Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, March 1939

This issue of BLUE BOOK is from my favorite era for that magazine, the Thirties, especially the second half of the Thirties. The usual great cover by Herbert Morton Stoops, and a line-up of authors that's hard to beat: H. Bedford-Jones (twice, once with his imaginary collaborator, Captain L.B. Williams), Max Brand, Will Jenkins (better known by his pseudonym Murray Leinster), Robert Mill, Fulton Grant, William Byron Mowery, and Captain Dingle, all BLUE BOOK stalwarts during this period. It's the closest thing to a cross between a pulp and a slick.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, April 1945

That's a pretty racy cover for a Western pulp that's not SPICY WESTERN or LARIAT STORY. THRILLING RANCH STORIES was the Thrilling Group's counterpart to RANCH ROMANCES, of course (before RANCH ROMANCES became part of the Thrilling Group itself), with the same blend of "woman interest" and Western action. The authors in this issue are ones you'd expect to find in just about any Western pulp: Gunnison Steele, Stephen Payne, Chuck Martin, Joe Archibald . . . But what about Monica Morton, author of the featured story? Well, "Monica" was really Johnston McCulley, another example of a savvy pro hitting a market. McCulley published more than a dozen stories under that name in various Western romance and love pulps.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Forgotten Novellas: Blitzkrieg in the Past - John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien)

In a comment on a post a few weeks ago, Todd Mason mentioned the science fiction writer David Wright O'Brien, who published more than 50 stories in just a few years during the early Forties, most of them in the Ziff-Davis pulps AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. I'd never read anything by O'Brien, so I decided to change that and found an e-book edition of this novella on-line. It's from the July 1942 issue of AMAZING STORIES and was written under O'Brien's pseudonym John York Cabot. He published under his own name and several pen-names, of which Cabot was the most common.

I'll tell you right off the bat that "Blitzkrieg in the Past" is great fun and a Front Porch Book of high order. The protagonists of this yarn are three GIs in a tank crew who are training in their tank in Georgia prior to being sent overseas. They're also testing some experimental radio equipment, and when a thunderstorm blows up unexpectedly and the tank is hit by lightning, our heroes are tossed, tank and all, hundreds of millions of years into the past where they find themselves battling dinosaurs, cavemen, and a more advanced gorgeous blonde who doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Science? You want science? Go read a textbook! But if you want GIs in an M-3 tank fighting cavemen and dinosaurs and tangling with a beautiful but treacherous babe, then this is the yarn for you. I have no way of knowing whether Robert Kanigher ever read this story before he created the War That Time Forgot series in the comic book STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES about twenty years later, but just look at that cover! He must have! (Speaking of The War That Time Forgot, I'm slowly reading my way through the Showcase collection of that series and will have a post about it one of these days.)

But to get back to "Blitzkrieg in the Past", goofy premise or not, it's very well-written. I really enjoyed O'Brien's fast-paced, breezy, "sure this is silly but I'm going to give it my best anyway" style. My only complaint is that the story ends rather abruptly. O'Brien had enough plot set up that this could have been a full-length novel. Maybe he would have expanded it into one and sold it as an Ace Double, if he had lived long enough.

Because, you see, for those of you who don't know, after those few years of furious production, including many stories written in collaboration with William P. McGivern, with whom he shared an office in Chicago, David Wright O'Brien enlisted in the Army, became a gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress, and was killed in a bombing raid over Berlin in 1944. He left behind a lot of science fiction stories, though, and I intend to read more of them.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Fort Dobbs (1958)

I was surprised to come across a Clint Walker Western I hadn’t seen before, since he’s been a favorite of mine for many years. I was a big fan of his TV show CHEYENNE when I was a kid, and I remember watching YELLOWSTONE KELLY and other movies starring him at the Eagle Drive-In. FORT DOBBS was the first film in which he starred, and you could almost imagine it as being a longer episode of CHEYENNE.

Instead of Cheyenne Bodie, though, Walker plays Gar Davis, who finds himself on the run from the law after killing a no-good hombre who had it coming. Caught between a posse and a Comanche war party, he finds himself on an isolated ranch inhabited by a woman (the gorgeous but somewhat miscast Virginia Mayo) and her young son. With the Comanches raiding, he decides he needs to get the two of them to the safety of Fort Dobbs, several days’ journey away. They set out but run into trouble not only from the Indians but also a gun-runner (played with smirky charm by Brian Keith), who knows Walker’s character from before. Reaching the fort doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods, though, because there’s more trouble waiting for them there.

FORT DOBBS has plenty of action and is well directed by Gordon Douglas, who always had a sure hand with such tough-minded fare. The script was co-written by Burt Kennedy, and that’s easy to see because Keith’s roguish, charming, but ultimately evil character is right out of the Budd Boetticher-directed Randolph Scott Westerns that Kennedy also wrote. With those things going for it, plus Walker’s formidable presence, it’s no surprise that I found this to be a very entertaining movie. If you’re a Western fan and haven’t seen it, it’s worth seeking out.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery Magazine, March 1947

DIME MYSTERY was long past its Weird Menace phase by the time this issue came out in 1947, but that cover almost looks like it could have been from that earlier era, especially if it had been a little more lurid. And "Death Dance of the Broken Dolls" certainly sounds like a Weird Menace title. It's even by Arthur Leo Zagat, one of the masters of the genre. I believe I have a copy of that story somewhere. I'll have to read it. The rest of this issue's contents appear to be typical late Forties semi-hardboiled detective pulp, although by authors who were good at that: Talmage Powell, Robert Turner, Dale Clark, Cyril Plunkett, and Wilbur S. Peacock.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western Magazine, August 1936

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is from the copy I read. Arthur Mitchell, who was a pretty prolific pulp cover artist, mostly in the Thirties, painted the cover. ALL WESTERN MAGAZINE, from what I’ve read of it, was a pretty good Western pulp.

It opens with the novella “Deuce of Diamonds” by Charles M. Martin, who also wrote a great deal for the pulps under the name Chuck Martin. This one features drifting cowpoke and gunman “Roaming” Reynolds, as well as his sidekick, young Texas Joe. There are three stories in this short-lived series, all appearing in ALL WESTERN, and this is the middle one. Reynolds and Texas Joe find themselves helping out a couple of old ranchers (one of whom has a beautiful daughter, of course) who are being plagued by rustlers. Reynolds suspects that local cattle baron Griff Tyson, owner of the Deuce of Diamonds spread, is behind the trouble. Tyson is quite a gunfighter himself and likes to shoot playing cards out of the air, his favorite being the two of diamonds, hence the name.

This story is very heavy on the “yuh mangy polecat” dialect, and there’s nothing in the plot or characters you haven’t seen many, many times in Western pulps, but Martin, like Walt Coburn, was an actual cowboy and the background details of his stories always ring true now matter how standard the plots are. Also, he writes in a very terse, clipped style that I like quite a bit. Martin was something of an eccentric and had a “cemetery” in his back yard where he planted miniature tombstones bearing the names of the villains he killed in his stories. And also like Coburn, he came to a bad end, committing suicide when he had played out his string as a writer. I enjoy his work because of his distinctive style, but I wouldn’t put him in the top rank of Western pulpsters. I never hesitate to read one of this stories, though.

Sam H. Nickels was the author of the Hungry and Rusty series that ran in WILD WEST WEEKLY. I haven’t read any of those, but I suspect, based on the characters’ names, that they’re humorous yarns. The protagonist of Nickels’ story in this issue of ALL WESTERN, “Mud in Mooney’s Eye” is Mournful Mooney, and while it’s not full-fledged slapstick and has some decent action, it’s definitely on the lighter side. Mooney is a sad-sack character who always attracts bullies, but actually he’s a dangerous gunman and a whirlwind with his fists, as he proves in this story when he’s hired to pin on a lawman’s star and clean up the border town of Vacaton. This story is okay, readable but nothing special.

“Empty Shells” by Harry F. Olmsted is definitely a cut above that. This is a tense, well-written yarn that finds a killer known as the Montana Kid searching for a young man who has left the owlhoot trail behind him and returned home to try to reclaim his late father’s ranch. There’s an air of brooding vengeance about this one that shows why Olmsted is one of my favorite Western pulp authors.

I enjoy S. Omar Barker’s cowboy poetry and Western non-fiction, but his short stories usually don’t appeal to me. I’ve mentioned many times that with few exceptions, I’m not a fan of comedy Westerns, and the blurb on the Table of Contents for “All Ears”, Barker’s story in this issue is “A Boosty Peckleberry Laugh Riot”. (I think the editor misspelled “Laff”.) This is one of a series of tall tales spun by the old cowpoke Boosty Peckleberry to entertain the other cowboys in the bunkhouse. It concerns a mule that created the Grand Canyon. I didn’t care for it.

J.E. Grinstead wasn’t a cowboy himself, but he came from pioneer stock and was a newspaperman in Oklahoma and Texas not long after those places were still the frontier. After retiring from newspaper work, he became a prolific Western author, and his fiction has the same air of authenticity as that of Coburn and Martin. His story in this issue, “Six-Gun Music”, is about a tramp who comes stumbling from the desert into the wild border town of San Tomas and finds himself in the middle of some sinister goings-on. It’s a tough, well-written yarn and I really enjoyed it. I think I need to read some of Grinstead’s novels. I read one, WHEN TEXANS RIDE, many years ago but none since, although I’ve read some of his pulp stories.

The final story in the issue is “Death Takes the Trail” by Galen C. Colin, a vengeance tale in which a young cowboy tries to track down the men responsible for killing his foster father. It has some nice action and moves right along, but the plot is pretty thin and seemed to need at least one more twist.

Overall, this is a good but not great issue of ALL WESTERN. The stories by Olmsted and Grinstead are excellent, with the novella by Martin worth reading if not quite up to the level of those other stories. None of the others really impressed me. But still, good enough that I won’t hesitate to read another issue sometime.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Derelict of Skull Shoal - Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent)

During a recent discussion on Facebook, I mentioned that I’d never read the final Doc Savage novel by Lester Dent, UP FROM EARTH’S CENTER. Well, that got me looking at my copy of DOC SAVAGE OMNIBUS #13, the Bantam paperback that includes that novel, and I realized I hadn’t read any of the five novels in that collection. So I decided it was time to do that, and when I’m finished with them, I’m going to read the Doc Savage novels by Will Murray that I haven’t read yet (there are still a few of them), and then maybe I’ll go back and reread some of my favorites from Dent’s first few years on the series, from 1933 to 1937 or ’38, the era I consider the high point of the series. This will take a year or more, because I usually don’t read books from the same series back to back. So you can expect to see quite a few Doc Savage posts for a while.

To start out with, I read one of the most infamous of all of Dent’s Doc Savages: THE DERELICT OF SKULL SHOAL, originally published in the March 1944 issue of the magazine, which was being published as a digest by this time. A couple of things set this one apart. First of all, it’s the only one in the series that was published in its original appearance under Lester Dent’s real name instead of the Kenneth Robeson house-name, because someone at Street & Smith made a mistake and forgot to put the right by-line on the story. Let me digress for a moment and mention that the very first Doc Savage novel, THE MAN OF BRONZE, appeared in the pulp under the pseudonym Kenneth Roberts, but someone at S&S quickly realized there was a currently popular historical novelist actually named Kenneth Roberts, the fellow who wrote NORTHWEST PASSAGE, ARUNDEL, and many other historical sagas. After that S&S always used the Kenneth Robeson name on the Doc Savages, except for THE DERELICT OF SKULL SHOAL. And when that novel was reprinted, the Bantam paperback collection had the Robeson name on it, too.

To get to the actual novel, the other thing that makes this one notorious is that it’s the story where Doc Savage suffers a serious head injury early on in the action, resulting in a concussion or perhaps even a fractured skull. Fans of the series have noted that Doc’s personality changes somewhat after this story and have theorized that the change was a result of the head injury. That makes sense to me. Whether Lester Dent intended it that way or not, we’ll probably never know for sure.

As Dent often does, he drops us down right in the middle of the action to start the book. Doc and his aides Monk, Ham, and Renny are in disguise, serving as crewmen on the ocean liner Farland, which has been taken over by the U.S. Navy and pressed into service as a military vessel during World War II. The Farland is steaming across the South Atlantic when it’s torpedoed and the order to abandon ship is given. Doc was warned that something was going to happen, and that’s why he and his aides are there, but he doesn’t know what sort of villainy is in the works.

It’s during this chaos that something strikes Doc in the head and renders him unconscious. When he comes to, he finds that he and his friends are still aboard the abandoned ship, but not everything is as it seems, and they’re not alone, either. There’s also a beautiful blonde on hand, Theresa Ruth “Trigger” Riggert, a tough, hardboiled dame of the same sort who often figures in these Doc Savage yarns. (Dent’s female characters always remind me of the female characters in movies directed by Howard Hawks.) If that’s not enough, there are also some guys who want to kill them, of course, and then Ham and Renny disappear under mysterious circumstances, and a submarine shows up, as well as a sinister yacht, and we’re off and galloping again.

This adventure takes Doc and his friends farther south in the Atlantic and winds up at Skull Shoal, a truly eerie setting where the action-packed and satisfying conclusion takes place. While the overall plot struck me as being a little too small in scale (I prefer the early, so-called “supersagas”), Lester Dent’s writing is really top-notch in this novel, with plenty of good dialogue, vivid descriptions, and hardboiled action. The early scenes aboard the Farland, after the attack, reminded me of some of Alistair Maclean’s nautical adventures such as H.M.S. ULYSSES and made me think it’s a shame Dent never wrote an actual war novel. It would have been a good one.

Overall, I really enjoyed this yarn, and reading it makes me look forward to this Doc Savage project on which I’m embarking.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Odds Are Against Us - Oren Litwin, ed.

When victory seems impossible……Heroism is the only option. To survive on the battlefield, you must go far beyond what you ever imagined possible. From a Marine in Vietnam trying to get back home, to Roman soldiers facing an Iceni rebellion; from cynical mercenaries in the harsh Chadian desert, to a Yazidi girl fighting for her freedom; from Soviet conscripts trying to survive war in Afghanistan, to American bomber pilots lost at sea. Experience the triumph of the human spirit even in the face of death. Includes eight short stories of military fiction from from skilled authors, some of whom are veterans themselves.

I backed the Kickstarter for this anthology, and now that it's been published and I've read it, I'm glad I did. It's an excellent collection of military fiction, some with contemporary settings, some historical. I've always liked war stories, and these are very well done. My favorites are "A Place More Kind Than Home" by Ron Farina, a tale of a Marine coming home from Vietnam that does a perfect job of capturing the mid-Sixties era; "Titus, My Brother" by Frank Scalise, about Roman soldiers of the IXth Legion in Britain; and Jim Wilsky's "Dead Reckoning", which alternates between the present day and a flight of American bombers on a training mission shortly after World War II. You may guess the twist in Wilsky's story, but it's so well written and poignant that doesn't matter. All the other stories are very good, too, and one of them might by your favorite if you read THE ODDS ARE AGAINST US, which I recommend if you enjoy military fiction.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Most of you have probably already seen this wonderfully weird movie written and directed by Drew Goddard, but I’m just now catching up with it. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is about the sinister goings-on during one night in the early Seventies at a somewhat seedy resort hotel near Lake Tahoe, smack-dab on the border between California and Nevada. A priest, a singer, a vacuum cleaner salesman, and a mysterious young woman are the only guests, and the clerk who appears to be the only employee is definitely on the shady side. We know that some sort of crime is going to be involved because of a violent prologue set ten years earlier, but what it’s going to be takes a lot of unraveling and filling in of back-stories among these characters.

I love a yarn where nothing is what it seems to be, and that’s the case with BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, which means I can’t talk too much about the plot without ruining things. Well-written, with a great soundtrack and a cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, and Nick Offerman (him again, but blink and you’ll miss him), this is the best movie I’ve seen in quite a while. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Now Available: Faraday: The Iron Horse - James Reasoner

The race is on to span the continent with steel rails—and someone is willing to do anything to stop it, even if it means spilling rivers of innocent blood!

Matthew Faraday is president of the Faraday Security Service, a detective agency specializing in work for the ever-expanding railroad empires. Hired to find out who is stirring up the Sioux and sabotaging the Kansas Pacific line as it builds westward, Faraday sends tough young agent Daniel Britten to the railhead, where he finds himself embroiled with surveyors, track layers, buffalo hunters, and a pair of beautiful young women. But there’s a killer stalking the railhead as well, and not only the fate of the railroad but also Britten’s very life depends on him uncovering the truth.

The original version of this epic Western adventure by legendary author James Reasoner has been out of print for decades. Newly revised and expanded, it’s now available again with all the historical sweep and gun-blazing action readers have come to expect from James Reasoner.