Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Star Trek. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Star Trek. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2023

Star Trek - Ice Trap

Listen, you can journey down any internet rabbit hole and find heaps of Star Trek information regarding movies, games, toys, comics, and novels. I'm not going to saddle you with a bunch of information about publishers, series titles, and years. Ice Trap is the 60th installment in a series of Star Trek tie-in books published by Pocket Books between 1979 to 2002. These books feature the original series characters that debuted on NBC in 1966 – Spock, Captain Kirk (William freakin' Shatner), etc. - aboard the USS Enterprise. I'm not a Trekkie, but I've watched episodes here and there of all the Star Trek shows. So, a 1992 book that looks like a “Dirk Pitt in Star Trek” adventure appealed to me. Don't fault me on my Star Trek knowledge. I'm the most pedestrian fan of any casual Trekkie circle.

The crew of the USS Enterprise is assigned the mission to investigate a missing research shuttle on the frigid ice-crusted planet Nordstral. The planet serves the pharmaceutical industry by harvesting plankton for drug use. But, the research crew has gone missing and some of the industrial workers have gone mentally insane. With McCoy, it is Kirk's job to find the sources creating these psychotic episodes. On the flip side, Uhura and Chekov dig into the whereabouts of the research shuttle by conducting interviews with the planet's inhabitants, an alien race known as the Kitka. 

Most of the book's narrative and plot development consist of Uhura and McCoy working directly with Nordstral Pharmaceutical's guides across the icy tundra. The mystery lies in the fact that one of the guides may be a murderer keeping outsiders from the precious plankton. The investigation by Kirk and McCoy deals with the scientific aspect, but as the book gains momentum into the finale a hefty action sequence unfolds with the two trying to escape a flooding ship. Also, to add a horror aspect to the action, the novel introduces a giant underwater sea monster. Can you say KRAKEN?

The book's cover suggests the author is L.A. Graf. In reality, the Graf name is a trio of authors named Julia Ecklar, Karen Cercone, and Melissa Crandall. The perspectives in the book change numerous times within each chapter, so the abrupt character switches were jarring. I found myself re-reading pages to discover which group of characters I was in the midst of. This may have been a result of rotating authors writing certain parts, or it was designed that way. But, the effect wasn't enough to ruin the adventure. Ice trap was a lot of fun to read and placed me in a Star Trek mood for more installments of the series. If you love space travel or a good icy adventure, this one is recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Planet of the Apes #01 - Planet of the Apes

My childhood consisted of watching the Planet of the Apes movies, and the television show, on cable syndication repeatedly. My parents saw the original 1968 film at the drive-in and became big fans of the franchise. As I write this, I just finished watching War of the Planet Apes (2017) with them while on vacation and I’m headed into the theater shortly to see the newest film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024).

As much as I love this series, my fandom has strictly been dedicated to the screen. I’ve never delved into the labyrinth of literary presence the franchise commands. I decided to try the original novel that launched this blockbuster franchise, Planet of the Apes, authored by Pierre Boulle and published in 1963.

The book was written in French with the title La Planete des singes, which translates to Planet of the Apes in English. The book was published in the UK as Monkey Planet. As one can imagine, the book differs from the movie. Surprisingly, the adage of “the book is better” doesn’t fit this scenario.

The book begins with Jinn and Phyllis, wealthy lovers, living in a far-flung future where space travel is available. Phyllis discovers a floating bottle containing a manuscript and the two begin reading it. From there, the narrative becomes an epistolary novel as the manuscript is presented in a first-person narration by the main character, French journalist Ulysse Merou.

In 2500, Ulysse is invited by a French scientist named Antelle and his protegee to join a long star trek through the galaxy to a place called Betelgeuse. The trip takes two years and because of the time difference, these years are the equivalent of centuries passing on Earth. As they get into the vicinity of Betelgeuse, they land their ship on a planet called Soror. The bulk of the story takes place here as the three explore the planet and become accustomed to its unique lifestyle.

The book and the film version are very similar in the first act. The three men are shocked to discover a naked human female running through the lush forest. They deem her “Nova” due to her golden sheen. Fast-forward a few pages and readers get the iconic scene where gorillas arrive on horseback and begin netting Nova and other naked human “savages” in what appears to be a wild-game hunt. Ulysse and the professor are captured and the protegee is killed. Unfortunately, the narrative’s only action is terminated as well.

The rest of the book is a slow-burn as Ulysse is placed in a laboratory and ran through a series of tests by a combination of apes, chimpanzees, and orangutans. On this planet, humans are like animals with no language skills and very little intelligence. The “monkeys” run the show and are in the place of humans in a weird reversal of evolution. Thankfully, Ulysse’s wherewithal puts him in a situation of impressing his superiors with excellent speech and physical prowess. The professor declines to a Neanderthal state after months of caged life. Ulysse also develops a romance with Nova, who is a fellow prisoner.

Like the film, a chimpanzee scientist named Zira takes an interest in Ulysse and is eventually able to free him. In the book’s finale, Ulysse, Nova and their young child escape the planet and return to Earth to discover…well I can’t ruin the surprise for you. In fact, the author has two surprises at the end, one of which I wasn’t aware of.

Circling back to my original statement, the movie is better than the book. I believe that is a popular opinion shared by many. To be fair, if I read the book with no knowledge of the films, then it is a satisfactory science-fiction novel that has a lot to say about the human condition and the decline of civilization. It’s a cautionary tale that has a mix of social commentary, a small dose of action, and an emphasis on character development (and refinement?). In that regard, the author’s vision is superb and his writing acceptable.

Living with the curse of seeing nine of the series’ high-budget films, the book left me a little winded. I still want to read more novels associated with the franchise, but keep in mind that the later novels aren’t written by this author and are all based on the film and television productions – similar to other big franchises like Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, and Predator.

Get the book HERE

Monday, May 8, 2023

Firebrats #02 - Survivors

Lots of married couples find it hard to live with each other. Some detest spending long periods of the day with their partner for life. Imagine going to work with your wife every day? Thankfully, Scott and Barbara Siegel aren't one of those couples. In fact, their marriage is so strong that it supported both of them living, loving, and working side-by-side. Beginning in the early 1980s, both Barbara and Scott Siegel authored books together under numerous franchises like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Dragonlance, Star Trek, and Dark Forces. The majority of their literary work is the young adult genre.

For years I've hunted for a four-book series by the Siegels titled Fire Brats. It's an odd title, but a familiar scenario. Two Americans attempt to live and survive in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear bomb attack. The books were published between 1987-1988 by Archway, a subsidiary of Pocket Books. At the time of publishing, the paperback market was ripe with post-apocalyptic titles like The Survivalist, Deathlands, and Doomsday Warrior. I've never seen a copy of any of these books out in the wild. The books are scarce, which drives up the second-hand costs. I've seen these novels fetch up to $50 on Ebay. But, has the last three series installments available to read online.

Skipping a series debut is typically frowned upon in this household, but in this case it was necessary. Jumping into Survivors, the second installment, I quickly get the gist of the series. Matt (male) and Dani (female) are teenagers that grew up in the small town of Fair Oaks. From what I gather through the characters' brief reflections, the United States was nuked by an unknown country and now its major cities and metropolis areas are piles of rubble. Dani and Matt were able to seek shelter underground, and as Survivors begin, they emerge four days later on a journey west. Apparently Dani's parents were killed, but Matt's family may still be alive in California, thus the series will follow their trek through the wastelands.

The two characters spend a night in an abandoned Burger King (in what may be Colorado), and then attempt to cross a large river on a homemade raft. The raft disintegrates and the two are briefly thrust into the raging river to become separated. Eventually, the two reunite and journey into the wilderness and find a cabin that is fully stocked with weeks of food. The place even has running water, farm animals, books, and a fireplace. This is paradise for Matt and Dani, so they decide to stay for a while.

The cabin's owner is an old man named Ordway, who surprises the kids with a pointed shotgun. He has dealt with a lot of bad guys since the bombs fell, so he immediately thinks these teens are out to rob and murder him. After marching the duo outside for an execution, Matt is able to fight the old guy. As a result, the kids wrestle his gun away and Ordway breaks a leg. After explaining they mean no harm, and that they thought the cabin was abandoned, Ordway loosens up and makes a deal with the kids. He'll train them on what they will need to know to survive in this new world. They will help him around the house for a few weeks until his leg heals. 

At 155 pages, Survivors mostly spends the bulk of the book on the two kids interacting with Ordway to learn how to make weapons, hunt, and what to eat in the forest (who knew you could eat tree bark?). The book's last 50ish pages introduces a small band of mean scavengers looking to capture/rape Dani and claim the house. The finale has the kids using slingshots and bows to defend the cabin while Ordway attempts to fend off the attackers with a broken shotgun. 

Despite being juvenile fiction, I found Survivors to be a lot of fun. It reminded me of the first Survivalist novel with the prepping techniques and education, but the quest and action is reminiscent of Survival 2000. Dani, Matt, and Ordway possess endearing qualities that make them lovable. The introduction of the bad guys was inevitable, and the final fight and pursuit was engaging and well-written. While the book lagged a little in the middle, it was a good intermission to prepare for a rowdy end. 

I look forward to reading the rest of the series and I'm grateful that someone took the opportunity to scan most of the books. They are long out of print and very few libraries or book stores carry them in their current catalogs. If you love the 1980s post-apocalyptic stuff, then Fire Brats is sure to please. In a similar fashion, you might also enjoy the dystopian 1980s series U.S.S.A., which seems to be equally hard to find and expensive. has at least one of the series' three books.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Dagar the Invincible - Archives Vol. #1

Western Publishing Company, a Wisconsin company, made a huge splash in the world of home entertainment in the early 20th century. The company was one of the first manufacturers of paper puzzles and tabletop games. Their enterprise eventually expanded into book publishing, initially developing the line of Little Golden Books. By the middle of the century they had partnered with Walt Disney Productions, Warner Brothers, MGM, and even the estate of the popular author Edgar Rice Burroughs

From 1938 through 1961 the company published comics under a partnership with Dell. But, in 1962 Western Publishing began their own comic book company, Gold Key Comics. The marketing strategy was to license just about anything they could get their hands on. From Planet of the Apes to Star Trek nothing was out of bounds in the world of Gold Key Comics. Back then the chances were pretty high that if you watched it on television, Gold Key had an accompanying comic book to go with it. But, the company also published their own original titles as well like Doctor Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter, and Space Family Robinson. While I've read my share of Gold Key comics back in the day, a few titles escaped me, like Dagar the Invicible.

In the 1970s, the sword-and-sorcery genre was at an all-time high with the reprint publications of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian stories in paperback. Beginning in 1966, readers were able to finally read the original Conan stories in affordable paperbacks by Lancer. These books had amazing artwork and featured original published stories, but also many incomplete stories that were discovered as drafts and completed by authors Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. The books sold well and by the end of the decade countless imitators appeared – some good, some not so good. Along with paperbacks, the comic book industry quickly got involved with sword-and-sorcery. The early 1970s saw the publication of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan

Gold Key marched out their sword-and-sorcery comic, Dagar the Invincible in October 1972 with the blurb “Tales of Sword and Sorcery”. The entire series was visually created by artist Jesse Santos and written by Donald F. Glut. It ran a total of 19 issues with two issues reprinting the debut (#19 published under the Whitman brand). You can still get these issues fairly cheap online or you can purchase two hardcover collections from Dark Horse that compile the entire series. Very cool. This review is on the first hardcover collection, simply titled Dagar the Invincible Archives Volume #1. This compiles issues #1-9.

Jesse Santos broke into comics in his home country of The Philippines in 1946. He drew Halakhak Kommiks' “Kidlat” before moving to the U.S. to work on comics like The Microbots and Brothers of the Spear. Along with Dagar the Invincible, Santos would later draw Gold Key's The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor and Tragg and the Sky Gods. He turned down an offer to work for Marvel on the Conan the Barbarian comic. 

Donald F. Glut began his writing career by working with Warren Publishing and their black and white magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella as well as the Skywald Publication Psycho. Along with writing Dagar the Invincible, Glut teamed with Santos on The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor, and Tragg and the Sky Gods. He would later move on to writing for Marvel books like Captain America, Savage Sword of Conan, and Thor as well as the DC Comics titles House of Mystery and House of Secrets

The first issue is a true origin story, “The Sword of Dagar”, explaining how Dagar became the heroic fantasy warrior. The era is explained vaguely as a “time when Gods and Demons walked the Earth as men and certain men possessed the best and worst qualities of both”. From what I gather, this particular world is a combination of prehistoric elements and the Middle Ages militant kingdoms complete with rival leadership and classes. Glut specifies it is the twilight years between the end of the stone age and the beginning of Babylon. 

In the opening pages of the first issue, Dagar is battling a saber-tooth tiger while reflecting on his life and heritage. In a flashback sequence, readers see young Dagar admiring his grandfather's battle helmet. In an onslaught of brutality a swarm of invaders ride into town and slay every Tulgoian except Dagar and his grandfather. Thus, a sworn oath is made that Dagar will train under his grandfather's tutelage and become INVINCIBLE! After a few years of training, the grandfather dies and Dagar is shown wearing an animal skin and holding a sword. He plans to find the one named Scorpio that led the assault on his people. He also states repeatedly that he will take on a life of fighting for money. I didn't quite grasp the significance of this. 

In this issue's second part, “Castle of the Skull”, an old man asks Dagar to journey to a cursed castle and rescue his daughter. The narrative really picks up the action and gets Dagar into dark hallways slaying skeletons with a magical mace. There is a little trick ending that recalls some of the surprises found in the horror comics of the time (hint: the young beautiful woman is really an old hag). 

The second issue, “The Beast Within”, Dagar takes on a job finding a beautiful woman's missing brother. But, little does he realize that the missing man is actually a werewolf who disappears during a full moon to keep from killing his loved ones. When Dagar teams up the werewolf they hunt down Scorpio to another monolithic castle (there are a lot of those). The finale comes when both are forced to fight an enormous lizard. This story reminded me so much of the Conan stories, complete with the cavernous castle and behemoth reptile. 

The third issue features one of my favorite covers of the series. Let's face it, every cover in this series is simply awe-inspiring, but the use of the red castle, the cliff, the vampire bat creature set against a moody backdrop of purple just invokes so much color and imagery into this sword-and-sorcery affair. The story in this one is called “Wrath of the Vampires” and has a demonic beginning. Dagar rides up on a ghoulish scene as a woman is being sacrificed on an altar. But, instead of saving her he rides off and says to himself he only fights for money. Either that is totally badass or just plain despicable...I can't decide which. Dagar gets an explanation from a guy that the girl has been sacrificed on Blood Mountain to a race of vampires that prey upon the community. On the quest to find and free the girl he gets himself imprisoned by a sadistic creature called King Desmos. Dagar breaks free and teams up with some hideous monsters that have been abused by Desmos to fight their way through the savage hordes. At the end, Dagar and his new lover, Graylin, ride off into the sunset.

In “Vengeance-Sweet Vengeance”, issue five's story, the Dagar and Scorpio confrontation is promised to deliver the goods. In the beginning, Dagar is following a map he obtained that supposedly leads to Scorpio. Fortunately (or unfortunately), he stumbles upon some sort of floating wormhole that immediately jets him into Scorpio's coveted stronghold. As being the only guy in the building half nude wearing animal skins, Dagar is immediately recognized and forced into captivity. The only logical use for him is to deposit him in the gladiator games to fight lions and stuff. After fighting free of the arena, Dagar goes into an underground tunnel and teams up with an old man who gives him advice on how to fight Scorpio. There's some drugged out colors and designs swirling all over this issue with a stinging final boss fight of Dagar fighting a gigantic scorpion. The end proves this through story has reached its conclusion and Scorpio has been vanquished. Revenge complete.

Issue six is a real turning point for the series and sees more narration in third-person instead of Dagar speaking to himself to narrate the story for readers. I was waiting for this type of storytelling to emerge. It makes the comic a bit more modern. I hate when the heroes of the golden age would say things to themselves like, “I must pick up this sword and go down that hallway to fight the beast”. Instead, the narrator does that much better by telling us the story and then allowing the art and dialogue to supplement it. 

In this story, “Another World...Another Time”, Dagar journeys back to his lover Graylin but instead hears her cries from another world. It seems Graylin went off searching for Dagar and accidentally went into an “oracle cave”. Dagar finds the cave and journeys through it to discover a savage prehistoric playground of dinosaurs and volcanoes. Basically, this is Donald Glut conjuring his Edgar Rice Burroughs' styled comic Tragg and the Sky Gods into a Dagar book. One of the cave-men from Tragg, a guy named Jarn, teams up with Dagar in this issue to rescue Graylin from an evil sorcerer named Zerg. There is a bunch of dinosaur fighting and weird hypnotic stuff before the end that sees Dagar and Graylin once again on horseback riding off into another adventure in their own time. 

The sixth issue is broken down into two separate stories with the first being “Treasure of Nai-Po-Gah”. This story is right out of Conan with the two hunting for treasure in a seemingly abandoned city. When Dagar removes a jewel from a large statue they hear a man calling for help. In interviewing the man, who seems to be trapped in a well, Dagar has a moment of clarity – he only fights for money! But Graylin insists he help the man. Dagar should have stuck with his code here because once the man is free he turns into a giant demon named Zu-Borr that creates a ton of chaos for the two lovers. That story ends and a new one begins titled “Demon of the Temple”, a short narrative that features Graylin and Dagar fighting a monster and a mad mage. 

The series seventh issue puts Dagar on the high seas in "Two Swords Against Zora-Zal". The hero is out fishing on the shore when a band of pirates net him and force him into a galley slave ship. While brutally rowing for days and days Dagar strikes up a friendship with a fellow slave named Durak. When the ship anchors on the Island of Queen Zora-Zal, Dagar and Durak are put to work building a giant tower. After an escape attempt an evil sorcerer throws Dagar into a deep well to fight another monster (recurring theme here). Dagar wins and then leads Durak to overthrow their captors and free the island. At the end Durak says farewell to Dagar and steers the galley ship off to adventure. 

In the following issue, Dagar returns back to the city only to find that his beloved Graylin has been drug off with other women to a smoking crater on Mount Bargoll. This story, "The Red Ruby of Garloth", shows a little more compassion from Dagar. Since he only fights for money, he wants to rescue Graylin only. However, a young girl gives Dagar her only possession, a necklace, to help find her mother. Dagar refuses the necklace and is shown dropping the other coins he was paid into the dirt. He tracks Graylin to the mountain and finds it riddled with the undead! A zombie named Kagra is using a magical gem to resurrect dead people. However, the deal requires a sacrifice - one live one for one dead one. Dagar puts an end to the transactions and with Graylin's help they destroy the place. 

"The Night of the Serpent" closes out this volume, the lead story in issue nine. Dagar and Graylin watch as a large sloth is fatally poisoned by a coiling giant serpent. The two are headed to the city of Yang-Dorr where 

Dagar hopes to place his sword for hire, but they get distracted in the swamps. It is here that the tribe of nomadic black warriors known as Zargani use their spears and battleaxes to hunt and survive. The tribe's chieftain, Torgus, and his wife Renya are out walking when Renya drinks from the same river that the injured giant serpent retreated to. Renya gets poisoned and Torgus is desperate for a cure. Readers are treated to a flashback sequence explaining how Nar-Kal, a sorcerer, obtained the Magical Eye of the God Org-Ra. It is explained that Nar-Kal is actually in control of the giant serpent and each time the snake kills then Nar-Kal becomes more powerful. Torgus needs to stop Nar-Kal so his beloved wife can heal. There is a brief fight between Dagar and Torgus before the two realize they are better as allies fighting Nar-Kal. The story ends with with both Dagar and Graylin enjoying time with the Zargani couple.

At nine meaty issues, sword-and-sorcery fans will find plenty to like about Dagar and his adventures through this savage land. Obviously there is a huge nod to Conan, but I never felt like the writing and art was at that level - no matter who was writing or drawing Conan over at Marvel. This is more of a third-tier type of series that is still wildly enjoyable and reeks of nostalgic pleasure. The art is good, the writing is okay. It just isn't something that is mandatory or suggested unless you really love this genre, era, and brand. Gold Key has a cult following cemented by titles like Dagar. For me, I got enough out of it to want to read more...just give me a few months. This collection has so much material and it's a little bit of a chore to get through it all. But, if you like this genre then by all means you need to at least sample Dagar the Invincible. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Paperback Warrior Unmasking: Who Is Jack Baynes?

Jack Baynes was a pseudonym employed by Fawcett Crest for four paperback original crime novels starring Chicago private eye Morocco Jones published between 1957 and 1959. Recent eBook reprints of the novels brand the books as the War Against the Mafia series, a name that rings more than a few bells for us. Neither the original 1950s paperbacks or the 21st century eBook reprints answer the critical question:

Who the hell was Jack Baynes?

Bertram Baynes Fowler (1893-1981) was an editor and writer at the Christian Science Monitor with an interest in history and economics. He was also a popular public speaker on social science topics in the 1930s and 1940s. He wrote several non-fiction works advocating the formation of cooperative institutions such as credit unions and food co-ops as an alternative to the top-down approach of corporatism. Fowler viewed cooperative organizations as a way to split the difference between cutthroat capitalism and centralized government socialism at a time when America was struggling with those questions in the wake of the Great Depression and World War 2.

In the world of fiction, Fowler left only a few footprints behind. He sold two short stories to the pulps in 1936 using the pen name B.B. Fowler. In August 1936, Dime Mystery Magazine published his novelette School for Madness. He also delved into horror fiction with his story Huntress from Hell published in the October/November 1936 issue of Horror Stories magazine.

Diving into inconsequential paperback crime fiction during the late 1950s must have been a fun diversion for the writer, particularly with the commercial success Mickey Spillane was achieving at the time with his Mike Hammer stories. Recall that in the 1950s, paperback originals were lowbrow pop culture for the masses. As such, a writer and thinker whose ideas were often cited in economics journals would understandably want to publish his violent and tawdry fiction under the veil of anonymity that the Jack Baynes pseudonym provided Fowler.

The copyrights were never renewed on the Morocco Jones series which created an opportunity to bring these now public domain books back to digital life for an enterprising reprint house called Deerstalker Editions. The publisher is owned by Jean Marie Stine, a former editor at Leisure Books and assistant to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. On her blog, she says that she changed the titles of the Morocco Jones series because the originals “seem to have been created by an inattentive editor.”

The order and title variations of the Morocco Jones series are:

1. Meet Morocco Jones (1957). Reprinted as Morocco Jones and the Syndicate Hoods
2. Hand of the Mafia (1958). Reprinted as Hand of the Syndicate
3. The Peeping Tom Murders (1958). Reprinted as The Syndicate Murder Cult
4. The Case of the Golden Angel (1959). Reprinted as The Syndicate’s Golden Angel

Buy the books HERE

Friday, October 15, 2021

Terminator Salvation: Cold War

I've enjoyed the entire series of Terminator films. I remember watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day on VHS back in the early 90s and was astounded by the storyline and special effects. I experienced mixed reactions on Terminator 3 but overall, I thought it served its purpose. Those two films are important for my review of Greg Cox's Terminator Salvation: Cold War (2009). This novel is set in the time period between the second and third films. This was the day Skynet started World War 3. Cox chooses the year 2003 to place the story's action.

The book's narrative includes a Russian submarine firing on Alaska in retaliation for Moscow's bombing. The submarine Commander hears an urgent message broadcast by John Connor (the series hero). The radio message explains Skynet's hostile takeover and the need for humanity to unite to combat the machines. Later, the Commander and his crew team up with the Resistance forces to fight Skynet. 

The events in the book occur over a 15 year period. Additionally, Cox's narrative also simultaneously presents events in 2015 from the perspective of a Russian resistance force in the Alaskan wilderness. They are attempting to destroy a Skynet train that is transporting uranium to Canada to improve weapons.

The book describes some awesome scenes of T-600 machines fighting the Russians in the snow and forest. I think this would have looked fantastic on film while also presenting a different look to the franchise. The book also includes the familiar Hunter-Killer machines and some really unique snowmobile Terminators - T-600 torsos mounted on snowmobile treads. 

Greg Cox is no stranger to movie and television tie-in novels. He has authored books in franchises like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Underworld, Roswell and many others. I felt that with Cold War, Cox was able to deliver an alternative look at the Terminator machines while still creating an action-packed story. If you are a fan of these films or graphic novels, you should find this book enjoyable. Get a copy HERE

Friday, September 2, 2022

Blood Alley

In 1955, Blood Alley was simultaneously published as a novel and released as a film by Warner Brothers. The premise is that a U.S. Merchant Marine named Wilder is freed from a Chinese prison by a village hoping to utilize his services to escape to British-controlled Hong Kong. The book was authored by A.S. Fleischman, a popular Fawcett Gold Medal writer who specialized in exotic Asian locales to place his action-adventure novels like Shanghai Flame (1951), Malay Woman (1954), and Danger in Paradise (1953). The book was considered “cinematic”, thus Hollywood gained a copy of the book prior to its release and agreed that Blood Alley would be a great film. Fleischman was asked to write the screenplay, thus both formats were released simultaneously. 

Thankfully, Stark House Press has published a majority of Fleischman's novels, including Blood Alley, which is out now through the subsidiary Black Gat Books. 

The book is a nautical adventure tale as protagonist Wilder captains a steamship through a perilous coastal waterway. In the book's beginning, Fleischman is liberated from a long stint in a Chinese prison. The first few chapters focus on the escape, the journey to the village, and his days spent as a clandestine village local. Wilder learns that the village, through bribery and firepower, were able to spring Wilder, but at a price. Wilder is to transport the villagers to Hong Kong, an island that was controlled by the British government for 99 years (which reverted back to China in 1997).

Fleischman inserts a romantic connection for Wilder in the form of Cathy, a British woman who is anticipating that her father, the village doctor, will be able to join Wilder's quest for freedom. Part of the book is the build-up to learn of the doctor's fate and the impact on Cathy's choice to continue the trek to Hong Kong. The voyage is ripe with gunfights, patrol boat chases, and conflicts on the ship as Wilder is placed in a number of territorial and village disputes. The largest portion of the novel has Wilder battling his own ship, a relic from a bygone era that is forced to do the impossible. 

Despite the fact that Blood Alley was a Hollywood flop, even with iconic John Wayne as the star, Fleischman's novel is a better representation of the story. It's a short, fast-paced novel that doesn't necessarily rely on a lot of characters and backstory. I enjoyed Wilder as the narrative's main star, but the chemistry with Cathy was an enthralling, enjoyable element. Nautical-fiction fans won't be disappointed with the plot's development. It's a sequence of terrific visuals that offers up the breathtaking escapism that the genre demands. That alone makes Blood Alley an easy recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Zanthodon #01 Journey to the Underground World

As a longtime fan of science-fiction, fantasy, and the works of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter (1930-1988) authored a number of novels and series titles using unfinished manuscripts from his literary idols or by utilizing a pastiche to contribute future installments of established, classic titles. Using the Pellucidar series, written by Burroughs between 1914-1963, Carter created his own “hollow Earth” concept with the Zanthodon series. The five-book run, also inspired by Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, was published by DAW Books between 1979 and 1982. It has been reprinted by Wildside Press as one of their digital Megapacks featuring all five books for an affordable price. I'm starting with the series debut, Journey to the Underground World

The book's star is Eric Carstairs, the stereotypical 1970s action-hero that can pilot, captain, shoot, salvage, and deal with the best of them. He's in North Africa looking for work when he saves a professor named Potter from muggers. At the bar, where Carstairs stores his steep tab, he discusses Professor Potter's interesting proposition. Potter explains that he needs Carstairs to pilot a helicopter into an inactive volcano in an effort to locate the middle of the Earth, a place called Zanthodon. He provides evidence that many ancient cultures knew about Zanthodon and wrote about its whereabouts. The origin stems from a giant meteor that crashed to Earth, plunging through the volcano and making an impact on our planet's central core. The “Big Bang Theory” would have created a miniature Earth inside Earth. Make sense? Potter wants to locate it.

Carter doesn't waste the reader's time, and by page 40 both Carstairs and Potter have crashed the helicopter miles below the volcano. They crawl out of the aircraft and discover that Zanthodon is an evolutionary paradox. Dinosaurs roam free, along with two different types of humans – Neanderthal, which are the most basic of prehistoric humans and the slightly more advanced, evolved humans known as Cro-Magnon. As we know it, roughly a 350,000 year difference between the two on the evolutionary scale. But, in Zanthodon they are both alive and active, although warring with each other.

Aside from being a fighting man, Carstairs has a key advantage by carrying a .45 handgun to shoo away the pests. But, the duo is soon captured by the Neanderthals and taken on a long trek through the wilderness. It's here that Carstairs meets Darya, the captive daughter of the Cro-Magnon's tribal king, as well as Jorn, a fierce warrior-hunter. The narrative builds around Carstairs' attempts to become free while working together with an unlikely ally in Hurok. The book introduces future plots while familiarizing readers with the series vibrant and dangerous landscape.

As pure popcorn fiction, there's nothing to dislike about Journey to the Underground World. It obviously pays homage, and takes some liberties, from prior works like The Lost World and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Carter spends ample time with each character detailing the separate perils they are facing. The plot is spacious, allowing multiple events to occur in different areas – different enemies and challenges that rotate for the characters. I really liked that aspect of the storytelling. 

As a fast-paced, descriptive adventure novel, Carter delivers the goods. Journey to the Underground World is a journey worth taking. Recommended! 

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