It's been three weeks since Sammy's surgery, and he continues to do really well in his recovery. His incision is almost completely healed. You can barely see it in the picture above. He's been out of the dreaded cone for almost a week now, and we're all very glad he no longer has to wear it. His gait is nearly normal. Only occasionally does he favor the surgically repaired leg. I do think he's getting pretty bored with the whole thing and wants to go back to living his old life outside, but it's still going to be a while before he can do that. My writing has rolled along fairly well this month, with my "editor" right here in the pen beside me. I've written about 90,000 words, and my current book, which I started on the 17th, hit the approximate one-third point yesterday. I'm on pace to finish it by the end of February, which is what I need to do.
I generally enjoy Simon Pegg's movies, so when I came across this one from 2012 that I'd never heard of before, let alone seen, I figured I ought to watch it. Pegg plays a children's book author in England who's trying to sell a TV series about Victorian murders, and in the process of doing research for it, he reads about so many gruesome killings that he becomes paranoid and starts seeing murderers everywhere. It doesn't help that he's already plagued with several phobias, including (and this figures in the plot) going to the laundromat (or launderette, as those British folks call it). Things should start looking up for him when his agent arranges a meeting for him with a high-powered Hollywood mogul, but actually, they get even worse. Then, part of the way through, as often happens in Pegg's movies, the plot takes an unexpected 90-degree turn and it becomes a different sort of movie. A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING is a dark, oddball, occasionally amusing but just as often wince-inducing little film. A lot of the time Pegg is on-screen by himself, so whether or not you like him will have a big influence on how you feel about the movie. I enjoyed it, but it's definitely weird. Bear that in mind if you decide to watch it.
DRACULA’S REVENGE is the latest novella (more like a short
novel, really) from Charles R. Rutledge to feature occult detective Carter
Decamp and homicide detective Jennifer Grail, as well as the first story I’ve
read with these characters. One of Jennifer’s cases involves a bizarre murder
in which the victim was drained of blood. That leads to a violent encounter in
the morgue with a body that’s supposed to be dead, and faced with something
like that, what else is she going to do but call on her old friend Decamp for
help, since he’s an expert on supernatural matters.
Their investigation leads them to a small town on the Georgia coast. There’s a
deserted mansion, an abandoned paper mill, a bunch of missing young women, and
a guy who’s the descendant of an English couple who may have been the real
people upon whom Bram Stoker based some of the characters in DRACULA. On top of
that, you’ve got a mysterious giant who may be lacking the flat head and neck
bolts, but he’s pretty clearly the Frankenstein monster . . .
You might not think that a blend of hardboiled police procedural and classic
horror would work that well, but you’d be wrong. It works great. Rutledge takes
a very interesting approach, establishing a world in which Dracula and
Frankenstein are well known as fictional characters, but unknown to most, the original
novels were based on actual events. As such, the monsters that show up in this
yarn bear much more resemblance to their literary ancestors than they do to
their movie counterparts.
In addition to that intriguing angle, Rutledge provides plenty of well-done
action scenes and keeps the pace moving along at a very satisfying clip.
Jennifer Grail and Carter Decamp are good characters, as well, and I want to
read more about them. DRACULA’S REVENGE is a very entertaining tale, and I give
it a high recommendation.
Another excellent Allen Anderson cover on this issue of PLANET STORIES. Why the War-Maid of Mars' raygun looks like an old-fashioned Western six-shooter at first glance, I don't know, but it's eye-catching, as are other, ah, attributes. Maybe Anderson adapted this from an unused painting he did for LARIAT STORY. Anyway, speaking of the War-Maid, I wouldn't mind reading that story by Poul Anderson. I'll have to check and see if it's ever been reprinted anywhere. The only other familiar names in the Table of Contents are Bryce Walton, Robert Moore Williams, and J.T. McIntosh.
What a great cover. I don't know the artist, but I love the expression on this guy's face. I may have to add an Injury to a Quirley category. And the line-up of authors inside this issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES is top-notch, too: William Heuman, D.B. Newton, Joseph Chadwick, Leslie Ernenwein, Rolland Lynch, T.C. McClarey, Kenneth Fowler, and some lesser-known names and house-names. I love the title "Hell Fans These Guns!".
Brett Waring is really Keith Hetherington, one of the most
prolific writers of all time who has authored hundreds of books under several
pseudonyms, mostly (but not all) Westerns and whose wordage total probably
approaches 40 million. He’s also a very entertaining author, as WALK OUT OF
HELL proves. This novel was published originally in Australia by Cleveland and
reprinted by them in the past year or so, the edition I read.
This sounded to me like a good tough yarn, and I wasn’t disappointed. Frank
Cain, wounded and battered, stumbles out of the Wildfire Mountains as the only
survivor of a prospecting expedition that set out to find the Lost Spanish
Mine. According to Cain, an avalanche wiped out the rest of his party, but
certain things about his story don’t add up, and the situation becomes even
more suspicious when the local lawman uncovers the fact that Cain spent time in
prison for killing a previous prospecting partner of his—and originally claiming
that an avalanche was responsible for that death, too.
Most people don’t believe Cain’s story, including his girlfriend Meg McGill,
whose father was the leader of the expedition that disappeared in the
Wildfires. Several local hardcases think that Cain knows where the lost mine is
located and kidnap him to torture the information out of him. He gets away but
is forced by the sheriff to go back into the mountains so that the lawman can
get to the truth. Meg goes along as well, determined to find out what really
happened to her father. And those gold-greedy outlaws are on the trail, too . .
One of the best things about WALK OUT OF HELL is its noirish element. The
reader doesn’t know until the end whether Frank Cain is hero or villain. There’s
a lot of tough action along the way, and Hetherington, old pro that he is,
knows how to keep a story moving at a very fast pace. His work is always worth
reading, and I enjoyed this one a lot. If you’re looking for a good hardboiled
Western, WALK OUT OF HELL is very much worth reading.
• Filmmaker and author Susan Emshwiller reveals the inside story on her films, the work of her parents, Ed Emshwiller and Carol Emshwiller, along with nearly two dozen rare photographs of her famous family.
• Senior Art Director Victoria Green takes us behind the scenes of the art department at AHMM, Analog, Asimov’s, and EQMM, complemented by artist’s confidentials from Tim Foley and Maurizio Manzieri.
• Vince Nowell, Sr. charts Ray Palmer’s digest dynasty from 1948 to 1958, followed by the bibliography of S.J. Byrne, one of Palmer’s go-to SF storytellers.
• Tom Brinkmann uncovers Benedict Canyon, where Elke Sommer and Joe Hyams joined “A Neighborhood of Ghosts” from 1964 to 1969.
• Steve Carper wraps “One-and-Dones” with a final, fascinating batch of obscure and/or rare collector’s treasures.
• Peter Enfantino delivers a story-by-story synopsis of Manhunt from January thru June 1954. Plus a report on the rare western digest paperback, Sunset Showdownby Steve Frazee.
• Crime, espionage, and fantasy fiction by Michael Bracken, Josh Pachter, and Joe Wehrle, Jr., with art from Marc Myers, Michael Neno, and Joe.
• News from all your favorite genre digest magazines, straight from their editors’ lips, including every newsstand stalwart, and the new generation of POD/digital stars.
• In-depth reviews of EconoClash Review, Nostalgia Digest, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Hot Lead.
• Plus over 100 digest magazine cover images, cartoons by Bob Vojtko and Clark Dissmeyer, first issue factoids, and more.
• Cover by Ed Emshwiller,
THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is one of the best publications out there, and the just-released Book Nine continues that tradition of excellence. I particularly enjoyed Vince Nowell Sr.'s article about Ray Palmer, Peter Infantino's continuing coverage of MANHUNT issues (I don't always agree with Infantino's opinions on individual stories, but they're always entertaining), the piece about Steve Frazee's SUNSET SHOWDOWN, the review of the great Western fanzine HOT LEAD, and Michael Bracken's short story. There's plenty of good reading here, and I give THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST, BOOK NINE a high recommendation.
When it comes to covers, such as this one by Walter Baumhofer, and the authors inside, DIME DETECTIVE was a great pulp. Authors in this issue include Frederick Nebel (with a Cardigan story), William E. Barrett (with a Needle Mike story), Frederick C. Davis, and James P. Olsen. That's a fine line-up of top pulpsters.
There were always a lot of good authors in WESTERN ADVENTURES. In this issue, that includes Norman A. Fox, Giff Cheshire, S. Omar Barker, Gunnison Steele, Hapsburg Liebe, Rolland Lynch, C.K. Shaw, and Ralph Yergen. I've always found the covers on WESTERN ADVENTURES a little lacking, but the authors are consistently very good.
Kent Mason is lost in the Arabian desert when he finds the ruins of the
legendary lost city of Al Bekr, which is what he was looking for in the first
place. However, all that’s left of Al Bekr are two tall, strange towers, and
when Mason investigates them, he discovers that they’re made of metal, not
stone, which shouldn’t be possible considering how old they are. But before he
can figure out anything else, one of the towers is struck by lightning from an
uncommon desert thunderstorm, and all kinds of special-effectsy stuff happens,
and Mason finds himself cast back in time (because those two towers are really
a time machine, of course) to ancient Al Bekr, which is ruled by an evil genius
from the far future, Greddar Klon, also known as The Master. Also on hand are
the beautiful Nirvor, the Silver Priestess, the beautiful young Queen Alasa,
and Erech, the brawny Sumerian barbarian also trapped out of his own time.
This is the opening of THE TIME TRAP, a novel by Henry Kuttner that originally
appeared in the November 1938 issue of the pulp MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES. Kuttner
specialized in these “normal guy thrown into a bizarre and dangerous setting”
yarns, and nobody did them better. Despite the science fiction trappings, the
first half of the book reads very much like a sword-and-sorcery story set in
ancient Al Bekr. But then the plot takes a left turn and THE TIME TRAP,
appropriately enough, becomes a wild chase through time as Mason and his allies
try to foil the dastardly plans of the despicable Greddar Klon in various eras,
from the prehistoric past to the far future when Earth is a dying world.
I probably shouldn’t mention it, but in each of those eras, there’s at least
one beautiful girl who has trouble keeping her clothes on for more than a page
or two. This novel didn’t appear in one of the Spicy pulps, but it might as
well have, although Mason does manage to resist temptation better than most of
the protagonists in that line.
Kuttner piles on the action and keeps things galloping along, and that may be
the biggest flaw in THE TIME TRAP. It’s almost too much of a kitchen sink book.
But the writing is vivid and there are a lot of really striking scenes, not to
mention a very satisfying climax. I’m a little surprised this was never
reprinted as an Ace paperback during the Sixties, one of those smaller-sized
editions with a cover by Frazetta or Krenkel. If it had been, I would have
bought it and raced through it, I can guarantee that. Probably stretched out in
a lawn chair on my parents’ front porch, because this is definitely a Front
There’s an e-book version available on Amazon (with some formatting problems, I
might add; this is the edition I read), it appears in the Kuttner collection
THUNDER IN THE VOID from Haffner Press, and there’s a paperback edition as half
of one of the Armchair Fiction double volumes, along with THE LUNAR LICHEN by
Hal Clement. While it’s not in the top rank of Kuttner’s work, THE TIME TRAP is
an entertaining adventure and a good example of science-fantasy. I recommend
it, especially if you’re still in touch with your inner 12-year-old like I am.
I always enjoy the first day on a new book. Today was especially nice because this is the first book in a new series that I created, except for the title. I had other stuff to do this morning so I didn't get started until just after noon, but I wound up writing two chapters--20 pages--and had a good time doing so. I know from experience the whole book won't go that well, but I'll take that kind of a day whenever I can get it. And yes, I wrote the outline for the next book in that other series yesterday.
Two chapters today wrapped up that novel I've been working on, which is #370 for me. I'm not really done done with it, since Livia still has some editing to do on it and I haven't seen her notes yet, but I'm putting it in the books anyway. Tomorrow I need to write the outline for the next book in this particular series, but I have to discuss it with Livia first to make sure the basic idea for it is feasible.
Sammy continues to do well in his recuperation. He's bored, as I would be too in his situation, and he doesn't really like the plastic cone he has to wear, but he doesn't fight it when I put it back on him after he's eaten and gone outside briefly. That's good, because he's big and strong enough that if he was determined not to wear it, it might take several of us to get it on him. Overall, he's been remarkably cooperative about the whole thing. But we'll all be glad when he's back to normal. Remember that book I was going to wrap up over the weekend? Well, I wrote three chapters yesterday but didn't manage to get to the end of the story. I had enough words already, but my editor gives me some leeway on such things and I wasn't going to rush the ending. So I figured I'd finish it today. Nope. Two more chapters done, but still not finished. There's just a lot to cover and a considerable amount of choreography required to get all the characters in the right place at the right time. That's always a problem with big-cast books. Surely it'll be done tomorrow, though.
Clearly, deep sea diving was considered adventurous during the pulp era, because such scenes show up fairly often on pulp covers, such as this one by Rafael DeSoto from the March 1939 issue of ADVENTURE. The scene depicted may not actually be underwater, but you can tell the guy just came from there because of the chest of doubloons he's holding. I don't know if this cover illustrates one of the stories inside or is just a generic adventure image; the latter, I suspect. But I'm sure the stories in this issue are good, considering that they were written by Erle Stanley Gardner, Frank Gruber, Gordon MacCreagh, William E. Barrett, Anthony Rud, and Robert E. Pinkerton. Looks like a solid issue all the way around.
There may not be as much stuff going on in this cover by Norman Saunders as there is in many of his paintings, but it's certainly dynamic and I like it quite a bit. MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE was a reprint pulp, and this issue contains only two stories: "Open Range for Renegades" by Bennett Foster, which was originally published as the novel COW THIEF TRAIL by Morrow in 1937; and "The Laughter of Slim Malone", a Max Brand story from a 1919 issue of ALL STORY WEEKLY that's been reprinted in other collections since then. UPDATE: Bennett Foster's novel COW THIEF TRAIL was reprinted in paperback by Bantam in 1951 under its original title. (Never pass up an excuse to post the cover of an old paperback, I say.)
Sammy is doing well, eating and drinking fine, taking all his meds, and getting around a little. I think he felt more restless today, as if he's had enough of this and is ready to get back to his normal life. We all are, but it's going to take a while. His buddy Ranger visited him today. The desk where I'm working is just to the right of that picture; you can see the chair where I sit. This arrangement worked fine until Ranger decided he needed to get up and peer over my shoulder while I was writing. I think that was his way of telling me he wanted to collaborate with me. Or that the stuff needs editing. Speaking of writing, the current book has gone well the past two days, 16 pages yesterday and 21 today. I should finish Sunday unless I get really ambitious tomorrow. And as soon as I wrap up this one, I need to write the outline for the next book in the series. Luckily I already have an idea for it. I was monkeying around with Word and decided to change the background color. I tried white text on a black background (thirty years ago when I first started using a computer, that was the way the screen looked), but that was too stark for me. I settled on black text on a light green background. Remember the old Lancer Easy-Eye paperbacks in the Sixties? That's sort of what it looks like. And I have to say, so far I like it. It really does seem to be easier on my eyes. Although I never really liked the way those paperbacks looked. The first one I ever bought was GOLDEN BLOOD by Jack Williamson, a novel I ought to reread one of these days.
Jeremy Six is the marshal of Spanish Flat, Arizona, a small
town that serves as the supply center for not only numerous ranches but also
some mining operations in the nearby mountains. Six is assisted by his deputy
Manny Gutierrez and has numerous friends among the town’s citizens. He’s
romantically attracted to the beautiful owner of one of the local saloons. MR.
SIXGUN is the first novel in a series by Brian Garfield featuring Jeremy Six,
and at first glance, it seems to be solidly in the GUNSMOKE mold.
There are some important differences, though, that become apparent as the story
goes along. Jeremy Six is no Matt Dillon. He broods more and is uncertain of
his own abilities. His budding romance with Clarissa is no Matt and Kitty.
Characters you start out thinking are certain to survive, don’t. Some things do
seem influenced by GUNSMOKE, though, such as the tension that grips the town
when famous gunman Ben Sarasen shows up and waits around for something, nobody knows what. Then there’s
the outlaw gang with a grudge against the town resulting from Six’s arrest of
one of their members. All of it comes together in a number of scenes of
shocking violence after Garfield skillfully ratchets up the tension.
I’ve heard many good things about the Marshal Jeremy Six series and have been
meaning to read it for years. The recent passing of Brian Garfield finally
prompted me to do so. MR. SIXGUN is a very well written novel. I wasn’t sure at
first if I liked the character of Jeremy Six, but he’d grown on me by the time
I finished the book. I enjoyed this quite a bit and certainly will read at
least the next book in the series, probably more. Recommended.
(MR. SIXGUN was published originally by Ace Books in 1964 under Garfield’s
pseudonym Brian Wynne. It’s available now in an e-book edition from Piccadilly
Press, and that’s the one I read.)
Our big ol' Great Pyrenees, Sammy (or as I sometimes call him, Singapore Sammy -- you pulp fans get the reference), had surgery today to repair the knee that he blew out a couple of weeks ago when he was running up and down the fence barking at another dog. He's still pretty groggy, and we're looking at a couple of months of recuperation and rehabilitation, but right now the signs are all good. He's a pretty laid-back dog to start with, so maybe keeping him from being too active won't be a problem. And he doesn't seem to hate the cone, which is good. Any time our other dogs had to wear a cone, they gave us trouble about it. Between dropping him off early at the vet, worrying about him all day, and then picking him up late this afternoon, I didn't write a blasted thing today. But yesterday was a decent day, a chapter and a half, and I'm sure I'll get some done tomorrow. I'd like to wrap up the book I'm working on this weekend, and I still have a decent shot at that.
As I've mentioned here before, I bought the paperback of THE SINS OF THE FATHERS, the first Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block, brand-new off the paperback rack at Buddies' Supermarket in 1976, not long after Livia and I got married. She was already getting groceries, but I'd stopped to look at the books and spotted Block's name. In the past, I had bought some of his Evan Tanner books right up the sidewalk in the same shopping center, from the spinner rack in Tompkins' Pharmacy, and enjoyed them. This one looked good, it was the first book in a series, and it was a private eye novel. Good enough for me. Cut to 2019, more than forty years later, and what am I reading? A TIME TO SCATTER STONES, the newest Matt Scudder novella by Lawrence Block. The more things change, etc., etc., and sometimes I'm glad of that. Block has aged Scudder in real time, so he's long since retired as an unofficial private detective and is living happily with his wife Elaine, a former prostitute who he met during one of his cases. She belongs to a group that calls themselves the Tarts, an informal organization of former prostitutes and ones who are trying to get out of that life. One of them has a problem with a client who's obsessed with her, and Elaine prevails on Scudder to help the young woman. He's willing to do so, but first he has to find out who the guy actually is, and once he does, decide how best to proceed from there. It's really interesting and enjoyable to watch Scudder work this case. As he points out himself, he's really too old for that sort of thing and isn't as efficient at it as he once was, but he manages to get the job done anyway. A TIME TO SCATTER STONES is, fittingly enough, a rather low-key and leisurely affair, but despite that, Block manages to generate a considerable amount of suspense and really kept me reading. No one else's prose pulls me along quite so handily, and you can't really point to anything and say, it's because he does this and this and that other thing. I don't know why it works, but it sure does. Block has said this may well be the final Matt Scudder story. Well, maybe, maybe not. We've heard that before. What I do know is that as long as he keeps writing them, I'll keep reading them. A TIME TO SCATTER STONES will be out in hardback and e-book editions at the end of the month, and I highly recommend it.
AMERICAN ULTRA starts off like it’s going to be some sort of
low-key indie drama about a young stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) who lives with his
girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) in a small town, suffers panic attacks, and works
at a dead-end job in a convenience store. But then it takes an abrupt left-hand
turn into something very different as
people start trying to kill the protagonist and he discovers that nothing he
believed was true really is. And quite possibly, no one he knows can be
I’d never heard of this movie, and I’m not a big fan of either Eisenberg or
Stewart, but it sounded just quirky enough to take a chance on, and I’m glad I
did. It moves really, really fast, has a lot of stylish and well-done (and
gory) action scenes, and the supporting cast is top-notch: Walton Goggins (who
is in so many movies and TV shows he must not ever do anything except work),
Connie Britton, John
Leguizamo, and Topher Grace.
I really enjoyed AMERICAN ULTRA. It reminded me a little of THE LONG KISS
GOODNIGHT, another movie that bombed at the box office and got bad reviews but
has developed something of a cult following because it’s actually pretty good.
Whether the same will ever be true of AMERICAN ULTRA, I don’t know, but I can
see it happening. This is definitely worth watching if you don’t mind some
I went back to the ophthalmologist's office this morning to get the results of that visual field test I took last week. This test matched perfectly with the earlier ones I'd taken, proving that the deterioration in peripheral vision indicated by the test in October was inaccurate. Not only that, they checked the pressure in my eyes while I was there, and it was exactly what the doctor wanted in both eyes. So, good news all around. "Rock solid," as one of the assistants said. Between that appointment and several other errands that had to be run, not much time was left for writing, but I did a little this afternoon. Saturday was a good day, two chapters. Yesterday I was able to work only in the morning since I had some other stuff to do during the afternoon, but I got one chapter done in that time. And so it rolls on.
Starting in first grade and continuing through most of my
public school career, I rode the bus to and from school nearly every day. It
came along the service road next to the highway and stopped at our street
around eight o’clock in the morning. I always tried to get down the street to
the corner a few minutes before that so I wouldn’t miss the bus. The few times
that happened, I had to trudge back up the hill to our house and my mother had
to take me to school, much to her annoyance.
The people who lived in one of the houses on the corner had a boat, and they
kept it in a shed that was fairly close to the road. The shed had no front, but
it had sides, a back, and a roof, so when it was raining, or very cold, the
kids waiting for the bus crowded into the shed for protection from the
elements. We had no trouble hearing the bus’s rumbling engine as it came along
the service road toward our street.
Most of the time we waited outside, though, and of course, being kids, we came
up with games to play. Since there was a ditch on both sides of the street, we
used the one alongside the boat shed for a game called “Quicksand Monster”. One
kid would get in the ditch and serve as the Quicksand Monster. The others had
to jump back and forth over the ditch while the Quicksand Monster tried to
catch one of them and haul him or her in. When that happened, the kid who got
caught became the Quicksand Monster, and so the game continued. I have no idea
who gave it that name, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I imagine other kids
in other places played variations of the same game, but I never heard or read
any other references to calling it Quicksand Monster.
The bus had already made three stops before it picked us up. After we got on,
it continued on up the service road, made one more stop at the corner of
another street, then turned, crossed over the highway, and headed back toward
town and the various schools. Some years, the bus I rode also made several
stops at a neighborhood on the other side of the highway to pick up the kids
who lived there, but when that happened we were really crowded in and really
had too many kids on there. I don’t recall that ever being a permanent
Most of the time, after making the one stop beyond our street, the bus returned
to the high school first to let off those kids, then cut through some back
streets and a residential area to get to the elementary school I attended.
Along the way we passed a big concrete watering trough on the corner of some
land where people kept cattle. I first noticed that watering trough in the fall
of 1959, when I was in first grade. I drive by there occasionally now, and I
always look over at it. The watering trough is still there—or at least it was
the last time I went by. That corner hasn’t changed in the almost sixty years
Anyway, as I got older, I began riding on past the elementary school to the
junior high, which was the last stop. The bus barn was located there. And
finally, when I reached high school, I got off at the first stop every morning.
The routine in the afternoon was much the same, except that route started at
the elementary school, went by the junior high, and then the high school last
before heading out the highway to the area where I lived. My street was the
fourth stop. The bus usually got there about five minutes until four o’clock in
the afternoon, which meant I could hurry up the street and get in the front
door in time to watch MIGHTY MOUSE or HUCKLEBERRY HOUND or THE ADVENTURES OF
SUPERMAN, whichever was running in that time slot that year. Much later, I made
sure I got home in time to watch reruns of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which one
of the local stations showed every weekday.
I remember missing the bus in the afternoon only one time, and I couldn’t tell
you the reason why. But I was in high school, I know that (the old campus, the
one’s that now a junior high). It was about a mile and a half from my house, so
I decided to walk home instead of trying to call my mother and ask her to come
get me. It wasn’t a problem; I was young, and it was only a mile and a half.
And I remember enjoying that walk quite a bit. You see a lot of details when
you’re walking that you never notice when you’re riding in a bus. I got home
about half an hour later than usual, so I probably missed something on TV, but
I don’t think I cared. However, that was the only time I ever walked home, so I
didn’t enjoy it so much that I started doing it on a regular basis.
Over the years I rode various buses: 5, 15, and 33 are the only numbers I
recall. But they were all virtually identical, so it didn’t really matter. They
weren’t air-conditioned, of course, but we would let the windows down on hot
days. I had a few friends, some from my street and a few from the street where
the bus stopped just before us. I don’t recall ever being picked on, although
that certainly happened to some kids. Being a fat little nerd, I had learned at
a young age to keep my head down and be as invisible as possible in such
That’s the way my bus riding went until the first day of my junior year of high
school. The morning ride was normal, but that afternoon when I got on the bus
to go home, it followed such a long, circuitous route that it was 5:30 before I
walked in the door. Being accustomed to getting home by four o’clock, this
delay was flatly unacceptable. I needed
that hour and a half for reading comic books and paperbacks or watching TV or
playing football, baseball, or basketball. Since I had my driver’s license by
then, I asked my dad if I could have a car and start driving to school. He knew
a guy who had a used car lot (as I’ve mentioned before, no matter what you
needed, my dad Knew A Guy) and within days, I had a car. It was an olive-drab
Oldsmobile, a ’66 model, I think, ugly as sin and one step above a junker, to
boot. But it ran—most of the time—and I no longer had to ride the bus. That
led, the next school year when I was a senior, to the one, count it, one
semester of public school that I truly enjoyed, the second semester of my
senior year when I came in late and left early.
I wasn’t fond of riding the bus. I wouldn’t say that I absolutely hated it. Most days it was just part of
the overall experience of going to school, not really good or bad, just
something that had to be gotten through. But by the time my kids were school
age, Livia and I were both working at home as full-time writers, so we made our
own schedules and one of us was always able to take the girls to school and
pick them up. They rode buses for field trips and other extracurricular activities,
of course, but never to or from school. That was fine with me, because I always
enjoyed those trips with them. They may have missed a few experiences by not
riding the bus, but on the other hand, we listened to the radio and we waved at
the donkey in the field where we always turned and we went by the house where
all the weiner dogs lived and hoped they would be outside so we could see them
running around and playing. I hope those moments were worth something to the
girls. They certainly were to me. More than any bus ride I ever took.
Okay, that's got to be one of the weirdest pulp covers I've ever seen, but man, it's hard to take your eyes off it, isn't it? The authors inside are great, as well: Day Keene, Robert Turner, William R. Cox, Talmage Powell, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, and W.T. Ballard writing as Parker Bonner. I would have grabbed this one off the newsstand in a second.
Author G.W. Thomas has started a new blog called NORTH-WEST ADVENTURES, all about Northerns, a genre that's at least a cousin to Westerns, but taking place in Canada or Alaska, featuring Mounties, prospectors, fur trappers, etc. I've posted many covers from the Northern pulps and really enjoyed the ones I've read. On this blog, Thomas discusses the genre, the authors and their books, and even reprints some public domain comics and stories. I'll be making it a regular stop on my blog rounds. You can check it out here.
To start off the year in this series, a pulp that I own and
read recently. The scan is from my copy. The cover is by A. Leslie Ross, far
from his best work, I think, but reasonably eye-catching. And as the cover copy
proclaims, the featured story is “Outlaw River” by Bliss Lomax, who was really
Harry Sinclair Drago, starring his series characters, range detectives Rainbow
Ripley and Grumpy Gibbs. In fact, it’s almost the only story in this issue, since there’s only one back-up yarn, “A
Muleskinner Goes to War” by Lee Floren.
I’d never read any of the Rainbow and Grumpy novels until now, and I have to
say, W.C. Tuttle must have been a tolerant man. If he wasn’t, he would have
sued Drago, since Rainbow Ripley is a pretty blatant copy of Hashknife Hartley,
although Grumpy is more Gabby Hayes-like than swiped from Sleepy Stevens,
Hashknife’s sidekick. But then, there have been plenty of other range detective
characters in Westerns, so best just to take Rainbow and Grumpy for what they
are and move on.
In this yarn, they’ve come to Idaho to take the side of a couple of miners who
leased a failed gold mine from the corporation that owns it and then struck an
unexpected bonanza. Once the owners of the corporation realize the mine is
valuable after all, they want to run off the men who leased it and hire an old
enemy of Rainbow and Grumpy to do so.
In addition to this, the local cattle baron is up to his neck in an irrigation
scheme that may have something fishy about it, and that’s tied in with the job
that brought Rainbow and Grumpy to Idaho, too. Throw in a romance between a
crusading newspaper editor and the cattle baron’s beautiful granddaughter, and
you’ve got plenty of elements for Drago to work with. In fact, the whole thing
gets maybe a little too complicated at times.
As a mystery, “Outlaw River” isn’t much, but there are some nice action scenes
and Rainbow and Grumpy are a likable pair of heroes. One stylistic touch that
annoyed me was Drago’s habit of switching back and forth constantly in the way
he refers to Rainbow Ripley. Sometimes he’s Rainbow, sometimes he’s Rip,
sometimes he’s Ripley. I’ve come across that technique in work from other
authors, and it never works very well for me.
“Outlaw River” was reprinted several years later as a paperback of the same
title, as half of an Ace Double with SHOWDOWN AT YELLOW BUTTE by Jim Mayo, who
was Louis L’Amour, of course. I don’t know if Drago expanded it for book
publication, but if he did it probably wasn’t by much. At 75 pages of
double-columned fairly small print, this is one of the few “book-length novels”
published in the pulps that actually fit that description.
Lee Floren’s “A Muleskinner Goes to War” is also a pretty good story about a
muleskinner who works delivering loads of gold from a mine to the nearby town
and his efforts to corral a gang of outlaws who keep stealing the shipments.
This one has some nice touches, such as the protagonist being married and also
worrying about his wife cheating on him, and Floren keeps things moving along
With only two stories on which to rise or fall, the June 1945 issue of REAL
WESTERN still manages to come down pretty much smack in the middle. Both
stories are okay but not great, and that describes this issue as well.
For the first Forgotten Book of the year, I’m turning to an
old favorite author, Orrie Hitt. SHEBA was published originally by Beacon Books
in 1959 with a great cover by Rudy Nappi and is available today in an e-book
edition. The title character, Sheba Irons, is a beautiful young woman in a bad
situation: she lives at home (a rundown house in the country) with her drunken,
lazy father and brother and her mother, who’s too beaten down by life to ever
stand up for herself or Sheba. The only glimmer of hope Sheba has is that she
has a job, even though it’s only working as an office girl at a car dealership.
And she has a boyfriend of sorts, a young tree surgeon, but he keeps pressuring
her for sex and Sheba is a good girl, a virgin who’s determined to save herself
Well, as you can probably guess, a lot of that changes during the course of
this novel. Sheba discovers that she has a knack for selling cars (the fact
that she’s gorgeous probably has something to do with this), she’s pressured
into getting involved in a shady kickback scheme with a guy who runs a finance
company, and she winds up not only losing her virginity but getting mixed up
with several guys who are typical Orrie Hitt heels. There’s even a beautiful
lesbian after Sheba before her rise to success and power (relatively speaking)
hits the inevitable obstacles and falls apart. Since this is a Hitt novel, you
can figure that things will eventually work out for Sheba, at least to a
certain extent, but he puts her through the wringer before that.
While this book probably doesn’t belong in the top rank of Hitt’s work, due to
a rather thin plot and the abruptness of the ending, it’s a solid second-tier
novel that’s compulsively readable. I really raced through it and enjoyed it a
lot. SHEBA is set in a small city called Mayville, and it occurred to me that
many of Hitt’s novels show us what was going on in the seedier parts of those
towns where Beaver Cleaver and the Andersons from FATHER KNOWS BEST lived. I
love those shows, but I don’t mind seeing the Fifties from a different
perspective now and then, too. Orrie Hitt delivered that perspective better
than anybody else in the business.
In looking over my records of my reading last year, I realized I'd left a book off the list. So actually, I read 116 books in 2018, the exact same number that I read in 2017. I don't know the odds against that. Today was just a regular writing day, nothing real-life-related to deal with. I finished the chapter I left off in yesterday and wrote another one to go with it. I have three-fourths of this book done and am starting to feel some momentum building toward finishing it off.
I had an appointment at my ophthalmologist's office this morning for a visual field test, and the forecast was for freezing rain at just the time I was supposed to go, so it's been a little nerve-wracking the past few days waiting to see what the weather was going to do. I'm a warm-weather flatlander who doesn't drive on icy roads unless it's a matter of life and death, and there are a lot of big hills between here and the neighboring town where the office is located. When the time came, technically there was freezing rain--it was raining and the temperature was 30-32 degrees--but the roads were just wet and I didn't have any trouble getting there and back. Still, I hate stuff like that. Now, for those of you not familiar with the visual field test . . . it checks your peripheral vision, and since I was diagnosed with glaucoma a few years ago, I've had several of them. How it works is, you stare into a machine one eye at a time (yeah, you get to wear a cool eyepatch like a pirate) and hold a little clicker. The machine shows you a seemingly random pattern of tiny flickers of light out at the edge of your vision, and you push the button on the clicker every time you see one. This goes on for about ten minutes for each eye. My tests had gone pretty well until the last one a couple of months ago, which indicated that I'd lost some peripheral vision in my left eye. The doctor was not convinced that the results were totally accurate, though, since the pressure in my eyes is fairly well controlled with medication. As he put it, sometimes you just have a bad day on the machine. I explained to him that I've also had some deterioration in my fine motor skills over the past year or so, and sometimes I actually saw the flash, I just couldn't get my thumb to push the clicker in time. So he said, well, we'll just test it again after a little time has passed. That test was today. I felt like my reflexes were a little sharper than last time, so maybe that helped. But I could also tell that the peripheral vision in my left eye really didn't seem as good as that in the right eye. But I'm no ophthalmologist, so we'll just have to wait and see (no pun intended). I go back next week to talk to him and find out the results. After all this, I got home in time to get in almost a full day at the computer, but the pages came pretty slowly. I wrote a chapter and some of the next one. Good enough under the circumstances, I suppose.
Yesterday was not as productive a final day as I would have liked for 2018, so I got up this morning determined to do better. Some holidays I take off from writing, but New Year's Day is nearly always just a normal working day for me. It's cold and gloomy here, so I didn't really have anything else to do. I wound up writing two chapters (18 pages), so that's a decent beginning to 2019. I need to finish this book by the middle of the month and have about 150 pages to go. I should make it. And I did take the time to watch part of the outdoor hockey game between the Bruins and the Blackhawks, so that's kind of celebrating, isn't it? (Although I didn't care who won, neither of those are my teams.) I hope it was a good day for all of you.