Monday, 18 January 2021

A Bright Spot (with The Crunch)

We’re living in extraordinary times and, it seems to me, it’s even more important now to seek out and acknowledge the bright spots of humanity that exist all around us.  One of those happened to me this weekend and it all started with a post I published a year ago.
“a whole new experience in boys' papers! It's for the boy of today - packed with never-before told stories with true life features on the men who have faced the crunch in their lives.”

One of my favourite things about this blog are the retrospective essays I write.  I’m a self-confessed nostalgic and had a happy childhood I enjoy being reminded of and these posts allow me to not only research and investigate this thing I love, but they also act as a connector with other people.  I’ll explain.

In 1979, I started reading a comic called The Crunch and, at the time and ever after, I never knew anyone else who read it.  Unfortunately, in the sands of time, I’d lost my collection but managed to buy back a few random issues on ebay and looking through them brought back my childhood instantly.  So when The Crunch’s fortieth anniversary rolled around, I decided to write a retrospective (which you can read here), which led to a lovely few hours of research and absolutely no idea as to whether anyone would either connect with it or even be interested.

As it was, the post was well received (over 600 views as I write this) and the comments and emails I got after it were nicely positive, as readers a) reminisced, b) didn’t realise anyone else remembered the comic and c) loved that it took them back to being a kid.

I was more than happy.

Then, in September, a fellow called Jason left a comment, having enjoyed the post and mentioned he had a few spares.  We emailed briefly and he said he’d sort through his copies and send me some over, if I was interested.  I absolutely was (one of my favourite strips was The Mill Street Mob and none of the issues I had featured it).  He emailed again, this past Friday, to say he’d sorted them, asked for my address and - once again - refused any payment.

On Saturday morning, a large box was delivered and, confused, I opened it up to discover that Jason had sent me almost a complete run of the comic!  Astonished, I emailed him back, urging him to let me pay him for at least the postage and he replied with “they were all spares and [it’s] so nice to hear they are appreciated, that feeling of nostalgia is rare and Crunch aficionados are even rarer! Enjoy!”
I was genuinely touched because if the essay gave him a reminder to revisit a beloved old comic, then his gesture more than paid that off.  Crunch readers, clearly, are lovely people.
If you’re reading this Jason, thank you for giving me the chance to delve back into that wonderful old comic and as Crunch readers go, you're one of the best!

Monday, 11 January 2021

Novelisation Review 4: The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women And War, by Mike Jahn

The fourth in an occasional thread celebrating old-school paperback novelisations from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  We're not talking great art but these books have their place - they were a fantastic resource from a time when you couldn't watch your favourite film or TV show whenever you felt like it - and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time, I'm looking at The Six Million Dollar Man, by Mike Jahn, adapted from my favourite childhood TV series.
Star Books 1975 (2nd printing), originally published by MCA Publishing 1972
cover scan of my copy
To dictator, oil-rich sheik or Third World revolutionary, Arlen Findletter will sell weapons of nuclear destruction.  He's even ready to deliver a complete nuclear submarine if the bidder will wait until he's stolen it.  To combat this international bandit, the US sends its most sophisticated weapon, The Six Million Dollar Man.  Steve Austin's brief: Find him; locate the arsenal; stop him before it's too late.

After a mission to steal an arms dealers catalogue in Egypt goes wrong (the safe is empty) which results in the death of his lover, Colonel Steve Austin is resentful when Oscar Goldman wants him back in the field.  He escapes from Dr Rudy Well’s bionics facility and heads for a friends Caribbean holiday home, not realising the trip is being manipulated by OSI agent Harry Donner.  On Paradise Cay, Austin meets up with an old Soviet colleague, Alexei Koslov and Katrina Volana (Undersecretary for Special External Security) and soon finds himself back on the trail of the arms dealer, Arlen Findletter, with revenge on his mind.

I should make it clear that growing up, Steve Austin was my hero - I had posters from Look-In and the TV Times on my wall, I had the figure and I made the appropriate noises when I ran anywhere or jumped.  That was back in the mid-70s and having not seen the show for years (decades, even), I revisited it a couple of years back with Day Of The Robot (which is very slow) and didn’t particularly enjoy it.  Around the time I got that DVD, I also picked up this paperback though I’ve resisted reading it until now in case it was rubbish.  Thankfully, it isn’t.  Although it’s never going to be considered great literature, it wasn’t all that bad as ‘entertaining pulp’, full credit for which must go to Mike Jahn, the Edgar-winning writer who doesn’t get his name on the cover.

Yes elements of it are contrived - you can see where he had to stick to TV teleplay logic - and there are some telltale sexist elements - this was published in 1972 - but for the most part it holds together.  The paperback Steve Austin is much more brutal than the TV show version I recall (though, as mentioned above, I might have forgotten it), he kills one guard by throwing a safe at him and shoots many others.  His desire for revenge relates to a character we only see very briefly and he picks up with helicopter pilot (and fellow agent) Cynthia Holland and Katrina without too much trouble, whilst his relationship with Oscar Goldman is difficult, at best.  Koslov works well as a character, though isn’t used much but Findletter is an odd villain, mentioned a lot but infrequently seen and his big moment comes right at the end in the clumsy climax.  In a lapse of logic, having mentioned how seeing the Earth from orbit has turned Austin off the idea of nuclear weapons, it’s odd that he puts into motion events which lead to Paradise Cay being destroyed by a nuclear explosion (it’s explained away as “the crater was deadly now and would remain so for some time to come.  But years would heal it, water would fill it and some day fish would swim in it.”).  Otherwise, Austin is decently crafted, with more bionic attributes than I recall - it’s his left hand that’s bionic, he has all manner of kit hidden away in his legs and he has a CO2 powered gun in his middle finger - and a chapter gives us his backstory, including the amusing line “what took longer was what the doctors euphemistically termed Austin’s emotional adjustment.  In short, he was furious.”

Based on the teleplay by Glen A Larson for the second pilot, this is good fun, with a decent pace, nice touches of humour (“I'm sorry I had to violate your porthole!”) and decent sense of location.  It won’t be to everyone’s taste, obviously but as a good piece of pulp this reader with warm (if perhaps misguided) memories of the TV show enjoyed it.


* * *
Joseph Michael Jahn was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on 4th August 1943 and studied journalism.  He spent the first decade of his career covering cultural issues then, in 1968, became the New York Times' first full-time rock journalist.  One of his first assignments was covering the Woodstock Festival.  He wrote several non-fictions books before switching to mystery/suspense fiction, eventually publishing fifty novels and film/TV adaptions, under his own name and several pen names. His first mystery novel, The Quark Maneuver, was published by Ballantine in 1977 and won an Edgar Award.  After writing the ten-novel series "Bill Donovan Mysteries", he began working on a memoir of the last century and a half of American history.

He wrote five Six Million Dollar Man books (becoming, aside from Martin Caidin, the most prolific writer of Steve Austin fiction) which are notable for combining the television series continuity with the bionic attributes of the original Cyborg novels.

* * *
Martin Caidin was born in New York City on 14th September 1927 and began writing fiction in 1957, publishing more than fifty fiction and non-fiction books as well as more than one thousand magazine articles.  Cyborg (1972) was his most famous novel and he wrote three sequels Operation Nuke, High Crystal and Cyborg IV.  He died in Tallahassee, Florida on 24th March 1997.

For a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay.  I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film.  I realise we might not be talking great art here but, on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.


Monday, 4 January 2021

Here's [Some] I Made Earlier...

Usually, to round off a blogging year, I do a post about my creative exploits in the past twelve months but, to be honest, I didn’t feel like doing one in 2020.  It was a bad year for all of us, though not without individual rays of sunshine and as a writer, I found it stifled me for a while.  The various lockdowns also meant all Cons and gatherings I would normally attend didn’t happen and I really did miss them and my writing family (we Zoomed but it wasn't the same).
The Early Works...
So instead, I thought I’d look back at some of my earliest creative endeavours (I was homaging Steve Austin and Star Wars back when I was 8 and 9) and here are the first four ‘novels’ I wrote (though I doubt they'd even class as novellas now).  My Dad, star that he is, dutifully read them all and gave me feedback - I’m sure he was over the moon when I started writing horror, a genre he doesn’t get on with, so he could stop being my first reader.  With their inspirations barely hidden, some wonderful cover designs (I loved Letraset!) and all bound with string, I present the ‘Early Novels of Mark West’.
 
Shark! (1981)
An odd combination of Jaws (naturally) and comics stories from the likes of Bullet, Crunch and Action, this features Mark West, a government salvage expert with a shark phobia whose latest job is, naturally enough, in shark infested waters.
 
Hadley Hall Comprehensive (1982)
A huge fan of the Robert Leeson Grange Hill novelisations, I decided to write my own, putting me and my friends into a series of adventures that were very much based in Rothwell and at Montsaye, the comprehensive I was attending at the time.  The cover is taken from a photo-story I did in 1981 (and wrote about here), featuring my Dad, me and my friend Geoff.
 
The Space Mercenary (1983)
It’s my take on Star Wars.

Glamourpuss (1984)
A tale of bounty hunters (lifted from The Mantracker in Crunch comic and The Fall Guy himself) tracking down a famous model, this was directly inspired by the first The A-Team novelisation by Charles Heath, which I loved (and still do).
 
The Three Intrepids were written in homage to The Three Investigators, a series of books I love and continue to re-read (and have written about extensively on the blog).  Eight books make up the series, written from 1983 to 1985.

* * *
In the year itself, I had one story published, a reprint of What We Do Sometimes, Without Thinking, which appeared in STORIES OF HOPE AND WONDER, a NewCon Press anthology Ian Whates put together to raise funds for NHS frontline staff (and which has contributed over £2k so far).  I wrote about it here and you can buy the e-anthology here.
 
I spent the year working on my third thriller novel, after starting it in December 2019.  A “simple story” with two timelines, it turned out to be a real saviour for me, a world to escape into (after a brief 5 week period where I found it difficult to write at all) and something to creatively look forward to.  Unfortunately, the timing meant a lot of over-writing and repetition so I ended up producing a 209k word first draft!  Thankfully, I’m almost finished the second draft now and it’s down to a much more manageable and realistic 110k words.






So an odd year then but, whatever 2021 decides to throw at us, I hope you and yours stay safe and healthy.