Pretty quiet month on the literary front I'm afraid. When I should have been reading I have been playing or reviewing games and I have often been asleep on the train rather than reading as usual. Sorry chaps, here goes on what I have seen (and is worth commenting on) this time.
R.C.Bell's Games to Play (Michael Joseph £14.95) is a large, coffee table book which should be a part of any game fanatic's collection. The book is basically a pictorial record of some 130 games ranging from quite recent issues to games from ancient Egypt. Many of the games undoubtedly offer very little in the way of play value but all are quite beautifully presented. Simply one to look at and enjoy.
Richard Kadrey's Metrophage (Gollancz £10.95, Ace $3.50) is probably best described as second generation cyberpunk. While we don't get any ice jockeys plugging into the nearest Ono-Sendai, we get all the the depraved, decaying drug culture that is the Los Angeles of the future and plenty of low key hi-tech. The scene is superbly detailed, full of sharp observations and vivid descriptions. The story concerns a down on his luck drug dealer, who happens to be a former pawn of the ruling 'committee'. He is streetwise beyond belief and linked to all sorts of nasty people. The setting is perfectly downbeat and forms a perfect background to the rather breakneck adventures that follow. I get the impression that while the novel stands perfectly as is, Kadrey may just be having a little dig at the whole punk literature genre. Nevertheless, the lead character is likeable and believable, the one liners are sharp and occasionally verge on brilliance and the whole thing just avoids going over the top. Excellent, but grab it while it's fresh. Book of the month, and not just because it's the only one I've finished.
Fanzines: Two of the best I've seen for some time and both concerning sports in which I have only a fringe interest. The Spur is a very unofficial fanzine covering, logically, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Even as someone who doesn't know the first thing about the game, it often seems that stories concerning Spurs are foremost in the news. Whether it be the unfortunate (and seemingly much liked) David Pleat, El Tel, The Shelf debacle, the season opening farce or, of course, the team's ever fluctuating performance. I suppose I have a greater awareness of these topics because two of my closest friends are regular supporters (and in one case a Shelf-defence agitator) which is where the magazine came from in the first place. So, as an outsider, how did I rate The Spur? Very highly. The magazine is A5 reduced from A4 and has 40 packed pages. The production standards are very high and for an 'amazing ten bob' it represents good value.
I saw issue three which contained a fair spread of articles: a well argued editorial, an article on racism in soccer, for and against comments on Nico Claesen and other heroes, a letters page and match reports. I found the match reports excrutiatingly boring but can see their relevance for a fan unable to travel to the games. I also had a chortle at the player profiles which, as ever, range from adoration to abuse with little middle ground. This is the factor that, on a team level, put me off the game in the first place all those years ago. In addition to the above articles there is the highlight, for me, of the whole issue; a superbly written piece on the struggles to defend the shelf from the unscrupulous developers and the ensuing cock-up which caused Spurs to lose league points. This, and most of the rest of the magazine, was surprisingly interesting to a complete non-fan and as such I have to regard it as a real find. Add the excellent standard of writing to the expected high level of wit and abusive and/or obscure nicknames and we have a model of its kind. The main feeling I get from the magazine is that of serious enthusiasm. While for me this is created by Danny Jackson or Mike Schmidt, for The Spur's readers it is personified by Paul Gascoigne and it is encouraging to see. It says a lot that I, a mere baseball fan, have ordered the back issues to see what else I'm missing. I note that Sportspages' floorspace is rapidly disappearing under their, err, comprehensive range of fanzines and if The Spur is typical then I can understand why. The Spur can be bought on match days from a devoted, but wet, salesman or from 40 Hebdon Road, Tooting, London SW17 7NS.
Also acting as floorcovering at Sportspages is Sticky Wicket, the only cricket fanzine I've ever come across. This is also a fine production and I have managed to find all but the very first issue. All of the copies I have are competently done and offer some real insights into the cricket scene in the UK and internationally. I don't feel I enjoyed them as much as The Spur, though I suspect this is because of the more general nature of the cricket coverage. I am not that up on the details and personalities of cricket so a lot of it went over my head, but that is my problem and not that of Sticky Wicket which is an essential purchase for the fan of the summer game. Available from John Brown Publishing Ltd, 216 Canalot Studios, 222 Kensal Road, London W10 5BN at 85p including postage.
The Ultimate One Day Cricket Match by Vic Marks and Robin Dare (Heinemann £3,95) is basically adventure gamebook meets Test Match Special. The idea is clever enough; you are a local league player who is miraculously invited to captain England against a top class World eleven. The execution is good but not brilliant. You get to decide all those things that only the Gattings of this World normally do, like 'If you choose to place two close-in catchers turn to 102' plus the more immediate decisions like 'If you attempt a full blooded cover drive turn to 67'. It is fun, I made a solid 27 and then a pathetic duck, but I think the text passages are just a tad too long to maintain the interest. perhaps it was trying to recreate a real cricket match in that respect. Ideal for the long winter nights that we don't seem to be having at the moment. Thanks to Alan Parr for the loan of this one and the tip on Sticky Wicket. Alan suggests in his letter that I should knock out an adventure gamebook for baseball - now that would be a project.
The phrase 'Graphic Novels' sounds so much more adult and impressive than 'Comics', so I shall stick with it. I have 'read' quite a few this month which perhaps reflects more on my current turbulent lifestyle rather than a return to childhood reading habits. Black Orchid is a three book set from DC which is almost worth buying for the artwork alone. It is quite unique, almost photographic in parts, and adds exactly the right atmosphere to the plot. The story is, however, very weird. I can't really say much more without spoiling it, so I will leave you to discover why. About £2.00 each and recommended.
There is a concerted public awareness movement in America, lead by The Christic Institute, which aims to expose the extremely dodgy activities that lead to the Iran/Contra hearings. The Christic Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm which has filed a suit against the key figures in the scandal. This admirable body is also behind the excellent film documentary Cover Up: Behind the Iran Contra Scandal which was shown on Channel 4 recently. This is just one of the avenues being used to draw attention to the cause. The latest step is the release of Brought to Light, a double graphic novel which covers both the Irangate scandals and the La Penca bombing. The latter story is superbly drawn and explained to show just what a bunch of crooks most governments are, especially the one across the Atlantic. The second story is also well done but is very hard to follow because of the artwork. This is not unlike Gerald Scarfe in style but it varies in almost every frame and is rather hard on the eyes. Nevertheless, still worthy. The final part of the package is a boxed set of 36 trading cards which show the major protagonists in the contra affair from good old Ollie North, Fawn 'Better shred than read' Hall, King Fahd and gold old Ronnie himself. Superb caricatures are backed by rather revealing text and I should think these will become very collectable. This is excellent work and while, like the book below, it shows just one unopposed viewpoint, it is a viewpoint that hasn't until now been given much of a say. Available from Forbidden Planet at £4.95 each.
Continuing the conspiracy theme, we turn to A Hero from Zero which was reviewed by Ellis last time. I do substantially agree with Ellis' comments - there is no doubt that it is a superbly constructed argument and is well written. I enjoyed the book, and welcomed the opposing viewpoint, but still regard it as something I suspected already, because of my basic assumption that most businesses and individuals are bent, even if I was unaware of the details. Enough cynicism, it is still a book that is worth your time.
I will take this delayed opportunity to mention my nomination for The Book of 1988 which singular accolade goes to Ken Grimwood's Replay, closely followed by Bonfire of the Vanities. Some of the more observant amongst you will have noticed that both last issue and this issue have been rushed, which is why I haven't produced the usual year in review and to do it next issue would seem too late. Life has not permitted enough time to do exactly as I would have wished with Inside Pitch 22 and 23. For this, I would like to apologise and hope that service will return to normal next time. Late News: No sign of Sports Illustrated yet dso I must presume the order never made it. I have today taken delivery of a CD player and foresee much expenditure buying discs for it. Report next time. I may see some of you at Babbacon, Hexacon or Origins. Meanwhile, to everyone else and especially the unfortunate Salman Rushdie, hang in there.
Mike Siggins. 16/2/89.
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