Thursday, August 21, 2014

38 Years Ago Today...

Where does the time go? (I know I've posted this picture a number of times before, but thanks to the fire of '08 we don't have many photos left from those days.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blackout - Tim Curran

BLACKOUT is the first thing I've read by Tim Curran. It's a well-written horror/science fiction novella that's very reminiscent of not only 1950s SF movies but also the work of Stephen King, in that he takes a group of normal people (in this case middle-class suburbanites) and puts them in an unexpected and very harrowing situation so we can see how they react.

Curran spends a little time introducing us to his characters, but it doesn't take long for things to start going to hell as the power goes off following a mysterious thunderstorm. A darkness deeper than the normal night settles over the neighborhood, something unseen but huge hovers above it, and people are snatched up to an unknown but probably grisly fate by sinister tentacle-like cables that drop down out of nowhere. One by one, our little group of protagonists shrinks until...

Curran writes well, creating sympathetic characters and moving his story along at a nice pace. He handles action just fine and a lot of the scenes are genuinely creepy, as well as occasionally gross. My only complaint is that I didn't care much for the ending, and that's more of a philosophical difference rather than any failing on Curran's part. Overall I liked BLACKOUT quite a bit, and if you enjoy dark science fiction tales, you should check it out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Klondike

I'd never heard of this mini-series that ran originally on the Discovery Channel until we came across the DVDs of it, but being a sucker for Northerns I had to get it and watch it, of course. It's very loosely based on actual incidents during the Yukon Gold Rush, but it takes so many liberties I think it would be best just to consider it historical fiction and evaluate it on that basis.

And my evaluation is, it's not bad. Not great, but certainly entertaining. It's the story of two young men from the east who head west to make their fortunes after graduating from college. They're likable sorts, and after a few minor adventures they wind up on their way to Alaska, where they travel over Chilkoot Pass with all the other gold-seekers on their way to Dawson on the Yukon River. When they get there, they'll encounter murder, romance, and adventure...not to mention Jack London.

Now, it just so happens I've written a novel with this same general setting and time period, so I know a little about it from my research. KLONDIKE gets quite a few things wrong, but what's the point of going into them? It's a good yarn, complete with stalwart heroes, despicable villains, colorful supporting characters, some humor, some tragedy, and lots of action. I'm fine with cutting it the same amount of slack I would for a big budget Hollywood historical from the Forties, which it resembles in a lot of ways.

It also resembles DEADWOOD quite a bit (I can just imagine some executive saying in a meeting, "Make it just like DEADWOOD, only different), which is another series that possesses only a nodding acquaintance with historical accuracy. KLONDIKE doesn't have the same level of writing and acting, but few series do.

The cast is mostly unknown to me, other than Tim Roth playing a slimy villain, as he usually does, Sam Shepard as an angst-ridden priest, and the fine character actor Tim Blake Nelson as one of the hero's sidekicks. But they all do decent jobs. The scenery, as you'd expect, is magnificent. The story does fall apart a little at the end, as it keeps going right on past several suitable conclusions and is less satisfying than it could have been.

All that said, I enjoyed KLONDIKE. Watching it made me want to read some Northerns again. I may just have to do that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground - Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptations of Donald E. Westlake's Parker novels continue with SLAYGROUND. I actually haven't read all of the Parker novels (I know, I know, I should have by now), but I have read this one and remember enjoying it very much. It's the one in which Parker, after a botched armored car robbery, is trapped by gangsters and crooked cops in a deserted amusement park that's closed for the winter. That's it for the plot. But as always, Cooke's art and script perfectly capture the ultra-hardboiled tone of the books. I would never recommend that anybody should read these instead of the novels, but they make wonderful companion pieces.

This volume also contains a Parker short story "The 7eventh". I'm not sure if it's based on something Westlake wrote or if it's an original by Cooke, but either way it's good as well. I've read all four of these volumes so far and will continue to do so as long as Cooke wants to do them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, April 1935

It's almost hard to grasp just what a good magazine BLUE BOOK was. Take this issue from 1935. You've got Part 1 of the serialization of the first Kioga novel by William L. Chester, HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS. You've got two stories by H. Bedford-Jones, an Arms and Men yarn under his name and another story as by Gordon Keyne. You've got the final installment of SWORDS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Plus stories by Warren Hastings Miller, Sidney Herschel Small, Leland Jamieson, and Jacland Marmur. Some of these names are pretty much forgotten, but they were all fine writers. And that was just one issue of one pulp. It boggles the mind. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Now Available: Red Shadows, Green Hell - David Hardy

The green hell that is the Netherlands East Indies in 1859 is a dangerous place—but soldier of fortune Patrick "Blackie" Boyle is a dangerous man. Trapped between Malay fanatics on one side and Dayak headhunters on the other, menaced by sinister sorcery and entranced by a beautiful jungle queen, Blackie will need all his formidable skill as a fighting man to survive! 

RED SHADOWS, GREEN HELL is a thrilling 8,000 word short story of historical adventure, touched with fantasy and horror, from acclaimed author David Hardy. It's an exciting, fast-paced yarn in the grand pulp tradition of Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy, full of vivid, hardboiled action.

I think this is my favorite of Dave Hardy's work so far. It's a story that would have been right at home in ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, or BLUE BOOK, just the sort of historical adventure I like.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, September 1935

The inaugural issue of this pulp had quite a line-up of authors: Max Brand, Clarence E. Mulford (with a Hopalong Cassidy story), J. Allan Dunn, Frank Richardson Pierce, and Paul Evan Lehman. Hard to imagine how many millions of hours of Western entertainment those five authors have provided for readers over the years.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Now Available: The Fyredrake's Prey - James Reasoner

Sir Gault the Red was once the fiercest knight in all Malachar, but that was before age and a life of peace reduced him to a shadow of the warrior he once was. Now his epic battles against the fyredrakes, the race of reptilian monsters that terrorized the countryside in times past, are just a memory...until an unexpected encounter prods him into a desperate attempt to recapture past glories.

Keldrick is the last of his kind, a giant fyredrake whose flaming breath once blazed a path of destruction across the land. He wants only to reach the legendary northland where others like him may still be found...but his journey will also be one last rampage of fire, death, and devastation across the domain of the hated humans.

These two natural adversaries are fated to meet, but before they do both will be drawn into a web of deceit, ambition, and lust that will leave them questioning who are the real monsters, humans or fyredrakes!

THE FYREDRAKE'S PREY is a gritty fantasy saga packed with bloody action and unexpected heroism from New York Times bestselling author and legendary storyteller James Reasoner, a never before published 70,000 word novel available only from Rough Edges Press.

A number of years ago I wrote and sold a fantasy novel, but due to some odd circumstances, it was never published. It would have been lost in the fire of '08 if I hadn't sent it to several friends to read, and a couple of them sent it back to me. I planned to do something with it someday...but you know how that goes.

Earlier this year I decided I wanted to get it out and polish it up. That polish job turned into major revisions, to the point that the basic plot and a few character names are about all that's left from the original version of the novel. I really enjoyed working on it, though, and definitely would like to do more with this setting, which ties in loosely with a few short stories I've done. When will I get a chance to do that? Heck if I know.

THE FYREDRAKE'S PREY is available right now in a Kindle edition, and a print edition is in the works and should be out in a few days. It's not quite sword and sorcery, not quite high fantasy, but more along the lines of what George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie write, whatever you call that. Mostly I think it's an entertaining novel, and I hope some of you will check it out.

Forgotten Books: The Money Gun - Robert J. Randisi

Whenever I get the urge to read a Western by Bob Randisi, there are certainly plenty to choose from. You don't hear much about this one because it's a stand-alone instead of a book from one of his many series, but it's also one of his best novels.

The Money Gun is Faulkner, and he's a hired gun who specializes in killing bad men the law can't touch for one reason or another. His only friend in the world is Henry Tall Fellow, a half-breed bounty hunter who Faulkner teams up with from time to time. This novel tells two parallel stories: their effort to track down the notorious outlaw Jack Sunday, and in flashbacks, the first time the two worked together a quarter of a century earlier. Not all that surprisingly, those two stories wind up being connected.

As with any Randisi novel, THE MONEY GUN is fast-paced, has plenty of good dialogue, and some nice action. There's also a very effective sense of poignant melancholy as these two old friends deal with the infirmities of age and the weight of decades spent in a bloody, violent business. I was reminded of both RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and THE WILD BUNCH. The time period, 1898, the tail end of the Old West, just increases that sense of an era drawing to a close.

If you've never read a Randisi Western, THE MONEY GUN wouldn't be a bad place to start. It's both entertaining and moving. The original paperback edition from 2007 seems to be out of print, but ought to be easy enough to find. There's also a Kindle edition available on Amazon. If you're a Western fan, it's well worth reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Man Who Loved a Zombie - Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer)

Bruno Fischer was one of the top writers of mystery and suspense novels for the iconic paperback publisher Gold Medal in the 1950s. One of his early novels for Gold Medal, HOUSE OF FLESH, sold well over a million copies and was one of the first big success stories for paperback originals. He went on to have a well-regarded career as the author of hardback mystery novels.

But before all that, under the names Russell Gray and Harrison Storm, he was a prolific contributor to the Weird Menace pulps, including the story "The Man Who Loved a Zombie" in the May/June 1939 issue of TERROR TALES. It's a well-written, fast-moving yarn about a man who returns to his hometown to find that some of the inhabitants are dying from a mysterious disease and then being resurrected as zombies by a sinister unknown mastermind. Fischer introduces us to the suspects in rapid-fire fashion, compressing all the events of the story into a few hours one night, opening in a graveyard and ending with a military-style siege of a mansion with machine guns chattering and an army of zombies carrying rifles.

Despite the over-the-top nature of the plot, Fischer's prose is fairly restrained for the Weird Menace genre and not as wild-eyed as that of, say, Arthur Leo Zagat. It's a different approach, but it works. "The Man Who Loved a Zombie" is a very entertaining story and one more reason to pick up a copy of ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!