Friday, December 03, 2021

Salvage in Space - Jack Williamson

This novelette first appeared in the March 1933 issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, edited by Harry Bates. You can't really tell it's that old, however, as Jack Williamson's clean, almost spare style reads as if the story was written much more recently than that.

The protagonist is young asteroid miner Thad Allen, who leads a lonely existence wandering among the asteroids searching for valuable metals. But then he comes across what appears to be an abandoned space liner and immediately thinks that if he can get it back to Mars and claim it as salvage, he stands to make a lot of money from the discovery. Unfortunately for Thad (and I'm sure you saw this coming), something is still alive on the spaceship, as he discovers after coming across some ominous bloodstains while he's exploring the seemingly deserted corridors. Then there's the coffin-like apparatus containing the body of a beautiful young woman whose fate greatly intrigues Thad. But will he survive long enough to figure out what happened here?

"Salvage in Space" is basically a suspense yarn, and a very good one. The level of tension that Williamson creates in this story reminded me a little of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" "Salvage in Space" isn't quite on that level, but I had a really good time reading it. Williamson leaves one plot point unresolved, which I found a little annoying, but other than that I found it to be a very good story. There's a free e-book version of it available on Amazon, if you don't happen to have a copy of that 1933 pulp sitting around. It was also reprinted in the anthology THE EARLY WILLIAMSON and the Haffner Press volume WIZARD'S ISLE.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Northwest, October 1939

"More pages!!! More Words on Each Page!!!" I think this is the first time I've seen that latter boast on a pulp cover, although the former claim is common. COMPLETE NORTHWEST published plenty of good authors, and this issue has a nice cover by A. Leslie Ross. The stories in this issue are by Harold Titus (a prolific pulpster, but one whose work I'm not familiar with), William Byron Mowery (a very well-known writer of the era; his story in this issue of a reprint from a 1926 issue of ADVENTURE), Vingie E. Roe (best remembered for her Westerns), and a collaboration between two little-known pulpsters, Robert J. Green and Charles Tenney Jackson (Jackson being the more prolific and better known of the two).

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story Magazine, August 1953

Once again, an Old West poker game is about to end badly. This is from the usually forgotten Popular Publications incarnation of WESTERN STORY, after it was cancelled at Street & Smith four years earlier. The magazine lasted only about a year and a half at Popular, but its lack of success didn't have anything to do with its quality, in my opinion. It generally had good covers, such as this one by Charles Dye, and excellent authors. This issue contains stories by Will Cook (twice, as himself and as Frank Peace), George C. Appell, William Heuman (a reprint from FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES), Fred Grove, Leslie Ernenwein, Bruce Cassiday, lesser-known pulpster Frank Scott York, and Richard H. Nelson, who was really William L. Hamling, science fiction fan, editor, and publisher of the SF digests IMAGINATION AND IMAGINATIVE TALES, as well as the publisher of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soft-core novels in the late Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Complete Cases of the Rambler, Volume One - Fred MacIsaac

I’ve seen Fred MacIsaac’s name on the cover of many, many pulps over the years. He was very prolific for two decades, the Twenties and Thirties, and sold to most of the top pulps, turning out mostly mystery and adventure yarns, with the occasional foray into science fiction. Despite my familiarity with his name, though, I’d never actually read any of his stories until recently, when I tackled a collection of his mystery stories from Altus Press, THE COMPLETE CASES OF THE RAMBLER, VOLUME ONE, which includes an excellent introduction by Ed Hulse.

The Rambler is itinerant reporter Addison Francis Murphy (although in his first appearance, his name is Addison Dexter Murphy), a lanky, redheaded young man who has a habit of getting fired from whatever newspaper job he’s working, but that doesn’t keep him from getting all kinds of scoops and breaking big stories, as well as tackling all kinds of crooks and winding up in danger most of the time. He’s brilliant but prefers being a tramp and drifting around to staying in one place and building a career.

Art by Paul Stahr 

His first appearance is in “The Affair at Camp Laurel”, which was published in the October 8, 1932 issue of ARGOSY, the only story in the series to appear in that venerable pulp. The other Rambler stories were all published in DIME DETECTIVE. This debut is more of an adventure yarn, without much detecting going on as Murphy infiltrates an isolated upstate New York hunting and fishing camp belonging to a rich man who has started behaving eccentrically after being missing for a while in Africa while on an expedition. Yeah, it’s kind of a complicated back-story, and not everything turns out exactly as you might expect. MacIsaac spins the yarn in a breezy, fast-moving style that’s pretty enjoyable.

Art by William Reusswig

By the time Murphy shows up again in the April 1, 1933 issue of DIME DETECTIVE in the story “Alias Mr. Smith”, he’s acquired a new middle name (as mentioned above), he has black hair instead of being a redhead, and his nickname is now The Rambler (that name is never used in the first story). He’s in Boston, and he gets himself a job on one of the papers there by promising to turn up an explosive story. He does that by getting in the middle of what appears to be an open-and-shut murder case in which the victim named her killer before dying. Murphy insists that the alleged murderer is innocent, which brings him to the attention of corrupt politicians, gangsters, and hired killers. Sure enough, Murphy uses an unusual clue to break the case wide open. This story is a little more complicated than the previous one but races along in the same entertaining style.

Art by William Reusswig 

As the third story, “Ghost City Set-up”, opens in the September 1, 1933 issue of DIME DETECTIVE, Murphy actually has some money in his pocket, several hundred dollars, in fact, as he rides across country on a train bound for San Francisco. The reason Murphy is flush is a neat bit of meta-fiction before the concept even existed. It seems that a while back, Murphy met a guy who wrote stories for the pulp fiction magazine and told him about an adventure he had at an isolated hunting camp in upstate New York—“The Affair at Camp Laurel”, of course, which the pulpster (clearly MacIsaac himself) turned into a story and sold to a “major magazine” (ARGOSY). So this explains why some of the details are different in that first story. The writer didn’t remember them correctly when he wrote it.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why Murphy is a redhead again in this one, but hey, let’s not get fanatical about this. Especially when the stories are so gosh-darned entertaining. This time, Murphy spots a rich, beautiful society dame who’s in the process of getting a divorce. When she gets off the train at Reno, and so does a gangster Murphy also recognizes, our intrepid reporter’s nose for news scents a story. Instead of continuing on to San Francisco, he gets off the train in Reno, too, and soon finds himself up to his neck—and deep in an abandoned mine—in a wild, dangerous affair with millions at stake. As usual, it’s great, breakneck fun.

Art by John Howitt

Murphy makes his next appearance in the June 1, 1934 issue of DIME DETECTIVE, in a story called “Go-Between”. He’s made it to California, but not San Francisco. Rather, he’s in Malibu, where he wakes up with a hangover in the beachfront bungalow of a beautiful movie actress. Before you know it, the girl’s been kidnapped, and the gangsters who snatch her force Murphy to act as the go-between for the delivery of the ransom. More complications arise, of course, as the story races along at a breakneck pace in MacIsaac’s breezy, very entertaining style.

Art by John Howitt 

At the end of “Go-Between”, Murphy is sailing off to the South Seas. When “Murder Reel” (DIME DETECTIVE, August 15, 1934) opens, he’s returned from that voyage and landed in San Francisco at last, where he gets a job with one of the local papers and is assigned the story of a mysterious woman who registered in a hotel under a phony name, was murdered a few days later, and is still unidentified. The only clue in the case is a possible connection with a local politician. There’s plenty of colorful action in this yarn and Murphy is as appealing a protagonist as ever, but it’s the weakest Rambler story so far because the solution to the murder involves two really far-fetched coincidences that stretch credulity past the breaking point.

Art by Walter Baumhofer

“Heir-Cooled”, from the June 15, 1935 issue of DIME DETECTIVE, wraps up this first volume of the Rambler’s cases. It’s a considerable improvement on the previous tale. Murphy is back in New York, investigating a jewel robbery and the heart attack death of a financier that may not be natural causes at all. The case has threads that stretch all the way to Miami and the Bahamas, although Murphy doesn’t leave the Big Apple except for a short journey when he gets taken for a ride by gangsters. He survives, of course, but not without some fine action from MacIsaac. It’s another very enjoyable story.

I had enough fun reading all of these yarns that I was left wanting more. Fortunately, there’s a second volume of Rambler Murphy stories from Fred MacIsaac, and I already own a copy, so I suspect I’ll be moving on to it in the reasonably near future. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of pulp detective stories, I give THE COMPLETE CASES OF THE RAMBLER, VOLUME 1 a high recommendation.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, August 1936

I don't know the artist (Richard Lyon, maybe?), but this is an eye-catching cover on this issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES. Nor am I familiar with Crawford Sullivan, evidently the real name of the author who wrote the featured story. But I know the work of the other authors in this one: Tom Curry, Frederick C. Painton, Jack D'Arcy (D.L. Champion), Chart Pitt, S. Gordon Gurwit, and William Merriam Rouse. An adventurous bunch, indeed!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, June 1932

Here's another excellent cover by Arthur Mitchell, this time on an issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE. This pulp always had good writers, and this issue is no exception: Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Art Lawson, C.K. Shaw, Foster-Harris, and Samuel Taylor all have stories in this one. Taylor is probably better remembered for his mysteries than his Westerns, but he wrote a lot in both genres.

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Gun With the Waiting Notch - Stone Cody (Thomas Mount)

Jed Carson is a drifting cowpoke who comes to the Texas border country on a mission: He’s searching for the man who murdered his father. He carries an ivory-handled Colt with a notch already carved in the butt, just waiting for Jed to catch up to the killer and dispense hot-lead justice.

But no sooner does Jed mosey onto this range than he finds himself rescuing a rancher’s beautiful daughter from a menacing gunman. He quickly discovers that this region is plagued by rustlers and decides to help the girl and her crippled father fight off the outlaws. But is it possible that this might dovetail nicely with Jed’s original mission and afford him the opportunity to finally settle the score with his father’s murderer after years of searching? I think you probably know the answer to that question just as well as I do.

Predictable or not, THE GUN WITH THE WAITING NOTCH is a very entertaining Western. The author (more about him later) spends about a fourth of the book setting up the various characters and factions warring along the border and giving us the hero’s back-story, and then the rustlers raid the Circle T round-up and set off a series of furious action scenes that continue almost without pause to the end of the book. Battle follows chase follows shoot-out with only very short respites for the characters to catch their breath. Some of the clashes reach almost epic proportions before a very satisfying final showdown and some last-minute revelations worthy of Walt Coburn. There’s nothing here you haven’t read many times before, but it’s very well done and I had a great time reading it.

THE GUN WITH THE WAITING NOTCH was published in September 1933 by William Morrow, had a cheap hardback reprint from A.L. Burt later that year, and was reprinted in England by Cassell in 1934 under the title CAROL OF CIRCLE T. It was reprinted, again in England, by Ward Lock in 1952 under that same title, and then in 1958, Jefferson House brought it out in hardback under its original as part of its Triple-A Western Classics line, with an introduction by Erle Stanley Gardner. That edition carries a 1938 original copyright date, but that’s incorrect. The Morrow edition was definitely published in September 1933. Kirkus reviewed it the same month and said, “A new Western writer, and a promising one. This has all the proper ingredients, well blended. Not particularly original in plot, but the telling has punch.” Yeah, pretty much what I said.

The by-line on this novel is Stone Cody, but behind that pseudonym is a pretty interesting Western novelist and pulpster. “Stone Cody” was really Thomas Ernest Mount (1898-1976), a former advertising man who, according to the copyright registration, lived in Woodstock, New York, at the time this book came out. As far as I’ve been able to determine, THE GUN WITH THE WAITING NOTCH is Mount’s second novel. His first, MUSTANG TRAIL, was published earlier in 1933 under the name “Oliver King”, a pseudonym he used for some of his later pulp stories. I don’t have a copy of MUSTANG TRAIL, but Kirkus said of it, “Lots of shooting and a bit of humor in a Western which departs somewhat from the conventional pattern. Card sharping and horse thieving, etc.” The next year, 1934, saw him begin a prolific career of writing for the Western pulps that lasted twenty years. He used both King and Cody pseudonyms and published several more novels under the Cody name, but it appears they were all reprints of the Five Mavericks pulp novels that were published originally under the name Kent Thorn. (The Mavericks novels are still in print from Altus Press/Steeger Books, by the way.)

Mount’s story has more to it than his Western writing, though. He was working at an advertising agency in New York in 1923 when he met a young copywriter named Laura Zemetkin. They moved in together and lived as husband and wife for several years but never actually married because Mount was already married to somebody else. After their relationship ended, Laura married publishing executive Thayer Hobson in 1930. Hobson bought the company he worked for, William Morrow, and decided to write a Western novel that his newly-bought company would publish. He came up with the characters and plot, and he and Laura collaborated on the book itself, writing alternating chapters, before Hobson edited the final draft. That book was OUTLAWS THREE, the first book in the very successful Powder Valley series that would run for thirty years, written by various Western authors under the house-name Peter Field. Thayer and Laura Hobson wrote the first two or three novels in the series before turning it over to other authors. They divorced in 1935.

Laura Hobson published her first short story in 1932 under the name Laura Mount. After her divorce from Thayer Hobson, she and Thomas Mount became friends again, although not in a romantic way. There are some indications that Laura Hobson may have collaborated with Mount on some of his Western stories, but at this late date we’ll probably never know for sure about that. However, we do know that under the name Laura Z. Hobson, she went on to become a bestselling novelist, with her most famous work being the novel GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT. I have no idea whether her early relationship with Thomas Mount had anything to do with her becoming a writer, but I like to think that it did.

THE GUN WITH THE WAITING NOTCH is the second novel by Thomas Mount that I’ve read. Many years ago, I read a hardback reprint of FIVE AGAINST THE LAW, the first of the Five Mavericks novels, but I don’t recall anything about it except that I enjoyed it. I liked this one enough that I want to read more by Thomas Mount. If you’re a fan of action-packed traditional Westerns, I give THE GUN WITH THE WAITING NOTCH a high recommendation.

(Note: My copy of this is just a plain brown hardcover with no dust jacket, and I can’t find any images of either edition on-line, so I’m using an image I found of one of the British reprints. The title and cover make the book look like a Western romance, which it definitely isn't.)

Monday, November 15, 2021

A Million Words and Counting, One Last time

I knew I was approaching a million words again this year, but I've been so busy I just forgot about it. So it slipped by me on Saturday when I passed that mark for the 17th straight year. This is actually the earliest I've achieved that in several years. There had been some rough patches this year, but some really productive stretches, too. However (and stop me if you've heard this before; on second thought, don't), this will be the end of the streak. When Rough Edges Press was relaunched as part of Wolfpack Publishing and I agreed to stay on as the editor, I knew that job would take up a lot of my writing time. I still had (and still have) quite a few writing commitments, so I've been juggling both jobs for the past couple months and will continue to do so through much of next year. But I don't have as many books under contract anymore, so I can start easing out of that full-time writing schedule over the next six months or so.

Of course, one should never say never. I have several books of my own I'd like to write, so who knows how much I'll find the time to do. Really, though, I expect my output to be more like half a million words.

As always, thanks to Livia, Shayna, and Joanna for making everything I do possible, not just the writing, and to all the editors over the years who have put their trust in me, and most of all to the readers who enjoy my books and stories. You've all made this journey a lot of fun.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Black Book Detective Magazine, June 1937

Norman Saunders covers are always full of action and detail, and this one on the June 1937 issue of BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE MAGAZINE is no exception. This was the final issue of this pulp from Ranger Publications. It was relaunched ten months later by Better Publications (the Thrilling Group) and a little more than a year after that became the home of the series character The Black Bat. The Ranger Publications version didn't fail because of the covers or the authors it published. There are only four stories in this issue, and they're by Philip Ketchum, Norman A. Daniels, Robert Sidney Bowen, and Allan K. Echols, all of them top-notch pulpsters.