Month: March 2021

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.

The Sheer Brilliance of Anthony Burgess, a Droog

When we discuss the great novels of the 20th Century, we usually look at mainstream or literary fiction. We talk about The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness, The Sun Also Rises, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses and anything by Hemingway. To that list, I’d add The Remains of the Day, a near-perfect book if ever there was one.

But science fiction usually doesn’t make it into the conversation. Even the pieces of genre that the literati accept aren’t quite in the select group. 1984 and Brave New World fall just short, and the only other major crossover SF book, The Handmaid’s Tale, is crap (the subject is wonderfully chosen, but I would have liked to see it in the hands of someone who understood the dynamic of SF–Ursula K. Le Guin would have been wonderful).

There is one exception, one book, that, though it’s definitely science fiction, gate-crashes the conversation.

I was afraid A Clockwork Orange would be a difficult, dense read. One of the first things you learn about this book, after all, is that Burgess invented a new slang for a lot of it, and that is never fun.

But there’s something you need to remember about Burgess. He’s a virtuoso, a brilliant writer who isn’t afraid to write brilliantly. So despite the book being in unusual language, it works perfectly well. It’s a quick, almost light read.

Of course, it isn’t quite a light read, because the subject matter is a savage attack against… well, as a reader it wasn’t quite clear to me what Burgess was attacking other than the excesses of government in involving itself in people’s lives. I found it to be more of a commentary about the breakneck pace of modern lives and how it affects the subcultures involved. Answer: they get extremely violent…

Now that answer may not seem particularly groundbreaking, and in the hands of a lesser author, it wouldn’t have been. But Burgess makes it work. This book is a must-read, and I was fortunate to buy the Folio edition pictured before they ran out.

But whichever edition you can get hold of, there’s absolutely no excuse to give this one a pass unless you either hate the best books in the 20th century hate anything that looks speculatively at the future.

As an aside, this is considered Burgess’ greatest book, but it’s not my favorite. The Kingdom Of the Wicked is a romp through the ancient world which is unmatched even by Gore Vidal’s Creation. And that is saying quite a bit.

But returning to Orange, all I can say is that the very few hours you’ll spend on this one will be worth it. Sometimes it’s nice just to let a master lead you by the nose.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His own vision about how society will fall apart around us can be found in the novel Outside. You can check it out here.

Pickup on South Street… Doing Message Right

When I reviewed Adam’s Rib, I pointed out how a film–even one with a glorious cast–can be utterly ruined when the message gets in the way of the story. Now let’s have a look at one that sends a message but is still amazing.

Pickup on South Street is a film I’d never heard of until I got my copy of the 1001 films book. And if I tell you the way it works out, you’ll think it was a McCarthy-era, commie-scare piece of political propaganda with zero redeeming traits. So here goes: it’s basically about a pickpocket who redeems himself by breaking up a communist spy ring in New York.

Pure cold-war jingoism, right?

Wrong. It’s a fun spy flick in an unforgettable 1950s New York setting, where the communists are, while watching, incidental in the plot. The plot needed some spies, and the spies in the post-Nazi era were communists.

Yes, I agree that the impact of the message might have been blunted by the fact that communists, like Nazis, make for excellent bad guys. Totalitarian regimes which hate any sort of individuality are always nice to make fun of. But the film rises above that, not breaking stride to moralize about the evils of the reds… it tells the story in much the same way a crime movie would, without stopping to preach.

And that’s what makes this movie. Its message is powerfully delivered precisely because it doesn’t beat you over the head with it… and it makes you wonder: how the hell did the people making The Last Jedi and other modern preach-fests forget this lesson? I suspect the arrogance of the modern political elites makes them think that they can preach at the audience without having their films lambasted as imbecilic. They are wrong, and at least part of Hollywood knew it in the 50s.

And just how huge is the message they managed to hide in this one?

It’s enormous, but you need to know a little about Hollywood back then to grasp it. In the 50s, the Hays Code was still going strong, which meant that you couldn’t have a happy ending for a criminal. Well, in this one, the protagonist robs a purse, beats a woman, lies to the cops and tries to extort a bunch of money from the communist gang… and in the end, walks free (and gets the girl–the same one he spent half the film slapping around).

So WHY does he get a happy ending? Because all of his crimes are offset by the glory of having destroyed a communist spy ring. It’s really that simple.

But despite the utter lack of subtlety of the political message it never, not once, gets in the way of the storytelling and the art of this film.

And that, my friends, is how it’s done. Highly recommended.

Gustavo Bondoni in a novelist and short story writer own version of an edgy, modern thriller is entitled Timeless. You can check it out here.

Road & Track’s 30th Anniversary

A couple of years ago, I read the very first issue of Road & Track (as it was then called, without the ampersand): June 1947. Now, in my pile of 1970s and 1980s issues, I’ve reached the June 1977 edition.

No mathematical genius is required to realize that June 1977 is the magazine’s 30th anniversary issue and, as such, it’s quite an important one. As the sticker on the cover above illustrates, it was the magazine’s largest issue ever to that date (for all I know, it may still be the largest ever). It even had that original 1947 issue bound in.

Of course, I bought R&T every month from 1989 to the mid 2010s, so I’d seen quite a few anniversary issues in my time. They are wonderful, nostalgic things which universally highlight the best of R&T‘s history as well as including some new stuff.

The best part of this is that R&T was, until recently, a magazine that gave space on its pages to quirky writing. In later years it was Peter Egan who carried that banner, but before that, Henry N. Manney III was the idol of the noncomforming multitudes. In the late 70s, his output seemed to be winding down, but the history was there to mine.

This issue was similar to the ones I’d seen, but even better in some ways as many of the early players were still alive. John and Elaine Bond, the publishers who saved the struggling magazine in its early days and turned it into the world’s foremost car mag, were not only alive, but only recently retired and willing to talk about the olden days.

Modern news was a little less pleasant than the reminiscences, as the report on the 1977 South African Grand Prix not only touched on the death of Tom Price in the race but also commented that Carlos Pace had been killed in a light aircraft accident a couple of weeks later. One thing that was very nice, however was to see that, despite the death of Pryce and a marshal (whose carelessness killed them both) during the race, the competition went on. Nowadays, you’d have it red-flagged and the race cancelled. Now this might sound callous, but we need to remember that the men who strap themselves into a race car have always done so willingly, knowing that there is a real (if lessened, nowadays) risk of death. This isn’t a soccer match–it’s a serious proposition, and the participants understand. Cancelling a race because of a death is an insult to the memory of the dead man. Modern audiences, unfortunately, do not understand this, with the result that, except for on the Isle of Man (where the organizers and the crowd actually get it), dead racers are insulted often.

Other modern reports included the launch of the Porsche 928, a brilliant V8 GT which never did manage to replace the immortal 911 and several road tests.

But it’s the nostalgia that carried the day here. A great walk down memory lane.

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel, Test Site Horror, is a romp through a dinosaur-infested valley in southern Russia. Action-packed and fast-paced, this one is ideal for people who still like to be entertained when reading. You can check it out here.

Washington Art Debut

Most countries have their emblematic art museum, the best in the nation, in their capital city. We suspect that will never be the case in the US, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Washington DC’s art museums are bad. Quite the opposite, in fact; the National Gallery of Art is quite a decent museum, with a very good collection. Plus, it’s free, which makes it even better (I recently visited Philadelphia’s Art Museum, of Rocky staircase fame, and had to pay… so free is good).

I was there in June 2019 (while exploring Washington on occasion of my visit to the International Space development Conference), and while I usually pay more attention to the 19th century landscape artists and impressionists and post-impressionists than anything else, this time we’re going to be focusing on Flemish and Dutch painters.

Why? Because, on that visit, I happened to grab a booklet entitled The Dutch and Flemish Cabinet Galleries, which I read recently. I generally try to read these booklets eventually, because I enjoy remembering what I saw there, and also learning from curators.

If you have a layman’s understanding of art, the general information about how Flemish and Dutch art developed in the 17th century alongside the newly prosperous merchant bourgeoisie might not be necessary, but I always find the curator’s view of what makes a specific painting interesting to be pure gold. As a layman, I look at paintings and I either like them or don’t, they either generate a specific emotional response or they don’t, etc. But experts can look past that and point out exactly what makes a given piece different from the rest.

And that exercise is hugely worthwhile. As you know, I read a bunch of thick books, where often the pleasure comes in discovering what happens to each of the characters, and how the problems get resolved. So taking half an hour to stare at a selection of 20 pictures that I might not have given a second glance at in a museum (must move over this section quickly, where are the Van Goghs?) is a relaxing exercise. Not quite as good as being in the museum itself, but very good all the same.

One of the things I look forward to most about the end of the pandemic is that museums should reopen fully. The world is so much poorer when these places aren’t running at full capacity.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His erotic thriller Timeless really takes flight after his protagonist has a long think in the Frick Gallery in New York. Art lovers and people who like to be excited in all senses of the world would do well to check it out here.

The Immortal Towns Lagonda

Back when I was a kid, I played with the local version of Top Trumps (I have a feeling my American readers will have no clue what that is. All I can say is google it). One of the cars included (this was in the eighties) was the Aston Martin Lagonda. It was a crap card to have when playing, as that deck was full of Ferraris and Lamborghinis that would kick its ass. So I always assumed it was a terrible car.

Only years later did I come to appreciate the pure seventies style and class the car exudes. Even today, rolling up in one of these will pick you out as a man of wealth and taste, someone who knows that Ferraris are only for carving up back roads, Lambos are for rich butchers or soccer players–they reek ghetto taste–Rolls Royces are a cliche and anything else is just for the poor. The fact that few people will know what it is is just a bonus.

This misunderstood machine made R&T’s cover in April 1977, and it looks wonderful.

But this issue wasn’t just about a single Rolls-Royce competitor. It also heralds the welcome start of coverage of the 1977 motor racing season, has a wonderful Bugatti Salon and even a feature on model cars.

Most interesting to me is a piece that I thought was non-fiction but was actually a well-disguised piece of short fiction that fit the style and beats of the magazine perfectly enough that I only realized it wasn’t journalism a fe paragraphs from the end. This piece was Miss Deborah’s Rolls by John Lamm (Lamm was a longtime editor of R&T, which added to the illusion). Back then, R&T would sometimes run these adjacent pieces, and they were always decent.

The other thing that comes to light is that automotive engineers were beginning to get a handle on the raft of regulations so haphazardly introduced in the 1970s. Car designers are smarter than politicians, of course, but the sheer moronic shortsightedness of the way smog and safety rules were imposed in the mid-70s had them on the ropes for a few years. But there’s just too much engineering talent in auto manufacturers to be able to knock them out.

So an eclectic, entertaining mix of stuff here, mixed with some hope. The eighties, a much better decade for cars (and music, of course), was just around the corner, and you can feel it here.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is entitled Test Site Horror, and shows a Russian special forces unit desperately fighting an invasion of genetically-built dinosaurs (and other monsters). Action packed and fun, it’s a perfect read if you enjoy being entertained. You can check it out here.

James Stewart Playing a Morally Ambiguous Character

We’ve all been there. Watching James Stewart Play one do-gooder after another. Mr. Smith, the father from It’s a Wonderful Life, and so many others. Hell, he even managed to play an inflexible do-gooder in a film where he was an obsessive running a manhunt.

We finally get rid of that in The Naked Spur.

This is the film where Stewart supposedly grows up in front of our eyes… and like puberty, it’s a bit painful to watch. Not so much because I enjoy excessive do-goodism, but because Stewart, at this point in his career just wasn’t very good at not being one. It’s easier, apparently, to be the moral compass than to give a believable portrayal of a flawed character. Of course, the critics and history disagree with me, which it’s why I watch the movies and review them for myself.

And there are reasons to like this film if you can bet past Stewart’s struggles. Technicolor might not be great for noir, but I really prefer Westerns to be in color if possible. The outdoors just works better that way, unlike the means streets of your average city which are pretty much black and white from the getgo.

Also, the plot is decent, although, again, the moral quandries of the characters are not exactly realistic, and certainly not as deep as the ones in The Ox-Bow Incident. The mistrust between the cast, which I didn’t particularly like, makes the second half of the movie–until the final shootout–a lot less entertaining than the first.

Still, it’s not one of those plodding Westerns. Stuff happens and you have plenty of shooting (as always, those who feel that art from seventy years ago should uphold modern sensibilities will probably want to look away during the scene where the Indians are killed).

So I guess the verdict on this one is mixed. It’s not bad, but its attempt to give the characters depth stops just short of being effective, and muddies the waters. Entertaining, but perhaps not utterly memorable.

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

The Worlds of SF, F, H Volume IV – Robert’s Last Ride

Last week, I reviewed the third volume in Robert N. Stephenson’s World’s of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror series, and now it’s time for Volume IV.

I found Volume III to be truly well-written, action-packed and just plain fun. Volume IV veers in a different direction, being a little more pensive and experimental, although I’m not certain that’s what the writers of the short stories actually intended: it may be because a larger number than usual of the stories are either translated or written by authors whose first language isn’t English.

The reason this feels a little more experimental is down, I think, to three things: pacing, word choice and sentence structure.

The pacing issue is probably the easiest to spot. A couple of stories (both by Italian writers) were extremely slow and convoluted. If Lovecraft were writing today, that’s probably what he’d been doing. I don’t know much about the state of Italian literature today (my latest Italian reads were Eco and Bassani), but I hope that’s not where fantasy writers in that country are today, because they’d have eighty years of catching up to do.

Word choice and sentence structure are also off in some places, which certainly didn’t help my own reading pleasure. I know a lot of people believe the influx of foreign voices into the English canon is a wonderful thing. I agree… to a certain degree. Sometimes, you don’t want a chore, you want a bit of entertainment, and that means being comfortable with the text in order to enjoy character development and story. So foreign writers, in order to have a wider readership in English, need to learn to create prose that works for typical readers… and translators need to understand that the differences in structure are not wonderful pieces of the author’s voice but things that are intrinsic to the structure of the language of origin; there’s no need to inflict them on readers in other languages.

I read in English primarily, but I also read at a high level in Spanish and Portuguese – I will never read a book in one of those languages in anything but the original, because translators often make the mistake of bringing the things that sound fine in one language into the other… where the reader stumbles over it.

Fortunately, there are a couple of stories in this one that not only don’t suffer from the language ills mentioned and also aren’t slow, bizarre pieces which I find pointless. “Me and Septimus: In Extremis” by Kain Massin is a novella length piece which I absolutely loved. Fun, historical and with excellent monsters, it felt a lot shorter than it was. “The Story of Mynheer Reinaerde and the Purloined Tails” was not only fun, but also proved that authors Tais Teng and Jaap Boekestein have a pitch perfect ear for the English language (either that or their translator doesn’t suffer from delusions of artistry, which is a wonderful thing). Wonderful, memorable tales, both of them.

For the record, my own tale in this one is called “Summerland”… For obvious reasons, I won’t review that one.

The rest of the book certainly wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite as good as Volume III in my opinion. I’m pretty sure modern critics will disagree strongly with that, so to each, their own!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest major collection is entitled Off the Beaten Path. As its name implies, it brings visions of a world far from the usual European and North American haunts. You can check it out here.

Personae in Speculative Poetry

Guest columnist Richard H. Fay is back today, as he continues to give us his very well-researched take on the odd and the occult.  You can read his blog here, and we also recommend checking out his Zazzle Store, and artwork referred to this piece can be found here.  

Art: An Invitation to Elfame by Richard H. Fay

Writers of prose fiction do not necessarily write in voices that are their own. Narrators of works of fiction need not be the authors themselves, oftentimes they are personae, fictional characters distinct from the authors This is true in both works of general fiction as well as works of genre fiction. It is also true of poetry, especially when it comes to speculative verse (poetry with fantastical, science fictional, or mythological themes). Characters speaking or thinking in poems need not be the poets themselves. Heck, when it comes to speculative poetry, the narrators need not even be human!

Speculative poets often speak through an imaginary or historical narrator. It seems doubtful that most speculative poetry is meant to be confessional verse, at least not it the usual sense of the term. Speculative poets frequently take on the voices of others, and these others might be aliens, or fairies, or demons, or mythical beasts, or mundane animals, or even objects traditionally seen as inanimate. It should be obvious to those either reading such poetry or hearing it read that the poets haven’t actually turned into such things. It should be clear to all that the poets used their imaginations to speak in the voices of beings or things distinct from themselves. However, the notion that ALL poetry MUST be confessional has muddied the waters a bit. The line between imagined and real might not always be clear to all readers or listeners, especially when speculative poets speak with voices all too human.

In my own brand of speculative verse, both dark and light, I’ve used this idea of persona again, and again, and again. I’m certainly not a brain-eating demonic serpent (“Serpent of Storms”), or a cosmic fighter pilot facing his own demise (“Last Thoughts of a Cosmic Fighter Pilot”), or a life-draining vampiric entity (“Life is the Life”), or an Earthling married to a furry alien (“Marriage of Earth and Antares”), or a killer being driven to madness and suicide by visions of the face of the lover he killed (“Your Bloody Face”), or a fairy inviting a mortal to Elfame (“An Invitation to Elfame”), or a bleak haunted island (“The Haunted Isle”). However, in the respective works, I spoke as if I were a brain-eating demonic serpent, a cosmic fighter pilot facing his own demise, a life-draining vampiric entity, an Earthling married to a furry alien, a killer being driven to madness and suicide by visions of the face of the lover he killed, a fairy inviting a mortal to Elfame, and a haunted island. I think the ability to speak in the voice of another is just as important to fictional poetry as it is to prose fiction. It is also one of the creative techniques that can set speculative verse apart from more mainstream poetry.

Contrary to what some believe, not all poetry need be confessional, at least not personally confessional. Unfortunately, it seems some poets and poetry readers believe otherwise. They apparently think poetry is, by its very nature, confessional. This can lead to a misunderstanding of speculative verse, especially when speculative poets write in personae.

During one of the Poet’s Live Corners I attended at a local library, after I stated that I had some dark speculative pieces to read, one of the other poets present mentioned the time they had a poet show up and read poetry about murder and mayhem. I got the impression that the group had been shocked by this other poet’s material, as if it were almost confessional in nature. Did they truly have a murderer in their midst that day? I doubt it. I had to smile, knowing the dark and often diabolic nature of much of my own verse. Does that mean I’m a dark and diabolic person? Of course not!

Just because a poet writes about bloody murder doesn’t make that poet a bloody murderer. That’s the whole point about writing in persona – it’s imaginative versus outright confessional. However, I think my experience at the Live Poet’s Corner exemplifies the lack of understanding speculative poets writing in personae may face within the broader literary community.

One of the first things a reader or listener of speculative poetry must understand is that such verse is imaginative verse. The poet is speculating about other places, other times, other beings, other thoughts. They are imagining more than confessing, although confession may still be buried beneath the imaginative trappings. Unfortunately, if a reader or listener operates under the notion that poetry is confessional by default, they might misunderstand the concept of personae in speculative poetry. They might not fully realize that the speculative poet is speaking as someone or something else, that they are imagining. They’re missing the point of what the poet created!

Sadly, the Offseason Comes Every Year

Recently, I expressed my sadness at the fact that car magazines from the 1970s were nowhere near as fun when racing was on its annual yearly hiatus.

Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that happens every year, and the March issue seems to be the main non-beneficiary. The March 1977 issue of Road & Track is no exception. Interestingly, this one also contains a Z-Car report (5 speed gearbox for the 280Z), just like the previous March writeup I linked above that had a 260Z 2 by 2 on the cover.

The best part of this issue is actually the end-of-year report for the Formula 1 season. It is written, of course, by the inimitable Rob Walker, a guy who will criticize sternly when warranted and who has only one drawback: he was too nice to his friends, and he was friends with everyone. As it dealt with James Hunt’s championship season, a lot of film buffs will enjoy it, too.

The sports sedan test is interesting mainly in that Alfa Romeo was still competing with BMW on approximately equal footing, something you’d be surprised to read today. I’ve never been a fan of R&T‘s road tests. The features, to me are much more interesting… but I suppose that’s because I’m nearly never looking to buy a car built for the US market.

The features in this one were decent, if not memorable, with the highlight being the Salon feature (there’s an explanation on what that means, here) on the 1921 Sunbeam GP car from the Donnington collection.

Normally, auto show reports are fun, but the shows in late 1976 apparently were crap. February’s edition had bad ones in London and Paris, while this issue had an only slightly better one from Turin (when an Italian car show is bad, you know the world is borked).

The one good thing I found was that this one didn’t have a huge technical discussion of technology that isn’t relevant any longer.

Still, I find myself echoing what I say in real life: I can’t wait for the racing season to restart!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel, Test Site Horror, pits Russian special forces troops against monsters created illegally in a biological weapons lab. It’s nonstop, fast-paced action that you can check out here.