books


Were-sharks and Nazi leprechauns: the rise and fall of the horror paperback | Books | The Guardian

The Lost Picture Show series I write as Garth Owen, is inspired by genre film. But horror paperbacks of the seventies and eighties are sneaking a bit of influence in there as well.

I don’t have anywhere near as many to read as the guy interviewed here (the book he’s just published is on my to-read list, though, so I can find more to look out for). My interest was renewed a couple of years ago, by re-discovering the works of Guy N Smith (Crabs, etc), and finding a big pile of them in a charity shop. I need to sit down and devour half a dozen or so over a week some time soon.

The next planned Lost Picture Show story is going to have a few nods to the sub-genre, with satanic rituals, sex in odd places, and gore. All updated and given a smartphone and internet twist.

Source: Were-sharks and Nazi leprechauns: the rise and fall of the horror paperback | Books | The Guardian


RIP Tom Clancy

BBC News – Spy novelist Tom Clancy dies aged 66.

I owe a debt of inspiration to Clancy, because it was my fascination with his, and others’, technothrillers that led to me writing Sounds of Soldiers.

It would be remiss of me not to repost this-

The World According To Tom Clancy

I first became addicted to techno-thrillers when I was unemployed. Needing something to keep me in the house without resorting to daytime TV I scoured charity shops and second hand bookshops for anything to read. The only things which were less than a decade old were the free romance booklets given away with copies of More and the works of Clancy, Brown and their imitators.

I didn’t expect to like the politics and wasn’t surprised by the flat characterisation. But I was hooked and have now waded through a dozen or so of these bricks. It has become obvious to me that the genre adheres to a few simple formulae, as follows-

1. The military is always right.

Politicians have rarely been able to make sensible military decisions- influenced as they are by paranoia about backstabbing or spin- and there seems no reason why soldiers should be any better at making decisions about the economy. However, in the techno-thriller, the only people whose decisions are for the good of the country come from one of the armed services.

1a. Some parts of the military are more right than others.

Depending upon the favoured service of the author, their branch of the services gets more of the action. Stephen Coonts’ guys are usually naval fliers, Dale Brown favours the boys and girls of the bomber wings and Area 51’s toys. Clancy himself, who didn’t serve, is most balanced, even bringing in the Feebs and Spooks. Write about what you know, and all that, but sometimes there’s a bit of childish name calling.

2. America, America Uber Alles.

Even the rare Brit writing techno-thrillers centres upon the US of A. Other countries are only good for occasional specialists, who are still in awe of the Yanks’ military system.

3. Muslims are a bad lot.

With the Soviets no longer a plausible threat, most plots now revolve around the towelheads running rampant. (Though Clancy did take a little time out to show those uppity Nipponese who was still boss. [Debt of Honour]) Occasionally someone will comment that most Muslims are honourable people before proceeding to send hordes of them to meet Allah, but usually the only followers of Islam encountered are about to be used as target practice by the Marines. [Executive Orders, Shadows of Steel]

3a. China’s a bit dodgy too.

Pre September 11th, ragging on the ragheads had worn thin with everyone, and they turned their attentions to Mao’s boys [Hong Kong, Fatal Terrain, Sky Masters, The Bear and The Dragon] (though Clancy took time out again to slap ecologist about and defend GM and Ford’s right to build cars that need their own oilwells [Rainbow Six]). I guess that’ll be over with now.

4. Women must always be protected.

And wait at home and worry. And be prepared to give up their career to go where their husband’s job takes them.

4a. Jack Ryan is the most fertile man in the world.

In all of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels that I have read, the character has only had sex with his wife twice. And she got pregnant each time. This reminds me more of The Meaning of Life than a mature relationship.

5. ‘It was the sort of thing that only happened in bad movies/ novels/ TV programmes.’

An observation made by characters each time some horrendously contrived plot twist, suitable only for a bad movie, novel or TV programme, happens. As characters turn into franchises the twists are getting ever more convoluted.

And, finally, the award for being most out of touch with reality. In Task Force 61, the task force has landed, ready to kill a few Arabs. The commander is strolling along the beach. He marvels at how all his troops- black, white, hispanic- have rallied together to listen to the hard, raw, gritty music of the streets. The song- ‘You can’t touch this’ by MC Hammer.

Break out the baggy trousers men, we’re going to war!


Biggles and the casual racism 2



Biggles and the casual racism, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

We bought a lot of old books recently, including a few Biggles tomes. Biggles in the Blue was only lightly racist, with its references to "coloureds" and negroes. But five pages into Biggles Flies Again we get this little outburst from Algy- "Jungle Airways Limited, Joy Rides for Niggers, Flip-Flaps for Cannibals," when pondering running joy-rides in Guiana.
It was a more innocent time……


Mack Bolan is The Executioner 1



Mack Bolan is The Executioner, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

I have an inkling to try and start a series of books for the Kindle and other ebook readers. I’m in Oklahoma (the cafe, not the state) right now bashing out an introductory tale. (When I say introductory it uses characters from other stories I’ve written and is based upon a phone comic I never got finished.)

For inspiration I’ve already bought a load of Saint books and I’m working through them. Today I found these on the book stall opposite the Arndale. The stall owner told me there were thirty in the pile in total, but I think five is enough for starters.

Now I must get down to work on the first of the Irwin series of books- Tiger.


Becoming a terrorist with Amazon’s help 1

A 19 year old man from County Durham has been sent to jail for having some books. He was a member of a vile group of racist would-be terrorists, but as far as I can tell from the report on his sentencing, all the Police could use against him was his possession of electronic copies of books which can be bought from Amazon.

The online bookseller lists The Original Poor Man’s James Bond: Volume 1 and The Anarchist Cookbook for sale as paperbacks. These are the two books mentioned in the report. There’s mention of three charges of “possessing records useful in committing or preparing acts of terrorism”. Perhaps each book counts as one charge, which makes me wonder what the third book was, if it’s so evil it can’t even be named. Mein Kampf, maybe?

If that’s all there was to the charges against Nicky Davison, if the Police were just looking for a way to punish him and latched onto his downloaded reading matter, then it’s very worrying. Less objectionable- and arguably more innocent- people have been charged because of the books they own when Police desparate to justify their actions have run out of other options, but it’s precisely because Davison’s views (or those of his father, which he now claims to abhor) are so objectionable that his case should be the one we start questioning this on. It’s that old free speech maxim- I may hate what you’re saying with every fibre of my body, but I shall defend your right to say it. If there’s no evidence that Nicky Davison was in on his father’s ricin releasing plans then he shouldn’t be sent to jail for having copies of books any of us could purchase.


The comic adventures of one of Britain’s great heroes- translated from French

I just read Biggles Vol.1: Spitfire Parade, a comic adaptation of one of W.E. Johns’ tales of his pilot hero, adapted and drawn by a leading proponent of aviation comics.

This is the first of Cinebook’s reprints of Berg├Ęse’s Biggles comics. Their next release will be 666 Fighter Squadron, but there are also some copies still available on Amazon of earlier Red Fox translations- Biggles and the Battle of Britain and Biggles: Flying Detective. Biggles and the Pirates of the South Pole is currently unavailable as are Biggles: Le cygne jaune, Biggles: Le dernier Zeppelin and Biggles De Vlucht Van De Wallenstein. This page gives a list of some of the other comic book incarnations of James Bigglesworth. None of which I knew of before now.

The comic is large format and printed on quality paper with highly detailed ligne claire artwork complemented by fine colouring. I did find, as you can with this style, the figures occasionally lack animation- appearing to be holding uncomfortable “running” poses rather than expressing the motion- but there is no such problem with the machinery. It helps that Biggles and his squadron are flying one of the most beautiful machines ever built, but it’s not just the Spitfires that swoop around the panels.

Thankfully the translation is good, or Cinebook went back to the original novel for the dialogue. Either way, this comic is lacking the poor English that afflicts some other translated strips. It still reads as slightly stiff, but in the way you’d expect lines from a different era to.

I want to dig out my old Biggles books (handed down from my father), but I think I may have finally said goodbye to them a couple of years ago and sent them off to a charity shop. I want to read the Red Fox editions of the comics, but I also know that Cinebook should be supported in bringing them back to market so I should wait for their version. Blimey, I’m just a little frustrated chaps.


Out of the rabbit hole

Today- maybe yesterday, possibly tomorrow, depending upon when I send this message- is Rabbit Hole day. To celebrate Lewis Carrol’s birthday writers across the universe have been invited to step away from their comfort zone, to go somewhere else for a day.

I’ve been down the rabbit hole for a week and a half now, sleeping through the day and spending the night shuttling students home from the 24 hour library. I’m only in this twilight zone- where dinner is breakfast, elevenses is dinner and lunch is a 3am trip to Asda to dodge the shelf stackers then have a conversation with the automated checkout- until Friday morning. I guess I could adjust to it if I had to, but I’m glad I don’t.

There are other inhabitants of wonderland, the security staff at John Rylands and my regulars- the lovely redhead who’s been a 10.30 fixture; the guy whose street I can now find (third time lucky); the two girls who live just before the bridge under the railway; the lovely Irish girls whose accents make me feel warm even as they’re getting lost and taking me round and round the block. Out of context I probably wouldn’t recognise them and they mostly know me as “the bus man”, but I’m going to miss them next week.

I don’t think the normal night bus, which operates a less time shifted timetable taking people home from the students’; union, is as busy as the library one. Which is annoying for me because I’d hoped to get some writing done when I had no passengers. The quietest time is after 4, when I get a little bit done between siestas and my concentration is more suited to reading short snippets than writing them.

I think I shall stay awake as long as possible on Friday then try to get up at a sensible time on Saturday. But I do have a party to go to that night and I don’t want to fall asleep in a corner. In which case I might be better off doing what I did last weekend- sleeping through Friday and using a late night and alcohol to reboot my body clock and climb out of the rabbit hole.

Anyone out on Friday?

Update Edited for formatting and a link.


Coming soon to the Spinneyhead library and music collection

I cracked and ordered a batch of books and cds-

Ida Maria – Fortress Around My Heart. On the strength of “I Like You So Much More When You’re Naked”, a song which is close to the most fun you can have with or without your clothes on.

Camper Van Beethoven – Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. Because I listened to my tape of this album on the way back from Edinburgh last time, driving along the A702 and remembering Cumbrian roads, finding the album in a Woolworths’ bargain bin and having to turn around and go back because the other passenger wanted his own copy by the end of the tape. When I finally make my movie, “Life is Grand” is going to be the end theme.

Making Comics – Scott McCloud. Because I’m making comics, albeit slower than I’d like. And I’m almost halfway through the first graphic novel, so I should probably have picked this up sooner.

I’ve got Reinventing Comics somewhere, which turned me on to the idea of doing a webcomic so many years ago, and I really should read Understanding Comics as well. Most of my understanding of comic book pacing and panel composition has been picked up from reading comics, I’m hoping this book will provide some pointers to where I can improve my work.

Watching the Watchmen. Yes, I’ve fallen for a piece of Watchmen merchandising. Dave Gibbons, unlike writer Alan Moore, is loving the adaptation of his graphic novel and is more than willing to revisit the subject and give us a book full of background, sketches and anecdotes. It’s like the special features bit on a dvd. And it’s considerably cheaper than Absolute Watchmen.

And on pre-order-

Erotic Comics: A Graphic history volume 2. Because I’m creating an erotic graphic novel it seems like a good idea to have a look at the genre’s history. Volume 1 of this set was a breezy trip from cave art to the seventies, telling me some stuff I didn’t know and giving me a fair amount of stuff to folow up on.

Best Erotic Comics 2009. And I should study what others are doing in teh same field. I’ve got Best Erotic Comics 2008, which has a good eclectic mix of material.


Nuclear CSI

With the right mobile equipment, nuclear detectives could sift through the debris and the radioactive cloud of an attack in this country or elsewhere and quickly glean crucial information, the scientists argued in a 60-page report discussed Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

The report, Nuclear Forensics: Role, State of the Art, Program Needs, was written by a joint working group of the AAAS and the American Physical Society.

Using radiochemistry techniques and access to proposed international databases that include actual samples of uranium and plutonium from around the world, the nuclear investigators might be able to tell the president – and the world – where the bomb fuel came from, or at least rule out some suspects.

“Nuclear forensics can make a difference,” May said in an interview.

Fascinating stuff. Nuclear forensics was a key part of The Sum Of All Fears (the book, anyway, I’m trying to forget the film) but, the scientists assert, that sort of expertise has disappeared since the end of the Cold War. More here.


Savoy Books

Being served in the post office in Withington this afternoon I looked down and checked out the name on the big package the person to my left was weighing. Alan Moore, it said, which I found amusing- I was standing next to a package destined for the greatest living comic writer. Northampton was where it was headed, noticing which I did a little mental double take- maybe it really was going to the greatest living comic writer. Then I spotted the name of the company sending the package- Savoy Books– and was absolutely certain it was going to THE Alan Moore.

Savoy Books is based in Withington. I didn’t know Savoy Books was even still a going concern. I should have said something to the guy posting the parcel, but I’m me, and terribly English about starting pseudo-random conversations with strangers in Post Office queues. So I didn’t. I really should have.

Savoy books was started in 1976, as a publisher for material that was too risky or strange for other imprints. They almost immediately fell foul of the law and were regularly raided by the corrupt vice squad of “God’s Cop” James Anderton. Publisher David Britton has to be one of the last writers in this country to go to jail for his art, serving two spells in Strangeways. Undaunted, he incorporated his experiences into future works such as Savoy Dreams and Lord Horror– which went on to become an inflammatory multi media cottage industry, spawning comics, sequels and music.

My first experience of Savoy Books was in a seedy little second hand bookshop in a building where Bar 38 in MAnchester’s “Straight Quarter” now stands. I’d look at the Lord Horror and other comics- large format and too expensive for a student- and tell myself I’d buy some one day. Eventually I managed to get The Adventures of Meng and Ecker, collecting their comic appearances and reprinting articles about Savoy and Lord Horror. There’s something to offend on every page and the art’s dense and dark. It’s not easy reading, but I’ve just pulled it off the bookshelf and I’m going to flick through it and lose more time, having already spent an hour or so trawling the Savoy website.