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. 

Forgotten Book: The Lost Continent (Beyond Thirty) by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1915, 1955)

The Lost Continent isn't exactly a Burroughs masterpiece.

The Lost Continent isn’t exactly a Burroughs masterpiece.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 189th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Somehow in 189 review essays, I have never tackled a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. ERB was one of the first writers I read regularly, though the titles I had access to were pretty random. When I lived in Iowa Park, Texas (1962 – 1967), the local library was pretty small but they had some ERB, some Tom Swift (the original series) and a smattering of other stuff. So, I read some Venus books, some Pellucidar and other titles, though no Tarzan. They had none of those.

When I got to San Antonio in 1967, the school had a book fair and I saw a copy of Thuvia, Maid of Mars with the Roy Krenkel cover and I fell in love with that series. Mars was Heaven, to quote Mr. Bradbury. So I read a lot of Burroughs. But as a collector I never had many ERB titles. The good ones were already too expensive. I had copies of them all, just no collectible first editions.

In college, I ran across the Fantasy Press edition of Beyond Thirty and The Maneater, a collection of two short novels which had not been reprinted from their early pulp days. I kept that book for many years, but it is now long gone.

I read it back in the 70’s, when I purchased the Fantasy Press edition, and thought it was OK. Not Africa-, Mars-, Venus- or Pellucidar-comparable, but OK. So when I found a UK paperback of Beyond Thirty — now retitled The Lost Continent and with an odd cover — for 50 cents recently, I picked it up with the idea of making it a Forgotten Book.

The novel was written in 1915, just three years after A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes and was directly affected by World War I. It tells the story of Lt. Jefferson Turck of the Pan American Navy and is set in 2137. Some 200 years earlier, a great war in Europe caused the Western Hemisphere (and its one giant nation Pan America) to declare the rest of the world off limits. Pan America controlled from meridian 30° West to 175° West. The Navy patrolled these coordinates. Lt. Turck is patrolling from Iceland to the Azores in his flying submarine, which can travel in the air or below the waves, when the craft suffers an engine failure as well as a wireless failure. A giant storm pushes the ship into those forbidden zones. Entry into the zone is punishable by death, regardless of the circumstances.

Faced with this likelihood, the ship stops for repairs and Turck goes out fishing with three men. During the fishing trip, his boat is separated from the ship and the four men find themselves left behind.

Not wanting to travel across the Atlantic in a small motorized ship, they decide to try for Europe, specifically England. When they arrive they find themselves hunted by Tigers, but their weapons are sufficient to keep the beasts away. Soon they are near London, where they find lions abounding, and they rescue a young maiden from a semi-human tribesman. The girl turns out to be Victory, the Queen of England! She is in trouble as Buckingham, a member of her tribe, has killed her father the King and wants to marry her so he can become King himself. Buckingham does not like Turck and soon captures him and offers him as a sacrifice to the lions.

With Victory’s help he escapes and she joins the four men as they explore continental Europe. Turck falls in love with Victory and is surprised when she and one of the crewmen desert the remainder of the party and leave them stranded. Here they encounter an army of Abyssinians who are well trained and organized. Turck alone is captured and taken to the local commander, who makes him his personal manservant, which irks Turck since he has never been a servant to a black man before. Whites are inferior to the Abyssinians, and he is treated poorly.

Soon the Emperor Menelek XIV visits, and when presented with captured slaves, immediately picks out Victory as his next paramour. Turck does not like this and has to find a way to rescue her.

Our hero eventually wins out and is reunited with her, the remainder of the crew and makes it back to his world, where things have changed and he is now a hero rather than a condemned traitor.

All in all, it’s an OK read, but not nearly as good as others from this time period. The final 20 pages is extremely rushed, and events which should have taken chapters are shunted off in two sentences. It is lesser Burroughs and it is not hard to see why it took 40 years to be collected. It also suffers from an attitude against the non-white races that I found pretty blatant and jarring to current sensibilities, which is not surprising given some of the charges leveled against his Tarzan books from the same period.

If you’ve read all the other ERB, you should read it. But if you have not, don’t go out of your way to locate it.

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

Forgotten Films: Wild in the Streets (1968)

1968's cult classic "Wild in the Streets" deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

1968’s cult classic “Wild in the Streets” deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

Since it is an election year, I thought it might be wise to review a politically charged film from that hotly contested year of 1968. I was not yet old enough to vote when this came out, but I was interested in the political process and watched both parties at their national conventions and the attendant folderol that went with it. I was (then and now) very anti-war and saw it as a major part of the campaigns.

Somewhere that year, the theaters on Ft. Sam Houston (where I was living) managed to show Wild in the Streets, and I somehow got to see it, even with an R rating. Perhaps the clerk thought I was one of the soldiers since I had a burr haircut at the time. Anyway, I saw it and thought it was a hoot.

Flash forward 48 years and I see that TCM was going to broadcast it one night while I was not at home. Mr. DVR came through for me, and I captured the film again. I watched it the other day with my wife and found it interesting, naïve, stupid — and totally relevant to the current political scene.

Max Flatow Jr. (Christopher Jones) is raised in a home with a shrill, dominating mother (Shelly Winters). It does not take much for him to rebel, beginning with manufacturing drugs and explosives in the family basement. He blows up his father’s new car and leaves home. Four years later, he is 22 and a multi-millionaire rock star under the name Max Frost with his band the Troopers – which also includes 15-year-old attorney Billy (Kevin Coughlin) on guitar, former child star Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi) on keyboards, Abraham “the Hook” Salteen (Larry Bishop) on bass and trumpet and anthropologist Stanley X (Richard Pryor) on drums. They are young, rich and bored. They’re also asked to perform at a political rally for Congressman Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), a young candidate urging for voting rights for 18 year olds, which was a hot topic at the time and one I supported. Max does a live gig for the rally but pushes his own agenda, which is for the vote to be extended to 14 year olds.

The reaction is overwhelming, and Fergus finds himself a reluctant ally to the charismatic rocker. Established political advisors are appalled and want Fergus to drop Frost like a hot potato. Among those is Senator Allbright (Ed Begley). With youth demonstrations for the 14 voting age expanding across the country, Frost and Fergus compromise on 15 and Ready. They select that age so Billy can actually vote. Fergus is elected in a landslide.

Just as the election happens, a local congressman, aged 84, dies. To be elected to Congress you must be 25. Coincidentally, Sally Leroy has just turned 25 and finds herself appointed to Congress. Her first act is to introduce a constitutional amendment reducing the age for someone elected to Congress or the presidency to 14. A water supply spiked with LSD reduces the joint session of Congress to hysterical mania and the amendment is approved. (No one bothered getting the states to ratify it, but that’s just a detail.)

Soon, Max Frost is president and legislation is passed making people go into mandatory retirement at age 35, at which time they’ll be sent to camps where they’ll be fed, clothed, and provided LSD on a regular basis.

It progresses from there, but the tale of a charismatic outsider who rouses his troops and maneuvers into the political arena sort of resonated with me. I’m not going to get into a political discussion. I know who I am voting for and I hope you know your own mind also. The upcoming vote will be divisive I am afraid, but I hope some form of sanity manifests itself during the process.

I had fun with the Wild in the Streets. Christopher Jones had a short run in Hollywood, bowing out after the death of Sharon Tate (with whom he had an affair) left him devastated. IMDB only gives 10 acting credits for him and only one after 1970 (Mad Dog Time in 1996). He died in 2014.

It’s not a good film (too absurd and too many plot holes), but it is a better film than American International normally made. Give it a shot. Songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill include “Shape of Things to Come,” which made it to #22. It was #1 in San Antonio as I recall from that time. It is heard three times in the film.

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

Cocktail Hour: Guest bartender Travis E. Poling serves up the Ginger Scald

Two versions of the Ginger Scald featured in Scott Lynch's "The Lies of Locke Lamora." The one on the left is made with sherry, the one on the right with Marsala.

Guest bartender Travis E. Poling drinks beer and reads books, and every now and then he writes books about beer. The latest is San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint with co-author Jeremy Banas. Poling has been a journalist in the San Antonio area for nearly 30 years and is at work on his third book on beer, researching a historical novel and serving as guest curator for an upcoming museum exhibit on brewing in Texas.

It wasn’t until reading about the upcoming fourth novel in the Gentlemen Bastards cannon that Scott Lynch came to my attention. The premise from this Wisconsin fantasy writer was intriguing, so I shopped my own home library and to great delight found Lynch’s debut novel The Lies of Locke Lamora.

The setting for this 2006 debut fantasy is the city of Camorra, reminiscent of an Italian city-state with the canals of Venice, a ruling Duke and a peerage protected by the Secret Peace from a hierarchal thieving class ruled by the ruthless Capa Barsavi.

We meet Locke Lamora as a newly orphaned thief in training and follow him through his unconventional upbringing in revealing flashbacks in between the ambitious con action of the Gentlemen Bastards gang led by the adult Lamora.

This is a caper tale, with deceptions on multiple levels, and a story of revenge served both with calculating cold and hot abandon. The character of Locke is as likable as he is cunning, making him at ease posing as a brandy merchant from far lands in a long con of the Don Lorenzo and Doña Sofia. His team, through multiple talents and disguises, brings the falsehood to life.

Beginning, middle and end are all satisfying with numerous twists including a threat to the Camorri underworld by the mysterious Grey King, who is picking off the underbosses. And while this novel wraps nicely, there are enough hints throughout to tease future plot lines. There are mentions of an absent female member of the team, who may have been a love interest of Lamora, lands across the sea from Camorra, and the mysteries of the long-gone alien race that built the mostly indestructible bones of the city on which Camorra was built.

It isn’t often that a fantasy novel includes instructions for a cocktail, but since Lynch provided instructions on a Camorri drink sipped while wealthy spectators watched nasty sea beasties tear prisoners apart as punishment and amusement, I thought I’d give this monster a go (with some substitutions, of course. Here is the description in the book:

“Cont? moved adroitly to fill [the Don’s request for a Ginger Scald], selecting a tall crystal wine flute, into which he poured two fingers of purest Camorri ginger oil, the color of scorched cinnamon. To this he added a sizable splash of milky pear brandy, followed by a transparent heavy liquor called ajento, actually a cooking wine flavored with radishes. When this cocktail was mixed, Cont? wrapped a wet towel around the fingers of his left hand and reached for a covered brazier smoldering to the side of the liquor cabinet. He withdrew a slender metal rod, orange-red at the tip, and plunged it into the cocktail; there was an audible hiss and a small puff of spicy steam. Once the rod was stanched, Cont? stirred the drink briskly and precisely three times, then presented it to Locke on a thin, silver plate.”

Here’s my variation on the drink using a French ginger liqueur as the spicy base. To recreate the fictional ajento I tried infusing the wine with radish, but the concoction became a bit sulfurous after a few hours. The muddling imparted a cleaner flavor.

GINGER SCALD

1.5 ounces Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1 ounce Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy
0.5 ounces Poire (pear liqueur)
1.5 ounces Sweet Marsala wine
3 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
1 radish

Pour first three ingredients in a fluted glass. Remove a 1/8-inch slice from the center of the radish and set aside. Chop the rest of the radish and muddle it with the wine (for a different take, use sherry instead of Marsala). Add the bitters to the wine, strain and top off the drink. Stir three times with a heated rod (I used a metal kabob skewer heated on a gas burner). Garnish with the slice of radish on the rim.

 

Forgotten Book: Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick (1969)

The title character of PKD's Galactic Pot-Healer heads to another planet where he faces an appropriately triply fate.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 188th in my series of Forgotten Books.

One of my early writing heroes was Philip K. Dick. The man was a lunatic genius. Somewhere around 1966, my friend Joe Pearson gave me a copy of The Man in the High Castle in paperback. It was mind blowing. And I reread it almost immediately.

And nearly failed German because of it! With a name beginning with “C,” I was in the front row. But my German teacher was a Luxembourger who fled the Nazi invasion, so she was death on the Nazis and a swastika would send her into a tirade in three or four languages. Well, the Popular Library edition had a US map with the Swastika and Rising Sun over the map. I had just finished my final exam (I was carrying a strong A in the class) and I was reading High Castle right in front of her while she was grading my paper. And that cover was facing her!

When I realized what I was doing, I immediately put the book cover on my desk top. I continued reading but she could no longer see the cover.

So I was a rabid PKD fan and every time I found one of his novels or collections, I bought it. Most of them were 50 cents or less. In 1969, Galactic Pot-Healer came out and I read it and it moved to the top of my favorite PKD books. For most people, the list is High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, Martian Time Slip, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly, in some semblance of that order. But I really loved Pot-Healer, The Game Players of Titan, The Zap Gun and Counter-Clock World, too. The mid to late 1960’s were a very productive time for Dick.

When I saw Galactic Pot-Healer in the Waldenbooks at North Star Mall, I plopped down my 60 cents and took it home. At 144 pages, it did not take long to finish. Wow! Teenage mind blown. I eventually got the SF Book Club hardcover version and kept that for many years,

Joe Fernwright is a pot-healer. He takes pots – ceramic and otherwise – and restores them to their former glory, sometimes better than originally made. Unfortunately, in his future America, there is not much call for his line of work. So he gets his daily cash dole and spends it immediately. It devalues up to 80 percent in 24 hours. He has a depressing life until he gets a message: “Pot-Healer I Need You. And I Will Pay”. He gets another note that says, “I Will Pay You Thirty-Five Thousand Crumbles.” He checks with his bank to get an approximation of how much this is in real money. He is told $200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00.

Joe’s interest is piqued. An entity known as the Glimmung is raising the sunken city of Heldscalla from the bottom of an alien ocean on Sirius Five, aka Plowman’s Planet. He is part of an elite team of humans and aliens brought to the planet to achieve this task. The Glimmung (also featured in PKD’s YA book Nick and the Glimmung) is hard to describe, looking sometimes like a gyroscope or a teenage girl or the contents of an ocean all at once.

Arriving at Plowman’s Planet, Joe is greeted by the Kalends, another alien race, who sell him the Book. They only sell one book and it claims to know the past, present and future. In perusing it, Joe sees that things may not go so well for him or the Glimmung, which brings about interesting discussions of fate, fatalism, predestination and other philosophies PKD puts interesting spins on. Joe learns his fate may or may not involve dying, meaning his character has a very trippy experience.

It’s a very complex book and one I understand somewhat better at 64 than I did at 17. If you like PKD, and you all really should, it is a rewarding experience.

But as always, your mileage may vary.

As I quick throwaway, just a few minutes before writing this I finished up The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax, a first mystery novel by Andrew Cartmel, and it was fabulous! Nearly 500 pages and I read it in two evenings. All about collecting jazz records from the mid 1960’s and the wonderful mania that is searching for treasures (like PKD paperbacks) and the joys and pitfalls of finding it. It’s just out from Titan Books for $14.95 and worth every bit of it. I am now anxious for the next book in the series which is scheduled for May 2017. Check it out.

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

 

Moment of Wonder: Spinning Around Two Suns

An artist's impression of a stellar eclipse and planetary transit events on Kepler-1647. Credit: Lynette Cook

NASA has announced its discovery of the largest known planet that orbits two suns. These bodies are known as circumbinary planets, or “Tatooine planets,” after Luke Skywalker’s home world.

The planet Kepler-1647b — roughly the mass and radius of Jupiter — is 3,700 light-years away and an estimated 4.4 billion years old, about the same age as Earth. The stars it orbits are similar to our own sun, with one slightly larger and the other a little smaller.

A team led by astronomers from Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and San Diego State University (SDSU) in California identified the planet using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. The discovery was announced this week in San Diego at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

“(Finding) circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars,” said SDSU astronomer William Welsh, one of the coauthors of the NASA study on the planet. “The transits are not regularly spaced in time and they can vary in duration and even depth.”

 

 

 

 

 

Forgotten Films: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama (1988)

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama promises B-movie sex and violence — and it delivers.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 167th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

It has been a while since I did a really bad B film. (Fans might remember the enthusiastic review of Zombeavers last August.) The other day, I was reviewing a DVD catalog and this film was available for about $7 and I knew I should see it. When it comes to horror movies, I’ve got a soft spot for so-called Scream Queens, and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama promised plenty. I’ve only ever met one Scream Queen — Jewel Shepard, when she was signing her book If I’m So Famous, How Come Nobody’s Ever Heard of Me? She was a very fun signer and I really enjoyed talking with her. Her book was a hoot and a half, too.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama has, hands down, one of the great sleazy names for a B horror film (not that Zombeavers was any sort of slouch). It really tells you what your audience is going to be. You got college girls, horror, bowling and slimeballs. Well, in truth, you only sort of have slimeballs.

College roommates Keith, Jimmy and Calvin (John Stuart Wildman, Hal Havins and Andras Jones, respectively) are bored one night. Calvin’s playing a video game, Jimmy’s drinking beers and Keith wants one of the beers. Jimmy is not the giving sort, but Keith offers up that he knows where Delta Delta Delta sorority is doing their pledge initiation that night. The sorority, known as Felta Delta, promises to have some salacious happenings. So the boys go over to see what they might.

Pledges Taffy and Lisa (Scream Queens Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauers, respectively) are on the wrong end of a sorority paddle and an aerosol whip cream attack from initiation masters and all-around bitches Frankie, Rhonda, and Babs (Carla Baron, Kathi O’Brecht and Robin Rochelle). Babs has some sadistic ideas for finishing up the initiation, when the boys are discovered inside the Delta house watching Lisa and Taffy shower. Soon, all six are sent off to the mall bowling alley to secure a bowling trophy. Babs’ dad owns the mall and they plan on doing some mean stuff to the group.

Inside the bowling alley, Calvin runs across punk thief Spider (huge Scream Queen Linnea Quigley) ripping off the gaming machines and register. He tries to pick her up, but she’s not having any of it. Eventually, though, she helps the group get into the area with the trophies. They steal a large one that’s 30 years old.

Unfortunately, they accidentally drop the old trophy, and out of it comes an ancient imp (voiced by Dukey Flyswatter). The imp is grateful for his release and offers each of the folks a wish. Jimmy orders lots of gold, but Calvin cautions that things might not be as good as they seem.

Keith wants to have sex with Lisa and Impy makes her amenable to the idea. Suddenly, Babs, Rhonda and Frankie interrupt things and we find out that Calvin was absolutely correct in not trusting the imp. Of the 10 main characters (the nine listed plus a janitor for comedic relief), eight are going to die. I hope I’m not spoiling it for anyone, but this one is nearly 30 years old and has been shown a lot. Just because I never saw does not imply that you did not.

We have knifings, smashed heads by bowling ball, flame thrower, deep fryer, decapitation, zombie-ism, Bride of Frankenstein-itis (for Frankie, of course), being pulled apart and more. The mayhem is handled very effectively. The budget was low but you can tell the movie makers put it all onto the screen.

All in all, this one delivers exactly what it promises: a B movie with sex and violence and some humor. If, like me, you enjoy that sort of thing, this movie is definitely for you. Be warned, though, this is not Akira Kurasawa or Citizen Kane, and if that’s what you want, well, to each their own. As I always say, your mileage may vary. I was glad to finally see this one. Maybe you will be too. If not, there’s always next week.

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

 

Cocktail Hour: The Next in Line (Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s story of the same name)

The Next in Line cocktail takes its name from Ray Bradbury's tale of the mummies of Guanajuato.

Ray Bradbury wrote some truly terrifying fiction over the years, and for my money, “The Next in Line” is among his creepiest.

The story was the result of his 1945 visit to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he saw the city’s famed mummies. Relatives of the dead were required to pay an annual grave tax to keep their dearly departed underground in Guanajuato. Fail to pay up, and your loved one’s corpse would be dug up to make room for new arrivals in the crowded cemeteries. When they began to exhume bodies, however, the authorities discovered that many of them had naturally mummified in the arid soil.

Guanajuato, of course, saw another revenue opportunity. It stood the mummies in a line and lets tourists gawk — provided they pony up a few pesos.

“The Next in Line’s” middle-aged American couple, Joseph and Marie, are on vacation in Mexico. Joseph is eager to check out the famed mummies, but Marie wants nothing of them. They couple has already witnessed a funeral procession for an infant and the morbid scene has left her feeling rather uneasy.

That unease builds into terror, and because this is a horror story, Joseph naturally drags her into a face-to-face viewing of the mummies. When she does, Bradbury invokes powerful descriptive language to give us the creeps as well.

They looked as if they had leaped, snapped upright in their graves, clutched hands over their shriveled bosoms and screamed, jaws wide, tongues out, nostrils flared.

And been frozen that way.

All of them had open mouths.  Theirs was a perpetual screaming.  They were dead and they knew it.  In every raw fiber and evaporated organ they knew it.

She stood listening to them scream.

The "Next in Line" is available in Bradbury's October Country collection.

While plenty of horror writers can describe dead bodies, Bradbury’s story sticks with the reader because he so effectively taps into Marie’s mounting dread. Every tiny sign of illness, every symbol of death, becomes an awful and foreboding drumbeat in her own funeral procession.

We also realize that Joseph is a sadist who mocks her morbid fixation, at one point buying a Day of the Dead candy skull and eating it in front of her. Naturally, he makes sure she notices that the skull is decorated with her own name.

If you’ve read “The Next in Line,” you know exactly why Marie has reason to be terrified. If you haven’t, I won’t give it away. Either way, why not pick up Bradbury’s October Country collection and give it a read with its namesake cocktail in hand?

Tequila seems to be the obvious liquor for a story taking place in Mexico, and in homage to the American couple, I borrowed the other ingredients from a whiskey cocktail called the Brown Derby, the namesake drink of the famed restaurant in Bradbury’s L.A. hometown.

It’s just the kind of easy-sipping cocktail that would go down easy in the Guanajuato sun. And like nasty Joseph, it’s got a bite that sneaks up on you.

THE NEXT IN LINE

2 oz. anejo tequila
1 oz. freshly squeezed graprefruit juice
1/2 oz. honey
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Twist of lemon rind for garnish

Place all the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Pour into a couple glass and garnish with the twist.


 

Forgotten Book: The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer (1931)

The dialogue in Stuart Palmer's The Penguin Pool Murder is a major selling point.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 187th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I love a good mystery. A locked room mystery is even better. And a good noir story with blazing guns and snappy dialogue is my forte. I’m not much on amateur detectives or cozy mysteries. So, why was I reading a Golden Age mystery with a spinster school teacher working with the New York homicide Inspector?

There were several things leading up to it. I had recently found a nice trade paperback of this novel. It is the first in the Hildegard Withers series. I have seen the filmed version with Edna May Oliver and James Gleason a couple of times, as well as Oliver’s other two appearances in the role and at least one time with Zasu Pitts filling the role. I would love to see the made-for-TV movie from 1972 with Eve Arden in the role.

Miss Withers is taking her third grade class on a trip to the New York Aquarium where she trips up a pickpocket. While arguing occurs among the guards, the pickpocket escapes. When a dead man falls into the temporary penguin pool, she is the first to notice the body and has the guards call for the police. The police include Inspector Oscar Piper, her main foil throughout the tale.

The dead man is Gerald “Jerry” Lester, a local trader with a seat on the Stock Exchange. His wife Gwen is at the aquarium with an old friend/flame Phillip Seymour, a local attorney. Piper, of course, suspects the wife and boyfriend, particularly once the boyfriend admits to knocking Lester out and hiding him away. Other potential suspects include the aquarium director, Bertrand Hemingway, another attorney Barry Costello and pickpocket Chicago Lew McGirr. It seems a fairly open-and-shut case, especially when Seymour confesses to killing Lester. Unfortunately, his confession contains factual errors not supported by the coroner’s report.

Miss Withers, being industrious, inserts herself into the case, taking notes as all the suspects are questioned and noticing things the police do not. She is the first to discredit Seymour’s confession.

The events in the story take place almost immediately after the Great Crash of 1929 and several of the players here were clients of Lester. They lost big time in the margin call. And then there’s Lester’s secretary who may have had an interest in more than dictation. Gwen does not love Lester and wants to spend his money, but he took a big hit and is trying to cut back expenses.

The novel is fairly straightforward, with Palmer playing fair with the reader. The clues are there and an observant reader can figure out who the killer is. I suspected I knew about 2/3 of the way through — and my reasoning was correct.

What makes this novel special is the dialogue, particularly that between Miss Withers and Inspector Piper. They have a great relationship in the book and in the films. Palmer was a former newsman and he knew his characters well.

Now with this being a novel of the early 1930s, there are some social issues that might offend modern readers. There is social racism, nothing overt, but typical of the time. The police, except Piper, are close to buffoons and do not mind some breaking and entry or obtaining evidence in ways that would get your case laughed out of court nowadays. But I could live with that.

I enjoyed the book. It is not very long: fewer than 200 trade paperback sized pages. The plotting was good. In fact, Palmer ended up moving to Hollywood to work in the film industry. He worked briefly with one of my favorites, Craig Rice, and eventually they collaborated on some John J. Malone and Hildegard Withers stories. Those also are worth reading. He also worked on the Falcon, Lone Wolf and Bulldog Drummond movie series.

Check it out.

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