Where to find me at Armadillocon

rocketsokNext weekend, I’ll be trekking up Interstate 35 to appear at Armadillocon, Austin’s dependably amazing literary science fiction, fantasy and horror convention. As per usual, I’m expecting a great time talking about all things nerdy and tipping the hell out of hotel bartenders.

The con runs Friday, July 29-Sunday, July 31, at the Omni Southpark Hotel, 4140 Governors Row. This year’s heavy hitters include guest of honor Wesley Chu, special guest (artist) Dominick Saponaro, artist guest Christina Hess, editor guest Joe Monti, fan guest Ken Keller and toastmaster (and old pal) Joe McKinney. 

If you want to know where to find me, here’s the preliminary list of my panels and appearances. Keep in mind, things sometimes change, so check your programming schedule.

Fri 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Ballroom D
Allen, Mark Finn, Klaw*, Lansdale
A history and appreciation of Tarzan, including, of course, the 2016 movie.

Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Dealers’ Room
Allen, Blaschke, Cardin, Swendson, Wells

Sat 1:30 PM-2:00 PM Conference Center
Sanford Allen

What You Should Have Read Last Year
Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM Ballroom D
Allen, Landon, Muenzler*, W. Siros, Swendson, Young
Our annual rundown of the year’s best.

Writing as a Day Job
Sun Noon-1:00 PM Southpark A
Allen, Chu, Ewing*, Fletcher, Porter, Sisson
How do you manage having writing as a day job, when you are not writing for yourself?

Forgotten Book: The Peacock Feather Murders (aka The Ten Teacups) by John Dickson Carr (1937)

The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best locked room mysteries.

The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best locked room mysteries.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 192nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

I love a great locked room mystery and The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best. Locked room mysteries represent an apparently impossible murder where there seems to be no conceivable way the crime could have occurred.

The master of this mystery style was John Dickson Carr with his irascible detective Dr. Gideon Fell. His novel The Hollow Man has been voted the best locked room murder of all time and it contains the definitive chapter, wherein Dr. Fell discusses the various aspects of the locked room. Carr’s major competition for the title of the best locked room writer is himself writing as Carter Dickson and features the irascible detective Sir Henry Merrivale.

Today’s book, The Peacock Feather Murders, was also voted one of the best locked room murders of all time. Our plot begins with Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Humphrey Masters receiving a note that reads, “There will be ten teacups at number 4, Berwick Terrace, W. 8, on Wednesday, July 31, at 5 p.m. precisely. The presence of the Metropolitan Police Is respectfully requested ” Two years earlier, Masters received a note of similar tone shortly before finding a young man named Dantley murdered. That homicide was never solved.

Half Resurrection Blues delvers noirish horror thrills.

Half Resurrection Blues delvers noirish horror thrills.

Masters and some of his men stake out the building. Young Vance Keating, a wealthy man-about-London, brushes off police protection. As the police watch, Keating enters the house. Suddenly, two shots sound from within. The place is vacant except for one room. In that room, they find Keating and an old revolver from which two shots have been fired. No one has entered or left. Inside the room is a table with an expensive covering that features peacock feathers and ten teacups. The police also find a hat with both the name of the dead man’s brother and gunpowder marks on it. In the Dantley murder, the police also discovered ten expensive teacups with a peacock feather motif.

Masters calls on his old friend Sir Henry Merrivale to help with the case. The suspects include the dead man’s brother Philip, his fiancée Frances Gale, his friend Mr. Rod Gardner and his lawyer Jeremy Derwent and the lawyer’s wife. Derwent is the previous owner of the home on Barrant Terrace. Coincidentally, he had been the previous owner of the home where Dantley was murdered.

The mystery has lots of convolutions, including a game of Murder played at the Derwents’ the night before, where Vance had been selected to play the detective but bowed out of the whole party at the last minute. There also are the expensive teacups in the first murder, replaced by a Woolworth set for the new one. And on top of that, there are lies and omissions, alibis and fakery — and ultimately a satisfying denouement which is properly footnoted to allow the reader to go back and see every clue.

The Peacock Feather Murders lacks the action of the noir mysteries I love, but I also have great respect for these puzzles. Just as Ellery Queen does in his early mysteries, Carr or Dickson plays fair with the reader and the clues are there for your discovery. Give them a try.

As a short, additional review, I also recently read Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older, a noirish horror title from Roc. And again, I loved it.

Carlos Delacruz is an inbetweener. He has been killed and does not require air to breathe or food to live. But he’s also not dead. He walks, he talks and he serves at the whim of the New York Council of the Dead as a soul catcher.

One New Year’s Eve, he discovers another inbetweener trying to open a portal to the afterlife and take living people into it. He kills the young man and this leads to complications. He promises to look in on the man’s sister, Sasha, and he finds himself falling in love (do the dead love?). And, suddenly, he is in the middle of a giant plot to bring Hell to New York.

There are some great characters in this novel, like Mama Esther, the manifestation of a loving house, and Baba Eddie, who works weird magic, and Moishe the real estate guy. The book was fun food for my noirish and horror appetites. It is listed as the first of the Bone Street Rumba novels. I’m not sure when the next one is due but I’ll read it. Check it out yourself.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.



Forgotten Films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The bizarre sets of the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari make for a skewed viewing experience.

The bizarre sets of the silent film Cabinet of Dr. Caligari make for a skewed viewing experience.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 172nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is hardly an unknown film to this crowd, but it was to me. I know that I saw it, but it must have been in the 70’s and much of that time is lost to my fuzzy memory. And, no, it wasn’t drugs. It’s been a long fun road since then and plenty of memories.

I picked up a nice DVD of the film at least 15 years ago but never got around to watching it. Always too many other, newer things to see. But today, I needed to watch and review something since my move is upcoming and I will be missing some weeks. I had watched a Marvel animated thing called Hulk Vs. which featured the Hulk in fights with Wolverine and Thor. But it was awful and I couldn’t justify writing about it other than to say “don’t bother with it.” Pretty mindless stuff there with passable animation but no real plot.

And, since I have been away from home for a couple of months and my selection of films is limited to DVDs only. (Even though I have some wonderful Blu-Ray films with me, I don’t have a useable Blu-Ray player. I have one, just not a TV to connect it to.)

I looked through the stack of films (about 30 or so) and Caligari called out to me, so here we are.

The film is a short, silent German expressionistic horror film, told primarily in flashbacks. Young Francis (Frederick Feher) is speaking to an old man when a young woman named Jane (Lili Dagover) walks by in a trance. He explains that she is his fiancé and that they have been involved in an odd ordeal.

In the town of Holstenwall, Francis and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowsky) are rivals for Jane’s hand. Alan suggests that they all go to the fair. At the fair, Dr. Caligari (Werner Kraus) is setting up a somnambulist show. When he applies for a permit, he is insulted by the town clerk. The clerk is mysteriously murdered that night. When Alan and Francis visit the show, Francis asks the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), how long he will live. He is told that he will die at dawn.

That night Cesare visits Alan and kills him in his bed. Suddenly the town has two violent unsolved murders. Francis fears that it is Caligari and Cesare, so he brings his suspicions to the police. As they are investigating, an old woman is attacked by a man and he is arrested for the three murders. He confesses to the one attempt but says that he hoped his killing would be lumped with the other two.

There is further investigation and Jane is abducted at night by Cesare and a crowd follows the monster. Jane is rescued Cesare escapes, only to die out on his own.

The police were watching Caligari and it is reported that no one left. But when they investigate the cabinet where Cesare is housed, they find a dummy with a wig. Francis investigates a mad house looking for a patient named Caligari and does not find one, but sees that the head of the institution has that name. He finds a ledger which details a mad 11th century mountebank who tried to use a somnambulist to commit murders. The flashback shows the doctor succumbing to the idea of using the sleep walker as an experiment to see if it would commit crimes that he might not otherwise do. But these are delusions in Francis’ mind and he is the insane one.

The main thing you notice in watching this are the sets and images. The sets have few right angles or perpendicular walls. Even the windows are skewed. The images are wonderful and bizarre. The actors are have heavily mascara’d eyes, almost modern Goths before their time. The camera work is frequently less than full scene and often not in a rectangular format. Shots are done is circles and zoom in and out.

It was wonderfully odd and wild and I really enjoyed seeing it for the second time. I had totally forgotten everything since my last likely experience. If you too have not seen it in quite a while, I recommend watching it again. Being silent, you will have to read the film to enjoy it.

Of course, your mileage may vary. For a film 96 years old, it holds up well for me.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.




Moment of Wonder: Juno sends its first snaps

pia20707_figaDid I mention NASA’s Juno mission yesterday? Well, it looks like mind-blowing images are already starting to arrive from Jupiter.

The camera aboard the Juno spacecraft has sent its first images after its July 4 arrival, NASA announced yesterday. The visible-light camera switched on six days after the craft fired its main engine and propelled itself into orbit around the gas giant.

Pretty impressive, I’d say. Especially considering high-resolution images of Jupiter are still a few weeks away, according to NASA. Those start arriving August 27.

The shot above was taken June 10, when Juno was still 2.7 million miles from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day orbit. It shows the Jovian planet’s atmospheric features, including its eye-like Great Red Spot. You can see three of the planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa and Ganymede, from left to right.

During its mission, Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times, doing flybys of the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,600 miles. Sounds there’s plenty of wonder yet to come.

Moment of Wonder: Ceres’ permanent shadows

I missed my opportunity to get excited about NASA’s Juno mission, which entered Jupiter’s orbit when I was spending time away from the blog. (I needed to finish up edits on a novel.)

Hopefully this bit of cosmic craziness makes up for my truancy.

Here’s the deal: It appears one of NASA’s other missions, Dawn, has helped scientists identify permanently shadowed regions on the dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these spots have probably been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, meaning it’s possible ice deposits exist there now.

Ceres is the largest object in the astroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s also been of particular interest to scientists because a remnant internal ocean of liquid water might be contained under its icy mantle.

“The conditions on Ceres are right for accumulating deposits of water ice,” said Norbert Schorghofer, a Dawn guest investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold — colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury.”

The permanently shadowed regions lie along the northern hemisphere of Ceres. NASA used images taken by the Dawn mission combined with computer modeling of illumination to run its calculations and to develop the cool video above.

If you really want to drill down into the subject (pardon the pun), the findings are available online.

Forgotten Films: Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)

Lloyd Nolan's Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he's one of the best things about the film.

Lloyd Nolan’s Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he’s one of the best things about the film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 171st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome back to Forgotten Films. This week I decided to go a little further back and pick a B movie that many people have not seen. Michael Shayne, Private Detective was the first of the Mike Shayne stories to go onto celluloid and it has both good and bad points.

The first good point is Lloyd Nolan who played Shayne in seven films for Twentieth Century Fox. He makes an interesting Shayne, tough and no nonsense but one who has a whimsical side too.

The film begins at the race track where Phyllis Brighton (Marjorie Weaver) is losing badly. Her father Hiram Brighton (Clarence Kolb) refuses to give her money to place a bet on a 15-1 long shot. She finds a bookie and attempts to pawn off an expensive brooch to cover a $200 bet. Shayne is nearby and spoils her deal by telling the bookie the jewelry is paste. Phyllis does not know Shayne, but Shayne knows her and her father. Imagine her rage when the horse wins unexpectedly and she does not get her $3,000 reward.

Phyllis complains to her father about Shayne and dear old dad decides that Mike is exactly the person he needs to keep his wayward daughter on the straight and narrow. Since times are a little tight (the furniture company is repossessing his office when Brighton calls), Mike takes the job.

The first stop is a local casino where Phyllis is hanging with Harry Grange (George Meeker), the guy who had given her the tip on the horserace. She is playing roulette and not having any luck. She hits Grange up for a loan and as he is giving it to her, Shayne interrupts. There is discussion and Phyllis takes the money anyway.

Shayne goes to talk to the owner Gordon (Douglas Dumbrille), who is arguing with his daughter Marsha (Joan Valerie) about Grange. Shayne convinces Gordon to give Phyllis back the money she lost. There is a conference with Grange, Phyllis, Gordon and Shayne. It ends with Shayne punching out Grange and taking Phyllis to her home.

Here he meets Aunt Olivia (Elizabeth Patterson) who has always wanted to meet a real detective. She loves solving murder mysteries and regales Shayne with the stories of those she loved. Phyllis has been locked in her room, but she has a spare key and promptly returns to the casino and Grange.

Shayne, of course, follows but lets her alone. Instead, he drugs Grange and takes him away in Phyllis’ car, where he applies catsup to the front of his shirt. He then goes back to the casino and picks up Phyllis and is driving her home since she cannot find her car. He also calls his comic foil Chief Painter (Douglas McBride) of the homicide division to put the fear of god in her.

Driving her home, they spot Phyllis’ car and the slumped form of Grange. Phyllis recognizes the catsup and tries to shake Grange awake. That’s when she sees the gunshot to his forehead. They also find Mike’s gun nearby. It’s been fired.

Mike sends Phyllis home and throws the gun away and awaits the arrival of the police. Things get tough when the police (tipped off by Gordon) find out about the altercation between Grange and Mike.

The film swings between comedic spots and a real mystery. Shayne wisecracks through the whole film. Soon there is murder, kidnapping, horse race fixing and other drama to keep the story moving. Aunt Olivia steals the show whenever she is on stage. And Phyllis begins to think that having Shayne around might not be too bad.

As I said, Nolan is a good thing about the film. But he’s also a bad thing. He is not really the Mike Shayne form the novels (though by the time the film came out, only two had been published). The Shayne of the novels was Irish, red headed and married. Nolan’s not any of these. But, that said, I liked him.

Nolan delivers up something that is a combination of the hardboiled Shayne and the comedic Thin Man type. It must have succeeded because Fox did six more films with Nolan and then the series shifted to PRC where Hugh Beaumont (of Leave it to Beaver fame) did five more. Shayne also went on to appear on radio in several series and on TV. Brett Halliday (a pseudonym used by Davis Dresser) wrote at least 50 Mike Shayne novels (and others wrote 27 more as Halliday, bringing the total to 77). Some of my favorites were written by Robert Terrell, who also did some nice hardboiled work under his own name and Robert Kyle.

Overall I like the film. You should check it out. This first one is available on YouTube or in the Michael Shayne Mysteries collection, which has the first four Nolan Shayne offerings.

As always, my taste is in my mouth. You may hate these things. Hope not, but it’s your life.

I will probably miss the next couple of weeks as I am in the process of moving and it looks like it will be happening imminently. If I do miss my movie reviews, check out Todd Mason’s blog and see what some of the other folks who do the Forgotten Films have to offer up.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Book: Jack of Eagles by James Blish (1952)

How much you enjoy James Blish's "Jack of Eagles" depends on how much scientific jargon you're willing to wade through.

How much you enjoy James Blish’s “Jack of Eagles” depends on how much scientific jargon you’re willing to wade through.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 191st in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week we look at a writer I have read a fair bit of, some I enjoyed, some I did not. James Blish is considered a fairly major writer of science fiction between WWII and the beginning of the New Wave in 1967. He was nominated for a Hugo Award twice during his lifetime, winning Best Novel for A Case of Conscience. He was nominated for the Nebula Award three times, not winning in all tries. He has since been nominated for three Retro-Hugo Awards which he won twice for early shorter versions of A Case of Conscience and Earthman, Come Home. Still an impressive list.

I really enjoyed the four Cities in Flight novels, of which Earthman, Come Home was a portion. His After Such Knowledge series featuring A Case of Conscience, Doctor Mirabilis, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment was not a sequence I particularly liked, though. Case of Conscience was okay but overlong. The rest, I finished but had no desire ever to re-read.

Other novels I liked included VOR, A Torrent of Faces (with Norman L. Knight) and the novella “There Shall Be No Darkness,” which was an early werewolf novel.

When I selected Jack of Eagles, I did so thinking I had read it before. Very quickly, though, I became aware that this was the first time. I think I initially had it confused with VOR. But I read it and it was OK. Again, not anything great, but I did not begrudge myself the time.

The novel tells the story of Danny Caidan, a journalist at a food service magazine in New York City. He has the amazing ability to tell people where they have lost items. Other than that, he’s pretty normal. Until the one day he is called on the carpet for writing an article that says a wheat company is about to get in trouble with the Feds for insider trading. When asked for a source, he cannot provide one and is summarily fired.

Gathering his things, he begins to wonder about his situation. He visits a stock broker and wants to buy some futures in the wheat company. If what he wrote was true, he could make a killing, ironically on “insider trading.” He visits his bank and finds he has a tidy sum, so he goes to a bookie and makes some bets on horse races. His bets all come in. Since he bet modestly, he won modestly.

He also visits a fortune teller and meets her niece, Marla, who wants to know what tricks he is using to scam the rubes. He also visits a group of psychic believers.

Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of Danny Caiden. The FBI and SEC want to know about insider trading and how he was able to break the news on a very secret investigation. The gangsters running the bookie outfit want to know how he gets the winners correct. The psychics want to know the true extent of his power. He seems to be a precog who has some telekinesis and the ability to teleport and they are not sure what else. He could be a danger to them, since he does not want to follow their party line.

There is a lot of scientific jargon in this novel. In his introduction, Robert A. W. Lowndes talks about Blish’s fascination with science and trying to be scrupulous in how he described things. Blish was not one for a hand-wavy explanation and that may be what I dislike in his work. I am not an engineer; I don’t need to know how something works to appreciate it. When Blish comments on a scientific text, it is after reading it thoroughly, rather than getting the Cliff Notes version,

Anyway, Danny has to work out his problems with some help from a friend and save the girl while avoiding jail or death.

It was an OK read, as I said. Your mileage may vary. I will probably not revisit another Blish title in the immediate future though.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely talented and vivacious Todd Mason is doing those honors.




Forgotten Film: Quatermass and the Pit (1958)

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

This is the 170th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As I mentioned last week, Quatermass and the Pit was one of the new films I recently picked up. This is the six episode serial that ran on the BBC from December 1958 to January 1959. Each episode was 35 minutes, making the DVD roughly 210 minutes. The 1967 film version, released as Five Million Years to Earth in the United States, ran 97 minutes, less than half the running time of the original production.

As usual, I do have a story about this film. As a freshman at the University of Texas I was attracted to an interesting grad student who studied Anthropology and worked with the monkeys at UT. We hit it off well and were an item for a fairly long time. I kept in touch with her even after she transferred out to University of Georgia and worked with the monkeys there on her way to a doctorate in psychology.

One night we were talking and she was telling me about the worst film she had ever seen in her life. (You see where this is going.) It was Five Million Years to Earth. 

The film features a rocket buried in a Knightsbridge neighborhood. Digging for a new development unearths some unusual skulls and scientists are brought in, including Dr. Matthew Roney (Cec Linder). Roney is pressured to wrap up his investigation fast, but he is not having it. He appeals to his friend Prof. Bernard Quatermass (Andre Morell) who has been working with the British rocketry group. He has just gotten a military co-commander Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) who is a no-nonsense, military, anything-we-can-do-to-win sort of guy. Roney is assisted by a female scientist Barbara Judd (Christine Finn).

Breen and Quatermass go to the worksite to see if the object might be an unexploded bomb. Soon weird things happen and the investigators learn of odd reports from the neighborhood going back 30 years or so. The dig further and discover that the weird things go back centuries.

The rocket is made of an odd material that resists analysis. Roney suggests that the unearthed skulls represent an ape-like man with a developed brain who may be up to five million years old (hence the film title).

Insect-like creatures are found inside the ship and these are suspected of being perhaps Martian in origin. Colonel Breen is having none of this, even though he has been affected by something from the ship. He is convinced it is a leftover German propaganda stunt from WWII. Needless to say, he is proven very wrong.

The film has lots of ins and outs and conflicts between the scientists and the military, which result in multiple deaths of soldiers and civilians. One worker even has symptoms of demonic possession.

At two and a half hours, there is room to expound on a lot of these subjects. In the 97 minute film version, much gets glossed over, hence my former girlfriend’s distaste for the film. She hated the ending, which I enjoyed in both versions. The film is done in color while the BBC show is presented in a stirring black and white. And being 1958, the special effects are less than stellar. The BBC has never been noted for its effects budgets and certainly not in the period four-plus years before Dr. Who.

Now, prior to Dr. Who, screenwriter Nigel Kneale was Britain’s premier science fiction TV writer. Prior to Quatermass and the Pit he had done a version of 1984 and two earlier Quatermass teleplays – The Quatermass Experiment with Reginald Tate in the Quatermass role (also filmed under that title and The Creeping Unknown with Brian Donlevy) and Quatermass II with John Robinson in the title role, since Tate had unfortunately died. Quatermass II was later filmed as Enemy From Space with Brian Donlevy repeating the role. Five Million Years to Earth featured Andrew Keir in the role. Later John Mills would take the role in Quatermass.

The tale gets pretty wacky by the end but I loved it. My former girlfriend Jen hated it. Everyone’s got their own opinion. Go for the longer version. Things are a little clearer in their motivation and explanations. As usual, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Book: The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (The Insidious Fu Manchu) by Sax Rohmer

Rohmer's Fu Manchu was an iconic super villain but from a less politically correct time. Approach at your own risk.

Rohmer’s Fu Manchu was an iconic super villain but from a less politically correct time. Approach at your own risk.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 190th in my series of Forgotten Books.

As I have mentioned several times in the Friday Forgotten Film columns I am a fan of Dr. Fu Manchu. I’m not quite sure where that obsession comes from. I had encountered the not-so-good Doctor in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a freshman in high school and I must have encountered the name in other, earlier places. Nonetheless, in the Fall of 1967 my folks asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I was apparently reading a Pyramid paperback at the time because there was an ad for the Fu Manchu books in the back.

I told my mother I wanted as many of these as she could get me. She ordered them all. I think there were 12 listed at the time but only 7 or 8 were in stock so that was what I got along with the Modern Library hardcover of Adventures in Time and Space by Healey and McComas. It was a great Christmas.

I immediately sat down and began to read them. I was enthralled and plowed through them rapidly, even though they were a tiny bit dull to me at the time and hard to read. Pyramid used narrow gutters and small type so you had to strain sometimes to read the page.

Over the years I acquired the other titles and many more Sax Rohmer books. I read many of them and meant to read even more. Most were gone in the great book sale of 2007 (some even before then).

The upshot is that the other day I was in Half Price Books in San Antonio (which I will dearly miss now that I am moving) and they had seven of the Pyramid Fu Manchu titles on a spinner rack for $3 each. I snapped them up and was very happy. I knew I would be doing the opening title as one of my forgotten books.

So the other day I was using the Kindle app on my iPad 2 which is great for reading. I was looking for something to review and I almost started on The Devil Tree of El Dorado (which will be coming soon). I checked the listing on my Kindle and saw the Sax Rohmer Mega-Pack that Wildside Press had done. I contained the first three Fu Manchu novels as well as a lot of other novels.

I started in and was soon enmeshed in the London of pre-WWI. Dr. Petrie is surprised one night when his old friend Sir Dennis Nayland Smith arrives late from Burma and begins to tell him a fantastic story. Smith is now working as an agent for His Majesty’s government and has run across an Asian genius who has plans that include world domination. This evil genius is described as “Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, … one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present … Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”

The novel details Smith and Petrie’s efforts to stop Fu Manchu from killing several people seen as impediments in his plan. It is pretty episodic, indicating that it was first a series of novellas later knit together to make the novel.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is vastly superior to his villains with the possible exception of Moriarity, there is no doubt that Fu Manchu is, by far, the superior intellect. Smith and Petrie escape by luck and with help on multiple occasions.

The book features some wonderful touches – a giant centipede, poisonous spiders, dacoits, Kali thugees, giant poisonous mushrooms, sinister poisons, a golden elixir, death traps, locked room murders and more.

Born out of the “yellow peril” era, it is certainly not PC and could probably not be published today, but I found it as enthralling now as I did 49 years ago. And with my Kindle, I could make the type size easy to read and not get the headaches that those old Pyramid paperbacks used to cause.

As usual, all my taste is in my mouth. Fu Manchu has been parodied so many times, it is sometimes hard to remember he is one of the first super-villains to appear in literature. He will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely talented and vivacious Todd Mason is doing those honors.

Forgotten Films: American Pop (1981)

American Pop focuses on four generations of Americans striving to make it in the music business.

American Pop focuses on four generations of Americans striving to make it in the music business.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 169th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Recently, I purchased some DVD’s of films I had been wanting for some time. They included Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (reviewed a couple of weeks ago), Quatermass and the Pit (soon to be on the list) and this week’s pick, American Pop.

I first encountered Ralph Bakshi’s work on the Saturday morning Spider-Man cartoon of the late 1960’s. It didn’t really do much for me then, but I watched because … Spider-Man. I had a strong emotional attachment to that nerdy character at the time. Fritz the Cat came out a few years later, but it would be a while before I finally saw that film. X rated animated features were not high on my list at that time.

Then came Wizards. That one resonated! Wow! Rotoscoping genius. I had earlier seen rotoscoping in some of the Fleischers’ work — the Popeyes (particularly the Sinbad one) and Gulliver’s Travels. In Wizards, animation was making a new old leap forward. Then The Lord of the Rings! Yep, Frodo and Gandalf were on the big screen in a way I never expected to see them. Rotoscoping allowed for some realism in the content, but it had its problems too. Unfortunately, Bakshi’s LOTR was not complete and the second half never did arrive in theaters. Several stories emerged as to why it did not, especially since the first film did well at the box office. There was later a Rankin-Bass adaptation of The Return of the King which supposedly completed the film. I own a copy but have never watched it. I am not a fan of Rankin-Bass.

Anyway, American Pop was Bakshi’s next project, and it was near and dear to my heart. It presents a guide to American popular music for the first eight decades of the 20th Century. It tells the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish family who immigrated to the New York City area during the pogroms of the Czarist era. Zalmie Belinski (voiced by Jeffrey Lippa) begins working in the vaudeville halls prior to World War I, passing out chorus lists to patrons so they can sing along with the performers. His mother works in a garment-district sweatshop and is killed in one of the deadly fires that happened during that period.

Zalmie continues in vaudeville, hoping to be a singer. He meets a young stripper, Bella (voiced by Lisa Jane Persky), and soon finds himself with a son on the way and urged by the local mob to marry Bella. He joins a vaudeville tour of the war zone as the back half of a dancing horse act and, in a freak accident, is shot in the throat. He will now never be a singer. Bella, however, has some success.

Zalmie’s mentor, Louie, is working for Mr. Palumbo, the mobster, and Zalmie finds himself working for him too. It is the time of speakeasies and Prohibition and mob wars. Palumbo needs a husband for his daughter and Zalmie’s son, Bennie (Richard Singer), an aspiring jazz pianist, is recruited. When WWII breaks out, Bennie enlists even though he has a child on the way. In a poignant scene, Bennie finds a piano in a bombed out village. He puts his gun down and starts playing. A wounded German soldier is nearby and approaches Bennie. Bennie plays Lili Marleen for the soldier who is obviously reminiscing about better days. When Bennie finishes, the soldier kills him.

Bennie’s son Tommy (Ron Thompson) grows up in the late 50’s and early 60’s, joining the Beat scene. There is a wonderful performance of the first part of Ginsberg’s Howl in one of the clubs. Tommy splits, steals a car, and makes it to Kansas, where he has a one night stand with a waitress. He soon arrives in California during the birth of the Summer of Love, where he meets Frankie Love (Marya Small) and her band, modeled off several Bay Area bands but most notably Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

This is where the film really works for me because this is my music. The Golden age for Rock and Roll is 15. The music you liked at 15 is the stuff that stays with you. For me, 15 was the Summer of Love. The Airplane, the Electric Prunes, the Doors, Hendrix, Cream — they were the magic for me.

Bakshi takes the film up to the punk scene and the re-emergence of Bob Seger. I was not much of a fan of that final stage of the story because the story focuses heavily on drug dealing, but I still liked the music.

Overall, I had fun with this again. I had seen it in 1981 but not since. I loved the music. The animation was OK. As I said, rotoscoping has some drawbacks, but overall it worked. Give it a try. It has some wonderful mixed-media influences, including the use of archival footage that was not animated.

As always (and particularly where music is involved), your mileage can vary significantly from mine. If you hate rock and roll, the last half hour will not be your cup of tea. For me, though, it was oolong.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.