Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ghost Stories, March 1930

One Halloween when I was a kid, I went trick or treating in a ghost costume my mother made out of an old sheet. It had been raining a lot that week and may have rained earlier in the day on Halloween, I don't recall. But by the time I got home that evening with my bag of candy, my ghost costume was soaked with mud up to the knees. That sheet went in the trash. I always thought it was one of my best costumes, though, and a very enjoyable Halloween. Thinking about that reminded me of the pulp GHOST STORIES. This issue has a cover by Dalton Stevens and a lot of stories by authors whose names are completely unfamiliar to me. The only ones I recognize are Arthur Conan Doyle, Roy Vickers, and Ben Conlon. GHOST STORIES tried to make its contents look like true stories, but most of them were pure fiction.

I normally try to do more horror and supernatural-related posts in October, especially the week of Halloween, but this October has been like none other. At least I was able to get this one in. With luck, I'll have more time next October. In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western, March 1948

Another action-packed cover that I think may be by Robert Stanley. Maybe someone better at artist IDs than I am can confirm or deny that. There's no denying that there are plenty of good writers in this issue of NEW WESTERN, though. There are stories by Walt Coburn, Thomas Thompson, Tom Roan, Dee Linford, Bill Gulick, and the lesser-known J. Walton Doyle, who wrote a series about a couple of characters called Hashhouse and Dumbo. I may be jumping to conclusions here, but those names remind me of Syl McDowell's Swap and Whopper and Alfred Garry's Ham and Eggs, and I don't like those series at all. On the other hand, we have W.C. Tuttle's Tombstone and Speedy (to say nothing of his Hashknife and Sleepy, one of my all-time favorite series), so maybe Hashhouse and Dumbo are okay.

Friday, October 29, 2021

John O'Hara's Hollywood - John O'Hara

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on June 17, 2007. The book I'm reviewing here is what started me on a John O'Hara binge that lasted, on and off, for the next few years.)

I haven’t read much of John O’Hara’s work. I remember reading his first novel, APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA, some years ago and enjoying it, and I’ve read a few of his short stories here and there. When I came across this collection of his novellas and short stories set in Hollywood, I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad I did because it’s a pretty good book.

O’Hara worked in Hollywood off and on for most of his career, working on original stories and screenplays for films, most of which were never produced. He was enough of an insider that the stories in this volume really ring true when it comes to the actors, producers, directors, writers, and agents of the studio system during the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, which is the era in which most of the stories are set, even the ones that were written much later. He wrote great dialogue, too, and was very observant of people’s foibles and failings.

The knock I have on some of these stories is that nothing much happens in them, and no matter how slick the prose is, I want some plot to go along with it. But some of them -- “In a Grove”, “Yucca Knolls”, “James Francis and the Star”, and “Natica Jackson” -- are wonderful tales, alternating between wry humor, unexpected twists, and some of the bleakest situations this side of Jim Thompson and David Goodis. It also seems at times that O’Hara is a little too obsessed with the sex lives of his characters, but in morality plays like most of these stories are, I guess it’s difficult to avoid that.

One more complaint -- and this has nothing to do with the stories themselves -- is how poorly edited this volume is, with numerous typos and an introduction that credits THE LAST TYCOON to Budd Schulberg and WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN to F. Scott Fitzgerald, when of course it’s the other way around. A fairly inconsequential mistake, but somebody should have caught it.

Overall, though, I enjoyed JOHN O’HARA’S HOLLYWOOD quite a bit, and it’s made me want to read more of O’Hara’s work. I even picked up a biography of him the other day, to learn more about his life. Don’t know when I’ll get around to reading it, but I’m confident that I will.

(I'm pretty sure I did read that biography, but I don't appear to have blogged about it. And all I really remember is that O'Hara was an unpleasant sort who was obsessed with the fact that he wasn't famous enough and never made enough money from his work. But I read several of his novels and more short stories and always enjoyed what I read by him. If I had more time, I might try one of his novels again. One of these days. Meanwhile, JOHN O'HARA'S HOLLYWOOD is still in print. Maybe by now they've fixed those little glitches I mentioned above.)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Crime Busters, June 1938

The cover's not bad on this issue of CRIME BUSTERS (I don't know the artist), but man, look at the authors and series inside: Lester Dent with a Click Rush story, Walter B. Gibson (as Maxwell Grant) with a Norgil the Magician story, Norvell Page with a story featuring Angus Saint Cloud, the Death Angel (don't know this series, but what a great name!), Theodore Tinsley with a Carrie Cashin story, plus yarns by Frank Gruber, Wyatt Blassingame, and Arthur J. Burks. This looks like an absolutely great issue.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wastern Trails, March 1942

You just can't go wrong with a Norman Saunders cover, as this issue of WESTERN TRAILS demonstrates. There's a pretty good bunch of Western pulpsters inside, too: Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Tom J. Hopkins, Charles N. Heckelmann, Ben Judson, and Jay Karth are the biggest names, joined by lesser-known authors Nelson Willliam Baker, Brete Campion, Hyatt Manderson, and V. Chute.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Scarlet Goddess - Ennis Willie

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on June 1, 2007.)

I believe SCARLET GODDESS is the novel that introduced Ennis Willie’s iconic hardboiled character Sand, a former top man in the Syndicate who leaves organized crime despite the fact that doing so means there will always be a price on his head. [UPDATE: Wrong! I think it's actually the final Sand novel, although I'm not sure about that, either.] That’s already happened when this book opens, so it’s not really an “origin story”, so to speak. Sand agrees to deliver a mysterious package for a friend and former Syndicate associate of his, and that proves to be a mistake. Before he can get the package to its destination, it’s stolen from him and he finds himself in a violent mess involving a serial rapist/killer known as the Sasquatch, a cult of Satan-worshippers, and a gigantic fire-opal called the Devil Stone that carries a deadly curse with it. The story rockets along at a fast pace to a fiery, apocalyptic climax.

It’s easy to see that Ennis Willie’s work was a big influence on James Dockery, the author of those early novels in the Butcher series. Their styles are very similar. Willie’s prose is considerably smoother and more polished, and despite the bizarre subject matter is more grounded in reality than Dockery’s. SCARLET GODDESS is sexy, violent, and a real pleasure to read. Ennis Willie’s work deserves to be back in print, and I’m glad that efforts to insure that are underway. [UPDATE: Yes, several of the Sand novels have been reprinted by Ramble House since then, in the volumes SAND'S WAR and SAND'S GAME, but we need more Ennis Willie reprints!]

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 17, 1937

"144 Pages of Fine Fiction", and that's no lie. If not for the blasted serials, ARGOSY might well be my favorite pulp of all time. Great authors and top-notch stories, week after week. In this issue, we have a Fisher and Savoy novelette by Donald Barr Chidsey (illustrated by a fine Rudolph Belarski cover) and stories and serial installments by Theodore Roscoe, Luke Short, Frank Richardson Pierce, Judson Philips, William Chamberlain, and John Hawkins. I'll bet it's a thoroughly entertaining issue.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, June 1935

Well, this cowpoke has all kinds of problems, what with being thrown off that horse and having a rattlesnake waiting for him on the ground. I don't know the artist, but he's painted a scene I wouldn't want to find myself in. Inside this issue of COWBOY STORIES are yarns by plenty of good writers, though, including James P. Olsen, W. Ryerson Johnson, Wilfred McCormick, S. Omar Barker, Carmony Gove, and Galen C. Colin. COWBOY STORIES was a long-running Street & Smith pulp, never as popular as WESTERN STORY or WILD WEST WEEKLY but with consistently good covers and authors. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hellhounds of the Cosmos - Clifford D. Simak

I’ve read quite a few of Clifford D. Simak’s stories and novels over the decades without ever considering him one of my favorite science fiction authors, but on the other hand, I’ve never read anything by him that I didn’t enjoy, either. His novelette “Hellhounds of the Cosmos” is the earlier Simak story I’ve read, and it’s one of his earliest, period. It was only his fifth published story when it came out in the June 1932 issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES, while it was still a Clayton pulp edited by Harry Bates.

I admit, the title is what first attracted me to this yarn, along with the fact that there’s a free e-book version of it available on Amazon. But I quickly got caught up in a story that’s really wild and over-the-top compared to the low-key, often rural, homespun SF for which Simak is known. In this one, the whole earth is under assault from fearsome, midnight-black, amorphous creatures that appear seemingly out of nowhere, slaughter a bunch of people, and then disappear equally mysteriously. The newspaper reporter who’s the protagonist (a character type that is common to Simak’s work, since he was a journalist himself) interviews an eccentric professor who claims to know what’s really going on. The reporter not only gets the scoop, he becomes part of it himself when he gets caught up in the effort to fight back against these vicious invaders who have to be defeated before humanity itself is wiped out.

Does any of the science in this story make a lick of sense? Well, not really. The professor’s long-winded explanation is the sort of thing you ran into in science fiction all the time in those early days, pure handwavium. (Come to think of it, handwavium is a pretty common element in current SF, too.) But Simak makes it sound plausible, and boy, the end result is a lot of fun, especially the battle royale that makes up the second half of the tale. Then, at the last minute, Simak springs a twist that took me completely by surprise and is very effective.

I really enjoyed “Hellhounds of the Cosmos”. If you’re a fan of early science fiction and haven’t read it, you ought to. If you’ve only read SF published in the past twenty years or so . . . well, you’re probably not reading this blog to start with.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The North Atlantic Protocol - Jamie Mason

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a great fondness for good, old-fashioned secret agent yarns of the type that were so popular during the Sixties and Seventies. I also enjoy nautical adventures. Throw a little history in, too, and I’m a very happy reader. That explains why I thoroughly enjoyed THE NORTH ATLANTIC PROTOCOL by Jamie Mason.

This story is told from the point of view of a British submarine commander who’s ordered to deliver a mysterious agent known only as the Warlock to a designated point in the far North Atlantic where, as far as anybody knows, there’s not anything. On the same mission, the British sub is supposed to rendezvous with a Russian counterpart for a goodwill/public relations meeting. Well, you know there’s got to be a lot more to it than that, and the two missions are bound to intertwine more than they appear to at first . . . and you’d be right. There’s an island that’s sometimes there and sometimes not there, and a hatch leading into an underground bunker filled with sinister equipment, and an enigmatic hero in the Warlock who, evidently, is also more than he seems to be at first.

I don’t mind telling you, I had a big grin on my face as I read this book. It’s a contemporary thriller but has a tone reminiscent of Ian Fleming and Alistair Maclean (early Maclean, when he was still one of the best thriller writers ever). The Warlock is a James Bond type of character, while the sub commander reminded me of Maclean’s tough, courageous, but more down-to-earth protagonists. Mason blends the two of them expertly and keeps the action moving at a very nice pace. I had a great time reading THE NORTH ATLANTIC PROTOCOL, and if your taste is anything like mine, I think there’s a good chance you would, too. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Men's Adventure Quarterly, Volume 3 -- Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham, eds.

MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY started off great and just keeps getting better with each issue. Following volumes devoted to Westerns and espionage, the third issue of this beautifully done publication is devoted to vigilante justice, specifically that carried out by Vietnam vets against the Mafia and outlaw biker gangs. Not surprisingly, the Executioner novels by Don Pendleton get a lot of coverage, since that series pretty much created the genre. Abridged versions of the first two Executioner novels that ran as "Book Bonuses" in men's adventure magazines, along with articles by Linda Pendleton, Don Pendleton's widow, about her late husband's creation, occupy roughly half the pages in this issue, and it's fascinating stuff. I remember picking up the first Mack Bolan novel, WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA, when it was new and reading it one day when I was home sick from school. I was so impressed that after that, I bought and read each of Pendleton's entries as it came out. The "Book Bonus" version is called simply "The Executioner" and appeared in the October 1969 issue of FOR MEN ONLY. The second novel, DEATH SQUAD, got the "Book Bonus" treatment in the September 1971 issue of MEN. Both are reprinted here in their entirety.

But there's more, as they say on the late night TV commercials. You also get a guest editorial from Chuck Dixon, for many of us the top scripter on the long-running Punisher comic book, an article about THE EXECUTIONER'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, a digest that didn't really have anything to do with Mack Bolan but is interesting in its own right, page after page of fantastic artwork by Earl Norem, Gil Cohen, Mort Kunstler, and Jack Faragasso, among others, and three more long stories that fit in the vigilante genre. "Blood Feud With the Mafia" (TRUE ACTION, August 1970) is by Donald Honig, an author whose work I've grown to enjoy recently because each issue of MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY has reprinted one of his stories. "We Wiped Out Brutal Mack's Cycle Killers" (FOR MEN ONLY, November 1972) is a supposedly true story by one of the characters, "Jack August", who was actually some unknown pro spinning a yarn, and a good one, at that. It's more a tale of rival outlaw motorcycle gangs, but it does have a vigilante angle. Finally we have "The Amputee Vengeance Squad's Mafia Wipeout" (MEN, August 1975) by "Jack Tyler", another pseudonymous author, with a fantastic, over-the-top illustration by Earl Norem. This is my favorite of the three non-Executioner stories, and if the author had expanded it into a novel, it would have made a fine entry in the explosion of paperback series that followed the Executioner's success.

When I was a kid, men's adventure magazines were staples on the magazine racks where I bought comics and paperbacks. It seemed like FOR MEN ONLY, especially, was always there, month after month. And I always wanted to buy some of them but never did, since my allowance and the money I earned would only stretch so far. But now, thanks to Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham, I can at least read some of the stories and feast my eyes on the great artwork. They're to be commended for bringing this material to a new generation of readers. MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY is great. If you're not reading it, you should be. You can get the latest issue on Amazon or directly from Bob Deis via his eBay store.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Action Stories, December 1931

I feel like I ought to know who did the cover art on this issue of DETECTIVE ACTION STORIES. It's very similar to other detective pulp covers I've seen. But I can't figure it out. DETECTIVE ACTION STORIES was one of the first pulps from Popular Publications. It wasn't a long-running success, but you can't blame that on the authors it published. There's a great group in this issue: Erle Stanley Gardner, T.T. Flynn, Frederick Nebel, J. Allan Dunn, and Eric Taylor. That certainly sounds like an issue worth reading.

UPDATE: The cover art is by William Ruesswig, as confirmed by a friend on Facebook. Thanks, Sheila!

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Greater Western Magazine, June 1935

Considering the five authors in this issue of GREATER WESTERN MAGAZINE, all with new stories, apparently, it's a little odd who gets top billing on the cover: Rollin Brown. Now, as far as I know, Brown was a prolific, well-respected Western pulpster who ghosted for Ed Earl Repp as well as writing a lot under his own name. But deserving of top billing over Max Brand, Clarence E. Mulford (with a Hopalong Cassidy story, to boot!), and J. Allan Dunn? I wouldn't think so. The fifth author is Ralph Cummins, also a prolific, long-time pulpster but not a household name then or now.

Friday, October 08, 2021

The Lawless Border -- Allan Vaughan Elston

Having read and enjoyed several of Elston's short stories lately, I decided 
to try one of his novels. This is the only one I had on my shelves. It's one of his later efforts, from 1966, but still has a very pulpish feel to it. It's the old vengeance plot -- cowboy from Wyoming comes to southern Arizona in 1880 to track down the varmints who murdered his brother -- but Elston does a good job with it, mixing in a lot of the history of the area and having his fictional characters interact believably with the Earps, Doc Holliday, etc., although for some reason he keeps the actual names for some historical characters and changes others (the Clantons become the Claytons, for example). The plot takes several twists to keep it interesting. Overall, THE LAWLESS BORDER is entertaining enough that I'll look for other books by Elston.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, December 15, 1927

As we've discussed before, nothing says "adventure" quite like a pith helmet, and this cover by V.E. Pyles is proof of that. And, of course, the pulp's title is ADVENTURE, so that's a clue, too. As is the line-up of authors inside for a pulp-savvy reader: Arthur O. Friel, J.D. Newsom, Raoul Whitfield, Hugh Pendexter, Stephen Payne, F.R. Buckley, and Leonard H. Nason. The editor during this era was Anthony M. Rud, a well-known adventure pulpster himself. So the readers certainly knew what they would be getting for their quarter, and they probably were well-pleased with it, too.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, July 1938

Looks like roulette was just as dangerous in the Old West as playing poker, at least according to the cover on this issue of THRILLING WESTERN. I don't know who did the art. The line-up of authors in this issue is solid: Philip Ketchum, J. Allan Dunn, and Tom Curry are the big names, accompanied by Mojave Lloyd (almost surely a pseudonym, but the author's real identity has never been determined, as far as I know), Frank Carl Young, house-name John M. Easterly, and Fridtjof Michelson, not a name you'd think of as belonging to a Western writer, but he wrote for several Western pulps and did some detective yarns, as well.

Friday, October 01, 2021

The Legion of Lazarus - Edmond Hamilton

I’ve been a fan of Edmond Hamilton’s science fiction since reading his Starwolf novels in the Sixties, followed by the paperback reprints of some of his Captain Future pulp novels. Actually, I’d read and enjoyed some of Hamilton’s work before that—his Superman stories published in the comic books—but I didn’t know that at the time. Over the decades since, I’ve read many of his novels and stories in various anthologies, including the highly recommended Del Rey collection THE BEST OF EDMOND HAMILTON, edited by Hamilton’s wife, writer Leigh Brackett.

All of which brings us to the most recent work by Hamilton I’ve read, the short novel THE LEGION OF LAZARUS, which was published in the April 1956 issue of the science fiction digest magazine IMAGINATION. Hamilton contributed a lot of stories to IMAGINATION and its sister publication, IMAGINATIVE TALES, during the Fifties.

THE LEGION OF LAZARUS is a “lost loot” yarn, a plot common in Westerns and hardboiled crime novels. You know how it goes: a criminal, or an outlaw gang if it’s a Western, stashes either a lot of money or something worth a lot of money and then is either killed or caught and sent to prison. Years later, various factions, sometimes including the original thief, try to locate the loot and fight over who’ll get their hands on it first.

In this case, the lost loot is a cache of Titanite, a rare element found only on Saturn’s moon Titan, which is the last thing needed to power an interstellar drive that will allow mankind to escape our solar system. The protagonist, who was found guilty of murdering the guy who stole the Titanite in the first place, has been on ice for the past fifty years—literally. The justice system doesn’t execute murderers anymore, it freezes them for fifty years and then brings them back to life. Hence the reference to Lazarus in the title. But an unintended by-product of this process is that it gives the Lazarites (as they call themselves) the ability to communicate telepathically, along with other mental powers.

When our hero, who’s actually innocent of the crime for which he was convicted (another common hardboiled crime novel element), wakes up after his fifty years of punishment, he has to clear his name, find the loot, and navigate the treacherous waters of the various groups who want him and the Titanite. Hamilton establishes all this pretty quickly and then never lets the action flag in what’s basically a chase yarn across the Solar System.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE LEGION OF LAZARUS. Hamilton packs it so full of concepts that it probably would have been a thick 150,000 word novel these days, as opposed to the lean 30,000 or so it actually is. I much prefer galloping through a yarn like this instead of slogging through some doorstop. An e-book version is available for free on Amazon, and there are several inexpensive paperback editions to be found, as well. The Forties and Fifties remain my favorite era for science fiction, and if you enjoy SF adventures from those days, I give THE LEGION OF LAZARUS a high recommendation.