Friday, September 30, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Vortex Blasters - Sam Moskowitz, ed.

This book has some special meaning for me because I remember that my brother-in-law (who introduced me to science fiction) had a copy of it when he and my sister lived down the street from us in the early Seventies. I borrowed it from him and read the title story, but I don’t think I ever got around to the others. The stories in THE VORTEX BLASTERS were pulled from another anthology edited by Sam Moskowitz, MODERN MASTERPIECES OF SCIENCE FICTION, published by World Publishing Company in 1965. “Masterpieces” might be going a little too far, but there are some good stories in here.

“The Vortex Blasters” (originally published in COMET, July 1941 under the title “The Vortex Blaster”) was my introduction to the work of Edward E. “Doc” Smith, PhD. (Gotta add the PhD after his name.) It’s set in the same universe as his magnum opus, the Lensman series, and is sometimes counted as part of that series although the only Lensman in the story is a supporting character. The protagonist is an atomic scientist named Neal “Storm” Cloud. Earth has atomic power, but it’s not very stable and will sometimes generate out-of-control vortices, which are basically atomic tornadoes. One of those vortices kills Cloud’s wife and children, and in his obsession for vengeance he comes up with a way to destroy these violent forces of nature.

I enjoy Doc Smith’s work, but I’m not a huge fan. His prose is pretty stiff and his dialogue usually sounds like nothing that ever came out of a human mouth. But his ideas are always big and interesting and the stories move along well. His stodgy heroes kind of grow on me, too. I enjoyed “The Vortex Blasters” when I read it 40-some-odd years ago, and I enjoyed it when I reread it now, too. That same long-ago summer, my brother-in-law and I both read Smith’s Skylark of Space series. That was enough Doc Smith to last me for a good long while. He had a huge influence on science fiction for decades, though.

Edmond Hamilton’s “Requiem”, from the April 1962 issue of AMAZING STORIES, is a far-future tale about an expedition sent to explore a planet about to be consumed by an expanding star and then observe its extinction. That planet, of course, is Earth, the birthplace of the by now far-flung galactic empire. I loved Hamilton’s pulp space opera stories, but late in his career he was writing thoughtful, poignant stories like this that are even better. I liked this one a lot.

Eric Frank Russell is almost totally forgotten these days (although I’ll bet many of you reading this remember his work), but I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him. Good ideas and a nice undercurrent of humor running through all his stories. “The Witness” (OTHER WORLDS SCIENCE STORIES, September 1951) is a first contact story of sorts, with an alien visitor being put on trial for possibly being a spy for a race that wants to invade and conquer Earth. Russell has a lot of fun with the legal system. This is another good one.

Lester del Rey’s “Kindness”, from the October 1944 issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, is also a far-future story in which a new, super-smart mutation of humanity, homo intelligens, has replaced good old homo sapiens . . . except for one guy. His fate has a bittersweet taste to it that echoes Hamilton’s “Requiem”. I’ve never been a big fan of del Rey’s work and this story is maybe a little too predictable, but it still has some nice touches to it.

“—We Also Walk Dogs” (ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, July 1941, under the pseudonym Anson McDonald) is part of Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History series. It’s the story of a company that hires out to do any sort of legal job, no matter how seemingly impossible, and how they manage to set up a diplomatic conference for various alien races and in the process come up with an unexpected bonus. I’ve read a lot of Heinlein’s work over the years (he was my brother-in-law’s favorite SF author) but don’t recall ever reading this story before. The prose is as smooth as always and I love the premise, but I don’t think Heinlein did as much with it as he could have. Still a good story.

Fritz Leiber is another author I usually like, but his story “Coming Attraction”, originally published in the November 1950 issue of GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, was kind of a miss for me. Set in New York City after it’s been semi-devastated by a limited nuclear war, it’s mainly about how women have started wearing masks over their faces as a fashion trend, inspired by anti-radiation garb after the war. I’m not sure why it didn’t work very well for me, but it didn’t. A little too much of a kitchen sink story, maybe, with lots of changes in society but no real point to any of them. Or maybe I’m just dense.

Then we come to the final story in this volume, Henry Kuttner’s “We Guard the Black Planet!” (SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, November 1942). Now this is the real deal! A hardboiled Norwegian spacer throws in with a couple of shady characters to track down the origin of the Valkyrie myth on Earth. Seems he’s got this golden armband with the directions to a legendary invisible planet engraved on it, and the inhabitants of that planet are supposed to be beautiful winged women who visited Earth in the far distant past and gave rise to the stories of Valkyries bearing fallen warriors off to Valhalla. This is by far my favorite story in this anthology. Kuttner’s prose is colorful, imaginative, and very fast-moving, and the story has some decent scientific background to boot. I really enjoyed it. My kind of SF.

So all in all, THE VORTEX BLASTERS is a pretty strong anthology, with a couple of excellent stories (“We Guard the Black Planet!” and “Requiem”), several very good ones, and only one that I didn’t care for—and it wasn’t terrible. I’m glad I finally got around to reading the whole thing after so many years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Hart's War

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on August 4, 2007. Maybe I'll have something new next week.)

This is another movie we missed when it came out, which is sort of surprising considering that I like Bruce Willis movies and World War II prisoner of war movies (such as STALAG 17 and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, both great films). In this one Colin Farrell plays a lieutenant who is a senator’s son, a paper pusher who’s stationed well behind the front lines. But through some bad luck he gets captured by the Germans anyway and sent to a prison camp where Bruce Willis is the ranking American officer. As usual in this sort of film, not everything is what it appears to be at first, and the day-to-day drama of life in the camp eventually becomes something bigger and more important. One of the prisoners is murdered, apparently by another prisoner, which leads to a trial, with Farrell’s character, who was in law school when the war began, serving as defense counsel for the accused.

Since this film is based on a novel by John Katzenbach, a good thriller writer, it’s no surprise that the script takes some nice twists and turns. The acting is fine all around. Despite that, the movie never really engaged my interest as much as I thought it should have. I still enjoyed it, though, and consider it to be worth watching.

Monday, September 26, 2016

News From Piccadilly Publishing

Piccadilly Publishing, the Home of Great Western Fiction, celebrates Christmas 2016 by issuing no less than SIX new western series to its line-up ... all available at a special low price for the first seven days of publication! 


These look great, and I've already pre-ordered all of them. I'd read the two Marshall Grover novels before, but I plan to read them again. Piccadilly Publishing has done a fine job of bringing out some classic Westerns, both old and new.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, July 1944

There's got to be an interesting story behind that cover. Despite having a groan-inducing pun as a title, the lead story by Frederick C. Davis is probably pretty good. Davis never disappoints. The rest of the line-up in this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES is pretty strong, too: William Campbell Gault, Robert Turner (under his own name and as Glenn Wood), Joe Archibald, Norman A. Daniels, and David X. Manners.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western, November 1952

BIG-BOOK WESTERN wasn't the iconic pulp that DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN, its Popular Publications stablemates, were, but it was a good solid magazine for a long time. By 1952 many of the big names were gone. I've never heard of the author of this issue's lead novel, William Bender Jr. In fact, the only one of the authors I'm really familiar with is Talmage Powell, who's best known for his hardboiled mysteries. One of the other authors, Richard H. Nelson, was really William L. Hamling, who was on the verge of a successful career as a magazine and book publisher. There's also a reprint from the August 1940 issue of DIME WESTERN of a story by Stone Cody, who was really Thomas Mount.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Forgotten Books: Trails West - Eugene Cunningham

That's about as generic a title and bland a cover as you're ever likely to see. Ah, but inside are nine stories by Eugene Cunningham that originally appeared in FRONTIER STORIES in 1927 and '28. Generic they may be, in the technical sense of the word ("characteristic of or relating to a class or group of things"), but not bland by any stretch of the imagination. Instead they're colorful, action-packed, and very entertaining.

The hero of these yarns is a young Texas Ranger named Stephen Ware, often referred to rather awkwardly in the first few stories as "Ware's Kid", since his father Bill Ware was also a Texas Ranger. In the course of these tales, Ware justifies his admission into the Rangers by rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a rancher; tracks down a fugitive killer, then decides the man is innocent and sets out to find the real murderer; tames a couple of wild towns; rounds up some horse thieves; crosses the border into Mexico to capture an outlaw; solves some stagecoach robberies; and even resolves a domestic drama (with bank robbery added). Ware isn't the most nuanced character, but his adventures sure are fun.

For me, the key to Cunningham's appeal (along with his fast-moving prose and hardboiled attitude) is the authenticity of his work. Like Walt Coburn, he was writing about a time and place that was within the memory of people they knew as youngsters. The Wild West was only a generation removed from the early pulp writers, if that. Some of the plots may be exaggerated for dramatic effect; the setting and the attitudes of the characters aren't. I've become a Eugene Cunningham fan late in my pulp-reading career, but I really enjoy his work and TRAILS WEST gets a high recommendation from me.

Here are the stories and their original appearances in FRONTIER STORIES:
"Beginner's Luck", February 1927
"The Hermit of Tigerhead Butte", March 1927
"Wanted—?", May 1927
"The Hammer Thumb", June 1927
"The Trail of a Fool", July 1927
"The Ranger Way", August 1927
"Blotting the Triangle", September 1927
"Ware Calls It a Day", October 1927
"Spiderweb Trail", January 1928

There's also a fine biographical introduction by Cunningham's daughter, Murney Cunningham Call. This is a volume well worth having if you’re a pulp Western fan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Core

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on July 28, 2007. For me, it was an overlooked movie even then.)

We missed this movie when it came out a few years ago, so when we came across a copy of the DVD at the library we decided to go ahead and watch it. It’s a near-future scientific thriller about how the earth’s outer core stops rotating for some reason, which causes the electro-magnetic field around the planet to start dissipating, which is going to lead to all sorts of disasters and ultimate destruction unless an intrepid team of scientist/adventurers can bore down to the earth’s core in a special vessel made of Unobtainium (to quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up) and restart the core’s rotation by setting off a series of nuclear explosions.

Now, Mr. Wizard I’m not. But if that plot description sounds pretty far-fetched to you, well, it does to me, too. This is definitely a movie that requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief. If you can shrug your shoulders, though, and say, “Okay, I’ll buy that”, it’s fairly entertaining. Lots of special effects and lots of dialogue like “We’re approaching the core/mantle interface!” Aaron Eckhart is a brilliant, ruggedly handsome scientist. (Brilliant scientists in movies are always ruggedly handsome, although it’s acceptable for them to have brilliant scientist sidekicks who are semi-nerdish. Unless of course the brilliant scientist is female, in which case she’s intelligent-looking but still hot.) Hilary Swank is the former astronaut who pilots the ship going to the earth’s core. She’s very capable and intelligent-looking -- but still hot. As for the rest of the crew . . . well, you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen to them.

Which is another problem that THE CORE has. If you’ve ever seen any other movies in the near-future scientific thriller genre, or read any books like that, you’ll know everything that’s going to happen ’way before it does. There was one minor twist near the end that I didn’t see coming, but I should have.

Despite my sarcasm, I did enjoy this movie. It’s silly and predictable, but there are some nice lines of dialogue and I was able to accept the spirit of the whole thing. I was a little disappointed that they went all the way to the Earth’s core and back, though, and didn’t stop even once in Pellucidar.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Now Available: Blast to Oblivion - Chap O'Keefe

In Denver, a shotgun blast brutally ends a man’s life and sets in motion a deadly chain of events that threatens Joshua Dillard, drifting detective and former Pinkerton agent. Hired by a beautiful woman to untangle the mystery of her brother’s murder and bring the killer to justice, Joshua’s investigation takes him to the raw and dangerous mining town of Silverville, where he finds a web of deception, greed, lust, and violence. Aided only by an eccentric hermit, Joshua will need all his cunning and gun-skill to avoid being blasted to oblivion himself! 

Inspired by the classic Sherlock Holmes novel THE VALLEY OF FEAR, veteran Western author Chap O’Keefe spins another exciting tale filled with action and plot twists galore. Rough Edges Press is proud to welcome O’Keefe and his popular series character Joshua Dillard. This edition is newly revised by the author and includes an afterword about the origins of the novel. BLAST TO OBLIVION is sure-fire entertainment for Western and mystery readers alike!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, November 1948

The cover on this issue of STARTLING STORIES is by Earle Bergey--but most of you already knew that, didn't you? I know his work was controversial at the time, but I really enjoy it. And inside this issue are stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, John D. MacDonald, A.E. van Vogt, Frank Belknap Long, and Robert Moore Williams. Edited by my old editor and mentor, Sam Merwin Jr. I like having that link with pulp history.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, August 1955

Another gun-totin' redhead on the cover of a Western pulp. Sure must have been a lot of them around in the old days. By 1955, the Columbia Western pulps were holding down the fort almost by themselves. I think only RANCH ROMANCES remained from any of the other publishers. FAMOUS WESTERN still had some decent authors writing new stories, though, in this case Lauran Paine, Lee Floren, and A.A. Baker. A far cry from the glory days of the pulps but probably still worth reading.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Gunsharp - William R. Cox

Will Carney didn’t set out to get a reputation as a gunman, but that’s the way things have worked out. He drifts through the Southwest, looking for a place where he won’t have to use his gun. He’s in Tombstone at the time of the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral, but although he knows most of the participants (he sits in on a poker game in the Oriental Saloon where Doc Holliday regularly plays), he manages to avoid getting involved in that violent confrontation. However, when he kills an hombre who’s trying to attack a young woman, he winds up with the dead man’s powerful family after him and decides it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, he rides north to a settlement where an old acquaintance is trying to take over and wants Carney to throw in with him. Complicating things, an Apache medicine man has convinced a number of warriors to leave the reservation with him and set off on a series of bloody raids. And then Betsy Gaye, the girl Carney rescued back in Tombstone, shows up, and so does the brutal patriarch of the family that wants him dead . . .

That’s the setup of THE GUNSHARP, a Gold Medal paperback original novel from 1967 by William R. Cox, a prolific contributor to the Western and detective pulps who went on to a long, successful career as a paperbacker, most notably by taking over the Buchanan series under the house-name Jonas Ward after series creator William Ard died and there were a couple of fill-in novels by Robert Silverberg (finishing a manuscript Ard started) and Brian Garfield. Cox wound up writing more Buchanan novels than anybody else, and he had a series of his own about a sheriff named Cemetery Jones. He also wrote a Gold Medal Western entitled BIGGER THAN TEXAS in 1963, which holds a special place in my heart because it was the first adult paperback I ever bought, plucking it off the spinner rack in a drugstore in Goldsmith, Texas, while we were there visiting relatives. I have a replacement copy of that one and plan to reread it one of these days.

But back to THE GUNSHARP . . . There’s a nice hardboiled tone to this one that becomes almost noirish as it seems that Carney has a new problem everywhere he turns. Cox also does a good job with the Arizona landscape, and a long scene in which Carney and Betsy are pursued by the Apaches through a nighttime thunderstorm and flash flood is excellent. The supporting cast, including a married couple with problems of their own who run a hotel and cafĂ©, is interesting. My only real complaint is that a little too much of the action takes place off-screen, so we get people talking about what happened instead of seeing it for ourselves. But there’s not enough of that to slow down the book too much, so for the most part things roll along quite nicely.

Cox was never in the top rank of either Western or mystery writers as far as I’m concerned, but he was always a solid second tier author, dependably entertaining. THE GUNSHARP is worth reading if you come across a copy like I did. Mine came from Recycled Books in Denton, like last week’s Forgotten Book, and is in excellent shape except for that blasted sticker the store stuck on it and a little damage to the spine, both of which you can see in the scan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Rob Roy

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on September 13, 2006, exactly 10 years ago. For me, it was an overlooked movie even then. As you can see, I wrote shorter movie posts back in those days.)

Somehow we missed this swashbuckler when it came out back in the Nineties. I've written so many historically-based, soap-opera-like novels that sometimes when I'm watching a movie like this, I get a definite feeling of "been there, wrote that". I liked it anyway. Good scenery, good photography, and some fine sword fights. Between the poor sound recording and the Scottish accents, we had to turn the captions on to keep up with the dialogue, though. (That was the start of us using the captions on almost everything.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Handful of Hell - Robert F. Dorr

I became acquainted with Robert F. Dorr only in the past couple of years, through Facebook, e-mail correspondence, and one enjoyable phone conversation. He passed away earlier this year. Best known as a military historian specializing in aviation topics, he wrote scores of stories and articles for the men’s adventure magazines. I read some of those magazines as a kid (when I could sneak ’em into the house), so I may well have encountered Bob Dorr’s work back in the Sixties and Seventies, but since I didn’t pay much attention to the authors’ names, I can’t really say whether I did or not. (As an aside, I did notice the names of two authors back then: Wayne C. Ulsh and Roland Empey. Ulsh went on to write several paperback thrillers, and Roland Empey turned out to be Walter Kaylin, one of the most prolific and respected men’s adventure magazine writers. There’s an excellent collection of his work available from the same good folks who put together the book I’m writing about now.)

But to get back to Bob Dorr . . . Earlier this year, The Men’s Adventure Library and New Texture Books (basically Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, the editors of this volume) published A HANDFUL OF HELL, a collection of some of Robert F. Dorr’s best stories from the men’s adventure magazines. They range from Dorr’s debut story, “The Night Intruders”, the story of a Korean War bombing mission first published in REAL, August 1962, to “I Fought Burma’s ‘Red Flag’ Terrorist Killers”, from BLUEBOOK, March 1972. Most of the stories are set during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war, but there are a few non-military adventure yarns as well.

Some of these stories are only lightly fictionalized accounts of actual incidents, while others are completely made up. But what you’ll notice immediately is the air of complete authenticity that runs through all of them. Dorr’s fiction is so realistic that it might as well be based on true stories. There’s also a great deal of empathy for the American fighting men featured in them. They’re not superheroes. They’re average guys, with individual strengths and weaknesses, just trying to do the best they can in very harrowing situations. Dorr’s style is vivid and clear, making it easy for even a non-military, non-flying reader (like me) to understand and appreciate what’s going on. There are no wasted words. These stories get moving right away and never slow down. They hit like a punch in the gut—and that’s a good thing, to my way of thinking.

I’m sorry I didn’t get this book read and this review posted before Bob passed away, so he could have known how much I enjoyed and was impressed by it. It’s a great collection, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I give it a very high recommendation. (If you’re going to pick up a copy, I’d go for the hardback edition, which contains bonus stories and material, not to mention being a very handsome volume.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, July 1939

This cover has enough going on that I thought for a moment it might be Norman Saunders' work, but at the same time it doesn't really look like him to me. Maybe someone reading this can provide a definite answer. At any rate, it's a good cover and I like it. The lead novel in this issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE is by John Benton, a Thrilling Group house-name. Norman Daniels was often Benton, but not always. Since there's a story in this issue under his name, I think he's the most likely suspect. But George A. McDonald, who wrote some good Phantom Detective novels and the Lynn Vickers, G-Man, series, is also in this issue under his name, and he was a Thrilling Group stalwart, so he might have been Benton this time, as well. Or somebody else entirely. Who knows?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, October 1937

There's a nice Tom Lovell cover on this issue of STAR WESTERN, and inside you'll find stories by some fine writers, including Harry F. Olmsted, Peter Dawson, Harry Sinclair Drago, Foster-Harris, and John G. Pearsol. Month in, month out, STAR WESTERN was one of the best Western pulps.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Forgotten Books: Never Love a Call Girl - Mike Avallone

Michael Avallone wrote about a dozen softcore novels for Midwood in the early Sixties, billed on all of them simply as Mike Avallone. I hadn’t run across any of them out in the wild for many years, until I recently found this one at Recycled Books in Denton. The scan is of the copy I bought. I was in need of something good to read, because just before picking up this one, I had slogged through the first 50 pages of a book by a currently best-selling, highly acclaimed author, and I do mean slogged. I set that one aside and wanted to read something by somebody who knew how to tell a story, and Mike Avallone, for all of his gung-ho enthusiasm that sometimes led to odd turns of phrase and sentence structures, was always one hell of a storyteller. And so it is here.

NEVER LOVE A CALL GIRL is the story of high-priced call girl Irma Cavendish, also known simply as Dish. She certainly is, an auburn-haired beauty who is in high demand, although she has a regular lover in an out-of-town businessman who keeps her in an apartment on East Thirty-first Street in New York. One of her clients is a young man who was adopted as an orphan from China by an American journalist. He works at the U.N. as a translator and falls in love with Irma despite her profession. She struggles not to fall in love with him, because she likes her life the way it is. Complications ensue.

There’s not a whole lot of plot in this novel, and what there is, is pretty soap operatic. But Avallone knew how to keep the reader flipping the pages anyway. I raced through NEVER LOVE A CALL GIRL with great enjoyment. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is good, and it’s also a vivid portrait of New York in 1962. In the hands of the better writers, these Sixties softcore novels have more to tell the reader about how society really was back then than a lot of more serious books do. They were written by unpretentious authors for unpretentious readers, and there’s a real air of authenticity about them. If you have a copy of NEVER LOVE A CALL GIRL on your shelves or happen to run across one like I did, it’s well worth reading. And it’s only about 45,000 words long, which is always a plus.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Jealous Kind - James Lee Burke

I’ve read only a handful of novels by James Lee Burke, but I enjoyed all of them very much, so I expected to enjoy his latest novel, THE JEALOUS KIND, as well. I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in a vividly described Houston in the early 1950s, this book is the story of what happens, good and bad, when high school junior Aaron Broussard sees and immediately falls in love with the beautiful, auburn-haired Valerie Epstein. This earns him the enmity of Valerie’s former boyfriend, who’s older, rich, cruel, and vengeful, so not surprisingly things get pretty bad for Aaron and his friend and ally, Saber Bledsoe. Some violent gang members with a grudge against Aaron figure into the mix as well. In a coming of age novel, the protagonist sort of has to survive to, well, come of age, and there’s some real question whether Aaron will make it through this particular rite of passage or not.

In some ways, THE JEALOUS KIND is a variation on the sort of juvenile delinquent novels that paperback publishers put out by the dozen during the Fifties. It’s longer, more complex, more graphic, and written in a more literary style than those tales by Hal Ellson and Wenzell Brown and other authors of that era, and I have no idea whether Burke ever read any of those books or not, but those are the sort of echoes that I found in this novel.

THE JEALOUS KIND is connected to some of Burke’s other novels (Aaron’s middle name is Holland, a family that figures prominently in other books) but works just fine as a stand-alone. Aaron and Saber are interesting characters, the villains are properly despicable, and Burke keeps things moving along at a compelling pace. And of course the writing is very vivid and colorful. This is an excellent book, and whether you’ve read Burke before or haven’t sampled his work yet, I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Duel

I’d never heard of this recent Western until Livia brought home a copy from Redbox, so that makes it overlooked as far as I’m concerned. However, in this series I generally try to write about movies I liked, but this one . . . I dunno.

Let’s start with what I didn’t like. The script plays, at least early on, as if the writer got up one morning and said to himself, “I think I’ll write a movie about how evil white people are. Especially white Christians.” This angle gets a little less heavy-handed as the movie goes on, but it’s blatant enough that it annoyed me. Liam Hemsworth looks great and turns in a decent performance as a Texas Ranger sent to investigate the deaths of a number of Mexicans along the Rio Grande, but he constantly does dumb things that a real Ranger probably wouldn’t have done, just to keep the plot moving. The big twist in that plot is one that’s been done to death. The geography is muddled, with towns either in the wrong place or characters going in the wrong direction to get from Point A to Point B, plus there’s a sense that everywhere in Texas is within a few days’ ride of everywhere else. The frontier town where the movie was filmed (which is actually in Mississippi) never looked authentic to me.

So for a lot of the time I actively disliked THE DUEL. But eventually there were a few things I liked about it. Woody Harrelson, as a shaven-headed, psychopathic preacher, chews the scenery relentlessly, and I’d rather watch an over-the-top performance than one that’s just phoned in. The action scenes are generally well done and staged so you can tell what’s going on, and the big gun battle at the end is excellent (other than Hemsworth’s character doing something dumb again). The streets of the town are a little muddy, but everything’s not constantly gray, gloomy, and raining, as it too often is in current Westerns.

All this leaves me with a very mixed reaction to THE DUEL. It’s too slow, pretentious, and politically correct. But every so often it breaks out in a scene that I really enjoyed. I’ve said many times that most of today’s filmmakers who try to make a Western really don’t know how to. Nobody, from the cast and crew to the writer, director, and producer have much (or any) experience at making Westerns and have never immersed themselves in the genre. But here I sit, pontificating, having never made a movie of any kind, offering up unsubstantiated opinions, and we all know what opinions are like. That’s the way I see it, though. You might like THE DUEL, you might hate it, or you might fall somewhere in between like me. But I wrote nearly 500 words about it, for whatever that’s worth.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Now Available: Blaze! Night Riders - Michael Newton

The Old West’s deadliest—and only—pair of husband-and-wife gunfighters, J.D. and Kate Blaze, interrupt a lynching in Dakota Territory. Hooded killers are about to string up a pair of young black homesteaders, but the fast guns of the Blaze duo soon break up the necktie party. That action plunges Kate and J.D. into the middle of a war between the local cattle baron and a group of freed former slaves just looking for a place to call home. It’ll take all their cunning and Colt-skill to survive as every hand is against them!

Master storyteller Michael Newton returns with another action-packed, fast-paced yarn full of passion and excitement. NIGHT RIDERS is fine reading for every Western fan!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, November 30, 1935

Have I ever written anything with barnstormers in it? I don't think so. Maybe I should, one of these days. I doubt if I could top George Bruce, though. He was one of the top aviation pulp writers. Elsewhere in this issue of ARGOSY are stories by Judson Philips, Murray Leinster, J.D. Newsom, Anthony M. Rud, and Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, all dependable pulpsters (and Philips and Leinster went on to long, successful careers as novelists, of course).

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1938

This is an excellent early issue of TEXAS RANGERS, with a Jim Hatfield novel by J. Edward Leithead, a Long Sam Littlejohn story by Lee Bond, and a story by Tom Gunn (probably Syl McDowell). Leithead wrote only three Hatfield novels, but they're all good.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Forgotten Books: Voluntary Madness - Vicki Hendricks

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on June 30, 2007.)

After being so impressed with Vicki Hendricks’ first novel, MIAMI PURITY, I had to try something else by her. VOLUNTARY MADNESS is narrated by Juliette, a young woman living in Key West with her somewhat older boyfriend Punch. An aspiring novelist, Punch is in poor health due to diabetes and heavy drinking, so he and Juliette make a suicide pact: for one year, they will live a wild, exciting life in Key West while Punch writes a novel about their experiences -- and then they will kill themselves while riding on one of the Fantasy Fest parade floats on Halloween. It’s a crazy plan, of course, and it becomes even crazier when violence and murder become involved.

The plot of VOLUNTARY MADNESS is sort of episodic and wanders around a little, which is why I didn’t like it quite as much as MIAMI PURITY. But the characterization and that distinctive Hendricks voice -- a blend of eroticism, despair, and wry, very dark humor -- are excellent. She also does a great job with the colorful Key West setting. I can recommend this one very highly, and I think it’s a safe bet to say that I’ll be reading more of Vicki Hendricks’ novels.

(Well, uh . . . no. You know me and my attention span. These two books are the only ones by Vicki Hendricks that I've read. But I remember them both fondly and I hope I'll actually get around to reading her other novels one of these days.)