I’m well aware that L. Ron Hubbard is still a controversial figure, years after his death, but long before there was any controversy about him, he was a prolific, well-known pulp author. Having put my hands on a number of the recent reprints of his pulp stories, I thought I’d take a look at a few of them and consider that part of his career.
“Branded Outlaw” is a Western novella originally published in the October 1938 issue of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY. The hero is Lee Weston, a young man from New Mexico who has gone off to Wyoming and acquired something of a reputation as a gunfighter. He returns home to his father’s ranch in New Mexico in response to a plea for help, only to find the ranch house burned down and his father dead. Lee knows that one of his father’s old enemies from trail-driving days has recently purchased a ranch in the area, so he’s convinced that the rival cattleman is responsible for what happened to his father. But when Lee gets shot up and it’s the old enemy’s beautiful daughter who rescues him and nurses him back to health, he figures there’s maybe more going on in the valley than he realized at first. If you’ve ever read many stories from the Western pulps or watched any Western B-movies, you won’t find any surprises in the plot of this one. I was impressed, though, with the quality of the writing. Vivid but not long-winded descriptions of the setting, a very fast pace, good action scenes, and believable dialogue combine to make this a pretty entertaining yarn.
“Cattle King for a Day”, a novella from the March 1937 issue of ALL WESTERN, is even better. It starts with a similar premise – Chinook Shannon (great name) arrives in Montana to investigate the death of his grandfather and claim his legacy, the Slash S ranch. Gunmen try to stop him from getting there, but they’re unsuccessful. Chinook finds that his ownership of the ranch is threatened. His stock is all dead, killed by cyanide poisoning from the run-off from a nearby mine, and the bank is about to foreclose on the land the very next day unless Chinook can come up with $26,000 to pay off the debt. Hubbard throws some nice plot twists into this one, and I didn’t figure out exactly what was going on until the very end of the story. This is another entertaining story with some fine action scenes. The reprint volume also includes a Hubbard short story, “Come and Get It”, which uses the old plot about an Easterner coming west to claim a ranch he’s inherited, but it has some funny scenes despite the predictability of the plot.
All three of these are entertaining stories, and that's why I read pulp fiction. I plan to read more of Hubbard's stories from that era soon.