Forgotten Book: Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny (1969)

Roger Zelazny’s Isle of the Dead takes me back to my golden age.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 207th in my series of Forgotten Books.

They say the golden age for reading science fiction is 15. I think the same is true for discovering rock-n-roll. Whatever you are listening to when you are 15 is permanently ingrained in your genes. My golden age was the Summer of Love, with the dawn of the psychedelic era. Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Electric Prunes —these were my rock gods.

In the science fiction field, that period also heralded the arrival of the New Wave. We had Harlan Ellison screaming in the wind and both new and established writers breaking the molds. Around that time, I also began to have income, and suddenly there was great science fiction out there and I was loving it! Amazing writers were everywhere! Samuel R. Delany was blowing my mind. J. G. Ballard was writing condensed novels that I wasn’t sure I understood but were interesting and provocative as Hell. Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, Phil Dick – they were all there. Fritz Leiber reinvented himself. The books were plentiful and they were cheap — 60 or 70 cents got you paperbacks from the Ace Science Fiction Specials or any of the other publishers who were taking my money.

Chief among these writers, to me, was Roger Zelazny. When I read “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” my mind exploded!!!! Four For Tomorrow also had some great novelettes. When I read “The Door of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” what little brain I had left was gone.

Soon I had also read Lord of Light, This Immortal and The Dream Master. Zelazny may not have been my favorite writer (that was PKD), but he was in the top five! So, in 1969 when Isle of the Dead came out, I bought it at the PX on Ft. Sam Houston and went home to read it. It became my favorite RZ novel. Somewhere in the mid 1970’s I read it again, I felt the same. Others go gaga over Nine Princes in Amber. I read that too, but Isle stayed in the top position. I liked Amber, but it was not my number one.

So much for back story. Reading Isle of the Dead for the first time in 45 years or so, I discovered that I could not remember anything about it other than the main character’s name. This time, it was like reading a new book for the very first time.

Francis (Frank) Sandow is a human, over 500 years old. He is also Shimbo of Darktree, the Shrugger of Thunders, one of the Named Gods, a world shaper, the only non-Pei’an (i.e. the only human) member of the Named. He is incredibly wealthy and reclusive. The arrival of three messages simultaneously shake his world. One is from his mentor, Marling, who is in the process of dying and wants Frank to come perform various rites used in the passing of the Named. Frank has time. The second message is from Earth, where the Central Intelligence Bureau wants to talk with him. The third is from an old lover, Ruth, and it says “Come now” and includes a recent photo of Frank’s dead wife.

He decides to visit Ruth, but her house is empty and for sale, but she has left a note for him. He visits Marking and helps ease him on to the next level. From him, Frank learns about Green Green, a Pei’an who had not been selected for a Named avatar even though he successfully completed all the required tasks and tests. Green Green also bears a grudge against Frank even though they have never met or interacted.

Green Green’s real name is Gringrin and, among other things, he has stolen the life tapes of several of Frank’s lovers, friends and enemies. He has gone to one of the worlds Frank constructed, Illyria, reconstituted Frank’s friends and enemies and placed them on the Isle of the Dead. This pisses Frank off, since this is his world – he designed it and built it. These are his friends and enemies.

So Frank heads to the Isle of the Dead ready for a confrontation, then everything shifts and the story we were expecting is derailed into another one totally.

This is great short novel that I thoroughly enjoyed again. It brought back all the reasons I loved Zelazny’s work. Just not quite as much, since my tastes have changed some over the years. Still, early Zelazny is still worthwhile no matter what you get.

I interacted with RZ several times over the years. I met him at conventions and got many books and magazines signed. Most of them are gone now, sadly. I was called out in the dedication to If At Faust You Don’t Succeed for helping suggest the title. I gave him that one and its corrupted one, If As Faust You Don’t Succeed. I will keep that happiness with me forever. My bookselling partner Willie suggested A Fistful of Thalers, which RZ also called out in the dedication.

As always, your mileage may vary with this book. But I don’t think so. This is quality stuff.

Who are the writers of your golden age?

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

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.


Forgotten Films: The President’s Analyst (1967)

The President's Analyst might appeal to you if you like your comedies on the paranoid side. Not so much, however, if you're an Adam Sandler fan.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 154th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Comedy is such a personal thing. Films some people, find to be hilarious, I find to be offensive, juvenile, or just not funny. I’m looking at you Adam Sandler! Nothing you have done is funny to me, so I make it easy on both of us and avoid your movies like the plague. Same goes for Ben Stiller, Kevin James, Seth Rogen, Melissa McCarthy and most of today’s “comedians.”

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I want to recommend a very funny comedy. The President’s Analyst is certainly one of my favorite films. It is a product of its time and the rampant paranoia makes it seem like something Philip K. Dick might have done.

Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is a prominent New York psychiatrist. One of his patients is Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge), a spy with the Central Enquiries Agency (the CEA). The opening scene of the film shows Don killing an Albanian spy while pushing a cart through the street of the garment district in broad daylight. Don drops off the cart with the dead body to some handlers so he can make his appointment with Dr. Schaefer. Don then tells Sidney how he feels about this action during his session and waits for the doctor’s reaction.

This turns out to be the final piece in the vetting of the good doctor to become the personal analyst for the president. He is told that everyone needs someone to talk to and he has been selected for the role.

Sidney and his girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney in her first film role) are moved to Washington, DC, much to the disgust of Henry Lux (Walter Burke) the head of the Federal Bureau of Regulation (FBR), who has moral objections to the living arrangement.

Soon Sidney has more secrets in his head than is good for him. He can’t discuss them with anyone, and he becomes the target for various foreign powers. When it is discovered that he talks in his sleep, Nan is removed from the house. He can still see her, but he cannot go to sleep with her.

Then the fun really begins. Sidney starts to see spies and plots everywhere. Unfortunately for him, the spies and plots are real. He tries to escape by insinuating himself into the household of the Quantrills (a very young William Daniels and Joan Darling), a pair of gun-toting liberals. The Quantrills’ son wiretaps Sidney’s attempt to call the president for help and turns him over to the FBR, which naturally has orders to kill him.

Sidney escapes in the van of a rock band called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (fronted by Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire and Jill Banner). Luckily, the doctor finds some peace and love here. While dallying with Snow White in a grassy field, we are shown how insane everything is with spies attempting to capture him killed by other spies who have the same intent. When Sidney and Snow leave, the field looks like a battle scene. Spies have been garroted, stabbed, shot, killed by poison dart and more. It is a marvelously surreal and funny scene.

Don, meanwhile, is teaming up with Kydor Kropotkin (the wonderful Severn Darden) to rescue Sidney. Kropotkin rescues Sidney from the Puddlians, rockers who work for the Canadian secret service. While fleeing with Sidney, Kropotkin finds himself undergoing analysis and liking it. Soon he is a patient.

I’m going to not reveal the ending, which deals with one of the most nefarious of all spy groups and features Pat Harrington in a great role. But Sidney, Don, Kropotkin, and Nan (who was also turns out to be a spy) have to try to save the world.

It a frantic, paranoid satire that is as relevant today as it was nearly 40 years ago. I’ve watched this film many times and given it to many friends. One way to judge how close our friendship will be is in seeing how they react. Those who don’t get it are never going to be close friends.

I love The President’s Analyst, and it’s pretty readily available if you need to see it. And, If you like those guys I singled out in the first paragraph, it’s likely you won’t like this one. As I said before, my taste is in my mouth. And I like it there.

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


Forgotten Book: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (1954)

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet sets the wayback machine to 1954.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 174th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week we have a book that shares some similarities with last week’s Shell Scott adventures. No, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet is not a humorous detective novel. But like the Prather novel, I missed Eleanor Cameron’s Mushroom Planet novels when I was much younger.

This first novel in the series should have been in my school libraries when I was in grade school and, had they been, I would have found them. But, in those formative years, I was in Alaska and then in small-town Texas. The libraries were small – heavy on reference books and some fiction. In several, there was not a formal library, just collections of books in each teacher’s room and whatever was there was what you got. It was not until junior high in Iowa Park, Texas, that I really found out about libraries and what wonders they held.

The Iowa Park town library was small and featured many older titles. I got to read my first Edgar Rice Burroughs books there and Tom Swift (not the Tom Swift Jr. titles that were coming out when I was at that age; these were the older things). And, since the junior high was in the same building as the high school, we had a more formal library at the school, and there I found Heinlein, Wells and Verne. Those were exciting days of discovery.

But, the Mushroom Planet was never in the galaxies I roamed. I don’t believe I ever heard of those books until I got to college and took a course in children’s literature (kiddy litter, as we called it). And I was not about to read them then.

Somewhere along the way, I acquired the first volume of the series and it has been on my shelves for a while. The other day I decided to pick it up and read it.

It’s a fast read and definitely a kid’s book. There are some attempts at science-y things but not much. And that is deliberate. The first chapter tells you what you need to know with the strange green ad in the paper


A small space ship about eight feet long, built by one or two kids. The ship should be sturdy and well made and should be of materials found at hand. Nothing need be bought. No adult should be consulted as to its plan or method of construction. An adventure and a chance to do a good deed await the boys who build the best space ship.

Yep, you’ve got to be imaginative and a risk taker and your own person. David and his buddy Chuck are the boys who meet up with Mr. Tyco M. Bass, a peculiarly odd person who wants the boys to travel to Basidium X, a small planetoid located 50,000 miles above Earth that only he can see because he has a special filter. He can make a fuel to power this ship and send two boys to it in two hours, and there they can help out the residents of the tiny mushroom planet. They need to bring some food, capture some Basidium air and bring a mascot, for which Mrs. Pennyfeather, David’s chicken serves the role.

They travel to the planet and meet two wise men, Mebe and Oru, and the great King Ta help them solve a problem and return home, all in one night. Of course, no one believes them because they are kids and things happen to their proof.

It was a fun enough book. If I had preteen kids or grandkids, I might have subjected them to this. I think they would have enjoyed it. But I find that for myself, the one book will do. I don’t really care to return to the Mushroom Planet.

What about you readers out there? Someone have a fond spot for these books, or some other ones. As a kid I read a lot of Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Tom Swift. Then I found ERB. I was lost from that point on. And at 14, Conan began to appear and Elric the following year or so. And Philip K. Dick. I was doomed.

I hope your new year is going well. I’ll be back with another book next week, certainly one more age appropriate, I think.

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


Forgotten Films: Coherence (2013)

Coherence offers some interesting twists, but its characters are yuppie scum.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 132nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week I back with a new review of a Forgotten Film, after a wild week of trivia contests and the like. If you check yesterday’s post here on the blog you’ll find my long report on the event. My team conquered the world and became the first National Trivia League champion, defeating more than 200 teams from 91 different cities around the country.

Anyway, this Labor Day weekend I was invited to a friend’s home with some other friends to watch some science fiction and fantasy films. We saw five films during the day and Coherence indicates that this film came out in 2013. I missed it totally at that time, not even hearing the name or anything about it. IMDB shows that it only took in $68,000 in its domestic release.

The film deals with a single evening in the life of eight people, four couples, some of whom know each other, though no one really appears to know everyone. Four men, four women of various ages. There is a comet passing close to Earth overhead. One of the guest, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) has a brother (not shown) who is an astronomer or some sort of scientist.

Weird things start to happen. Cell phone screens break for Em (Emily Foxler) and Hugh. There are tensions among the group. Mike (Nicholas Brendon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is an actor from the old Roswell TV series (not really) but he can’t find work. Em’s old boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) shows up with Laurie (Lauren Maher), whom none of the ladies like.

Things start slowly (really slowly, enough that I made some comment about My Dinner With Kahoutek in relation to the film) and then the lights go out. Candles get lit, women scream, glowsticks are found, and hysteria starts to raise its ugly head. Hugh looks outside and sees that there is a house up about two blocks that has lights on. He wants to call his brother and let him know what is going on. Hugh and Amir (Alex Manugian) go to check things out. They are gone for a while.

When they return, Hugh has a cut on his head and Amir has a locked box. Hugh claims not to have seen anything at the house and Amir says Hugh told him to take the box though Hugh denies this. Once the cut is treated, the box is open. Inside are photos of all eight dinner guests, including one of Amir that could only have been taken that evening. There are numbers written on the back of the photos in handwriting that Em recognizes as her own. Hugh then reveals that he saw something at the other house. He saw the eight of them inside.

Hugh’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) remembers that Hugh’s brother left a book when he visited the other day and she has it in their car outside. It’s an odd physics book and they open it at random and start talking about coherence and decoherence in a quantum physics sort of way. There are discussions of Shroedinger’s cat and the quandary it posed.

From here the film takes a very dark turn. Mike is concerned that the other him must be drinking and he is not a nice person when he is drinking. He wants to make a pre-emptive strike to prevent the other him from murdering him. That’s about as sane as it gets the rest of the way. A group visits the other house, which is of course a doppelganger of the house they are in. They see two sets of themselves, each carrying different color glowsticks.

Overall, this was an interesting film. Unfortunately, the first act is where we might get to know and like each of the eight guests. They are all annoying yuppy puppies and I had no sympathy for any of them. I kept hoping they would all die, several of them sooner than others, but I wanted them all dead. You might like them better.

The whole first third of the film just drug, hence the Dinner with Kahoutek reference. There is a wonderful Philip K. Dick paranoia through the last third of the film as it becomes apparent that the dinner guests are not always the same ones that started the evening earlier. People don’t remember significant things or identifying objects and numbers.

Overall, I think I’m glad I saw it. It ended up being much better than the final film of the evening, Under the Skin, which I found hopelessly muddled and making no sense whatsoever. But I am quite sure I will never watch this one again. And, as always, you may get better mileage than I did. I hope so.

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