulars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were gone, meaning that their characters Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter do not appear in this book; instead, we have magician/actor Paris (as protrayed by none other than Leonard Nimoy in Seasons 4 and 5), and a female character named Annabelle Drue, a “sloe-eyed” beauty who previously worked as a model before becoming an IMF agent “three years ago.” This character is unique to Code Name: Little Ivan, and likely was a creation of the editors at Popular Library. 

For, page 12 and the back cover copy of Code Name: Little Ivan reveal that Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter did appear in Wager’s original text: Paris is mistakenly referred to as “Rollin” on page 12, and the back cover lists Cinnamon as one of the characters in the book. So it seems clear that these two characters were originally in the book, but had to be replaced when the actors left the show. And only the names were changed, as Paris acts in the same capacity as Rollin Hand – a noted actor who seems mostly into the whole IMF thing for the drama – and Annabelle Drue is described in the same terms Wager used for Cinnamon Carter in the first novel: a “leggy blonde,” etc. I’d imagine some editor at the imprint had to go through the text and change all mentions of “Rollin Hand” to “Paris” and “Cinnamon Carter” to “Annabelle Drue;” other than the aforementioned two misses, the editor did a good job. 

Wager again proves himself the best writer on this short-lived series, and not just because he’s clearly the only writer who actually bothered to watch the show. Once again his novel feels very much like an episode of the series, perhaps one with an expanded budget. While the previous two novels just seemed like generic ‘60s spy action, Code Name: Little Ivan is clearly intended to be a genuine Mission: Impossible story, following the template of every show: IMF “chief” Jim Phelps (described by Wager as an athletic “blond” man…who packs a .357 Magnum beneath his “expensively-tailored” sport coat!) is briefed via self-destructing tape and then goes about pondering the assignment and then putting together a team for the job. Here we get the tidbit that the Impossible Mission Force is comprised of “volunteer civilian daredevils.” 

One additional thing Wager injects into his version of Mission: Impossible is a sense of humor. I wasn’t too fond of this – the show itself is usually pretty cold and aloof – but fortunately it wasn’t too egregious. We aren’t talking pratfalls or anything, but we have a lot of goofy bantering between idiotic East German officials, with a bungling assistant who is the source of his superior’s wrath…and also a lot of the payoffs on the caper are done comedically, which doesn’t gibe with the series vibe at all. This even extends to the typically-cold IMF agents, particularly Paris, who often chortles to himself about “going too far” in his portrayal of an overly-patriotic Red Army officer. There’s also a little more “friendly banter” among the IMF agents than typically seen in the show; Paris, for example, is a bit egotistical, and Phelps convinces him to take the job by appealing to his egotism. 

Now that I think of it, Code Name: Little Ivan doesn’t veer too far from the constraints of the show; given some of the relatively implausible sci-fi scenarios seen on Mission: Impossible, I think the plot of this one could have fit right in. Basically, the IMF team must get into East Germany and steal a protoype Russian tank that’s made of a new alloy. As it turns out, though, there aren’t any big fireworks or really any action whatsoever; late in the novel there is a staged assault on a German military base, but in true Mission: Impossible style it’s all a fakeout, nothing more than Barney Collier hoodwinking the moronic soldiers with a sound effects tape. 

Wager has the mandatory opening down pat: Phelps shows up at a carnival in his unstated home city and proves his marksmanship skills to win a stuffed animal. After exchanging some code words with the proprietor, Phelps gets on a roller coaster – one that stops at the top so he, alone on the ride, can hear the secret tape that’s embedded in the stuffed animal. A secret tape which of course self-destructs after playing. From there to the also-mandatory bit of Phelps in his swank pad going over his IMF dossier to put together his team; here we learn that “Paris” was injured in a recent assignment and has not been stated as fit for duty by the medics, but Phelps figures Paris will take the job when he hears how impossible it is. 

And it truly is one for the “master thieves” of the IMF: they must steal an entire tank and sneak it out of East Germany. So they go about this in the usual caper way: Phelps and Barney pose as salesmen for “Lovely Lips,” a lipstick manufacturer(!), Annabelle is their hotstuff French model, and Paris poses as a KGB agent, with typically-sidelined muscleman Willy Armitage acting as his chaffeur. Willy’s presence was apparently challenging even for the screenwriters – how do you integrate a strongman into every single caper? – but Wager has it that he and Paris often work together as a pair, even though they are so physically mismatched. Of course, this likely made more sense with the original Rollin Hand/Martin Landau of Wager’s original text, rather than the tall and lanky Paris/Leonard Nimoy. 

Despite a brief 128 pages, there’s still a fair amount of padding in Code Name: Little Ivan, mostly due to the scenes featuring one-off East German characters. Also, the caper itself doesn’t unfold with as much tension as on the show. Wager does try to instill a little suspense in some spots, but it comes off as at odds with the show itself, where the capers most always went off without a hitch – even when they seemed to be going wrong, it would turn out to be yet another bit of “5D chess” by mastermind Phelps. Here we have sort of “tense” bits where the machine they plan to use to hide the tank starts leaking water from beneath the big “Lovely Lips” truck and Annabelle must distract the East German guard with some small talk; stuff like that. 

But otherwise there’s no action per se, unlike the previous two novels in the series with their car chases and shootouts. The caper goes down on more of a comedic nature, with Paris – wearing one of the show’s famous “rubber masks” – posing as a Ukranian tank expert and steering it for the awaiting IMF team. Spoiler alert, but just to note it for posterity: the way the IMF team hoodwink the Commies is they have a water-filled rubber replica of the tank, which they leave on the road while Paris drives the real tank into the awaiting Lovely Lips truck. Even here the tone is one of comedy, with an idiotic East German officer insisting one of his men to get on the “tank” the next day, only for the nonplussed soldier to claim the tank is sinking beneath his weight – because it’s a rubber replica filled with water. 

Wager does sort of replicate the moment where the villains realize they’ve been swindled – always one of the highlights of the show – but here, again, it’s mostly comedic, other than an off-page bit where two of the Commies shoot each other due to some IMF hijinkery. But that’s it; the two separate teams drive over the border to West Germany and that’s all she wrote for Code Name: Little Ivan, as well as the Mission: Impossible tie-in series itself. All told this was an okay series, with the caveat that the second and third volumes seemed to be novelizations of an entirely different show.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
July, 1968  Signet Books

If I could see just one movie on the big screen it would be 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially if I could see it on the original Cinerama curved screen setup. Every few years when the movie makes it back into theaters for a special screening I either don’t hear about it or forget about it; the closest I ever came to actually seeing it in a theater was when my wife and I were in London in Fall of 2012 and we were out in the suburbs somewhere, I think the place was called Battlesbridge or something like that, and we passed by a theater that had 2001 listed on the marquee. But the start time was only shown as “Late.” When I asked the snotty British ticket-booth guy when exactly “Late” was, he gave me the snotty British answer that, “It’s generally after the sun goes down and it’s dark out.” I admit, that was very funny, but I was like, “Dude, over in America we have this thing called time.” 

Anyway, I never did see the movie – it had been a long day, and 2001 is a long movie (and not the most snappily-paced one), and the timing just wasn’t right. So I had to be content with my Blu Ray, which I admit I only play every few years, if that. But none of this long preamble has anything to do with the novel at hand, which of course is a well-known book written by one of the more noted science fiction authors of the 20th Century. That said, I’ve never actually read an Arthur C. Clarke novel, even at the height of my sci-fi nerd era as a middle school student in the mid-1980s. Some years ago, in a fit of “vintage space books” collecting, I picked up several of Clarke’s ’60s and ‘70s non-fiction books, like for example The Promise Of Space and Report From Planet Three, but still have not read them – though I have thumbed through them. 

And, judging from this off-hand, casual observation, I want to say that Clarke’s novelization of his own 2001 script reads, for the most part, just like one of Clarke’s non-fiction space books. Whereas Stanley Kubrick’s film leaves much to the viewer’s interpretation, Clarke spends the majority of his novel lecturing the reader on philosophy or explaining how and why this or that happens. In many ways it is a guidebook to a “future” that never happened, same as Arthur Clarke’s non-fiction space books of the era were. For the most part Clarke’s 2001 goes out of its way to leave nothing to the reader’s interpretation, thus cutting out the mystery and esotericism that make Kubrick’s film so fascinating to this very day. 

On the other hand, it is neat to see how this world of 2001 actually works; we’re told how the interstellar craft operate, how HAL 9000 “thinks,” and most notably even what exactly the mysterious Monolith is up to in the Dawn Of Man opening. Again though, this undercuts the drama, and I could imagine Stanley Kubrick (to whom Clarke dedicates the novel) seething at some of Clarke’s “explanations,” mainly because they are rather unimaginative. I mean the Monolith chooses the “Moon Watcher” monkey-man in the Dawn Of Man sequence because he shows the most intelligence of the monkey-men; I mean that’s so much more direct and “duh” than how it’s done in the film, where you wonder if the Monolith itself is directing events (which the novel makes implicit) or if it’s merely the presence of the Monolith that causes the monkey-men to begin thinking. 

This is the line Clarke walks throughout the book. We’ll have a little “narrative material,” where the plot will proceed along, then we’ll have a bunch of expository info-dumping about space exploration. I imagine Clarke must’ve been excited to get this material out to those who wouldn’t be so interested in reading a book about space exploration, but the caveat is there isn’t much “fiction stuff” in his 2001. I mean honestly, if we are looking solely at dramatic thrust and an exciting plot, then the novelization of Moon Zero Two is actually superior. This is of course because there isn’t much plot per se in the film, and Clarke of course follows his own script: the Dawn Of Man sequence, the discovery of the Monolith on the Moon, the flight to Jupiter which climaxes in the psychedelic Dawn Of New Man. While Kubrick follows an absorbing pace (or, conversely, a leisurely pace), letting the visuals tell the story, Clarke must fill pages, gussying up a barebones plot. He does so as if he were writing another of his nonfiction space exploration books; be prepared to learn much of the orbits of asteroids, or what the surface of Jupiter is like. 

That’s another of those little changes to the text – the second half of the film concerns a trip to Jupiter, but here in the novel Jupiter is just the first stop along the way, with Saturn the ultimate goal. That said, there is a sequence – again as if shoehorned in from one of Clarke’s nonfiction books – in which the ship, Discovery, hitches a ride on Jupiter’s orbit to get a boost in speed. This entire sequence is almost lifted from the real-life Apollo 8 mission, which was the first mission in which human occupants of a spacecraft went around the “backside of the moon,” losing contact with Earth. A total “baited breath moment” if ever there was one, but not nearly as dramatic here in the novel – though Clarke does have monosyllabic astronaut heroes Dave Bowman and Frank Poole silently shake hands when the mission completes successfully and they are set on the proper path without any trouble. Curiously this was exactly what real-life monosyllabic astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did when they landed on the moon over a year after 2001 was published – they silently shook hands. 

All these decades later, 2001 can be seen as its own thing, but it’s clearly intended to be the natural progression of where everyone thought the space race was headed; monosyllabic astronauts Bowman and Poole are terse ciphers, same as their real-world counterparts in the Apollo Program. The Cold War is still on in this 2001, but in the novel it isn’t nearly as pronounced as it is in the film; the only Russian character is a scientist who appears in the brief opening sequence in the Space Station, same as in the movie, but here in the novel we learn he is good friends with Dr. Heywood “Pink” Floyd (not his real nickname, btw). Floyd is our main protagonist after the Dawn Of Man opening (which by the way doesn’t climax with the famous “bone toss” scene of the film), and he too is cut from the same overly-formal and reserved cloth as Bowman and Poole. 

Floyd’s actually less relatable in the novel. The bit of him calling his daughter back on Earth (Kubrick’s actual daughter, I seem to recall) is not in the book, but we do get more about him getting a solo ride all the way from Cape Kennedy to the Moon in a little over a day, all at the behest of the President. Nor is the equally-famous bit where Floyd is introduced, napping in zero-gee on his way to the Space Station, here in the novel. And speaking of which, yes the zero-gee toilet is also in the novel; indeed, we get to see it in action, as Floyd uses it (Clarke focused on the the mechanics of the equipment, I should clarify). We also get a lot more pondering on what the Monolith is, and it’s also carefully explained – several times, in fact – that the Monolith was intentionally buried beneath the surface of the moon three million years ago, and let off a “scream” of radio static when the sunlight touched it upon its excavation. 

In other words, as Floyd explains late in the novel, the Monolith is an “alarm,” one set there by some mysterious race of beings. But otherwise there is a lot of pondering throughout 2001, to the point that the narrative often comes to a dead stop. And it’s all space-geek stuff, too. Like a part where Discovery is coming upon its first asteroid – the orbits of which, we are informed, have carefully been laid out in the navigation so the ship will never encounter any of them on the journey to Saturn – and Poole and Bowman geek out about taking photos of it via missile-launched robot. And this goes on and on, a somewhat thrilling scene…with the caveat that the asteroid is thousands of miles away. But again it’s just a chance for Arthur C. Clarke to show off his knowledge of space exploration and how such things are done, and it’s just more stuff that seems to be shoehorned in from a science journal. 

There is no mystery in Clarke’s 2001. Everything is told in a bald, matter of fact style that comes off as insulting, at least when compared to how the film left so much to the viewer’s interpretation. HAL 9000, referred to simply as “Hal” in the book, also suffers – Clarke is at pains to explain away the AI’s responsibility for the events of the final quarter. Again, the movie leaves it vague; did Hal go nuts, or is it the effect of the Monolith? (Notice how when the Monolith appears, it also teaches how to kill – first the man-apes who kill animals and then their fellows, and later in the film HAL 9000 goes on a killspree.) All the events on Discovery are different in the novel: Poole’s fate, the fate of the scientists still in cryo – even Bowman’s fate is different, as after all this happens, including his shutting down of Hal, he’s on the ship for three more months before we get to the Star Child finale. 

This is what I mean about forward momentum being nil in the novelization of 2001. I mean really. We have this huge catastrophe on the ship…then a few pages later we have Bowman walking around the cleaned-up ship and listening to opera. Even here there is endless pondering and info-dumping; all fascinating if you are looking for science fact, but kind of distracting when you are looking for science fiction. But anyway, I was going on about the explanation on Hal. This is where Heywood Floyd returns to the scene; he calls Bowman (rather than the video briefing Bowman accidentally activates in the film) and tells him that Hal had been programmed with the ship’s true mission, and keeping that knowledge secret caused the AI to go haywire. 

The climax is mostly the same, but instead of a psychedelic lightshow it is, once again, a bunch of info-dumping. Bowman, having reached Saturn and knowing he doesn’t have enough oxygen to surive the years until a new ship can be built to come rescue him, gets in a pod and decides to investigate the massive “Big Brother” Monolith that is floating around the planet. Nearly a thousand feet long, this Monolith is “full of stars,” per Bowman’s frantic last call back to Mission Control on Earth – and no, he doesn’t say anything in the film. But even here, while floating through changing worlds with crashed space ships beneath him and strange sights in the varying skies, Bowman still ponders over everything in a factual, reserved, “man of science” style that is impossible for the reader to identify with. And again it just comes off as several pages of Clarke showing off his knowledge of astrology and science. 

It's also kind of goofy – compared to how creepy the finale of the film is. Here there’s no question Bowman is being watched by aliens as he finds himself in a makeshift cottage…complete with even boxes of cereal! And TV shows with “a famous African reporter” on television! All of it, he realizes, stuff from two years ago, when the Moon Monolith was discovered (neither the film nor the book bother to spell out that the stuff with Heywood Floyd is actually in 1999, not 2001). So Bowman theorizes that the aliens used TV broadcasts of that time to create a perfect little cage for him. Then he goes to sleep(!), and we get a sort of psychedelic sequence where he turns into a Star Child advanced human thing with cosmic powers, Clarke calling back to the finale of his Dawn Of Man sequence earlier in the book: “He would think of something.” 

I’m glad I finally got around to reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, but to tell the truth I feel that he took away a lot of the film’s magic. Sure, much of the plot is based around Clarke’s own story ideas and whatnot, but still. His incessant need to explain and exposit just stops the narrative dead at times, and the book has none of the ultramod sixties sci-fi vibe I so love, like the film did…a look which I believe reached it’s apotheosis in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s UFO. Undeterred, Clarke went on to write 2010 and 2061 and others in the series, but I doubt I’ll ever read them – though I will read some of his nonfiction space books.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Music Of The Spheres

The Music Of The Spheres, by Allister Thompson
April, 2021  Independently Published

I recently went on another of my rock novel kicks and started trying to find a novel I’d come across the mention of years ago, something about a prog rock band. At the time I wasn’t into prog rock so didn’t look further into the book, the title of which now escapes me. But I’m into prog rock now, baby, so I went on a hunt for “novel about a prog rock band.” I never did manage to find the novel I’d come across the mention of years ago, but somehow I did manage to end up finding out about a writer named Allister Thompson and his recently-published rock novel The Music Of The Spheres, a sort of alternate-history rock novel (set in 1968) in which psychedelic rock bands are the vanguard of free speech in a corporate and drug-controlled world. 

Running to 270 pages, The Music Of The Spheres does a fine job of bringing to life this strange alternate 1968; Thompson sprinkles background material into the narrative instead of shoehorning in all of his world-building. But we learn that for one, the United States never existed in this timeline, with the Americas still a colony of the Empire. Also, despite being set in 1968, there’s an almost sci-fi vibe to the novel, with entire cities covered in domes and such advanced technology that compact discs have recently been introduced into the late 1960s music market. 

Despite this, the rockers of our real world still proliferate, though in alternate forms and with names that are jokes on their real-world counterparts. For example, psychedelic voyagers The Peuce Frank, with lead guitarist Bill Fillmour and acid casualty former lead singer Ned Barrett, is clearly intended to be Pink Floyd, just as jazzy psych voyagers The Flying Teapots are intended to be Gong. Better yet, we have meat-eating, right-winged Ned Loogeant and his band the Muttonchop Killers, known for their hatred of all things hippie – not to be confused, of course, with Ted Nuget and the Amboy Dukes. Thompson fills the novel with jokey fake band names that are plays on real-world bands, but occasionally will slip in reference to a real group – for example I caught references to The Pretty Things, Kaleidoscope, and Fairport Convention. 

The opening of The Music Of The Spheres is especially cool. Hero Simon Hastings (the novel is told in third-person, by the way, but we have a first-person opening by a narrator – a scholar telling us this story in the format of a novel – who will occasionally pop up in the narrative) is with his band the Spheres in New York, about to play a concert with the Muttonchop Killers and The Asparagus Stalks, “a group of white Hundu vegetarians who propounded their creed via the new hard rock genre, a style of music highlighted by an overpowering use of distortion.” 

Thompson slowly brings us into this world, in which all drugs have been legalized – at least, those that are not deemed to be addictive. It’s a sort of dystopia, with the Cartels running South America (again, the novel’s 1968 seems to be taken from future decades) and the corporations running the West, and the rock groups are allowed to exist so as to be heroes for the people. It’s a cool conceit, with these pyschedelic rockers nearly seen as superheroes by the downtrodden masses, their art welcomed by a drug-addled community. Visionaries who are given free reign to pursue their most crazed excesses – in other words, it’s a late ‘60s in which the whole space rock/prog rock thing was fully formed…and the more out-there musicians are the ones at the forefront. Time moves so fast in this world that even previous trendsetters “The Beach Bums” and whatever the fake Beatles name was (I forget) have been pushed aside by the burgeoning space rock scene. As for the Rolling Stones, they’re a Mick and Keith-lacking group called the Wylde Flowers which goes more for improvisation on drums, bass, and organ. 

Our hero is referred to as “Hastings” throughout, and I thought it was strange that we’d refer to our “hippie” hero by his last name. But then, Simon Hastings doesn’t come off much like a hippie…he’s in his early 30s and is a bit too posh and reserved. I mean, “hippie” is a pretty specific term, referring to a specific type of person, and not an accurate description of Simon Hastings. I just chalked this up as another of those alternate reality differences, as Hastings is called a “hippie” by all and sundry, including his dad when Hastings goes back to London to visit him. 

For me the main problem with The Music Of The Spheres is this cool world of free drugs and cosmos-soaring acid rockers isn’t as exploited as it could be; instead, we take a turn in the first quarter into a murder-conspiracy angle, and despite returning to the “rock novel” setup around page 150 Thompson still keeps focusing on the murder and the conspiracy. I just didn’t find this nearly as compelling as the world itself; the fifty-page opening sequence alone, in which Hastings and his band, the Hawkwind analogue The Spheres, take a variety of drugs in perparation for their upcoming gig, watching as the Muttonchop Killers get in a fistfight with the Asparagus Stalks (who just want to do a little group meditation). 

But then Guy Calvert, charismatic lead singer and poet of The Spheres (not to be confused with Robert Calvert of Hawkwind, of course), ODs on stage – a parallel of the climactic incident in the earlier rock novel Triple Platinum. And, as with that novel, we’ll find that there was more behind this death than just wanton drug use, though that’s what the cops chalk it up as. Thompson has it that the rock scene is so hated by straight society that cops rarely investigate claims of murder or foul play in the hippie world, thus the cops on the scene declare that Guy got what was coming to him, what with all his drug use, and there’s no “murder” to investigate. 

So the frustrating thing is…we don’t even get to see anything with the Spheres! The first pages build up this world, with Hastings and his group about to have their big gig, supporting their latest album…and Calvert dies almost as soon as the gig starts (though of course first he confirms that his mellotron is set up!), and next thing you know the band’s broken up and Hastings is on his way down to Colombia to track down the man he thinks murdered Guy – a Hispanic type who showed up with a lot of new drugs for the band to try, eagerly encouraging them and then watching from the wings as if waiting for something bad to happen to them. In other words, he was an assassin, psychedelic drugs his weapon of choice, and Hastings spends some pages finding out who he is and where he came from. 

As mentioned the novel takes place in a world that seems curiously modern, so this South America is run by the cartels (even the airlines!), and cocaine dust is funnelled into the air pumps for the domed city. I did really enjoy this “drugged-out future” scenario but don’t feel that it was sufficiently exploited, either; Hastings starts off the novel as a partaker of these weird drugs, but after Guy’s murder he abstains for the most part. But those opening 50 pages are cool, though – Hastings, for example, starts off the novel taking something called a “C-Enhancer,” a drug which allows him to feel the emotions of those around him. 

Actually, the first half of The Music Of The Spheres had me experiencing déjà vu. The psychedelic superhero protagonists, the wanton drug use, the alternate ‘60s setting, the general British vibe – finally I realized it reminded me of the obscure British comic Storming Heaven, which I reviewed here back in 2010. The Music Of The Spheres is similar in many regards to that comic, minus of course actual superhero stuff. I found the odd little touches the coolest, like a minor mention of a current craze in which London juveniles wear eerie blue lenses that cover their eyes, making them look like little aliens. 

The novel also picks up the vibe of another book I reviewed here: namely, The Psychedelic Spy. Hastings hooks up with a cartel operative in Colombia who gives him a special pistol, which reminded me of the special gun used in that earlier novel. Not that Hastings becomes a spy. Instead, he heads back to London and here, near the midway point, the novel gets back into the “rock novel” vibe, with Hastings and his former bandmates putting together a new group, to be named Astronomy. Again they are essentially Hawkwind, and also Hastings’s American girlfriend Teresa plays keyboards. 

That’s right, girlfriend. For a novel about a drugged-out rocker, The Music Of The Spheres is G-rated in the sex department. Typical of a novel written today, there is zero exploitation of any female characters – the only characters who show any libido are the pricks in the Muttonchop Killers, and given the derision everyone treats them with, it’s clear these inclinations are to be seen with dismay. My Trash Senses were already tingling in the first few pages, in which Hastings thinks of his girlfriend, and we’re told he’s always been “a one-woman guy.” Sadly, the Sleaze-O-Meter stayed at one or below for the entirety of the novel; even when said girlfriend, Teresa, finally appears halfway through the book, she spends the majority of the novel ranting against the establishment and pushing Hastings to fight for socialism. 

We have some stuff with Astronomy touring around Europe – including an appearance of a pseudo-Can (twenty years ago I was obsessed with Can, but these days I can barely stand to listen to them). And Thompson actually describes the music (according to his bio, he himself was once in a prog band), so unlike a lot of the “rock novels” I’ve reviewed here we actually get an idea of what some of these songs sound like. I also loved how a mellotron was mentioned throughout the text. But gradually the “conspiracy” angle comes back, climaxing in a cool scene where Hastings uses that special sonic gun he was given in Colombia. The finale of the novel has Hastings finding out that someone is targeting the top “radicals” in the rock movement, Guy having been one of the victims and Hastings finding his own name on the target list. It all climaxes with Hastings infiltrating the fortress of a German pharma company that is the main psychedelic drug provider of the West – again, all like a spy novel. 

I haven’t mentioned yet, but The Music Of The Spheres is self-published. I have to say though, judging from the self-published books I’ve read over the years, the old saw about self-published books being poorly written should be dismissed these days. What I’m trying to say is, the novel is very well written, and Thompson keeps the narrative moving, though sometimes he summarizes events that I felt should have been dwelt more upon. My main contention was that the book panned out to be something different than what I expected – I still think the concept of a legion of drug-fueled psychedelic shaman-rockers acting as the “voice” of the collective masses is ripe for potential, so maybe Thompson could do another book in this world and remove the crime and conspiracy angles.