Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, September 1947

The glory days of the pulp magazine ADVENTURE are considered to be the Teens and the Twenties, and it was still a force to be reckoned with during the Thirties. But it was bought by Popular Publications and by the late Forties was thought to be just a shadow of what it once was. And that may well be true. But here's the thing: it was still a pretty darned entertaining pulp. Case in point, the September 1947 issue, which I read recently.

First of all, that's a fine cover by Rafael DeSoto. Jungle? Check. Stalwart, hairy-chested hero? Check. Sinister native fetish? Check. Blazing gun? Check. Big-ass snake? You betcha! Even if it doesn't go with any of the stories in the issue, it's a heck of a cover.

The issue's contents start off with the novella "According to His Lights" by William Chamberlain. I had read several of Chamberlain's YA war novels, but this was the first pulp yarn of his that I'd read, at least as far as I remember. This one opens with a couple of officers visiting Corregidor after the war, then flashes back to the days in the Thirties when they were young lieutenants stationed there and their clashes with a harsh and uncompromising commanding officer. I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen in this one, but I like Chamberlain's no-frills style and the story has an undeniable air of authenticity about it, probably because in addition to being a pulpster he was also a career soldier and retired as a brigadier general in the Air Force in 1946 to concentrate on his writing career. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of Chamberlain's work.

John Scott Douglas was a prolific pulp author from the Twenties to the Fifties. His short story "Deep-Water Decision" is about a couple of highly competitive deep sea divers, each of whom is willing to endanger his own life to show up the other one. It's an okay story, if not particularly memorable.

Fred Gipson is best known as the author of the novels OLD YELLER and SAVAGE SAM, but before that he wrote quite a few Western stories for the pulps. "Hell and Holy Water" is a humorous story about a couple of mischievous boys, a big sister's romance with a bronc rider, blackmail, and a runaway team of horses. Pretty good stuff that does a fine job of capturing rural Texas.

"Eskimo No Cry" by Howard Stephenson is set in post-war Alaska, but that's all I got out of it because it's written in the form of a report from some bureaucrat and it's so dry I gave up after a few pages.

C.P. Donnel, Jr.'s "Ashes to Ashes" is a short-short about an incredibly lucky bartender and the unlikely source of that luck. It's amusing, but I'm not sure what it's doing in ADVENTURE. It strikes me more as something that should have appeared in one of the slicks.

"Escape to El Dorado" by Allison W. Bunkley is billed as a "Fact Story", and it reminds me of the sort of yarn that would show up more often a few years later when ADVENTURE became more of a general interest men's magazine with a lot of non-fiction in it. Ostensibly it's about a new search by helicopter for Colonel H.P. Fawcett, the British explorer who disappeared in the Mato Grosso in 1925. That's really just an excuse for a recap of Fawcett's expedition and disappearance and the subsequent sightings and theories about what happened to him. It's pretty interesting stuff. I believe there was a new book about Fawcett and his disappearance written just a few years ago, so some people are still trying to figure out what happened to him.

Next up is a serial installment from a novel by James Norman, HE WHO RIDES THE TIGER. Didn't read this one, either, since it's part four of five.

"The Man Who Didn't Like Texas" by Clifton Adams is an oilfield story about an epic fistfight and feud between a massive roughneck and an icy-nerved nitroglycerin expert who "shoots" the wells with nitro to bring them in. Adams is a fine Western writer who knew his way around the oil patch, and this is an excellent story with plenty of action and humor, told in first-person narrative resembling that of Robert E. Howard's Breckinridge Elkins without being quite as slapstick.

"A Pig for Muana Loa" by Carl J. Kunz (a writer unknown to me – and to the Fictionmags Index) is a pretty good story about the clash of cultures and a volcanic eruption in Hawaii.

Earl Sutterfield is another mystery. I can't find anything about him. But his story "When Your Number's Up", about a crew working on a railroad tunnel through a mountain, is okay. Lots of detail about tunnel work mixed in with a decent story that's marred by an ending I didn't care for.

Eustace Cockrell had a fairly long career as a pulp writer, but based on "1:54 and a Fraction", I'm not sure I see how. It's a trifle about harness racing that never caught my interest.

Plus assorted columns and departments.

So overall, this is a good but certainly not great issue of ADVENTURE. It has that fine cover going for it, plus three pretty good stories (by Chamberlain, Gipson, and Adams). The rest of the contents are pretty much forgettable. The biggest drawback is that several of the stories seem more like they were intended for the slick magazine market, rather than being pulp yarns, and they just weren't, well, adventurous enough. Still, it's an issue worth reading, even if you just pick and choose the good stuff.


Walker Martin said...

I'm glad you mentioned the subject of ADVENTURE in the 1940's. Many collectors think the only good years were the teens, twenties, and to a lesser extent, the thirties. But I've done extensive reading in the forties and the magazine was good then also. True, the best years are the twenties but you can't go wrong with the forties.

Morgan Holmes said...

I think Popular Publications turned ADVENTURE into something more like ARGOSY after it was turned into a non-pulp "men's" magazine. There are treasures to be found in 1940s issues of ADVENTURE. E. Hoffmann Price had a series about guerrillas in the Philippine Islands fighting the Japanese in the mid-1940s.

Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

The book about Percy Fawcett is THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann, and is a terrific read. I really enjoy this blog.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for the info. I think I need to read that Fawcett book.

beb said...

Adventure is something that happens on the frontier, and by the 30's the frontiers were rapidly shrinking. Then came the war and it became ever harder to sell a story set in Borneo to people who actually fought there.

Cap'n Bob said...

Another great review on a great blog. One tiny nit: the Air Force didn't exist in 1946; it was created a year later. Up til then it was the USAAF, an arm of the US Army. I've heard that some idiots want to merge the two branches again. What a mess that would be.

James Reasoner said...

Excellent points in the previous two comments. I knew the Air Force started out as part of the Army but would have had to look up exactly when the split took place. I don't see the logic in wanting to merge them again after all this time. Do people think it would cut costs?

Ed Hulse said...

I'm among those who haven't much cared for Forties issues of ADVENTURE, but I'm slowly coming around. It might be because I had the bad luck to read a handful of post-WWII issues that seemed identical. Seemed like every other story was about a two-fisted lug trying to salvage something or other from a ship torpedoed by the Japs or Germans during the conflict. But I picked up some sharp early-Forties numbers at last year's PulpFest, and they were pretty good. I expect I'll wind up expanding my run of the magazine -- which currently ends in the late Thirties while Howard Bloomfield was still editor -- if only because Forties issues are cheap and plentiful. I'm getting tired of trying to fill in lengthy runs or complete files of expensive and hard-to-find pulps.