Sunday, March 26, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, January 1952

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my somewhat tattered copy in the scan. You don’t hear much about ADVENTURE from this era. The magazine was far past its glory days of the Teens, Twenties, and Thirties, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still entertaining. We'll find out. The cover on this issue is by Murray Hirsch, an artist I’m not familiar with. The editor at this point is veteran pulpster Ejler Jakobsson.

The issue leads off with “Son of the Sword”, a historical adventure novelette by Poul Anderson. This may well be the first thing I’ve read by Anderson that wasn’t science fiction or fantasy, but I know he did a number of historical adventure novels and stories. In this one, set in ancient Egypt, a pirate from Crete is hired to get King Tut’s beautiful young widow out of Thebes before political enemies of hers who have seized power have her killed. The opening of this story reminded me a little of Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle”. Thoas the pirate has some definite similarities to Conan, as well. However, the story’s plot is very much a straight line, without any of the twists and double-crosses that Howard would have included, and the action scenes, while good, don’t rise to REH levels. That said, I don’t want to criticize this story for what it isn’t, since it’s well-written, does a great job with the setting, and races right along at a nice pace. It’s a very good story that I enjoyed quite a bit. It certainly made me want to read more of Anderson’s historical fiction.

Charles J. Boyle was a baseball journalist who wrote seven stories for ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST in the late Forties and early Fifties. I don’t think I’d ever encountered his work until I read his story in this issue, “Blood Sky”. It’s about McGafferty, a troubleshooter who specializes in disasters such as avalanches, mine cave-ins, floods, and forest fires. In this one, it’s a forest fire that’s threatening a small town. Boyle uses a couple of flashbacks to give this story a bit of an epic feel and to flesh out the romance between McGafferty and a beautiful female reporter who’s written some unsympathetic stories about him. This is a great yarn. There’s enough material here for a full-length novel, and it would have made a wonderful movie directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne and Barbara Stanwyck, with a screenplay by Jules Furthman. I need to see if I can find some more stories by Charles J. Boyle.

“Hark, Africa!”, a reprint from the September 1937 issue of ADVENTURE, is a novelette by veteran adventure, mystery, and aviation pulpster Joel Townsley Rogers. I think it’s about the clash between a French colonial official and the German who ran the colony before World War I over a native dancer. I say I think because I read five or six pages of this one and gave up on it. Long-winded, very repetitive, and just not to my taste at all. I’ve read other stories by Rogers that I enjoyed, but this isn’t one of them.

“No Man’s Passage” is a short story by an author I’m not familiar with, Steve Hail. That’s a good name for a pulp writer, and evidently his own. He wrote more than sixty adventure, Western, and sports stories for a variety of pulps and slicks between the mid-Forties and the late Fifties. I learned something from this story, which seems to be set in the Pacific Northwest. There were lightships, like floating lighthouses, that protected shipping from rough coastlines. This story is set on one and uses the old plot about the clash between a crusty old captain and a by-the-book young officer. Naturally, there’s a bad storm and a looming disaster as well. It’s an okay yarn, the kind of thing I like, but the writing never really grabbed me. I finished it with no problem, though, unlike the Rogers story.

I’ve seen Verne Athanas’s name on plenty of pulp TOCs. He wrote dozens of stories for various markets between the late Forties and the early Sixties, as well as a handful of Western novels. There’s even a collection of his pulp Western yarns, PURSUIT, still available on Amazon. I don’t recall ever reading anything by him before, though. His story “Killer’s Dark” rounds out this issue. It’s a Western about a bank-robbing outlaw on the run from a lawman with a personal score to settle with him. It’s well-written and moved along nicely, but then the ending made me say, “That’s it?” Not a bad story, but it definitely left me feeling it was a little lacking.

There are also poems by C. Wiles Hallock and John Bunker. I’m not a poetry guy, but I read them and they’re okay.

Which is a good overall rating for this issue, I think: just okay. A very good story by Poul Anderson, a great one by Charles J. Boyle, and then the rest of the contents pretty forgettable. I worry sometimes that I’m too inclined to like pulp stories just because they’re, well, pulp, and that I’m too inclined to dislike current fiction because it doesn’t match up to the old days. But then a pulp issue like this makes me think that might not be the case. Either way, all I can do is try to be objective and move on.

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