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Saturday, October 01, 2016

Robert Vacha cover gallery

Robert Vacha only wrote eight novels; at least seven featured Colonel Robert Craig of British Intelligence. Like many thrillers, a couple of them were set in the near future (e.g. Moscow 1980, published in 1979), so I was surprised when I stumbled across a review which made reference to Vacha's A Spy for Churchill. The reviewer was rather dismissive of the book, describing it as "the tale of Robert Craig, who passed himself off as Major Karl Hermann von Warnke of the 15th Panzer Division of the Afrika Korps, which however was packaged as history. Again, the story contains so many implausibilities that one wonders how it was accepted as credible to begin with."

The book under review (Counterfeit Spies by Nigel West [Rupert Allason], 1998) implied that Vacha's account was deliberate. Another reviewer of the book, Richard Norton-Taylor, said "Some of the books West cites were encouraged by the agencies to protect their operations. For example, A Spy for Churchill by Robert Vacha, a journalist who had been a wartime intelligence officer, claimed that Britain had an agent in Rommel's camp. In fact, detailed intelligence about Rommel's intentions in North Africa was the result of the interception of German radio traffic by the Government Code & Cypher School – the forerunner of GCHQ – whose successes Whitehall managed to keep secret for years. (The Guardian, 12 March 1998)

As someone who had read a couple of Vacha's novels donkey's years ago, I was surprised – especially as Vacha has published a "warning" that he had fictionalised parts of the main story and certain characters – that anyone would mistake A Spy for Churchill for anything other than a novel.

But I'll take any excuse to do a little digging as I knew almost nothing about Vacha.

Robert Vacha was born Dorab Robert Vacha in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on 15 January 1918. His family were originally from India and related to Dadabhoy Byramjee, one of the first natives of Western India educated under the European system (known as "Elphinstonians"). Originally a teacher and journalist, Byramjee came to London in around 1870 as an assistant in a commercial firm. After a brief apprenticeship, he established his own firm, Dadabhoy & Co. Ltd., which went on to have branches in America, Aden, Zanzibar, Bombay, Madagascar and other places. Dadabhoy died in Bombay in December 1908, aged about 80.

At the time of the 1891 census, two of Dadabhoy's grandchildren were living with him at his Lambeth home. Bapoojee ("Bapas" or "Bap") Dorabjee Vacha (1876-????) and Feroz Dorabjee Vacha (c.1883-1931), sons of Dorab Faridunji Vacha (????-1911), were both born in Bombay but educated in England. The two families were closely linked in business and Dadabhoy & Co., based at The Wool Exchange, London, Aden, Tananarive and elsewhere, was run by a partnership consisting of Pestonjee Byramjee, Dorabjee Furdoonjee Vacha, Feroz Dorabjee Vacha, Dorab Pestonjee Byramjee and Khusroo Dorabjee Vacha. Pestonjee, Dadabhoy's brother, and his nephew Dorab retired from the business on 31 December 1910, leaving the business in the control of the Vacha family.

Khusroo Dorabjee Vacha was born in Aden, a major port in Yemen, in c.1885 and was a partner and attorney for the business.

After the Great War, the company was run in partnership by Bapoojee Dorabjee Vacha, Feroze Dorabjee Vacha, Khusroo Dorabjee Vacha and Sorab Dorabjee Vacha. The latter three continued as partners in the company when Bapojee retired in June 1921. Around this time, Feroze and Sorab were both to be found in Madagascar, where at least three children were born—Robert (b. 1918), Sorab Francis Lynton Vacha (c.1919-1944) and Richard Rustom Vacha (b. 24 July 1921).

Khusroo, usually known as Kay Dorab Vacha, was living at 123 South Croxted Road, Dulwich [fl.1923] and could later be found living at 1a Collingwood Road, SW5 [fl.1929/30], 59 Mark Lane, EC3 [fl.1932], and at the business address 4 St. Mary Axe, EC3 [fl.1933/37], although he was then living with Elizabeth Vacha at Burnage Court, Lawrie Park Avenue, SE26 [fl.1933/36] and then at Flat 2, South Road, Honor Oak Park, Lewisham [fl.1937]. They were joined by Robert Dorab Vach in around 1938/39 at Flat 4, South Road, Honor Oak Park, Lewisham [fl.1939].

This was not an easy time for Khusroo Vacha. He had been involved in setting up a French-backed business to exploit Potash resources in the Dead Sea. At the same time he set up a company called the Madagascar Mining Syndicate Ltd. to press the claims of the Syndicat Francais des Potasses de la Mer Morte (SFPMM) against the British Colonial Office. As the French claim gained support, the Colonial Office, after an offer to the French government was rejected, prepared for the possibility of a protracted legal showdown.

However, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs backed down from facing the Colonial Office before the League of Nations at the Hague and instead tried to pursue its claim through the British courts. After the case opened in July 1934, the British attorney general, Sir William Jowett, acting on behalf of the Palestine Potash Ltd. (PPL), the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office, questioned whether the High Court had any jurisdiction over the French claim; eventually it was decided it didn't, but ordered the Madagascar Mining Sydicate to pay £4,924 damages to PPL. Khusroo Vacha refused to pay and was pursued through the bankruptcy court and bankrupted in August 1935.

Khusroo was a 2nd Lieut. in the Royal Army Pay Corps.; he was on the casualty list in 1940 and died in Bromley, Kent, in 1942, aged 57. His son Francis Lynton Vacha, of the Reconnaissance Corps, R.A.C. (43rd Regiment (2/5th Bn, Gloucestershire Regt.), died in France on 5 August 1944, aged 24.

Robert Vacha worked for the Intelligence Corps during World War II in the Middle East and Europe. He was made a Major in 1949. (Biographies in his books say he was "a former Lieut.-Colonel in British intelligence" but I have yet to find a record of any further promotion.)

In 1950 he sailed to Nigeria to work as an administration officer for the Foreign Office, later becoming a District Officer before returning to Scotland in 1957.

Vacha became a staff foreign correspondent in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for various international newspapers. By 1965 and was living at 50 Graemesdyke Avenue, Richmond, and in the mid-1970s he worked on the Foreign Desk of the Daily Mail.

He was married to Beatrice Veitch Vacha (1922-1992) in Berlin, Germany, in the late 1940s. They had one son (Iain David Vacha, b. 1948), one daughter (Karen B. E., later Williamson). The family lived in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, where Beatrice died in 1992. Robert subsequently moved to 18 Hawthorn Close, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where he died, suddenly and peacefully, on 6 January 2002, aged 83.

A Spy for Churchill
Everest 0903-92519-2, 1974, 190pp, 60p. 
With due regard to the Official Secrets Act, former wartime Intelligence officer author Robert Vacha tells of a mission into Rommel's HQ that tests every nerve and passion.
    Informing the British Army of Rommel's strategy in North Africa while in the guise of a captured officer... going to Berlin to spend leaves with the German's wife and taking over as lover to her sister!
    This fast, tense story explains what being a spy really means.
    Sir Winston Churchill is on record as writing: "We had a spy in touch with Rommel's headquarters who gave us accurate information."
    Fluent German speaking Robert Vacha knows what he is talking about... and in this story he tells as much as possible of one of the most daring stories of World War II.
Phantoms Over Potsdam
Everest 0903-92554-0, 1975,  191pp.
The Name of the game was Brinkmanship.
    None of it made sense. There was no way East and West Germany could be reunited. If they holding talks, the British Foreign Office was far too discreet to leak the story.
    Even if the FO wanted to spill the beans, Robert Craig was not the journalist they would talk to.
    And if he published the story, that was no reason for him to be kidnapped in broad daylight outside his Berlin hotel...
    But as Craig got embroiled in the international scheming surrounding the Potsdam talks, he discovered the reality was even more fantastic.
    The British plan was the most terrifying exercise in Brinkmanship since the Cuban missile crisis.
    And Craig was in the hot seat.
    Robert Vacha's fact as fiction book A Spy for Churchill caused a furore by revealing the long kept secret of the British spy in Rommel's camp.
The OPEC Project
Star 0352-39543-5, 1977, 224pp.
--- [2nd? imp.] 1978.

Requiem for a Crown
Star 0352-30247-x, 1978, 206pp, 75p.
In 1945, in the chaos of the German defeat, the priceless thousand-year-old Holy Crown of St Stephen vanished from Budapest, along with a haul of precious stones worth millions. Stolen by Hungarian Nazis, the crown had been lost for over thirty years, and no-one had been able to solve the mystery of its disappearance. But with the balance of power in Easter Europe at its most precarious, there would be serious political repercussions if the crown were found...
    Colonel Craig, an agent for British Intelligence, had picked up the elusive trail. So had the KGB. Their collaboration with him had already resulted in the death of a key witness. The CIA were also involved. Craig couldn't guess how the puzzle pieced together, but he knew it could cost him his life to find out.
Moscow 1980
Star 0352-30258-5, 1979, 265pp, 95p.
Fearing a repeat of the 1972 Munich massacre, Soviet security around the Moscow Olympics was as tight as a clenched fist. Nothing could go wrong. EXCEPT
    The kidnap of a top Kremlin official.
    The assassination of a beautiful girl from Moscow.
    The gruesome murder of a top American athlete.
    Red China, Soviet Russia, Israeli extremists... Each suspected the others.
    And one man suspected them all.
The Black Orchestra
Star 0352-30353-0, 1978, 253pp.

The Proton Plot
Star 0352-30502-9, 1980, 204pp, 90p.
TOP PRIORITY... to Robert Craig, British Intelligence... Assignment Brief... Cairo suburb Heliopolis destroyed... buildings reduced to dust... thousands dead—no corpses... weapon unidentifiable, untraceable... suspect extreme terrorist activity...
    Craig was sent to London to trace the source of the hideous destruction in Egypt. It was the first of a series of attacks on the world's major capitals. In the course of his mission, Craig was to tangle with the voluptuous neo-Nazi, Anya Kroll; infiltrate a wide-reaching Fascist underground; struggle through the most dangerous terrain in Africa; witness the devastation wreaked by the most staggering weapon since the H-bomb...
   The Proton Plot: Tomorrow's apocalypse today.
Drop Dead in Dresden
Magread, 1983.

Translator
Highway to Hell by Heinz G. Konsalik, translated from the German (Die Rollbahn, Munich, Heyne, nn.d.). Henley on Thames, A. Ellis, 1976.
The Kaiser's Daughter. Memoirs of HRH Viktoria Luise, Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg, Princess of Prussia, translated from the German (Ein Leben als Tochter des Kaisers, Im Glanz der Krone and Im Strom der Zeit, Hanover, Gottigen, 1965-74) and edited by Robert Vacha. London, W. H. Allen, 1977.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Comic Cuts - 30 September 2016

On Wednesday evening I had an hour to kill and my go-to hobby is digging out bits of biographical info. about little known authors. You may have noticed...

Some of the research ends in me knowing almost nothing. At other times I find I have enough interesting material for a post here at Bear Alley. A few times now, and this has happened more frequently this year, I've researched something, gone to write up my notes, and discovered that I've already written up that particular author in the past.

That's what happened on Wednesday and I get the feeling I'm going to have to do something about it. There are things I wrote ten years ago that, thanks to the increased amount of information available on the internet, I could probably do with revisiting. I'm starting to doodle around the idea of revising the text and putting them into some kind of collection that would be available through Kindle or as a nice fat book, but relatively cheap as I'm not necessarily out to make a profit on some of this—if you haven't noticed, it doesn't cost you a dime to visit Bear Alley and you're not charged for visiting any of the 3,830 articles published here.

Putting some of this old material together in book form might give me a chance to include stuff I have discovered since, stuff that didn't fit the blog, link some of the authors who I may have written about many years apart, and generally tidy things up.

It's going to be a long process—I barely have the time to keep up with the new research, let alone revisit pieces written a decade ago—but I'm going to give it a shot. What I'm basically saying is that there might be some old features that you've bookmarked that disappear or move, or they might get a radical overhaul as I fiddle with the text and try to sort out a few images.

Just what I need... another new project!

Having picked Herbert Shappiro as an example of someone I wrote up ten years ago, here are a few more covers from the same author.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2000AD celebrates issue 2,000

Congratulations to 2000AD for reaching issue 2,000. To put this into context, only The Beano has published more issues (around 3,850) and only four other weekly titles have achieved the same astonishing achievement—The Dandy (which folded with issue 3,610), Illustrated Chips (3,003 issues), Film Fun (2,225 issues) and The Jester (2,010 issues under various titles).

However, 2K is the only post-war title to reach 2,000 issues, its nearest rivals being The Topper (1,963 issues) and Buster (1,907 issues).

I should also mention Commando, which has had more issues than any other comic (it's approaching 5,000!) and War Picture Library (which publishe 2,103 issues)... but they were monthly pocket books rather than weekly comics.

You can use these statistics to baffle some of the best of 2000AD's contributors on Saturday (1st October) as there is a mass signing across the UK, USA and Australia. Signings start at 1pm.

The following is the most up-to-date listing I could find:
ENGLAND
Forbidden Planet
179 Shaftsbury Avenue, London WC2
Clint Langley, Alec Worley, Ben Willsher, Frazer Irving

Forbidden Planet International Cardiff
5 Duke Street, Cardiff  CF10
Mike Collins, David Roach, Dylan Teague, Patrick Goddard

Scorch! Comics
Unit N The Enterprise Shopping Centre, Station Roundabout, Eastbourne BN21
Mike McMahon, Chris Weston, Rufus Dayglo, Tom Eglington, Boo Cook, Simon Davis, Kevin Hopgood

Infinity & Beyond
Unit 25 Middle Mall, Charles Darwin Shopping Centre, Shrewsbury SY1
John Wagner, Ian Edginton, Phil Winslade

Travelling Man
4 Dale Street, Manchester M1
Steve Yeowell, Andy Diggle, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Leigh Gallagher
SCOTLAND
Waterstones (West End)
128 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2
Alan Grant, Tom Foster, Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, Colin MacNeil
IRELAND
Big Bang Comics
Dundrum Town Centre, Sandyford Rd, Dundrum, Dublin
Michael Carroll, Eoin Coveney, (and on the 28th September) Jock
USA
Meltdown Comics
7522 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046, United States
Chris Burnham
AUSTRALIA
Kings Comics
310 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSQ 2000, Australia
Mark Sexton

The other big announcement is that there will be a 40th Anniversary bash celebrating 2000AD next February...


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dan Dare audio posters

With the Dan Dare audio adventures due in December from Big Engine, Brian Williamson has been commissioned to produce three posters to celebrate the event. Here are the first two...


Sunday, September 25, 2016

2000AD 2000!

That 2000AD has survived this long is down to the power of the 2000AD brand. While the comic itself has had its ups and downs over its 40-year history, nobody can deny that it has constantly reinvented itself and discovered a steady stream of new talent that has kept the title buoyant over the decades. A look through the 2000AD family photo album will reveal plenty of familiar faces at get-togethers over the years.

There's Pat Mills and John Wagner along with Kevin O'Neill and Carlos Ezquerra, present at the birth. Wagner and Ezquerra are here with an extra-long, 12-page Dredd/Strontium Dog crossover that sees a reward offered for Dredd to face the justice of the Supreme Court in the year 2220 run by an imperious monster not seen in Dredd's world since not long after the paper's second birthday. Mills and O'Neill, meanwhile, continue the saga of Nemesis the Warlock from its end in 1999 but in a style reminiscent of its origins in 1980.

Next up are the sons and daughters of the original line-up, including Rogue Trooper by Gordon Rennie & Richard Elson, a return to his origins on Nu Earth - and the Judge Dredd spin-off  Psi Judge Anderson by Alan Grant and David Roach which also includes an appearance from another old friend... or should that be fiend...

The family album now features younger members and newcomers, Sinister Dexter by Dan Abnett & storyboard artist Mark Sexton and, a brand new serial, Counterfeit Girl by Pete Milligan & Rufus Dayglo.

Headline acts like Uncle Brian, Uncle Mike and Uncle Dave are on hand to toast the issue with an interstitial history lesson, aided and abetted by Robin Smith and Maurice Aitken, again ghosting artwork for Boo Cook.

If you haven't looked through the family album for any length of time, this is a great opportunity to reacquaint yourself with faces old and new. Some have aged really well.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Vonda N. McIntyre cover gallery

The Exile Waiting (Garden City, New York, Nelson Doubleday, 1975; revised, London, Victor Gollacz, 1976)
Pan Books 0330-25295-x, (Feb) 1978, 236pp, 75p.
---- [2nd imp.] n.d. (May 1987), 236pp, £2.95. Cover by Michael Embden

Dreamsnake (Boston, Massachusetts, Houghton Mifflin, 1978)
Pan Books 0330-25863-x, (Oct) 1979, 287pp, 95p. Cover by George Underwood
Gollancz/VGSF 0575-04497-7, (Jun) 1989, 313pp, £3.50. Cover by Brian Salmon
Jo Fletcher Books 978-0857-05426-5, (Feb) 2016, 288pp, £8.99.

The Entropy Effect (New York, Pocket Books, 1981)
Orbit 0708-88083-5, (Oct) 1981, 224pp, £1.25.
Titan Books 1852-86073-1, (Nov) 1988, 219pp, £2.95.

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (New York, Pocket Books, 1982)
Futura 0708-88095-9, (Jul) 1982, 223pp, £1.25.
Titan Books 1852-86071-5, (Sep) 1988, 223pp, £2.95/

Superluminal (Boston, Massachusetts, Houghton Mifflin, 1983)
New English Library 0450-05890-5, (Jul) 1986, 298pp, £2.50

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (New York, Pocket Books, 1984)
Panther 0586-06442-7, (Aug) 1984, 287pp, £1.95.

The Bride (New York, Dell Books, 1985)
(no UK paperback)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (New York, Pocket Books, 1986)
Grafton 0586-07318-3, 1987, 274, £2.50.

Star Trek: Enterprise: The First Adventure (New York, Pocket Books, 1986)
Grafton 0586-07321-3, (Apr) 1987, 371pp, £2.95. Cover by Boris Vallejo

Barbary (Boston, Massachusetts, Houghton Mifflin, 1986)
(no UK paperback)

Starfarers (New York, Ace Books, 1989)
(no UK paperback)

Transition (New York, Ace Books, 1991)
Big Engine 1903-46816-7, 2002, £9.99.

Metaphase (New York, Ace Books, 1991)
(no UK paperback)

Nautilus (New York, Ace Books, 1994)
(no UK paperback)

Star Wars: The Crystal Star (New York, Pocket Books, 1994)
Bantam Books 0553-40878-x, (Nov) 1995, 352pp, £5.99. Cover by Drew Struzan

The Moon and the Sun (New York, Pocket Books, 1997)
Jo Fletcher Books 978-0857-05424-1, (Jul) 2015, 448pp, £8.99.

COLLECTIONS

Fireflood and Other Stories (Boston, Massachusetts, Houghton Mifflin, 1979)
Pan Books 0330-26537-7, (Nov) 1982, 256pp, £1.95. Cover by Chris Achilleos
---- [2nd imp.] n.d., £2.50

ANTHOLOGIES

Aurora: Beyond Equality, with Susan J. Anderson (Greenwich, Connecticut, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1976)
(no UK paperback)

Nebula Awards Showcase 2004 (New York, Penguin/Roc, 2004)
(no UK paperback)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Comic Cuts - 23 September 2016

One of those days has turned into one of those weeks. My day job has involved the migration of our e-mail system from one platform to another, losing a whole raft of mails in the process that were meant to be copied, whilst admitting that some of the other files and folders have had to be left behind and will be migrated "in two or three weeks."

Bizarrely, I found that I could easily cope with the amount of mail I was getting through this week. It took me a couple of days to realise that some of the mail fed to me through different addresses (we have, for instance, editorial@ as well as my name@) hadn't been redirected. So I'm still chasing down messages that ought to have come through but haven't, some of which could be text or images for the next issue... which we've pushed back a week because... well, because we've had to.

And then our local council lost my council tax cheque. They know I've paid it, but when they came to present the cheque to their bank they found it was not to be found. So I've had to cancel the cheque... by which I mean I've phoned the bank and listened to their excuses about why they can't access my account at the moment, but they'll take a note of the cheque number and sort it out once their system sorts itself out.

And to cap it off, this...

We bought the cat-scarers to stop the neighbour's cats from crapping on the lawn. And it worked, so I can't say I'm unhappy with the product we bought... except one of them stopped working after a couple of months. We were down to one and that seemed to keep the problem at bay. However, these past couple of weeks have seen a change in attitude... or cattitude, you might say. Both cats have grown so used to the noise the cat-scarer makes, it no longer scares them. In fact, I get the feeling that it makes them feel safer, so much so that they're willing to fall asleep on what is fairly open ground. Two feet to the left of the cat in the picture above is our drive; maybe five feet up the drive is a busy road. On the right (arrowed) is the cat-scarer aimed squarely at the cat! 

So... one of those weeks, and all set against a background of low-level ache in my jaw, possibly phantom tooth syndrome, which I've just invented to explain the low-level ache in my jaw. The tooth removed two weeks ago left a huge hole which is still slowly healing. Too damn slowly as far as I'm concerned. So let's think about something else.

I think we've had the last of the tomatoes for the year. 110 in all, which is rather less than last year but still a good crop. And we had 4 cucumbers rather than 3 and each was a much better size. When you consider that we both hate gardening and Mel and I both possess the black finger of death when it comes to growing plants, that's not bad at all.

Random scans... not always random, of course, but these ones are... almost. I ran some Patrick Quentin covers three weeks ago and managed to miss this one. I then spotted the rather nice Simone de Beauvoir cover next to it in my miscellaneous covers folder on my computer. It reminded me that I had another book by her about Brigitte Bardot, which I scanned. And then I stumbled across another book featuring Bardot. The Jack the Ripper book, which I also cleaned up, doesn't really fit the sequence, so I've used it as a column header. There's no message... I just happened to spot it and clean it up.

 
 
 
.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Commando issues 4951-4954

Commando issues on sale 22 September 2016.

Commando No 4951 – Battle of the Black Crow
The Black Crow was a pirate ship, sailing the seas south of Cuba and tussling with Navy vessels from many different countries.
   Two young crewmen, Flinn Scott and Charlie Reeves, longed to jump ship — as they missed their Scottish homeland so much. However, soon came the chance to get their hands on some treasure — but they were not the only buccaneers interested. The Tartarus, a British privateer ship and its captain would destroy anyone who got in their way of their haul.

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4952 – Atlantic Killer
A swift trail of bubbles — if you see it and a roar like a thousand express trains crashing — if you hear it. That’s all the warning you get when a torpedo hits home.
   Lieutenant Commander Dave Miller lost his destroyer just like that to Kapitan Karl von Sturm, top Nazi U-Boat ace known as the “Sea Wolf”. The way things were going, Dave was liable to lose another ship…unless he got to the “Sea Wolf” first.

Introduction
This is a tough, sea-faring tale which has a personal vendetta between two arch enemies at its heart. Veteran interior artist C.T. Rigby draws maritime action incredibly well — his thick lines are almost like the inky depths of the Atlantic itself and are wonderfully atmospheric, especially whenever a U-Boat is submerged.
   The late, sadly-missed Ken Barr also provides a dynamic cover illustration which does its job perfectly — giving the reader a solid indication of the action contained within the book’s pages.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Newark
Art: C.T. Rigby
Cover: Ken Barr
Atlantic Killer, originally Commando No 260 (May 1967)

Commando No 4953 – For The White Eagle!
The Order of the White Eagle was Poland’s highest military decoration. Captain Janusz Libarcki wore his medal with pride as he fought the Red Army and the Germans during World War II, even though he eventually became a prisoner-of-war.
   However, when Germany turned against her Russian allies, Polish prisoners such as Janusz and his lieutenant, Lech Szost, became conscripts of the Red Army on the horrific Eastern Front. It seemed that their brutal Russian officer despised them as much as he did the Nazis. Nonetheless, the Poles were determined to honour their fallen comrades and their homeland… FOR THE WHITE EAGLE!

Story: Philip Madden
Art: Rezzonico/Morahin
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4954 – Deadly Triangle
Shooting up unsuspecting British trucks in a captured Hurricane was just one of the dirty tricks played by Erich von Werner — a pilot hated by his own men as much as by the British.
   The feeling was mutual, particularly for Luftwaffe pilot Carl Lutz and Ted Bull of the R.A.F. — two men linked by fate to Werner to form a strange and deadly triangle.

Introduction
This rollicking air story sets a fair pace and I’m sure it might hold a record for the amount of times that any of our three main characters have to abandon their aircraft and bail out after a dogfight. It’s just as well that interior artist Jose Maria Jorge was such a master of aerial action and I imagine that this script would have been tailored specifically for him. His attention to detail was astounding and many other Commando artists were huge fans of his wonderful work.
   The same thing can, of course, be said about our equally legendary cover artist, Ian Kennedy — who delivers yet another action-packed, dynamic illustration.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: C.G. Walker
Art: J.M. Jorge
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Deadly Triangle, originally Commando No 2466 (April 1991)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2000AD 1999

2000AD 1999, released 21 September 2016

In this edition:
Judge Dredd: Well Gel by T.C. Eglington (w) Paul Marshall (a) Chris Blythe (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Jaegir: Warchild by Gordon Rennie (w) Simon Coleby (a) Len O'Grady (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Scarlet Traces: Cold War by Ian Edginton (w) D'Israeli (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Outlier: Survivor Guilt by TC Eglington (w) Karl Richardson (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
Anderson : Psi Division by Emma Beeby (w) Ben Willsher (a) Richard Elson (c) Ellie De Ville (l)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The novels of Alan Melville

The British Library's Crime Classics series has unearthed quite a few interesting old tales over the past few years and seems to have been successful enough for there to be more titles in the pipeline for 2017. In 2015, they reissued two novels by Alan Melville, describing them as  "witty, satirical" and "light-hearted". Dorothy L. Sayers, reviewing Quick Curtain in 1936 for the Sunday Times, believed the book "blows the solemn structure of the detective novel sky-high."

Melville was less interested in accurately depicting police procedure, Sayers complaining that his "happy policeman" never turned in a report or acknowledged any superiors and spends all his time bullying the local bobbies; which reasonably describes most British cop dramas from Midsummer Murders to A Touch of Frost. Instead, Melville kept his plots light and entertaining, taking pot-shots at a number of types to be found in the theatre and putting entertainment ahead of accuracy.

Whilst Sayers preferred procedure and found Melville wanting, someone who played a little looser with his thrills appreciated his skills, thriller writer Sydney Horler said of Melville, "He possesses an engaging sense of humour; his dialogue is quick and bright and witty; his characters are alive and amusing. In short, he can write." During a talk at the Berwick Rotary Club in 1936, Melville quoted a letter from a member of the public which ran: "As a rule, nothing keeps my sister and I up after 9.15, but we stayed up till 10.15, and consider your book was well worth it."

Melville had a broad sense of humour and was a popular broadcaster and raconteur on radio. On an episode of Quote, Unquote broadcast shortly before his death, he explained that he would always look through The Times obituaries every day to see if he appeared. And one day he had, although the obituary in question was for another Alan Melville, the South African cricketer who had died six months earlier.

One wonders how he would have reacted to Wikipedia, which carries a comparatively learned entry for him but which fails to note that Melville was not a real name. He was born William Melville Caverhill in Berwick-on-Tweed, Northumberland, on 9 April 1910, the only son of William Allan Melville (1876–28 April 1925), a timber merchant, and his wife Janet McCrae Caverhill (c.1876–30 December 1929).

The family lived at Castle Terrace, Berwick, William attending the local Berwick Grammar School before becoming a boarder at Edinburgh Academy. Leaving at the age of 17, he was apprenticed as a joiner for five years at the offices of Messrs Allan Brothers, Tweed Saw Mills, at Tweedmouth.

His first writing effort was at the age of 16 when he penned a 2,000-word article for the paper London Calling, which was accepted but the paper folded before it could be used.

In 1932, he was the winner of a literary prize, winning an essay competition run by the publishers of "Everyman". His essay, "My Perfect Holiday", won him a trip to Canada on the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Britain, which left Southampton on 13 August 1932, arriving in Quebec five days later. The trip included a short stay in the Chateau Frontenae, Quebec.

Soon after, Caverhill sold a series of short stories to the BBC's North Region "Children's Hour", which he read himself. This put him on the path of becoming a writer and broadcaster, selling short stories and articles written at the timber yard, to the daily press, as well as acting with the Berwick Amateur Dramatic Society. He followed these with his first novel, Week-end at Thrackley, which was sold to Skeffington. The book was well received by the public, although less so by the Spectator:
Week-End at Thrackley is the House-Party again—the house party collected by an eccentric old man for his own purposes. Mr. Melville's host and the adventures of his wealthy guests are sketched on extravagant lines. Jewels, secret cellars, and (alas!) surprise identities are mixed with some light humour that deserves a better plot. (The Spectator, 2 March 1934)
Melville later adapted the novel as a radio serial and it was filmed in 1952 by director Kenneth Hume as Hot Ice. Week-end at Thrackley was publshed in February 1934

It was followed in October by Quick Curtain.
Written in a crisp, clear-cut style with no superfluidity in words, "Quick Curtain," Alan Melville's new novel, holds the reader's attention from start to finish and should have as great a run as his first novel, "Week-end at Thrackley," which was entirely sold out. There is no doubt Alan Melville can write, and he etches in his descriptions with deft strokes of the pen bringing the whole mystery vividly before his readers, but always keeping, as a writer of a good mystery should, the solution to the end. The story has a novel opening and in the first few pages we get a murder and a suicide—actors in a musical comedy, "Blue Music," on its first performance. The mystery of these happenings is not solved till the show had been put on again, and between these two performances sensation follows sensation. Berwick has every reason to be proud of our young author, Alan Melville (Mr Melville Caverhill) (The Berwick Advertiser, 1 November 1934)

Alan Melville's "Quick Curtain," which is recommended by the Crime-Book Society, is a highly flippant and diverting story. A famous actor is shot dead in full view of the audience, and the other actor who held the revolver (dummy) is found hanged in his dressing room. Inspector Wilson and his son Derek take the case in hand, do some fine sleuthing, and (after another murder) dramatically capture their suspect. When they are proved wrong in every particular this unconventional story exceeds itself. (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 16 November 1934)
Melville's third novel was published on 6 June 1935 and was set on a golf course a few miles south of his home town on Berwick-on-Tweed. As could be expected, it was given a positive review in the local paper:
One reviewer has described Alan Melville's latest novel as "a giddy story of a padre sleuth." It certainly is amusing, and definitely the best he has done yet. This is the first of his books to be given a local setting, the story being laid round about Berwick, and most of the action takes place on Goswick gold course, although in the book it is called "Cheswick." The descriptions of "Hell" bunker will arouse sympathetic feelings in all golfers who at one time or another have suffered therein, but, fortunately, none of us have had the experience of finding the legs of a dead body sticking out of the whin, as was the experience of "The Vicar in Hell"—the "Hell" has, of course, nothing to do with the nether regions.
    Though the setting of the novel is recognisable as local, it is quite obvious that the characters in it are entirely fictitious, especially the Vicar, who reads detective stories in the pulpit while the curate is intoning the lessons, and who on one occasion, at morning service, had read out the opening of Chapter VII of Death Comes to Loamchester Towers instead of announcing that the choir would render the anthem "Ye gates, lift up your heads"!
    The book opens with an epilogue and closes with a prologue, while the chapters in between unfold the story. The epilogue describes how the Berwick police (also obviously fictitious characters) get in on a gang of "dope" runners at the Cliff House, Cheswick, which later becomes a fashionable hotel.
    The Vicar is a sleuth to the manenr born, and, for a "man wearing his collar the wrong way round" obviously enjoys the situation when Sir Horace Hackett is found dead in "Hell." He goes to a lot of trouble to take and identify footprints. The inquest which follows was held in the local schoolroom, and there are some sly digs at the idiosyncrasy of the local newspaper "to fly off at a tangent about the latest news of anybody or anything, no matter whether such news was connected with the business in hand or not. Rather fun, in a way: there was always the possibility of finding that Mrs Haliburton had had a baby in the middle of last Saturday's football match."
    The clue to all happenings comes in the prologue, and the mystery is well kept to the last.
    The novel has been selected by the Crime Book Society as their first recommendation for the month, and Alan Melville has just renewed his contract with Messrs Skeffington & Son for a further three novels, the first of which will appear in the autumn. (The Berwick Advertiser, 6 June 1935)

In "The Vicar in Hell," Alan Melville tells a delightfully witty story. A great men is found shot, revolver beside him, in a bunker known as Hell. Suicide is the verdict, but the Vicar, who reads thrillers in church, identifies footprints and finds they belong to several respectable people. He doesn't find the murderer's footprints, however, and the latter gentleman succeeds in camouflaging another murder as suicide before making his departure in safety. (Aberdeen Journal, 20 June 1935)

The alarmist title of this original and stimulating novel is accounted for quite simply. A certain bunker on a golf course has the character of Hades, and while searching it for a ball the estimable vicar made a grim discovery that involved a long tortuous inquiry. Mystery and pathos commingle, and the finale leaves the reader with curious impressions. (Dundee Courier, 16 July 1935)

In October 1935, a new name appeared in the roster of publisher Rich & Cowan. Neil Carruthers was, in fact, another pen-name adopted by W. Melville Caverhill, as he explained about a month after the book appeared:
A "Berwickshire News" Reporter approached Mr Caverhill to ascertain the reason for the change of his nom-de-plume, and he replied, "I intended to keep this a secret, but it seems to have leakead out somehow.
    "Yes, I wrote the book," he confessed, "and its name is "Eleven Twenty Seven." In case anyone wonders why I wrote the book under the name 'Neil Carruthers,' I should explain that I did not wish to go on indefinitely writing only thrillers, and as my other publishers – Messrs Skeffingtons – specialise in thrillers I had to find a different firm to bring out any 'straight' novels which I might write."
    The publishers of "Eleven Twenty Seven" are Messrs Rich & Cowan Ltd., and this novel is the first book to be published by them, under a very satisfactory contract.
    It is the story of the first prize-winner in a huge State lottery. One of the early reviews describes it as a "sermon preached in terms of farce against the dangers of winning a great money prize." Mr Clink, the unfortunate hero of the story, finds that his troubles—instead of ending when he hears of his good luck—have only begun. He is paraded by the Press, invaded by borrowers and beggars, mixed up in serious international affairs, involved in a very disturbing legal action, and even runs the risk of being suspected as a possible murderer.
    The novel has been well received and has earned enthusiastic reviews.
    "Are you giving up the writing of thrillers?" Mr Caverhill was asked. "Oh no," was the rejoinder. "The position is that, in future, 'Alan Melville' will continue to turn out mystery novels, while 'Neil Carruthers' will restrict himself to straight fiction. My—'Alan Melville's—next thriller is very nearly completed and will be published by Skeffington in the early weeks of the New Year."
    The title of Mr Caverhill's new book, which will be his fifth novel in two years, is "Warning to Critics." (The Berwickshire News, 26 November 1935)
Neil Carruthers was credited with no further novels. Whether Caverhill simply failed to write any more 'straight' novels or adopted another name, the first having become public knowledge, is unknown.

Warning to Critics, was published on 16 April 1936, marking Melville's return to the humorous thriller, and was welcomed by Torquemada of The Observer:
I read Mr Melville's "Warning to Critics" just after finishing Mr Wodehouse's "Young Men in Spats." I hope I shall not be murdered for saying that the former book suffers by the juxtaposition. Mr Melville has flashes of penetrating and genial humour quite worthy of the Master, but he more often uses that other brand associated with equine neckwear. A crucial instance of the latter may be seen in the burlesquerie of the novels for the slating of which Jonathan Gray was murdered by their author. Had the hero been given some real, even though shy ability, we would have been more in sympathy with the crime. But this having been said in defiance of Mr Melville's warning, I must confess that I enjoyed the book and my heart was in my mouth quite a lot of the time. (The Observer, 26 April 1936)
As it happens, the author's warning to critics of a similar fate as the one related in his latest novel is unnecessary for it would be difficult for any of his reviewers to criticise his book in anything but congratulatory tones. It is a murder story that is different. The author plays the part of author-murderer, and tells how his previous novels had been scurrilously abused and ridiculed by a reviewer, Jonathan Gray, to such an extent that literary progress was impossible, and finally his wife denounced him as a failure and left him. Resolved to take revenge, he planned and carried out the critic's murder, and if Gray could find no praise for him as a writer he could have done so for his ability as a murderer. The verdict is not guilty, and his success is immediately ensured. The book is written in light and humorous vein. It makes excellent reading and should prove most popular. (The Berwickshire News, 16 June 1936)
In 1936, the Berwick Advertiser offered an impressive overview of Melville's busy schedule:
Alan Melville's new novel, "Death of Anton," will be published on October 29th by Skeffington and Son, London. The novel is a story of life in a great travelling circus, and should please all who have enjoyed his previous books.
    He is at present working on a novel for early-spring publication, entitled provisionally "The Danube Flows Red." For the first time in any of his book, this novel will have a strong romantic interest.
    He also has several shows down for production by the B.B.C. between now and Christmas. "Some Guy," a revue dealing with various aspects of Guy Fawkes' Day, will be broadcast in the Scottish Regional programme on November 5th, and a humorous feature programme entitled "Guid Gear" is due for production on November 21st.
    The Aberdeen "Children's Hour" programme on November 12th has been written by him and takes the form of an adventure programme entitled "All at Sea." In December a full-length revue, "Paging Panto," comes from Glasgow, with book and lyrics by Alan Melville, and music composed by George McNeill, while a satirical show, "Pursuit of Pleasure," will be broadcast later in the year from Aberdeen.
    Alan Melville's sketch, "The Meenister," which has been broadcast twice within recent weeks, is proving popular with amateur dramatic societies in Scotland. (The Berwick Advertiser, 22 October 1936)
Reviews for Death of Anton were again positive:
Having successfully "warned his critics" Alan Melville is on another tack in the "Death of Anton," his new novel published to-day (Thursday). This is a thriller bound up with circus life, and who does not enjoy a circus? In addition to witnessing the characters on the flying trapese swing through the air "with the greatest of ease" or laughing with Dodo, the clown of clowns, the readers of this new novel take part in a real circus party of "beer and bangers" and just in case the circus may be dull the author adds a few extra thrills in the way of murders. It is an entertaining book. There are six tigers, but they were not responsible for the killings—who was? Well, the reader will be kept in suspese right to the end—a true test of the "thriller." And if there were not excitement enough there is a mystery thread throughout and a detective to unravel it.
    For an evening by the fireside what more could anyone want? (The Berwick Advertiser, 29 October 1936)

Those who like their fiction full-blooded should find satisfaction in Mr Alan Melville's "Death of Anton" which deals with a mystery behind the scenes of circus life. One cannot reconcile Mr Minto with a Scotland Yard detective, nor would the Lord Chief Justice look with complaisance upon the local police arrangements; but ill-doers meet with their just punishment, and what else matters! As may be imagined, a varied assortment of life is met with, including a clown who always carries with him "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," but contents himself with turning over the pages. The types are well-drawn and the scheme excellently conceived and presented. (Western Daily Press, 1 December 1936)

Talking about his writing career in 1936, Melville said:
One of the funniest things about writing is the attitude one's friends and relatives adopt, and another the pecular attitude adopted towards writers that they live entirely on air. The number of people who come up to me and ask personally for a copy of my latest book is staggering and phenomenal. The sooner people realise the better that out of the 7s 6d a novel costs, the publisher gets nearly 5s 6d, the bookseller 1s 3d, and the author, if he is lucky, gets the rest. I do not advise anybody to take up authorship as a really lucrative pastime. It is exciting, but it is risky, and you might as well take up road-sweeping. It is safer and cleaner.
    I do not want you to think I am bitter about this writing business. I get a lot of fun out of it. A great thing is its unexpectedness: you never quite know what is going to happen. I have always liked the sound of the postman's knock, and now it is the most thrilling thing in the world. it may be a bound book, a rejection note, a contract, or, occasionally, a cheque. It is a most thrilling around.
Caverhill worked for several months in the variety department of the B.B.C. in London before being appointed in the programmes department of the B.B.C. at Aberdeen in April 1937. He later moved to Glasgow in January 1939 to take charge of industrial programmes broadcast from all over Scotland, a type of programming he had introduced whilst in Aberdeen which had become a national feature. Caverhill went on to involve himself in documentaries ranging from fishing to the history of tweed.

Before long, Caverhill found himself producing programmes that were to be broadcast to the forces overseas and writing a revue (The Little Revue) in aid of the City of Glasgow War Relief Fund. In October 1940, he was appointed to the Overseas Division of the B.B.C. in London, responsible for writing the programme for the North American service which was being extended. This entailed writing The Robinson Family, about an ordinary family in wartime London, which he wrote for some eighteen months.

While in London he was able to involve himself in writing for a number of revues, including Rise Above It, Scoop and others, before he joined the R.A.F. in 1942.

His work for the B.B.C. seems to have put an end to his writing of novels. One final title, The Danube Flows Red, was almost published in 1940.
Forsaking the detective story for the time being, Alan Melville, in "The Danube Flows Red," has written a story of adventure and intrigue in modern Hungary.
    The scene is laid in Budapest, where Peter Grant is spending six days' holiday as a member of a conducted tour. The tour began as an ordinary one; yet on arrival in Budapest, Peter found himself bundled unceremoniously into a strange car, drugged and driven away to the mysterious building in Buda which he afterwards knew as Castle Schenyadi. From that moment, his visit was anything but ordinary. Kidnappings, risings and murder were crowded into a few hectic days. (Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 25 May 1940)
Although reviewed, the book—written in 1936—was never published. Skeffington & Son (by then owned by Hutchinson & Co.) was forced to almost close down in 1940 and their schedule of books collapsed. They published only a handful of crime/thriller novels in the spring of 1940 (Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland, Vacant Possession by Margaret Butcher, Red Escapade by Roger Bax and East of Kashgar by F. A. M. Webster) and The Danube Flows Red seems to have fallen foul of the Blitz, the paper shortage and the shortage of skilled staff, from editors to bookbinders, as staff were called up for the war effort. Skeffinton's offices were bombed out in December 1940.

Squadron-Leader W. Melville Caverhill left the R.A.F. in 1946 and went on to have a memorable career as a playwright and broadcaster. He died in Brighton on 23 December 1983, aged 73.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Kim Stanley Robinson cover gallery

NOVELS

Icehenge (New York, Ace Books, 1984)
Futura/Orbit 0708-88166-1, 1985, 262pp.
Voyager 0006-47255-4, 1997, 262pp. Cover by Peter Elson

The Wild Shore (New York, Ace Books, 1984)
Futura/Orbit 0708-88147-5, 1985, 377pp.
HarperCollins  0006-48019-5, (Dec) 1994, 343pp, £4.99. Cover by Peter Elson

The Memory of Whiteness (New York, Tor, 1985)
Orbit 0708-88211-0, (Jan) 1987,  351pp, £2.95.
Voyager 0006-48256-2, (Mar) 1999, 351pp, £5.99. Cover by Fred Gambino

The Gold Coast (New York, Tor, 1988)
Orbit 0708-88295-1, (May) 1989, 389pp, £6.99 [tpb].
Orbit 0708-88295-1, (Aug) 1990, 389pp, £3.99.
HarperCollins 0006-48020-9, (Apr) 1995, 389pp, £4.99. Cover by Peter Elson

Pacific Edge (London, Unwin Hyman, 1990)
Grafton 0586-21457-7, Jan 1992, 280pp, £3.99. Cover by Chris Moore
HarperCollins 0586-21457-7, Jul 1995, 280pp, £4.99 .

A Short, Sharp Shock (Shingleton, CA, Mark V. Ziesing, 1990)
Voyager 0006-51078-7, (Jun) 2000, 180pp, £5.99. Cover by Bob Warner

Red Mars (London, HarperCollins, 1992)
HarperCollins 0002-24053-X, Mar 1993, 501pp, £8.99 [tpb]. Cover by Peter Elson
HarperCollins 0586-21389-9, Aug 1993, 671pp, £5.99. Cover by Peter Elson
Voyager 0586-21389-9 [14th imp.] 1996, 671pp, £5.99.
---- [Xth imp.] (Oct) 1999, 671pp, £6.99.
Voyager 0007-11590-3 [Voyager Classics #6], (Jun) 2001, 668pp, £7.99.

Green Mars (London, HarperCollins, 1993)
HarperCollins 0002-24296-6, (Apr) 1994, 575pp, £9.99 [tpb]. Cover by Peter Elson
HarperCollins 0586-21390-2, (Nov) 1994, 783pp, £5.99. Cover by Peter Elson
Voyager 0586-21390-2 [4th imp.] 1996, 781pp, £5.99.
---- [Xth imp.] (Nov) 1999,782pp,  £6.99.
Voyager 0007-11959-3 [Voyager Classics #12], (Aug) 2001, 782pp, £7.99.

Blue Mars (London, HarperCollins, 1996)
HarperCollins 0586-21391-0, (Apr) 1997, 787pp, £6.99.
Voyager 0586-21391-0, (Dec) 1999, 787pp, £6.99.
Voyager 0007-12165-2 [Voyager Classics #16], (Oct) 2001, 787pp, £7.99

Antarctica (London, HarperCollins, 1997)
Voyager 0002-25393-3, (Feb) 1998, 414pp, £9.99 [tpb]. Cover by P. A. Nisbet
Voyager 0006-49703-9, (Sep) 1998, 562pp, £7.99.
Voyager 0006-51264-X, (Sep) 1999, 562pp, £6.99.

The Martians (London, HarperCollins, 1999)
Voyager 0002-25932-X, (Sep) 1999, 400pp, £9.99 [tpb]. Cover by Peter Elson
Voyager 0006-49702-0, (Apr) 2000, 457pp, £6.99.

The Years of Rice and Salt (New York, Bantam Books, 2002)
HarperCollins 0006-51148-1, (Feb) 2003, 772pp, £7.99.  Cover by Ruth Rowland

Forty Signs of Rain (London, HarperCollins, 2004)
HarperCollins 0007-14887-9, 2004, £11.99 [tpb, export only].
HarperCollins 0007-14888-7, (Feb) 2005, 359pp, £6.99.

Fifty Degrees Below (Norwalk, CT, The Easton Press, 2005)
HarperCollins 0007-14891-7, (Jun) 2006, 520pp, £6.99. Cover by Dominic Harman

Sixty Days and Counting (New York, Bantam Books, 2007)
HarperCollins 0007-14894-1, 2007.

Galileo's Dream (London, HarperCollins, Aug 2009)
Voyager 978-0007-26032-4, 2010.

2312 (New York, Orbit, 2012)
Orbit 978-1841-49998-7, 2013, v+561pp, £8.99. Cover design by  Kirk Benshoff

Shaman: A Novel of the Ice Age (New York, Orbit, 2013)
Orbit 978-0356-50045-4, 2014.

Aurora (New York, Orbit, 2015)
X

COLLECTIONS

The Planet on the Table (New York, Tor, 1986)
Orbit 0708-88232-3, Aug 1987, 241pp, £2.95.

The Blind Geometer (New York, Tor, 1989)
(no UK paperback)

Escape from Kathmandu (New York, Tor, 1989)
Unwin 0044-40772-6, (Nov) 1990, 313pp, £3.99.  Cover by Lee Gibbons.
Voyager 0044-40772-6, (May) 1999, 314pp, £5.99.

Remaking History (New York, Tor, 1991;  omni. with The Planet on the Table as Remaking History and other stories, New York, Tor, 1994)
(no UK paperback)

Down and Out in the Year 2000 (London, Grafton, 1992)
Grafton 0586-21497-6, (Nov) 1992, 351pp, £5.99 [tpb]. Cover by Chris Moore

Vinland the Dream and other stories (London, HarperCollins/Voyager, 2002)
Voyager 0007-13404-5, (May) 2002, 410pp, £6.99. Cover by Chris Moore

The Lucky Strike (Oakland, CA, PM Press, 2009)
(no UK paperback)

The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson (San Francisco, CA, Night Shade Books, 2010)
(no UK paperback)

NON-FICTION

The Novels of Philip K. Dick (Ann Arbor, MI, UMI Research Press, 1984)
(no UK paperback)

ANTHOLOGIES

Future Primative: The New Ecotopias (New York, Tor, 1994)
(no UK paperback)

Nebula Awards Showcase 2002 (New York, Penguin/Roc, 2002)
(no UK paperback)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Comic Cuts - 16 September 2016

My Dad, now long departed, always said that I was easily distracted and this week I've proved him right more than once. Last Friday I discovered a snippet about an author I've long been interested in, Dail Ambler; the snippet was that she was co-director of a company way back in the 1940s, before her writing career took off.

That set me off on a fruitless search for more information that took up the whole morning. I ordered some birth and marriage certificates to resolve a couple of points at a cost of almost £30 and stopped for lunch. I'd get on with work in the afternoon.

But there was a couple of things bugging me, so eventually I managed to drag myself away from the mysteries of Dail at around 4 o'clock, having by then realised that I'd wasted £20 or that £30 because any information they'd contain I already knew, and had subsequently discovered that it related to someone else entirely!

I've managed to distract myself pretty much every day this week, which means I've completely failed to capitalise on the (thanks to circumstances beyond our control) extra week we've been given for Hotel Business. Catching up with all the e-mail has been my excuse for not actually writing much; and even the writing I managed didn't all stand up to a cold, hard look: one news piece that I spent Tuesday afternoon writing I threw away on Wednesday because it was more speculation and surmise than news. It happens.

This morning, when I was supposed to be writing up news, I instead began dipping into a newly arrived copy of Prince of Tricksters, Matt Houlbrook's biography of Netley Lucas which I'm finding absolutely fascinating. I knew a bit about Lucas, having written about him some years ago; he had briefly written text stories for comics back in the 1930s, which is where I'd first stumbled across mention of him. I managed to track down one of his autobiographies, which was revealing, although not as revealing as Matt's book is.

I'm half-way through another book, but my inability to not be distracted means that I've just spent the last hour reading bits of the new book. Lucas ran a couple of companies after the collapse of his publishing venture A. E. Marriott; further back, he'd ran into trouble with his ghostwriter when he claimed he'd written his first autobiography; jumping ahead again, could his successful Crooks Confessions have been ghosted by Harold Castle?; back again to details of his father's career as an actor and his curious death in the Seine... perhaps you can see how easily distracting the narrative of Lucas's life can be.

Anyway, I've put the book down now and hopefully the next time I pick it up, it'll be to read properly. In the meantime, if my little article intrigues you, go pick up a copy of Matt's book.

No time for cleaning up any artwork this evening... it's close to midnight and I try to make that my limit these days. I used to have the energy to keep going until two or three in the morning, but no more. But it's a good excuse to mention the fact that I try to keep all my old cover galleries updated whenever I find new covers, so recently I've added covers to Colin Forbes, Philip Jose Farmer, Gavin Lyall and Elizabeth George. Lovely covers by Gino d'Achille, Tim White, Chris Foss and disappointing Photoshop! (Too harsh? Just look at how good those painted covers are!)

 
 
 
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