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Monday, November 30, 2009

Bryan Berry

A "Mysteries that have me mystified" column...

Bryan Berry was a well known name amongst science fiction fans back in the early 1950s. He appeared at science fiction conventions and even contributed to fanzines. More than this, he was a writer of great potential. Editor H. J. Campbell, who published the bulk of his work, wrote of Berry’s novel Born in Captivity, "Bryan Berry inevitably attempts to get away from the traditional gadgetry in order to present the more human and emotional side of life in whatever nature of space and time he is describing … it has never been quite so much in evidence as in this present novel, which is essentially a human story and not an elaborate scientific essay so often found masquerading under the title of Science Fiction."

Berry was a better than average author learning his craft in the paperback market yet already capable of selling to the American pulps of the time, where a number of his novels were reprinted; in fact, Berry was so annoyed by this (since he received no extra money) he approached the editor of 2 Complete Science-Adventure Novels, Jerome Bixby, who promptly accepted three stories which were all published in the same issue of Planet Stories. Had he lived, one imagines he would have followed in the footsteps of E. C. Tubb and Kenneth Bulmer, although his literary ambitions also ran to poetry, factual articles and criticism. By 1952, Berry was also collaborating with one of the editors of Nature on a series of educational film-strips devoted to such diverse subjects as mythology, paleontology, zoology, general science, history and anthropology.

Berry’s career was cut tragically short... and therein lies the mystery as there is no trace of his death in official records. For some years there was no trace of his birth, either, but that I managed to resolve when I discovered that his full name was Roderick Bryan Berry.

He was born in Ealing, Middlesex, on 26 January 1930, the son of Harold Hamilton Berry (a distiller) and Annie May Berry (née Kelley), and educated at Dulwich College. Berry worked as an advertising copywriter, staff writer for an agency, and sub-editor for an international literary monthly. His literary career began at 16, while he was still at school, when he began drawing comic strips for the independent children's comic publishers that sprang up soon after the war, following in the footsteps of two of his older school friends, Denis Gifford and Bob Monkhouse. His earliest known strips appeared in Comical Pranks (1947), published by Liverpool-based Ensign Comics, and Smasher Comics (1947) from Tongard Publishing, edited by Monkhouse. Never as prolific as either of his friends, Berry’s only memorable work was to take over (for one issue) the adventures of superhero Streamline (Streamline Comics 4, 1948). His drawing style was vigorous but that's the best that can be said of it. It was as a filler in one such comic that his first published SF story appeared: ‘Monster from Space’ (Merry-Go-Round 14) in 1949, although he had earlier contributed to Laughs with SEAC, the army newspaper.

At 17, Berry began his two years of National Service, later writing: "It was not until 1950, when I finished my period in the forces, that I discovered how much the field [of science fiction] had developed. This discovery, in turn, led to the thought that I might start trying to write the stuff myself. And the purchase of an antique typewriter and some paper made me convert these later thoughts into actions."

Berry quickly established himself as a writer of some note, his first novel (Return to Earth) appearing in 1951. Many of his novels take place after an atomic war or use atomic war as part of the climax – a stock device for 1950s SF but perhaps more significant to Berry who had grown up in a world at war; the plots often revolve around individuals who hope to rebuild a better society (or quash a mutant society), often using lost science. In Return to Earth it is Mike Woolf, who wishes to use long-forgotten science to take mankind from Venus back to Earth; a similar plot threads through the Venus trilogy (as by Rolf Garner) where Lord Kennet of Gryllaar takes over the society mankind has developed after centuries on Venus and uses old Earth science to create a golden age; The Venom-Seekers also involves a long-forgotten piece of technology which could spell life or death for the Earth.

Berry penned 10 novels published over a period of 27 months, the last appearing in February 1954. Only three more short stories were to appear after that date, one in the American pulp Planet Stories.

So what happened to Bryan Berry?

It is usually stated that he died in 1955, although no record of his death has been traced. Living in Petts Wood, Kent, Berry was an irregular visitor to the White Horse, the fan meeting point in London, although he was often only there to meet with his editors, and his disappearance was not noticed for a few weeks. How it was confirmed that he had died is unknown – perhaps somebody contacted his mother – but rumours of his death soon circulated. Most commonly it is thought he died in a motorcycle accident, although drugs, cancer (he smoked small black cheroots) and suicide (a rumour possibly inspired by the title of his last published story, 'Strange Suicide') also circulated. Nobody has been able to come up with a definitive date or cause.

Alternatively, and this I now believe to be the truth, is that he didn't die in 1955. He died in 1966, his death registered in Hampstead, London, in the third quarter of that year. He was 36.

Whatever the reason, it certainly cut short the life of a writer who, potentially, could have made a great name for himself.

Publications

Novels
Return to Earth. London, Hamilton & Co., Nov 1951.
And the Stars Remain. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther nn), Jun 1952.
Aftermath. London, Hamilton & Co. (Authentic SF 24), Aug 1952; as (Mission to Marakee, in Two Complete Science Adventure Books, Sum 1953).
Dread Visitor. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther 28), Nov 1952.
Born in Captivity. London, Hamilton & Co., Nov 1952; (as World Held Captive, in Two Complete Science Adventure Books, Spr 1954).
From What Far Star?. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther 40), Feb 1953.
The Venom-Seekers. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther 57), May 1953.

Novels as Rolf Garner (series: Venus, in all)
Resurgent Dust. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther 68), Jul 1953.
The Immortals. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther 78), Sep 1953.
The Indestructible. London, Hamilton & Co. (Panther 104), Feb 1954.

Comic Cuts: Charts w/e 21 November

Charts for week ending 21 November 2009. Please note that figures are very approximate. Last week's position (where known) in brackets.

Top 20 Annuals
1 (1) Beano Annual (approx. 18,500)
2 (3) Hannah Montana Annual (approx. 14,750)
3 (6) The Official Doctor Who Annual (approx. 14,500)
4 (2) Peppa Pig: The Official Annual (approx. 14,250)
5 (4) Ben 10 Alien Force Annual (approx. 13,400)
6 (5) Top Gear Annual (approx. 12,750)
7 (7) Horrid Henry's Annual (approx. 11,800)
8 (8) WWE Annual (approx. 10,500)
9 (9) High School Musical Annual (approx. 10,250)
10 Broons Annual (unknown, under 9,000 hereon)
11 Disney Princess Annual (unknown)
12 Star Wars Annual (unknown)
13 Dandy Annual (unknown)
14 The X Factor Annual (unknown)
15 Thomas and Friends Annual (unknown)
16 Robert Pattinson Annual: Beyond Twilight (unknown)
17 Clone Wars Annual (unknown)
18 Pokemon Annual (unknown)
19 Shoot Annual (unknown)
20 In the Night Garden Annual (unknown)

It's interesting to note that The Beano is selling as well as ever. I've just dug out some figures for November 2006 and in the first two weeks of the month sales were 26,375. In the same period this year, sales have been approximately 28,400. The big disappointment must be The Official Doctor Who Annual, which, in 2006, sold 44,580 and this year is lagging behind at around 19,350. That said, I don't know whether the figures are skewed: Nielsen Bookscan covers sales in bookshops, but when Amazon can offer all their annuals for under £4 (and free postage), compared to an average selling price in shops of around £4.35, maybe more people are taking the online option.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tyrone C. Barr

Split Worlds by Tyrone C. Barr (Digit Books D248, Apr 1959) Cover by C. Stewart.
The red flash disappeared as quickly as it had come and became as that on the right, a mushroom of coloured cloud. Dick Adams's first thought was that a fire had broken out simultaneously in New York, perhaps, and somewhere near the Baltic. Even as the thought occurred to him, however, there were several similar happenings in Britain, France, Spain, in the Atlantic itself, and between Norway and Sweden. Then Derek came in to report.
__'Bombing in progress,' he said in an agitated, frightened voice.
__Dick Adams's heart sank. His first impulse was to descend at once, to get down there and find out what the hell it was all about.

__Here is science fiction at its most amazing!
__Nine men and five women go up in an experimental Space Ship. Whilst they are away from Earth, a war breaks out, H-bombs being used, and the Earth goes up in flames.
__The members of the party are isolated in space... the only survivors of a global holocaust.
__The rivalries and conflicts that result between them, largely due to the uneven numbers of the sexes, make dramatic reading indeed!
Split World by Tyrone C. Barr (Digit Books R563, Feb 1962)

A mixed group of fourteen people are stranded on the Wheorld—"she is in fact just what you thought she was, a giant wheel"—when the world's powers destroy each other.

The small surviving population includes five women: "Every ship will carry them. The jobs they're wanted for are jobs for women—earth contact, secretary, cook, nurse and stewardess," the professor Trevor Wellis tells pilot Dick Adams, although the news isn't greeted to warmly. "Don't tell me our armies of the future are going into battle with a lot of screeching females at their elbow?".

When nuclear war breaks out, the inhabitants of the Wheorld quickly degenerate into petty bickering. Two years later, the "sulphuric-like" smoke clears over the planet and they find that it has tilted on its axis. The women are mostly cooped up together leaving a crew of randy men to play cards and discuss who they fancy (except the chaplain assigned to the Wheorld who spends his time comparing Christianity and Islam). Another two years pass and tensions are growing: some of the men mutiny, believing that Adams is running a private harem. The mutiny is soon quelled.

More years pass. Almost out of food, Adams decides to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and plans have to be made for a possible future. Adams introduces a No Marriage law and there is much philosophising over the notions of love and marriage. Back on Earth they find food supplies in the shape of giant, clawless lobsters. With shelters built, the small community begins, naturally, to pair off and the No Marriage ruling is dropped when one of the girls falls pregnant.

The ending is surprisingly dark as one of the crew, and then a second, is murdered. In fact, Split World is quite a surprising book—although not wholly in a good way: clearly, the initial set-up (five women, nine men) is deliberately designed to create tensions and the book eschews action for discussions about love and marriage. Potentially intriguing, except that all the sexual barriers broken in the 1960s are still firmly in place in this late 1950s novel and for the most part the attitudes towards women of fifty years ago are on show—the women stay in their quarters while the men discuss what should be done with them. The only twist is that the character through whose experiences most of the story is told is the first to be killed and one of the female characters, Martha, is one of the strongest in the book.

However, the book doesn't live up to the hype offered in an American edition (The Last 14, Chariot Books, 1960), where Barr was described as "the new British Science Fiction discovery" and the book as "a brilliant novel by a writer destined to join the ranks of the greats" comparable with On the Beach (Nevil Shute) and The High and the Mighty (Ernest K. Gann).

The Last 14 by Tyrone C. Barr (Chariot Books CB150, 1960).

Interestingly, the first edition was © Tyrone C. Barr, rather an oddity with Brown Watson/Digit Books, adjusted to © Brown Watson in the second edition. It would be interesting to know what the copyright notice in the US edition said.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Comic Cuts - 27 November

For me the good news is that I've broken the back of the artwork for Eagles Over the Western Front. Volume 1 is done and I should have volume 2 finished in a few days. Of course, when I say finished, I don't mean finished; I mean I have a set of master pages, cleaned, cropped, title panels and lettering all tidied up, original artwork incorporated (25% of the two books are scanned from original art) and ready for the next step. I haven't even started writing the introductions and there are other trifling tasks still to do, like designing covers...

But I'm getting there!

Which is good because we're already planning the next couple of Book Palace titles, which will include the Thriller Comics Index, another project that seems to have been a long time coming.

When I did my little round-up of releases last week, I forgot to include the latest Big Finish Judge Dredd Crime Chronicles audio adventure. Blood Will Tell, written by James Swallow, stars Toby Longworth as Dredd and Paul David-Gough as Garris Hale, an old foe of Dredd's condemned to the radioactive wilderness of the Cursed Earth. Now he's back in Mega-City1 and possesses a secret that could plunge the entire city into anarchy and chaos. John Ainsworth directs and the story runs for around an hour.

And I note that Amazon are now shipping copies of Charley's War: Underground and Over the Top.

Talking of Titan Books, they've just released the first issue of Tank Girl: Skidmarks, a 4-issue, monthly mini-series, revised ("now with added swearing") and re-coloured from its Judge Dredd Megazine appearance. Shoot me down in flames if I'm wrong, but isn't this the first actual honest-to-god American-sized monthly comic Titan have published since the heady days of Eagle Comics in the early 1980s? I know they've reprinted loads of US comics in graphic novel form and rebranded many hundreds more, and they run original comic strips in their magazines (and I emphasise magazines), but this is their first comicbook-sized comic in 25 years!

Three years ago I tried to discover what I could about artist Racey Helps without a huge amount of success, although we got some interesting and useful comments. Three years on and he has his own dedicated website, run by his family. I'm told that there has been some attempts made to get some of his work back into print. No news yet, but the family have recently put together five cards from never-before-seen original artwork. "At the present time we can offer five different greetings cards. Four are blank inside to enable a personal message to be inserted, one of which has a Christmas theme, and the other also has a Christmas theme with a seasonal greeting inside. We have also printed 100 only perpetual calendars and a selection of digital prints on canvas." You can find more details here.

Something I don't often mention is that I'm always tinkering with cover galleries that I've posted in the past and add to them whenever I can. Most recently I've added three images to the James Blish and four to Gavin Lyall. Above is the Chris Foss cover for The Seedling Stars which I'm particularly happy to have found as it's one of the first SF books I bought... and what made me want it was the cover. It also contains one of Blish's finest stories, "Surface Tension", but I didn't know that when I was gawping at the cover in Clarke's bookshop thirty-five years ago. Happy days!

Ben-Hur comes to an end tomorrow, so I'll have to think about what to run next. During next week we'll also have the usual recent releases and coming attractions columns, another "mysteries that have me mystified" column and whatever else I can cram into a 24-hour day.

(* Our column header is a page of original artwork from "Eagles Over the Western Front" drawn by Bill Lacey; a big Thank You to Geoff West of The Book Palace for the loan. "Eagles" is © Look and Learn Ltd. )

Robert Ayton

An interesting query arrives from Rupert Ayton, nephew of Eagle artist Robert Ayton: he's in the process of compiling a biography and has found some sketches amongst his uncle's work that he can't identify. Below I've compiled as best a listing of his illustrated books as I can, but perhaps an Ayton fan with copies can identify the sketches here. They have the feel of book illustrations... perhaps for the historical books he illustrated for Oxford University Press in the early 1980s?

PUBLICATIONS

Illustrated Books
The Story of Flight by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1960.
Great Inventions by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1961.
Railways by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1961.
Ships by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1961.
The Story of the Motor Car by David Carey. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1962.
The Ladybird Book of the Weather by F. E. Newing & Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1962.
The Story of Houses and Homes by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1963.
The Story of Clothes and Costumes by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1964.
The Story of Churches and Cathedrals by Richard Bowood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1964.
The Night Sky by Mary T. Bruck. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1965.
The First Ladybird Key Words Picture Dictionary by J. McNally. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1965.
The Story of Our Rocks and Minerals by Allen White. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1966.
The Ladybird Book of Toys and Games to Make by James Webster. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1966.
A Ladybird Book of Musical Instruments by Ann Rees. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1966.
A Ladybird Book of Your Body by David Scott-Daniell. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1967.
The Story of Oil by W. D. Siddle. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1968.
The Story of Lighthouses, Lightships and Lifeboats by Olwen Reed. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1968.
The Story of Radio by F. G. Goodall. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1968.
Tricks and Magic by James Webster. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1969.
The Story of Printing by David Carey. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1970.
The Story of Furniture by Edmund Hunter. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1971.
The Story of Arms and Armour by Edmund Hunter. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1971.
The Story of Nuclear Power by E. H. Childs. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1972.
The Story of Medicine by Edmund Hunter. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird), 1972.
Prehistoric Animals and Fossils by Michael Smith. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1973.
The Stars and Their Legends by Roy Worvill. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1973.
A First Book of Aesop's Fables retold by Marie Stuart. Loughhborough, Ladybird Books, 1974.
A Second Book of Aesop's Fables retold by Marie Stuart. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1974.
Aesop's Fables retold by Marie Stuart (omnibus; contains: A First Book of Aesop's Fables and A Second Book of Aesop's Fables). Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1975; revised with text by Audrey Daly, Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1983.
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp by Marie Stuart. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1975.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves retold by Marie Stuart. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1975.
Famous Legends Book 1: Theseus and the Minotaur [and] Perseus and the Gorgon's Head by J. D. M. Preshous. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1975.
Famous Legends Book 2: The Labours of Heracles [and] Jason and the Golden Fleece by J. D. M. Preshous. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1975.
Aladdin [and] Ali Baba retold by Marie Stuart (omnibus; contains: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves). Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1976.
Tales of King Arthur: The Deeds of the Nameless Knight by Demond Dunkerley. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1977.
Tales of King Arthur: The Knights of the Golden Falcon by Demond Dunkerley. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1977.
Tales of King Arthur: Sir Lancelot of the Lake by Demond Dunkerley. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1977.
Tales of King Arthur: Mysteries of Merlin by Demond Dunkerley. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1977.
Talkabout Holidays by Margaret West; illus. with Martin Aitchison. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1977.
Great Civilisations: The Aztecs by Brenda Ralph Lewis. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals by Graham Welfare (adapts earlier titles Dinosaurs by Colin Douglas and Prehistoric Animals and Fossils by Michael Smith); illus. with Bernard Robinson. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
The Ladybird Colouring Book of Soldiers and Castles, illus. with Frank Humphris. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, retold by Fran Hunia. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
Read It Yourself: William Tell retold by Fran Hunia. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1979.
The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Anderson, retold by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1979; revised text by Nicola Baxter. Ladybird Books, 1993.
The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids by the Brothers Grimm, retold by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1979.
Beauty and the Beast retold by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1980; revised text by Audrey Daly, Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1993.
Oxford Junior Readers series by Mike Samuda, illus. with others. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980-81.
Junior Science: Air by John Paull. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1982.
Stories From History Book 1 by David Oakden. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982.
Stories From History Book 2 by David Oakden. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Donald Cresswell

Here's another of my "mysteries that have me mystified" columns: Donald Cresswell was a prolific writer of crime novels under the pen-name Ross Angel in the 1950-54 period, writing primarily for Scion Ltd., who had a top-flight range of gangster writers (Vic Hanson, Dail Ambler, Bevis Winter, Michael Barnes). I'm pretty sure Cresswell, who was writing a book a month for Scion, used other pen-names or had his work tucked away under house names (created by the company and used by a number of different authors). Pierre Cresson was a Cresswell pen-name; he definitely also wrote at least one novel under the Nat Karta house name and I have a notion he may have also written as Hans Vogel and Bram Casson.

So, a prolific writer. But come the collapse of the paperback market in early 1954 he disappears as a novelist. A big surprise was to find him tucked away in the pages of Tarzan Adventures, the comic, a few months later. Tarzan is probably best-remembered as being the title that young Mike Moorcock took over editing in 1957, but Cresswell's handful of tales—three in all—predate that, appearing between July and September 1954.

After that, nothing. The appearance in Tarzan makes me think that he was looking for new markets for his writing... but where did he go? Maybe the romance market where he was disguised under a female pen-name, or the anonymous world of D. C. Thomson's many magazines.

So there are a number of mysteries here: for starters, I've never been able to find out anything about Cresswell—he seems to have left no trace at all; I'm sure there are novels that he wrote that have never been identified as his work; and what happened to him after the collapse of the paperback market?

From the evidence of the couple of Ross Angel novels I have, he was a reasonably slick writer of gangster yarns. And with at least thirty-two novels under his belt, one wouldn't expect him to quit writing. But despite many, many hours spent looking, I cannot find a single trace of him.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels as Ross Angel
Tomorrow—the Chair. London, Scion, 1950.
Dead Easy. London, Scion, Jun 1950.
KO for Keeps. London, Scion, Oct 1950.
Over My Dead Body. London, Scion, Oct 1950.
Smile Baby—Smile. London, Scion, 1951.
Hot Ice. London, Scion, Mar 1951.
Excuse My Gun. London, Scion, Mar 1951.
I’ll Fry Yet!. London, Scion, Mar 1951.
It’s Murder She Says. London, Scion, Apr 1951.
Bullet Proof. London, Scion, Jul 1951.
Mister Forty-Five. London, Scion, Jul 1951.
Drop That Gun!. London, Scion, Aug 1951.
Let’s Sort This Out. London, Scion, Aug 1951.
So-Long, Johnny!. London, Scion, Sep 1951.
Lugar Lullaby. London, Scion, Oct 1951.
To Sleep No More. London, Scion, Nov 1951.
Give Me a Gun. London, Scion, Jan 1952.
Get Out and Stay Out. London, Scion, Mar 1952.
It’s All Yours. London, Scion, Mar 1952.
You Don’t Die Twice. London, Scion, Mar 1952.
The Dame Came Late. London, Scion, Aug 1952.
Live Till You Die. London, Scion, Aug 1952.
Jail Bait!. London, Milestone, Dec 1952.
Call Me Sometime. London, Scion, Jan 1953.
Dame Trouble There (by Pierre Cresson, in English by Ross Angel). London, Scion, Feb 1953.
Dames Don’t Dictate. London, Scion, Feb 1953.
One-Way Trip. London, Scion, Apr 1953.
Voice of Vice. London, Scion, Oct 1953.
No Percentage in Death. London, Scion, Nov 1953.
Misguided Angel. London, Scion, Jan 1954.
Reckless. London, Scion, Feb 1954.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paperback Cover Cavalcade 7

Into the Darkness by A. G. C. Clarke (Digit Books R550, 1961)
One very hot day, we had had a bathe in the harbour to cool ourselves. As we were dressing, on the concrete hard, an unusual sound from the sky made us both look up.
__At first it was difficult to see anything. Then I noticed a small, brilliant silver flash, then another, and yet another, and the humming sound which had first attracted us became louder.
__The heavens seemed to be filling with bright silver discs, rather like the old "half crowns" in my father's collection. They grew larger as we watched, and their numbers rapidly multiplied.
__The men coming in from the wheat-fields stared up in amazement. Then, as the flying discs descended, they ran in all directions, shouting to us: "Take cover! It's an invasion."
Erroneously credited to A. G. C. Clarke on the cover and title page, the brief introduction by the author is signed Alfred C. G. Clarke (note the middle initials changing place). Such a combination of names and initials should be unique, one would think, but there were two A. C. G. Clarke's born two years apart in 1912 and 1914.

I believe our author is Alfred Charles George Clarke, born in Southampton on 6 March 1912. Through the phone book I've traced various addresses: 22 Cobbett Road, Bitterne Park, Southampton [1960/72], 60a Pentire Avenue, Shirley, Southampton [1975/81], then 25 Kenson Gardens, Sholing, Southampton [1982]. He was married to Margaret Campbell in 1934 and his death registered in Winchester, Hampshire, in June 2002.

The only clue the book above offers is that the introduction claims that the story came to the author when he was lying in a hospital bed in Tripoli, North Africa, during the latter part of 1944. Perhaps it is only part of the story, but it has the ring of autobiography to it. It's also worth noting that the introduction is dated January 1957, yet the novel was not published until 1961. A second SF novel, The Mind Master, followed from Digit in 1962. Beyond the Grave (Chard, Somerset, Avon Books), a 32-page booklet is Clarke's only other known work. He would appear to have been a part-time writer, his main occupation was as a road haulage contractor, being a Director of Clarke Bros. (Southampton) Ltd., a business he ran with his brother, Frederick J. Clarke until 1969; he was subsequently Secretary of the G. P. Trailer and Engineering Company Ltd. until 1975.

Martian Enterprise by Clifford C. Reed (Digit R638, 1963)
A violent group of renegade convicts escape from Earth's penal colony and capture a space-ship. They land by chance on a distant planet and found a new life there.
__A hundred and thirty years soon pass and their descendants fight their last battle against each other for the chance to once again ride the star lanes back to Earth.
__A gripping and action-packed novel, full of the ingredients we expect from modern science-fiction.
...and actually not such a bad book in comparison with many Digit titles from British authors. Like Ken Bulmer, F. G. Rayer and Lan Wright, Clifford C. Reed was a regular contributor to New Worlds, Science Fantasy and Science Fiction Adventures, with 15 stories between 1958 and 1965, although his first appearance was in Authentic SF in November 1954 with "Jean—Gene—Jeanne" and another early sale was to Nebula.

Clifford Cecil Reed was born in Durban, South Africa, on 13 May 1911 and worked in a variety of jobs: civil servant, brush salesman, storekeeper, school teacher and cashier. He served with the South African artillery in World War 2 and immigrated to the UK with his wife (Dorothy Mary) and son (Jeremy Clifford) in 1950. Here he worked for an engineering firm. His interest in science fiction was fed by Wells, Doyle, Kipling, classical mythology and American pulps, and he sold stories to South Africa, the UK and USA.

The above novel was based on three long, connected stories—"Children of the Stars", "Forgotten Knowledge" and "The Road Back"—that appeared originally in Science Fiction Adventures in 1959-60.

The Forgotten Race by Julius P. Newton (Digit Books R747, 1963)
A button was pressed. A whole fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles, armed with the biggest, latest and best thermonuclear warheads, left their underground silos and rose higher and faster, higher and faster. They speared their way towards the upper atmosphere and towards their targets on the earth beneath...
__This was it. The "impossible" war had been possible after all. The "absolutely unthinkable" had been so easily thinkable after all. For now, oddly enough, this was the only thinkable thing—the only course of action to take; insane and hopeless though it all seemed.
Scientists from the planet Llamchys (which, we are told in a footnote, is pronounced Klamchys) mount an expedition to the red planet Kampa, convinced they will find intelligent life; the expedition becomes a colony and, years later, the Martians (as they are now) try to help Earth, revealing to a Terran expedition that Llamchys, once the fifth planet of our solar system, had destroyed itself in nuclear war—the fragments of the planet were now the asteroid belt. The book has a twist in the tail, in that the head of the Earth expedition to Mars questions the veracity of what the Martians tell him: perhaps it is simply a story to frighten Earthmen back from the brink of their own nuclear war.

The Forgotten Race tries hard—a little too hard—to be a worthy novel, and ends up too earnest for its own good. At least the science is a little more plausible (staged rockets, for starters) than in the books of Ranzetta, De Timms & Co. who clogged up Digit's SF list. Although it wouldn't win any prizes, The Forgotten Race did manage a hardcover edition, from Arcadia House in the USA in 1967, and a further paperback edition from Ambassador in Canada. I've no idea whether Julius P. Newton is the author's real name or a pen-name.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Comic Cuts: Charts w/e 14 November

Charts for week ending 14 November 2009. Please note that figures are very approximate. Last week's position in brackets.

Top 9 Annuals
1 (1) Beano Annual (16,041)
2 (2) Peppa Pig: The Official Annual (13,885)
3 (3) Hannah Montana Annual (12,119)
4 (4) Ben 10 Alien Force Annual (11,479)
5 (6) Top Gear Annual (approx. 11,000)
6 (7) The Official Doctor Who Annual (approx. 10,500)
7 (5) Horrid Henry's Annual (approx. 10,300)
8 (8) WWE Annual (approx. 9,000)
9 (9) High School Musical Annual (approx. 8,750)

Reed de Rouen

Reed Randolph De Rouen was an American of half Native American (Oneida) extraction, born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on 10 June 1917 (not 1921, as the Internet Movie Database would have it). De Rouen was a supporting actor in film and television, based in the UK and very active during the 1950s and 1960s; his earliest role known to me was as a soldier (uncredited) in The Third Man. As well as his regular film appearances, he was also on the British stage in the 1950s, in plays such as Plain and Fancy (Drury Lane Theatre, 1956) and Subway in the Sky (Savoy, 1957).

Of note to SF fans were his television appearances as Pa Clanton in "The Gunfighters", a third season adventure of Doctor Who (later novelised by David Cotton) in which the Doctor—William Hartnell—travels to Tombstone of 1881 in time to witness the gunfight of the OK corral, and in an episode of The Invisible Man entitled "The White Rabbit", about a mad scientist’s plans to create an army of invisible animals; he also appeared a couple of times in The Avengers, although in its thriller days rather than the later, as well as writing an episode, "Six Hands Across a Table" for Patrick Macnee & Honor Blackman.

His science fiction novel, Split Image (originally published in 1955 and reprinted by Panther Books (763) in 1958 and Digit Books (R728) in 1963), at least showed a modicum of originality, although it has a derivative plot about a landing on an uncharted planet that is actually a mirror of the Earth. The story follows Aldo Chandler, an ex-bomber pilot and property dealer whose folorn lovelife eventually leads him to New York and a meeting with an old friend, David Evans, who wants him to co-pilot a spaceship created by a Doctor James MacDonald. Agreeing, Aldo is later introduced to MacDonald’s wife, Isbel, with whom he falls in love with, and meets Bradley, the physicist who has helped develop the astro-magnetic powered rocket they will fly.

The first half of the book is spent flight-testing and philosophising about love, flying and how beautiful the Earth looks from on high. Unfortunately, David is killed during the first test flight and, in true space-opera style, the spaceship is blasted off course by "a huge mass of solar dust, a hundred thousand miles of it, and travelling at great speed—straight for us!" on its flight to the Moon and crashlands on the planet Dextar, where Aldo meets the Lawyers, a group of robots left by the planet’s doomed population. More philosophy (war, religion) follows until the robots allow the astronauts to return to their rocket and leave for Earth.

If you are expecting a pulp novel (as I was), the book rather lumbers in comparison to most SF from the 1950s and 1960s; the coverline—"A novel of interplanetary menace"—promises something rather different to what the book actually delivers, which is a wordy anti-war, pro-life message.

De Rouen's The Heretic is not SF, concerning an American who, whilst fighting on the side of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, is arbitrarily picked out as a scapegoat in a communist trial of supposedly Fascist agents provocateurs. Although he escapes execution, thanks to a well-timed air raid, his life is subsequently dogged by this event, his left-wing friends shunning him and anti-communists mistrusting him for his left-wing leanings. During the Korean War he becomes a symbol for both sides and undergoes a series of contradictory brainwashings and re-indoctrinations. "Mr. de Rouen writes crisply, though the style occasionally gets a little too overwrought for its own good, and he is not frightened of tackling a big theme," claimed the reviewer for The Times (2 April 1964). "His novel inevitably recalls the world and some of the attitudes of Mr. Arthur Koestler, and does not suffer unduly from the comparison."

Reed De Rouen also wrote a number of teleplays for various series, including Ghost Squad, Crane, The Man in Room 17 and Man in a Suitcase (where he also appeared in one of his own scripts), and co-wrote an unproduced Doctor Who story with Jon Pertwee in 1970. His last film appearance (to my knowledge) was in 1972, and some years later—in 1979—he collaborated on a crime novel, Death List, which appeared as a paperback original from Futura. I’ve not seen this later novel and whether De Rouen wrote any others is unknown, but his two known novels give him a place in the canon of British paperback authors—and not many paperback authors can say they welcomed Joseph Cotten to Vienna in one of Britain’s greatest movies!

De Rouen died in London on 11 June 1986. He was married to Laila S. de Rouen (b. Benton, Montana, 22 June 1923) and they had at least one son, Reed R. de Rouen Jr. (b. Butte, Montana, 3 October 1946); De Rouen was married again to Claire Aplhandéry in in the early 1950s and had another son (Robin, b. 1955).

PUBLICATIONS

Novels
Split Image. London, Allan Wingate, Oct 1955.
The Heretic. London, Heinemann, 1964
Death List, with Robert McKew. London, Futura, Mar 1979; New York, Dell, 1979.

Plays

Films (as scriptwriter): The Six Men, 1951; Miss Robin Hood (story only) 1952.

Television (as scriptwriter): Ghost Squad, 1962-63; The Avengers, 1963; Crane, 1964; Orlando, 1965; The Man in Room 17, 1965-66; Lee OswaldAssassin, with Rudolph Cartier, 1966; Man in a Suitcase, 1968.

OTHERS

Films (as actor): The Third Man, 1949; You Can't Fool an Irishman, 1949; The Six Men, 1951; Lady in the Fog, 1952; Scotland Yard Inspector, 1952; Top Secret, 1953; Sea Devils, 1953; Blood Orange, 1954; The One That Got Away, 1957; The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, 1958; Murder at Site 3, 1959; John Paul Jones, 1959; Naked Fury, 1960; The Man Who Couldn’t Walk, 1960; There Was a Crooked Man, 1960; The Hand, 1961; The Traitors, 1963; The Pleasure Lovers, 1965; Billion Dollar Brain, 1966; You Can’t Win ‘Em All, 1970; The Revolutionary, 1970; Baxter!, 1972.

Television (as actor): Fireside Theatre, 1951; London Playhouse, 1956; The Count of Monte Cristo, 1956; ITV Play of the Week, 1957; The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, 1957; The Silver Sword, 1957; O.S.S., 1958; The Invisible Man, 1959; BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, 1959; Interpol Calling, 1960; The Four Just Men, 1960; Armchair Theatre, 1961; The Avengers, 1961-62; Z-Cars, 1963; The Third Man, 1965; Doctor Who, 1966; The Troubleshooters, 1966; Man in a Suitcase, 1968.

(* the photograph at the top shows De Rouen as Pa Clanton in the 1966 Doctor Who story "The Gunfighters".)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

V. Ranzetta & Graeme De Timms (a Luan Ranzetta coda)

Thanks to a mate of mine (cheers, Ray), I'm now the proud possessor of The Uncharted Planet by V. Ranzetta, another old Digit Books' SF "classic". I mentioned to Ray that I was looking into Luan Ranzetta and asked if he had a spare of Uncharted Planet. He did. And now I do.

The good news, if you're into bad science fiction, is that it's most definitely by the same writer as the Luan Ranzetta books. I'm still not 100% sure, but my best guess is still T. C. P. Webb. I need one of those computer programmes that analyses texts: why people waste time looking for possible Shakespeare plays when they could be looking into British pulp paperbacks I'll never understand.

However, you don't need much in the way of textual and statistical analysis to spot that the same writer behind Luan Ranzetta is also V. Ranzetta. You just need to read the first couple of paragraphs:
Grant Kirby turned his head sideways. The effort hurt. He persisted, because he had to know what Bob was doing. It was already five hours since the giant rocket-ship had left earth. By that time, they should have re-entered the earth's atmosphere, to receive their final instructions for the more hazardous journey to the Moon's surface.
__Grant knew that somthing must have gone radically wrong; and he was surprised that Bob had not spoken to him for some time on the inter-com.
__He, himself, had gone on sending back messages, at regular intervals, to the earth base, but had received none in return for over two hours. At first, this had not worried him much. Things sometimes go wrong. They were always rectified, sooner or later. There wasn't a thing those boffins down there couldn't do. Nevertheless, it was well past the scheduled time for their next briefing. They had to have a plan. They couldn't stay up there for ever—or could they?
Well, of course they couldn't. Wouldn't be much of a story if they did... so Grant and Bob worry over their dead instrument panels and, suddenly, the rocket takes off through space at incredible speed. And Grant's first worry? That they didn't get a chance to look out of the window.

Take a look at my notes on Luan Ranzetta and you'll see that this has familiar elements to all the other Ranzetta book: from The Maru Invasion: a dead rocket-ship and a burning need to look out the window to see what's happening; from The Yellow Peril, a solid belief in the brain-power of boffins to sort things out; from all four, a lack of any real knowledge of science, space travel or science fiction.

Talking of which...

Graeme De Timms was another Digit writer who never appeared elsewhere. My guess is that it's a pen-name: a Google search will show that De Timms is not a recognisable surname—there's not one "De Timms" born in the UK—and the only hits for Graeme De Timms are from people desperately trying to offload his books.

Three Quarters by Graeme De Timms (Digit R740, (Aug) 1963)
Jelly fish, stewed in the boiling sea, flopped around his head. The sand was red and sizzled; the pebbles burned and a prune walked across his stomach. In his mouth, where the teeth were crumbling lemon pips, where the tongue lay stiff and ragged, his brain poured in. The sky, black and thick, fell.
__His feet screamed and floated away across the steaming water and, still screaming, sank.
__He tried to howl, but between the lipless hole the brain, grey and streamy red, came and clogged his cry.
__Across the sands his hands fled on bloody fingers.
__The sand sank and he lay, pulsating and throbbing, in a wealth of rum.
__He soaked it like a sponge.
__He dissolved in a fleshy vapour.
__And he knew—somehow—that here was Hell.
To quote a brief review from Aussie booksellers JimmyD: "This is quite entertaining, although reading the book for anything other than laughs would surely make your head explode."

Split by Gaeme De Timms (Digit R807, (Dec) 1963)
Either way meant death...
__Demehr stood at the boundaries of the Fringe, the land of the forgotten, the accepted end of the world. Before him lay starvation, madness, almost certain death.
__It was either that or the punishment of the Cosidi.
__The Cosidi, the dreaded secret police of the Imarikons. For a deserter like Demahr, capture meant a slow and horrible death.
Again a quote, this time from Don D'Ammassa, who called the book "one of the most boring after the nuclear war novels I've ever read, and the prose is clunky as well ... Some books deserve the limbo into which they fall."

In fact, both books deserve to be sent to limbo. But only after you've read them and marveled at them.

You have to wonder what "Graeme De Timms" was on when he wrote his novels. They're full of curious phrasing: "He had drifted through these days in a bewilderment amongst assorted reactions"; "Sympathy was disconnected from his feelings as he walked over the Square towards the remnants of a wrecked platform. Obviously it had been the focal point for a mass meeting of religious upholders"; "Not wishing to associate with the recently departed rowdy ones, he turned and went into the opposite direction"; "Ricocheting lead whistled and pierced the breeze"; "Obscene thoughts rattled through his brain. Words of unethical meaning gurgled in his throat ... The terms of life had twisted and whilst it was in his favour he brought the weapon down and smashed the youth's head with the butt, causing him to spin like a dancer with his hands flayed out. He brought the rifle back and shoved it into the youth's body. The body doubled up. Like a piston, the rifle came back and went forward and snapped the neck at the back. The body was propelled to the gravel, where it lay—spent", etc., etc. And these examples are all from a single chapter of Three Quarters.

Split is full of the same curious phrasing and includes one of my favourite bits of De Timms' writing, the Psycho Conscious Self Personality Identify Analysis. Relax. It's not about getting questions right... it's just to test your cerebral reactions:
What is the present predominant colour of your habit?
Which perfume to you use as a surface flesh deodorant?
How young are you in your present body?
Have you attained full ambition relaxation?
Which sex are you?
Which sex do you desire to be at the next eugenetic travesty analysis?
And, just when you're thinking "If only Graeme De Timms had written more novels," it seems that he did! The same confused, laborious style can be found in The Troglodytes, another Digit Book from 1962 and originally published in hardcovers as The Troglodytes; or, Dwellers of the Deep (Ilfracombe, Arthur H. Stockwell, 1961). This one is under the pen-name Nal Rafcam—"Macfarlan" backwards. Is this a clue to the identity of the author? Was he named Macfarlane?

The Troglodytes by Nal Rafcam (Digit Books R587, May 1962)
The speechless ones moved into the camp. Their lethal machines were triggered and like a flash of lightning the whole camp was ablaze. Every living person was killed instantaneously. After a few moments, all that remained of this holocaust of Hell was a pungent odour of burning flesh.
I'm now on the search for more books by the mysterious "Graeme De Timms"... I'll let you know if any turn up.

I've managed to avoid saying what made me grab the De Timms' novels off the shelf in the first place and why I've grouped them with V. Ranzetta. Take a close look at the cover for Three Quarters and now compare it to The Maru Invasion by Luan Ranzetta, which appeared some ten months earlier... it's the same cover with the spaceship removed.

P.S. (23 November): Good to know I'm not the only one reading this crap. David Langford did a mini-review of The Troglodytes for Fantasy & Science Fiction's recently published 60th Anniversary issue (Oct/Nov 2009).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Comic Cuts - 20 November

Another week with not much to report. I spent the whole week on Eagles Over the Western Front scanning original artwork and stitching the pictures together as I had to do them in two parts. Thanks to my antiquated computer (so fast when I first switched it on!) I had lots of spare moments while the machine was clanking its way through photomerge to dig around for info. on some of the authors and books I'd scanned last week, hence the rash of paperback cover galleries that have appeared on Bear Alley recently. Hope you're enjoying them, because I have many more.

With sales figures increasingly hard to come by, I haven't been running regular charts as I have in previous years. However, I've managed to get some rough figures for recent sales. No totals, these were just the numbers for the week ending 7 November, so it's just a snapshot and already a couple of weeks old.

Top 3 selling books
1 Guinness World Records (unknown)
2 The Associate by John Grisham (34,780)
3 The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (26,410)

Top 13 Annuals
1 Beano Annual (approx. 13,400)
2 Peppa Pig: The Official Annual (approx. 12,500)
3 Hannah Montana Annual (approx. 10,800)
4 Ben 10 Alien Force Annual (approx. 9,800)
5 Horrid Henry's Annual (approx. 9,200)
6 Top Gear Annual (approx. 9,100)
7 The Official Doctor Who Annual (approx. 8,850)
8 WWE Annual (approx. 8,000)
9 High School Musical Annual (approx. 7,800)
10 Shoot Annual (unknown)
11 Disney Princess Annual (unknown)
12 Broons Annual (unknown)
13 Star Wars Annual (unknown)

Here are a couple of books that should now be released: Captain Britain Vol. 4: The Siege of Camelot by Steve Parkhouse, John Stokes & Paul Neary (Panini UK ISBN 978-1846534331, 5 November 2009), Knights of Pendragon Vol. 1: Once and Future by Dan Abnett & Gary Erskine (Panini UK ISBN 978-1846534317, 18 November 2009), Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 14 (Rebellion/2000AD ISBN 978-1906735296, 15 November 2009) and Nikolai Dante: Amerika by Robbie Morrison, John Burns & Simon Fraser (Rebellion/2000AD ISBN 978-1906735128, November 2009).

Also due very shortly, Century 21: Escape from Aquatraz, ed. Chris Bentley (Reynolds & Hearn ISBN 978-1904674085, 30 November 2009), Charley's War: Underground and Over the Top (Titan Books ISBN 978-1845767976, November 2009), Dan Dare: Safari in Space (Titan Books ISBN 978-1848563728, 27 November 2009) and Tales of the Dead Man by John Wagner, John Ridgway & Will Simpson (Rebellion/2000AD ISBN 978-1906735197, 15 November 2009).

And, finally, our column header... a first look at the cover for Johnny Red: Falcons' First Flight. It's not due out until next February, but you know me... I don't like to keep these things to myself. The lead time on books is incredible these days: I heard from Carlton today that two of the books I've edited for them, due out next April, are already on their way to the printers.

Next week, more action from "Ben-Hur" and whatever else I can fit in around work.