Emissions and Wankel Engines

Last time we talked about the huge pile of Road & Tracks I’m reading, we were in 1988, a year in which cars were finally getting better after nearly two decades of regulatory hell.

The next two, the ones I’m going to talk about today, give us the early portion of the crusade to make cars worse.  We will do this by immersing ourselves in two Road & Track magazines from the early 70’s, the January and February 1971 issues.

Road & Track January 1971.jpeg

These are not optimistic magazines, and a good portion of the writing is aimed at trying to justify why, to get cleaner air, you need to burn more fuel.  In a nutshell, the reason for this is that the automotive industry was not technologically prepared for the emissions legislation that was forced upon them.  Do-gooder lawmakers, of course, simply said: “The auto companies just don’t want to invest in this, we should regulate it anyway.”  And they did.

The upshot is that fuel economy went to hell because cars actually had to burn MORE gas to lower emissions (thermodynamics make this necessary).  This means carbon dioxide emissions (greenhouse gasses, anyone?) went up, and contributed to our current global warming mess.  Overeager and under-informed legislators, as usual, proving once again that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Road & Track February 1971

But all of that was in the future.  In 1971, even the extremely well-informed automotive press had no idea what the consequences might be.  Their technical editors were more concerned with whether the internal combustion engine would be viable beyond 1975 when the new laws took full effect.  Yes, that was a real concern.  In the end, as we know, the engine survived, but at a horrific cost to consumers… and now to the environment.

That situation actually gave birth to the most interesting parts of these magazines.  While it’s fun to read about the launch of cars that either went on to make no mark whatsoever on the marketplace or, to the contrary see what the press were saying about vehicles that are now classics, it’s absolutely fascinating to read about the new technology which could power cars if the Otto engine did bite the dust.

The two big alternatives, as seen in 1971 were the gas turbine and the Wankel.  Though the Wankel was, at that time, worse in emissions, it controlled oxides of nitrogen (NOx) better than the internal combustion engine… and these were tougher to engineer out of the Otto engine than other pollutants were for the Wankel.  So maybe…

The most memorable article of this pair is a long piece explaining the Wankel engine.  Good stuff.

Another thing that I enjoyed about these two is that the “& Track” portion of the magazine was much meatier than in the eighties, and it’s wonderful to read about the Can Am as a series that was taking place even then as opposed to looking back at it from our nostalgia as something unique and awesome the likes of which we’ll never, sadly see again.

Finally, the weird notes to my reading.  These mags are nearly fifty years old, so it’s interesting to see what kind of lives they’ve led.  While in decent condition, my copies have had the classified section carefully cut away by some earlier owner as well as one article: a piece about the 1971 Duesenberg replica.  Which is probably the strangest article to remove.  Why that piece, when there is so much stuff about original cars in there? I’ll probably never know.

Finally, the strangest thing of all is that these editions have the price in Swedish Krone on the cover.  That, the UK and US currency.  Why Krone?  Maybe because it was a big market… but no Deutsch Marks, French Francs or Lire… Weird.

All in all, it’s very fun to read these, especially to see what the world was like fifty years ago, and to compare this mature magazine with the early ones where you got maybe thirty pages of articles copied from other publications.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book is Jungle Lab Terror, a thriller set in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere, the Darien gap.  If you dare, you can buy it here.

Greek Myths, Death, Rockers and Mods

OK, so the rockers and mods were still a decade away when Jean Cocteau released Orphée (Orpheus) in 1950, but the film gives a rockers and mods vibe, with the poets playing the mods and the sinister motorcycle cops cum Death’s assistants playing the rockers.

Orphee Film poster.jpg

Deepening the mod and rocker theme, the different factions are represented by their choice of different exotic vehicles.  The main character, a successful poet that is beyond the “mod” phase of his peers (played by Jean Marais, who looks like he could walk out of the film and into a modern day Lacoste ad with no updating whatsoever) drives English cars while Death and her minions prefer French machines.

Of course, anyone who’s seen this film knows that Death steals the show.  Played by María Casares, she is both sinister and tender in her portrayal of an elemental force.

Normally, a semi-surrealist, existential retelling of one of the less pleasant Greek myths would be something I’d run from at breakneck speed, but since I’m on a mission to watch the 1001 films list, my hand was forced.

And I’m glad it was.  This is not just a great film,  it is a good film.  Wonder of wonders, the artistic sensibilities don’t get in the way of a compelling, emotionally gripping story.

We enjoyed this one enormously, even if it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending (when death is dressed as a dominatrix half the time, you might expect other kinds of happy endings, but it doesn’t have one of those, either).

It also exudes a sense of moving into a more modern era, foreshadowing the sixties before anyone imagined the sixties were coming, but in a very different way from On the Town.  While the American film seemed to break tradition, this one simply drags the art film into the present and even pushes it into the future without breaking the central tenets of the genre.

Recommended to pretty much everyone, but especially to serious cinephiles who will be appreciative of the nuance (look at me, pretending to know about cinema!).  A good one.

Also, shouting out to ons of the stars of this one, Juliette Gréco, who is still among us.  Thanks for being a part of this!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work often goes off in strange directions.  His collection Pale Reflection is a great introduction to his writing which should appeal to people who like Orpheus.  You can buy it here.

A Flat Detective

It should have been a match made in heaven.  Murder mysteries are one of my favorite genres.  Italy is one of my favorite places on earth.  And Sicily is just paradise if you happen to like the same kinds of places that I do.

And yet something failed to click.

The Age of Doubt - Inspector Montalbano - Andrea Camilleri.jpg

The Age of Doubt is a book by Andrea Camilleri in the Inspector Montalbano series.  I had seen the Montalbano series on TV a few years ago, and the series hadn’t really caught my attention (I’m much less of a series watcher than I am a series reader), but this was my first exposure to the author’s writing.

I was unimpressed, mainly because, unlike Fred Vargas’ Adamsberg, I found the inspector to be utterly annoying in his insecurity and strangely adolescent (or perhaps even pre-teen-girl-like) in his emotional responses to pretty much everything going on around him.

At first, I was tempted to blame the translator, as I wasn’t terribly impressed with the prose even before encountering the emotional issues, but once I saw how childishly emotions were rendered, I’m giving the translator a pass.  For all I know, this is a faithful rendering of the original Italian (I can read Italian, but not well enough to judge prose quality, unfortunately).

These are small irritants, of course.  The overall review of this book is that it’s an interesting murder mystery with a melodramatic ending.  I personally found the Inspector’s emotional inner monologue to be an irritant, but others obviously enjoy it.

This series can’t be dismissed, as the late Gardner Dozois famously did every year to the even later Martin H. Greenbergs’ anthologies, as “pleasant but minor”, as it is already a worldwide bestselling publishing phenomenon.  So I’ll limit myself to saying that I prefer my investigators to have different neuroses, treated differently, and leave it at that.  If you prefer a touch of overwrought melodrama, this might be just the series for you.

In my opinion, there are better crime novels among the millions of options out there.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose crime novel Timeless is a fast-paced, sexy thriller.  You can buy it here.

Has it really been more than 30 years?

I started reading Road & Track as a teenager in 1989.  That pretty much means that I have a complete run into the 2000’s, but that everything before 1988 was blank.  So I’m filling in those blanks slowly.  I have a few of the earliest ones, and also some 1988s.

I recently found a guy here in Argentina selling a large lot of mainly 1970s and 1980s R&Ts, so I bought them and have finally had the time to read through the missing 1988s (all except for the March issue, which I will have to track down…).

Road & Track - January 1988.jpg

As I have said in earlier posts, 1988 was a vintage year for this magazine.  Firing on all cylinders, hitting their stride, almost mature from a design point of view (that would come in 1989) and with subject matter that actually gave hope.

For non-auto enthusiasts, that last sentence needs a little clarification.  In the 70s and early 80s, the automotive industry was reeling.  Smog controls and safety crusades made the cars mechanically inferior to the ones in 1969 as well as more complicated to work on, uglier and generally less interesting tow write about.  There was a fuel crisis in there, too, so regulators imposed a corporate average fuel economy.  Ralph Nader’s biased and unfortunate Unsafe at Any Speed, published in 1966, was also a factor.

The speed limit was an imbecilic 55 miles an hour.

Many manufacturers closed or left the US market (R&T, being US-based, tended to concentrate on the American scene), AMC died, and even the surviving big three were in trouble.  Economy car companies, particularly Japanese companies who didn’t have a reputation to uphold, did well.  Layoffs abounded.

It was a grim time to be in the car business, even as a magazine.

But by 1988, the industry was recovering, and manufacturers, having gotten a grasp of emissions technology were actually building cars that people wanted to drive again.  Horsepower numbers were rising, convertibles reappeared (Nader must have been distracted, probably off annoying some other industry) and it was a good time to be alive.

Road & Track reflected this.  1988 was a vivacious, optimistic year for the magazine, exuding confidence in the wake of the launches of the brash Ferrari Testarossa, the glorious GTO and F40 and the Porsche 959.  Cars, it appeared, were exciting again.

Over the course of the year, this played out again and again.  Performance cars were given the nod over family sedans.  The first wave of the 4WD revolution in passenger cars was studied.

Life was good.

Good enough, in fact that their standout article of the year was among the ballsiest that I’ve ever seen from a car magazine. In an era when the specialist press was proudly displayed on every supermarket magazine rack and newsstand in the US, they openly re-analyzed the Audi unintended acceleration case and concluded that Sixty Minutes was wrong, sensationalist and journalistically compromised.  While that is often true for Sixty Minutes, it is unusual for a car magazine to shout it out.

Even more unusual is that a magazine conclude that the operators (drivers) were to blame.  While the public was out for corporate blood, having a major media outlet come out and say that the public itself is to blame, essentially because they don’t know how to drive correctly (which anyone who has driven in the US will be unsurprised by), and that the lawsuits should all be dismissed was an act of sheer integrity, not to mention courage.

Things like this are why R&T was the class of the automotive magazine field for decades, and why I still read back issues thirty years out of date.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and all around media opinionologist (he does read or watch the stuff he has opinions about, first, if that’s any consolation) whose latest book is Jungle Lab Terror.  You can buy it here.

The Palpable Beginning of a New Era

I’ve been watching the 1001 movies you must see before you die, and it’s a list that starts in 1906.  As you’ve seen over the past few years here, and earlier on Livejournal, there are a LOT of good, and a lot of great films in this list.

However, there are very few that make you stop in your tracks and say “this is something completely new which will change everything”.  The Wizard of OzBirth of a NationMetropolis.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a random musical comedy that I’d never heard of to land on that list.  But as I watched On the Town, that was exactly the feeling I got.

On the Town Movie Poster.jpeg

Of course, all the ingredients for a great film were there.  Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in a musical.  The city of New York itself and, of course, the magic of color, growing ever more popular at the end of the 1940s.

But groundbreaking?  Innovative?

On the face of it, it certainly didn’t seem it should.

But… it FELT brand new compared to the 1940’s films I’d been watching, even when contrasted to the colossal greatness of The Third Man.

Fresh, new, modern… subversive, even, which is not something I was expecting from a film on the cusp of the 1950s.

The reasons are several.  Most obvious is the sexual innuendo that skirted right along the edge of the Hays Code while thumbing its nose at the censors.  Anyone with half a brain knows exactly what was going on while couples who’d only met hours before were offstage, and that is wonderful…

The musical score, as well, sounds a decades in advance of Hollywood’s production to date, despite its somewhat hybrid origins (Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens combined in such a way as to make Bernstein boycott the film).

In addition to this, the female characters are portrayed as New Yorkers, modern women just out of wartime jobs (or not) and sexually liberated, making them much more engaging… and unexpected if your idea of a 1950s woman is a suburban housewife wearing a checkered apron.

The frenetic pace is also hyper-modern, and an ode to the pace of the city.  This also helps the overall feel.

Anyway, it isn’t often I sit up and take notice of how much a film seems to break from tradition.  I didn’t see this one coming, and if there were currents, minor films that led up to it, none of them were on the list (and, if they existed, they probably didn’t have quite the same balance as this one, which is why they didn’t make the list).

When all of that comes at you in glorious technicolor after decades of black and white film… well, it opens your eyes.

Oh, and it’s also fun to watch.  Recommended.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest book, Jungle Lab Terror is neither musical nor a comedy, but it would make a massively good Hollywood creature feature if they’d only buy the rights.  You can buy your own copy here.

Greatness that Smacks You Right Between the Eyes

Greatness often isn’t recognized in its own time.  Think of all the memorable films that didn’t even garner an Oscar nomination while the Best Picture winner languished in obscurity after a couple of years*.

Other films (the same can be said of books, of course) are slow-burning, becoming classics long after their first run bombed or otherwise made little impact.  A literary example illustrates this beautifully: HP Lovecraft.  He was a minor writer in the literary landscape of the 1920s and 30s, who was recognized after his death as the unrivalled master of a particular brand of fiction.  Hell, as a writer, I’m not entirely certain if we’re allowed to write the word “eldritch” unless we’re doing a Lovecraft pastiche.

But some just hit you between the eyes and you have no question that it’s a great one.  In the Noir Era, The Big Sleep is one that stands out.  There is no doubt that, perhaps without breaking any new ground, it brings a certain type of film to a supremely high level.  I have yet to watch one that I think is better.

Today’s subject is one of those.

The Third Man Movie Poster.jpg

Brilliant from the outset, The Third Man is an atmospheric study of postwar morality and the awful realities of a terrible time but, unlike The Bicycle Thief, it treats the subject matter as a way to tell a great story as opposed to using it as a political canvas.

And the story holds up its side of the film.  This isn’t just an atmospheric crime movie–and it most definitely isn’t noir–but a well-blended mix of high-quality ingredients.  Acting, setting, story and darkness combine to put you in Vienna in 1947.  It is utterly perfect, and quite possibly the film that best uses the fact that it’s black and white… ever–I still have a few of the greats to watch, but color was making strong inroads by the time this one was released in 1949–because it is one of those movies which would have lost a lot if they’d been in color.

So everything comes together beautifully, and the semi-twist ending (I won’t give any spoilers here, even though both film and book are well known, as many people will have forgotten how it ends), as well as Orson Welles’ few onscreen minutes, almost, if not quite, a cameo, make it about as close to the perfect movie as I’ve ever seen.

Also, the book is quite good as well, if I remember correctly (it was assigned reading in the eighth grade, so it’s probably high time I reread that one).  A Graham Greene Classic.

If I had to watch one movie from the forties, and one movie dealing with the effects of WW2, I admit I’d probably go with Casablanca over and over again.

But this one comes dangerously close.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is Jungle Lab Terror (just released–you could be one of the first readers!).  You can buy it here.

 

 

*Which, in the current “politics matter more than quality” climate, will actually happen more often.  I shudder to think of how future generations will laugh at the current Oscar dynamics.

My Latest Book, Jungle Lab Terror, is Out!

Jungle Lab Terror.jpg

Very pleased to announce that my latest monster book, Jungle Lab Terror, has been published by the good folks at Severed Press.  This one takes place in the Darien Gap, the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere… but there are more than just human predators prowling the area this time around.

You can buy it from Amazon in both paperback and ebook form.  Here’s the link!

If you do happen to buy it, I’d love it if you popped in and let me know what you thought.  Reader feedback is always appreciated!

The Perfect Response to “Bite Me”

Those of you who’ve been following along know that, though I’m not particularly a follower of the genre, I have little problem with an occasional piece of erotic fiction, whether it be a timeless classic or a forgotten piece of 1970s sleaze.

You might also know that, as a writer, I occasionally dabble in erotic fiction across a few genres.  I mentioned a sale to Blood in the Rain 4 a few months back, and the book has cycled through my enormous TBR pile and now I can review it.

Here’s that cover again:

cof

Now that I’ve read it, I can state that the content within is exactly what it says on the tin: vampire erotica.

Now before you run off, I need to say three things that surprised me (as someone who doesn’t read all that much modern erotica).  The first is that the stories in this volume are uniformly well-written.  On a sentence level, the writing (and don’t tell anyone I said this), is of a much higher quality than that which you’d find in a non-erotic science fiction or fantasy volume of the same payscale.

Secondly, the definition of what a vampire is gets examined and plenty of different roles, good and evil, victimizer and victim are studies between the sheets of this book.

Third, there is much less preoccupation with politics than in the rest of the genre.  This book is lovely in that any personal politics the author might have are left behind.  And that means you actually get decent stories instead of manifestos.  SF and fantasy editors need to take note.

In fact, the weakest story of the bunch is the single story that is a political revenge fantasy.  Included, one supposes, for variety’s sake, it was the single clunker as a tale, although well-written.

As for the sex, all varieties are sprinkled in here and, like me, you will probably find some stories that turn you on while others might make you squirm a bit.  Which, quite possibly, is the whole point.  In my own case, male / male stories aren’t my cup of tea, but there are a couple in here, “Lawful Evil” by Erin Horáková is memorable that worked for me as a tale despite being male / male.  In fact, almost every single story was excellent, with well-done sex scenes central to each.  Vampires lend themselves well to that.

The best of the bunch was “The Prisoner” by Bill Davidson, a long story with a twist ending that nevertheless follows logically from the themes developed inside.

This one is highly recommended (and not just because there’s one of my stories in it).  The quality of writing is superlative, the sex is sexy and the vampires are memorable.  What more do you want from life?

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer.  His novel Timeless is a fast-paced and sexy thriller, and you can buy it here.

Psychological Subtlety Lifts this One Out of Noir

I love film noir.  The moody scenes, the stock phrases, the sultry femmes fatale.  It’s a wonderful transportation to a lost world that probably never really existed.

But subtle?  No way.

The characters spiral out of control and, except when Bogart is involved, come to awful, well-deserved and often gruesome ends.

And then we come to 1949 and The Reckless Moment.

The Reckless Moment - French Film Poster.jpg

This is a noir film where the psychological motivations are much deeper than the usual greed, lust and fear.  It’s a film that leaves you with questions, even though it’s not exactly Camus.

The setup is that a mother is being blackmailed for her daughter’s indiscretions after an unfortunate accident kills off the girl’s lover.  The mother, far from being innocent, responds foolishly – but we’re never quite certain if the mother’s innocent, wholesome facade afterwards is an act or if it’s coldly calculated to draw in the man who ultimately takes the fall.

The criminal element in this one is an Irish gangster with–in what later becomes a cliché–a heart of gold.  In single handedly saving the day, he becomes the sympathetic character, the one socially conscious people point to when the say that people are good, but sometimes their upbringing didn’t give them a chance.

Like Gun Crazy, I wouldn’t call this one noir.  It just doesn’t hit the mark.  While Gun Crazy misses because it’s too B-movie simplistic, this one misses because of its attempt at sophistication.  I would call it a crime drama… but not noir.

As for the film itself, in moving away from the noir formula, I’m not certain it helped its cause.  It is both slower and less impactful than the films which share its supposed genre.  Decent, but others are better.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose crime thriller Timeless is the story of a journalist who gets involved with forces she can’t quite understand, much less control.  It’s sexy and fast-paced and modern… and you can buy it here.

 

Eventually, they Restarted

Last year, I read and reviewed the very first Road & Track Magazine, from June 1947.  Nowadays, it’s a monthly but, like many magazines, getting the first few issues out was a bit of a rocky road.

May 1948 saw the second volume published, so nearly an entire year later.

A

Like the first issue, this one has a lot of material reprinted from other sources.  Photographs, particularly are credited to several other publications.

Additionally, as someone used to reading the fat issues from the 1990s, a Road & Track only 36 pages long is an unexpected item.

As always, these are interesting for their period features and their antiquated assumptions.  But two things make them worth tracking down (and they aren’t easy to find sometimes–this one was an original, not a reprint).  The first is to see how auto enthusiasts of seventy years ago viewed the future, and the second is for those forgotten wrinkles and oddities which, though widely reported at the time, are long forgotten.

This one can be read in one sitting, but it will be a pleasant one in which you are smiling–often nostalgically–the whole time.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose love of automobiles even seeps over to his literary fiction.  It reached the point that his story “August Nights”, included in  his book Love and Death deals with the joy of driving fast and well (among other modern things).  And it’s not the only one where cars are characters.  You can buy the book here.