The Dreamlike Apocalypse

The two most important trends I’v seen recently in modern science fiction are a tendency towards a much more literary style of writing and an equally strong tendency towards eschewing far-future space-based scenarios for near-future dystopias.

Few books embrace both these trends as completely as Eliza Mood’s O Man of Clay.

O Man of Clay - Eliza Mood

Set in a post-global-warming England in a town half-submerged under the rising sea, the book tracks two women and one man as they navigate, each in their own way, the new reality of scarcity, radiation and pollution.

But it’s the way this book is written that sets it apart.  Within the linear structure following the main character, a young girl who lives outside the new society starting to form, we get flashbacks into the life of the antagonist, a former prisoner in a Siberian camp.

To make things a little more interesting, some of the characters are not perfectly aware of who they are, others are totally confused about what year it is and the only one thinking clearly is expressly trying to avoid the rest of them.

The fact that the writer managed to keep the threads advancing coherently and not have the whole thing unravel on her qualifies this book as a writing tour-de-force.  This is the kind of book that will appeal quite strongly to those who enjoy the more literary aspects of genre work, as well as a different look at a post-apocalyptic society.

Those who love deciphering themes in their fiction will enjoy it as well.  It comments on both authoritarian régimes and capitalism overtly (and, in a nice change of pace from usual practice, it attacks them both), but there are several other things to find.

The characters don’t act like characters.  They act like people.  Unbalanced, obsessive people from a Russian novel, perhaps, but definitely not characters.

This is a book for those who want to be one step ahead of the bleeding edge: post-apoc, dark and literary to a degree seldom seen.  If that describes you, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His science fiction book Outside deals with some of the same themes, but very differently.  You can check it out here.

…but don’t Forget the Racing

We’ve mentioned how automobiles in 1971 were the victim of a concerted attack by politicians, but in reading this huge pile of car magazines, there is more than just gloom and doom and things that make you want to go back to 1971 and slap Ralph Nader around.

There is also racing.

Road & Track September 1971

Yes, that is a Porsche 917 on the cover, on its way to winning the greatest race still around in 1971 (and, happily, still around today).  The regulators soon “realized” that the 917 and its contemporaries were too dangerous to compete (of course, that would assume that people were somehow forced to drive the things instad of the reality, which was that the real drivers were lining up for a chance) and legislated them out of existence, but it hadn’t happened yet.

So we had a glorious Le Mans, and we had the Denny Show in Can-Am with the glorious orange McLarens (Bruce himself had been killed testing one recently, so Denny Hulme was the soul of the team).  These, too, were magnificent automobiles, the likes of which (unlimited except for mandatory roll bars, essentially) we will never see again.  Ironically, the Porsche 917–in a turbocharged 1500 bhp form–and the McLaren would soon cross swords in Can-Am, in what was the greatest example of unlimited auto racing ever seen.

But that was in the future, and the present was glorious enough, something reflected in the coverage.  Apart from Le Mans and the analysis of the Can-Am car, this issue covered the SCCA Trans Am (also in its glory years as ponycars battled for supremacy in the hands of Donohue and Parnelli Jones and others).  Formula One was also traversing one of its golden ages (compare that to today’s boring Mercedes dominance) as Jacky Icxx attempted to wrest the title from Jackie Stewart.

Finally, this magazine contains an article that has become a classic, a piece entitled “The Empty Bleacher League” by Allan Girdler.  It describes a small Midwest Auto Club and its races, and makes you want to join right now…  the problem being, of course, that I forgot where I left my time machine.  Probably in 1812 or something.

Anyway, a good counterpoint to what was happening to road cars at the time.

Interestingly, this was the most butchered of all my 1971 R&Ts.  Not only were the classifieds missing, but also a couple of articles, the Isotta Fraschini Salon (which I do regret) and the road test of the De Tomaso Pantera (not so much).  The ’72s seem to be in better shape.

Interestingly, the mad clipper didn’t touch the race reporting, which is what makes these magazines worthwhile.  Perhaps he just didn’t know he was living in a racing renaissance.  His loss, my gain.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who enjoys writing about people and places that most people have never heard of.  His collection Off the Beaten Path is a shining example of this.  You can check it out here.

Old-School Fun

Back when I started publishing regularly in science fiction and fantasy magazines in the late 2000s (does anyone say the “noughts” any more?), there were a lot of large format perfect-bound magazines out there which took advantage of then-new print-on-demand publishing technologies.

These mags contained fiction, poetry, art and even comics.  They were a lot of entertainment for the money.

But not many of them survived for very long, which is why horror magazine Night to Dawn is such a refreshing reminder of how things used to be.

Night to Dawn Issue 35 - April 2019

I received my contributors’ copy of Night to Dawn 35 because it contains my vampire story “Neurosis and the Undead”, and read through it, savoring the sense of being back in 2010–which, in this case, is a good thing.

For starters, there were a LOT of vampire stories in this magazine (I suppose the title of the publication should make one expect that) which is surprising in modern times.  Vampires, the common wisdom contends, are overdone.  I argue that vampires might have been popular, but they were popular for a reason: they are fascinating creatures, and you can always tell a new and different story about them.

Next, there are many, many interior illustrations of the black and white type we always loved in an earlier generation (think 1960s / 80s) but which you almost never see anymore.

And then there is the fiction.

Many outlets for short fiction, especially in small press, are essentially a mouthpiece for political pandering.  The stories therein might be better or worse, but they are often selected for criteria of ideological homogeneity or an attempt to ensure that the table of contents is populated by the correct demographic instad of quality (I won’t get into any arguments here about why this is wrong.  If Stephen King is taken to task for arguing that quality is more important than any other criteria, I don’t even want to imagine what Twitter would do to me).

Night to Dawn is refreshing in this sense as well.  The stories are diverse in the best sense of the word, meaning that they are different from each other.  Some seem to lean progressive, some a little more conservative.  It’s quite clear that the attempt here wasn’t to line up a point of view but to select the best possible stories for publication.

Whether that is successful or not will depend on the taste of the reader.  Most likely, in an eclectic mix like this one, you’ll enjoy some more than others.  Most intriguing to me was “Therapy for a Vampire” by Margaret L. Carter (this one is a serial, so I don’t know if the ending is as good as the setup).  I also enjoyed “My Zombie Valentine” by Roxanne Dent and “Professor Zapfman’s Miraculous Galvanic Apparatus” by Bernie Mojzes.  Your mileage will vary depending on your tastes, of course.

So if you miss the old-school style of horror, this one just might be for you.  I encourage you to have a look.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose darker fantasy is collected in the ebook Pale Reflection.  You can check it out here.

All About a Gun… Kinda

Winchester '73 Film Still - James Stewart

So we’ve reached the 1950s, and that means Westerns.  Lots and lots of Westerns.

While I don’t normally enjoy the Western as a genre, probably because it was a TV staple when I was a kid (anything that wasn’t a cartoon was considered, by 5-year-old me, to be a waste of air time but Westerns were particularly odious because they go so slow), the ones on the 1001 movies list are purported to be essential watching, so I’m giving them a fair shot.

We’ve had a few in there before, some good, some really, really bad, but the one thing that will shock modern audiences is the reason for the ever-present sense of danger whenever anyone is traveling from one place to another: them there hills are full of indians.  Always.

In a way, I’m glad the 1001 movies list I have dates from 2004.  Though I haven’t checked, I’m pretty sure any new editions would remove any film with a “Cowboys and Indians” theme for reasons of political correctness (it might be interesting to see what else would get removed.  I doubt Birth of a Nation would survive).  That is, of course, modern audiences’ loss, since some of these films are true gems.

Perhaps the constant threat of indians waiting to strike at any moment is what made me hate them as a kid (I loved the gunfights on horseback, of course, but not waiting for them).  Westerns could pace the action in a leisurely way because adults never knew when the attack would come.

Winchester '73 Movie Poster

The plot of Winchester ’73 doesn’t center around the indian threat.  It’s about two men who have a history between them and the pursuit of one by the other.  It also deals with a gun, the Winchester of the title, which changes hands a surprising number of times, and is used as the key to making men show what they’re truly made of.  But the big battle scene is basically a standard “brave cavalry surrounded by masses of indians” stock trope.  It’s a good fight, and it is necessary–if not central–to the plot.  I suppose you couldn’t have a Western without it.

The film is tense for other reasons, too, with a cast of villains and morally ambiguous characters (including the leading lady), serving to contrast with James Stewart‘s inflexible do-gooder.

If you can set aside your modern sensibilities for a while, this one is worth watching.  Not hugely memorable, but certainly an entertaining hour and a half, and better than most Westerns.

The funniest aside on this one is what the lead actress thought of the movie.  Shelley Winters basically said that she could have walked off the set and no one would have noticed, as the movie was about a bunch of men pursuing the perfect gun and paying very little attention to the beautiful girl.

She may have been right but, like the indians, the plot would have suffered had she not been there.  The balance was just right for this particular film, which is why it earned its spot on the list.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who has hundreds of short stories in print (even a Western / Scifi / Monster mashup, his only Western).  His literary fiction is collected in Love and Death a series of linked tales that make up a single narrative.  You can buy it here.

A Magazine About Creating Beauty

One of the nice things abut buying books from Folio Society is that they send you little gifts with the books.  My personal favorite is the annual Folio Diary, but another wonderful little gift is Folio, the company’s magazine.

Folio Magazine - August 2018

This magazine is about what you’d expect from the house organ of a company dedicated to creating beautiful publications (and one which I’ve featured before).  It’s a bit of an advertising piece disguised as a self-indulgent series of interviews of creators, behind-the-scenes look at how the final products are made and paeans to the finished product.

It is an utterly wonderful read.

The images of Folio artwork in this edition (Autumn 2018), are wonderful.  The central topic is the Folio edition of Atlas Shrugged, which, love it or loathe it, is undoubtedly a hugely important book that seems even more relevant to political discourse today than when it was first published.  Politics aside, Folio’s artwork is a wink and a nod to the era in which it was published, and takes us back to the glories of the Art Deco age.  It’s like standing in the lobby of the Chrysler Building.

But that’s not the only article.  Food, mythological beasts and murder mysteries are all illustrated in the pages of this publication, because they are also illustrated in the books the magazine is trying to sell.  You get a look at the creative process behind the art, a guided tour given by editors and just a general sense of the loving way the books are put together.

Probably the most effective piece of advertising I’ve ever been exposed to.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary collection of linked short stories is entitled Love and Death.  You can buy it here.

Heaven, Hell and a Volkswagen Bus

I got a respite from reading the 1970s Road & Tracks in my pile, because I discovered that I had the January 1963 edition sitting there, so I grabbed that one for reference.

Road & Track January 1963

Wow, what a difference a mere 8 years makes.  In 1963, the regulatory madness of the 1970s, the conviction that automobiles were somehow responsible for all of society’s ills were not even in the radar.  Even the cover is gloriously devoid of emissions-controlled subcompacts and features a close up of the Great Pedro Rodriguez on a three-wide starting line (remember when everyone’s front row was three wide?  Me neither, the safety campaigners killed it before I was born, leaving only Indy to hold the torch).

The prevailing attitude in this era was sensible and had  a recent world war to put things in perspective: Storming the beaches of Normandy was dangerous, driving Ferrari sports cars wearing an open-faced helmet was fun.

The 1963 issue, edited by the immortal Dean Batchelor (the Hot Rodder, hero at Bonneville and El Mirage) was reflective of that joyful era (I hear the 1960s were famous for things other than cars, but let’s concentrate on the important stuff for now).  Racing coverage, auto show articles and even an analysis of the entire Formula 1 grid.  Only one article was about a small car, and that one, the Austin 1100 was about a car with a very novel suspension system, a technical first which, though not adopted by everyone, worked very well.

Of course, the world, sadly, moved on from the sixties and, as dictators say when facing the war crimes tribunal, mistakes were made.  In the US, those mistakes apparently included siring an entire generation of people whose sole concern was… concern.

Deeply concerned individuals wanted to make certain that everyone was safe enough to satisfy them, and that anything unregulated should be subject to government oversight forthwith.  Remember that this was the middle of the Cold War and that Americans had an excellent example of how to regulate the joy out of life in the Soviet Union.  People like Ralph Nader and many, many others, led the assault on Capitol Hill.

They were probably still angry that prohibition, the greatest experiment in adults imposing their opinions on other adults ever attempted, got repealed, so they were looking for new ways to tell everyone what to do.

We dealt with bumpers (the law passed), emissions (the law destroyed many livelihoods and American Motors, and caused the current global warming problem) and the second most hated law ever passed in the US, the 55 mph speed limit.

But the forces of darkness never rest and even more evil was being plotted.

Road & Track July 1971

The July 1971 issue of Road & Track opened with the appalling news that a group called Youth Organization Toward Highway Safety (probably a bunch of people who got beat up a lot at school and were out for revenge by destroying any fun on the planet) advised that the following laws should be put into effect.

  1.  Cars should, by law, be limited to 95 miles per hour.  No manufacturer could build a faster car than this for sale to the public.  At all.
  2. Cars should be made 100% crashworthy at speeds up to 30 mph, meaning that the occupants–even without seat belts–should be uninjured in all 30 mph accidents.
  3. each year, maximum speeds should be lowered and crash-worthiness increased until glorious success would be reached when automobiles could go exactly as fast as the speed that guaranteed absolute safety of the occupants.
  4. (this one is an assumption) Much obligatory rejoicing and thanking the party for keeping adults from themselves.  All hail!

Now, a single look out the nearest window confirms that this insanity failed.  How?  I don’t actually know, but I suspect that someone intelligent with a little power heard about this and had the leading members of the group quietly shot.

(Seriously, I know these avenues were pursued, but in the end, the cost of meeting them and the public outcry against yet another attack on their liberty was considered too high a political cost, so common sense, unusually for automotive regulation in the 70s won out).

Of course, it wasn’t all gloom and doom.  The racing scene in 1971 was wonderful, particularly because it was the day of the Porsche 917, one of the most glorious objects ever devised by man.  The January 1971 issue even had a profile on that car’s not-quite-as-successful rival, the Ferrari 512.  So not a total loss, but definitely not a golden age for road cars.

Best article in either of these two magazines, however, was a love poem in prose form dedicated, of all things, to the Volkswagen Bus.  Written by Dick O’Kane, entitled “O’Kane & the People’s Bus”, it is a wonderful, whimsical paean to that most versatile beatnik vehicle, and it really, really brings the “civilian” (as opposed to racing) side of the 1971 mag to life.  After all, not everything can be small, imported cars that struggle with future emissions laws.

And if anyone is keeping score at home, the mad clipper had removed the classifieds and an article about the newest Mercedes SL launch from the 1971 edition.  The ’63 is uncut.

I know you can sleep better knowing that.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a monster book set in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere, the Darien Gap.  It’s called Jungle Lab Terror, and if you want a thrilling ride, you can buy it here.

Ambrose Bierce by way of the Rashomon Effect

For those, like me, who had never heard of the Rashomon Effect, it briefly means that, in a court of law (or other situation), the testimony of two witnesses to the same event may vary wildly, be it through intentional manipulation of the facts or simple difference of interpretation.

The Rashomon Effect

This term comes from Rashomon, a 1950 film by Akira Kurosawa in which several eyewitnesses to the murder of a Samurai, including the victim himself (by way of a medium), tell the story of how he died.  Set in ancient Japan, the sale serves as a morality fable, highlighting the inherent pride and weakness of each of the characters.

The events themselves are gripping enough to keep attention despite the fact that the same story is essentially retold from four points of view–that of the murderer, the wife of the victim, the victim himself and, finally, the man who reported the crime to the police… a man who supposedly only found the body.

Rashomon Movie poster

This one is undoubtedly a classic, one of those films that stays with you and which, despite the miserable way the characters act for the most part, ends in an upbeat manner.  Interesting to see is how overacted it seems compared to equivalent films in the Western canon–whether that is because the film accurately depicts Japanese emotional responses in the era pictured, whether it was an artistic style popular in Japan, or whether it was an artistic license on the part of the director, I don’t know.  I did find it a bit distracting… but then, unfamiliar things often grab the attention.  There are a few more Japanese films on the 1001 movies list, so I’ll be able to give a more informed opinion moving forward.

One interesting note was that the film was based on a Japanese story which, in its turn was based on a story by Ambrose Bierce.  I’m mainly familiar with Bierce’s work via paperback horror and weird fiction anthos, and his link to the film explains the otherwise inexplicable presence of a dead man giving testimony.

Definitely worth watching and an experience which will let you think about the film itself as well as the cultural and literary links surrounding it.  Good stuff.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s literary fiction, a series of stories that twine together in a similar way as the testimonies in Rashomon, is collected in Love and Death.  You can buy it here.

A Reasonable Voice from the Past

As someone who already has way too many hobbies, I avoid politics like the plague.  My main exposure to politics in those times when Argentina is not close to a national election (one month every couple of years where you can’t listen to the radio in the car without being bombarded) is on social media.

I watch in amusement and horror as lunatics on the left and right register their unworkable, extremist views for all to see.  The arguments between left and right are always fun, but those between left and left are usually the best of all.  Since history tends to argue hard against the more extreme forms of socialism, these tend togo down some spectacular theoretic rabbit holes.  Anyone caught arguing for common sense, moderation or even a slightly less fantastic dogma is vilified and is subjected to one of those famous internet pile-ons.

All of this has led me to believe one of the old jokes from the right, the one that states that the preferred battle formation of the far left is the circular firing squad.

And it’s always been that way.  It’s popular among the ignorant (or the unscrupulous with a political axe to grind) to speak of George Orwell‘s Animal Farm or 1984 as allegories against capitalism, but the truth is they are both direct strikes at the heart of the Soviet Communism in the 1940s written by the most famous overtly socialist writer of the 20th century.

No one would say these were measured strikes.  But Orwell was capable of subtlety, too.

Down and Out in Paris And London - George Orwell

Which neatly brings us to this.  Down and Out in Paris and London is also by George Orwell, and it is also a book which looks to further his socialist agenda.  But instead of attacking his enemies within the party using bitter satire, he uses the one tool that is always effective, even with people who don’t share his views: promoting understanding.

He, the gentleman writer of impeccable breeding, credentials and education, takes us on a guided, first-person tour of life in the lowest slums of Paris, displays how to get work as a kitchen helper and then joins the tramps of the London environs.  The difficult nature of these lives is brought to life in his words–it’s not a coincidence that Orwell is a celebrated novelist; regardless of subject matter, his writing brings the action to life.

There isn’t much plot to speak of, of course, as this is mainly a descriptive exercise, but it is still packed with incident.  Even better, it is a mix of nostalgia in the vein of In Search of England with a reveal of a social class the book’s readers will be unfamiliar with (as will all modern readers, since the life depicted therein no longer exists).

In a world where it seems that the accepted way for politics or activism to be discussed is with anger and the utter denial that an opponent might have any good qualities, books like these (see also  remind us that public discourse was once the province of people with intelligent arguments.  Remember those days?  Now it seems to be the place for people who only read things that agree with their point of view and let their little, inconsequential echo chambers and their confirmation bias do the rest. (and end up with conclusions like Trump wants to be dictator for life and Bernie is a communist who wants to put everyone on collective farms).

Social conditions have changed for the much better since this book was released.  There is no post-war scarcity, and the world is mostly democratic today, but the book still resonates.  Apparently, unlike social media controversies, good writing and clear thinking are timeless.

The edition I read was–ironically–a Folio Society book (ironically because reading socialist books in luxury editions seems somehow wrong).  I can’t post a link here because it’s no longer available from Folio, but I do recommend tracking down a copy as the reading experience is certainly better than what you’d get from cramped text and yellowed paper.  Besides, buying this one second hand seems perfect, considering the subject matter.

Highly recommended, even–perhaps especially–if the online screaming has turned you off politics forever.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Love and Death intertwines stories to form a novel spanning generations and crossing social barriers.  You can buy it here.

At Least it had Marilyn in it

After a couple of truly ground-breaking films, the 1001 movies list delivered a bit of a dud.  A reasonable caper film which, however, felt like a throwback to an earlier era.

The Asphalt Jungle Film Poster

OK, so calling The Asphalt Jungle a dud may seem a little bit unfair.  After all, this one was directed by John Huston, spawned a TV series and was nominated for four Oscars.  And yet, it felt like a dud in the context of the 1001 films and in 1950.  It might have been awesome in 1940.  It might have been an unforgettable classic in the pre-Code era.

We’ve been watching Code-impaired crime flicks for a while now, so we know the drill: all the interesting characters either die or go to jail at the end.  Objectively speaking, the only thing in any way special about this one was how detailed the heist planning was.  That made the movie interesting.

But other than that, it was pretty much standard fare, mixing elements of film noir in with neo-realism to create something that is neither, but isn’t particularly new.  It’s a decent Code-era crime flick, entertaining and well-paced but with the limitations of the genre.  You will never know how much you love not being able to guess how a film ends until you watch a few Code-era crime films in a row in which the main characters are criminals.  You spend the entire movie getting to know them, all the while knowing they are doomed.  An exercise in futility.

This one, however, does have one redeeming feature.

Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle

Yep, that’s Marilyn herself, playing a minor but notable part, in one of her breakout roles before her trademark look was quite perfected and looking young and innocent–although her role as one of the character’s kept women was anything but innocuous.  It’s the one thing that gives this film a link to the future as well as countless ties to the past.  Say what you want about Huston’s miss on the screenplay, but he sure knew how to pick aspiring actresses for supporting roles.

Well, at least once, anyway.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a creature feature with an utterly unpredictable ending entitled Jungle Lab Terror.  Buy it here!

 

Horror for the Literati

Like erotica, horror is another genre I don’t read as often as I do science fiction, crime/thrillers or fantasy.  It’s not that I don’t like it, but I often relegate purchases because a shiny new discovery in a different genre beckons.

That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in it.  Quite the contrary.  I like reading the stories and watching the movies, and I should probably do it more often, especially since my fantasy fiction has a tendency to run, terrified and screaming, right over the boundary between fantasy and horror.

One good reason to read more horror is that I wouldn’t be surprised when an antho breaks the tropes.

Let me explain.  When I have read horror, at least modern horror, I have found it to fall in a certain box: thrilling, terrifying and unafraid to use a certain amount of shock value to drive the point home.  This goes for Stephen King, and it also goes for the books I receive in which my own stories appear.

Enter Re-Terrify.

Re-Terrify Anthology

Edited by Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, this one surprised me.  Yes, it’s undoubtedly a horror antho, but it aims for a very literate approach to the genre.  If you like gore or extreme terror, this isn’t the right place for it; it has its frights, but builds up to them like MR James more than Friday the 13th.

The final effect is powerful.  There was only one story I didn’t like (not awful, but a little weaker than the others), and it was buried almost in the exact center of the book, which seems to indicate the editors had some misgivings about it, too.  The rest, reprints all, from the 1950s to the 2010s (mostly from the 2010s), showed why they’ve been selected by editors at least twice.  They are uniformly good, and written to a truly high standard, generating horror without being blunt about it. (disclaimer – this is a contributor’s copy, meaning that there’s one of my stories in there… so I might not be completely objective, but I truly did like them all!).

Another thing this one has going for it is that it’s just a horror antho.  Not a horror fairy antho or a werewolf book or a slasher volume.  There’s a little of everything in here, even horror-sf, so you won’t get bored of ploughing the same furrow.

One story, though maybe not the best, was definitely memorable, above and beyond the norm, and that one was “Uncle Sharlevoix’s Epidermis”, by Gregory L. Norris, which was creepy and imaginative, even though the ending is in the classic style.

The rest are all good, and I’m pretty sure you’ll have a different favorite, so go out there and buy yourself a copy.  You will enjoy this one.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose latest collection Pale Reflection, pretty much defines dark fantasy.  You can buy it here.