Smiles of a Summer Night Shows Scandinavian Brilliance

Lately, it seems, every contact with Scandinavia exposes some new form of weirdness that leaves you scratching your head. So when I saw that the next film on the 1001 movies list was Swedish, I was expecting more of the same.

But Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night) feels different. In fact, it feels French, in the best possible way.

It’s a romantic comedy that, unlike the juvenile stuff of today, is aimed at an adult audience. It’s not just a question of sexual themes–though there is plenty of that–but also of the maturation, the difference between younger adults and ones with a little more maturity and experience. It feels like a racier version of the Screwball comedies of the 1930s, with a slightly darker edge. If I had to design the perfect comedy, I would probably use the previous sentence as my guide.

This is Ingmar Bergman’s debut on the 1001 movies list, and we know that Bergman was a major genius, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this one is amazing. But, though I’m not yet familiar with his work, my impression of Bergman has always been that he is a man of deep, serious films. This one is neither deep nor serious… it’s absolutely fun and naughty and delightful.

So, if you’re in the mood for a comedy that isn’t as naive and limited as what Hollywood puts out, you can do a lot worse than watch this one. Even better, it’s on YouTube with auto-translatable subtitles. The the translation isn’t perfect, but doesn’t interfere with the film.

Highly, highly recommended.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His latest foray into literary fiction is Safe and Sorry, a look at life in the world today, from the eyes of everyone from a homeless man to a female serial killer. You can check it out here.

An Interesting Mystery That Doesn’t Quite Overcome the Weirdness

I would never argue with success. But I was sorely tempted by this book despite the fact that the author is a multi-million-copy selling runaway success.

First off, I want to clarify that The Bat by Jo Nesbo not necessarily bad. It has a decent mystery in it, and it doesn’t go around pulling punches. Better still, in today’s overly-sensitive world, having a protagonist whose attitudes actually reflect society at large instead of a closely curated and “sensitive” outlook is refreshing. The fact that it comes from a Scandinavian author is astounding. The fact that it’s from 1997 is unfortunate–we hadn’t descended into madness then–but it’s still a book you can read without cringing at all the sensitivity coming from a hardened cop.

The best part of this book is the final forty or fifty pages, and the fate of the bad guy is sheer Dada. But…

But the setup, the introduction to the character and the initial laying of ground for the mystery itself are off. Not off as in “the writing is bad”, but off in the “who says that kind of thing???” There are unusual comparisons which throw the reader, unfortunate similes and surreal metaphors. I actually stopped myself a few times to wonder what the author was thinking… my conclusion was that he was trying a bit too hard to be original and ended up looking riduculous.

Millions of readers either disagreed with me or feel that the underlying mystery was good enough that the strange writing didn’t matter.

Of course, this might be a question of a bad translation (which I doubt), or simply a question of phrases and comparisons that are often used in Norway seeming strange to me. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to make me hate the book, but it did drag it down a couple of notches below Stieg Larsson, despite the fact that I actually like the setup of the policeman’s POV more than what Larsson does.

If I happened to pick up another Harry Hole book, I wouldn’t necessarily shy away from it, but if you made me choose between Hole and Inspector Morse, the Englishman would have my vote every single time.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a tense science fiction novel about a colony in the far future. Humans fleeing from an interstellar war encounter the remains of a much older civilization living there… a civilization that sees humans as inferior beings valuable only as pawns in their games. You can check Colony out here.

The Glories of Italy – Automotive Edition

The March 1966 Road & Track served for a lot of things. In the first place it was a wonderful contrast with the 1980s issues I’d been reading lately (verdict: its age makes it more interesting, but it’s about on par overall with the 1980s R&Ts, and much superior to the ones from the 1970s… because it was a hopeful era for cars, just like the 80s).

Mainly, though, this one served as a celebration of postwar Italy in its glorious days. People think of the 1960s as the heyday of Italian cinema (and there is some truth to that), but the auto industry wasn’t far behind. Hell, it could be argued that it was ahead.

Check out the cover:

Unmistakably Italian, even today, even after nearly sixty years of the world copying these designs and pretending they are autoctonous. It’s beautiful, well-balanced and set off by amazing details. The chrome is where it needs to be, the wire wheels are the perfect size.

And this isn’t even an important model. It’s just a Ghia show car that didn’t go too far (a limited production run).

But the editors didn’t stop at the cover story. A big article dedicated to Italian postwar design anchored the issue, and there was also the first part of a two-part series about the immortal Alfetta. Good stuff.

On the competition front, we had the Nassau Speed Weeks, an end-of-the-year party for jet setters and racers, and a report on the South African GP when it was held waaay early in the year. Despite everything going on around the world at the time this one was published, there is no mention of politics at all, which makes it even better. Perhaps if we still lived in a reasonable society, I wouldn’t even notice that a car magazine is concerned with cars… but in the era of virtue signaling in all aspects of life, and of killing the fun in everything, it is such a pleasure to read old stuff.

As an aside, I actually strive for this in my writing. The more I can avoid acknowledging (or getting caught up in) the political issues of today, the more I think people will enjoy my writing. Fiction, after all, is supposed to be fun.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a sword and sorcery adventure in the Robert E Howard tradition. Magic, mayhem and misdeeds abound, as we follow Sangr from a frozen northern village to the seats of power. You can check out The Song of Sangr, here.

Conclusion of the Steampunk Vampire Saga

Cynthia Ward’s steampunk vampire adventures have been fun to read, and the saga comes to an end with The Adventure of the Golden Woman.

This one goes full-on steampunk with spaceships and aircraft carriers made from airships, and is actually the fastest-paced of the lot. It brings the saga to a satisfying close and makes the political statements the saga has been leading up to without being overly didactic about it–which has always been one of this series’ strengths.

It’s an interesting call to reflection in which the historically “good” guys are shown to be morally ambiguous at best and actually bad at worst. But in the final acton sequence, Ward resists the temptation to kill off a few bad actors–even though there is plenty of opportunity to do so. The result is a mature ending which seems to have been written for thinking adults. It surprised me (not because I didn’t expect it from this series, but because most similar books would have ended differently).

Aside from the way the material is treated, this volume has other strengths: Germany in the thirties is fertile ground not explored often enough, and the secondary characters are interesting and have–quite literally–a mind of their own. This one does have a bit of a downside in that it has to bring the saga to a satisfying conclusion, which makes it necessary to tie up all the loose threads from a four-book series in a novella-length story.

I would recommend reading all four, one after another as a novel. That seems to me to be how they’d be most easily enjoyed. But however you read them, these are enjoyable.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina whose latest book is a sword and sorcery adventure in the mold of Robert E Howard. You can check The Song of Sangr out here.

Short Crimes by the Queen Thereof

Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, was a wonderful writer, but I have much less expetience with her short work than with the novels. And wow, her creativity for pulling bizarre crimes out of the aether and including them in her stories is nothing short of astounding.

The Witness for the Prosecution collects stories from the mid twenties, and the crimes span the spectrum from brutal, cynical murders to ingenious con jobs that make you chuckle. In fact, the most memorable of these stories is one in which a writer, after being robbed, does what any real writer would do in that situation.

Interestingly, some of these stories border on the supernatural, which I found strange. If there’s one thing that I expect from Christie is that, no matter how creepy the old hotel where the action takes place, the resolution is always a sordidly human affair. In these stories, that rule holds once again, but there is much more suspicion of the supernatural and preoccupation with its forms than one would normally expect.

The title story is probably the best of the lot but, like everything Christie, this book is entertaining from cover to cover. An enjoyable read.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina whose work has appeared in every genre from crime to fantasy (and everything in between and around those genres). His latest novel is a Sword and Sorcery adventure in the tradition of Robert E Howard. You can check out The Song of Sangr here.

A Condensed Look at the Mid-Sixties

When I read an issue of Road & Track from the 1980s, my least favorite part of the magazine are the Road Tests. Yes, I know these were the central attraction of the magazine to contemporary readers, but I always find myself losing the plot somewhere between the description of the drivetrain and that of the suspension. Especially when the car in question is an unmemorable little sports coupe.

So a Road Test Annual should, by rights, have been a slog.

But the mid-sixties aren’t the 1980s. Every car back then had more personality than anything on the road in the 80s this side of a Morgan. That made this annual quite a fun read, more akin to reading a classic car magazine than one about contemporary cars.

The biggest surprise was that they tested an Abarth OT 1600. Not only was that exactly the wrong kind of car for the American market, but it was also a car that only a tiny niche public would ever even have heard of. Peripherally. Runner up for weirdness was the Glas.

So, a delightful read, and one that brings to a close the huge pile of Road & Tracks I bought a couple of years ago. I still have a few stragglers from the sixties I’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks, but this is the end of the major pile. I’ll miss them!

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is a sword and sorcery adventure in the style of Robert E Howard’s Conan books. It’s called The Song of Sangr, and you can check it out here.

Adieu to and Old Friend

Late last year, I wrote that Write Ahead The Future Looms 10 was the last one I’d contributed to. Turns out I was wrong. Lurking in the uncharted depths of my TBR pile was Volume 12, a welcome surprise, and a magazine I read very quickly once I arrived at it.

As always with these, this one is a cyberpunk mag which explores the interaction of individuals and society with our upcoming even-more-computer-integrated world. The best story was probably “Breakfast After the Singularity” by Mark Silcox which breaks with grim cyberpunk tradition to give us a bit of humor. Fun stuff.

But more than the mag itself, reading this last one was an opportunity to think of all the other stuff that’s ending. Avid readers know the feeling well: that sense that you have finally read the last book in a series, or the last work by a beloved writer, now deceased. It’s a sense of accomplishment tinged with sadness. The Millennial generation felt it when the Harry Potter series ended.

Me? I have had several series end on me. The Wheel of Time. The Sword of Truth. Many, many others.

Worst of all, I have the final volume of Raymond Feist’s Riftwar saga sitting in my pile. I will miss those books once that one is gone.

What else? Well, there’s Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, which I need to get back into and finish it off. And, obviously, that big series by George RR Martin. You know the one.

The risk with big series, of course, is that the Author dies before finishing it. And that has happened to me before. We’ve spoken of Robert Jordan here before, but I also have to polish off the writing of Brian Jacques.

That’s my fantasy experience… hopefully the science fiction series I’m currently reading, by younger authors, will keep me company for the next three or four decades!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is an adventure in the Robert E Howard Sword and Sorcery tradition. You can check out The Song of Sangr here.

Zuffenhausen’s Last Attempt at Affordability

Porsche is an interesting company. For a company that essentially started out selling hot VWs (yeah, I know it’s not quite that simple, but we’re generalizing here), it didn’t take long to become the producer of very exclusive merchandise indeed.

And for the longest time, Porsche attempted to have a car that regular enthusiasts could drive. The first was the 912, then the 914 and eventually they had the Boxster (which was less available but still more accessible than their top-of-the-line cars). In the middle, there were the subject of this R&T’s cover story, the 924 / 944 series (this one is too early to contemplate the 968).

In the mid-80s, they had 4 distinct models in the range, which I find amazing. This didn’t help them and eventually led to one of the company’s biggest crises. Fortunately, those days seem to be behind Porsche now, and they happily sell exclusively high-end products.

Apart from the cover story, other articles of interest include a feature on the Berkeley, a salon on Eric Carlsson’s Saab 96 rally car and a great “track” segment with coverage of 2 Grands Prix and the 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Le Mans article in R&T is always worth waiting for.

All in all, an above-average issue. As an aside, people are quick today to slam the eighties as an era of badness because the economics were mainly geared towards successful capitalism)… but there is zero doom and gloom in this one. Remember when we were reading those late seventies and early eighties ones where just reading the magazine made it seem like the world was about to end? Well, it never did, and the mag seems healthier than ever in the mid 80s.

Anyhow, this is a great era to read both for content and for the fact that people seemed to be out in the world actually enjoying themselves instead of moping about how awful everything was. In that light, I’ll take the eighties over our current “enlightened” era.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a sword and sorcery adventure in the classical mold. You can check out The Song of Sangr here.

Inaccurate and Not Much Fun – But Memorable: The Phenix City Story

The Phenix City Story is a kind of dramatized documentary of the sort we’ve become used to since the 1950s, but which was a novel format back then. It begins with an actual newsreel in which a reporter interviews real-life inhabitants of the city. Then the dramatized part begins.

Unlike a fictional film only loosely based on real events, such as the classic On the Waterfront, this one is a little constrained by its place and the real-life events it was supposedly based on. It was also, perhaps, too close to the action to be a great film.

Without spoiling the film for others, I’d argue that this small scale was the cause of most of the artistic license taken. When your film is about grubby, small-minded criminals and the good men who fight them, the canvas needs to be broad and the stakes enormous… or you run the risk of simply having a small, grubby film.

That was where The Phenix City Story was likely headed until, in a pre-production meeting, someone decided to add in some horrifying incidents. These plot points add all sorts of drama and impact, but they also move the film away from any claims to being a faithful reproduction of events.

I normally enjoy crime films, but this one was not enjoyable. The film-industry magic that can elevate crime to art and criminals to tragic heroes was intentionally missing from this one because it aimed to be, in some sense, documentary. But then it veers so far from real events as to be very suspect in this respect as well.

Someone enjoyed this enough to select it for the 1001 films list. I guess I can see why – there’s a certain amount of innovation that makes it deserving. But I didn’t particularly enjoy it, and wouldn’t recommend except to the terminally curious.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a Sword and Sorcery adventure in the classic mold, where deep evils and deeper betrayals force our heroes to keep their wits about them at every turn. You can check The Song of Sangr out here.

A Decade of Strong Progress

Off the race track, the 1960s were apparently an era of social insanity and excellent parties. This energy was, perhaps, transmitted to the Le Mans 24 hours in a flurry of technical innovation. Just consider that the 1960 winner was a front-engined Ferrari, a throwback to an earlier age. By the end of the decade, it was impossible to be competitive for an overall win unless you had a serious mid-engined racer.

But though this particular change might be more obvious to a casual viewer, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading this wonderful series of books, it’s that the cars winning the races in the first pages are not even remotely similar to those winning on the back pages.

Casual fans will also be attracted to this one by the fact that it was the era of the recent film Ford v Ferrari, which a lot of people who couldn’t actually tell you where the engine is on a race car watched because… well, because they’ll watch any Hollywood blocksbuster. At least the book gets the details of the 1966 race correct!

Despite its pop culture connection, this is still a beautiful, exhaustively researched book which I recommend to anyone with an interest in sports car racing. These books pretty much replace all the other Le Mans books of the 20th century. I just wish they were had published books about the 2000-2020 races, but those don’t seem to exist. Still, this series replaces all the other Le Mans books on my shelves.

My one criticism is that, unlike earlier books in this series, this one doesn’t quite get every single car. Some of the very minor entries seem to have been passed over. It’s a nit, and understandable for space reasons, but that completeness was something I’d enjoyed about the earlier volumes.

All in all, I found this a work that isn’t just enjoyable, but important.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book, The Song of Sangr, is old-school sword and sorcery in the Robert E Howard mold – pure, enjoyable adventure. You can can check it out here.