Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2022 January 31 • Monday

The 711th Soundtrack of the Week is Bobby Villarreal's score for Sky Fighter, a short film by Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall!

It starts with "Opening/Chase", which sets pulsating synth bass notes that starts slow and then speed up and settle into a groove against some big block chords.

"The Probe/Flashback" begins with a blaster beam-like sound and then goes into a tender and dreamy atmosphere.

This is followed by "Space Armageddon", a short cue of menace and dread that also has blaster beam-sounding notes in it, as well as some dense string-like synth writing.

After that is the spare and suspenseful "Stun Gun", perfect "creeping up on someone" music.

The blaster beam-like thing kicks off another short cue, the agitated and bleep bloopy "Computer Duel", which combines some of the approaches used so far with very electronic sounds, almost like a video game cue.

Then things get rhythmic and more conventionally musical for "Final Confrontation", which returns to a synth bass line and chords.

It ends with "End Credits", a heavy piece with lots of blaster beamish notes and strong chords from the synthesizers, recalling the feel of some of past cues.

2022 January 28 • Friday

Happy birthday!

Here's a quick follow-up to our recommendation of Michael Stradford's book Steve Holland: The World's Greatest Illustration Art Model.

Completists will also want to get Stradford's collection of reference photos, Steve Holland: The Torn Shirt Sessions.

It's almost completely photos, used as reference for different artists, and has Holland at his very last session ever.

You can get it here.

2022 January 26 • Wednesday

A while back we were thrilled to read about Eva Lynd, who was the female model for the illlustrations in Men's Adventure Magazines.

And now, thanks to Michael Stradford, we can read about the male model for Men's Adventure Magazines: Steve Holland.

In addition to tons of illustrations, Steve Holland: The World's Greatest Illustration Art Model has a biography of Holland and interviews with artists who painted, drew and photoraphed him.

Holland shows up almost everywhere!

Interestingly, Holland became a painter himself in later life, after decades of posing for paintings.

This is exactly the kind of book we love to have on the shelves here.

Get it here.

2022 January 24 • Monday

For the 710th Soundtrack of the Week we gave Vasco Vassil Kojucharov's music for Byleth: Il demone dell'incesto a spin.

"Seq. 1" sounds like the main title music, strings playing a romantic melody over a loungey beat.

Things get pretty interesting in "Seq. 2", which combines a very ill-sounding fuzz guitar (MXR Blue Box-ish) with some spare percussion and organ.

Twelve-string acoustic guitar, organ and flute are the main voices on the swaying and loungey "Seq. 3".

Nylon-string guitar and flute play a chamber musicky duet for "Seq. 4" and "Seq. 5" finds the flute working with piano, twelve-string guitar for what might be the main theme, a pretty melody with descending lines and a gentle beat.

"Seq. 6" brings in the whole orchestra for a dramatic mood but then swerves into sick fuzz guitar and hand percussion accompanied by agitated strings.

Then we get a solo organ piece for "Seq. 7", not exactly sounding like church music but could probably be used for that.

After that it's more sick fuzz guitar, hand percussion and agitated strings for "Seq. 8" and then another organ solo piece, more horror than church this time, for "Seq. 9".

Reprises of "Seq. 1" and "Seq. 5" make up "Seq. 10" and then "Seq. 11" uses the orchestra to create a mood of dreadful suspense.

"Seq. 12" starts out with a clarion-like announcement and then swings into what sounds like a love theme, lounge style. It's not a bossa nova but it easily could be.

Then we get a little bit of baroque music to open "Seq. 13" before it recapitulates "Seq. 5".

The next cue, "Seq. 14", has potential as another love theme and uses flute, twelve-string acoustic guitar and organ as main voices, adding regular electric guitar at the end.

Another church-like organ solo that also reprises the previous cue's melody is up next for "Seq. 15" and then "Seq. 16" is a livelier reprise of same.

"Seq. 17" reprises "Seq. 5" and "Seq. 18" is a solo organ freak-out.

The next two cues, "Seq. 19" and "Seq. 20", are changes of pace, eerie, dissonant, atmospheric, somewhat horror movie-ish cues with that sick electric guitar sound and hand percussion along with strings and various other noises.

Then it's time for reprises of the main theme with the full orchestra in "Seq. 21" and "Seq. 22".

2022 January 21 • Friday

Neumation Music has done it again. They've just put out another book of the full score to a great film soundtrack. This time it's James Horner's music for Krull.

I haven't listened to this one in a while and I'm excited to read along. I recall it being similar to Horner's Star Trek music, which I love.

You can buy it here.

2022 January 19 • Wednesday

John Trininan's The Big Grab (1960) was a pleasant surprise, an unusual addition to the heist novel category that in some ways anticipates the Donald Westlake/Richard Stark Parker series.

Karl Heisler has just got out of prison after serving five years for a payroll robbery. Those who know him have nothing but respect and admiration for him. He's a true professional and that last job should have gone just fine but he got caught just because of some glitch that was a matter of seconds. Not his fault.

Two notable things happened in his last stretch. First was his cellmate, who was dying and therefore had no reason not to tell Heisler all about the layour and security of the casino where he used to work; how to get in and take at least a quarter of a million dollars from a safe that should be impenetrable but has exactly one exploitable vulnerability.

The second thing was also Heisler's cellmate, the second cellmate, who replaces the first, who died. Frank Toschi is about twenty years younger than Karl Heisler and Heisler sees something impressive in him, a solidity, reliable qualities, trustworthiness, a kindred spirit.

Heisler has always worked alone but this casino raid requires two people assisting him, one on the inside and one on the outside, with a car.

Oh, and one more thing. This is an illegal gambling house, run by the mob. The good thing about that is it means no police. The bad thing is it means that getting caught is getting killed.

The writing elevates The Big Grab to a level above the standard. (And the standard is pretty good.) There are nice touches throughout. When Heisler and Toschi first meet on the outside, for example, Toschi stirs his coffee, "adding cream until it was the color of autumn" and then, one page later, Heisler thinks that his plan for the robbery will "fall like a leaf, crackling, gold-colored from the sky", answering the earlier suggesstion of autumn.

About halfway through the book, the narrative unepectedly jumps to another character's perspective, a structural device that Westlake/Stark used frequently and virtuosically. In this case it's the syndicate man who runs the gambling operation.

He's an interesting mirror image of Heisler, the same but opposite. They're the same age and are both suffering growing older. They both need dental plates. But one is hard, the other soft. One is happily married, the other unhappily. One has a child, the other has none. One has money, the other doesn't.

An actual mirror dominates the vivid scene that introduces this character to the reader.

Leon Bertuzzi awoke, after a long and troubled night, and saw himself on the ceiling, reflected there in the six-foot mirror that had been fixed over his bed. He saw himself lying on the rumpled sky blue sheets and blue electric blanket. He moaned and narrowed his sleep-filled eyes. He hated to wake in the mornings and see himself reflected on the ceiling. It was the first thing he saw every morning, and he always felt a bit startled at first, then uneasy, as if the suspended Bertuzzi might suddenly peel away from the silver and glass and fall on the reclining Bertuzzi. He always closed his eyes and experienced a slight wave of nausea and vertigo. Then, by turning to one side, he managed to ignore his reflection and crawl quickly out of bed.

Bertuzzi, trapped in his miserable life, recovering from a heart attack that he's trying to keep a secret as there's already a young, new-breed hood angling to take his job, having already taken Bertuzzi's much younger wife, is a character who could have stepped out of a Peter Rabe novel.

And it's all this this messiness that's going to cause problems later.

The heist is meticulously planned but of course you know something is going to go wrong, because that's what always happens.

It hardly seems fair. If Heisler's crew had picked any other night, everything would have gone like clockwork. But the one night they choose happens to be the one night when some of the humans on the syndicate side of things deviate from their routine.

And at some point you'll be wondering how this all ends.

Dramatic conventions of the time pretty much demanded that the criminals can't get away with their crimes. Even the original manuscript of the first Parker book had Parker getting killed or captured at the end and it was thanks only to Westlake/Stark's editor at the publisher that he was allowed to become a series character. Parker's victories were something of a revolution in the genre.

Of course, Heisler is a little bit different in that he's stealing from the mafia, who are very much not good guys. It's illegal money made by criminals. Who cares if it gets stolen?

Well, without ruining anything, I'll just say that the ending is kind of brilliant, and the groundwork for it laid much earlier in the book.

Apparently this book was the basis for the movie Melodie en Sous-Sol (1963, a.k.a. Any Number Can Win), which I've seen a couple of times. It doesn't follow the book closely, as I recall.

Apparently John Trinian is a pen name for Zekial Marko, whose birth name was Marvin Leroy Schmoker.

The first line of The Big Grab is "It was a cold day".

2022 January 17 • Monday

The 709th Soundtrack of the Week is Shirley Walker and John Carpenter's music from Escape from L.A..

The score is a mix of tracks by Carpenter, tracks by Walker and tracks by both Carpenter and Walker.

First up is a reprise of the Escape from New York "Main Title" by Carpenter and Alan Howarth, sort of a Snake Plissken march.

"History of Los Angeles" is the first Carpenter/Walker cue and demonstrates that this will be a happy collaboration as Carpenter's synth rhythms and long tones merge seamlessly with Walker's orchestral sensibilities. It's not always easy to tell whether you're hearing synths or strings.

Carpenter's "Fire Base Seven" is pure electronic intrigue and suspense and a classic Carpenter atmosphere.

The Walker/Carpenter "Snake Arrives/Deportees" mixes layers of synth with guitar or synth guitar for a feeling of menace.

The next three cues are by Shirley Walker solo.

"Snake Gets Scratched" is a crazy sci-fi cue at first before re-establishing the theme of atmospheric electronic unease.

Delicate and surprisingly pretty electronic percolations define the first half of "Defense Lab" before those long, disquieting synth tones return.

Then it's straight up nightmare territory for "Snake's Flashback", which has Walker using electronic wind noises as well as brass instruments.

"Weapons/Snake's Uniform" is by Walker/Carpenter and ingeniously uses electronic percussion that sounds almost like scratching noises for a foundation upon which there's a pulsating bass line and synth tones. The second half of the cue kicks in with a back beat and rock band instrumentation as electric guitar makes it clear that Snake is a bad-ass. Those strange scratching noises are still in there, as is some subtle harmonica.

Carpenter handles "Snake's Escort", a laidback but groovy piano feature at first but eventually another textural synth showcase.

Then two by Walker: "Submarine Launch", an insistent building up of suspense with some "gearing up for the mission" statements by horns before drums come in to drop some beats, and "Sub Sinks", a short cue of desperation and doom.

"Mulholland Drive-By" and "Acid Rain/Tour Guide Sting/Snake Gets Directions" are both by Carpenter, the former being an unassuming but of underscore that's more feel than focus, and the latter having various slinky grooves and ethereal electronic figures throughout.

Walker is then back up for the next two. "Sunset Boulevard Bazaar" brings some middle East modalities, sonics and grooves while "Motorcycle Chase" is an infectious electronic back beat number with lots of cool noises.

Then it's Carpenter's turn and he channels the spaghetti Western for "Showdown", with harmonica as the main voice with assistance from banjo (I think) and synth.

"Push on Through/Snake Takes a Breather" by Walker/Carpenter starts out with another killer groove before a segue into electronic textures. Then it's a kind of honkytonk blues rock piece but no drums, mostly just guitar and harmonica.

The next piece, also by Walker/Carpenter is a longish one that mixes various grooves with different synth approaches, sometimes textural, sometimes lyrical, sometimes both. A heartbeat sound also gets a spotlight at one point.

Walker's "I Think We're Lost/Taslima" is almost entirely ethereal and atmospheric, a short cue that's different from what's come before.

Walker/Carpenter's "The Future Is Right Now/Fun Gun" starts out in a similar vein but after a loud sting switches to an atmosphere of intrigue.

The next five cues are by Shirley Walker.

"The Black Box/Target L.A." uses the string section of the orchestra to build an ascending harmonic line, which eventually includes horns. Then there's another really cool synth groove and compelling electronic sounds adding their voices.

In "The Broadcast/The Coliseum" we start with strings and winds, only acoustic instruments, building a sonic strucutre of grave anticipation. Then the synth groove comes in, insistent, colorful, driving. The strings and winds join in and bring dramatic shape and tension.

Another very cool and minimalist electronic groove kicks off "Decapitation/Game Time/The Game", soon to be joined by the orchestra and some shrieking strings which are in turn followed by wind sounds and then pizzicato strings, reed instruments and piano creating an exciting sonic landscape. Then another groove with layers of orchestra on top, ending on some long tones.

Another synth/orchestra combination follows for "Escape from Coliseum", a muscular and tense action cue in 6/4 and then there's a storm of drums to begin "Queen Mary/Hang Glider Attack". There's an almost immediate segue to a more mellow atmosphere but then everything explodes again into an off-kilter, hard grooving synth rhythm with orchestral lyricism soaring above it, one of the best parts of the score.

Then there's classic dramatic underscore for "Helicopter Arrival", orchestra and electronics working together seamlessly first for big sound of an important and intense event and then settling into a more contemplative feel before taking off with intense action feels again with fast arpeggios from the string section enhancing the electronic back beat pulse.

Walker/Carpenter come up with another heavy back beat synth groove for "Texas Switch/Fire Fight" which also quotes from "Snake's Uniform".

"Escape from Happy Kingdom" and "Crash Landing" are two relatively short pieces by Walker, both half pensive orchestral development and half synth rhythms with orchestra building tension and excitement on top.

Carpenter gets solo crecit for "Out of Time", apparently an unused cue that's ethereal and spacey and could probably have been nudged into becoming a love theme if that's what they wanted.

Then there's the Walker/Carpenter "Presidential Decree", a long suite of cues that's basically a medley of moments from the score.

And finally there's a bit of source music, Carpenter's "J.C.'s Blues", a blues rock electric guitar showcase that's really cool.

2022 January 14 • Friday

What is Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina about?

The cover might give a clue. There’s Sabrina, her name is the title, but the point of the book might be at least somewhat that Sabrina is not its real subject, just as Sabrina isn’t the real subject for the other characters. (This is similar to Lolita: there is a tragic irony in the title.)

Sabrina is, as the cover illustration makes explicit, a background for other people’s stories. She’s in the first few pages but then we never see her again and learn that she’s been apparently randomly murdered by a stranger.

A lot is left unexplained. Is the murderer the “weird guy” whose apartment she told her sister she went to in response to a job advertisement? Drnaso isn’t creating an exploitative story here, choosing to remain on the periphery of horror and looking at how it affects people rather than at the horrific acts themselves.

We’ve all seen enough of those anyway, another point implicitly made in this graphic novel. In Sabrina’s one scene she chillingly demonstrates easy familiarity with the true crime sensation In Cold Blood and news reports throughout the day buzz with random violence and mass shootings.

The focus of the story is Calvin Wrobel, an Air Force officer providing a sanctuary for Sabrina’s boyfriend Teddy. Calvin has his own problems, an ex-wife who lives in Florida with their daughter while Calvin, in Colorado, is confused about whether his future involves being with his family or accepting a promotion that would increase the distance between them.

It’s one of the quietest comics I’ve ever seen. In its crushing silence, with its series of relentless square panels, often using many small ones in sequence almost as a slow-motion effect, and its solid and muted color palette, not to mention its mid-Western reticence, it seems clearly to be a post-Chris Ware book, although Drnaso has a different tone and different concerns.

What is it about? Storytelling, lack of connections, being attacked for good intentions and honest mistakes, fear, lack of trust, the hardships of humans in a fragmented and post-trauma world.

It’s very good but not a short, easy or comforting read, excepting the comfort derived from artistic excellence.
2022 January 12 • Wednesday

"Every single day I want to drop out. I think about it in the morning when I get up, and throughout the day, while I'm in class. Nothing I'm learning will feed me. My friend with a Masters in English works at Starbucks. Even if I get a job in my field, it's almost impossible to survive without another job. Like, at Starbucks."

This is an expression of a depressingly common situation. What would you do with those words? Just on their own, they tell a story clearly and succintly.

If you're Caroline Cash, you make this one of many true to life scenes in a book called Girl in the World, which brilliantly fuses a boots on the ground realist perspective of a young person in a big city with a veritable riot of colors and shapes that make something magical and hallucinatory out of quotidian speech and action.

And here's how that straightforward speech from above is rendered in Cash's extraordinary visual language.

It's hard to say what's more impressive. Is it the use of color? Is it the facial expressions? The subtle emphasis created by the shifting of composition? The silent panel that creates the space for the last line?

And this is one of the calmer pages. In general things are much wilder. Consider this example, how Cash uses a whole page for six words of dialogue and a simple action.

You can open to any page and marvel at what Cash does with the medium itself. Her approach to layout and use of color are new, exciting and brilliant. And she makes it seem effortless, a big hint that we're looking at something truly great.

By all means get your hands on one of these. I recommend the Chicago Quimby's, where you're likely to find a signed copy.

2022 January 10 • Monday

Robert Folk's score for Toy Soldiers is our 708th Soundtrack of the Week.

It begins with strong atmospheres of drama and mystery with martial elements added by snare drum in "Prelude/Escape from Barranquilla".

The second track, "Regis Cue", is a soaring and uplifting John Williams-like piece with an American feel that might also recall some of Alan Silvestri's work.

A military feel returns with the prominent use of snare drum in "Sneaking to the Cellar", followed by the powerfully sinister and brass-heavy "Border Killing".

Then things get a little slower, quieter, more pensive, for the long string tones and subtle timpani of "The Mouth Wash Incident".

"Billy's Caper" also has a Williams-esque feel to it, with moments that might remind you of cues from Superman or Raiders of the Lost Ark.

These ideas are continued in the beginning of "The Capture of Regis" before the score goes full horror with some shrieking and swirling strings before settling into an urgently driving tension zone.

The cue for "Interrogation" is slow and brooding with some lovely thick textures. It leads organically into "Surrounding the School" which has some Herrmannesque use of harp and ostinati.

Harp plays a more prominent and beautiful role in "Cali's Demand", not front and center but strategically placed to complemenet what the orchestra is doing—which at times is another Herrmannesque feel from the string section.

Things must be happening in "Uneasy Quiet" as the energy picks up in the middle before settling into a more restrained mood, with a very Marnie-like motif.

Another Herrmann similarity can be heard in the beginning and background of "Beginning of the Plan", this time another ostinato that might recall his "Outer Space Suite". Then it moves to a brighter, more "American" sound, more in the Williams or Silvestri zone.

"Billy's Escape" keeps the previous cue's rhythmic feel but adds some lovely writing for strings. At the risk of overdoing comparisons to the work of other composer's, this piece reminded me of some of James Horner's Star Trek II: The Wrath Khan music.

The energy of the previous cue continues with the beginning of "Billy's Mad Dash/Billy Meets the Army", which ends up being a gradual development of suspense before relaxing calming strings and harp and eventually resolving with the swelling of the full orchestra.

And then the orchestra starts strong with "Running Back to School", a rousing and energetic piece that suggests gearing up for battle.

The intensity is sustained by the propulsive "In the Nick of Time" and then diffused with some unusual and arresting harmonies in "The Boys Reflect (Joey's Death)", which demonstrates a possible John Barry influence.

After that it's time for a slow, sad feel with the touching and elegiac "Father's Pain", which has a gorgeously sorrowful melody.

"The Wrath of Joey's Father" is quietly restrained, with the snare drum sporadically suggesting battle and string figures indicating that, perhaps, preparations for conflict or vengeance are being made.

Another surprisingly restrained and atmopsheric cue, "Billy Snaps Out of It", gets a lot out of some stripped down writing for strings combined with very subtle rhythmic statements from piano and other instruments.

The string and wind instruments play off each other in "Billy Changes the Chip", alternating long tones and short, contrasting rhythms and feels.

Everything then really explodes in "Narrow Escape/Closing In/Jack Gets It", combining themes of horror, action and more moody atmospheres, no doubt quite appropriate for what must be the climax of the movie.

"The End of Cali" is a triumphant and militaristic action cue with echoes of Williams, Goldsmith and Horner.

And then there's the "End Credits", with a return to soothing, brass-led Americana melodic structures. There's also a shorter alternate version of same.

2022 January 07 • Friday

Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton is a member of a small but adored (by me) group of books: thrillers in which nothing happens.

Other distinguished members of this group include Nicholson Baker's Mezzanine and much of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor.

My Name Is Lucy Barton might not actually have a plot, if you agree that the difference between a story and a plot is that a story tells what happened and a plot tells why it happened.

The story of My Name Is Lucy Barton mostly takes place, at least physically, in a New York City hospital room with a view of the Chrysler Building outside its window.

As Lucy Barton remains in the hospitla several weeks longer than expected after a routine appendectomy is followed by a mysterious fever whose cause is never ascertained, her mother appears to stay with her and the two talk and Lucy, our narrator, thinks and remembers and addresses the reader directly about what is said, thought and remembered, presenting us with this book which has been kind of stealthily almost annotated.

Everything is a mystery and, possibly, a metaphor, but not in some kind of obvious or lazy post-modern or post-post-modern or any kind of writing school sort of way.

From this very specific point on the space-time map of Lucy Barton's life, this hospital bed, we zoom out to look in on different points in that map, different times and places and the smooth assurance of these journeys generate startling energies.

There isn't a false or even tentative step to be found here, even as Lucy Barton might flat out tell us that what she just said happened might not have happened or as she herself might show herself to be tentative.

This is the only book by Strout I've read but it suggests that she is a major writer with a major style. If you enjoy the power of understatement and the elegance of an economy of words, then you should be delighted by this book.

The first line is "There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks".

2022 January 05 • Wednesday

One of the many non-events of the previous years was that I saw the movie The Eiger Sanction. It was, to my surprise, incredibly bad. I was on board with the idea of Clint Eastwood as some kind of assassin who has to climb a mountain with some people without knowing which one of them is the target. That sounded like fun.

But the movie was ridiculous and dull.

It was an adaptation of a book by a writer who goes by the name Trevanian. Reading a book by Trevanian was another thing I did in 2021.

The book in question is the remarkable Shubumi, and Trevanian makes sure that readers of the book know that he also didn't like the movie of The Eiger Sanction.

There are numerous references to Shibumi as a spy novel but this seems wildly inaccurate to me. It's a thriller. There are some intelligence agents in it, especially CIA, but there are lots of people and lots of things in it.

One thing that is not in it is spying.

But the confusion is understandable. Trevanian's book is kind of an unhinged John Le Carré novel, with a crucial difference being that everything is on the surface and nothing underneath; the characters' every word and action screams the one simple type of character they are, devoid of complexity.

You might argue that the protagonist, Nicholai Hel, is complex, considering how unusual his life story is and how many different skills and talents and such that he has.

Not really, though. He's a superman who would make most comic book writers blush.

If Tom Ripley had been fused with Doc Savage, shot up with a dose of The Fountainhead, raised by the Baroness Orczy and Leo Tolstoy before spending his adolescence with Casanova and Mata Hari, summering at a Shaolin temple where he met his half-sister, Modesty Blaise, and then discovers that he h as a couple of mutant powers...

Well, you see the impossibility of it. He's the kind of man who might ask Jason Bourne to mail a letter for him, or Bruce Wayne to wash his car.

What matters, though, is that it's a compelling read, incredulous though it is. And it's something of a high water mark for Men's Adventure fiction, this genre that has permeated so much of western culture, perhaps beginning with the ancient Greek and Roman myths before becoming distilled into pulp fiction, which was then diluted into comic books (and Boys' Own adventure fiction), radio shows, movies and television shows, before becoming straight up "Men's Adventure" fiction again in cheap paperback books in the second half of the twentieth century.

And the principal fantasy elements of Men's Adventure fiction—fantasies of violence and of sex and of being supremely gifted at both, the primary fantasy being one of competence in general—are still the engine that drives many (most?) stories offered as popular entertainment.

(This is not necessarily a bad thing but a lack of awareness of it might be. It's important to recognize fantasy as fantasy.)

Anyway, Nicholai Hel lives in his beautiful chateau in Basque country with his loving concubine, sterotypical drunk gardener and stereotypical life-loving friend who would certainly have been played by Anthony Quinn if they had made a movie out of this book in the 1960s. (Which would not have been possible since it came out in 1979.)

He's retired from being a professional assassin. He's rich and he's got it all. He can go exploring caves, a major passion, and indulge in serious sex with Hana, whom he has hired to be his lover but with whom he has a real loving and mutually adoring relationship. (Superman, remember?)

He is a larger than life aristocrat, genius, mystic, sex god, killing machine. He has actual superpowers, among them one called proximity sensitivity, which allow him to sense people by their auras and know not just where they are but what they're feeling and thinking. More or less he has a chunk of Daredevil's superpower but he didn't have to lose his sense of sight to get it.

Somehow he has mastered something called Naked/Kill, which allows him to use almost anything as a deadly weapon. At one point, it's casually mentioned that the average room contains 200 deadly weapons as far as Hel is concerned.

It was at this point that I would have liked a wee bit more explanation.

We're told that Hel "maintained body tone through the study and practice of an occult branch of martial arts that accented the use of common household articles as lethal weapons" but there's nothing about how he learned of this in the first place or who might have taught him.

Trevanian speaks directly to the reader about this a little later, in an extraordinary footnote that takes a swipe at the Eiger Sanction movie while also praising the author himself.

ln the course of this book, Nicholai Hel will avail himself of the tactics of Naked/Kill, but these will never be described in detail. In an early book, the author portrayed a dangerous ascent of a mountain. In the process of converting this novel into a vapid film, a fine young climber was killed. In a later book, the author detailed a method for stealing paintings from any well-guarded museum. Shortly after the Italian version of this book appeared, three paintings were stolen in Milan by the exact method described, and two of these were irreparably mutilated.

Simple social responsibility now dictates that he avoid exact descriptions of tactics and events which, although they might be of interest to a handful of readers, might contribute to the harm done to (and by) the uninitiated.

In a similar vein, the author shall keep certain advanced sexual techniques in partial shadow, as they might be dangerous, and would certainly be painful, to the neophyte.

Certainly the impression that Trevanian seems to wish to convey, not just here but throughout the book, is that nobody could be farther from being a neophyte than he.

The concern over description did not extend to the practice of spelunking, which is described here in an abundance of detail and seems more dangerous than mountain climbing.

And then there's the "sexual techniques". Hel is a "Stage IV" lover and of such prowess that he has, apparently, punished woman by giving them so much sexual pleasure that they can never be satisfied by another for the rest of their lives.

There is a lot about all of this in the book. Also Hel's mastery of Go, his mystic transcendence, his aforementioned superpower involving auras.

It goes on and on. Hel is also the Forest Gump of Men's Adventure fiction, responsible for the creation of Andy Warhol (I'm not kidding) as well as the downfall of the Baader-Meinhof group. He even learns the whole truth about the JFK assassination, because why not throw that in there too?

His foe is about as opposite as can be, outrageously philistine, soulless, tasteless, lacking in all refinement or appreciation of beauty.

The clash is between old world and new world, East and West, Europe and America, art and commerce, etc.

The plot? CIA operation to kill some terrorists leaves one alive, who goes to Hel. The CIA thinks Hel will come out of retirement to help the survivor's cause so they decide to neutralize him as a threat.

This plot is unspooled rather elegantly, intercutting with Hel's life story, which eventually dovetails with the briefing itself and information being extracted from a massive computer (later opposed by Hel's card catalogue system, another very loud announcement of how directly opposed the hero and villain are).

The book is divided into five parts, each one aptly named for Go positions and moves.

There are occasional points made that I agree with. Trevanian is against the destruction of the planet and the collusion of energy companies with the government. Strip mining for coal becomes an important piece on the chessboard at one point.

And then there was this: "Hel might have told her that, in the long run, the 'minor' virtues are the only ones that matter. Politeness is more reliable than the moist virtues of compassion, charity, and sincerity; just as fair play is more important than the abstraction of justice. The major virtues tend to disintegrate under the pressures of convenient rationalization. But good form is good form, and it stands immutable in the storm of circumstance".

I like that quite a bit, except for the word "moist". There has to be a better word than that for what he's saying here.

While wildly indulgent and requiring way more than an average suspension of disbelief, Shibumi is an impressive work of craftsmanship and most likely would have won the gold medal at the Men's Adventure Olympics if there had been one the year it came out.

The first line is "The screen flashed 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 … then the projector was switched off, and lights came up in recessed sconces along the walls of the private viewing room".

2022 January 03 • Monday

The 707th Soundtrack of the Week is this magnificent box set—Volume 1!—of music from The Time Tunnel.

John Williams, then Johnny Williams, came up with the theme, a perky, energetic and off-kilter piece of music similar to his Lost in Space theme.

Then comes Williams's score for the episode "Rendezvous with Yesterday", which has mysterious and adventurous qualities as well as nice use of electric guitar. Parts of it made me think of some of Laurie Johnson's Avengers music while the "Tony Enters Machine" cue could be a cousin of a Bernard Herrmann cue from a Ray Harryhausen movie.

After the theme, thirteen "Rendezvous with Yesterday" tracks and an eight-second bumper composed by Williams, we get Lyn Murray's score for "One Way to the Moon".

It's a brooding and ominous piece of music much of the time and makes use of the "space sound" potential of organ, vibes and echoes. There are some noises in "Flight Calculations/Meteor" whose origin was a mystery to me.

The next score, "End of the World", is also by Murray and is also a fairly heavy and serious affair, but without as many outer space motifs (though there are some, apparently for scenes with comets).

Then it's Paul Sawtell's turn as composer for "The Day the Sky Fell In", which uses the Pearl Harbor and the Pacific theatre of World War 2 as a backdrop and thus has some "Asian" and "Japanese" motifs here and there.

It also has some very nice ethereal writing, as in "The Neal Mansion/A Strange Meeting".

"The Last Patrol" is another Lyn Murray work, with lots of martial cues and use of snare drum for a straight-up army story.

The last episode represented is "Crack of Doom", courtesy of Robert Drasnin. I would have expected more exotica from this volcanic island-set narrative, but it's very much in the tension/action mode, though there is the occasional flourish of hand percussion.

The set is concluded with some alternates, source music, library versions, etc.

It's wonderful that La-La Land Records released it. There's just a small group of dedicated people putting out a ton of great soundtrack music these days and I'm extremely grateful to them.