Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding, October 1940

I admit, I've never been much of an A.E. van Vogt fan. I've never read SLAN, although I've owned copies of it. I don't know if I do now or not. Should I read it? Other stories in this issue of ASTOUNDING are by Theodore Sturgeon, L. Sprague de Camp, Malcolm Jameson, Harry Bates, and Nat Schachner. That's a pretty strong line-up. The cover is by Hubert Rogers.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, April 25, 1942

I seem to keep coming back in this series to WESTERN STORY and H.W. Scott. I suppose that's because the magazine was one of the leaders in the Western pulp field for so long and because Scott painted so many covers for it, and painted them so well, to boot. This one has a circus theme, and Westerns and circuses seem to go together well. I've written a few myself using a traveling circus as a major plot element. I don't know if this cover is meant to tie in with any particular story in the issue. It seems unlikely, based on their titles. But I'm sure they're fine stories, anyway, considering that they were written by Walt Coburn, Peter Dawson, Hugh B. Cave, and Philip Ketchum, all excellent Western pulp authors.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Forgotten Books: River Range - L.P. Holmes

A few weeks ago I wrote about L.P. Holmes' Ace Double Western THE BUZZARDS OF ROCKY PASS, which is reprinted in this volume under its pulp title "The Buzzard's Brethren" (ACTION STORIES, August 1941). The other two stories in this collection are the novelette "Horse Thief Trail" (originally published under the title "Make Way For a Maverick" in the July 1942 issue of WESTERN TRAILS) and another short novel, "River Range", from the May 17, 1946 issue of RANCH ROMANCES.

In "Horse Thief Trail", young orphan Jeff Hawn is taken in and raised by an outlaw and the man's long-suffering wife. When the woman Jeff regards as his mother passes away, he takes one of the outlaw's horses and sets out on his own, but not without being pursued by the man and the rest of the gang. Jeff gets away and eventually becomes a tough young lawman, working as deputy for a sheriff who has a beautiful niece and a connection to Jeff's history that's a fairly big coincidence to swallow. Despite that, the story races right along with plenty of action and Holmes' usual fine prose. And if the ending is predictable, it's no less enjoyable getting there.

"River Range" is set along the lower Colorado River in Arizona Territory and utilizes the fairly uncommon plot of shipping cattle by riverboat. The protagonist is Boone Logan, the foreman of the C Cross ranch. Holmes has a habit of using ranch foremen as his heroes, rather than the owner of the ranch. Logan is a tough customer who rubs a lot of people the wrong way, so when rustling and other trouble begins to plague the spread, there are plenty of suspects. Since this was a RANCH ROMANCES story, there's plenty of "woman interest" (as the pulp editors called it) in the form of the rancher's beautiful daughter from back east. Other than the riverboat angle, there's nothing really surprising in this yarn, but Holmes was a master at pacing a story and there are also some really nice descriptive passages about the stark but picturesque terrain.

Books like this are pure entertainment for me. I really enjoyed all three stories in RIVER RANGE. If you're a fan of traditional Westerns, you won't go wrong with this book or anything else by L.P. Holmes, I suspect.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lines of Departure - Marko Kloos

A while back I read and very much enjoyed Marko Kloos's debut novel TERMS OF ENLISTMENT. It's a top-notch military science fiction novel narrated by young soldier Andrew Grayson, which ends with a cliffhanger of sorts as humanity makes contact with an alien race for the first time and realizes that to those aliens, humanity is nothing more than a bunch of ants to be stepped on.

As the sequel, LINES OF DEPARTURE, opens, five years have passed since the ending of the first novel, and Andrew has become a seasoned veteran of the war against the aliens, who have come to be called the Lankies. (I'm not quite sure why.) The Earth forces have lost basically every battle, and the Lankies have gobbled up human colony after human colony. Not only that, the two main Terran factions are still fighting amongst themselves, as they were before the aliens showed up, and the situation on Earth itself is steadily deteriorating, as Andrew discovers when he makes a poignant trip home to visit his mother.

Eventually he finds himself stationed on a backwater planet and involved in a dangerous mutiny, but all that goes out the window when a giant Lankie ship arrives and Andrew finds himself in the middle of a desperate plan to finally win one, just one, battle against the aliens...

Like the first book in the series, LINES OF DEPARTURE has a high degree of authenticity when it comes to the military activity, and the action scenes, which include both ground combat and space battles, are very well-handled. In addition, Andrew is a fine, sympathetic protagonist, tough, intelligent, and very human.

I thought this book got off to a little slower start and wasn't quite as compelling overall as TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, but it's still an absolutely top-notch science fiction novel. And although it certainly has a satisfying climax, it ends on something of a cliffhanger as well. The third book in the trilogy, ANGLES OF ATTACK, is already available, and I'll be picking it up and reading it soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Empire of the Sun

(This post originally appeared on May 11, 2010.)

We hadn’t seen a big, epic historical drama for a while, and this is one from the Eighties that we never watched. My fondness for war films is well-documented, too, so we gave EMPIRE OF THE SUN a try and I’m glad we did.

Based on an autobiographical novel by British SF author J.G. Ballard, the story centers around his childhood in Shanghai during World War II. The character, called James Graham in the film, is about twelve years old when the war begins and the Japanese attack and occupy Shanghai. Separated from his parents, young Jim is forced to survive in the devastated city on his own for a while until he falls in with some Americans who are somewhat shady characters. Eventually they’re all captured by the Japanese and forced to live in an internment camp for British and American prisoners until the end of the war.

Boiled down, that’s the plot of the movie, but it’s rich with characters and incidents that fill up its two-and-a-half-hour running time. There’s plenty of spectacle, as you’d expect in a film directed by Steven Spielberg, and yes, while some of it is a little hokey and overblown, it’s also pretty effective. When he tackles big historical dramas like this, Spielberg reminds me a little of David Lean (a director whose films I need to revisit someday soon).

A young Christian Bale plays Jim and does a good job. John Malkovich, eccentric as always, is the American who befriends him and saves his life more than once. The supporting cast is uniformly good, including one young Japanese actor who does a great job as a would-be pilot. (The internment camp is right next to a Japanese airfield, probably to discourage Allied attacks on the field, a strategy that doesn’t always work.)

EMPIRE OF THE SUN is an old-fashioned yarn that I enjoyed a lot. If you like historical dramas and/or war movies and haven’t ever seen it, you ought to check it out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Fugitive Trail - Wayne D. Dundee

Wayne D. Dundee's novel FUGITIVE TRAIL is in the running for a Peacemaker Award this year, and well it should be, because it's a fine traditional Western novel.

Like a lot of Civil War veterans, Eli Cole has come home to find his world ruined. He heads west, hoping to find a new home on the frontier, but he carries with him a price on his head because of a shooting in which he was involved. Starting out, his only companion is his dog Shadow, but he soon becomes involved with a small group of travelers heading for Colorado. The party is led by a minister who plans to spread God's word to the miners in the Rocky Mountains, so Cole with his violent ways doesn't really seem to fit in with the group. But with trouble dogging all of them, Cole and his gun may be just what they need.

As usual with a Dundee novel, the characters are human and well-drawn, and there's plenty of hardboiled action. Eli Cole is a very sympathetic protagonist, so the reader can't help but hope that he'll eventually find some happiness. FUGITIVE TRAIL is a fine example of Dundee's work and ample evidence of why he's one of today's most popular and highly regarded Western writers.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Detective Stories, February 1931

Nice cover by Donald Hewitt on this cover of a fairly obscure pulp, and a great line-up of authors inside: Erle Stanley Gardner, H. Bedford-Jones, Arthur J. Burks, and Edgar Wallace.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Quick Trigger Western Novels, March 1939

QUICK TRIGGER WESTERN NOVELS wasn't one of the top-tier Western pulps, but it had some decent covers, including this one, and popular authors like Ed Earl Repp and Brad Buckner (who was also Ed Earl Repp, by the way). Other authors in this issue are Larry Colt (sounds like a pseudonym to me; I wonder if he was really Ed Earl Repp), James Lassiter, and Dick Robson, none of whom I've ever heard of. Probably an enjoyable issue anyway.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Forgotten Books: House of Living Death - Arthur Leo Zagat

I'm fudging a little calling this a book, since it first appeared in the pages of the pulp magazine TERROR TALES (in the September 1934 issue) and is available now in a partial replica of that issue. But at least it's a complete novel; the editor says so right on the...No, wait, it's more like a 25,000 word novella. But it is forgotten by most of you, more than likely, and I had a great time reading it, so I'm going to write about it anyway.

Unlike most Weird Menace stories, which usually have some apparently supernatural aspect to them (I say apparently because there's almost always a rational explanation for the bizarre elements), HOUSE OF LIVING DEATH is set up more like a straight crime/suspense yarn. Two-fisted adventurer and narrator Hal Armour returns from Chile, where he's been managing his father's business interests, to New York, where his father died unexpectedly. When he gets there, he finds that the estate is being handled by a shady lawyer he's never heard of, and an aunt he didn't even know he had has come out of the woodwork, too. Naturally, all this makes Hal suspicious (can't say he's not quick on the uptake...well, actually, you can), and before you know it he's been framed for a murder he didn't commit and thrown into an insane asylum because the lawyer and the "aunt" have made it look like he's crazy.

The rest of the novella concerns Hal's efforts to survive in the asylum (which is full of violent inmates, brutal, whip-wielding guards, and a doctor who's crazier than the people locked up there, of course), find out the truth about what's happened to him, rescue the beautiful blonde he meets in there who seems to be in the same fix he is, and blast apart the conspiracy and set things right. This involves lots of running around in the big, hulking building and fighting not only the head guard but also the other inmates, who really are crazy, although they've probably been driven that way by the tortures their captors have handed out to them.

Zagat's prose is as breathless and over-the-top as it should be in a story like this, and he never slows down the pace long enough to let the reader think too much about how obvious the plot is. However, he does come up with a fairly nice twist along the way, and then, after what seems like a pretty apocalyptic ending, he has one more twist in store.

I realize the appeal of a story like this is going to be rather limited in this day and age, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading HOUSE OF LIVING DEATH. There are several collections of Zagat's Weird Menace stories available, so if you want to check out the work of one of the top authors in the genre, I highly recommend them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Now Available: Trail of the Cyclone - David Hardy

Frank Sparks and Cyclone Bill Martin are old friends from their buffalo-hunting days. But those days are over and done with now. Sparks is a hard-nosed sheriff, and Cyclone Bill is the ringleader of a gang of clever horse thieves plaguing the county. Their friendship won't make any difference when it comes to a hot lead showdown between lawman and horse thief! 

TRAIL OF THE CYCLONE is another exciting tale of Samaria, Kansas, from acclaimed author David Hardy. This is top-notch entertainment for fans of fast-paced, action-packed traditional Westerns!

(If you haven't checked out Dave Hardy's Samaria, Kansas, stories, you should give them a try. These are excellent Western yarns!)