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Sunday, October 4, 2020

AVENTINE

Published in 1982, this is the Del Rey Books paperback edition of Aventine (© Lee Killough/Del Rey Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only).

Originally published in 1981 in hardback, Aventine is a collection of short stories written by American sci fi/fantasy author Lee Killough (b. 1942) that are all set in the sumptuous, hedonistic resort whose name is the present book's title. Located on a faraway planet, this outwardly idyllic, peaceful community is home to all manner of talented artists, gifted musicians, skilful inventors, celebrated actors, super-wealthy magnates, and other rarefied sophisticates. But just as Eden contained the serpent, so too does Aventine contain intrinsic, inherent evil, and madness. Here is this book's official blurb:

Aventine – A haven for the rich, the powerful, the famous…and the deadly.

Aventine – A resort for the superrich and the supersophisticated on a bucolic planet at the crossroads of the civilized galaxy, where lifestyle and living quarters are limited only by imagination; where furniture changes shape and color to match the owner's mood; where the statuary moves and the stones sing; where split personalities live without pressure to become normal…

Aventine – Where beautiful women and twisted artists can get away with murder.

Aventine is one of the most engrossing theme-sharing collections of short stories that I have ever read. Like so many of my classic science fiction and fantasy novels, short story collections, and anthologies, I purchased it during my university student years during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and have read it many times since then.

Formerly working full-time as a veterinary radiographer before retiring in 2000 and concentrating thereafter upon her successful writing career, Lee Killough is also known for her vampire-themed Bloodwalk trilogy, her Brill and Maxwell trilogy, and a number of other novels.




Thursday, October 1, 2020

THE CRYSTAL WORLD

Published in 1978, this is the Triad/Panther Books paperback edition of The Crystal World (© J.G. Ballard/Peter Goodfellow/Triad-Panther Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only).

The Crystal World is a science fiction/fantasy novel written by renowned English novelist and sci fi/fantasy author J.G. Ballard (1930-2009), and was originally published in 1966. Continuing a theme introduced two years earlier in his short story 'The Illuminated Man', it is set in a dense West African jungle through which English physician Edward Sanders is attempting to trek in order to reach an isolated, concealed leprosy colony, but is confronted by a bizarre, seemingly apocalyptic phenomenon that is transforming everything that it touches into multicoloured crystals, including living organisms. In short, dazzling but deadly – beautiful to behold, yet lethal to life. Here is this fascinating novel's official blurb:

The dawning of the Glass Age…

The West African jungle starts to crystallize. Trees are metamorphosed into enormous jewels. Crocodiles encased in second glittering skins lurch down the river. Pythons with huge blind gemstone eyes rear in heraldic poses. Most men flee the area in terror, afraid to face what they cannot understand. But some, dazzled and strangely entranced, remain to drift through this dream-world forest. There is a doctor in pursuit of his ex-mistress, an enigmatic Jesuit wields a crystal cross, a gunman searches for his wife, and a tribe of lepers search for Paradise.

This is Ballard weaving magic.

In a review of it published in 1966 by The Observer, London's longest-running Sunday newspaper, The Crystal World was described as: "A haunting picture of diseased beauty and Mr Ballard sustains it with extraordinary intensity" – sentiments with which I wholly concur. I first read this compelling novel while at university in the early 1980s, and its mesmerizing premise has remained in my memory ever since – enhanced immensely by eminent British artist Peter Goodfellow's spectacular front-cover illustration for the paperback edition showcased here, which is the one that I owned (back in those days, the paperback editions of many celebrated sci fi/fantasy novels were famously graced by his incredibly eyecatching and imaginative cover artwork). Unfortunately, however, during a clear-out some years later, I gave my copy away.

Subsequently regretting my decision, I've frequently scoured bookshops and online sites since then, in search of a replacement that sports this specific cover illustration, but the few that I've found have invariably been hugely expensive. Happily, patience is indeed a virtue, because in 2019 I finally located and purchased a reasonably-priced copy – nice to have it back in my collection.

With the cinematic wonders of CGI nowadays so readily available and of such an incredibly high standard, I feel sure that a visually breathtaking big-screen version of The Crystal World could surely be made – indeed, I'm surprised that this hasn't already happened. Time to look beyond new additions to old franchises, movie-makers, and try something original? Just sayin'.



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

PAN

This is the paperback First Edition (not sure if there was ever a hardback First Edition) of Pan (© Birney Dibble/Leisure Books, of Nordon Publications: New York, 1980 – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Written by American surgeon and novelist Birney Dibble and first published in 1980, Pan tells the harrowing and ultimately tragic story of the world's first chimpanzee-human hybrid, created by a wholly unscrupulous rebel scientist, John Reynolds. Assisted by his weak, acquiescent wife, Sylvia, Reynolds stops at nothing, including kidnap, imprisonment, and murder, to achieve his obsessive, Frankensteinian objective. His goal? By raising this unique entity, whom he names Pan, as if he were his son, Reynolds hopes to divine and thence unlock the hitherto arcane secrets of what truly makes a human human, and ultimately to be the first scientist to discover, by conversing in depth with Pan once mature, how the fusion of human and ape manifests within his mental and physical development. The reality? Something very different, much darker, and so devastatingly disappointing to Reynolds that his entire world is destroyed, and Pan's transformed out of all recognition, on that fateful day when Reynolds and Sylvia finally reveal to Pan who – and what – he really is. The official blurb for Pan is as follows:

Science created him, mankind rejected him!

He was the first of a totally new species, the result of a unique scientific experiment. Half-man, half-beast, he inhabited a world of shadows, torn between his human and animal natures. The conflict within him threatened not only the success of the experiment, but Pan's own life, and the life of the one person who cared about him!

In this novel, Pan is named after the demi-god Pan from classical Greek mythology, the mercurial deity of Nature who was himself half-human, half-beast, and he becomes just as skilful musically as was his legendary namesake, after whom panpipes are named.

Interestingly, Pan is one of three different novels dealing with artificially-created ape-human hybrids that were all published within a relatively space of time, but each took this basic theme along a very different pathway from the other two.

One of these other two was Chimera by English screenwriter/novelist Steven Gallagher, published in 1982, which I've read and enjoyed. It was subsequently converted into an equally thrilling, and chilling, British TV mini-series of the same title (but retitled Monkey Boy for the American market), produced by Anglia TV for ITV and first screened in 1991, which I have lately purchased on DVD. In this two-part show, the laboratory-created hybrid, named Chad, has been produced by genetic engineering at a top-secret governmental establishment, but his behaviour becomes increasingly unstable as he grows older, and he finally escapes, to wreak mayhem and murder in the outside world as his creators frantically seek to recapture him.

Sometimes confused with Chimera by present-day TV enthusiasts is another, slightly earlier but less famous British TV mini-series, this time produced by the BBC, originally screened in 1988, and entitled First Born. Consisting of three episodes, it stars Charles Dance as the rebel scientist figure, a genetic researcher named Edward Forester, who produces a male human-gorilla hybrid. However, his attempts to surreptitiously rear his creation, whom he names Gor, have horrifying unforeseen consequences. Again, I have this series on DVD, but unlike Chimera I have not as yet read the novel that inspired it – Gor Saga, written by English novelist/playwright/poet Maureen Duffy and published in 1981.



Thursday, September 24, 2020

FARPEROO

This is the hardback First Edition of Farperoo: Book One of The Dark Inventions (© Mark Lamb/Matthew S. Armstrong/The Madriax Press – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Farperoo, written by Mark Lamb and gorgeously illustrated by Matthew S. Armstrong, is Book One in a hefty three-volume hardback series of fantasy novels for older children/teenagers. There is no blurb or synopsis of any kind for this book included on its back cover or elsewhere, so here is one that was written by 'A Fort Made of Books':

Volume 1 of the Dark Inventions is the beginning of a powerful new fantasy for young readers. Set mostly in a ghastly, seaside town in a bizarro-England, for which the weather, crime, industrial pollution, corruption, and unethical journalists make Grimston-on-Sea an amazingly apt name. A weirdly talented girl named Lucy Blake - whose gifts include "inventing" (also known as LYING) - soon comes into focus. Both of her parents disappeared and/or died under mysterious circumstances, and she lives in her ancestral house with a conniving, lampstand-shaped stepmom, a spineless, jingle-writing step-stepdad, and a stepbrother whose name (Tarquin) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about him. She has a friend named Toby Lindstrom, who is pretty ordinary - not particularly brave, not very good at keeping secrets - but solidly loyal. She has another friend named Fenny who vanishes in broad daylight, on a crowded boardwalk, at the beginning of the story. And everyone else, more or less, is her enemy. That includes some pretty powerful people. By the end of the book, she has made a couple more friends (notably a "private dick" named Bentley Priory), but lots more powerful enemies including the police, the press, a law firm, the staff of a psychiatric hospital, any number of people and things in a world called Farperoo, and last but not least, an eeeevil angel named Raziel. And why shouldn't Lucy have enemies? She has the power to move between several worlds. She can conjure tons of salted-in-the-shell peanuts out of thin air. She is in possession of a book that existed before the world was created. AND she has the power to alter, create, or destroy reality simply by telling lies...erm, I mean inventions.

One of my mother Mary Shuker's  favourite expressions was "Everything comes to he who waits", and it has been proved true many times in my life, but rarely more so than on 12 May 2018. But to begin at the beginning: Back in 2010, Mom and I visited Lyme Regis, the town of fossils, on Dorset's world-famous Jurassic Coast. When we arrived, I found a parking place outside a charity shop, so, me being me, I couldn't resist popping inside to have a quick look around before we headed down into the main town centre to visit all of the fossil and mineral shops awaiting us there.

In the charity shop, I noticed a very handsome hardback trilogy of fantasy novels that I'd never seen before, with the subtitles Book One, Book Two, and Book Three respectively, and which were in mint condition and eyecatchingly illustrated throughout by truly spectacular b/w drawings. Moreover, Books Two and Three were even signed by the author! Interestingly, the publisher was some an obscure company that I'd never heard of and which I suspected may have been created specifically to publish this trilogy. So, fantasy novels, exquisite illustrations, signed by the author, and limited editions. In short, precisely my kind of books!

Yet for some thoroughly baffling reason that I've never been able to explain, I didn't buy them! Inevitably, however, I have regretted it ever since, and to make matters even worse, I was unusually unobservant that day, not noticing either their title or the author's name, so I have been unable to trace what they were. I didn't even notice the name of the charity shop, so even if I'd thought to phone them up later (which I didn't think to do), I couldn't have done, and as Lyme Regis is hundreds of miles from where I live, a quick revisit was not practical. In short, they were irretrievably lost to me, or so I thought - until 12 May 2018, that is.

I'd planned to stay in that day, to do some washing, and then put it out on the line to dry in the very hot sunshine, but at the last minute I changed my mind and on a whim I decided to go to a local car boot sale. Walking down the second aisle of stalls there, I came to one that had a trilogy of very handsome hardback fantasy novels in a pile, all in mint condition. As I looked at the front cover illustration on the first book, my heart-rate physically quickened - it looked so familiar. Surely not, I thought, not after all this time, and now only a few miles away from my home! I reached out and flicked through it, finding it packed with the most wonderful b/w illustrations, and suddenly, there was one that I recalled instantly. It was Book One from the Lyme Regis trilogy!

I carried on flicking through, and there was a second one that I remembered. I picked up the second book, turned to the front - and yes indeed, it was signed by the author, as was the third book. There could be no doubt whatsoever. Even if not the exact same copies, they were definitely the same trilogy of fantasy novels that I'd seen in Lyme Regis eight years earlier and had bitterly lamented not buying ever since. Gripping them tightly, I asked the seller how much they were. £2 for all three, she replied, or £2 for all four - as she said that, she took out another volume, which proved to be a second copy of Book One, and said that she'd let me have that one for nothing. So I paid my £2 and took what proved to be a very hefty bag of four books back to the car straight away.

Once again, everything had indeed come to me after waiting so (im)patiently for so long! And what was this elusive trilogy? Aimed primarily (though certainly not exclusively) at a young-adult readership, it was entitled The Dark Inventions, and Book One was Farperoo!

How Mom would have smiled and repeated her above-quoted maxim if she'd have been here that day and seen this. Then again, why did I abruptly change my plans and decide to visit that car boot sale that day, and find the books on only the second aisle that I visited when I arrived there? Perhaps Mom is still smiling - and guiding me - in my life after all - I hope so, so very much.

Finally: click here for a comprehensive review containing further details concerning Farperoo and its author Mark Lamb.