Offseason Extravaganza

The motorsport offseason is my least favorite time for old Road & Tracks. The reason has partly to do with the fact that I hate not having race reports to read (old race reports fascinate me, for some reason), but is also linked to the fact that the editors needed to fill in the pages with more road car information. That could be a plodding thing if they dug too far into the commuter / luxury markets, but it could also be entertaining if they happened to have decent sports cars to discuss.

Such was the case in February and March of 1983. The issues coincided with the launch of the first true Porsche 911 convertible and the launch of the Corvette C5. Both of these are monumental cars which lift their issues out of offseason mediocrity.

Apart from the Porsche Article, the February issue was also brightened by an article about Lotus returning to the US, the Runoffs report and a Salon about an F1 Mercedes from the 50s. So, it was a fun read even though the Grand Prix Circus was off that month.

March was a Corvette extravaganza, with a poster and several articles (including a priceless piece by Peter Egan) and, wonder of wonders, the issuaeALSO included a classic Egan article: Glory Days of the Late Straight Eight, which told of a teenaged version of said writer attempting to build a race car out of an old Buick. Also priceless.

Salon car for this one was the Ford 999, which pretty much lifted the issue.

I get the sense that, in 1982 at least, the Editors knew that the offseason lowered the interest in the mag for those readers who prefer race cars to commuter devices, and they lifted the quantity of quirky stuff in the rest of the issue accordingly. Or maybe they just got lucky.

Whatever the case, these two are pretty decent, even if they leave one hoping for the racing season to begin again.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

More Cultural Wonder

I’ve mentioned my love of Fine Books & Collections here before. What I probably didn’t mention is that, due to the fact that the Argentine postal system appears to hate magazine subscriptions (I’m convinced they lose every issue on purpose), I have to send them to my brother’s house in the US and grab them if I happen to be in the country.

This results in my having batches to read at any one time, so here are the latest pair I’ve read: Summer and Autumn 2021.

As I’m a genre reader and writer, the article on Niel Gaiman’s illustrated books has to be the highlight of the summer issue for me. But there’s so much to love in these magazines that it’s hard to focus on that alone. After all these publications are a cultural education, and they showcase maps, art and, of course, books on every subject. Still, illustrated fantasy has to take top billing in my own particular case. But another beautiful article featured the maps of MacDonald Gill.

The cover of the Autumn issue was, to me, much more evocative. Though not linked to a specific article, it underlines the eclectic nature of the magazine – it’s an advertisement for travel on a train from Portland to San Francisco courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The most interesting parts of this mag (to be fair, I find something interesting on every page, but I need to try to make sense of it for you guys), were the two major articles–one on the Federal Writer’s Project and another on the illustrated biological books of Mark Catesby.

If you can ever grab an issue of this mag, do so. It’s more than a look at collector’s books – it’s a trip into a different world where everything has cultural value, revealed to you by the magazine’s writers.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

Two Misses in a Row

I thought The Wrong Man was a bit of a turkey, and I was ready for something better in the next of the 1001 films… After all, these are supposed to be the great films. Some are great without being good, but many are really good. So I was optimistic. Man, was I ever wrong.

Bigger than Life is even worse, if that’s possible.

To make a long and tedious story short, this is the tale of a good man who, as a last resort to save him from a rare disease, is put on an experimental drug treatment. And though he is basically cured, the drugs turn him into an egomaniacal monster. Who, in the only truly memorable part of the movie, announces that “God was wrong.”

Now, this might sound like a novel subject for a 1950s film, but in order to make that argument, we’d have to ignore Dr. Jeckyll and Mr, Hyde. And the film was panned in the critical press of the time, and flopped at the box office.

So what is it doing in the 1001 films list? Apparently, a French magazine named it one of the ten best sound films in the history of US cinema. I suppose the arguments around it make it necessary that you watch it. Remember: the challenge is 1001 films to watch before you die, not 1001 good films or even 1001 great films. Apparently, in order to be an acceptable cinephile, you need to have an opinion on this one.

My opinion s that it’s bad.

Another opinion is that James Mason always seems to play depressing (and often depressed) characters. I wonder if that was just because of the way his major films happened to fall, or if he was typecast in those roles for some reason.

Whatever the case, I tremble every time he pops up on screen and, as one of the major stars of the early fifties (though apparently largely forgotten today), he’s been on screen more often than not.

Avoid this one unless you’re an absolute completist.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

The Pironi Crash and Dodge Cars I Remember Liking

In 1982, Chrysler wasn’t in good shape and, save for a brief time in the nineties with their cab-forward cars and a brief minivan-led revival in the 80s, I can’t remember it being in good shape since, either.

But the cover car of the December 1982 issue of Road & Track was a familiar car which I remember being cool when I was in the US in the late 80s. Always nice to have a fun Chrysler product on the cover.

Apart from the Chrysler stuff, this particular mag felt big (at 192 pages, it WAS big), loaded with new car intros (notably the Ford Sierra, probably the most important Ford car of the 80s and a new Audi 5000). For anyone looking for a snapshot of the automotive world in 1982 who didn’t want to scour multiple mags, this one is a good bet.

Competition articles focused on F1. We get Pironi’s practice crash. This is relevant to me because he was the last Ferrari F1 driver that I didn’t get to watch race for the team. I’ve seen each and every one of the men who came after driving for the Cavallino.

The most notable thing about the coverage of the three races in this issue is that they illustrate how much parity there was in F1 in 1982 after the two best car/driver combos were eliminated by death or injury. Normally aspirated engine vying for wins with faster but less-reliable turbos. Some people stopping for gas while others don’t.

I think anyone who believes F1 attains even mediocrity today should read this. It shows how more permissive rules can make different teams competitive in the same season with different technology. It was a true golden era of innovation, and made for a much better show than today’s cars that are nearly spec racers.

The Salon, too focused on a better time: it was the Porsche F1 car from the 1962 season.

So this is one of those “issues of reference” for its period.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

When Hitchcock Meets Real Life, Plodding Ensues

The Wrong Man starts with Hitchcock speaking to the camera. He explains that every word in the film we are about to watch is true.

This, as we shall see, is relevant to the way a viewer enjoys the film (or doesn’t)

The story is about a man called Manny Ballestreros, a musician in a club band who is barely getting by, but is painted as an honest man. The film starts with him being fingered as a notorious stick-up man who several witnesses identify as the criminal.

Now this is where Hitchcock’s words at the beginning affect the viewer.

An intelligent audience member will recall the opening words and assume that, if the film is being marketed as the story of a mistaken identity, then the identity of the real criminal will be discovered at some point. So you know there will be a happy ending in which the poor victim sells the rights to his story to Hollywood.

A more subtle effect on the viewer is the fact that you know that nothing truly unexpected will happen. Manny won’t be rescued from the gallows by a last-second governor’s pardon. He won’t stage a daring prison escape through the sewers of the complex. The chain of coincidences that leads to him being put on trial (he makes bail because his friends are convinced he’s innocent and help him out) will eventually be cut.

SPOILERS: And they are. The real stick-up man is found in the end, which was pretty much the only way it could actually go.

More unusual still is that the audience watching this film in 1956 would have remembered the case and known what ended up happening, so it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

We know Hitchcock can be hit-or-miss, but I think this one missed so badly that the famed director decided he would eschew real-life stories henceforth.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

A Beautiful Work of Deep Scholarship

I’ll admit it. When I bought Mark Purcell’s book The Country House Library, I was expecting a typical coffee-table volume with breathtaking photography that would transport me to the world of Wodehouse’s Blandings, or similar places of the imagination.

I glanced through it when it arrived, and nothing within made me revise my opinion, so it went onto my to-be-read pile and surfaced recently, a long-awaited bit of light reading meant to evoke a sense of the British country houses that I love… plus books! What could be better?

Wow. While the imagery definitely transports you to the world of earls and gentlefolk, the words are anything but light reading. There is deep scholarship in this work, giving the history of major libraries in the British countryside. By libraries, the focus here is on curated (or sometimes not-so-curated) collections of books and the rooms built to house them. It looks at the subject from every conceivable angle, including the way a library was built, when, where and why it was dispersed, and the social effects is had while it was in place. Specific family libraries are traced and the history of the houses in which they were held outlined. There is a staggering amount of information in here, from Roman times to the present day.

Like any book of this type, some of the data is more interesting than other. For example, the extensive parade of earls and baronets who built libraries would probably be more interesting to a student of history than to a bibliophile / anglophile like me… but it did amuse me to realize just how often those fellows managed to bankrupt themselves.

Of much more interest are the detailed descriptions of the innumerable iconic and historically significant volumes that have at some point been out in the countryside unbeknownst to most (some few still remain, but they are now much better documented and accessible to scholars).

Of course, a paragraph must be dedicated to the photography. This is a lavishly illustrated work in which the data-packed text is perfectly lightened by the wonderful photos of books and library rooms.

It wasn’t the book I expected, but the balance between the academic text and the coffee-table-worthy illustrations made it a better book than what I thought it would be. It is, in essence, two books in one: a scholarly tome in which to look up doubts on this particular (albeit arcane) subject and a book to recline on a couch on a rainy afternoon and look at pictures of wonderful books and libraries.

I enjoyed it enormously, although I understand that it might not be for everyone!

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

A Tragic Few Months in F1 and a lot of Luigi Chinetti

The summer of 1982 was a dark one for Formula 1. The death of Gilles Villeneuve was reported in the issue before this one (I assume – I still don’t have the September 1982 issue), but the GPs in this issue did report the death of Riccardo Paletti, the last man to be killed during an F1 race until Senna in 1994 (only one other driver – Jules Bianchi – has been killed in an F1 race after Senna. Other drivers have been killed testing or in practice, but not during a race). Didier Pironi won the second race reported here, but he was only going to be in the top class another couple of months, as an accident ended his driving career (more on that when I review the December issue), and he would later die in a powerboat accident.

This serves as a reminder that auto racing was always a high-risk sport in which the edges have been probed and in which the limits sometimes push back. With the advent of TV audiences who don’t understand this particular truth, the cars and circuits have been emasculated to the point where there is little risk or innovation. Cars today could be a lot faster than they are… but that would cause some of the people watching on TV to clutch their pearls in dismay if they happen to see a bad crash. I, for one, would love to see the risk factor back, and to know the men and women doing the driving are there despite the risk, because they truly love it. The current generation does it essentially for the money. Except Kimi. Kimi rocks.

Having said that, the November issue also had the Le Mans report. As a US magazine, R&T focused on the American participation, but unlike the days of the Ford invasion, Americans were irrelevant at Le Mans in 1982 except for Al Holbert and Hurley Haywood. Why were they relevant? Because they were at the wheel of a Porsche 956.

That car was the only real news of the 1982 event. It was a car that would change the face of endurance racing for a decade (the last win for a 962 was for the Dauer team’s modified “GT” version in 1994, 12 years after the car’s debut. Not many other race cars can claim to win at the very top of the sport during 12 years. At least I can’t think of any.

Luigi Chinetti was both honored at Le Mans and Profiled by R&T, which is was a cool moment because his NART team was such a huge part of the sport for decades. And Chinetti himself even won the race as a driver. A giant of the sport.

Final goodness was the Salon Article in which Phil Hill drove the 330LM/TR he drove to victory in 1962. Probably one of the most beautiful objects ever created by man.

So an issue that has all the good parts of the magazine in one place. It’s a primer on the beauty and danger and glory of auto competition, all in one handy issue. There was some stuff about road cars, too, but we won’t talk about that.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

The Big 3 Revisited

There’s been a concerted effort to try to minimize the significance of science fiction’s traditional Big Three. While most of this push has been the usual “let’s not focus on dead white guys” drivel, there is definitely some truth to the fact that a lot of Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke’s work reads a little dated to modern eyes.

I’m not talking about the archaic social assumptions – if you’re too dumb to understand context, you have no business reading science fiction – but some of the text and characterization feels lacking at times, especially in Asimov who was possibly the best prose writer of the three, but also the one who kept his SF focused on ideas and put his characters and dialogue in there to keep the plot moving. It’s possible that is due to his own difficulty in engaging with people when growing up.

But then you read his autobiography, and it’s like the perfect piece of unputdownable prose. Brilliant stuff that makes you wonder why his fictional characters didn’t receive the same treatment.

But this isn’t a post about Asimov.

Arthur C. Clarke was another of science fiction’s Big Three. He was known as the ideas man of the bunch (with Heinlein being the brilliant concept / storyteller / character guy) and the one whose predictions had a tendency to come through. In my opinion, he was also the most typically British Empire of them, and he wrote men that acted like the men of his time were supposed to act. I tend to enjoy his characters for that, and also because he–like the other two–gives you a sense that humanity is more good than bad, and that people can solve pretty much everything if the whiners shut up and let the engineers get to work. This is probably another reason modern academia hates the Big Three.

When I started reading The Deep Range, the setting and the fact that there are giant squids in it (see cover) made me immediately suspect that I might have read the short story. But a look into my collection showed me that I probably hadn’t… which means I read one with a similar concept behind it.

Essentially, this one shows the career of a former space pilot who, due to psychological issues, needs to become a kind of underwater rancher in a world in which the sea accounts for a good chunk of the world’s protein. Of course, the character–who is quite a fun guy to ride along with–is just a vehicle for exploring this new world, and the social issues that Clarke predicted might arise. Without spoiling anything, I will say that, apart from predicting the communications satellite, Clarke also managed to predict the rise of militant vegetarianism quite well. Though, unfortunately, he doesn’t propose a cure for it.

The main sensation one is left with after reading this one is that there’s a reason the Big Three haven’t been replaced by anyone. Sure, there have been some good SF writers to start their careers since. Herbert and Scott Card come to mind as authors who have written more recent blockbuster classics of the genre, but in today’s genre world, I find it difficult to become fascinated by the world being postulated and the ideas being bandied around in quite the same was as I do when I was reading this one. Sure, it’s nearly seventy years old, but it feels fresh when reading in a way that today’s authors can’t quite match.

This one is a quick read, and I’d recommend it. But more than that, if you like science fiction and fantasy and aren’t quite happy with the current award winners (and I’m not even going to get into why the current crop of award winners is bland, bad and utterly uninspiring) you should give the Big Three a look. They’ll restore your faith in both humanity and science fiction.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

Among the Ultimate B-Movie SF Flicks

While watching the 1001 movies, I’ve found the 1950s to be particularly strong in westerns (especially the first half of the decade) and Japanese films (apparently, all the hyper-great films from Japan were filmed in the decade). But if you’d asked me what kind of film I expected to be watching, I would likely have nominated B-movie SF.

Now, there has been a certain amount of SF on the List. Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still are notable examples… but they are quite intellectual, dealing with heavy themes and aren’t really B-movie cheesy. Of course, the real B-movies in which giant insects attack small towns didn’t make the list.

But Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) did.

Yes, I know. The film was eventually reevaluated by critics and found to be a deep and meaningful commentary on suburban fifties life (or some such critic-speak), but the truth is this is a film made on a budget with almost no special effects, just about the furthest thing from our current crop of CGI-heavy superhero flicks.

This is a film shot in 20 days, and starring authors who, if you read their Wikipedia entries, are usually listed as “Best remembered for their role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” We’re not talking A-listers here.

But the acting is excellent, and the film makes sense even though it’s one of those plots that could, without the help of modern effects, fall apart at any moment. It’s a testament to the skill of the crew involved (the director also shot Dirty Harry, so I can’t say he was a one-hit wonder).

And it even feels modern. The pacing is just right, feeling eerie from the first shot, and the tension doesn’t resolve even after the final scene. It’s an impressive achievement.

The plot is quite simple (spoilers here if you haven’t seen it): pods from outer space are replacing the people of a small town while they sleep… and only one man knows what is happening. Will he be believed?

Of course, if it hadn’t included a message that resonated with critics, it would have disappeared along with the Giant Mantis and the Fifty Foot Woman. But no film is perfect, I guess. Not even a 1950s sci-fi B-flick.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.

Concept Car Covers – Hit or Miss

Road & Track, during its heyday, was a repository for all that was newsworthy in the automotive world. In the sixties and early seventies, that news was approximately split between race and road cars. In the eighties, road cars dominated the cover, but there was still race coverage, which began to wane in the 90s.

Concept cars could be newsworthy, particularly those that pointed the way to things that were coming from major automakers. Of course, concept cars could also be ugly and utterly irrelevant, but the editors had no real way of knowing which would be dead ends. Although this one had to make them suspect, right.

The July 1982 cover car, on the other hand, Ford’s Ghia Brezza, probably looked like a winner even then.

In hindsight, this one predicted the coming aero shape of the cars of the late eighties (particularly those from Ford). The Sierra, which was utterly revolutionary (and controversial, if ultimately victorious) when it was launched, was still a year away when Ford showed the Brezza. But the sneaky folks at Ghia previewed a lot of the styling elements that made that car stand out. You can see it in the windshield and the shape of the driver’s side window. The slant of the rear side window looks to me like it was lifted straight from the production car.

So Kudos to R&T for selecting this particular concept car for a cover.

The rest of the issue was pretty much standard early eighties fare, with several emissions-strangled cars attempting to become good again (and some succeeding) while the F1 reports were the usual delightful mix of Walker and Ireland. Having the Honda RA 272 as the Salon car was delightful (I have a built-up version of the Tamiya kit of this one on one of my bookshelves).

So, a decent issue, made outstanding by the choice of cover car.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.