Friday, October 26, 2012

Forgotten Books: Raider of the Seas - Warren Hastings Miller

Despite all the pulps I've read over the past 45 years or so, there are still a lot of pulp authors whose work I've never sampled. Until recently, Warren Hastings Miller fell into that category. I'm not sure I'd ever even heard of him until Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books published a volume of Miller's South Seas adventure yarns called RAIDER OF THE SEAS, which is now available in an e-book edition as well as its original print edition. Roberts provides an excellent introduction about Miller's life and work.

The stories in RAIDER OF THE SEAS feature Jim Colvin, the big, two-fisted captain of a tramp steamer, and his small but smart and scrappy chief engineer Johnny Pedlow. They encounter a dangerous array of pirates, wreckers, feuding sultans, and murderous natives but survive by a combination of courage, cunning, and fighting prowess.

A pair of unusual women also play important roles in these tales. Miss Jessie, who by her description sounds a lot like Aunt Bee from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, is an American expatriate who can clean out a table full of tough sailors at poker or use a rifle to gun down a marauding pirate with equal coolness and skill. Lai Choi San is based on an actual female Malay pirate who also served as the model for Milton Caniff's classic character The Dragon Lady a few years after these stories of Miller's were published originally in the pulps FRONTIER STORIES and ALL-FICTION. (One side note: FRONTIER STORIES, which later became a Western pulp, started out as a magazine featuring stories in exotic settings all over the world, not just the Old West.)

Miller's style isn't fancy, nor are his plots complicated. But the stories race ahead with the sort of driving urgency that the pulps did so well, and they have an undeniable air of authenticity. Miller was personally familiar with these settings and was an expert on boats and sailing, including so much detail that sometimes a non-sailor like me doesn't really know what he's talking about. It's all clear enough from context, though, and anyway, the action doesn't slow down long enough to worry about things like that.
I don't know if any more collections of Miller's stories are in the works, but I'll certainly read them if they are. I really enjoyed RAIDER OF THE SEAS and give it a high recommendation.


Walker Martin said...

I've read some of Miller's fiction in BLUEBOOK but I don't believe I've read these stories. It looks like the collection is worth getting for the introduction also.

Tom Roberts and Black Dog Books are doing some excellent pulp reprints.

Richard R. said...

Dang, another Black Dog collection I gotta have. I'm not going to catch up if you keep posting this stuff, James.