August 27, 2008
A friend has just returned with his holiday snaps. He tends to favour destinations that would be below the bottom on my list of must-visit places. This year his destination was the Ukraine and Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor No 4. Yes, the one that suffered Nuclear Meltdown in April 1986.
There is a 30 kilometre exclusion zone around the whole area and yet they now let tourists quite close to the reactor. You have to sign a disclaimer though saying you won’t sue the Ukranian government if you subsequently turn green and start saying things like “Hulk smash!” There was only one geiger counter to share between the group. The next morning my friend decided to dispose of the shoes and clothes he had been wearing for the previous day.
Its called “Chernobyl” but is actually 18 kilometres from there. The nearest village is Pripyat. This place was only built in the 1970s to house the families of the Nuclear Plant workers. They weren’t evacuated until almost 2 days after the accident. Still unsafe and abandoned it must be an eerie place to visit now and see the derelict school, sports centre and funfair.
The Reactor meltdown only happened because they were conducting some sort of test/experiment/maintainance exercise which went awry. Which got me to thinking. We all know what a big bang splitting an atom made. Scientists are soon going to try to split the bits that make up an atom. Did we ought to be fiddling with things when the results are uncertain? Will that make an even bigger bang? Who knows?
Deep under the Franco-Swiss border not too far from Geneva is CERN. They have been experimenting with particle acceleration for years and have built an amazing underground facility 27 kilometers in circumference to house their experiments.
The Large Hadron Collider is currently planned to be activated on the 10th of September 2008. The scientists hope to change our knowledge of the universe by finding the hypothetical “Higgs Bosun” particle. There is also the theoretical possibility that they may create a “Black Hole” and blow up the whole planet.
This underground facility is on a massive scale and makes fictional things like the villains lair in a James Bond film or the “StarGate” in the TV show seem tame in comparison.
In their favour it must be pointed out that it is thanks to these European boffins at CERN that the World Wide Web exists. Although the “internet” had existed as linked college etc computers since the 1970s it wasn’t until the English scientist Tim Berners-Lee’s need to facilitate CERN’s massive number-crunching (amazingly as recently as 1989 !!) that the world wide web as we know it began. And CERN’s current mega-number-crunching is about to move the world wide web into its next bigger better faster stage…if the planet is still in one piece after September 10th 2008 !!!
PS: When they switched the thing on they finally told us that it would be weeks before it built up enough speed to create any particles/destroy the planet. Then it blew a fuse/magnet and the whole thing had to be powered down. It isn’t going to be back on line till the Summer of 2009. By then the planet Nibiru will probably have crashed into Earth anyway……….
PPS: Actually the lastest report for June 2009 pushes the switch-on back to October 2009 so we’ve still got time to put our affairs in order.
August 24, 2008
Listening to the Dutch Pirate stations like Radio Noordzee, Mi Amigo and Veronica in the early 1970s I was exposed to the music of Kayak, Alquin, Ekseption, Golden Earring, Shocking Blue, Supersister and Focus. Not to mention Bolland and Bolland and Mouth and McNeil !!!. But the best pop group from the Netherlands in those days has to be Earth and Fire fronted by Jerney Kaagman.
I went to enormous lengths to obtain their LPs at the time, having heard the string of fantastic singles like Invitation, Ruby is the One, Wild and Exciting, Maybe Tomorrow Maybe Tonight and my particular favourite, Memories. There are a few CDs available including this one containing the above hits.
There is also a (Dutch) DVD containing a number of their TV appearances. I see that a few of these have appeared on YouTube.
August 23, 2008
I think these types of comics brought about the 1990s decline. The market became swamped with similar looking comics. The art was ok but the plots were confusing and convoluted crossing many titles in Malibu’s “Ultraverse”. Despite many fans and sales figures that today would be considered very respectable, once Marvel had taken over Malibu the end was quickly in sight. The best thing you could say about them was the state-of-the-art digital colouring which made the Marvel and DC books of the time with their flat garish colours look feeble in comparison.
August 22, 2008
August 20, 2008
If you were producing a mostly futuristic science fiction magazine in 1978 would YOU give it a title that was a date less than six years in the future? Probably. Thanks to the 1948 George Orwell novel the number/year “1984”, although now a lifetime ago in the past, still seems to be a short-cut way of describing the (not altogether pleasant) future. (And the UKs own 2000AD comic is still thriving, unchanged despite the years having overtaken its title.)
The contents of “1984”, as with all of Warren’s output, was variable. Without many continuing characters in Warren comics anything and everything could appear….upcoming artists/writers dipping their first hesitant toe into the murky waters…old established artists/writers wanting an assignment with a little more freedom to let their hair down….or just wanting a job! Mix in a few bought-in stories and some Spanish/South American artwork and you had magazines that seemed more European and less juvenile than many of the others available at the time. (Remember the independent comic “explosion” didn’t really take hold until the mid 1980s).
Issue No 1 sets out its clear mission statement on the inside front cover. I’m sure there are a minority who might take offence at the subject matter of some of these stories (insulting other races/treating women as objects..not to mention the “sex” and “violence”) but I think you have to bear in mind that the 1970s was a different planet! “The Saga of Honeydew Melons” written by Nicola Cuti and well drawn by Estaban Maroto is fairly representative of what you might find within an average issue of “1984”.
There were 10 stories in this premiere issue counting this uncredited one-pager. As Jim Stenstrum is listed in the contents page as both an author AND an illustrator, perhaps this mini-saga can be attributed to him. I believe he painted the cover of Issue No 17 (by which time the magazine had been re-titled “1994”).
With a cover and a “Mutant World” episode by Richard Corben, a quirky “elf” story written and drawn by Wally Wood, a gruesome and bizarre sideways story called “Once Upon Clarissa” by Bill Dubay and Alex Nino and an odd story called “Bugs” this magazine actually contains a large variety of styles.
One of my two favourite stories in the magazine is “Faster than Light” written by Jim Stenstrum with expressive art by Luis Bermejo. A farmer (?) has discovered a new form of propulsion!
The title appears on the second page of the story. I’m not sure why those kids are killing a cat though………………
The “science” behind Elias Newton Zong’s “Zong Drive” seems almost plausible!! The sound effects are good too….
My other favourite story is “Momma can you hear me?” written by Nicola Cuti and beautifully drawn by Alex Nino.
August 19, 2008
Here’s an old UK Fanzine from 1995 which seems appropriate as Skrulls are the current topic of conversation. They’ve been around since the beginning of the Marvel Universe. When they first appeared in Fantastic Four 2 they seemed rather stupid and were easily outwitted, frightened by a copy of “Journey into Mystery” and transformed into cows! In a later Fantastic Four Annual John Byrne revisited this idea with Skrull milk infecting the locals. Reed Richards evidently hadn’t considered those consequences. I believe the “Skrull Kill Krew” from 1995 had some oblique connection to that earlier premise (Skrull burgers?). I haven’t read too many of the current Secret Invasion comics so I don’t know if this 5 issue mini series connects with that or not.
August 18, 2008
I try to express myself in this blog but usually fail miserably. There is an art in writing well. Often million-selling novels don’t contain great writing. Great writing is hidden in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them newspaper columns. I love Caitlin Moran’s articles in The Times. Howard Jacobson (in The Guardian?) has a flair for the english language that befits his literary/education background. Julie Birchill in her pop newspaper/Modern Review days. Jeffrey Barnard in The Spectator when he was merely unwell rather than his current situation of being deceased. People whose names I forget (or never actually got round to remembering) in Mojo music monthly. Even MacBiter in “Computer Shopper” magazine who managed to write entertainingly for years about absolutely nothing.
In my opinion one great overlooked writer is the late Jack Trevor Story. How many people have actually heard of Jack and how many of his books are still in print today? For a time he made a living writing TV scripts and pulp detective stories but is probably most remembered for his comic novels about dissolute characters evidently based upon himself. Much more of his writing appeared in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it places like the 1950s monthly pulp Sexton Blake Library or Punch or various newspaper columns.
My favourite novel by Jack is “I sit in Hanger Lane” about a guy forever dashing between wife and mistress until he can’t remember where he should or shouldn’t be at any one time. He only seems to be aware of his surroundings when he finds himself in his car stuck at the Hanger Lane traffic lights. I’m sure the whole book, as with everything Jack wrote was a watered down version of the even more amazing/eventful/mad things that actually happened to him in real life.
JTS was a larger than life character and perhaps his own worst enemy. According to various sources he sold film screenplays for a fraction of their value and wrote scripts for many TV shows and knew many influential people but never managed to capitalise on it. Allegedly throughout his life he was always short of money. And yet he had a succession of wives/girlfriends until late in life. Even towards the end when he became ill he wrote with such passion. The fact that Michael Moorcock (no slouch himself with hundreds of books to his name) thinks Jack Trevor Story is one of the greatest writers who ever lived says it all really.
Follow this link for more info about this fascinating writer. Here is an example of his writing from an issue of The Sexton Blake Library pocket book:-
“There is a sadness which grows from the seeds of remembered happiness;
there is a weariness which springs unrequested from the
remembered fountains of youth;
there is a nostalgia conjoured from faraway places and gone people and
moments which have long since ticked into the infinite fog.”