Speed bumps Happen

Last week, we crowed that yes, the world of Road & Track had, in 1977 finally overcome the gloom and doom and regulatory nightmares that characterized the seventies and was moving into the glorious materialism of the eighties with gay abandon.

And then we hit a snag: the November 1977 issue of the magazine wasn’t quite up to the same standard as the previous ones. This one was–dare we say it?–a bit boring.

Now, if I know my readers, you’ll likely be grinning at this point and saying: “Of course it’s boring. You’re rereading 40-year-old car magazines. What do you expect? Scoops? Thrilling and unexpected news?”

Har, har. Apart from missing the point of why one rereads old car magazines (hint, for the same reason you read yet another history book about WWII or the Harlem Renaissance), there’s a specific reason this one is less interesting than the last few.

Fortunately, this reason actually doesn’t have to do with the regulatory situation or the fact that cars had gotten steadily worse in the early-to-mid seventies. In fact, the magazine, though not scintillating, is brimming with optimism (proving that, given half a chance, real engineers will defeat social engineers every time). It’s simply a matter of Road & Track having to give their readers information about cars they could actually buy after romps through nostalgia and supercars.

Even the cover car was not as fun as some recent ones. Though it was breathed-upon and expensive, it’s tough to get truly starry-eyed about a 1970s 3-series (even the turbo racers seem a little blah to me). Worse was within, with road tests and features about Beetles, the 1970s Dodge Challenger (not the car we think of when Challengers are mentioned, an Oldsmobile diesel, the 7 series Bimmer and front-wheel-drive. These made the mag a bit of a slog at times.

But R&T is always R&T, so the slightly dry parts get peppered with excellent complements. Three grands prix were covered here, an there’s a profile of new writer, Innes Ireland (he was writing half the Grand Prix reports when I started reading R&T in 1989) as well as a look at DeKon engineering. The Salon was a Bentley 8 Liter, in case the seventies trend for downsizing engines got you down. Oh, and the Renault F1 Turbo, the car that was to revolutionize the entire sport… even if no one suspected it yet.

In conclusion, and despite the trudging nature of some of the features, this one proves that, when the industry wasn’t being choked to death, Road & Track is a good read overall. Which is why, in a weirdly adapted form, it’s still alive today (maybe I can find a modern issue at some point to review and talk about the contrasts).

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest series is a monster romp in the traditional creature feature sense. The series starts with Ice Station: Death, which you can check out here, and continues to this day. A fourth book is planned for release in 2021.

The Very Best of one of the Greatest Magazines

Most people of my generation who grew up reading science fiction know there are exactly three great SF magazines out there (this isn’t necessarily correct, because there are many more new and old, but this is what we know in our bones). Those magazines are, in chronological order of launch: Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s.

Two of these are deeply tied to specific immortal colossi of the genre – Analog is Campbell’s magazine, Asimov’s is… well, it’s pretty obvious if you think about it).

F&SF is not so intimately linked to any specific figure which, ironically, allows it to be linked with almost everyone who was ever anyone in the field. So when I saw a book entitled The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Volume Two, I had to snap it up and immediately began searching for volume 1 (I still don’t have that one, BTW).

As I started reading this one, it quickly became apparent that F&SF is one of the greats for a very good reason. Of the first twelve stories, I’d read ten or so before in one or another “greatest” or “best of the year” compendiums. SO this isn’t just a magazine tooting its own horn–independent editors have been selecting these stories for “greatest” volumes for a long time. And remember, this is volume TWO. These are the stories that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the first volume. The fact that they’re among SF’s acknowledged greats is mind-blowing.

But the thing that stunned me the most is that the immortal Ellison tale “Jeffty is Five” got held over to volume 2. This is one of THE greatest stories ever according to pretty much everyone. That gives you some idea of the quality of fiction that F&SF has published over the years.

As we got into the more modern stories, from the eighties on, I found work that I wasn’t familiar with. Another thing that is lovely about this book is how the style changes as the years go on. All the stories that made it here are obviously well-written with excellently drawn characters, but in the early stories, the idea is front and center while in the later ones, you get a more character-centric vision. Some people (like me) will marvel at the Golden Age stuff, while others will admire the newer work, but everyone will be treated to the most pleasant way to see the evolution of the genre: by reading wonderful stories.

Of the newer ones, I’d have to say that George Alec Effinger’s “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” was the one I enjoyed most. It’s funny without being slapstick and memorable besides.

Of the old ones, I have to admit that, despite my love for idea fiction and Golden Age SF, I love Zenna Henderson’s “The Anything Box”. It’s just so well executed that the slightly weak concept is saved. Beautiful story.

For the record, I hate the ending of “Jeffty is FIve”, but it’s certainly a must-read.

And now, off to search, again, for Volume One. There are probably copies on Goodreads.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose collection Off the Beaten path does exactly what the cover says. It collects work outside the obvious settings of the US and Europe to uncover the fantastic (and science fictional) in the rest of the world. You can check it out here.

What I do when I’m not Reading, Writing or Watching Old Movies

I’ve spoken here about the creative impulse before, but this time I’m going to make it a little more personal and discuss what I do when I’m not writing (or working on other stuff, or watching movies, or reading books or taking care of children), mainly because I realized that I also try to create stuff when I’m in downtime mode.

Now, one hobby I’ve got is building scale models, but that one seems a little like cheating. While it takes a little practice to get them looking decent, the real skill (at least in the case of the ones I build) is on the part of the model builder. Even on mass-produced plastic kits, at some point a prototype maker did the work of carving and engineering it so it would fit together and look correct. I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of talent that takes.

My own contribution to the arts is my other hobby: drawing stuff (admittedly, mostly cars) with colored pencils. These are amateur efforts, but I like the results and occasionally sell an original for a few hundred dollars to auto enthusiasts (it takes a couple of months of highly interrupted work to draw these, so I’m not exactly getting rich). As an example, here’s my latest effort.

As you can tell, my obsession with Le Mans extends to drawing… this is a Ford Mustand leading an Alpine at Le Mans in 1967, just before dusk.

Unlike my fiction, which is my primary creative output, these will likely never compete on the world level or win prestigious awards. But they give me enormous amounts of pleasure, both to create and to look at afterward. The delight is well out of proportion to the actual quality of the drawings, but it’s totally worth it to me.

In fact, I like them so much that I have put some of the drawings on products in a Zazzle store, which I’ve discussed here before. And if you’re interested in looking at the full collection of cars, they’re in this online gallery.

Anyway, I thought I’d share… and I’d love to hear about your own alternative pursuits.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is entitled Test Site Horror. It’s fast-paces and unrelenting… like the monsters inside. You can check it out here.

Yet Another Reminder that You Shouldn’t Judge a Book by How it Looks

Those of you with incredible memories and equal measures of patience will recall that, in 2019, I was in Dublin for WorldCon. Since I spent most of my time in the dealer’s room signing books (or talking up other writers’ books at my publisher’s table), it’s not surprising that I also bought a lot of books from other tables.

One of them was at the end of Sunday when people were discounting everything and closing up shop. I saw a copy of The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy & Horror by, apparently, Roger Luckhurst, Mike Ashley, Michael Kerrigan, Matt Cardin, Dave Golder, Russ Thorne and Rosie Fletcher. I wasn’t too impressed by how it looked, as I was used to the Collector’s Press treatment of the same subjects. But they told me it was 5 Euros for this solid hardcover book, so I bought it.

It’s the kind of thing I really enjoy, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt despite the fact that the interior design didn’t inspire me (there’s nothing wrong with that cover, though!). Looking at it now, I’m not entirely certain why I didn’t like it visually when I picked it up. Perhaps it was the clinical white that dominated the text or the circular inset images. Or maybe it was that a lot of modern imagery (especially from films) was used in place of pictures of original book versions.

Whatever it was, I was wrong to doubt and very right to buy this one. The text erases any graphic design failings (whether real or only existent in my imagination) and tells the story of horror and fantasy simply but effectively, with a certain preference for the darker end of the spectrum. And while I admit to being a bit of a geek, I couldn’t put this one down because it’s more a narrative that shows the development of the genres than a dry reference book. Another plus is that this one is written from the British point of view, making it a good complement to the books from Collector’s Press.

Only a tiny thing jarred, but I suppose that’s down more to having to write to the era than any fault of the authors: at times, the role of women in the genre was a bit forced. This is unfortunate because it was unnecessary: Fantasy and Horror are two genres in which you don’t need to force this issue. There are colossal women in these fields, giants of literature who stand without the need to make a separate section for them… they don’t need a special category for themselves. It’s actually counterproductive, as if the contributions of women are somehow lesser. In these genres, no one would ever believe that.

But that’s a minor nit in a thoroughly enjoyable, well-researched work which will entrance fans and educate newbies. While it doesn’t try to be an encyclopedia, it’s much more enjoyable to read than a true reference book would have been.

Recommended.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres including fantasy and horror. For a good look at his work in these last two, you can check out his dark fantasy collection Pale Reflection. Here’s the link.

We can Confirm the Trend Towards Improvement

Last Monday we wondered whether the August 1977 issue of Road & Track was better because it simply collected a few good things in one issue or whether we were seeing the beginning of a trend. Well, if the October issue was anything to go by, it’s definitely a trend.

This is nearly the perfect issue for someone like me. It contains several competition pieces, including a couple of Grands Prix, the annual Le Mans report (Le Mans is my favorite race ever) and even a test of the Mirage GR8, which was a fun car to see tested.

Road cars were good, too. The car that later became known as the BMW M1 graced the cover. Interestingly, the styling was panned in its day, but this is one of the seventies supercars that I would love to have as a daily driver today. It has, to my eye, aged very well.

That reflection brings us (perhaps too neatly) to something that happened in the 1970s that bucked the automotive trend. While we’ve gone on and on and ON about the grimness of the decade for lovers of cars and personal freedom (remember, this was the age where the government decided that everything had to be regulated even if the people were dead set against it… and they went at it with typical bureaucratic glee and cluelessness), we haven’t really spoken about the one shining light in the era: the birth of the Supercar.

Yes, I know the first supercar, the Miura, was from the sixties, but it wasn’t until the seventies that everyone got aboard, to the point that even serious-minded BMW had a mid-engined vehicle in its lineup. This is a wonderful era that gave us, apart from the M1, the Countach, the Berlinetta Boxer, several mid-engined Maseratis. Even junior supercars such as the Esprit, the M1 or the Porsche 911 Turbo were more exciting than anything most drivers had seen before.

Why did this happen in the middle of an outbreak of nanny-state awfulness? Well, probably because the well-heeled, seeing life become so dull under the new regulations wanted to rebel, to make a bold statement that they, at least, were not following the sheep.

In fact, the 1970s supercars could be seen as the preview of the entire decade of the eighties, were individualism again came to the forefront and the greyness of conformity was soundly denounced by everyone from Madonna to the stockbroker next door.

And, in 1977, the eighties were just around the corner.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work has been published all over the place and translated into eight languages. His latest collection is called Pale Reflection and looks at the darker side of fantasy lore. You can check it out here.

Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?

The 1001 films list has a lot of ponderous, significant films, but it’s also pretty well stocked with fun movies. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes falls into the latter category, and resoundingly so. This isn’t one that explores a universal truth (despite the title) or one that forces you to think. Even its humor is on a superficial level.

Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful film: fast-paced, funny and colorful, with just enough music to call itself a musical and even an all-time famous song.

Of course, the film is famous for Marilyn and remembered for Marilyn. But…

But she definitely isn’t the female lead in this film I would have chosen if forced to choose. Her throaty, sex-kitten style in this particular movie makes one want to send her into exile in a remote corner of Bhutan (as a civilized alternative to bashing her with a baseball bat, which I hear is frowned upon). It’s just unbearably dumb and looks even worse when cast alongside Jane Russell’s wonderful character who is truly attractive. In fact, she did the same character better in her noir days.

So, in my case, I’d say gentlemen don’t prefer blondes. I’d even go out on a limb and say that most intelligent males of this generation would have chosen Russell over Monroe in this particular instance unless they’d truly been bedazzled by Marilyn’s looks (admittedly, that is pretty likely).

Why do I tell you all of this? Because it’s important for you to know that the most memorable part of the whole film is when Russell impersonates Marilyn in a courtroom scene (wearing a blond wig) and does a sarcastic take on the bubbly blonde that is absolutely for the ages. It’s so well done that it almost comes out as mean-spirited. And since there is no evidence of Russell disliking Monroe, the problem is that Marilyn’s character was just too stupid to believe.

The contrast with the other notable sudden stardom of the era – that of Audrey Hepburn – is striking… with Hepburn being the almost perfect innocent.

That’s not a knock on the film by the way. The character is perfect for the role, and an excellent satirization of a certain kind of woman (who still exists today, albeit in a slightly different form). This is one to watch and treasure for what it is: a bubbly comedy that stands the test of time well. I’d recommend it.

As a final comment, it’s interesting to note that, as a musical, it’s very different from the extravaganzas of the thirties, which smaller set pieces. Many of the songs caught me by surprise, so I guess they could have been more seamlessly integrated. It doesn’t detract from the film overall, but it’s strange.

Anyone looking for a bit of light entertainment could do worse than find a copy of this one.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose sexiest novel contains no kittens, but has a protagonist with the attitude to wear her sexuality well. Timeless is a thriller set in a world of international smuggling and medieval monasteries whose pace never falls off. You can check it out here.

Disturbed Digest – My First Time

My first impression of Disturbed Digest – on receiving my first contributor copy, for my story in the December 2018 issue – was that the cover is brilliant and perfectly fits the topic of the publication. It looks like something that might have graced a cover of one of the horror or fantasy mags in the fifties, which is the highest compliment I can think of for cover art. I’ve never been shy in admitting that I love those old covers and feel that the modern ones suffer by comparison. This one does not suffer. It’s the perfect blood-red design with a classical human looking unsuspectingly to his symbolic doom. Wonderful.

So the stories inside had to live up to the cover, which is something that wasn’t always the case back in the Golden Age of science fiction in which the mags had classic stories by brilliant masters (Asimov or Heinlein or Leinster or whoever) but also filled their volume with lesser work.

Disturbed Digest doesn’t fall into this trap. There is no filler here, and the stories are chilling enough to carry the cover. Everything from nicely tuned dread to cosmic horror on a Lovecraftian scale, these dooms can be well-deserved or utterly unfair, as the story demands.

The story I enjoyed the most was probably Lee Clark Zumpe’s “Wild with Hunger” that, though it breaks no new ground when it comes to monsters, it is beautifully written and delivers the sensation of being in a dreadful place as well as I’ve seen recently. Another particularly good one was Aria J. Wolf’s tale, “The Death Waltz”, with a reveal at the end that you likely won’t see coming.

Recommended.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest collection is entitled Off the Beaten Path. Moving away from the usual western European settings, this one will open your horizons to cultures and places you never suspected existed. You can check it out here.

The Best of the Seventies? Or a Trend Toward Improvement?

When I read the August 1977 issue of Road & Track, I was surprised to realize how quickly I finished it. At first, I simply thought that might be due to the fact that I’d recently read the mammoth 30th anniversary edition, but soon came to realize that this particular issue is just that good.

The reasons for this are myriad, but I think the most important is that we’re in the late 1970s… and that means that the worst of the decade with regards to legislation and cars becoming utter crap was past. The eighties, a spectacular decade for cars, were just around the corner. In addition to the gloom starting to life, the eighties idiom is one I’m more comfortable with because that’s when I started reading the magazine, so maybe some of that familiarity made this one a breeze.

But mainly, I think the content was responsible. And it starts with a Ferrari show car on the cover. When your idea of fun is to take a styling exercise capable of outrunning everything else on the road and drive it on public streets, it kinda sets the tone for the rest of the publication.

And it actually does work out that way. There isn’t a single boring feature in the entire magazine. No road test of slow family sedans. No technical analysis of tires we can no longer buy. Just performance cars and race reports. The perfect car magazine.

So, we’ll see if this renaissance continues. Stay tuned.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is an action-packed romp through the Russian countryside while being chased by genetically-modified dinosaurs. And that’s not even hyperbole… it’s the description of the book. You can check out Test Site Horror here.

The Pharaoh Key: Not a Good First Impression

As you probably know by now, I’m not exactly a prude when it comes to page-turning action books what the establishment turns its nose up at. I make no secret that I loved The Da Vinci Code, and still read Dan Brown’s books when they are released.

But, to my surprise, I found that I actually do have standards below which I get annoyed. Who’d a thunk it?

The Pharaoh Key was purchased at an airport for a couple of reasons. The first was purely research–I was interested to see what kind of books in the adventure (as opposed to international espionage) genre were selling in sufficient numbers to justify high-value real estate in a Hudson News outlet. The second was that the book looked really fun, and it could also serve as a gift for my father, who enjoys this kind of thing.

The first red light was when my dad, after reading it said he thought it was awful, but since he’s more into the spies than ancient treasure, I assumed that was where he was coming from.

It might actually have been where he was coming from (I didn’t ask him when he read it and haven’t discussed the book with him since), but my own dislike for this one comes from a completely different source: the writing makes Dan Brown look like Oscar Wilde, and the outrageous stuff that happens often throws you out of the plot.

I’m usually fine with that second one, so I dug into it a bit more. Just why did the outlandishness of the whole thing bug me so much?

Perhaps the first part is that, unlike Brown, the actions and descriptions of some of the exotic places didn’t ring true. The way the characters remove themselves from police custody at one point is utterly imbecilic, while the plot point of a lost tribe living in the Egyptian desert rang hollow; for all I know, it might be true, but it just seemed false, which is exactly the opposite of what I’m used to. Maybe that’s because I am an SFF reader. In science fiction and fantasy, authors are experts at making things the reader knows don’t exist seem real. Perhaps I’m spoiled, so when people who have the advantage of usually writing plausible things stretch credibility, I expect them to be better at it than Preston and Child were in this case.

The entire book is full of stuff like that, so my own review, had I left one on amazon, would have been 2 stars. It’s certainly not a one star book: it’s grammatically correct and the writing isn’t actually bad, just a little weak in some key areas.

But, going back to the reason I purchased this one in the first place, I’d like to remind everyone that that my review isn’t the one that matters. I checked Amazon, and readers seem to really like this book, and it’s currently sitting at 4-and-a-half stars. A lot of people have weighed in on it, so it’s not like a couple of the authors’ friends bumped it up.

Clearly, Preston and Child know exactly what their public wants, and write to that target with precision and skill, and while the style might not impress a fellow writer, the ability to find the style and deliver it every single time is extremely impressive. Popular fiction isn’t easy to write, and prose that is technically sound but still appeals to the majority of readers is a finely-honed skill. I probably would have loved this book when I was twelve, and many people still do. That is awesome, and no one should begrudge the authors an iota of their success for catering to their public.

So while I didn’t like this book, I respect it enormously. And now I know what is selling in the adventure thriller market, which was the whole point of the exercise.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose own thriller, timeless seems to be the exact opposite of the Preston & Child book reviewed above. While theirs is simply written and almost completely asexual, Timeless is very well-written and sexually charged. The only similarity is that both are fast-paced page-turners. You can check out Timeless here.

Back to the Future is Just the Tip of the Iceberg Here

If you like to cinematic ties to your car magazine reading, but are into classic cinema more than the modern Rush, then the July 1977 issue of Road & Track is the one for you.

Starting with the obvious, that prototype of the forthcoming DeLorean immediately makes everyone think of Back to the Future, and makes me wonder if any car has ever been so unbreakably linked to a film as that one. Even people who were much too young to remember the eighties know this, and the young SF fandom still connects (there was a Back to the Future-style DeLorean in the dealers room of the 2019 WorldCon, and still attracting crowds).

But it didn’t end there… and remember that when this issue was printed, Marty McFly was a decade in the future. There were other Hollywood links in this one. Actually appearing earlier in the magazine than the cover story, there was a road test of the Lotus Esprit, James Bond’s ride in The Spy Who Loved Me. You know the one–it’s white and jumps off a pier where it becomes a submarine. The magazine even features an articla about how they made the film and how they built the sub.

The best of the film links, at least from the Classically Educated perspective, is the fact that the Salon story (about an older car) deal with the Napier Railton. Now, most of my readers who aren’t serious car buffs will never have heard of this aero-engined beast, but it’s the car that appeared, suitably disguised, as the record-breaker in the wonderful film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which we reviewed here.

So, film star cars, in all their glory.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina whose latest book is a fast-paced monster adventure entitled Test Site Horror. You can check it out here.