Written by Fred Patten, and published on the LASFS Rex Rotary, August 25, 1965. Intended for Apa L, Forty-Fifth Distribution, LASFS Meeting no. 1463, August 26, 1965. Address: 1825 Greenfield Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90025. Phone: GRanite 3-6321.
|San Diego in 1966!||LonCon II this weekend!||Salamander Press #119.|
Two more entries in the 007 sweepstakes:
The Doomsday Affair, by Harry Whittington, Ace #G-560, 159 p., 50¢.
You'll have to look twice to find this title, because the sign the cover plays up is "The Man from U.N.C.L.E. #2". I'm happy to say that with this novel, the paperback series has finally caught up in quality to the Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic books. I'm not just trying to sound superior, either; Dave Hulan and I were discussing the previous novel in the series -- The Thousand Coffins Affair, by Michael Avallone -- and we both feel that it was written at about an 11- or 12-year-old reading level, even though the subject matter was for an older age group. I'd say that the first Men from U.N.C.L.E. comic book was aimed for a 14-16-year-old readership, and this second novel in the paperback series also seems to come closest to this level.
Solo played it solo in the first book, but Illya Kuryakin joins him here, in a hunt to track down Tixe Ylno -- whoever or whatever Tixe Ylno may be. The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement is only able to find out that it's a code name, that it's a reverse spelling of "Exit Only", and that rumor has it that it's the entire human race that Tixe Ylno is hoping to help usher out. The book opens with a beautiful THRUSH defector in Hawaii having her head blown off by an exploding lei just as she's about to reveal who Tixe Ylno is. From here, it follows Solo and Illya -- sometimes together, usually separately in alternating chapters -- along a trail of automobile chases, teenage muggings, frame-ups, druggings, kidnappings, and so forth, that finally lead them to their goal. Incidentally, though the cover blurb refers to this as "THRUSH's fiendish threat to destroy the world", and Whittington pays lip service in occasionally dropping a reference to Tixe Ylno as a THRUSH agent, there's no real connection between the two that I can see. Though Tixe Ylno seems to have the resources of THRUSH in many cases, his is much more of a single-purpose goal, under his personal leadership; THRUSH, of course, has many operations going on in all dark fields, and its command is unknown. Tixe Ylno had better not be THRUSH, because if he is, there's not going to be any more THRUSH -- he and his entire organization are all atomized at the end of this adventure.
The writing level and the characterization are both okay, but the book still has three major flaws -- at least three specific defects that particularly grated on me. The first is the use of unbelievable gimmicks, specifically the exploding lei. What sort of technology would be necessary to create a lei that's safe enough when tossed over someone's head, and perfectly harmless as long as it's around her neck despite all her bodily movements, but which will automatically detonate as soon as she starts to remove it over her head? This is too complex to fit in with the technology evident in the rest of the book. Contrariwise, the "unbelievable" question of how Tixe Ylno is to carry out his nefarious scheme, of "somehow" destroying an American city with an atomic device and throwing the blame on Russia to start World War III, is one that any s-f reader could answer in at least half a dozen different ways -- even the comic books wore that plot out a couple of years ago. Finally, Whittington has committed the all-too-familiar flaw of writing his protagonists into a situation which not even Superman could plausibly escape from -- then having them escape anyway, with what seems to be the greatest of ease.
Possibly I'm being a trifle unfair in expecting this book to come up to the standards of a good hardback mystery novel. Basically, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. paperbacks are the modern successors of the old mass-produced pulpzine series; this certainly is not noticeably worse than the average Shadow or Doc Savage novel, of sainted memory. And if you can suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy the television show, you can't boggle too much at the quality of this book. Oh, well, let's just hope that the third in the series is as much of an improvement over this one as this one is over the first.
Modesty Blaise, by Peter O'Donnell, Doubleday, 1965, 252 p., $4.50.
Modesty Blaise is aptly described as "England's fabulous, feminine answer to James Bond", beginning her existence as a newspaper comic strip and graduating to the hardback novel and motion picture screen in a surprisingly short time. I'm not familiar with the strip myself, but if this book is at all representative of the series, it's easy to see why. At first glance, Modesty Blaise seems even more incredible than her masculine counterparts; as Sir Gerald Tarrant, of the Foreign Office, asks on page 1, "If you had been a child, on your own, in a Middle East DP camp in '45, do you think you could have managed to retire at twenty-six with well over a half a million sterling? A small female child, of course." Starting out by working her way into an illicit organization in Tangier at the age of 17, she soon took over, built it up into one of the largest and most successful of international crime rings, then disbanded it when she had reached her personal goal and moved to London to retire at the abovementioned unusually early age. Having taken care never to involve herself in anything that might give the British government reason to consider her an Undesirable Person, the Foreign Office is willing to overlook her past record from a moral view and request the use of her talents in an affair in which only she can help them, as it means re-establishing contact with her former life -- under F.O. patronage, as a special agent.
But though this may sound incredible on first contact, the incredibility is soon lost in the plot. This is a very well-written novel, having some of the most distinct characters I've ever come across in one piece of fiction. I won't bother reprinting her rather detailed physical description (basically, she's 5'6", brunette, and naturally quite attractive); what comes through is her personality. Strong, quiet, and determined is the best summary I can think of; she decided early in life what she wanted, worked singlemindedly to get it, got it -- and then discovered it was too late for her to enjoy it. "...there came a time when fear was transmuted into stimulus, and the moments of danger which had once brought terror now brought only a keener sense of being alive. It was a pity. There were so many better ways of living fully. But it was too late now, and she had long ago learned not to cry for the unattainable." Her right-hand-man is an Englishman named Willie Garvin, a jack-of-all-weapons, and intensely devoted to her. Paul Hagan, one of Tarrant's agents, is frankly in love with her and opposed to her endangering herself; his attitude is one of confused frustration because at the same time he feels he should be protecting her, he knows that he isn't as skilled in the facets of espionage as she is. (If all this sounds sparse, remember that I'm trying to compress pages of carefully built characterization, a phrase here, a paragraph there, into a couple of lines.) The principle villains are the leader, Gabriel, a cold, emotionless man whose only passion is for old Tom & Jerry cartoons; McWhirter, an outwardly jolly Scot, and Mrs. Fothergill, who combines all the charm -- and all the attributes -- of Rosa Kloebb and Donovan Grant, in From Russia With Love.
To me, this book is superior to either the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series or the James Bond series. Certainly to U.N.C.L.E., which is just cardboard personality pulp adventure in all its forms. Because of careful handling of characterization and motivation, I think that Modesty Blaise has an edge over James Bond -- she's certainly a more likeable character than Bond. The action is solid and fast; Modesty and Willie are both experts in Commando fighting tactics, rather than users of gimmicks, which increases the credibility of the plot. All things told, this is an excellent first book in what I hope will be a series; if you don't check it out of your local library now, be sure you pick up a copy as soon as it's reprinted in paperback.
-- BEING COMMENTS ON LAST WEEK'S DISTRIBUTION
Fred Hollander -- "I think that anyone should be able to put anything he wishes through APA L, with the restrictions already imposed and any others which are sensible"... Obviously, I considered censorship of this particular zine sensible. Possibly it would have been better if I had just censored it quietly, but I felt it necessary to make an explanation of why I did this, more for self-justification than for any other reason, because I've always been such an opponent of censorship myself. And in this particular case, there was even less justification than there would have been for something unmailable; there is obviously no chance that the zine in question could have gotten us in trouble with any authorities, or have "corrupted" anybody. Frankly, it is just a case of me being a busybody. But I still think what I did was for the best, and I'd do it again. When someone's marriage is in serious trouble, and what's most needed is for the husband and wife to get together quietly and try to work things out between themselves, the last thing that can help is for a third fan to publish a fanzine Telling All in terms loaded with innuendos, so that everybody can know that the marriage is going on the rocks. Now I don't know whether this marriage can be saved or not, but I'm sure that fanzine won't improve matters a bit, and I do not intend to be responsible for distributing any fanzine that I feel stands a serious chance of helping break up a marriage. I returned it to the author with the suggestion that he personally circulate it among those fans already familiar with the situation, rather than giving it broadcast distribution; I gather that he disregarded this advice, handing it out to every fan at the Meeting with the statement that "this has been banned from Apa L". He also said he was going to send it through Apa F. That's up to him, if he doesn't care whether he makes it harder for this marriage to get back together or not. A secondary reason for censoring it does tie in with Apa L; the recent Jayn-Bĵo feud has left a bad enough taste in most members' mouths, without starting to put in gossip of a highly personal nature, that is obviously detrimental -- you yourself admit you "could figure out there was something going on", even though you didn't know the situation -- to the private lives of local fans. I feel this sort of material has no place in Apa L; I feel strongly enough about this that I am willing to resort to censorship to keep it out. Incidentally, it was the xeroxed copies of that fanzine that I censored; I didn't find out until later that it had originally been published on the back of a third page of Mike Klassen's zine for that Distribution, and that Jack Harness censored that first edition for the same reasons I later did. I'm happy to know that I do have support on this. ## It would be rather stupid to expect Bĵo to flunk out of her new night classes by putting all the time she'll be needing for studying into Apa L just to Prove that she's not "retreating under fire". What with getting ready for moving now, plus beginning night school, plus taking care of an ever-more-active child, I'll consider that we'll be lucky if she has time to continue running off 8 pages or so a week of Al's trip report plus doing some cover art for us (wait'll you see some of the covers she's working on now.), without demanding a regular Apa L zine of her own in addition to prove she's not abandoning us. This is one thing that's always causing trouble; whenever the Trimbles have to cut back on their publishing -- due to moving, having a baby, getting involved in other fan projects such as putting on Cons & Art Shows -- the rumor goes out that Bĵo is running away because Fandom has Woken Up and won't "let her control their lives any more". Then when she does pick up her publishing activity once again, this is supposed to signify that she's humbly crawling back to us. Needless to say, she hardly likes these unflattering charges, which are rather obviously not true if you just stop to think about it -- if she were "retreating under fire" or abandoning the club to Jayne, would she be giving talks at the Meetings, continuing to publish the LASFS NEWSLETTER, or helping out so much on picnics and other activities? Frankly, I wouldn't particularly blame her if at some time in the future, after she'd cut back on her publishing for the previous few weeks for some perfectly good reason, she did decide to drop out of Apa L entirely rather than have to go through another round of smug stage-whispers, "Well, I see Bĵo's crawling back to us again." Naturally, I hope this won't happen. However, a few weeks without an EXPLETIVE and here come the Running Away rumors again, even though her cover art is still appearing frequently and she's publishing Al's trip report regularly -- and just this weekend, she was wondering if she and John would be buying their new house in time for her to write up a report on it for Apa L, before she got completely involved with schoolwork; does this sound as though she's boycotting Apa L? ## Hey, that's right; our first Annish will be coming up in another month and a half -- Dist'n #53, on Oct. 21st. I presume everybody is preparing an extra-special issue of their zine to celebrate? ## Good luck with your new mimeo. I notice that you're having some problems right now, mainly with underinking. (You've also got two blank pages and another upside down, but that's not the mimeo's fault.) At the same time you're underinked in some areas, you seem overinked in others -- you've got that greasy look of fuzzy letters due to too much thick inking. I don't know how much of this is due to the machine and how much is due to your unfamiliarity with it, but I hope things get better as you go along. I'd also suggest you invest in a lettering guide or two for your titling.
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"Ansembourg possesses a monumental iron gate with a high stone
escutcheoned fronton which opens on the main courtyard
from which carriages have forever departed."
-- That Luxembourgeois tourist brochure again.
"Doesn't anybody ever come into the town?"
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Dave Van Arnam -- I consider Markfield's article on Marvel Comics in CAVALIER to be completely idiotic. The UCLA campus paper once published a similarly written critique of the Deep Social Significance to be found in The Wizard of Oz, but that was deliberately supposed to be a spoof on sociological-psychological book analyses, for an April 1st issue of said paper. As far as I can tell, Markfield's article, while full of a smug, superior, Putting Down humor, is supposed to be straight. It doesn't even make as much sense as the Oz spoof; that at least offered a chain of outrageous logic to justify each of its deep revelations. Markfield offers no explanation for his statements. He recounts the episode in which Peter Parker, a poor teenager living with his aunt, gains super-powers to become Spider-Man, and attempts to join the Fantastic Four to share in the reward money he thinks they collect, so that he can support his aunt. When the Fantastic Four explain they operate out of a sense of public duty and don't accept rewards, Spidey thinks they're rejecting him because they don't think he's good enough for them. After summing things up this far, Markfield mock-solemnly states, "Their rejection carries sinister tones of anti-Semitism." Considering that there's never been any mention of Semitism in the comics -- the characters all being of the standard comic book religion; unstated, with vague indications at a non-denominational Protestantism in case anybody should worry about their possibly being atheists -- this statement isn't even meaningful enough to be humorous; if it's supposed to be serious, it's totally cryptic. I suppose you noticed the spotty researching, such as stating that Superman lives in Gotham rather than Metropolis?