Monday, July 25, 2011

Jungle Goddess (1965) by Charles Nuetzel

I love jungle stories. Always have since watching Ron Ely swing from the trees as Tarzan in his 1960's TV show. As I grew a little older I came to understand that Africa was not an endless forest of vines and howling animals. But that never stopped me of dreaming of lost cities and noble warriors.
Paperback commando Charles Nuetzel has recently released some of his 60's novels into ebook form. This is a good thing as some of these books are not easy to find. Unless someone puts their old copy up for sale on the Net, they don't surface very often. With bookstores fading everywhere, it's hard to remember a time when the racks were miniature art galleries. The cover for Jungle Goddess was painted by Nuetzel's own father.
Jungle Goddess is a quick, fun read. A "Mens' Adventure" writer is sent on assignment into Africa with a up and coming photographer to photograph places seldom seen by civilization. The writer, Bob Lake, is a washed-up hack who hides from reality in a bottle. His photographer, Carol Hill, is determined to become famous in her field. Along the way they make the aquaintence of poor little rich girl Rita Bentley and big game hunter John Barton. All four of them are forced to survive as one group when their plane crashes somewhere in the forbidden jungle. And, of course, there's a wild feral girl named Tallie who lives in the rain forest and swings from the trees.'
It's obvious that Nuetzel's big sell for the book was Tallie the jungle girl. He spends a lot of time talking about her, showing the action from her point of view, etc. He's quite taken with her. We never do find out how a blond girl was dumped in the jungle to fend for herself, but there is a reference to an airplane crash. Detailed back stories are not one of this novel's strong points.
One of the more embarrassing aspects of jungle stories is how they depict the native Africans. And this book doesn't go out of it's way to sympathize with them. Africans are usually referred to as "the blacks". They exist just to play the role of gun bearers or savages. But, as African American writer Derrick Ferguson often points out, you have to consider the times when these books were written.
And yes there are sex scenes. Did you expect otherwise? But they are tastefully written. The novel came out at the junction when the Adventure "Sweat" magazines where being phased out in favor of stronger material. Graphic encounters were not yet the norm.
Jungle Goddess is an amusing, if dated, look at the world of adventure paperbacks from the early
60's.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rabbit Heart by Barry Reese

This is the first book I've read from "New Pulp" writer Barry Reese. It's impressive. Reese is a full-time librarian with a wide range of influences. He's already had countless short stories and other novels (which you can't find at my local Megabookstore, dammit!) published. What intrigued me to purchase this one was a podcast interview he gave where he stressed the personal nature of this book.
Let me make one thing clear: this is not a novel for those with tender sensibilities. Reese isn't the least bit afraid to go for the throat in his descriptions of violence. I was particularly sickened by a graphic account of rape and murder toward the end of Rabbit Heart. In all fairness, I think he wanted the reader to be repulsed by this scene; to feel the utter horror of the taking of an innocent life. If that was the case, he succeeded beyond all intents.
Rabbit Heart begins with the murder of a young couple in a cemetery. Two kids, barely out of high school and pumped up on hormones, decide to party. Unfortunately for them a creature known as a lich, has been recently awakened. The lich, a demonic sex carnivore, makes short work of them before looking for more prey.
The novel moves to Fiona Chapman, a young dark-haired girl whose just been attacked by a maniac at a summer camp. Fiona miraculously survives only to discover she's been reborn as a member of the Furious Host. The Furious Host is an incarnation of the Wild Hunt of legend, demonic creatures who rode through the lands slaughtering any one in their path. The Hunt is led by Edric, who has decided to reincarnate the Host in a battle to the death. Points are scored by how many humans they kill, but bonus points are awarded when one of the Host kills another member of it.
Fiona can shift into her "archetype" form as needed: a small femme fatale clothed in bandages, one eye covered by a patch, and wielding a black machete. After being informed of her destiny by Edric, she rejects him and everything he represents. Instead, she vows to take out the entire Host, starting with the rampaging lich.
The action shifts to the college town of Milledgeville, Georgia, where the sinister lich, who calls himself "Uhrl the Unconquered", is finding plenty of victims. Fiona begins to track him down. She's assisted by Ascott Keane, who claims to be a descendant of an occult investigator from the 1930's. Fiona learns that Uhrl is looking for something in Milledgeville which he must not find....
Reese is good at showing the action from a variety of characters. You may not like being in the head of a horny college student, but he forces you to see the world from those eyes. It's a difficult trick, showing multiple viewpoints, but he neatly pulls it off.
My only criticism with the novel is the countless cultural references with which he loads it. It's bad enough when he wants to show an emotion by quoting "Solitary Man", but comparing a police officer to Denzel Washington? Enough with the cultural short-cuts!
A good book in what I hope will be a new series. Now if I can just find a copy of his Tales of Ki-Gor....

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Colossus Triology




One of the more memorable parts of my early years was watching Colossus: The Forbin Project on network TV. The part about a monster computer taking control of the world was chilling enough, the ending where it was revealed that the creature couldn't be stopped was worse yet. The synthetic voice of the machine gave me nightmares. And this mad computer wasn't trapped on a spaceship headed for Saturn. Later I discovered the movie was based on a book. And that it had two sequels. Naturally, I've been itching to read them for years.
The first Colossus novel was written in 1966 by British author D F Jones. It takes place in the distant future where North America has been unified into one political entity. Much the same is true for the rest of the world, where the Soviet Union still playing the bogeyman. To solve the nuclear stalemate problem, a massive computer is built under the direction of Professor Charles Forbin and given control of the entire arsenal of North America. The computer, named "Colossus", will launch a full nuclear strike on the Soviet Union and allies if it perceives the enemy is preparing for war. The logic behind this move is one of cost: with the ultimate defense system in place, there will be no need for a large standing army.
However, the Soviet Union has been thinking along the same lines. As soon as Colossus is activated, it informs it's human masters (by way of a teletype, this was state-of-the-art in 1967) that another super computer exists. The leaders of both states agree to put the computers in connection (bad mistake) to see what results. Both computers soon merge into one conscious entity. An attempt to separate them leads to a disaster as they now control all of the world's nuclear weapons and have no hesitation about using them. The rest of the book concerns the world's leaders and scientists trying to figure out a way to shut down the new Colossus.
The second book, The Fall of Colossus, was written in 1974. It's the best of the triology as it tries to imagine what kind of world might exist after a supreme intellengence has taken over all human affairs. War is abolished, but continues on in the Sea War Game where different nationalities build robotic WWI dreadnaughts that blast each other in the ocean. Some of the former functionaries who built Colossus has formed themselves into The Sect, which worships the computer as a god. They are opposed by the underground Fellowship which tries to find a way to shut down the machine. Colossus permits no interference in its' will and those convicted of anti-machine activity are quickly executed. Forbin reluctantly functions as an intermediary between Colossus and humanity from the machine's complex on the Island of Wright. The rule of Colossus seems absolute, but strange transmissions from outer space reveal a plan to shut it down....
Colossus and The Shark reveals what Colossus was protecting humanity from all along: alien invasion. The aliens from Mars who gave Forbin and his aides the means to shut down the machine show up and inform Forbin that they are now in charge. Forbin decides to hold the information from the rest of humanity once the aliens have activated the lower functions of Colossus, permitting it to mindlessly control the planet's government and economy. The aliens demand from Forbin half of Earth's oxygen. When Forbin balks at the demand, they produce a detailed plan for a device which can extract oxygen from the air on a huge scale. The book concludes with a reactivated Colossus working out an alliance with the aliens and humanity against a new threat from space.
The movie version of the first book, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1969), follows the first novel closely. Eric Braedon (who would later go on to star in Escape from the Planet of the Apes and soap operas) played Dr. Eric Forbin, the designer of the Colossus computer. The film takes place in the near future, as opposed to the distant one of the book. It is amusing to look at all the clunky computer monitors used in the film as they were considered futuristic at the time. The monitor installed in Forbin's private suite for Colossus appears to weigh several hundred pounds.
Jones is very concerned about the technological aspects of the books. A good chunk of Colossus and the Shark focuses on the design of the oxygen collector. He also spends a lot of time on the physics of the aliens arrival on Earth. But he doesn't ignore the psychological aspects. We discover in The Fall of Colossus that the Super Computer has created special research centers for the study of human emotions. Colossus uses them to conduct unspeakable experiments which wouldn't be out of place in a Nazi concentration camp.
The trilogy is somewhat hampered by new advances in technology, but at least Jones does update to video tape in the later books. It's still a good read. Too bad the author passed on years ago, because a fourth Colossus book was hinted at the conclusion of Colossus and the Crab.