17 May 2013

The floating fortress, by Joseph Berna

In the 20th century, from the '50s to the second half of the '90s, there were published in Spain (they reached spanish america too) short novels (called 'bolsilibros' —pocketbooks— or 'novelas de a duro' —pulp novels) of very diverse genres. In Sitio de Ciencia Ficción (Science Fiction Site) there is published a very long (and very recommendable) article series about all the collections that existed related to that web's main subject.

Does is have anything to do with me or ProseRage? Well, yes. I happen to own three of those works, all of them part of La conquista del espacio (The conquest of space) collection (edited by the extinct Bruguera) and I thought about making a good review of this trio. In the end, I wrote and published the articles in the spanish version of ProseRage and, quite a bit of time later, the day has come to translate them into english. Why all this work? For archeological interest's sake and, also, to check how well have aged those narrations. Bear in mind that these minibooks I have are an insignificant sample because, doing a wild guess, more than two thousand titles (reeditions not counted) of the science fiction kind (a bag were I put in space stories, anticipation, time travel, speculative or any other twisted term you'd like to invent) were published through the years in different collections by several publishers.

Among these three works I own, 'La fortaleza flotante' (The floating fortress) is the poorest of all them to my taste. Joseph Berna, José Luis Bernabeu López's pen name, tells in this short novel a story that doesn't fit in the space opera subgenre completely. I'll proceed to analyze it by sections, isolating different aspects of this work.

THE EDITION: Cheap but tough

Bruguera published La fortaleza flotante in april of 1983 for the first time (the second was in october for América), in the usual compact format (about 15 centimeter lenght by 10 width), light and resilient, common to the rest of that publisher's collections by the time.

It's number in the collection is the 661 and it's about ninety pages long. The price in which those narrations were sold on that year was 60 pesetas (less than half an euro), something that can be noticed in the backcover (together with the ad of another Bruguera's brand of short novels, Punto RojoRed Dot).

Another detail worthy of mention is the cover, which has a lot to do with the argument: the illustrated ship-fortress looks a lot like the one described by Berna in his work. As far as I could read about the evolution of this collection, that was a custom that ended being dropped, being cases where covers where reused among works that had nothing in common with each other (or even with the picture itself).

This was the backcover, where it can be seen a picture of (I think) Jean Paul Belmondo giving prestige to the Punto Rojo (Red Dot) collection.
It's a cheap edition which, roughly thirty years after its publication, still keeps it's cool quite well. It's true that the pages have aged, something you can see in the photos I've inserted further below. You'll notice, too, other details like that this collection was a weekly publication, other titles published before, the inner cover with a strange spaceship that you can't tell if it's coming or going, the first page of the first chapter in the novel and the nice size of the chosen font for the narration's text.

Please notice the font used in the title, which mimics the one used in "Star Wars".

THE ARGUMENT: Simpler than a pacifier's mechanism

If someone had ever dare to write an official synopsis of the story told in La fortaleza flotante, I think it could had been something like this:

"In the year 2085 a commercial astroship, the Afrodita-5, will be hijacked on it's travel to Pluto. Only a courageous passenger and a sexy flight attendant will oppose the evil intentions of the flying fortress' commander which has captured them."

Yes, you've read it right. The astroship of the good guys is called Afrodita-5 (like in Aphrodite). Yes, it's blood what is dripping from your eyes, dear readers.

So, I'm going to give you what I think is the most accurate summary of what truly the argument is.

"The alpha male most male and most alpha of the whole solar system wants to screw, again and again, the hottest flight attendant of the astroship in which he's travelling to Pluto. Since his usual moves don't make even a dent on his objective's libido, he'll have to take his chance when they're hijacked by hostile aliens to prove his manliness and oil his relationship with the hypervoluptuous female."

It's undeniable the suitability of this story for a porn movie (of the hard style).

THE REVIEW: Pulp space opera but of the ugly kind

On the left page you can see a list of earlier titles, on the right the indication that the collection is weekly (Publicación semanal) and what probably is it's logo.
I remember well my earliest impression when I read this story for the first time. I was already hardened by Asimov, Clarke, Bear and a few more authors, hence this short novel seemed childish to me. Harmless and with some charm, yes, but nothing more than a poor entertainment. That was some years ago, so I read it again to check how it looked nowadays and I still felt it as silly. Maybe that's a point in it's favor.

This feeling is well justified, because in the very first page the reader is punched already. I've told you before but I'll repeat it, the astroship in which the humans travel is called Afrodita-5, a detail that could drive someone to wonder if there is a Mazinger Z protecting Earth by then. I didn't noticed at first, my mistake, the obvious relationship of that name to the greek goddes of sex, love and else, Aphrodite. In essence, the author was not-so-subtlely hinting the reader to the fact that the ship was a real love boat in space.

The year was 2085, and by then we'll have colonies through all the solar system, protected by the classic dome system and with all the necessary advancements (like 24 hours shops, chinese restaurants and who knows what else). Nevertheless, there are interesting aspects like the name of the horniest man in the solar system who plays as the hero: Vladimir Donov. It's a curious thing taking into account the small detail that the Soviet Union was still alive and kicking (and muddled in Afghanistan, as a reference) when this story was written. The heroine, Rena Birkin, is the woman with perfect body who will be sacrified by the author among the tentacles of the athletic hero. Excuse me, I should have written something like falling captivated at his arms or under his romantic spell or any other slushy combination of words. Maybe it's that I don't like slushy things.

Another great detail of how vulgar and trite is this short novel comes in the description of the clothing of both leading roles, which I copy here with all the nerve. First the very well-built miss: "Like her co-workers, she was dressed up with a shiny blouse and a very short skirt, which allowed her to show off her beautiful legs. High golden boots completed her flight-attendant uniform."

Next comes the heroic big russian:

"Vladimir Donov, on the other hand, donned a blue shiny suit, of a single piece, very tight. He wore a silvery belt, and his boots, equally silvery, were short and extraordinarialy supple."

I don't know how people will dress in 2085, but I have the slight impression that it won't be like in the B-movies of the middle of '50s of the 20th century. But, remembering again that this is a soft-porn story, this way of clothing only makes sense as sexual innuendo and a parody/homage of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. So what are we talking here? Science fiction or what?

The most epic moment in the novel comes a bit before the middle of the story, right when the ship is hijacked by the aliens. Vladimir plans to hide with Rena in the cargo hold and, while they wait until everything calms down, suggests to his partner to have a roll in the hay in the meantime. Like that, to pass the time. Of course, after some good groping a pair of soldiers appears so the human can show his prowess and defeat them single-handed. I think that something similar was done by Nicolas Cage in a film, but while shooting and having sex at the same time.

As a positive contrast there is the great detail which Berna had when he played with the impossibility of direct oral communication between humans and aliens. They only understand each other through blows, essentially. This fact is well used by the author, without resorting to any kind of cheat on any situation until the end.

Now then, the final part is something that can be described as half baked, being generous. It seems the author ran out of pages, since all this kind of short novels never went further than one hundred sides more or less. This way, he barely narrated a very important event of the story, the small civil war that happens after the commander of the stellar fortress is killed and a curvaceous alien princess, who had been kidnapped by the evil overlord and was described by Berna like one of those voluptuous women drawn by the great Frazetta, is freed. In just one side of paper, the tragedy of the fight for the control of the enormous ship is dealt with. That makes clear that the destiny of those poor reptilian soldiers (they were described that way, truly a classic) it's of little interest for the author.

Well, you can imagine the epilogue. Ah, you really want me to tell you specifically what happened... Vladimir screws Rena, surely hard. But it's something only mentioned, not described. Remember, this is just a silly soft-porn story, with little eroticism.

Summing up, the text has some interesting details but all in all is something utterly forgettable. The floating fortress provides it's hour of fun but not much more, being itself content with being another mediocre story.

The font has the right size to make the text readable. Notice too the paper's color, aged but in good shape yet.

FINAL EVALUATION: Deus Ex Sexus

In La fortaleza flotante you feel the little care the author poured in its writting, nor the willingness of the editor to polish it a bit, and all these sensations makes you think that this story was something created just to comply with the quota. Truth is that, at least, the characters and their adventures are odd enough so a random reader could feel like trying to reach it's end. Of course, this is possible thanks in large part to the use of sex through the whole narration (they knew perfectly that their average reader was male).

Now the moment that everybody was waiting for has been reached, the score! Probably you'll be wondering about what kind of scoring element I'm going to use for this work: Little twinkling stars? Cute fairies or supersweet things like the ones used in other literary blogs? Kitties maybe?

Bullshit.

There's only one way to reckon this narration: counting in Steven Seagals, going the scale from one up to seven. Why seven? Who cares? Therefore, just because it has been written, I'll give it half a Seagal. Having a truly related cover, another half. A quarter for all the sex references (now the score is one and a quarter, mind you). Minding the language problem and not using a magical universal translator, a whole Seagal. Giving a russian name to the hero while the Soviet Union was still around, another half, and for making the aliens utterly ugly another quarter. Finally, for being ridiculous today as it was when it saw the light of the day, I'll strip it from three quarters of a Seagal. Final score, two Seagals and a quarter:


This time I've used Seagal, in other scorings I'll use another actors or odd characters. You have been warned.

REFERENCES

If you want to know more about the 'novelas de a duro' (pulp novels), through the following links you'll be able to find a lot of information (in particular in the Sitio de Ciencia Ficción site) and lists of titles of the diverse collections published in Spain. Of course, all of this content is in spanish.

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