Sunday, August 14, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, November 1952

I think of Walter Popp as more of a paperback cover artist, but here's a pulp cover by him that I like. STARTLING STORIES was a pretty solid science fiction pulp. The best known authors in this issue are L. Sprague de Camp, Joel Townsley Rogers (who had a long, prolific career in the adventure pulps as well as SF), and Roger Dee. Also on hand are R.J. McGregor and Dave Dryfoos, names I don't recognize at all.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Leading Western, January 1949

This issue of LEADING WESTERN sports a cover that looks more like it came off an issue of SPICY WESTERN STORIES. And since they were from the same publisher, maybe it did. I don't know the artist. Bryce Walton, Frank Carl Young, and D.D. Sharp are the authors using their real names in this one. The rest are the usual combination of house-names and probable pseudonyms. For example, Hal Burke, author of the cover-featured story "Dames + Guns = Trouble", is credited with only that one story in the Fictionmags Index. Was that simply his only sale? Certainly possible. But I think it's equally likely he was really Walton, Young, or Sharp. Doubtful that we'll ever know.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930

While browsing the Fictionmags Index, I came across this great, slightly goofy cover by H.W. Wessolowski (also known simply as Wesso) on an early issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, while it was still being edited by Harry Bates. I was so taken by the cover that I immediately wanted to use it for a Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp post, but I also found myself wanting to read the featured story, “The Ape-Men of Xlotli”, by an author I’d never heard of, David R. Sparks. So I checked and, what do you know, the entire issue is available on the Internet Archive. I decided to hold off on posting about it until I had a chance to read the stories, so now that I have, here are my comments on them.

Sophie Wenzel Ellis is a name that’s only vaguely familiar to me. I looked her up and found that she published only 20 stories in a career that lasted from 1919 until the late Forties, in pulps as wide-ranging as WEIRD TALES and RANGELAND ROMANCES. “Slaves of the Dust” in this issue appears to have been one of only three science fiction stories by her. In this one, young scientist Hale Oakham penetrates deep into the jungles of Brazil to find the hidden laboratory of an eccentric genius who is believed to have made some groundbreaking discoveries. And indeed he has. In fact, he’s discovered the secret of creating life out of inert matter, reducing various species to their component elements and then combining them in bizarre ways and bringing them back to life. What could possibly go wrong? I’d guess that this story was pretty heavily influenced by THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ THE MONSTER MEN. It’s pretty entertaining and moves right along.

Next up is an installment of a serial, “The Pirate Planet”, by Charles W. Diffin. I didn’t read this one now, but there’s a cheap e-book edition of the whole serial on Amazon, so I’ll probably read it that way. Diffin was a popular SF author at the time and quite a bit of his work is available again in e-book editions. If I like this one, I’ll probably read more by him.

Captain S.P. Meek I’ve not only heard of, I think I’ve read stories by him before. “The Sea Terror”, in this issue, is part of his series featuring two-fisted scientist Dr. Bird and Secret Service Operative Carnes. It finds them investigating the mysterious sinking of a ship carrying four million dollars in gold bars by a gigantic sea creature. Pretty predictable in most ways, but well-written and moves along with plenty of action. Even though the two protagonists are never developed much, I still found them likable and wouldn’t mind reading more of the series.

Harl Vincent is another familiar name from the early days of science fiction. “Gray Denim” starts out as a fairly standard dystopian yarn, the old plot about how the cities have turned into towering monstrosities where the elite live in the clouds with their robot servants, while the poor toil far below, keeping everything running without ever seeing the sun. But then suddenly Vincent switches gears and hands us a wild Graustarkian yarn about how an evil scientist conquers half of Earth with the help of aliens from the other side of the Moon, and then his son disappears, and then one of the drudges from the lower levels of New York turns out to be lost royalty, and then everybody is zipping around in flying machines and firing heat rays and disintegration beams at each other, and then . . . You get the idea. Vincent packs a lot into this story, and not all of it has aged very well. This is the weakest story in the issue, and while it's not going to make me run out and look for more stuff by Harl Vincent, it wasn’t terrible, just too busy and not particularly well written.

Finally we come to the story that brought us here in the first place, “The Ape-Men of Xlotli” by David R. Sparks. It starts out great:

Kirby did not know what mountains they were. He did know that the Mannlicher bullets of eleven bad Mexicans were whining over his head and whizzing past the hoofs of his galloping, stolen horse. The shots were mingled with yelps which pretty well curdled his spine. In the circumstances, the unknown range of snowy mountains towering blue and white above the arid, windy plateau, offering he could not tell what dangers, seemed a paradise. Looking at them, Kirby laughed harshly to himself.

Well, that certainly got me hooked, anyway. Kirby turns out to be Freddie Kirby, a two-fisted American aviator/adventurer who is in Mexico training pilots for the Mexican army. When a broken fuel line forces him to crash-land his plane in the wild northern reaches of the country, he’s jumped by bandits, escapes, and flees into those snow-capped mountains, where he discovers the entrance to a lost underground world populated not only by a race of humans but also by a group of savage ape-men. Naturally, there’s a beautiful girl Kirby falls for, and vice versa, an evil high priest, some plotting and double-crossing, a little pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, dead but perfectly preserved Conquistadores, and several brutal, well-written battles against the ape-men, who are really only supporting characters in this tale, despite its title. In other words, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before in dozens, if not scores, of lost world/lost race yarns.

But boy, did I have a good time reading it. I couldn’t turn the digital pages fast enough to find out what was going to happen. This story slows down now and then, but mostly it races along at breakneck speed. The cover refers to it as a novelette, but I think it’s at least 30,000 words long. It’s certainly long enough to have been reprinted as half of an Ace Double in the Fifties or Sixties, and I’m a little surprised that it wasn’t. Maybe Donald A. Wollheim just never came across it.

As far as I can tell, this was the first story by David R. Sparks, and he published only one other, a space opera called “The Winged Men of Orcon” in the January 1932 issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE. You can actually buy that one as an e-book on Amazon, which I did as soon as I finished reading “The Ape-Men of Zlotli”. Sparks himself is a mystery. I couldn’t find anything on-line about him. But based on this story, he was a fairly talented writer and I’m sorry there’s not more by him available.

This issue wraps up with a number of letters from readers, including one from Forrest J Ackerman, mostly praising the stories from previous issues but complaining about a few things, too. Letters columns in SF magazines don’t seem to have changed much in the intervening 90+ years.

ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE eventually became ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION when it was sold to Street & Smith and later on evolved into the digest magazine ANALOG, which is still around today, of course . . . although it certainly doesn’t publish stories like “The Ape-Men of Zlotli” anymore. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to the individual reader. As for me, I’ll take the old stuff that transports me back to those days of reading voraciously on my parents’ front porch. I may have downloaded this one from the Internet, but I could almost smell the yellowing pages of an old paperback while I was reading it. I enjoyed it, and I was content.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, February 1942

What a great cover on this issue of STAR WESTERN! I don't know the artist, but he did a fine job. Not only do I want to read a story with that scene in it, I want to write one. Maybe I will. Meanwhile, the lineup of authors in this issue is very good, too: Harry F. Olmsted, Tom Roan, Stone Cody (Thomas Mount), W. Ryerson Johnson (with a Len Siringo story), William R. Cox, and John G. Pearsol. That's a really solid bunch of Western pulpsters.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Wolf Brand - L.P. Holmes

WOLF BRAND is a short novel by L.P. Holmes that first appeared in the August 1942 issue of ACTION STORIES (with a cover by Norman Saunders) and was reprinted in the hardback duo DOOM PATROL, which is where I read it. I’ve mentioned numerous times that Holmes is one of my favorite Western authors, and as expected, he didn’t let me down with this one.

As usual with one of his stories, the plot is traditional: The railroad has come to a valley that’s shared uneasily by cattlemen and homesteaders, and when the evil railroad manager tries to swindle the settlers out of their land, it sets up a clash between different factions of cattlemen, one led by Henry Marsten, who hates the homesteaders and wants them out of the valley, even if means siding with the shady railroad deal, and our Stalwart Hero Vike Gunnison, to whom fair play is more important than whether you raise cows or crops. So we have cattlemen vs. homesteaders, cattlemen vs. cattlemen, and an evil railroad boss trying to take advantage of the situation who brings in a hired gunman and his gang of killers. Shootouts, raids, and the sort of brutal fistfight that turns up in a lot of Holmes’ yarns ensue. Oh, and two beautiful young women for Gunnison to choose between. There’s a late twist that’s not really unexpected, but it works very well.

I had a wonderful time reading this one. Holmes may not have pushed the boundaries of the genre, but he did a great job of working within them. WOLF BRAND is packed with incident and well-developed characters. Vike Gunnison is a likable but pretty standard hero, but the women in his life are complex enough that the romantic triangle aspect of this book is particularly effective. Not all the characters turn out to be as good or bad as you might expect, either. And the action scenes are great, including that fistfight and some epic gun battles.

If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, I can’t recommend the work of L.P. Holmes highly enough. WOLF BRAND is a top-notch yarn, one of the best I’ve read by him so far.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Tragon and the Scorpion Woman . . . and Other Tales - John M Whalen

Several years ago, I read and greatly enjoyed John M. Whalen’s sword-and-sorcery novel TRAGON OF RAMURA. Tragon is the captain of the trading ship Orion, and while sailing the seas of his world along with his first mate and best friend, the desert warrior Yusef Ali Ahmed Nazir, they encounter all sorts of danger and adventure. His latest book, TRAGON AND THE SCORPION WOMAN . . . AND OTHER TALES, is a collection of eight stories originally published in various small press magazines and anthologies, five of which feature Tragon and Yusef.

The Tragon stories are straight-up sword-and-sorcery, the classic stuff that I’ve loved for more than fifty years now. Tragon has a mortal enemy, the evil wizard Caldec, who has taken over his homeland of Ramura. Tragon would like to overthrow him, which in the title novella leads him to explore the far northern reaches of his world in search of the legendary Scorpion Woman, a Medusa-like being with scorpions for hair instead of snakes whose gaze can turn a man into salt. Whalen throws an unexpected twist in the plot, as he does in nearly all of these stories. Just because they’re in the classic sword-and-sorcery style doesn’t mean they’re predictable. Whalen is a skilled author with plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

In the other stories, Tragon and Yusef encounter political intrigue, giant flying monsters, undead warriors, a beautiful but evil sorceress, and lots and lots of action. It’s highly entertaining, with echoes of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Jakes, and Lin Carter (especially his Thongor series). But Whalen has his own voice and his own spin on things, and I can definitely see myself reading these stories while sitting on my parents’ front porch on a summer morning with Top 40 rock playing on the transistor radio I set on the porch beside me. That’s right, TRAGON AND THE SCORPION WOMAN is a Front Porch Book, without a doubt.

But in addition to classic sword-and-sorcery, you also get a tale of ancient Atlantis with some excellent worldbuilding. I’d love to see more in this setting, but the ending of “Bride of the Sea” kind of precludes that, as you might guess. Of course, Whalen could always write some stories set before this one . . .

“Where There Be No Dragons”, a story about a hunter’s quest to kill the dragon that destroyed his village, is another tale in which you think you know where the story is going, but there’s a surprise waiting. The collection wraps up with “The Hostage of Maldon”, a straight historical adventure yarn about one of the many Viking invasions of England. There are no supernatural elements in this one, but it’s packed with almost non-stop action, and the battle scenes are magnificent. I was reminded of REH’s historical adventure stories while reading this one.

Overall, TRAGON AND THE SCORPION WOMAN . . . AND OTHER TALES is a top-notch collection, and I had a great time reading it. It’s available in both paperback and e-book editions, and I give it a high recommendation, especially if you’re a sword-and-sorcery fan.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy Detective Stories, December 1942

There's a lot going on in this cover by Allen Anderson, including a Clark Gable lookalike who's about to get brained by a feisty redhead. Oddly enough, the cover story in this issue is by Alan Anderson, a totally different guy, as far as I know. There's also a Dan Turner story by Robert Leslie Bellem, and the rest are all retitled reprints from earlier issues of SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES published under house-names. The real authors behind them include Arthur Warren and William G. Bogart. The others? Who knows? This is actually the final issue of SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES. The next month the magazine continued under the name SPEED DETECTIVE STORIES, with (supposedly) slightly toned down content.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

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

Those who have read much of my work have probably figured out that I love fights and shootouts that take place on top of moving trains. Here's a good example of such a scene, courtesy of H.W. Scott, the regular cover artist on WESTERN STORY during this era. In addition to that nice cover, there's a fine group of writers in this issue, including Walt Coburn, Ray Nafziger, Bennett Foster, and Philip Ketchum. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Carny Girl - John Dexter

Almost everyone who wrote softcore novels for the operation set up by publisher William Hamling and agent Scott Meredith had books published under the name John Dexter at one time or another. It was a true house-name. The actual authors have been identified on some of them, but at this point we have no idea who wrote CARNY GIRL, published as part of the Pillar Books imprint in 1964.

It starts off with a nude, beautiful young woman who finds herself on a beach with amnesia. She has no idea who she is or what she’s doing there. All she knows is that she’s mortally terrified of something and has to get away. As luck would have it, a traveling carnival is stopped on a road nearby because one of the trucks has a flat tire, so, since it’s the middle of the night, our heroine is able to sneak onto the merry-go-round and hide. Of course, she’s discovered in the morning and winds up joining the carnival, working as a shill for some of the games and in the girlie show. She also falls for the handsome but down on his luck owner of the carnival and battles against an inexplicable (amnesia, remember?) nymphomania that makes her go to bed with most of the men she encounters. Eventually she comes to be haunted by the mystery of her past, especially when she finds out the authorities are looking for a girl who matches her description. And then a hurricane blows in on the Gulf Coast where the carnival is set up . . .

Like most of these books, CARNY GIRL reads quickly and is entertaining. I like carny novels in general, and this one focuses quite a bit on that colorful background, although the nymphomania is the main plot element, of course. But it’s also frustrating (also common for these books) because with that set-up and if the sex had been toned down some, this could have been an excellent hardboiled novel published by Gold Medal or as half of an Ace Double. Whoever this John Dexter was, his prose is pretty smooth and there’s some good dialogue.

But there’s no point in lamenting what might have been, and anyway, who am I to judge? The author got paid a quick thousand or twelve hundred bucks (significant money in 1964), did his job in a professional manner, and I assume was happy to cash the check. I’m sure the thought that somebody would be reviewing this novel nearly 60 years later never crossed his mind. CARNY GIRL is no lost classic, but I enjoyed reading it and for me, that counts more than anything else.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, July 20, 1940

Foreign Legion covers showed up frequently on ARGOSY and ADVENTURE, but I don't recall seeing any on DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY until I came across this issue on the Fictionmags Index. I don't know who did the cover, but I think it's a pretty good one. It illustrates a story by Robert Carse, who did plenty of good Foreign Legion stories for ARGOSY. Since ARGOSY and DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY were both published by the Frank A. Munsey Company, it's possible Carse wrote this, sent it to ARGOSY, and somebody at Munsey decided to run it in DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY because of its title. Not that it matters, but I find speculation like that interesting. Also on hand in this issue are Hugh B. Cave, Lawrence Treat, David Goodis, Edward S. Aarons (writing as Edward Ronns), and Edwin Truett Long (writing as Edwin Truett). That's a really nice group of authors, and for a change, no serials! (Serials being the bane of a collector's existence, of course, and Munsey ran a ton of them.)