Sturgeon’s Strange Orbit

Sturgeon In Orbit

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to win an eBay auction for ten vintage novels by Theodore Sturgeon for a relatively paltry sum. Amongst them was this rather fine 1973 Corgi reprint of Sturgeon In Orbit which contains a short story and four novellas. I already had an earlier copy of this collection but couldn’t let the auction pass because of this fact, there were nine other books at stake after all. This version has a wonderfully tactile ribbed cover and features suitably groovy wraparound art which is sadly uncredited.

Sturgeon Orbit Front

Sturgeon Orbit Rear

A Touch Of Strange

Following the successful conclusion of this auction I decided to search for more books by Sturgeon and found this 1978 Daw collection of shorts being offered by a US bookseller. Frankly, the cover had already convinced me that I should have this book even before checking its publication history on the indispensable ISFDB website (here). The bizarre painting is by Hans Arnold who was also responsible for the unsettlingly odd cover art which graces a 1974 Daw reprint of Robert Sheckley’s Can You Feel Anything When I Do This? Strange indeed!

Sturgeon Strange Front

Sturgeon Strange Rear

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The Terror And The Horror… And More Terror!!

Three recently obtained books promising all manner of blood tingling terror and mind numbing horror within their musty, age-speckled pages.

Terror in the Modern Vein edited by Donald A. Wollheim

You will not find a single ghost, werewolf or vampire in these pages. Instead you will find something of that which haunts our times now. You will meet the unnamed which is amongst us today.

A decent collection of ‘modern horror stories’ published by Digit books in 1955 which, contrary to the claim that there are no vampires to found within its pages contains a rather good tale of psychic vampirism by Fritz Leiber. The final story, Dave Grinnell’s hilarious The Rag Thing is enjoyable hokum featuring a killer rag… obviously. The cover art is uncredited in the book but is identified as the work of William Rainey. Contents are as follows;

Robert Heinlein – They
Fritzchen – Charles Beaumont
Friz Leiber Jnr. – The Girl With The Hungry Eyes
Robert Sheckley – The Fishing Season
Ray Bradbury – The Crowd
H. P. Lovecraft – HE
Philip M. Fisher Jnr. – The Strange Case of Lemuel Jenkins
David Grinnell – The Rag Thing

Terror In The Modern Vein Cover

Cry Horror! By H. P. Lovecraft

Nothing in heaven or hell – and certainly not on earth – can equal the detailed spectres of horror and terror portrayed in these pages by H. P. Lovecraft.

Curiously retitled collection of short stories by the master of cosmic horror which originally appeared as The Lurking Fear. I’ve become a little obsessed with Lovecraft reprints of late as I replace my four volume Grafton collection from 1988, all of which have spectacularly ugly covers. This volume was published by WDL Books in 1959 and features a marvellous cover painting by Richard Powers. Contents are as follows;

The Lurking Fear
The Colour Out of Space
The Nameless City
Pickman’s Model
Arthur Jermyn
The Unnameable
The Call of Cthulhu
The Moon Bog
Cool Air
The Hound
The Shunned House

Cry Horror Lovecraft Cover

Science Fiction Terror Tales edited by Groff Conklin

In this collection of terrifying tales, you will read about what is perhaps the greatest terror of all… the hidden truth about yourself.

This great compilation of science fiction horror shorts by noted anthologist Groff Conklin contains the work of several big hitters (Bradbury, Sheckley, Sturgeon, Asimov) and also shares Heinlein’s They with Terror in a Modern Vein. It’s perhaps also notable for its inclusion of Philip K. Dick’s early tale of android impostors from 1953. My copy is the 1969 reprint published by Pocket Books and has a fantastic cover which is sadly uncredited.

Contents are as follows;

Introduction – Groff Conklin
Punishment Without Crime – Ray Bradbury
Arena – Frederic Brown
The Leech – Robert Sheckley
Through Channels – Richard Matheson
Lost Memory – Peter Phillips
Memorial – Theodore Sturgeon
Prott – Margaret St. Clair
Flies – Isaac Asimov
The Microscopic Giants – Paul Ernst
The Other Inauguration – Anthony Boucher
Nightmare Bother – Alan E. Nourse
Pipeline to Pluto – Murray Leinster
Impostor – Philip K. Dick
They – Robert A. Heinlein
Let Me Live in a House – Chad Oliver

Science Fiction Terror Tales Cover

Rural Weird Inspired Mail Art From The Ministry Of Lestaret

The surly postman often brings me a variety of wonderful objects which almost make up for the bills, flyers and junk mail he litters my hallway with each morning. Recently he has been delivering dozens of old books, the result of a rather good run of eBay auctions. Last Friday however, he dropped something through the letterbox which was wholly unexpected but highly desirable.

I occasionally receive pieces of fantastic mail art from a rather talented chap called Lestaret. His envelopes are instantly recognisable due to the elaborate decorations they bear and always bring a smile to my face as I carefully prise them open in the knowledge that another beautifully constructed curio awaits my attention. Inside this envelope was a most intriguing little handmade book which, according to the stamp affixed to the rear cover was inspired by my recent Rural Weird mix (here).

Lestaret Rural Weird Stamp

The book measures a little over 11×8 cm, has covers made from corrugated cardboard and is stab bound with a rough twine. The five leaves within appear to have been recycled from another volume and are overprinted with strange monochrome images, the final page features lyrics from the old English folk song John Barleycorn. It’s all very wonderfully, rurally weird.

Lestaret Rural Weird Book Cover

Lestaret Rural Weird Book Pages

Lestaret has a blog (here) which documents his many artistic endeavours and is highly recommended reading. He also has an online shop (here) that stocks some of the pieces which he produces, his up-cycled computer key and guitar knob badges are an essential purchase. This tiny volume is not for sale however and is a limited edition of just five, all of which have been posted to lucky recipients around the world. I feel very honoured to have provided the inspiration for this beautiful piece of patented curiology as issued by The Ministry of Lestaret.

The Strange Pen & Ink World of Phlegm and the Demons of Tom J. Newell

The main thing I love about blogs is the wealth of knowledge and boundless enthusiasm possessed by the people who write them. The endless diversity of subjects covered and the information contained within most blogs is truly staggering, something I couldn’t possibly have imagined I’d have access to during my pre-Internet teenage years. I have found several such blogs recently which cater for my somewhat outré taste in music and books resulting in a rapidly expanding list of items requiring further exploration.

The other kind of blogs which I like to frequent cover art and photography. One of my favourites in this category is Little Bits of Sheffield (here) which documents street art and other intriguing pieces discovered around my home city. One of the artists frequently covered here is Phlegm who has rightfully gained a worldwide following of late, his paintings cropping up at various locations all over the globe. There are some fine examples on his own blog too (here). I had commented on a brilliant photograph of one such piece on Saturday evening and began a conversation with the blog’s author during Sunday morning regarding a recently issued book of Phlegm drawings. I had attempted to purchase the book last week but was disappointed to find that it had been temporarily withdrawn from sale and headed over to eBay to see if I could find a copy there. I was horrified to discover that the vultures had already begun to circle and ‘buy it now’ prices were reaching £150. I totally object to this sort of crass exploitation of other people’s hard work and talent so resigned myself to waiting for the book to reappear in the online shop (here). During our exchange of comments however, the blog’s author kindly informed me that the book was being stocked by an establishment called The Old Sweet Shop in Sheffield and so I decided to give them a call to check if any copies were available. I spoke briefly to the shop’s owner Emma Hudson who confirmed that they had plenty of books available and then headed straight into the city in a state of excitement.

The Old Sweet Shop is located on Nether Edge Road in Sheffield and is a small gallery shop which stocks a variety of art, prints, cards, t-shirts, fanzines and other pieces which are sourced from local talent. A website containing contact details and full address is here. I chatted to Emma about the Phlegm book, copies of which were lined up neatly in rows across several shelves. She explained that Phlegm had worked on every aspect of the book’s production and was personally dispatching copies purchased through his online shop but had suspended sales until he returned from a trip abroad.

As I spoke to Emma my eyes were drawn to a grid of small square frames hung on the wall, each frame contained a print depicting the head of some kind of fantastical demon. She explained that the gallery was hosting an exhibition by local artist Tom J. Newell and directed me to a small room filled with a selection of prints and original pieces. The various images hanging on the walls featured snakes, skulls, vinyl records, bizarre creatures and oddly morphed faces. They almost looked like the glyphs, ciphers and crests of lost, eldritch societies. Tom’s exhibition is running at The Old Sweet Shop until the 31st of July and is very highly recommended. He also has his own site (here) which contains links to other work and an online shop. I couldn’t leave the gallery without buying at least one piece and so I opted for this stunning print which was made by Tom with assistance from Phlegm;

Tom J Newell Sweet Demons

When I returned home, I sat down with Phlegm’s book and spent the next hour poring over the beautiful drawings contained within its pages. There are no words to be found anywhere except for the spine and an embossed stamp on the cover which has a wonderfully tactile feel, almost like the image has been etched into the card. The drawings within are executed in an incredibly detailed manner showing layer upon layer of texture. It’s astonishing to think that each stroke was made using an old fashioned ‘dip and scratch’ ink pen which leaves absolutely no margin for error. The quality of the printing throughout is crisp and clear too, each drawing almost leaping off the page to reveal its myriad secrets. Phlegm’s style is instantly recognisable, the bizarrely clad figures, animals and weird contraptions he depicts are all products of a singular and hugely fertile imagination. When I reached the end of the book I discovered a fold-out section inside the back cover featuring many of these peculiar denizens of Phlegm’s mind in their natural habitat. These three panels alone contain so much lavish detail that I spent another hour trying to absorb everything that was going on.

Below are a few small examples of larger drawings but these don’t do this incredible piece of work justice, it truly has to be seen to be believed. However, don’t be tempted for a moment to part with obscene amounts of money over at eBay for this book. Make arrangements to visit Emma at The Old Sweet Shop in Sheffield to secure your copy for a much more reasonable sum then prepare to spend many hours in quiet contemplation as you lose yourself in Phlegm’s wonderfully strange pen and ink world.

Phlegm Pen and Ink Book Cover

Phlegm Pen and Ink Book Drawings

The Crocodile of Science and an Escape Into The Future

Yesterday, I happened to catch the surly postman outside my door as he was writing out a card informing me that he couldn’t fit a parcel through the letterbox. When I eventually persuaded him to hand over the package, I noticed that it was actually a number of padded envelopes which had been fastened together with a rubber band. I looked at the postman somewhat incredulously and asked, “Did you not think to remove the rubber band so you could deliver these individually?” He blew out his cheeks, rolled his eyes and turned to leave muttering indignantly, “Don’t try and tell me how to do my bloody job.” I am clearly not equipped with the kind of finely honed visuospacial skills required to make such judgements.

As I opened the parcels and sorted through another fine batch of old books, I was thrilled to find the following two beauties had arrived so quickly. I stumbled on these titles earlier in the week as I searched for something entirely unrelated, this is often the best way to discover such gems. I knew nothing of the author D.G. Compton when I placed my opening bids, the cover and brief synopsis of each book was all I needed to make a decision. The auctions ended later that day and I was the highest (and only) bidder in both cases, securing each title for the princely sum of £1.20. And so here they are for your viewing pleasure. Click on the pictures for a larger view;

The Electric Crocodile

This novel was originally published in 1970 as The Steel Crocodile. My copy is from 1973 and was published by Arrow Books in the UK under a slightly altered title, it would later revert to its original nomenclature for all subsequent repressings. I can’t find a reason for making this change, such things strike me as being a little odd. I haven’t had a chance to read this book as yet and so here’s the rather intiguing synopsis which prompted my speculative bid;

In answer to an unanswerable future, science has created Bohn, the omnipotent computer whose flashing circuits and messianic pronouncements dictate what tomorrow will – or will not – be. But Matthew Oliver is flesh and blood and full of questions – not nearly as certain as the machine he’s appointed to serve. And the right hand of science seldom knows what the left hand is doing…

The fabulously psychedelic wraparound art is uncredited but it is clearly the work of Chris Yates who also turned in a sterling cover for Arrow’s 1972 issue of Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick.

Compton Electric Crocodile Front

Compton Electric Crocodile Rear

Chronocules

Another of Compton’s novels which would be later issued under a different (much longer and odder) title, this is the first US paperback edition published by Ace in 1970. Once again, here’s the synopsis;

The Penheniot Experimental Research Village was a top-secret community with an elaborate defence system to keep away prying eyes. Inside the walls men rushed ahead with practical experiments to develop a means of time travel, while outside the everyday world fell victim to more and more plagues, strikes and rioting. The world was on the brink of chaos. Could the small band of scientists and chrononauts at Penheniot Village find a safe method of escape into the future before the violence and death outside destroyed them too?

The cover is credited to Leo & Diane Dillon who were an American husband and wife team of prolific, award winning illustrators. I particularly love the groovy futuristic purple typeface used on the front and rear.

Compton Chronocules Front

Compton Chronocules Rear

Tomorrow’s Harvest, Today

BOC Tomorrow's Harvest

Having a well stocked music library is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. I’m a bit of an odd chap I suppose as I don’t watch TV and prefer to spend my evenings listening to music, usually whilst reading a book. Music is constantly playing throughout my day no matter what I do and so having a wide choice of albums to soak up is essential for me. It’s fair to describe myself as a bit of an obsessive, a collector who loves the thrill of exploring new releases or previously undiscovered gems. But there are times when I don’t want to think about what to play, just put on a familiar record that I know has the ability to impact my mood or train of thought. I’m lucky to have many such albums in my collection as well as a number of bands who I know I can always turn to when the need arises. Boards Of Canada are one of these bands.

I bought my first Boards Of Canada release back in 1996, it was called Hi Scores and was issued by Skam Records. I spent a great deal of time playing this six track EP over the following months but it was the final track on the disc which I kept returning to. Everything You Do Is A Balloon is a perfect example of the entire BOC microcosm of sound condensed into seven minutes and to this day still manages to bring me out in goose-pimples. From then on I collected everything I could possibly get my hands on. I bought each of the three full length LPs as they were released as well as a handful of EPs. BOC were never the most prolific of bands but that didn’t matter to me, each album seemed to be loaded with so many hidden layers, obscure details and double meanings that repeated play was almost mandatory. Their final release was the Trans Canada Highway EP in 2007, following this was nothing but silence and speculation.

That situation changed on Record Store Day this April after the discovery of a mystery 12″ vinyl in Manhattan. The disc contained twenty seconds of music and intoned numbers which formed part of a coded sequence requiring other numerical clues scattered across various media platforms. The completed code when entered on a companion page to the official BOC website was found to unlock an announcement trailer for the new album. It was a brilliantly enigmatic way to launch the first new material in over six years from these brilliantly enigmatic Scottish brothers.

I have spent most of the week so far listening to Tomorrow’s Harvest but still don’t feel I can adequately sum it up in a few short paragraphs. Maybe it’s because this is such an engaging, emotionally complex LP that needs sufficient time to reveal its subtle details fully. Or maybe it’s because this band means so much to me personally that a new album is quite a major event. Either way, here are a few of my initial thoughts on the music contained therein;

The album gets underway with Gemini which starts with a cheesy synth fanfare which sounds like a TV station ident from 1983 before turning into a tense John Carpenter-esque drift. Reach For The Dead is a classic, achingly beautiful BOC slow burner which blooms like an orchid at its midpoint as the drums kick in. White Cyclosa pitches a niggling arpeggio over warped, sinister drones. Jacquard Causeway is another future classic – all hazy, refracted synths and a loping kick which counterpoints a metallic snare hit. So far this is the audio equivalent of staring at the sunshine through a dirty window pane.

Telepath is one of the short link tracks that have become synonymous with BOC LPs through the years and features a muted voice rasping through a series of numbers. Sundown, Transmisiones Ferox and Uritual are other tracks on the album which have similarly brief running times, all three are incandescent wafts of melody. A kind of audio heat haze.

Sick Times squeezes together a fluttering synth line and various garbled voices before melting away into nothingness. Collapse has an arpeggio that references John Carpenter again, but this time in soft focus. The voices return on Split Your Infinities, sounding more like a badly damaged surveillance tape embedded in the rhythm track. Nothing Is Real is based around one of those short loops dripping in wistful nostalgia that sound like they were sourced from a cassette pulled out of a car which has been abandoned to the elements for forty years. The album closes out with two absolutely gorgeous tracks; Gone To Dust has a sort of cinematic, retro futuristic feel to it and Semena Mertvykh is an ominous vapour billowing out of the speakers.

I confess that I was more than a little apprehensive in approaching this record as it could easily have been a huge disappointment but I’m extremely happy to report that this isn’t the case. BOC have defined a sound that has been imitated by so many people over the years, usually very poorly. It must be an almost insurmountable task to produce each new album with a fresh take on any band’s signature sound, particularly when that sound is so instantly recognisable; insufficiant change = no progression/too much change = audience alienation. It’s a tough equation to balance but I think that Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin have got it right once again.

If you’re a Boards Of Canada fan then you can breathe a sigh of relief, if you’re new to this fine band then this is a great place to start your exploration of their incredible music.

A Quintessence of Evil Which Operated Through the Female of the Species

A Scent of New-Mown Hay – John Blackburn

This is the debut novel by prolific British author John Blackburn which was first published in 1958. Depending on which review you care to believe, this brief novel is either “formulaic trash” or “a truly memorable page-turner”, it certainly places one foot in the latter category. The story concerns the spread of a virulent contagion which mutates women, ultimately threatening the whole of humankind itself. As I read this book I couldn’t help but picture the action unfolding in grainy black & white as if watching a 1950s B-movie on the drive-in screen which is located in my head. Thematically, it’s a bizzare cross between alien invasion, biological horror and Cold War thriller which is always a great starting point in my opinion. I won’t go into any specific details here as I don’t want to spoil the plot but if a mere whiff of the involvement of female Nazi scientists makes you shiver in anticipation then this book is definitely for you.

My copy is the 1963 version published by Digit books and has the kind of cover art I see in my dreams;

New Mown Hay Front

New Mown Hay Rear