Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Tomorrowland

TOMORROWLAND bombed at the box office and got mostly bad reviews, and I think I know why both of those things happened. This film is pretty much a love letter to anybody who grew up reading science fiction from the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties (one of the supporting characters even uses the name Hugo Gernsback!), and that description probably doesn’t fit many film critics these days, or a vast portion of the movie-going public, either. But for those who are the target audience, like me, it’s a wonderful little film.

The plot’s kind of hard to describe. It involves Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, alternate universes, and killer robots from the future. It’s complicated, but it all makes sense in the end (I think). George Clooney is a disillusioned inventor, Britt Robertson is a brilliant teenage girl who has to save the earth, and a little girl named Raffey Cassidy sort of steals the show as a visitor from the future.

TOMORROWLAND was directed and co-written by Brad Bird, who did THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES, so it’s not surprising there’s a sense of wonder and an optimism that are missing from a lot of contemporary films. Though clearly in the minority, I think it’s great, and if you’re a science fiction fan, there’s a chance you might, too. Highly recommended. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Gravedigger: Hot Women, Cold Cash - Christopher Mills and Rich Burchett

GRAVEDIGGER: HOT WOMEN, COLD CASH is a trade paperback collecting a pair of hardboiled crime yarns written by Christopher Mills with art by Rick Burchett. As you can tell by that great cover, the protagonist, "Gravedigger" McCrae was inspired visually by Lee Marvin, and there's a lot of Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake influence, too, since the character is a professional criminal. There's also a bit of Dan J. Marlowe's THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH in this graphic novel's lineage. These are all good things, of course, and Mills and Burchett make excellent use of these influences.

In the first story, "The Predators", Digger, as he's usually called, is in Florida trying to relax after a job, but when he gets involved with a mob boss's daughter things quickly go to hell and he finds himself targeted for death. There are some great scenes in the Everglades involving an airboat. I've never actually been on an airboat, but I find them fascinating anyway, for some reason. And of course I'm a sucker for swamp scenes.

The second story, "The Scavengers", is a heist yarn, very Parker-like in its planning, execution, and inevitable double- and triple-crosses. This one is set in the desert Southwest, another great locale for hardboiled and noir tales.

I like Burchett's stark, black-and-white art, and Mills' scripts race right along with fine dialogue and excellent voice-over narration from Digger. I haven't read any of Mills' other work, but I enjoyed this volume enough that I'm going to seek it out. If you're a fan of Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, Ed Brubaker's CRIMINAL, or any of the other hardboiled/noir graphic novels out there, you definitely should check out GRAVEDIGGER: HOT WOMEN, COLD CASH. It's good stuff.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Now Available: The Last Martian Chronicles - John Hegenberger

From the cold, rocky surface of Mars to the vast reaches of deep space, from the dusty pages of the pulps to the cutting edge medical technology of the future, the stories in John Hegenberger’s THE LAST MARTIAN CHRONICLES span the frontiers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Unlikely friends try to survive the dangers of future war in “Keys to the Kingdom”. A bizarre fate befalls a famous author in the alternate history story “Howard’s Toe”. Sinister forces are on the prowl in “Dead Dames in Dayton”. Alien visitors come to Earth with surprising results in “Last Contact”. And two races face a poignant destiny in “The Last Martian”. These stories and others from popular author John Hegenberger are filled with imagination, ingenuity, and heart.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, May 1, 1934

This DIME DETECTIVE cover has a real Weird Menace look to it. The contents appear to be pure hardboiled detective, though, with stories by Frederick Nebel (a Cardigan yarn), Erle Stanley Gardner, and Roger Torrey, along with a couple of lesser known authors, Maxwell Hawkins and Anson Hatch.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, September 1941

A busy but effective cover on this issue of POPULAR WESTERN, and the contents look good, too, with a Sheriff Blue Steele story by Tom Gunn (Syl McDowell), a Buffalo Billy Bates story by Scott Carleton (a house-name, so I don't know who wrote this one, although for some reason I seem to recall that Walker Tompkins wrote the Buffalo Billy Bates series), and yarns by William L. Hopson, Wayne D. Overholser, Donald Bayne Hobart, and Larry A. Harris.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Forgotten Books: Terror Station - Dwight V. Swain

I guess I've been watching too many of those 1950s science fiction movies lately, because I was in the mood to read something along those lines. What better place to look for it than the pages of the SF digests from that era, especially those published by William Hamling?

Well, you could check out a publishing company called Armchair Fiction, which has reprinted a lot of short novels from those magazines. That's where I read Dwight V. Swain's TERROR STATION, which appeared originally in the September 1955 issue of IMAGINATIVE TALES, with a cover by Harold W. Macauley that matches the story quite well. I met Dwight Swain at a convention in Oklahoma City in 1991, a year before he passed away, and I'm glad I got a chance to talk to him, even briefly. I hadn't read much of his work at the time, but I've since read quite a bit and enjoyed most of it.

TERROR STATION, like a lot of those movies I was talking about, is set in the desert, although it involves a military base, not a small town. The protagonist is Carl Stone, the head of security for the base, where some top-secret research is going on. Stone is driving back to the base one night, returning from a trip to Washington, when a terrified woman runs out in front of his headlights, an opening a little reminiscent of Mickey Spillane's KISS ME, DEADLY.

The story isn't the least bit Spillane-like after that, however. The woman is being pursued by a tentacle-waving alien. Stone tries to rescue her, but she's cut down by a death ray. The alien gets away. But when Stone takes the woman's body to the base, nobody believes him about the alien, and he's accused of murdering her. Everybody on the base is on edge and paranoid and acting out of character, including the director of the research project, who's Stone's old friend, and the base psychiatrist, who happens to be Stone's former girlfriend. Could it be that the evil aliens are influencing their minds? Why has a mysterious giant tower been erected on the base while Stone was gone? What are those strange lights in the sky?

I think you can probably answer all those questions without even reading the book, but if you're looking for a groundbreaking plot, TERROR STATION isn't the place. If you're in the mood for a slam-bang, two-fisted, hardboiled SF adventure yarn with a satisfying ending, this one is just about perfect. Swain really knew how to keep a story racing along for 30,000 words with hardly a pause for breath, and old geezer that I am, I had a great time reading it. I have a big stack of these Armchair Fiction double volumes, which are made to look a lot like the old Ace Doubles, so expect more posts like this to be showing up in the near future.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all o' yuh durn galoots. In these days of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and all the other social media I can't keep up with, I'm thankful for those of you who still take the time to stop by an old-fashioned blog. I plan to work a little today, take a little time off, and eat more than I should. That sounds like a good holiday to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Secret of Satan's Spine - Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray and Lester Dent)

All of Will Murray's Doc Savage novels have made me feel like I was back in high school, reading one of the Bantam paperbacks that I bought the first Tuesday of every month at Mott's Five-and-Ten Cent Store. (I doubt if anything in there was actually five cents or ten cents, but what the hey.) Murray's most recent Doc novel, THE SECRET OF SATAN'S SPINE, evidently based on an unused outline by series creator Lester Dent, really captured that feeling for me. I might as well have been back in that World War II-era army barracks my high school used as the study hall.

I realize I'm wallowing too much in nostalgia, but it's hard not to with these books. I mean, look at that great Bama-like cover by Joe DeVito. Kudos, too, to Matt Moring, who makes the layout of the pages look like those iconic Bantam editions.

But what about the story, you ask? Well, it's classic Doc Savage, as you'd expect from Will Murray. Monk Mayfair falls for a beautiful blonde who winds up being kidnapped. It's all a ruse to keep him from sailing to England to do some important war work for the Allies (this one is set in 1943). Doc, Monk, and Ham Brooks wind up on the ship that Monk planned to take anyway, but there are a bunch of villains on board, as well as some unexpected friends from one of the original novels by Lester Dent. There's a mysterious, sinister island in the Caribbean called Satan's Cay, and of course that's where you'd expect to find Satan's Spine, the secret of which is creepy, awe-inspiring, and also connected to some of the previous adventures of Doc and his crew. On top of all that, our heroes have to deal with a monster of a hurricane that's looming through most of the book before it finally strikes.

Add all that up and you've got pure pulp adventure of the sort that I love. As I've probably said before, when I bought the paperback of METEOR MENACE (my first Doc Savage novel), I never dreamed I'd still be reading new stories about him more than fifty years later. But I'm very glad that I am, and THE SECRET OF SATAN'S SPINE is great reading for any Doc fan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Deadly Mantis

I thought I'd seen nearly all of these movies, but Svengoolie keeps coming up with ones that I hadn't, or at least don't remember. Obviously, my cultural education was severely lacking in some respects. THE DEADLY MANTIS is from 1957, and as giant bug movies go, it's not bad.

It starts from a pretty ridiculous premise, though. A volcano erupts in Antarctica, and somehow that thaws out a giant prehistoric praying mantis frozen in the Arctic. Okay, we'll go with that, I guess. The mantis destroys an isolated radar station manned by the Air Force, which brings it to the attention of our stalwart hero, a colonel played by Craig Stevens. Yep, Peter Gunn his own self. But that not all. The scientist called in by the Air Force to help figure everything out is played by none other than William Hopper, best known as Paul Drake on PERRY MASON. So we have two iconic private eyes fighting a giant praying mantis. Yeah, I'll watch that. There's also a spunky gal reporter involved, but I thought she was kind of annoying.

The movie takes a documentary-like approach to a lot of the scenes, and that works pretty well. The mantis itself doesn't appear on-screen until well into the film, which is probably good. In some shots it appears fairly scary (well, it would have scared me when I was ten years old, which is how I try to approach movies like this), but in others it just looks fake and silly.

The odd thing is, as the movie goes on, I started to feel sorry for the mantis. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but the final scenes kind of tug at the ol' heartstrings, and I found myself not liking the human characters as much. I don't really think the filmmakers were trying to make any sort of statement, but looking at it from that angle, it's kind of a powerful ending.

Anyway, I'm glad I finally saw THE DEADLY MANTIS. It's not a great film, by any means, but I enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Now Available: Tales From the Otherverse

Other times, other places, other stories than the ones we know...These are the Tales From the Otherverse, where anything is possible and things never work out quite the way you'd expect. Some of today's top talents in popular fiction turn their hands to tales of alternate history. Featuring new stories by bestselling, award-winning authors Bill Crider, Lou Antonelli, Scott A. Cupp, Robert E. Vardeman, James Reasoner, and more. Explore the Otherverse and see what might have been! (Amazon links are below. Also available from Smashwords for all platforms.)