I don't normally do middle-of-the-year updates, but this year has seen some changes in both my writing and my reading so I thought I'd mention them. Halfway through the year, I'm on a pace to write about 900,000 words in 2019. If that holds, my million-words-a-year streak will end at 14. I'm actually all right with that, since I never intended to continue it for this long, anyway. I've already started talking with my editor about my contracts for next year, and it looks like I'll have about 750,000 words to write. Maybe a little more. I maintained that pace for years before I started hitting a million, and I'm confident I can continue at that rate for a good while yet. That's still pretty productive. Now, it's possible I'll have a good second half and get the million words for this year anyway. We'll see. As long as I'm having fun and turning out good books, I don't care either way, but I'll admit, I've enjoyed being a million-word-a-year guy like the old pulpsters. In 1980, I started keeping a list of every book I read each year. All those lists from before 2008 were lost in the fire, but I still remember my high and low totals. The most books I read in a year was 184. The fewest, 106. As of right now, I've read 50 books this year. So again, I'm right there in that area where I might not meet an established standard. Or maybe I will. I'd like to read at least 100 books, even if I can't get to 106. All this is entirely arbitrary and trivial, of course. Utterly meaningless. Probably just a sympton of low-level OCD. But I like lists and keeping track of stuff. This has been an unusual year in real life, what with Sammy's medical problems (he's doing quite well, by the way), the roof damage, the hassles with the insurance company, finally getting the new roof on, and numerous other time-sucks. But in the past couple of months, my writing seems to be back on track for the most part. Dealing with real life is just part of, well, life. I have plans for the next year and a half that I'm looking forward to. We'll see what happens.
A Norman Saunders cover yesterday, a Walter Baumhofer cover today. That's an all-star weekend as far as cover artists go. And some all-star authors in this issue of DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE, too, including Hugh B. Cave, Wyatt Blassingame, William B. Rainey (who was also Wyatt Blassingame), Arthur Leo Zagat, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, and John H. Knox. I love lurid but eye-catching covers like this. Where else but on a Weird Menace pulp are you going to find a hunchback with an eyepatch?
This issue of WESTERN TRAILS has a fine Norman Saunders cover and an excellent line-up of authors: L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, Stephen Payne, Bennie Gardner (as both Gunnison Steele, his regular pseudonym, and Barry Gardner, his son's name), and Lee Bond. I'd sure read an issue like that.
David Wright O’Brien’s novella “Squadron of the Damned”
appeared in the July 1942 issue of AMAZING STORIES, the same issue that
included “Blitzkrieg in the Past”, also written by O’Brien under his John York
Cabot pseudonym. Over the years I’ve read numerous comments about how some early
science fiction stories are just Westerns transplanted into space. Well, “Squadron
of the Damned” is very much a French Foreign Legion yarn set in space. Which
didn’t lessen my enjoyment of it one bit.
The protagonist, Ricky Werts, joins the Outer Space Patrol Legion in order to
track down his missing brother, who was supposedly killed in a spaceship wreck
while fleeing a murder charge. Ricky believes his brother Clark is not only
innocent, he’s also still alive, and Ricky thinks it’s likely Clark has tried
to disappear into the ranks of the Legion, which is engaged in a war with
invaders from outside the solar system.
This story also has a lot in common with some of the military SF being
published today. We get some training scenes, some camaraderie between Ricky
and his fellow Legionnaires (as well as making some enemies among them), and
several big space battles, along with the resolution of Ricky’s quest to find
his brother and clear his name. The difference is that O’Brien takes around
20,000 words to do this, while a book with the same plot today could run to
150,000 words, easily.
I think I prefer O’Brien’s version. The science may be pretty iffy in places,
even for 1942, but he keeps things moving along very nicely and has an
enjoyable style. I find it interesting that the space fighters used by the
Legion are described much like American B-17 bombers. I don’t know exactly when
O’Brien enlisted in the Army Air Corps, but I wonder if he already had some
familiarity with B-17s at the time he wrote this story. (He was a crewman in a
B-17 when he was killed in a bombing raid over Berlin in 1944.)
“Squadron of the Damned” is a good pulp adventure yarn, not a classic of the SF
genre by any means but still a very entertaining story. I’ll definitely be
reading more by O’Brien.
I love the way this cover by Jerome Rozen jumps out at you, as well as the way the guy is carrying the skull like a football and stiff-arming the other guy. That's a pose right off one of the sports pulps, but I don't remember ever seeing any of those that involve skulls. Inside this issue of 10-STORY DETECTIVE MAGAZINE are stories by some fine pulpsters including W.T. Ballard, Norman A. Daniels (once as himself and once as by David M. Norman), Joe Archibald, and Lee E. Wells. With that cover and those authors, I'd read that one.
That's a dynamic Walter Baumhofer cover (but I repeat myself) on this issue of PETE RICE MAGAZINE. The other notable thing about this issue for me is the title of the lead novel: "Wolves of Wexford Manor". Somehow I never expected to see the name "Wexford Manor" in the title of a Western pulp novel. Sounds more like some eccentric amateur detective should be gathering the suspects in a picturesque English country house to reveal who really killed Aunt Henrietta. There are two back-up stories in this issue, both by Harold A. Davis, one under the pseudonym Rand Allison. I've read only one Pete Rice novel and wasn't impressed with it, but the magazine had very good covers.
As you can see from the back cover copy above, BLOOD TRAIL by Gardner F. Fox (originally published in paperback by Belmont in 1979) is a revenge Western, a very common plot in the genre. Fox doesn't really bring anything new to the table in the story he tells in this book (on the trail of the three men who bushwhacked him and left him for dead, the protagonist finds himself in the middle of a range war), but it's the execution that really matters in a book like this, not the plot. And in that respect, Fox does a superb job. Not only is Abel Kinniston, the gunman/protagonist, a fully fleshed-out character, Fox give us really good portraits of his supporting characters, too, especially the villains. The description of the New Mexico Territory setting is excellent, and the action scenes and pacing are top-notch, as you'd expect from an old pulpster and comic book scripter like Fox. If you're a fan of traditional Westerns, this is a very good one and well worth reading. I read the e-book edition that's currently available, but I also have an old, beat-to-hell paperback edition that served as the source for the scans at the top of this post. I couldn't find any other cover images of BLOOD TRAIL on-line, so I decided to post this one even though the book is in bad shape. I did take off the rubber band that's holding the pages together when I scanned it, though.
I generally don’t mind when historical characters are used
as the protagonists in fictional stories, as long as the author at least makes
an attempt at staying fairly close to history. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves,
a black man who rode after outlaws in Indian Territory for Judge Isaac Parker
in Fort Smith, has been featured in a number of stories and novels over the
past few years. Reeves probably came to prominence in the world of fiction not
only because he’s a pretty interesting character in his own right, plenty tough
and capable of doing the hard, dangerous job of running down lawbreakers on the
frontier, but because of some claims (since thoroughly debunked) that he was
the inspiration for the creation of The Lone Ranger. (Yes, that’s a pet peeve of
mine. It’s impossible to prove a negative, of course, but I’m completely
convinced George W. Trendle and Fran Striker never heard of Bass Reeves.)
Anyway . . . For the past few years, the excellent New Pulp publisher Airship
27 has been putting out an annual anthology of Western novellas featuring Bass
Reeves, written by top-notch authors such as Mel Odom, Derrick Ferguson, and
Gary Phillips. One of Odom’s stories won the Peacemaker Award from Western
Fictioneers for Best Short Fiction last year. As a Peacemaker submission this
year, I read “Death in the Nations” by Terry Alexander, from BASS REEVES,
FRONTIER MARSHAL, VOLUME 3. It finds Reeves heading into Indian Territory
again, this time on the trail of a murderer. The father and brothers of the man
who was killed are going to take the law into their own hands and go after the
murderer themselves unless Bass can catch him and bring him back to Fort Smith
first. Bass’s only lead is that the fugitive has a cousin who heads up an
outlaw gang in the Nations, and that’s where he figures the man will head.
Naturally, things don’t go smoothly in Bass’s quest to capture the killer, and
Alexander does a fine job of placing obstacle after obstacle in his path.
There’s plenty of action, and I especially enjoyed the way Alexander has Bass
use his brain to accomplish his goal as much as he uses his guns and fists.
This is a good story, and I liked it enough that it prompted me to buy the
latest volume so I can read the stories by Mel Odom and R.A. Jones, as well.
There’s plenty of good Bass Reeves-based fiction out there. If you enjoy
Western action yarns, you should give them a try.
WESTERN UNION is another book submitted for the Peacemaker
Awards. As I’m writing and scheduling this, I have no idea how it fared in the
competition, but I liked it. It’s by Paul Bedford and was published as part of
the Black Horse Westerns line in England.
Ransom Thatcher is a young man who works for Western Union in 1861, when the
company is trying to complete a transcontinental telegraph line at the same
time as the Civil War breaks out. Thatcher is teamed with a tough, laconic
former Texas Ranger named Kirby and assigned to find out who is responsible for
tearing down the part of the telegraph line that’s already been completed in
Nebraska. At the same time, a wagon train full of immigrants who want to avoid
the bloody conflict back east sets out from Omaha, headed for the Pacific
Northwest. The fate of these settlers will wind up entwined with the mission
Thatcher and Kirby have to complete.
Paul Bedford spins this yarn with quite a bit of skill, juggling several
different plotlines and sets of characters and bringing them together in ways
both expected and unexpected. There’s plenty of action as well. One of the
challenges for any British writer of Westerns is to sound authentic, and
Bedford does a pretty good job of that. There are a few words and turns of
phrase that don’t ring true, but probably less than would crop up if I were to
attempt to write a book set in England.
WESTERN UNION is the first novel by Paul Bedford that I’ve read, and I enjoyed
it enough that I’m glad I have several more by him on hand. I’ll be reading
Trenton Banning arrives in the mining boomtown of Sun Falls,
Wyoming, on the trail of the man he blames for the fire that killed his parents
when he was a child and left Banning badly scarred. Banning is convinced that
mining and hotel tycoon Jonathan Hunsinger is responsible for that blaze, and
Hunsinger is now in Sun Falls engaged in building a hotel and operating a mine.
However, Banning isn’t in town long before he discovers a couple of things:
Hunsinger has a beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, and something sinister is going
on in Sun Falls. In short order, the one friend Banning makes, a burly mountain
man, is attacked and badly injured. Then Banning is framed for the murder of a
saloon girl, and the local lawmen won’t be any help since they seem to want Banning
dead just as much as everybody else in Sun Falls.
THE SCARRED ONE is the first full-length Western novel by Charles Gramlich,
writing under the pseudonym Tyler Boone. It’s an excellent debut that features
top-notch handling of the traditional Western elements while at the same time
giving the reader plenty of well-developed characters and some unexpected plot
twists. Trenton Banning is a fine protagonist, tough enough to handle himself
when trouble crops up but not a superman. The budding attraction between him
and Elizabeth Hunsinger is particularly well done, and the novel’s climax is a
Gramlich has done very good work over the years in the horror, fantasy, and
science fiction genres, and THE SCARRED ONE proves that he’s equally capable of
delivering an excellent Western novel. I recommend this one and look forward to
(Note: As the awards chair for Western Fictioneers’ Peacemaker Awards, I
receive a number of novels every year, many of which I’d like to read. I don’t
have anything to do with the actual judging for the awards—my job is strictly
keeping track of the entries and counting the votes at the end of the
competition—but I’ve always felt like it wouldn’t be proper for me to review
any of these books while the competition is still going on, just to avoid the
appearance of any undue influence. So this year I’ve decided to go ahead and
read and review the ones I want to, but I’ve scheduled the posts to run after
the awards have been announced. That’s why you’re seeing this in June, rather
than in January when I wrote it. Look for more Peacemaker reviews to come.)
ACTION STORIES published a lot of Westerns, and the covers reflected that, especially from about 1930 on. But it also published all the other genres of adventure fiction and that can be seen on some of the early covers such as this one by H.C. Murphy. The stories in the January 1927 issue include the cover-featured Alaskan yarn by Chart Pitt, an author I'd managed never to hear of until now, despite the fact that he had a 30-year career in the pulps, plus a jungle tale by Frederick Nebel, a historical by A. deHerries Smith, and nautical adventures by Albert Richard Wetjen and Bob Du Soe. That's a pretty good mix of exciting stories.
I don't recall seeing a railroad handcar on a Western pulp cover before, but I'm sure there were others besides the one on this issue of NEW WESTERN. As always with a Popular Publications Western pulp, this looks like a solid issue with stories by E.B. Mann (a reprint from a 1934 issue of STAR WESTERN), George C. Appell, James B. Hendryx (a Black John yarn), Hascal Giles, Robert L. Trimnell, and Clark Gray.
Tina Van Lube is being blackmailed by a disreputable
ex-lover, so she hires detective Lou Lait to get her incriminating love letters
back. All in a day's work for Lait. Except for one small detail--the
disreputable ex-lover, columnist Erskine Spalding, is found dead with a knife
in his back. Suspects abound: Tina's husband Jan, disfigured war hero; Tina's
hot-headed brother, Stanislaus; Coates, the recently-fired butler;
plain-but-dedicated secretary, Prescott; the gun-running Colonel; the
social-climbing Durkins...even Lolita, the dancer. They all had their reasons
for quieting the nasty gossip columnist. Lait's making it his job to find out
who did the deed.
This novel was published originally in hardback in 1947, then reprinted in paperback in 1951 by Lion Books. It's included in the latest Trio of Lions volume from Stark House, coming out later this month. It's a really entertaining private eye novel that's considerably different from Kermit Jaediker's other novel HERO'S LUST, also reprinted by Stark House. The style in this one is more breezy and lighthearted, with a wise-cracking protagonist and a cast of eccentric characters. And yet there are also some pretty violent scenes and one particularly harrowing one where the private eye has to escape when some of the villains have captured him and intend to torture him. All in all, this hits the marks very nicely and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both of Jaediker's novels are excellent, and it's a shame he didn't write more.
Here's another pulp featuring a Robert E. Howard story, and he made the cover this time. The story is "The Treasures of Tartary", a desert adventure featuring his character Kirby O'Donnell. There's a particularly strong line-up of authors in this issue with REH, Arthur J. Burks, Ray Cummings, Johnston McCulley, Wayne Rogers, and house-names Sam Brant and Kerry McRoberts. This looks like a really fine issue.
Since Robert E. Howard Days is going on in Cross Plains, Texas, this weekend, here's a pulp featuring one of his stories. As I understand it, the dates on pulp magazines were actually off-sale dates, not on-sale dates, so this issue of COWBOY STORIES would have been on the newsstands before Howard's death on June 11 and unsold copies would have been pulled a few days before that. Howard's name isn't on the cover, but inside is his story "A Man-Eating Jeopard", featuring his character Buckner Jeopardy Grimes. This issue also features a novella by Luke Short and stores by S. Omar Barker, Archie Joscelyn, Hapsburg Leibe, and Alfred L. Garry.
I always enjoy a good pirate yarn, and here’s one I
completely missed. EL CAZADOR was a six-issue comic book written by Chuck Dixon
with art by Steve Epting, published by CrossGen Comics. It came out in 2003 and
2004, when I was reading hardly any comics at all, so I wasn’t even aware of
its existence until recently. Thankfully, all six issues were reprinted in a
trade paperback collection, because it’s a really good tale.
As pirate stories often do, this one opens with a battle at sea, as the pirate
ship captained by the villainous Blackjack Tom captures a Spanish vessel, kills
the crew, and takes a couple of aristocratic passengers to hold for ransom. But
unknown to the pirates, one of the passengers has managed to hide from them, a
young woman named Cinzia Elena Marie Esperanza Diego-Luis Hidalgo. She does
more than just hide, though. When Blackjack Tom leaves a skeleton crew on the
Spanish ship to sail it into port, Cinzia (who was taught to use a sword by her
father) kills the man in charge, takes over the ship, convinces the crew to
swear loyalty to her, and sets off after Blackjack Tom to get vengeance and
free the prisoners, who are her mother and younger brother. She renames the
ship El Cazador (which means “The
Hunter”) and instead of using her long real name, the crew dubs her Lady Sin.
The rest of the story involves the pursuit of Blackjack Tom, a mutiny, clashes
with other pirates, etc. And what’s frustrating is that because of the
bankruptcy and collapse of CrossGen Comics, the tale never reaches an ending. “To
Be Continued”, it says on the final page, but unfortunately, it never was.
What we have, though, is wonderful stuff, with a fine, hardboiled, and
historically accurate script by Dixon, one of the all-time great comics
scripters, complemented by excellent art from Steve Epting, one of the best
modern-day comics artists. It’s a shame the story was never finished, but what’s
there can be read with great enjoyment by comics fans, pirate fans, and really,
anybody who likes top-notch historical fiction. EL CAZADOR gets a high
recommendation from me.
Given my interest in most things Western, and also my
interest in the early days of the movie-making business, how in the world did I
not know this movie even existed until recently? No matter, because now I’ve
seen AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF and really enjoyed it.
Made for HBO in 2003, this is a fictionalization of historical incidents in
which a producer and cameramen from the Mutual Film Company went to Mexico during
the revolution and traveled with Pancho Villa’s army in order to get footage of
actual battles and then make a movie about Villa’s life. The producer, Frank
Thayer (played by an actor I’m not familiar with, Eion Bailey) is the
protagonist, and the movie is kind of a coming-of-age story as well as a
portrait of the developing friendship between the young man from New Jersey and
the flamboyant, charismatic revolutionary. Plenty of historical figures show up
in the story, from director Christy Cabanne to Raoul Walsh, the actor who plays
the young Villa, to journalist John Reed and muckraking newspaperman William
Randolph Hearst. Mixed in with them are fictional characters such as the Jewish
mercenary machine-gunner who’s part of Villa’s army, played by Alan Arkin.
This is a really handsome production with a good cast, epic sweep, and lots of
well-done action, but it’s dominated by the scenery-chewing of Antonio Banderas
as Pancho Villa. I say that in a good way, because an over-the-top historical
character such as Villa deserves an over-the-top portrayal. Like most good
historical dramas, AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF leaves you thinking,
well, maybe not everything in there happened exactly the way they show it—but it should have. I liked this
one a lot and am glad I came across it.
I know I read the lead novel from this issue of THE MASKED DETECTIVE many years ago in a reprint edition, but I couldn't tell you anything about it except that I remember enjoying it. The Masked Detective is really crime reporter Rex Parker. Norman A. Daniels wrote more of his exploits under the house-name Robert Wallace than anyone else, but my old editor and mentor Sam Merwin Jr. wrote several of them, including this one (although I didn't know that at the time I read it). This issue also features a short story by Fredric Brown. I like the cover and wouldn't mind reading more Masked Detective yarns. Maybe one of these days.
This cover looks like it should have been used on an issue of SPICY WESTERN, but as far as I can tell, it never was. So I think there was a chance it was a left-over painting from the magazine that finally got used on this issue of SIX-GUN WESTERN, also from Trojan Magazines, Inc. Inside are stories by the legendarily prolific E. Hoffmann Price and Larry A. Harris, another stalwart of the Western pulps. The other authors are either house-names or guys I've never heard of. I suspect it's an entertaining issue anyway.