Thursday, 30 July 2020

Sci-Fi Month

I thought I'd do something a bit different to liven things up. Therefore, in the month of August, I'll be attempting to read six science fiction classics that were all published in paperback by Granada Publishing under their 'Panther' banner during the 1970's and 1980's. I don't know if I will get through every one as my reading seems to have slowed down a bit this summer - but I will try my best.

As you can see above the reading list will include;
  • Foundation by Issac Asimov (1951)
  • Rogue Ship by A. E. van Vogt (1965)
  • The Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson (1965)
  • Son of Man by Robert Silverberg (1971)
  • Phthor by Piers Anthony (1975)
  • Capella's Golden Eyes by Christopher Evans (1980)
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Horse Under Water

Author: Len Deighton
First Published: 1963
File size/Pages: 1611KB / 276pp
Ebook Publisher: HarperCollins
Ebook Date: Oct 2009

It's very remiss of me to have never read a book by Len Deighton until recently. He rates in the top ranks of thriller and spy fiction, known all over the world and a first-class international bestselling author since his first novel, The Ipcress File was published in 1962. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive about reading a Deighton novel. I had the same kind of feeling that I had experienced before reading my first John le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Top echelon spy fiction can have that effect. People are reluctant to pick them up and give them a go because they have the impression that the books are full of difficult to follow and intricate plotting. I mean these books are populated with incredibly intelligent and devious schemers of the modern world, what hope have us normal guys got in trying to decipher whatever the hell is going on in the story if the brainy characters within them can't even work out what is happening?

Deighton's early stories however, star an unnamed hero, who has been thrust into the espionage game via a grammar school upbringing. Popularised on film by actor Michael Caine in adaptations of The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain, he was christend "Harry Palmer". But in paperback, the hero remains an enigma. It means he is at the centre of everything, narrating the events as they happen to him, much like a good 40's/50's private detective. He's not one of the upper class English private school exports. It makes him that much more accessible and real.

Horse Under Water was the successor to The Ipcress File, but "Secret File No.2" has never been adapted to the screen. The Caine versions were shot out of sequence, and the poor performance of Billion Dollar Brain at the box office resulted in the second book never being made. Perhaps the multiple locations (Portugal, England, Morocco and Gibraltar) and the complex technicalities of possible underwater scenes put this story bottom of the pile in terms of costs to produce. It's a shame really, as it would have made for quite a Bond-like travelogue (which now seems to be the norm).

Sunday, 19 July 2020

The Black Hole

Author: Alan Dean Foster
First Published: 1979
Pages: 187pp
Publisher: New English Library
Not currently available in eBook format

Alan Dean Foster was busy between 1978 and 1980. Not only did he pen the adaptation of Disney's film, The Black Hole, but he was also responsible for adapting Star Trek Log Ten, Aliens and George Lucas's undeveloped treatment for a potential sequel to Star Wars, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. He was also probably considering novelisations of Clash of the Titans and Outland as well as working on titles in his Icerigger trilogy and Humanx series.

All of this work might be how Foster likes to occupy himself. Perhaps he thrived upon a busy schedule forcing him to deliver the goods. But similarly this might be the reason that his effort here is rather lacklustre? There is no denying that the source material for The Black Hole doesn't exactly set the world alight with its plot. I have not watched the film since finishing the book, to be frank- it put me off watching it completely. If Foster followed the script religiously (I don't think he did, at least in one particular key death scene his description is significantly different), then the pacing of his source material was seriously flawed from the outset. His only recourse would have been to inject new scenes to add some much needed tension and conflict. I don't think he did, whether due to indifference or lack of time, we'll never know.

The Black Hole was produced by the Walt Disney organisation. It had a long history in their archives - originally being conceived in the early seventies by writers Bob Barbash and Richard Landau as an answer to the current trend of disaster films like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. After a few failed attempts to develop the idea, Star Wars hit cinema screens across the world Disney scrambled around for a Sci-fi idea to produce in response to the demand for more space-bound adventures.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Jaws Log (30th Anniversary Edition)

Original 1975 Dell paperback edition
Author: Carl Gottlieb
First Published: 1975
File size/Pages: 3400KB / 227pp
Ebook Publisher: Dey Street Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2010

Staying on a Peter Benchley theme for this review, we have The Jaws Log, an account of the making of the movie from his 1974 novel.

The author is scriptwriter, Carl Gottlieb, who polished a script originally written by Benchley (there are a few other contributors that Gottlieb covers during the course of the factual story). He was originally asked to star in the film, already being friendly with director Steven Speilberg opened an opportunity to pick a role. He was sent over a copy of the script, and chose Amity town official Meadows as a role he could see himself in.

Once production started though, it was clear that Gottlieb's talents at writing would need to be utilised to add depth to the working script. When the crew moved wholesale to Martha's Vinyard, Gottlieb went with them, and eventually ended up sharing a house on the beach with Speilberg. From his time employed as both an actor onset, and as the new scriptwriter he kept copious notes and diaries. The Jaws Log was the culmination of those recordings and memories.

There is a 30th Anniversary Edition of this title available in eBook format. This also incorporates introductions and footnotes from a previous "25th Anniversary Edition" so is currently the most comprehensive version available. Pictures are included in the eBook version.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Deep

1977, Pan UK edition
Author: Peter Benchley
First Published: 1976
Pages: 251pp
Publisher: Pan
Not currently available in eBook format

Sometimes, when I'm falling endlessly down the internet version of Lewis Carrol's rabbitt-hole looking for a new novel to read, I come across an author whose lack of presence in eBook format is rather baffling. I've been a fan of the film Jaws since an early age (who isn't?), so it was only natural that my attention would at some point land on Peter Benchley and, at first, this led a re-watch of the film The Deep, based upon his 1976 novel. This reawakened my interest in his books, and my web browser dipped its toes warily into the depths of the world wide web, expecting to find a plethora of sunken treasure. I was genuinely shocked to discover that Jaws is the only title from Benchley available in eBook?*

*I'm aware that The Girl of the Sea of Cortez may be available in other countries.

Peter Benchley was born in 1940 in New York City in 1940. The son of a writer himself, he lived his early life flitting between New York and Colorado while his father fought in the Second World War. He graduated from Harvard College on 1961, majoring in English. He had already experienced working as a writer, due to his father allowing him to work as a part time professional. As he describes in a biographical piece on the Peter Benchley website;

But once he saw that I was interested in writing, he did a wonderful thing. For two summers, when I was 15 and 16, he paid me the going wage I might make as a gardener or a soda jerk or a club attendant, and my only duty was to sit alone in a room with a typewriter for four hours every day, or until I produced a thousand words, whichever came first. He didn’t want to read it; I never had to do anything with it. But I had to produce it. He wanted me to experience both the solitude and the discipline that are requisites of a writing life, to see if I could tolerate them. If I couldn’t, he said, I’d better start looking in another direction. As things turned out, I not only tolerated discipline and isolation, I liked them, and so, at the age of 17, I became half a professional writer: I say half because although I sent story after story to The New Yorker and other magazines, none of the stories sold. So I was a professional in that I wrote to make money, but I wasn’t a professional in that I never made any. I sold my first freelance journalism at 18, and my first fiction at 21, to Vogue magazine. 

Two early books in the sixties were based upon travels, but a stint in the U.S Marine Corps interrupted any further work. After the end of his service he began working for The Washington Post and then Newsweek. This was followed by a period as a speech writer for President Johnson. In 1969, he moved to New Jersey and began life as a freelance writer and reviewer, taking on all kinds of jobs. Following some encouragement by a editor friend Benchley decided to concentrate on honing his skills in order to publish a piece of fiction he had been considering for a while. The end result was Jaws - and the rest is publishing and movie history.