Monday, April 29, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Teklords"

Teklords, by William Shatner, was published as a hardcover by Ace in 1991. The edition that caught my eye was Ace’s 1992 mass market edition. Its foil gold background and embossed title perfectly frame an imaginative and intriguing science fiction scene. The artist: Boris Vallajo


The first lines:
Friday, May 16, 2120, was grey and rainfilled across most of Greater Los Angeles.
It was not going to be an especially good day for Jake Cardigan.
There were nine Tek novels with William Shatner’s name on the cover, and each was written by the savvy and accomplished science fiction writer Ron Goulart. Teklords is the second in the series and my memory of reading it in the early-1990s is a very good one. The Tek novels were translated into a comic book series and four low-budget made for television movies and an even lower budget series.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


A man can get into a lot of trouble if he’s lonely. If he’s just lonely enough and has time on his hands. That’s a combination made for trouble.
Burt Keating is from New York—just outside Buffalo—where he manages a small savings and loan branch. He is in his mid-thirties with a beautiful wife and a very comfortable life. That changes when his wife leaves on an icy night for some butter, and a few blocks from their house she is crushed between a Buick and a tree. Burt can’t seem to function anymore. He sells the house, takes a leave of absence from his job and purchases a new car—
I wanted to flee to a new world and I knew that short of some South Pacific island, southern Florida was as close as you could come. After a few restless days in Miami, I took an apartment on the beach at Ft. Lauderdale some twenty miles away. It was a place called the Tropic Moon Apartments.
Unfortunately the miles and warmer clime can’t set Burt’s mind right. The only thing that has any meaning is the memory of his dead wife and the life they had, but that is over and there is nothing he can do to change it. Then he meets Alicia Shafton. A woman who seems as lost and lonely as Burt, but she has a secret. Her husband, a gambler and shyster, died and left a lockbox with a note attached. It instructed her to sell the box to a man named Ralph Emory for $200,000. The only problem: Everything goes wrong and Burt can’t help but get involved.
The Quaking Widow is the first work by Robert Colby I have read and it won’t be the last. It hit a note with me—the story, setting, characters—that many works of fiction don’t. It opened with a blast—an immediate and drastic change for a protagonist with an uncertain future—and cruised forward into ever increasing peril. The characters were the expected: sleek, beautiful, mysterious, and good and bad in varying measures.
The setting is drawn marvelously. As I read, I mourned the Florida that was. The pre-Disney World and Miami Vice Florida that was one part hillbilly and another parts chic, wealthy and dangerous. A Florida that a person can get lost in. The same Florida that was painted in the novels of John D. MacDonald with his vivid and beautiful flashes of prose.
The plotline is the expected—the dangerous and unknown femme, murder, a wildcard nympho and mysterious opponents that will stop at nothing to get the prize. In this case the box and its contents. I guessed the major plot turns before they were revealed, but it didn’t bother me because the story, while plot-driven, is textured with enough humanity to keep it more than interesting. The pacing didn't hurt either. It is perfectly developed with a well-balanced mixture of action and suspense, with a dash of romance and mystery. The prose is hardboiled and, at times, clever and rich:
She turned around and walked briskly across the room, her high, firm buttocks waving an insolent goodbye.
The Quaking Widow is worth tracking down. It is fifty-three years old, but it is more than just nostalgia. Heck, I wasn't even on the radar when it was written. Instead it is a fine example of a linear and well-told tale that is both entertaining and exciting.
It was published by ACE (D-195) in 1956, and coupled with Owen Dudley’s The Deep End, and this review was originally published all the way back in 2009.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Flight"

The Flight, by C. F. Runyan, was published as a trade paperback by Bantam in 1991. The edition that caught my eye was Bantam Falcon’s 1992 mass market edition. The shadowy and cold-colored cover art is simple with a Twilight Zone-like mysterious appeal. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

The opening lines:

Somewhere in the large Georgian house a phone rang.
Brigadier General Scott Armitage entered his study, tossed his briefcase onto a side table, and cocked his head peevishly at the insistent ringing.
The Flight was C. F. (Clair) Runyan’s only novel. It’s a big and intriguing thriller with a science fiction element—time travel from 1994 to wartime Philippines in 1942. When I read it as a teenager, it captured my imagination with its intricate plot and the bleak rendering of the Pacific War. Runyan was a historian and retired Marine Corps Infantry officer. He served from World War II to Vietnam. He died in 2010 to little fanfare as his obituary in the San Diego Tribune attests:
RUNYAN, CLAIR F. Lt. Col. USMC, Ret. Dec. 19, 1919 to Feb. 4, 2010. No services held. Cremation with ashes scattered at sea.
My snooping around the internet also found a letter-to-the-editor Runyan wrote in the same newspaper about a critical review of the terrible Bruckheimer / Michael Bay film, Pearl Harbor (2001):
I guess we should cut critics some slack when it comes to history, and (critic-at-large) Welton Jones in his critique of “Pearl Harbor” could use some (“Echoes of yesteryear in ‘Pearl Harbor,’” May 27). Much of what he wrote was good, such as his description of World War II as “the most turbulent conflict in human history, a cruel and monstrous and capricious maelstrom. . . .” That’s a welcome counterpoint to the sappy “The Good War” we hear about. Tell the millions dead how good it was.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Hawksbill Station" by Robert Silverberg

I’m a new arrival to the school of Robert Silverberg. I read The Book of Skulls in 2005 and I’ve made a point to read at least some Silverberg every year since. A few weeks ago I found a TOR Double—No. 26—that featured “Press Enter” by John Varley on one side and Robert Silverberg’s “Hawksbill Station” on the other. The TOR Double contained the text of the original story published in Galaxy in 1967. The story was expanded and published as a novel in 1968. A novel I have not yet read.
Hawksbill Station is a penal colony used to segregate political dissidents from the general population. It is much like the Soviet gulags of the mid-Twentieth Century, except there are no guards, no fences and no returns. A wall of time, two billion years long, separates Hawksbill and the society that created it. It is on an Earth that has yet to witness its fish crawl from the sea. The camp’s only connection with the future, what the men call “Up Front,” is a device called the Hammer and Anvil—a time machine that only operates from the future to the past. And it is the lifeline of the small penal colony. It is where the new inmates, and the meager supplies arrive from.
“Hawksbill Station” is an intriguing story. It alters the Cold War prison tale into dystopian science fiction. While the model of the prison is clearly based on the Soviet-style gulag, the story is as much about capitalism as it is about communism. The idea: oppression is oppression no matter its wrappings. With that said the politics of the story are less important, much less, than the story itself. The setting, as dark and desolate as it is, has a beautiful surreal sense—picture an Earth with no mammals and no flora inhabited by trilobites, a wild ocean, and several dozen men.
The story is only 86 pages in mass market, but Silverberg, with a sparse and wonderfully simple prose, is able to create both the world and the characters in a detail that many writers are unable to do in three- or four-hundred pages. He makes the characters, all of them, sympathetic and likable. The antagonist is two billion years from where the story is told and is really nothing more than the shadow of a bogeyman.
“Hawksbill Station” is the real deal. It is a science fiction story that tells something of who we are as a culture, and more importantly, what we are as individuals.  It is a truly excellent story.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Echoes: SFBC Advertising Insert (1980s?)

A few weeks ago I posted an image of an old Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC) newsletter—click here—and while I was cleaning out a desk drawer a couple days ago, I found this cool advertising insert to join SFBC (probably from the late-1980s). I have no idea how it came into my life, other than as a bonus found inside a used book I purchased in the last few years.

If I could still order “Any 5 Books For $1 (with membership)” I would, and, these are the titles I’d pick:
·         Highway to Eternity, by Clifford D. Simak
·         Star of Gypsies, by Robert Silverberg
·         Across Realtime, by Vernor Vinge
·         Soldier of the Mist, by Gene Wolfe
·         The Shattered Sphere, edited by Robert Lynn Aspin and Lynn Abbey
In fact, just thinking about filling out the order form—no postage necessary—gives me a little thrill. Click on the image to see them larger.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Steel Mirror"

The Steel Mirror, by Donald Hamilton, was published as a hardcover by Rinehart & Company in 1948, but the edition that caught my eye was Fawcett Gold Medal’s 1966 paperback reprint (d1889). The cover painting is a perfect bleak mystery. Its blues and grays, the hard mattress, and small steel mirror attached to the cold wall, all lend a touch of despondency, almost hopelessness, without giving anything away. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

The opening lines:
He came back from the railway station with his tickets through the hot late afternoon sunshine; and at the door of the Ford garage he had to step aside for a fawn-colored Mercury convertible just driving in. He caught a glimpse of the face of the girl behind the wheel, rather slight and fragile beneath a hat that turned back from her forehead in a ruffled halo of pale straw.
The Steel Mirror, was adapted as the 1957 film, 5 Steps to Danger, directed by Henry S. Kesler and starring Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden. And, a little trivia, Werner Klemperer, in a pre-Hogans Heroes role, played Dr. Simmons.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Another suspect decision...

A poor condition mass market paperback followed me on Thursday, Sleaze, by L. A. Morse. I’ve heard people speak well, and poorly, about this novel featuring private eye, Sam Hunter. And when I ran across this copy everything about it said—Take Me Home! From the warning inside the book:
“This book contains numerous scenes of gratuitous sex and violence, as well as a lot of bad language and worse jokes. If you don’t like that sort of thing, this is a good place to stop.”
To a blurb from a review in the Los Angeles Times:
“I’d cross the street to avoid him.”
To this sweet piece of descriptive prose on the second page:
“It was the receptionist. If her goal was to look like a cheap Vegas hooker, she’d succeeded pretty well. She had a tangled mane of thick black hair. Her eyes were so darkly and heavily made up that they looked like the after effects of a broken nose.”
To the price: $1
There were two Sam Hunter novels published, The Big Enchilada (1982), and Sleaze (1985). Morse won an Edgar Award for his novel, The Old Dick (not featuring Sam Hunter). And I’ve never read any of his books, so…

And, amazingly, it's available as an ebook.

Monday, April 01, 2019

"The Double Whammy" by Robert Bloch

Rod has been a pitchman for a carnival sideshow—“a lousy mud-show that never played anywhere north of Tennessee”—for three seasons and he’s good at the spiel, convincing marks to split with their money for a chance to see the geek bite off a chicken’s head. Rod’s never been bothered by the show before. It’s “just a lousy chicken.” 
But lately, Rod’s had a problem.
“[S]omething was spooking him. No use kidding himself, he had to face it.
“Rod was afraid of the geek.”
The trouble is, the geek isn’t a monster. His name’s Mike, and Mike is the same as all the other geeks. A wino with an addiction and luck bad enough for him to play the geek, raving and biting chickens for a few dollars and a bed.
“The Double Whammy” is classic Robert Bloch; atmospheric, frightening, and clever. Rod, the tale’s narrator, is a touch unreliable and there is more happening than the reader knows (maybe). But what the reader knows is enough, and what the reader doesn’t know. Well, that makes the story that much better. And I enjoyed its every word.
* * *
“The Double Whammy” was published in Fantastic (February 1970) and I read it in the uneven, but enjoyable, anthology, The Wickedest Show on Earth, edited by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini (Morrow, 1985).