Sunday, August 25, 2013

World Without Women - Day Keene and Leonard Pruyn

World Without Women has one of the dopiest heroes in it that ever took center stage in a cheap pulp paperback that I've ever read. Published by Gold Medal Books in 1960 and written by Day Keene and Leonard Pruyn, World Without Women is a tasteless and misogynist look at what happens when a mysterious "illness" wipes out most of the world's women in a matter of weeks.

Reed and Connie Renner have just returned from a year-long getaway to the the Galapagos islands, conveniently missing out on firsthand experience of the mysterious disease that wipes out most of the female population on the planet. Their trip to the islands was an attempt to rekindle their marriage. Instead, they've learned that, while they like each other a lot, they're both way too shallow to get along with each other in marriage. They return in their boat, dock it, and drive home to their mansion on the coast of California. They think things are strange because the usual throngs of people about are nowhere to be seen. On the way home they pass a high school that is surrounded by a mob of scruffy men held cordoned off by a bunch of cops and soldiers. Two girls leave the high school under heavily armed protection by the soldiers. Reed decides he's going to help out and asks a nearby cop what's going on. The cop hits him and tells him to get lost. Reed and Connie then go home to make cocktails and dinner. Reed attempts to call his lawyer partner Matt Healy a number of times but can't reach him. Off he goes to buy steaks at the grocery store, where he asks a male clerk if America is at war. The reason Reed wonders this is because he sees no women shoppers; just a bunch of dejected looking slobs buying alcohol and frozen dinners. He returns home, calls Matt Healy again and, finally reaching him, learns that all the women have died. Learning that Reed's wife Connie is alive and well, Healy arranges a team of soldiers to set up camp on the Renner's front lawn. This has to be done because all the men in the city have turned into a bunch of lust-mad perverts who'll stop at nothing to get a woman.

Society without women has gone to shit. Martial law prevails. Any man who touches or attempts to force himself on any surviving woman who is not his wife will be shot on sight. Surviving women are quarantined in their homes, and are told to "stay fresh and attractive" for their husbands so that maybe they'll reproduce. All women of child-bearing age are ordered to comply with their husbands' demands, and also undergo monitoring by a newly formed Potential Mothers Survivors agency (PMS).

Events progress, Reed and Matt attempt to rescue the wife of their building's elevator operator from gangster Tony Acaro's fortified house. Reed performs a citizen's arrest, instead of just shooting the sleazy gangster, even after it's clear that Acaro has held women captive there as playthings for him and his goons. On the way home from their little adventure, Reed suggests that he and Matt Healy get Connie and get all dolled up and go out for dinner at Chasen's. Matt Healy has to explain to the dolt that it's against the law for women to go out "all dolled up." Besides, Chasen's isn't around anymore. And furthermore, he's secretly had a crush on Connie for years, and doesn't think he'll be able to sit around looking at her breasts over a steak and martinis and not want to kill Reed.

Later in the novel, Reed Renner is selected by the authorities to go to Mercerville and visit the women's prison there and talk to the Warden in charge. Seems the warden is a female survivor named Kathy Cervantes who was a childhood friend of Reed's. Reed always wondered why Kathy Cervantes never put out for him when they were teenagers, and this is his big chance to find out. He quickly learns that Kathy is a lesbian, and not into men at all. He learns this by using techniques perfected by guys like former congressman and mayor, Bob Filner; like putting his hand up her skirt and grabbing at her breasts. Of course she doesn't respond, because she's a lesbian, and well, that explains it. It's not that Reed Renner is an asshole after all! It's determined that Kathy Cervantes can no longer run the prison, because she's a degenerate lesbian. She then commits suicide by stripping off her clothes and running out into the throngs of lust-mad men surrounding the prison. This makes Reed Renner sad, but at least he now knows why Kathy was never in to him before as kids. Time to go back to L.A.!

Meanwhile, back at the coastline mansion, Connie (remember Connie Renner, Reed's wife?) decides she's had enough of taking sleeping pills and feeling sorry for herself. She bakes a cake for Reed's birthday. Only Reed is busy with the end of the world and all that crap, which just pisses her off all over again.

Reed returns to L.A. and learns that Tony Acaro has been let out of jail, and is out for revenge. He's going to get Connie Renner, just you wait! And then...oh, what the hell, why bother?

This was an interesting idea squandered into a really dumb novel. I'm not sure who it would have appealed to, outside of pinheads like Rush Limbaugh. And it's too bad, because Day Keene is usually a reliable writer of paperback thrillers. He was way off his game on this one. As for Leonard Pruyn, I don't have any information on him. On to something better next time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Green Wound Contract - Philip Atlee

Back into the spy realm again with Joe Gull, The Nullifier. This goes back to Gall's first contract with the CIA outside of his military and official duties. Apparently the Bay of Pigs fiasco left a bad taste, forcing Gall to turn in his cloak and dagger for a quiet solitude in the Ozarks. But, as with most spies, coming in from the cold is only ever a temporary reprieve, and Joe Gall accepts an "unofficial" contract to return to the game and take out a little bit of vengeance on a baddie known only by the name Asmodeus.

The Green Wound Contract is pretty much like the other Joe Gall capers by Philip Atlee. The plot is a schizophrenic seat-of-the-pants ride that allows our hero to observe, remark, kill, drink, smoke and screw his way through a series of events that seem to have no rhyme, reason or connection to the contract he'd accepted. The assignments are just excuses for Joe to land somewhere, stir up shit and skedaddle when it hits the fan. In this case, Joe is contracted to follow a suspect known as Raul Delgado into Laredo TX from Mexico. Delgado was formerly a doorman at the DeFarge Clinic in New Orleans. The same clinic where the sister-in-law of a senator had tucked herself away to recover from addictions to drugs and sex. Seems the lady, Hester Larkin, has a taste for the wild side of the street, in both her men and her drugs. Unfortunately she's married to a Texas fat-cat by the name of Mack Larkin. It's Mack who is brothers with the senator. And it's Mack who is being blackmailed by someone known as Asmodeus who seems to know all the intimate details of Hester Larkin's sleazy adventures...oh yeah, and Raul Delgado (remember him?) was seen helping Hester Larkin leave the Defarge Clinic...but I may have already mentioned that. Anyway, this same Raul Delgado is a suspect in the murder of a couple of Cuban nationals who had been making plans to overthrow Castro. Joe Gall's old buddy, Felix Rosas, was a witness to Raul Delgado's gunning down of the Cubans. Only just before Raul Delgado is to appear in court, Felix Rosas is blinded by a bottle of poisoned eye drops. Whew...

Okay, now that you got all that, forget about it. Why? Because Raul Delgado ends up high-stepping himself to death in the middle of a busy afternoon on the streets of Laredo when a packet of heroin he was smuggling in his intestine bursts. Exit Raul, and exit a grounded plot.

1963 Fawcett Publications

But plot doesn't matter so much in a Joe Gall novel. It's the voice, the locales, the scenes, the writing that carries these novels along. In no time flat, Joe Gall is hooking up with a babe named Barb he meets in a bar, along with her football-player-gone-to-seed boyfriend. Seems that Barb has taken an interest in Joe's laconic cigarette smoking demeanor, and agrees to meet him in his hotel room that evening for some hot sex before he takes off to New Orleans to investigate the DeFarge Clinic. This is important, because Barb will keep popping up throughout the novel, and things don't turn out well for her by the time the contract is fulfilled. And as for Barb's boyfriend? Well he runs into the nasty end of a clawed hammer in, of all places, the DeFarge Clinic. There is also a race riot, a black-jack wielding nun, an assassin blues guitarist, a bunch of "Arab-gowned goons" and a couple of screwy chicks to make things interesting along the way.

Was it good? Oh yeah!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Inside - Dan Morgan

I haven't read a lot of science fiction since I was a teenager, and most of that was classic pulp by the big names in the business: Asimov, Heinlein and their contemporaries. I had a brief Philip K. Dick period in the early 80's when it was easy to find paperback copies of his novels in just about any bookstore. Unfortunately, I no longer have those paperbacks. On the few occasions I run across them in used bookstores the prices asked are eye-popping and more than I'm interested in shelling out.

Recently I've picked up a handful of "vintage" science fiction paperbacks by authors I'm not familiar with. My selection process is an easy one; if it's got a cool cover and low cost, I'll take it. That's pretty much how I ended up with Inside, by Dan Morgan.

Berkley Madallion Books, December 1974
I don't know who the cover artist is, but I liked it immediately. The description on the back didn't really give much of an idea of what the book was about, but there wasn't a hint of the dragons and wizards that seemed to invade a lot of 70's science fiction, so I took it.

The story focuses on three main characters: Gerry Clyne, Laura Frayne and Michael Davidson. Laura and Michael are psychologists, in charge of monitoring and "programming" inmates of an asylum, known as Inside, on the planet Mars. The asylum is a domed city where the inmates have undergone a reconditioning of sorts, leaving them to believe that they're survivors of a nuclear holocaust living within a protected dome on Earth. For reasons never particularly clear (at least not at first) the head chief in charge of Inside, a character by the single name of Moule, has decided that the inhabitants of the asylum be programmed to maintain a state of mutual warfare with each other, much like the cold war ideologies we all grew up with here on good old Earth. A small faction of the overseers who report to Moule, including Michael and Laura, have decided that Moule's ideas are reckless and harmful to the inmates of Inside. They hatch a scheme to insert a gadfly of sorts, and this is where Clyne comes in, to overthrow the status quo of Inside, thereby proving the failure of Moule's philosophies. Clyne is one of those renegade types who respect no authority but they're own, which is why he's getting his ass shipped into the Inside from Earth. But Michael sees in Clyne the perfect tool to program for his own purposes of disrupting the cold war stalemate that Moule has designed for Inside. But wait...things may not be as they appear to Michael and Laura, and just when you think you see the men behind the curtain pulling the levers, another curtain opens, turning your preconceived notions of what's real and what's not, upside-down.

It's a bit confusing at first, but Morgan has a capable manner of pulling the reader into the plot, often through narrative summary, and through alternating chapters delivered through the three main characters' points of view. There is a ton of head games, through programming, brainwashing, erasing, and even murder, that gives a fellow a distinctly creepy feeling that, given the opportunity, the same powers that be here and now would go for in a hot instant. Spying, surveillance, and telling one who their enemies should be, have an uncomfortable ring of familiarity, given the current mindset our world powers display today.

In that respect, the novel succeeds in what it sets out to do. That is, question our loyalties and our beliefs, particularly when they're provided to us in comfortable little packages. Driving around most cities in America today, one can make not to far of a leap and imagine little domes of warfare dotting the landscape, serving no purpose but to maintain a status-quo for the few controllers pulling the strings.

But you don't have to believe me...I'm just a guy who likes old books with cool covers.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday Morning Psychedelic - Blues Magoos

Actually they're more a blend of garage and psych than purely psychedelic, but they did have the gumption to put "psychedelic" in the title of their first album for Psychedelic Lollipop on Mercury Records in 1966. I think it's a great title, myself. Tells you right away what you're getting when you flip that vinyl on the turntable and have the kids gather around to dig the sounds...

The album features their original hit, "(We Ain't Got) Nothing Yet" among a selection of originals and covers, including "Tobacco Road" (J.D. Loudermilk) and "I'll Go Crazy" by James Brown. The whole record is a gas, to borrow an ancient term, and I was happy to find a nice copy of it on vinyl recently.

Line up on the album is Ralph Scala - "Quiet, Shy, Good-Looking, plays his organ while singing." Ronnie Gilbert - "Loud, Funny, Lazy, plays bass." Peppy Thielheim - "An Idol, Lovable, '17', Drop-out, plays rhythm guitar." Mike Esposito - "Psyched Out, Warm, Friendly, Rich, plays lead guitar. And Geoff Daking - "Blond, Beautiful, Straight, plays drums."

Linked here is their song "Sometimes I Think About" written by Gilbert-Scala-Thielheim-Esposito and produced by Bob Wyld and Art Polhemus.  Noted here is that the liner notes taken from the album cover say that it's Thielheim and not Thielhelm as I've seen elsewhere. Perhaps someone who knows more than I do will correct me on that.