Month: October 2018

Derrick Ferguson Gets Stung By SKORPIO

Skorpio-front

 

Print Length: 337 pages

Publisher: WordFire Press (October 14, 2013)

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Language: English

ASIN: B00FWG9CLA

If you’re as well read as I think you are (and you must be…why else are you reading book reviews? You’re looking for something good to read, right?) then you should have some familiarity with the name Mike Baron. Mr. Baron first landed on my radar when I discovered his innovative science fiction comic book “Nexus” which he co-created with Mike Rude. Much like other great comic book pairings like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers or Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon, the two of them made magic together and if you haven’t read “Nexus” yet then you should correct that at your earliest opportunity.

Mr. Baron has also written many other comic book titles but in recent years he’s been working in prose, writing some really compelling novels such as “Helmet Head” which I really enjoyed. That’s a book you really ought to pick up as it reads like the lost novelization of a John Carpenter movie. Yeah, it’s that good.

SKORPIO is almost as good. It’s not a roller coaster ride like “Helmet Head’ which reads like a runaway train going downhill from start to finish. Mr. Baron takes his time setting up the situation and the characters before he gets to the guts of his story but I appreciate a writer who has the confidence to take his time to take us where we need to go so he can most effectively deliver the goods later on and yeah, SKORPIO delivers.

Vaughan Beadles is a Professor of Anthropology at Creighton University in Illinois where he enjoys a near rock star status. He’s too handsome for his own good with a gorgeous wife and beautiful baby boy. Beadles is riding high due to his acquisition of relics belonging to a previously lost Southwestern Indian tribe, the Azuma. But all that comes to a screeching halt when Beadles is framed for stealing some of the artifacts. And if that wasn’t enough, one of his students dies from a scorpion sting that he got when Beadles lets the kid get an unauthorized sneak peek at the artifacts.

His life rapidly falls into ruin. His wife leaves him, he loses his job and all of his money goes toward his legal fees. The only way Beadles can see to salvage his life is to find where the Azuma actually lived and prove his theories to be true. In his quest to find the birthplace, Beadles runs into a truly amazing diverse cast of characters. Some of them you’ll wonder what the hell they’re doing in the book but trust me, part of the enjoyment of reading SKORPIO is seeing just how Mike Baron pulls all of these characters together and makes them integral components of the story.

It takes a while for the title character to show up but when it does it’s worth the wait. Skorpio is a vengeful ghost of hideous power who appears in the sunlight, which is a nice twist as ghosts are usually associated with the nighttime. I also liked Mr. Baron’s choice of protagonist. Vaughan Beadles isn’t exactly squeaky clean in his dealings and he’s a bit of an opportunist, always actively looking for an angle to advance his career and fatten his bank account.

In fact, most of the characters in SKORPIO are a little more on the gray side than you might expect but I enjoyed that as it gave the book an unpredictability I found refreshing. There’s never any way to tell what these characters are going to do or say and for me, that’s always welcome in my fiction.

Mike Baron’s prose is as uncomplicated and straightforward as the word “No.”  He doesn’t go in for flowery purple prose. He’s a born storyteller who is concerned with only one thing: telling you a good story. He’s not interested in showing off his vocabulary or trying to impress you with his cleverness in turning a pithy phrase. He just wants you to have a good time and I certainly did have a good time reading SKORPIO.

Derrick Ferguson Enters THE CRYPT OF DRACULA

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Paperback: 230 pages

Publisher: Quickdraw Books (May 27, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0984954821

ISBN-13: 978-0984954827

Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 4.9 x 7.9 inches

In the forward to his homage to those classic Hammer Dracula movies THE CRYPT OF DRACULA, Kane Gilmour relates his glee at watching Universal and Hammer horror movies on late night TV during the 1970’s. While reading this I nodded my head in agreement because like him, I also grooved on those self-same movies back in the day. I lived for Saturday afternoons and nights when those movies were usually aired. He clearly sets for forth his mandate in his forward: he’s not out to re-invent the vampire novel or Dracula as a character. He just wants to present a simple, familiar Dracula yarn that hopefully will invoke the spirit of classic Hammer horror. Well, that he does. Maybe a little too well, for my taste. But we’ll get to that after the obligatory plot summary;

Master stonemason Andreas Wagner accepts a commission to work on restoring an old castle high up in the Carpathian Mountains. Wagner eagerly accepts the commission as he sees it as a way for him and his beautiful wife, Anneli to start life over. Their young daughter has died from a strange malady and since then, Anneli hasn’t uttered a word.

Upon arriving at the castle, Wagner finds things are a little odd, to say the least and the eccentric Count Dracula who owns the castle has a strange set of instructions for the way he wants the work to be carried out. Wagner also notes that the man keeps some really weird hours and has a servant who is never around but must be watching Wagner constantly as he appears to be able to anticipate Wagner’s every need.

You know how this goes…at first everything is sweet potato pie. But then the weirdness starts. Wagner is almost killed by falling masonry. Strange, gorgeous looking women in smoky flowing nightgowns roam the halls of the castle at night. The villagers seem to know something but they ain’t saying what. There’s a mysterious old man who sits in the corner of the tavern drinking, watching everything and biding his time. Despite his growing misgivings, Wagner stays on the job as he’s arraigned for his wife to join him, along with his best friend/assistant Fritz and Fritz’s lusty, busty girlfriend Gretchen. And once they arrive at the castle, that’s when the crazy really gets cranked up.

While reading THE CRYPT OF DRACULA I couldn’t help but feel that next to his keyboard Mr. Gilmour had a checklist of elements that had to go into a Dracula story: Crumbling Old Castle? Check. Vampire Brides of Dracula? Check. Half-Mad Faithful Servant Totally Dedicated To Dracula? Check. Cowering, Fearful Villagers? Double Check. Aged Fearless Vampire Killer? Triple Check. If you have even a passing familiarity with Hammer’s Dracula movies then there’s nothing here that’s much going to surprise you. Which is what Mr. Gilmour is telling you right up front. He’s not trying to startle his readers with innovation or re-invention. His purpose is to tell as simple and straightforward a Hammer inspired Dracula story as possible.

And in doing so, It’s my thinking that maybe he bent over a little too backwards to color inside the lines. There’s plenty of wiggle room he has in this story to really bust loose and indeed, there were several spots in the story where I wondered if he reined himself in, dedicated to his self-imposed mandate to present the familiar.

As a result there isn’t anything in this story that’s going to take you by surprise if you decide to read it. The characterization is just enough so that we recognize the roles these characters are going to play in the story. Dracula himself is off screen for much of the story and he’s very much in the style of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, who spoke very little and in a couple of them didn’t speak at all. But when he shows up, believe me, he makes his presence felt.

So should you read THE CRYPT OF DRACULA? If you’re looking for a prose version of a Hammer horror movie then you’ve come to the right place. Mr. Gilmour’s prose is lush and lavish and he works damn hard at evoking the right atmosphere and mood for this type of story. The language, violence and sex are PG-13 level so you don’t have to worry about being offended or shocked. It’s an undemanding, casual read and should be approached in that spirit. I’d like to see Mr. Gilmour write another Dracula novel but this time allow himself the room just amp up the crazy, splurge with the sex and gore and really go nuts.

Derrick Ferguson Takes Aim At THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS

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By John Peel and Dave Rogers

Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (June 15, 1998)

ISBN-10: 0812589092

ISBN-13: 978-0812589092

Mention The Avengers to your average Joe or Jane Punchclock and they’ll most likely assume that you must be talking about the blockbuster movies featuring a team of Marvel superheroes. And they’re right. But there’s another team of Avengers that has just as loyal following as those other Avengers ever since the 1960’s. The British TV series THE AVENGERS starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed. Originally, he wasn’t the main character. That was Dr. David Keel played by Ian Hendry. THE AVENGERS started out as pretty much a straight up crime drama but that changed once Steed became the main character and was partnered up with a succession of beautiful assistants. Women whose names soon became legendary due to their intelligence, sophistication, style, talents and abilities that made them easily as equal as their male partner out in the field. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) and Tara King (Linda Thorson) worked with Steed for a shadowy branch of the British Secret Service (given the name of “The Ministry” in the disastrous 1998 movie) combating enemies that became more bizarre the longer the series ran.

Robotics, time travel, mind control, invisibility, super computers wanting to take over the world, The Hellfire Club (a concept borrowed for Marvel Comics “X-Men” series) mad scientists…THE AVENGERS had all that and more, incorporating elements of science fiction, satire, parody, droll British wit flavored with eccentricity into an entertaining one hour package that ran from 1961 to 1969. There also was “The New Avengers” which ran from 1976 to 1977 that saw John Steed with two new partners played by Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt.

We won’t talk about the movie, okay with you?

But what I would like to talk about is THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS. Judging from the date I’m assuming it was published to compliment the feature film. One has to wonder why there wasn’t a proper movie tie-in novelization but in this case I’m glad there wasn’t. THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS is just fine the way it is.  It’s not a masterpiece and it’s not a book that I insist that you actually have to read but if you’re a long-time fan of the series then you’ll have a good time with this.

Somebody is going around killing agents of The Ministry. Somebody that looks a whole lot like John Steed. And he’s not a fake. Thanks to computerized voice analysis there can be no doubt. It actually is Steed. And considering his knowledge and experience, a rogue Steed is the greatest threat imaginable to British Intelligence. A reluctant Tara King is giving the assignment to eliminate him.

But while this is going on, Steed is contacted by a retired colleague who gives Steed a special assignment that comes right from The Prime Minister himself: Steed’s superior, codenamed ‘Mother’ has apparently gone rogue and is killing his own agents. Steed is given the assignment to eliminate him.

Now believe it or not, this all ties in with a wild gorilla roaming the English countryside being hunted by Cathy Gale and Dr. David Keel’s investigation into a lethal plague rampaging through the African nation of Katawa. All of these diverse threads lead everybody to Knight Industries, owned and run by Mrs. Emma Peel as apparently Knight Industries is the new birthplace of the deadliest foes The Avengers ever faced: The Cybernauts. Before, Steed and Mrs. Peel barely survived their encounters with the murderous robots. Now they have to face a new generation of Cybernauts that are faster, smarter and more powerful than their predecessors. Even with Dr. Keel, Cathy Gale and Tara King on their side, can they once again defeat the insane genius who has given The Cybernauts new life and save the world?

I trust you see the main attraction this book had for me. For the first time, Steed is working with all his former partners on the same case. There are a couple of others that don’t appear here such as the nightclub singer Venus Smith and Dr. Martin King but they only appeared in a handful of episodes each and they’re nowhere nearly as well known. A lot of the enjoyment I got out of the story was seeing how Steed’s partners interacted and worked together. Tara King isn’t very happy about Mrs. Peel so obviously enjoying the adventure and working with Steed again. Dr. Keel and Cathy Gale discover that they’re quite the formidable team of brains and brawn. And it’s downright comforting and touching to see that Steed seems to be taking an almost fatherly pride in the way his former partners mesh their talents and skills together.

And I also liked how the book is set in period. There’s a part where Mrs. Peel and Tara are talking and Mrs. Peel makes a reference that it’s been a year since she and Steed’s partnership ended. So apparently Steed and Tara managed to get that spaceship they accidentally flew off in at the end of the final episode back to Earth. Being set in period gives the writers a chance to have fun with the technology, terminology and British eccentricity of the 1960’s. It’s also pretty funny at times, especially the scene where a poor Russian agent is harassed by one Avenger after another, all looking for information on Steed’s whereabouts. It’s also appropriately bizarre in the scenes where Cathy Gale battles a gorilla and where Steed and Mrs. Peel have to fight off Cybernauts disguised as flying stone angels in a graveyard.

So, should you read THE AVENGERS: TOO MANY TARGETS? Like I said, if you liked the TV series and you’re a fan then I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to. It’s a light, breezy read and the characterizations of Steed, Mrs. Peel and Tara are as I remember them. And even though I’m not familiar with Cathy or Dr. Keel, the writers sold me on them being worthy partners of Steed and just as deserving to be called Avengers. Well-written action scenes and you can’t beat a cyborg Neo-Nazi mad scientist with an army of killer robots as bad guys. It’s a fun read.