Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, December 1937

Well, that's a lurid cover. Behind it are stories by Arthur J. Burks, George A. McDonald (who wrote some good Phantom Detective novels as Robert Wallace), Don Cameron (likewise), Westmoreland Gray, and the house-name C.K.M Scanlon.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Magazine, October 1938

Since I wrote about Ray Nafziger yesterday, I wanted to post a pulp featuring his work today. At this point, ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE hadn't officially changed to ACE-HIGH WESTERN MAGAZINE, but all the stories are Westerns anyway. In addition to Nafziger's "The Gambler Hell Sent Back", there are stories by Harry F. Olmsted ("Gunsmoke Outcast"), Norman A. Fox ("Cattle King From Purgatory"), and John A. Saxon ("The Boothill Pardon"), among others. And a nice, action-packed cover, to boot.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Now Available: Gun Lust - W.L. Fieldhouse

Shaddrock and Cougar are the West's deadliest bounty hunters. A Yankee sharpshooter and a Rebel officer put the war behind them and team up to track down some of the most dangerous outlaws west of the Mississippi. A ruthless railroad baron and a crazed colonel bent on creating a Confederate empire in the Southwest are just two of the threats faced by this unlikely duo in legendary author W.L. Fieldhouse's wild Western adventure GUN LUST. Packed with gritty action, it's a colorful, fast-paced tale sure to entertain Western fans! 

100 Years Ago Today

On February 5, 1916, my dad Marion Reasoner was born in the community of Indian Creek, Texas. Like most rural Texans at the time, he and his family had a pretty hardscrabble existence. As a young man, he helped on the family farm, worked as a cowboy, and eventually became the manager of a bowling alley in nearby Brownwood. He was one of the top amateur bowlers in the country at the time. Later, after marrying my mother, he worked as an aircraft mechanic, first as a civilian employee at Randolph Field in San Antonio during World War II and then later at Convair/General Dynamics in Fort Worth. In between those two stints, he served in the U.S. Army and was in the Signal Corps, going overseas to Austria right after V-E Day. As he put it years later, he strung telephone wire all over Austria and developed a lifelong affection for the country. He always wanted to go back and visit, but he never did.

While working at Convair in Fort Worth in the early Fifties, he took a correspondence course that taught him how to repair televisions and radios. This was in the early days of TV, of course, so he was in almost on the ground floor of the TV repair business. This became his second job for many years, and he worked at it full-time after he retired from General Dynamics in the mid-Seventies, opening a business that sold and serviced TVs and appliances. (This is the shop where I worked for five years.) After closing that shop he continued to work on TVs part-time for his old customers for several years, before finally retiring to devote his time to gardening, his grandkids, and volunteer work such as delivering Meals on Wheels. He decided to put in a garden at my house, and I can still see him in my mind’s eye, 85 years old, wearing khakis and a long-sleeved shirt and a battered old hat, wrestling with a gas tiller out there in that garden in the middle of summer.

As a kid, my dad loved to read, but as an adult he devoted most of his time to working, as many in his generation did, and didn’t read much for many years. But when he got older and slowed down some, he began to read again and went through hundreds of books, mostly Westerns and historical novels, but really, he would read almost anything he could put his hands on. The fact that I was a writer had something to do with his renewed interest in reading, I’m sure, and he became a fan of my books and a great salesman for them. He would carry around copies of them when he was making his TV service calls and sell them to his customers. Often when he’d stop by our house, he would take a $20 bill out of his pocket and give it to me, saying, “Sold some books.” Actually, I suspect he gave away a lot of them and just used that as an excuse to feed me a little extra cash, since he knew we were struggling financially a lot of that time and had two kids. That’s exactly the sort of guy he was.

He loved telling stories and jokes, watching baseball on TV, and whistling along with gospel music. He could whistle a version of “Amazing Grace” that would make chills go up and down your spine, it was so beautiful. His favorite TV shows were Westerns. Saturday night in our house meant HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL and GUNSMOKE, and Sunday night was BONANZA, if we got home from church in time. He could spend hours in his back yard pulling weeds and “dopin’ them red ant beds”. He hated weeds and red ants with equal passion.

His health began to deteriorate as he entered his late 80s. Eventually he had to move into a nursing home, which he hated worse than weeds and red ants. The last time I visited, when I started to leave I commented that I had some pages to get written. He said, “Better get your work done.” Those were his last words to me. They summed up his life pretty well. He was a man who believed folks better get their work done.

His passing wasn’t unexpected, but it still left a hole in the lives of everyone who knew him. For several years after that, almost every day I had the urge to ask him about something or other, before catching myself and realizing I couldn’t. Even now, more than a decade later, that still happens every now and then. The ones who’ve passed on are still supposed to be there, damn it, so that when we think, “Oh, I’ll just ask him; he’ll know”, we’re not left with that sudden feeling of loss.

A few years after he died, the phone rang at my house one day, and when I answered, the caller said, “Is this the TV man?” I used to get those calls all the time, people looking for him, while he was in the business and after he retired, too. That was the first such call I’d gotten in a long time, though. Even though I had to say, “No, I’m sorry, that was my dad and he passed away,” I had a smile on my face, glad that people still remembered him. I have to suspect I won’t get any more such calls. Too much time has passed, and anyway, TVs are throwaway items now. If it doesn’t work, chunk it, go down to Wal-Mart, and buy another one. But if the phone does happen to ring someday and somebody says, “Is this the TV man?”, I won’t be totally surprised, either.

This is a bit disjointed and probably a little too maudlin, but right now I’d give a lot to be able to stand out in my driveway with him, leaning on his car, talking for hours about everything under the sun like we used to. I still have a lot of questions I’d like to ask him. But there are pages to be written, and like he said . . .

I’d better get my work done.

Forgotten Books: Hell-Roarin' Texas Trail - Robert Denver (Ray Nafziger)

HELL-ROARIN’ TEXAS TRAIL is one of only two full-length novels written by prolific Western pulp author Ray Nafziger. The other, GUN SMOKE AT DAWN, also under the pseudonym Robert Denver, was published only in England and is hard to find. I was able to get my hands on a copy of HELL-ROARIN’ TEXAS TRAIL, though, and I’m glad I did because it’s a pretty entertaining Western.

The protagonist is a young Texan named Brand Bonnell. Fast with a gun, good with cards, Brand is something of a hell-raiser who has been drifting for several years after leaving home because of a fight with his father. He’s decided it’s time to return home, though, and no sooner does he get back in Texas than he stumbles over a plot to steal his father’s herd and some cattle belonging to a neighboring rancher, while the two herds are being driven to Colorado. The outlaws behind the scheme are Silver Lago and Crow Hargers, assisted by Hargers’ two equally evil brothers. Despite the friction between Brand and his father, of course he resolves to stop the outlaws from carrying out their plan, even if it means taking over the trail drive himself.

This set-up leads to a very episodic novel, as Brand and his friends, old codger Gobbler Gillette and reformed train robber Dick Steen, foil the schemes of Lago and Hargers. Along the way Brand rescues and falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the other rancher. The meandering nature of the plot is the biggest weakness of HELL-ROARIN’ TEXAS TRAIL. On the other hand, even though it’s a little lacking in narrative drive, there are some great individual scenes, such as one where Brand is almost lynched from a windmill and a big gun-battle in the middle of a blizzard. Nafziger writes excellent action scenes, and the conflict between Brand and his father gives the book a little darker edge than most Westerns published in the early Thirties. There’s too much “yuh mangy polecat” dialect, but you almost have to expect that given the era.

As is the case with many of the pulp authors, Nafziger spent most of his time writing novelettes and novellas, and as a result a longer book like this can suffer pacing problems. But there’s a lot of top-notch writing in HELL-ROARIN’ TEXAS TRAIL, and overall I enjoyed it a great deal. That makes me even more interested in reading some of his pulp work, and luckily there’s plenty of it, although not much has been reprinted. He was prolific under his own name and also the pseudonym Robert Dale Denver, and I’m going to be on the lookout for both names from now on.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Washington Square - The Village Stompers

More of that early Sixties folk music, some of the first music I listened to on a regular basis.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Texas Sun - Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

I'd never even heard of the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash until a year or so ago, and now they're one of my favorite groups.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Sergeant Preston of the Yukon

(This post first appeared in somewhat different form on November 17, 2004.)

I'm addicted to the cheap DVDs at Dollar Tree and Wal-Mart. One that I picked up a while back at Dollar Tree has three episodes of the old TV series SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON on it. Since the book I'm writing has a Mountie in it, I thought it would be appropriate to watch an episode of SERGEANT PRESTON. Call it research. Yeah, that's it, research. Hard to believe that in 170 books this is the first one to feature a Mountie, but as far as I can remember that's the case.

Anyway, I was surprised to find that the show was in color. Not very good color, mind you, but still . . . The story was set in a ghost town, and as anyone who has ever watched a B-movie or read a pulp story knows, the buildings in ghost towns are always full of hidden passages and secret hideouts. This episode was no disappointment. Sergeant Preston got to the bottom of the mystery and caught the villains, with the help of his wonder dog, Yukon King. I enjoyed every minute of it.

(UPDATE: The book with a Mountie in it that I mention above is LONGARM AND THE SCARLET RIDER, which came out in 2005. I know I've written at least one book since then with a Mountie in it, but I've certainly never done much with them and have never written a full-out Northern. I ought to remedy that. There are a bunch of episodes of SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON available on YouTube, and I ought to watch some more of them, too.) 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, December 1948

I wrote a couple of days ago about the Richard S. Shaver novelette “Daughter of the Night” in the December 1948 issue of AMAZING STORIES, and I thought while I had that pulp out, I might as well go ahead and read the rest of it.

Despite saying that I wasn’t going to read anything else by Shaver, what should come up second on the table of contents except a short story called “The Plotters”, published under the house-name Alexander Blade. And who might Blade be in this particular case? Why, none other than Richard S. Shaver, of course. Thinking that this yarn couldn’t be any worse than “Daughter of the Night”, I plunged right into it, and I was a little surprised to find that . . . it’s not bad. The writing is a little clunky in places, and the plot, which concerns an alien spy who comes to Earth to find out our atomic secrets, is pretty stereotypical, but the story moves right along and winds up being somewhat entertaining, which makes it a lot better than the incomprehensible mess that’s “Daughter of the Night”. Actually, I never would have guessed that they were by the same writer.

The next story, “Tillie” is by Craig Browning, a pseudonym for Rog Phillips, who also has a story in this issue under his own name. “Tillie” is about some physics teachers at a small university who discover a new element and use it to power a homemade rocket ship on a journey to Mars. Of course, numerous things go wrong and endanger the lives of the protagonists. This is a really silly story with a weak premise, but it’s decently written.

Next up is “Once Upon a Planet” by J.J. Allerton, an author I’m not familiar with but evidently a real person, not a house-name. It’s about an alien warlord whose consciousness is transferred into the brain of a soldier on Earth during a war in the 23rd Century. The idea has some potential, but Allerton’s writing is so bland it was hard to finish this one.

Rog Phillips returns under his own name with “The Unthinking Destroyer”, a tale that consists of two sets of characters, one human and one not, having conversations about the nature of intelligence. That’s all there is to it other than a would-be twist ending that’s painfully obvious from the first page of the story.

All that leaves is a serial installment from “The Return of Tharn” by Howard Browne, which I didn’t read because I haven’t read any of the other Tharn stories, and “Beyond the Thunder” by H.B. Hickey (really Herbert Livingston), which is my favorite story in this issue. “Beyond the Thunder” is a novelette in which aliens attack Earth through a rift in space with a death ray that can destroy cities. It’s up to two-fisted rocket jockey Case Damon to locate the source of the attacks, put a stop to them, and uncover a conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of Earth’s government, all in 10,000 words. As you might imagine, it’s fast-paced (Palmer calls it “mile-a-minute reading” in his introductory column), full of fistfights and blasting ray-guns. It’s fun, even though it is pretty much pure hokum. I don’t recall ever reading anything by H.B. Hickey before, but based on this one, I’d give his work another try.

As I said in my comments on “Daughter of the Night”, I don’t generally write reviews of things I don’t like, but honestly, this issue of AMAZING STORIES is pretty bad. If it’s representative of the late Forties AMAZING, I can see why that era in the magazine’s history doesn’t have much of a reputation. The Hickey story is okay, the two by Rog Phillips are weak but readable, and the “Alexander Blade” story by Shaver is at least fairly entertaining. Nothing rises to a level that I’d actually recommend, though, and I’m not even fond of the cover painting by H.W. McCauley. If you have a copy of this one, I think you can just leave it on the shelf without worrying about reading it.