Tag Archives: George Clayton Johnson

Book Review: ‘Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont’

Charles Beaumont on the set of "The Howling Man." Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Charles Beaumont on the set of “The Howling Man.” Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

How do you describe the distinctive character of the landmark television series, The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)? Well, it has everything to do with its unique literary quality. And how to best speak to that? Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), one of its celebrated writers, is a perfect example. Let’s look at a new collection of his work, published by Penguin Classics, “Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont.”

"Perchance to Dream" by Charles Beaumont

“Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont

What a treat this book is for any Twilight Zone fan since here you have some of the original stories by Beaumont that went on to become classic episodes. And you also get them in the context of his work for various magazines of the era, a total of 23 stories in this collection. Consider the title piece, “Perchance to Dream,” first published in Playboy, October 1958, and then turned into a TZ script and broadcast November 27, 1959. A distraught man enters a psychiatrist’s office in fear that he will die if he falls asleep. He is certain this will happen since he sees things that tell him so. For instance, if he stares long enough at a painting, the figures will move around and talk to him. Here, perhaps Beaumont borrows a little from “The Golgotha Dancers,” by Manly Wade Wellman, first published in Weird Tales, October 1937. It’s just enough to fuel another strain in the tradition of weird fiction dating back to Gothic literature. In this case, we have a man in a contemporary setting who has been reduced to a quivering heap as his only solace, to dream, has been denied him.

Charles Beaumont Ray Bradbury

Rod Serling was a writer on the rise, already with a reputation for first-rate work like “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” when he decided to try something new. It was to be an anthology series of science fiction and fantasy, the best possible route for him to continue to pursue his social commentary. When Serling approached Ray Bradbury for advice, Bradbury presented him with four books by authors he should know: Ray Bradbury, John Collier, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont. Dark fantasy is what Serling was seeking. Beaumont seemed to be dark fantasy incarnate. He was a brash young aspiring writer when Bradbury took him under his wing. In a year’s time, Beaumont was well on his way. In 1950, at 21, he sold his first story to Amazing Stories. And, in 1954, Playboy magazine selected his story “Black Country” to be the first work of short fiction to appear in its pages. His astonishing trajectory would end by a mysterious condition that would cut his life short, at 38, in 1967. A fascinating documentary by Jason V Brock provides great insight into this unique life and career.

Browsing through the titles, you’ll find a wealth of creativity spanning many genres, all of them embracing a sense of the macabre. The opening lines to “The New People” (1958) lure you in with the misgivings of Hank Prentice over buying his first home, that embodiment of the American Dream. Instinctively, he fears for his wife and son: “Too late for what? It’s a good house, well built, well kept up, roomy. Except for that blood stain, cheerful.” And so commences a fine piece of horror with a fine bite of social commentary. Conformity has brought each member of the neighborhood together. However, in order to cope with and stave off boredom, we discover this group gives new, and bloody, meaning to the quaint notion of “community.” In the same spirt as Richard Matheson, Beaumont conjures up a fable that questions our so-called dreams and aspirations.

Charles Beaumont’s work has a distinctive style and it is far from formulaic. What he did was follow a certain way of revealing a greater truth. Beaumont confronted that clean wall of 1950s conformity. He looked closer to see the stress cracks forming. He responded with fiction that helped to tear that wall down.

“Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont” is published by Penguin Classics. For more details, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Penguin Random House, Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone

George Clayton Johnson (1929-2015), RIP

"Nothing in the Dark" by George Clayton Johnson

“Nothing in the Dark” by George Clayton Johnson

Writer George Clayton Johnson past away this Christmas day at 12:46 PST. His son, Paul, posted an announcement. He said of his father, “He was more than a reknowned writer, fan & hemp legalization advocate, he was a truly loving father & husband. Dad understood some truths deeply….understanding, tolerance & love, and above all, we’re all the same and should be cared for as human beings…no homeless…no hunger, but charity for all.”

For those of you new to George Clayton Johnson, he was, and will always remain, a spirited beacon. He was able to take his love for science fiction and fantasy and realize some excellent writing. A prime example is his work on The Twilight Zone. He wrote some of the most memorable episodes, including “The Four of Us Are Dying” (1960), “A Game of Pool” (1961), “Nothing in the Dark” (1961), and “Kick the Can” (1962).

Of this work for The Twilight Zone, it was “Nothing in the Dark” that was his favorite and, perhaps, his all-around favorite of everything he wrote. The story has a favorite theme for him, the game of trying to cheat death. In the episode, Gladys Cooper (played by Wanda Dunn) is doing her best to avoid death by remaining in hiding. Attempting to reassure her is a handsome young man, Harold Beldon (played by Robert Redford). If only Gladys will give herself over to Harold’s logical and gentle words, she may find peace. Of course, this is the off-center world of The Twilight Zone with nothing as it may seem.

In the end, this is a story with an unpredictable and satisfying resolution. In a similar fashion, George Clayton Johnson bid farewell. He was in hospice care and it was assumed he was near the end a number of times. Ultimately, it seems, he got his wish, hung on until Christmas, and left on his own terms.

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Filed under George Clayton Johnson, The Sixties, The Twilight Zone

George Clayton Johnson, A Remembrance

George Clayton Johnson

George Clayton Johnson

One of George’s favorite themes as a writer was that of cheating death. News outlets have already reported on his death but he is still among us, the living. This is an irony that I must think is appreciated by George. His legion of fans have entered a process of mourning. His spirit, I must think, is pleased, restful, and joyful. Some fans believe he will hang on with us until Christmas.

George Clayton Johnson is in hospice and nearing the end. Of course, he will always live on. His impressive writing career began when he thought up the ultimate heist story. That was to be the Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.

George Clayton Johnson has led a full life as a writer, activist, and all-around humanitarian. He will always be an important part of some key pop culture: Ocean’s Eleven, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Logan’s Run. It’s pretty phenomenal when you stop and think about it. And such a decent man. Such a very decent man.

George came from humble origins, poverty-stricken Cheyenne, Wyoming during the Great Depression. He followed his heart, became great friends with legends and, in the process of living, loving, and creating, became a legend himself. This man did not seek out notoriety in some contrived manner. George had the great fortune of possessing just the right combination of talent, determination, and luck. As for luck, he gravitated toward other great talent. As for talent, he’d always had that. He loved to read since he could remember and writing came naturally to him. And, as for determination, that’s just second-nature to a man like George.

This is the man who co-wrote the novel that led to Ocean’s Eleven. He then went on to write iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone. He wrote the first aired episode of Star Trek. And, in a great capping off to a career, co-wrote the novel that led to the cult-classic Logan’s Run. But there’s much more to it than that. On a deeper level, it was always about maintaining one’s integrity and fighting to create something original in a world that demands the tried and true.

I had the opportunity to interview George for a couple of podcast interviews and got to chat a bit over the phone with him. During the course of one of our conversations, I suggested to him that his life and times would add up to an interesting book. I began work on it. We got to meet in person at his home in Los Angeles in December of 2014. For the next year, I began work on a book in a graphic novel format. It was through knowing George that I opened myself up more to my own love of writing. It was George who helped me rediscover Theodore Sturgeon. And it was George, because of his spirited way, that I opened myself up more to the world in general.

We had planned to meet again this year like before, in December of 2015, but, by then, it was too late. George was already in hospice care and, in the time that followed, it became clear that his time left was short. I had hoped to show him what I’d created thus far. But, I immediately understood, a significant page had turned. The time for asking questions or seeking advice had passed. I understood that I was alone to proceed. George had passed on the baton, just like he did for so many others like me.

The truth is that George will always be around.

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Filed under George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Ocean's 11, pop culture, Rod Serling, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone

Short Run 2015: Debut of GEORGE’S RUN #1

First issue of George's Run to debut at Short Run

First issue of George’s Run to debut at Short Run

For all of us in the comics community, whether creators or fans, it is time once again for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. There’s a nice write-up about it in the local alt-weekly, The Stranger, that you can check out here. Among a splendid array of comics that you will have a chance to choose from, I humbly add something I am working on. This is the first installment to a full-length work. It’s called, “George’s Run,” and it’s about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am still in the process of weaving the narrative but this is a perfect time to share some of what I’ve put together thus far. If you happen to go to Short Run, you’ll have a chance to buy a copy of this 24-page comic. You can find me at the Short Run tables under the name, Comics Grinder Press.

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival takes place this Halloween: Saturday, October 31, in Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center from 11 am to 6 pm.

For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Short Run right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, George Clayton Johnson, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Self-Published, Short Run

Logan’s Run: Vintage Movie Classics (A Vintage Movie Classic) Release Date – July 7, 2015

Logans-Run-Vintage-Books-2015

The new print and ebook edition of the original novel, “Logan’s Run,” by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, is now out, published by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Check out the new line of Vintage Movie Classics right here. This is the bestselling dystopian novel that inspired the 1970s science-fiction classic starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan. For many of you out there, enough said. It will instantly bring to mind crystal palm flowers flickering red. If that means nothing to you, then you’re in for a treat. Perhaps knowing that such works as “The Hunger Games” and the Divergent trilogy owe much to this novel with pique your interest.

It is a beautiful new edition for longtime fans and newcomers alike. For the longest time, this title was essentially out of print, as far as a mass market printing was concerned. The original novel was a huge hit in its day, only to be magnified by its tie-in with the major motion picture. The novel was never forgotten and, in fact, its legend grew. Special edition print runs came out over the years and you could always find an old copy of the many editions that exist. For collectors, there are many iconic paperback editions to choose from. But the fact remained that the time had come for a new readily available edition and now we have it. I’ve been a big supporter of bringing out a new edition. You can read my review of the original novel and my call for a new edition right here.

The forward is by Daniel H. Wilson, author of several books on possible dystopian futures, including Where’s My Jetpack?, Robogenesis, and the forthcoming, Quarantine Zone. Wilson provides just the right balance of looking back to his own childhood experience with Logan’s Run and observations on the novel’s enduring relevance. Wilson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and adds a contemporary boost to a timeless classic.

The novel, first published in 1967, paints a very compelling, and alarming, picture of a society overly dependent upon technology for all aspects of life. Youth has been conditioned to seek out distraction and pleasure over all else, including quality of life. That said, for anyone familiar with the movie, this is also one very entertaining story. The movie echoes the novel as it veers off into its own high level of kitsch. But no harm done. The movie remains a cult classic and an excellent gateway to the original novel.

I have always held a fascination with how movies adapt novels so I am thrilled to discover Logan’s Run is part of a new line of books from Vintage Books. Vintage Movie Classics includes a wide variety titles like “Night of the Hunter,” the bestselling National Book Award-finalist that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters. Other available titles: The Bad Seed, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Back Street, Alice Adams, Show Boat, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This is truly astounding for the broad range and the opportunity to rediscover lost gems.

You can find Logan’s Run over at Vintage Books right here and over at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Books, George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Novels, pop culture, science fiction, William F. Nolan

Interview: Jason V Brock and the World of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Jason V. Brock

Jason V Brock

Jason V Brock is an author, artist, and filmmaker who finds himself in a very interesting place in pop culture. For starters, he has created two well-regarded documentaries that focus on two very different men, both great contributors to science fiction, horror, movies, television, and the arts in general. One is Charles Beaumont. The other is Forrest J Ackerman. We chat about them and the creative process. How do you create art? One rule of thumb: Do it yourself! We begin with a look back at Brock’s childhood and how he, a child of the ’80s, grew up with the DIY ethos. In Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Brock cut his teeth on comics, retro cinema, vintage LPs, pulp fiction, and Playboy. Brock began working at his local comic book shop at the age of 13. His dad was a writer and graphic designer. It sounds like an idyllic way to grow up, right out of a Ray Bradbury story.

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Speaking of stories,there are so many stories to cover just in Brock’s documentary on Beaumont. Take the case of the short story, “The Crooked Man,” by Charles Beaumont. It is a classic today that was highly controversial for the time, circa 1955. It imagined a society where homosexuality was predominant while hetrosexuality was outlawed. The story was bought by Esquire but subsequently was not published. It turned out to also be too hot for the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But when Playboy published it in 1955, then that same story became okay, more than okay. Charles Beaumont sold his first science fiction story, “The Devil You Say,” to Amazing Stories in 1950. By 1954, he had written the first work of fiction, the landmark work, “Dark Country,” to appear in Playboy in 1954. This kicked off over a decade of Beaumont stories in Playboy. Writing for movies and televison soon followed including some of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” All this, and so much more, before his life was cut short at 38 by a mysterious illness.

And, that gives you some sense of what to expect in Brock’s “Charles Beaumont: Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man.” You can find that documentary as well as Brock’s documentary on Famous Monsters of Filmland’s former editor, Forrest J Ackerman (Uncle Forry), “The AckerMonster Chronicles!” right here.

We also chat about Brock’s work in editing and writing his own stories. This led us to discussing a unique pairing of talents. In the course of working on the Beaumont documentary, Brock got to know one of the members of the Southern California Writer’s Group, William F. Nolan. They struck up a solid friendship. When Nolan was at a turning point on where he wanted to live next, it was a reasonable choice for him to move a bit further north from Bend, Oregon to Brock’s neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington. It turned out to be a natural fit and Brock and his wife, Sunni, could not be happier to share meals but not only that. Bill Nolan became family and you look out for family.

A-Darke-Phantastique

Among Brock’s impressive editorial work, there’s the recent anthology, from 2014, “A Darke Phantastique.” This is a 730-page lushly illustrated collection of some of the best dark horror fiction around with more than fifty stories, poems, and one teleplay. This includes Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Case of the Four-Acre Haunt”; Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster”; William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch”; Nathaniel Lee’s “The Wisest Stone and the Zoo”; Derek Künsken’s “The Buddha Circus”; E.E. King’s “Three Fables”; Jason Maurer’s “In Your Dark: Differing Strategies in Subhuman Integration Through Monster Academies” and S.T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time.” “A Darke Phantastique” is published by Cicatrix Press and you can find it here.

Disorders-of-Magnitude-Jason-V-Brock

And another recent anthology, out this year, is “Disorders of Magnitude.” This is a 336-page overview of the genres of horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. It will prove useful to anyone who wants a better understanding of the roots of one of today’s dominant forms of entertainment and art. Included in this collection are essays, reviews, and interviews. Brock studies such dynamic figures as H. P. Lovecraft, Forrest J Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, and William F. Nolan. This collection also includes filmmakers Roger Corman, George Romero, and Dan O’Bannon, and such fantasy artists as H. R. Giger. “Disorders of Magnitude” is published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. You can find it as Amazon right here.

You can listen to our conversation by clicking the link below. For anyone interested in writing, filmmaking, and creativity in general, there’s something here for you. Enjoy.

And be sure to visit Jason and Sunni Brock at JaSunni Productions to find out more about their products and services right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, Documentaries, Forrest J Ackerman, George Clayton Johnson, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, Rod Serling, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan

Interview: William F. Nolan, Pulp Fiction, and the Art of Writing

William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Art: Henry Chamberlain

William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Art: Henry Chamberlain

William F. Nolan is a writer with a brilliant career. Stephen King has acknowledged Mr. Nolan as “an expert in the art and science of scaring the hell out of people,” and Ray Bradbury has spoken of Mr. Nolan’s ability “to create an atmosphere of ultimate terror.” Crafting an interview with him can take a variety of directions. You could focus on race car driving, movies, television, horror, or science fiction. I chose to talk about genre fiction, specifically the pulp era, as Mr. Nolan is an authority on that subject. And, of course, we made our way to the biggest title that Mr. Nolan is attached to, Logan’s Run. He co-wrote, with George Clayton Johnson, the original novel and has gone on to write further Logan’s Run novels as well as the pilot episode to the television series.

Imagine yourself a young person with big plans to embark on a career in writing. It’s the 1950s. You’ve made it out to Los Angeles. You grew up reading pulp fiction. You adore it. Max Brand Westerns are the best! But you also love hard-boiled detective stories. Who better than Dashiell Hammett to deliver on that score, right? And then there’s science fiction. If only you might meet up with your hero, Ray Bradbury. Wouldn’t that be the tops? Sure enough, you meet Ray Bradbury. Not only that, Mr. Bradbury takes you under his wing and helps set your writing career on a high-flying course. That would be your first published story, “The Joy of Living”, in If magazine in 1954. Welcome to the life of William F. Nolan.

We focus on three major writers and, in turn, see how Nolan learned from them, adopted their techniques and tenacity, to become a professional writer in his own right. We talk about Ray Bradbury and his penchant to pay it forward with other writers. “We all support each other,” Nolan says. We talk about Frederick Faust, known as “Max Brand,” among other pseudonyms, and his uneasy relationship with fame. As for Faust’s all-time famous title, “Destry Rides Again,” it paled in comparison to his devotion to writing poetry, which never sold. It’s a similar case with Dashiell Hammett. Despite his wildly popular “Thin Man” stories, he wasn’t satisfied and had hoped to develop writing beyond his genre, but never did. Oddly enough, despite any reservations from Faust or Hammett, all three of these writers are held in high regard. But only Bradbury was to live to see and appreciate his place in fiction as well as his notoriety.

It’s a perplexing predicament to be, or aspire to be, a writer. “The problem is that most students of writing are lazy,” Nolan points out. “They want to become Stephen King over the weekend. Well, you can’t become Stephen King over the weekend. Stephen King couldn’t do that. People have some idea that he’s always had it easy and been rich. But, no, he spent ten years writing and struggling before ‘Carrie’ came along and made him a tidy sum of money.” And far be it for a writer to always be the best judge of his own work. As the story goes, King threw away the manuscript to “Carrie” in a fit of frustration. He tossed it into a waste basket only to have his wife fish it out and persuade him to send it to his agent. Good thing he did just that.

“Writing is like a roller coaster,” Nolan says. But he is also inspired to share the fact that hard work will pay off. What best illustrates this is just talking shop with him. For example, you get great insight exploring the work that Nolan has done with George Clayton Johnson. Among the dozen or so writers that Nolan has worked with, it is with Johnson that he wrote his first teleplay and, years later, his first novel. It was to be firsts for both of them. In 1959, Nolan and Johnson wrote their first teleplay, “Dreamflight,” for “The Twilight Zone.” It was never produced. Thanks to the jet age, the show found itself with one too many airplane-related stories. It’s since been printed in the anthology, “Forgotten Gems.” And it is a gem, a modern day take on Sleeping Beauty.

In the intervening years, Nolan and Johnson would continue to grow as writers, in no small measure due to the collaborative process they developed as part of what became known as The Southern California Writers Group. And so they did work together again, including two unproduced “Star Trek” teleplays, finally leading up to one of the best collaborations ever, the original “Logan’s Run” novel.

As we closed out our interview, I asked about upcoming projects and William F. Nolan is, at 87 this March, as busy as ever. On his list of top priority items, he included his longtime friend and collaborator, writer/artist/filmmaker Jason V. Brock, who is set to work with Nolan on a new Logan’s Run novel that will deconstruct what has come before and is entitled, “Logan’s Fall.” Also on the list: “Images in Black,” an edited collection of Ray Bradbury stories with an African-American theme; “A Man Called Dash,” a definitive biography of Dashiell Hammett; “Soul Trips,” a collection of Nolan poetry; and a Nolan horror collection for the series, “Masters of the Weird Tale,” to be published by Centipede Press.

Just click below to listen to the podcast interview. Enjoy:

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Filed under Dashiell Hammett, Interviews, Logan's Run, Max Brand, pop culture, Pulp Fiction, Ray Bradbury, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Theodore Sturgeon, William F. Nolan

Movie Review: OCEAN’S 11 (1960)

Oceans-11-1960

The original 1960 “Ocean’s 11” is a curious thing. We all think we know the story. Going back to that original movie, it’s quite a blast from the past, a remarkable study in the popular tough guy mythos, and solid entertainment that still packs a punch. At this point in their careers as leading men, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford, were at the respective ages of 45, 43, and 37. They were not “young” anymore. Much of what happens in this movie, despite being light entertainment, is a contemplation of fading glory and death. I’m not sure, but if the creative team had wanted to push a little further, they could have pursued a more nuanced edge. As it is, this is a gem that finds some room for subtlety.

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Filed under Casinos, Gambling, George Clayton Johnson, Las Vegas, Movie Reviews, movies, Ocean's 11, Rat Pack

Star Trek: IDW Adapts Harlan Ellison’s ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’

Harlan-Ellison-IDW

My favorite episode of the original Star Trek series is “Man Trap,” by George Clayton Johnson. But there are certainly plenty to choose from. One of the crown jewels is by the great scribe, Harlan Ellison, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Ellison’s teleplay, much like Johnson’s, went through revisions to make it a better fit for network television at the time. Now, thanks to IDW Plubishing, this classic story will be faithfully adapted as a five-issue comics series, just as Ellison had originally envisioned it.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Comics, Comics News, Gene Roddenberry, George Clayton Johnson, Harlan Ellison, IDW Publishing, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek

Review: Logan’s Run: Omnibus, published by Bluewater Comics

Logans-Run-Last-Day-Bluewater-Comics

There is something downright thrilling about a project that is adding to the appreciation of Logan’s Run, a franchise with numerous tropes and backstory. Logan’s Run means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are diehard fans of the original novel, the major motion picture, and the television program. This omnibus edition collects all six issues of the Bluewater Comics series of Logan’s Run Last Day. It is a story that gives a big nod to the original novel, basically makes a case for what a remake of the movie might look like, and is a fine example of what you can do to tease out more nuances to such an iconic work.

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Filed under Bluewater Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Sci-Fi, science fiction, William F. Nolan