Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review: The War in 2020

Book Review: 'The War in 2020'
by Ralph Peters

3 / 5 Stars

‘The War in 2020’ first was published in hardback in 1991; this Pocket Books mass market paperback (607 pp) was published in January 1992.

I remember reading the paperback version when it first came out, and thinking that its scenario was quite reasonable for the times; how does the novel fare when re-read some 26 years later, just two years away from 2020 ?

The framework of the novel posits that, in 2020, the United States and the West are economically, politically, and militarily weakened from decades of combatting various Small Wars instigated by a resurgent Japan. As the novel opens, Japan, protected by an impregnable ‘Star Wars’ space defense system, is casting a covetous eye on the mineral wealth of Siberia. 

Rather than risk their own military in any adventurism, the Japanese have carefully co-opted the Iranians, the Arabs, and Central Asian states into forming an Islamic Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is simple: expel Russia from its Asian territories, preferably with as much bloodshed as possible. Once the Russians are eliminated, then all of the territory of the Soviet Union east of the Ural Mountains will be open to Japanese exploitation.

Author Peters’s central premise is that by 2020, Russia has continued the downward slide begun in the early 1990s, becoming an Orwellian nightmare of poverty and decay. The outgunned and outnumbered Russian ground forces still surviving in Central Asia are fighting a valiant, but ultimately hopeless, delaying action against this Muslim Coalition.

Despite the poor prognosis for Russia’s survival, the United States has decided to break with decades of hostility and suspicion towards its former rival in order to provide aid, in the form of the Seventh Cavalry and its new ‘wonder weapon’, the M-100 model tilt-rotor attack aircraft. Secreted in an abandoned factory complex in Omsk, the Seventh prepares for a massive surprise attack on the encroaching ground forces of the Muslim Coalition - and their Japanese advisors.

For Colonel George Taylor, commanding the Seventh, the forthcoming assault is not just an effort by the US to prop up Russia and prevent complete Japanese hegemony over global resources. It’s a chance for revenge: payback against his earlier defeat at the hands of Japanese proxies in southern Africa.

But as the Seventh goes into action, Taylor and his troops will discover that surprise attacks can be a two-way street……….and the loyalties of politicians and allies easily can be switched……….

Upon a second reading, ‘The War in 2020’ came across a mixed success. The combat sequences are the best thing about the novel: well-written, suspenseful, and with an authenticity superior to that of most techno-thriller novels. The depiction of the near-future World is a reasonable extrapolation from the state of affairs in 1991, and the military technologies outlined in the novel are not so far-fetched that they give the book a contrived atmosphere. Authors Peters, who is a former US Army Foreign Area Officer, is quite accurate with some of his geopolitical predictions, particularly those involving Islamic fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, author Peters intersperses his combat sequences with an equivalent number of lengthy ‘character development’ segments. These segments are overwritten, filled with metaphorical, often poetic language that is incongruous in a technothriller. The presence of these characterization segments routinely leeches momentum from the narrative; in fact, the Seventh Cavalry doesn’t fire a shot until page 341 out of 607: more than halfway through the book........... !

Summing up, ‘The War in 2020’ is a 600+ page novel with content divided equally between the genres of melodrama and technothriller. Make sure you have the patience for this type of construct before tackling this book.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Jive Glossary

celebrating Black History Month 2018

The Jive Glossary
from Can You Dig It ? The 70s Soul Experience
Rhino Records Boxed CD set, October 2001

Back in the early 2000s, when Napster was just starting to gain traction and the idea of listening to - and trading - in digital music files hadn't yet become a phenomenon, it was not unusual for companies like Rhino Records to release elaborately packaged boxed sets of CDs containing compilations of singles from all types of musical genres.

In October 2001 Rhino released a six-CD boxed set titled Can You DIg It ? The 70s Soul Experience that featured a variety of songs that made it into the Billboard R & B charts during the interval from 1970 - 1977.

The nicely produced booklet included in the boxed set contained a two-page 'Jive Glossary' of 70s Black slang (to help Caucasian listeners, in particular, to get in the groove in a proper way). 

Some of the definitions are laugh-out-loud funny. I've posted scans of the Glossary below; clicking to maximum magnification should make these legible on a PC screen (less so on a smartphone screen...........? ).  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Rook: Hickey and the Pirates

The Rook in: 'Hickey and the Pirates'
Story by Bill Dubay, art by Jose Ortiz
from Eerie 99 (February 1979)

'Hickey and the Pirates', a Rook episode from Eerie No. 99, published in 1979, features some excellent ink-and-wash artwork from Spanish artist Jose Ortiz. Ortiz's full-page depiction of a battle at sea between Chinese junks is certainly a highlight, and something that you likely won't see in any contemporary comic books.

Bill DuBay's script is as wordy, as usual; with this episode, there is more of an emphasis on sarcastic humor, showcased mainly by the irascible Bishop Dane, the Rook's great-great grandfather. 

Some of this humor would not pass the censors in any contemporary comic book. It's also likely that were it to be published today, 'Hickey and the Pirates' would spur charges of racism as well as homophobia.

But read the episode for yourself and make your own judgments...............

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Divine and John Waters, 1970s

Divine and John Waters, 1970s
Divine (Glenn Harris Milstead) (left) and John Waters (right), sometime in the 1970s. Photograph by Christopher Makos

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: Dune Messiah

Book Review: 'Dune Messiah' by Frank Herbert

1 / 5 Stars

‘Dune Messiah’ first was serialized in Galaxy magazine in 1969; the hardcover version was released in that same year. This Berkley Books mass market paperback version (256 pp) was published in June, 1970, and features cover art by Jack Gaughan.

‘Dune Messiah’ is set 12 years after the events in Dune. The novel takes place entirely on Arrakis (i.e., planet Dune), in the capital city of Arrakeen, where Paul Atreides rules the galaxy from his massive, well-fortified palace. Atreides is assisted by a number of supporting characters from Dune, including his younger sister Alia, his wife Chani, the Fremen leader Stilgar, and Princess Irulan.

As the novel opens, Atreides finds himself deeply troubled by the massive loss of life, and political turmoil, inflicted on the galaxy by the jihad being carried out in his name by the Fremen. The jihad has grown to the point where Atreides can no longer control it, and threatens to plunge the galaxy into chaos. Atreides remains cursed – or blessed - with a prescience that lets him determine the most likely of a seemingly infinite number of possible futures, but none of the choices open to him for halting the jihad are benign – all come with the risk of sending the galaxy even further into barbarism.

Chafing under the rule of the jihadis, a group of conspirators - all of them traditional enemies of the Fremen and the Atreides dynasty - have set into motion a plan to remove Paul from the throne, and end the rule of House Atreides. The plot’s success hinges on infiltrating a clone of Duncan Idaho, Paul’s combat instructor who was killed by Harkonnen forces in Dune, into the Atreides household. Once the clone has ingratiated itself into Paul's confidences, it will be triggered by an embedded subliminal command to betray Atreides and his sister Alia.

Paul Atreides is aware of the plot against his life, but is restrained by the knowledge that acting too precipitously against the conspirators could have dire consequences for the future of his household, and Arrakis and its people. Thus, he is forced to employ subtle counters to the machinations of the conspirators, waiting for the crucial moment when all possible outcomes coalesce into one single moment of action and reaction…….a moment that will change forever the fate of the galaxy………..

I found ‘Dune Messiah’ to be a disappointment. Like many of Herbert’s novels, the narrative is relentlessly constructed around lengthy exchanges of dialogue; even more so than in Dune, these are overburdened with figurative, metaphorical prose designed to evoke a Zen-like sensibility (indeed, the cloned Duncan Idaho refers to himself as a ‘Zensunni’ adept). Herbert’s continuous onslaught of koans, and passages showcasing Paul Atreides’s existential angst, gives 'Dune Messiah' a plodding, obtuse quality throughout its comparatively short length. 

The few action sequences begrudgingly doled out to the reader are well-written, but also too few, and too far between, to impart needed momentum to the narrative.

[I won’t disclose any spoilers regarding the denouement, save to say that I found it rather predictable.]

Summing up, reading ‘Dune Messiah’ left me underwhelmed, and in no hurry to tackle the next volume in the series, ‘Children of Dune’. If you are a dedicated Herbert and Dune fan then maybe your point of view will be different, but I can’t endorse ‘Dune Messiah’ as a must-have.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

more Books from Britain

more Books from Britain

An eclectic mix of titles from a recent order from the UK: two horror potboilers from Laurence James; a rather obscure fantasy novel from Simon Majors; a disaster novel involving the flooding of London; horror novels from Bernard King and Whitley Strieber; the very first entry (1966) in the Pan Books horror stories anthology; and finally, a sci-fi title from Terry Greenhough.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Book Review: Together Brothers

celebrating Black History Month 2018

Book Review: 'Together Brothers' by Jim Robinson
4 / 5 Stars

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to celebrate Black History Month by covering a book - fiction or nonfiction - that illuminates the Black experience here in the United States.

For this year's Black History Month selection, the book is 'Together Brothers' by Jim Robinson.

‘Together Brothers’ (154 pp) was published by Award Books in 1974. It’s a tie-in novelization for the film of the same name.

‘Together Brothers’ is now regarded as one of the best films to emerge from the Blaxploitation era; its low-low budget turned out to be an advantage in terms of giving the film a documentary-based visual style. The plot is straightforward without being perfunctory, and the cast, mostly made up of amateur actors, delivered very good performances.

The soundtrack was composed by a young, up-and-coming soul artist named Barry White. His ‘Together Brothers’ theme song is pure classic early 70s R & B. Also good is ‘Somebody Gonna Off the Man’.

You can access the film via YouTube; even though the video quality is quite poor, it is watchable.

The novel adheres quite closely to the film, which is set in Galveston, ca. 1974. Needless to say, the ghetto lacks air conditioning, and everyone is coated with a film of sweat from the steamy Summertime heat. Despite this, the Brothers wear long pants and hats. See the still below - years before L. L. Cool J made wearing a Bucket Hat a major fashion statement, the Together Brothers made it their own hip accessory:

‘Mr. Kool’, the young black police officer assigned to foot-patrol the ghetto, is a representative of The Man. Although Mr. Kool is not welcomed by everyone, many of the residents see him as one of their own, and a needed presence amid the poverty of the ghetto.

The neighborhood gang: teenagers H. J., A. P., Monk, Gri’Gri’, and Mau Mau, are on guarded (but mutually respectful) terms with Mr Kool. 

When Mr Kool is murdered – brutally shot down in the street at night by an unknown assailant - H. J.’s younger brother, five year-old Tommy, is the sole witness. Although Tommy has seen the killer’s face, the shock of seeing the murder has left Tommy unable to speak.

Aware that the killer will try and eliminate Tommy, H.J. and the gang come to a fateful decision: they will launch their own, street-level investigation and discover who killed Mr Kool. This means they will tangle with a rival Latino gang, the local crime lord, indifferent prostitutes, and the police themselves. 

But for H. J., A.P., Monk, Gri’Gri’ and Mau Mau, the stakes are too high to let the death of Mr Kool turn into yet another unsolved killing…….. 

‘Together Brothers’ is a quick read and a good complement to the film (some of the more cryptic conversations and actions in the film are more clearly established in the novelization).

Unfortunately, copies of the novelization are going for steep prices (i.e., $10) at the usual online vendors. Ten dollars is a bit too steep, but if you can find a copy that is a little less pricey, ‘Together Brothers’ is well worth picking up.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Pretenders, 1980

The Pretenders
London, 1980
left to right: Pete Farndon, Martin Chambers, Chrissie Hynde, and James Honeyman-Scott
One morning I received a call to say that Jimmy’s body had been found on the sofa of a girl’s flat. He had died of heart failure due to cocaine intolerance. After we fired Pete because his drug problems were affecting his performance, he drowned in a bathtub with a needle in his arm. Common stuff. Not unique to us.

- Chrissie Hynde

Friday, February 2, 2018

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats
Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980
Edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette
PM Press, December 2017

2017 was a good year for lavishly illustrated retrospectives of paperback books.

September saw the publication of Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell, which examined American horror paperbacks from the late 60s to the early 90s.

December 2017 saw the release of 'Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats’, from US publisher PM Press, a small press company that mainly publishes books devoted to Marxism, Class Struggle, the Liberation of the Oppressed, and other far-left topics...... ?!

Copies of 'Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats’ are readily available at your usual online book retailer, as well as from the PM Press website.

‘Girl Gangs’ is a well-made, 336 page trade paperback tome, printed on good quality paper stock, with high resolution reproductions of some 400 covers of paperbacks published from the early 50s all the way up to the early 80s. The emphasis here is on paperbacks published in Australia, the US, and the UK, with the lineup of 20 contributors reflecting this multinational approach.

Editor Iain McIntyre has published several books on Australian pop culture, while Editor Andrew Nette maintains the Pulp Curry blog devoted to Australian crime and noir fiction.

The chapters in ‘Girl Gangs’ are arranged in a loose chronological order, leading off with the chapter titled ‘Teenage Jungle’, which covers the advent of the juvenile delinquent genre in the 50s, spearheaded by Irving Shulman’s 1947 novel The Amboy Dukes. ‘Beat Girls and Real Cool Cats’ covers pulp fiction treatments of Beatnik culture, and ‘Love Tribes’, the ‘hippie’ movement of the late 60s and early 70s. 

‘Groupies and Immortals’ deals with novels about rock and roll, groupies, and hedonism, while ‘Wheels of Death’ covers exploitation literature about motorcycle gangs. ‘Cults of Violence’ switches to the UK and its unique pulp fiction about skinheads, terrace terrors, and punks. The final chapter, ‘Outsiders’, deals with the Young Adult novels released in the US in the late 60s and early 70s.

The text content of the book consists of critical overviews and synopses of selected books and genres, and biographical sketches and interviews with pulp fiction authors. These span novels published in Australia, the UK, and the US (what can I say, once again, Canadians may feel left out), sometimes offering insights into the cultural and sociological tropes that gave a distinctive ‘national’ flavor to each country’s paperbacks.

One potential problem with a book like this is the temptation for some contributors to adopt a self-consciously ‘scholarly’ or ‘academic’ tone in their writings. Thankfully, most of the contributors to ‘Girl Gangs’ avoid this temptation and endeavor to keep their prose simple and direct, although no one adopts the irreverent humor that permeates Grady Hendrix’s analyses of Paperbacks from Hell. The only real clunker in ‘Girl Gangs’ is an essay by UK writer Stewart Home, whose use of terms like ‘wimmin’, ‘bigoted stereotypes’, ‘heterosexist conditioning’, and ‘patriarchal sexualities’ makes his piece an (unintentional) parody of a college term paper in Gender Studies.

The cornucopia of paperback covers that make up the meat and potatoes (or tofu and kale, if you prefer) of ‘Girl Gangs’ are well integrated into the text and anyone picking up the book for a casual look-through is sure to find themselves quickly becoming engrossed.

For my part, the contents of ‘Girl Gangs’ provided all manner of new insights and appreciations of the genre, particularly for novels released in Australia and the UK, very few of which ever made the successful journey to the US.

As with any book that attempts to cover such a wide swath of pop culture, an argument could be made that ‘Girl Gangs’ overlooks some major works. Missing in action is any mention of Warren Miller's Cool World (1959), Richard Price’s The Wanderers (1974), and Trevor Hoyle’s Rule of Night (1974), all of which were squarely situated in the genre, but easily transcended it, by virtue of their vision and literary merits. 

That said, even the most ardent fans of the genre are sure to find new discoveries among the pages of ‘Girl Gangs’, and here is where a significant problem emerges: many of the treasures unveiled in the book are long out of print, and in the hands of speculators who are intent on charging exorbitant prices for copies, even copies in poor condition. Some encouragement can be gained from the fact that some of the novels showcased in ‘Girl Gangs’ are available as eBooks, but if you’re like me, an eBook is never as good as having the real paper-and-glue thing there in your hand. So be warned: reading 'Girl Gangs' is going to lead to myriad impulse purchases that your bank account probably is not well prepared for......

Summing up, if you’re a fan of the genre, a student of Anglophone pop culture of the postwar years, a devotee of commercial art, or someone who enjoys offbeat, weird, twisted deviant, and disturbing material (and here John Waters fans come quickly to mind) then ‘Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats’ is well worth picking up !