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Month: January 2021

The Bomber War

The Bomber War – Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive 1939-1945, by Robin Neillands, 464 pp.

This book is noteworthy in that it discusses both the RAF and the USAAF campaigns in roughly equal detail. Neillands sets out in his book to defend Arthur Harris, the Commander in Chief of Bomber Command, against revisionist criticisms of his campaign. Harris was committed to a policy of area bombing of German cities. However he did not invent this policy, which was sanctioned from higher up the command structure, and was regarded at the time with general approval both by the authorities and the general population.

Countdown to Hiroshima

Shockwave: The Countdown to Hiroshima by Stephen Walker, 352pp £20
Another war history book, this time with tie-in to Japan and a manga reviewed a few weeks ago.
This is a countdown to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It is as far as possible entirely factual, being based on written records and personnel involved in the American program, and survivors on the Japanese side. Even though one knows what is going to happen, this is an account that is hard to put down. In the prologue, two lovers spend some time together in a beautiful garden in Hiroshima, a few hours before the bomb is dropped. Then we are taken to the Trinity bomb test, three weeks earlier. The book describes the personalities of the leading players, both the military officers and scientists on the American side, and the Japanese diplomats, some of whom were trying to secure a negotiated peace. The technology of the bombs and their complex fuzing is described in detail.
The scale of the Manhattan Project and the arrangements for bomb delivery is staggering. It’s often quoted that it cost two billion dollars (at 1945 prices), but when one reads that the 509th Group used up a whole set of expensive B-29 bombers just in practicing bombing runs and the special diving turn, and then they just ordered up a second set, and that they had their own base at Tinian island, one starts to see where the money went. No effort and no expense was spared to get it done as quickly and securely as possible.
As to the morality of it all, it came towards the end of a brutal war in the Pacific, in which neither side paid much attention to the rules of warfare. On the American side, only the scientists entertained any second thoughts about the morality of what they were doing. On the Japanese side, while some officials wanted a negotiated peace, they were afraid of the fanatics in the war cabinet who wanted to resist on the main islands to the end, insisting that death was better than dishonour, and that surrender was unmentionable.
Only when the Japanese cabinet had seen the results of two atomic bombs was the Emperor able to over-rule the fanatics and agree a surrender. Even then it was a conditional surrender, with the Japanese allowed to keep their Emperor, rather than the unconditional surrender the Americans had in mind (and which was imposed on Germany).
The Russians were also an important element. They fobbed off Japanese diplomatic efforts towards a negotiated peace, planning to switch allegiance and grab as much Eastern and Japanese territory as they could, before the war ended. The Americans and British, alarmed by Soviet advances in eastern Europe, were keen to impress the Russians with the power of their new bomb.
The effect of the bomb on the population of Hiroshima was, of course, horrible. One eye-witness describes seeing a stream of blackened monsters with tattered flesh and swollen lips, that had once been human, streaming out of the city. Of the prologue scene, the young man was seriously injured, his beautiful girlfriend was never seen again, and the garden was destroyed.
(As a coda, while it’s not mentioned in the book, a visit to Bletchley Park reveals that the codebreakers had decrypted the cargo manifests of cargo submarines travelling between Germany and Japan. They include neatly a ton of uranium shipped to Japan. The Americans must have wondered what it was for….)

La Squab

La Squab – The Black Rose of Auschwitz , David Britton, Savoy Books, 334pp. Publication 16 April 2012.

La Squab by David Britton represents a departure from the author’s reputation as the creator of Lord Horror, the last novel to be banned in Britain.

Masquerading as a book for children, the primary inspirations of La Squab are The Wind in the Willows -if Grahame’s classic had been re-written by Adolf Hitler! -and the ‘Fudge & Speck’ comic strip created by celebrated Beano cartoonist Ken Reid.

At once loony and dangerous, La Squab relates a picaresque river journey down a Thames whose metaphysical qualities exist only in Mr Britton’s imagination. Along the ways favourite children’s characters such as Tiger Tim, Angel Face and Weary Willie & Tired Tim are encountered, together with real-life historical figures Alfred Jarry, Sigmund Freud, Leni Riefenstahl, and Lord Horror’s treacherous doppelganger, Lord Haw-Haw.
The final destination is a submerged Auschwitz conjured afresh beneath the mighty Thames. There La Squab’s playful romp through literature and topsy turvy morals reveals that all is not always well in the end!”

So what did I think of it? This is the fourth of David Britton’s “Lord Horror” novels, the others being Lord Horror (1989), Motherfuckers, the Auschwitz of Oz (1996) and Baptised in the Blood of Millions (2000), also published by Savoy. (see Panegyric)
“La Squab”, billed rather ironically as “A nuggerty treasure book for children of all ages” is profusely illustrated and inspired visually by the “Fudge” comic strips of Manchester cartoonist Ken Reid. I loved the illustrations, most of which feature a distinctly naughty-looking La Squab. Most are in black & white, but you do get a pair in colour at the front of the book, and several on the outer dust-jacket. La Squab, a malevolent moppet who first appeared (looking rather younger) in Savoy’s “Meng & Ecker” comic #9, is, along with Lord Horror, a major character in this book. In the text, Britton continues with his long-term project to attack anti-Semitism by means of brutal and gory satire (for nothing could be more brutal or gory than Auschwitz). In this book Britton seems to have toned it down a bit, for while there are corpses, horrors, and razoring aplenty, there’s no actual sex.
It takes the form of a fantastical journey along the Thames, where we meet such characters as a talking, mermaid-eating water-mill, and other monsters such as the wonderfully named Lammy Pie, the Splattersplooch, and the Jolly-Boy. The text constantly refers to elements of popular English or more highbrow world culture. References to children’s book characters, such as Tiger Tim, from an earlier era will miss the mark with some readers. There’s also a talking crematorium, and a boat with Hitler on it, for the Auschwitz thing becomes more overt as the journey progresses.
While Britton is trying to make a serious point, this book is, with its fantastic scenes and spot-the reference intellectual games, quite a lot of fun. And I already mentioned the Kris Guido illustrations. It also makes a good introduction to David Britton’s other work. Since this is “masquerading as a book for children” you might not want to give it to your kids, though :-).

As a bonus, the book contains a CD of Fenella Fielding reading from the first two chapters of the book.
For Savoy info see Savoy Books

Lord Horror: Reverbstorm

Lord Horror; Reverbstorm, text: David Britton, art: John Coulthart, published by Savoy Books, 11 Feb 2013, 344 pages, £25.
This is a graphic collaboration between writer David Britton, author of four Lord Horror novels, and John Coulthart, known for his promotional and CD cover art, and also for his book of Lovecraft-derived comic strips and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark.
Reverbstorm was originally published in serial form and is now being presented in a single volume for the very first time.

In the nightmare metropolis of Torenburgen, new York’s Art Deco architecture has fused with the termination machinery of Auschwitz. In this urban inferno Jessie Matthews is singing Sondheim, James Joyce is at work on a new novel, and Lord Horror, ex-Nazi propoganda broadcaster and Torenburgen’s model citizen, is stalking the streets in search of fresh victims for his razors. Murderous apes infest the alleyways, Ononoes feast on the living and the dead, and trains arrive with bodies destined for the charnel furnaces.

As in the Lord Horror novels, Britton counters the ghastliness of Fascism with a ghastly ironic satire. The satire has sometimes been lost on those offended by Britton’s works. His first Lord Horror novel was the last work of fiction to be banned in Britain. This graphic work features the singer Jessie Matthews (long safely dead) as the muse of Lord Horror (who was inspired by William Joyce a.k.a. Lord HawHaw, the wartime traitor and Nazi broadcaster).
So what did I think of it?
The black-and-white art by Coulthart is great, and some full-page panels feverishly evoke a nightmare world of death, extermination machinery and horrid creatures. Others echo images from Picasso’s Guernica, or the post-impressionist work of Georges Seurat. Some sections are blackly humorous, for instance when Lord Horror sings about an encounter with the police:
“A-standing on the corner, a-swinging my chain, along came a copper, and he took my name …” Apparently this is a quote from a real rockabilly song. I liked the caption texts which reflect various cultural sources (listed in the appendix).
Collectors may care to note that this volume includes Reverbstorm #8, previously unpublished. The art for #1 – #7 has been re-captioned.

Razor King

Razor King cover

Razor King by David Britton, Savoy Books, Oct 2017, 300pp, £20.
Razor King is David Britton’s seventh novel, the latest in his series of absurdist novels about the Jewish Holocaust.

The novel has a loose narrative of sorts, but mainly consists of a series of fantastical series of scenes and descriptions of three or four main characters, the razor-wielding Lord Horror, engaged in dispatching Jews with his razor, and his two grotesque associates Meng, a sexually voracious half-man half-woman, and his emaciated and more reflective brother Ecker. There is also Meng’s pubescent daughter, the winsome La Squab. There are also two talking cars with libidos and an alien boy made of confectionery. The settings involve among other things crematoria, the Wild West and a ship crewed by rats. Britton certainly has a vivid imagination and a knack for putting his creations on the page.
Needless to say, Britton does not in any way endorse anti-semitism, but is attempting to expose its psychopathic and un-empathetic nature.
Continuing a trend begun with La Squab in 2012, Razor King is illustrated throughout by Kris Guidio, this time entirely in full colour. The book contains thirty double-spread full colour illustrations, depicting Britton’s grotesque characters, along with crematoria, Ken Reid’s elf characters Fudge and Speck (from Reid’s comic book republished by Savoy) and various characters redolent of Edgar Rice Burrough’s books. The images contain some cartoon nudity.

Let’s be clear, this book is for adults only, and further to that, it’s for adults not easily offended. This is a brutal satire on anti-semitism, and everything in it references Hitler and the Jewish holocaust. While reading it however, I was forcibly reminded of a more recent event, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohinga from Burma.
‘Razor King’ is a significant exercise in transgressive speculative fiction, extending on an established tradition, and deserves some serious attention. The artwork alone would make it worth examination. (CD).

Blue Monday Diaries

The Blue Monday Diaries – in the studio with New Order, by Michael Butterworth. (Plexus Books)
One for the fans.
In a day-by-day, minute-by-minute diary, Michael—who was there at the invitation of the band and their manager Rob Gretton—documents the making of New Order’s second studio album and the 12-inch single it spawned.
Other people and subjects meander through his narrative including Ian Curtis, Michael Moorcock and Linda Steele, PJ Proby (lots of him), Peter Saville, Malcolm Whitehead, Claude Bessy (who used Savoy-supplied visuals, from comic books to hardcore weirdness, in his role as official Haçienda video jock), Fenella Fielding, Michael Johnson, Open Head Press, the Altrincham music scene. Most of all, the Savoy bookshops themselves—purveyors of literature, comics, bootlegs and independent records in the 1970s and 80s to the Factory and Manchester music scenes.
(Savoy news release)

Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds

Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds
Science fiction and art in the sixties. David Brittain, Pub. Savoy Books, Dec 2013, 184pp, rrp £17.00

I have a complete set of the large format New Worlds – #173 to #200, which were published from 1967 to 1971, so I was particularly interested to see a book about the magazine and its art.
Michael Moorcock took over editorship of the science fiction magazine New Worlds in 1964, and began changing it from a genre SF magazine to a ‘new wave’ magazine of “speculative fiction.” In 1967, Moorcock obtained a modest Arts Council grant that enabled him to change the format from a paperback to a monthly magazine with half-tone reproduction.
Both Michael Moorcock and leading contributor JG Ballard knew Paolozzi personally, and were interested in modern art, as were other people who worked on the magazine. The purpose of changing to a larger format was to include art that complemented the radical fiction content of the magazine. Paolozzi’s science-fiction tinged art was thought to mesh with this. In the event, very little of Paolozzi’s art appeared in the pages of New Worlds (there was a review article about his work in #174, and an illustration in #178), but he was listed as ‘Aeronautics Adviser’ and was clearly an influence.


David Brittain’s book examines the magazine during it’s prime period, throwing light on the interactions of the art of the time with what Judith Merril and Harlan Ellison called ‘the new wave of science fiction.’
It places Paolozzi’s ‘science fiction’ art of the late ’60s in the context of the new SF and offers fresh insights into the way images and a fragmentary, collages approach to writing informed the controversial prose of Ballard, Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Norman Spinrad and others.
The book contains rare and unseen images from the archives of New Worlds and the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation, together with excerpts from what is thought to be an unpublished science fiction novel by the artist. There are also new interviews (by Brittain) with Moorcock and key members of his circle about the magazine and others.

New Worlds covers

The book contains many illustrations in monochrome and colour, including many colour images from Paolozzi’s ‘Moonstrips Empire News’, and most of the New Worlds covers from this period. Footnotes and bibliography are included. David Brittain is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.
If you are interested in Paolozzi’s science-fiction inspired art and his influence on the magazine, or merely in this exciting period of the magazine’s history, this is a book well worth acquiring.

Invictus Horror

Invictus Horror by David Britton (Savoy Books, 2013, 134pp, HB)

In Britton’s books “Lord Horror” is a fantastic character inspired by William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, of wartime infamy. The principals of Invictus Horror are Meng and Ecker, twins subjected to “scientific” experiments by Josef Mengele. They’re not nice – Ecker is rational but violent and Meng is a mutant with a huge cock and tits. In this novella, the terrible twins are celebrating Christmas at Lord Horror’s residence in Manchester with some unsavoury violent and anti-Semitic activity.
Would-be readers should be aware that, as in his previous Lord Horror novels, Britton counters the ghastliness of Fascism with a ghastly ironic satire. The irony has sometimes been lost on those offended by Britton’s works, his first Lord Horror novel being the last work of fiction to be banned in Britain.

The novella is illustrated by a riot of colour and monochrome illustrations by Kris Guidio, which evoke the fantastical world of Lord Horror but have no direct connection with the text.
Although published this year, and after David Britton’s illustrated Lord Horror novel ‘La Squab’ of 2012, this short novel is a riff on the ending paragraphs of Britton’s ‘Motherfuckers’ which ends with Christmastime in Porchfield Gardens, Lord H’s Manchester residence where the Twins are holidaying.

“Invictus Horror” was fun in its gruesome way. I liked the illustrations a lot, though they’re not matched to the text (there’s no La Squab in the text, for instance.) Not sure if it really develops the Horror opus any further than the four previous books did, but with the artworks it’s a nice book to have.
Savoy Books

The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison (1922)
This is a pre-Tolkien fantasy classic that I read recently as an e-book. I’m not going to attempt a full review, as plenty of others have done that (notably Georges T Dodds at the SF Site), merely point you in its direction. Classic Fantasy novels were written in the 19th and early 20th century by Eddison, Morris, Donaldson and others, but their works have mostly fallen into relative obscurity. I’d heard of Ouroboros and Eddison from time to time but recently realised that I’d never actually read this book, so downloaded a pdf version (it’s out of copyright).
It’s the sort of book that you’ll either think is great, or dismiss as unreadable. It does have its faults: the prose is very ornate, written in an archaic style, and includes occasional quotations, it’s set on Mercury for no good reason other than having it not set on 20th century Earth, the nations are called Demons, Witches, Goblins etc for no good reason, since they’re all essentially human, and the book starts with a framing narration which the author then seems to forget about. (There is also an invasion fleet which the author seems to have forgotten about.) The uncritical glorification of warfare may offend some readers. On the other hand, the story of intrepid adventure and valiant deeds is just brilliant, and has rarely been equalled anywhere.
So if you are intrigued by the idea of reading a fantasy book that isn’t influenced by Tolkien, isn’t a trilogy, and isn’t 7000 pages long, and has a great story, check this out.