Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Doc Savage, October 1946

We think of DOC SAVAGE as a pulp first, and rightly so since it's one of the most iconic pulps ever. But for a good part of the Forties it was a digest magazine, like Street & Smith's other former pulps THE SHADOW, WESTERN STORY, and ASTOUNDING. I know some people don't care for the series, but I was a huge fan after picking up the Bantam reprint of METEOR MENACE from the spinner rack in Tompkins' Pharmacy after school one afternoon in 1964. (Fifty years ago! Hard to believe.)

Anyway, I bought and read those Bantam paperbacks faithfully all through junior high and high school, and so did my friend Gary Looney. We rehashed the plots endlessly. I knew the novels had appeared originally in pulp magazines, although I had never seen one.

Then one day at school, Gary handed me a copy of the October 1946 issue containing the Doc Savage novel DEATH IN LITTLE HOUSES. He had found it at the First Monday flea market in Weatherford and wanted me to have it, since he knew I was an even bigger Doc fan than he was. Sure, it was a digest, and the cover's nothing to write home about, but it was an actual DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE, not a reprint. In fact, at that time it would still be years before DEATH IN LITTLE HOUSES was reprinted, so I was able to read a story that your average Doc fan in those days couldn't. It was a wonderful thing.

Later I bought some more Doc digests at Collectors Bookstore in Corpus Christi and was glad to have them, too. To this day, I've still never owned a pulp-sized issue of DOC SAVAGE, although I've read most of the novels in reprints, as well as some of Will Murray's new Doc novels.

Is DEATH IN LITTLE HOUSES any good? I haven't read it since high school, but I remember enjoying it. Maybe I'll reread it one of these days.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, June 1943

I'm not sure exactly what's happening on this cover, but it's a creepy, effective image anyway. Authors in this issue include Norman Daniels, Joe Archibald, and Dale Clark. Walt Bruce, author of the Dr. Zeng series, was really W.T. Ballard and Robert Leslie Bellem. I've never read any of those stories, but I like Ballard and Bellem, so maybe I should.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 5 Western Novels, October 1951

Some nice cover art on this issue of a mostly reprint magazine from the Thrilling Group, and a bunch of good writers inside including Ernest Haycox, Allan R. Bosworth, Dwight Bennett (D.B. Newton), Joe Archibald, Larry A. Harris, and Barry Scobee. Wish I had a better scan of this one.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Forgotten Books: Arctic Wings - L. Ron Hubbard

I hadn't read a Northern in a while and was in the mood for one, but this short novel by L. Ron Hubbard (originally published in the June 1938 issue of the pulp FIVE NOVELS MONTHLY) isn't a Gold Rush/fur trapping/frontier story like I expected. Instead it's an adventure yarn contemporary to the time it was published, featuring radium mining, payroll robberies, and Mounties who fly planes and engage in aerial dogfights rather than mushing around with snowshoes and dogsleds.

Bob Dixon is a flying Mountie who's feared by criminals throughout the north country because of his inflexible devotion to the law and his ruthless manner of carrying it out. His nickname is "Lawbook" Dixon. Nobody knows, however, that he's that way because he was psychologically abused as a child by his father, a martinet of a judge who constantly threatened Bob with the idea that he would become a criminal and come to a bad end.

It looks like this is the case when Bob appears to have shot down a payroll plane, murdering the pilot and the manager of the radium mine for which the payroll was intended and stealing the money. It won't come as a surprise, though, that Bob was framed, and he spends the rest of the novel trying to corral the real culprits and clear his name, helped along the way by a beautiful girl who runs a trading post just north of the Arctic Circle.

This may be my favorite of the Hubbard stories I've read so far. The writing is good, the plot is tight, and there's some nice suspense here and there. The action in the dogfights is easier to follow than in some aviation adventure fiction I've read. Overall I enjoyed ARCTIC WINGS quite a bit. It's a good solid pulp action yarn.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Now Available from Rough Edges Press: Fast Track - Ed Gorman and Bill Crider

Dev Mallory has been a Secret Service agent, a detective, and a cowboy...which makes him the perfect man for the job of protecting a British nobleman's Thoroughbred race horse and saving the U.S. government from embarrassment. But there's more going on than sabotage, as Dev's beautiful redheaded partner is kidnapped and Dev finds himself up to his neck in murder, lust, and intrigue.

Critically acclaimed, bestselling authors Ed Gorman and Bill Crider team up for this fast-paced Western mystery now available again from Rough Edges Press. Packed with action and colorful characters, FAST TRACK is an adventure novel where the suspense never lets up!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Down Home

This sitcom from the early 90s (nineteen episodes spread out over two seasons) seems to be almost totally forgotten. There are no clips from it on YouTube and only a few pictures of the cast to be found on-line. But I remember enjoying it quite a bit.

The premise of DOWN HOME finds Judith Ivey playing a big city businesswoman who returns to her home, a small fishing town on the Texas gulf coast, to take over her father's diner/bait shop. Naturally the town is full of colorful characters. Aren't all small towns, as I mentioned in my post about HART OF DIXIE last week? But having spent some time on the coast myself, I can say that DOWN HOME was at least somewhat realistic.

This series' biggest asset was its cast, which included some fine character actors such as Dakin Matthews and Eric Allen Kramer. The late, great Tim Scott, probably best known for playing Pea Eye in LONESOME DOVE, was top-notch as a fisherman/homespun philosopher, and Gedde Watanabe as a Vietnamese immigrant shared the series' funniest moment with him, a scene involving a fork for the very few of you who might recall it.

DOWN HOME wasn't a great series, just a pleasant, enjoyable one that never quite caught on. But I enjoyed it for what it was and remember it fondly.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Showdown in Abilene - Alfred Wallon

I've been wanting to read some of Alfred Wallon's Western novels for a while, but nearly all of them were published only in Germany, and despite two years of German in college I'm far from being fluent enough to read in that language at anything more than a very rudimentary level.

However, thanks to the good folks at Piccadilly Publishing, some of Wallon's novels are now appearing in English translations as e-books, so I was able to start at the beginning with his first novel, SHOWDOWN IN ABILENE, which is also the first book in his most successful series, Rio Concho.

These books revolve around the adventures of the cowboys who work on the Rancho Bravo spread in West Texas. Foreman Jay Durango is the protagonist in SHOWDOWN IN ABILENE. I don't know if he plays that role in succeeding books, but I'll find out since I have the next two in the series. This one finds Jay and the rest of the Rancho Bravo crew arriving in Abilene with a trail herd they've brought to the railhead, a classic situation in Western novels. They're not there long before Jay encounters an old enemy and several of the cowboys get mixed up in a brawl that causes Abilene's marshal, Bear River Tom Smith, to throw them in jail. The situation quickly escalates with an attempt on Jay's life, a fire that threatens to destroy the town, and a bank robbery that leads to the title showdown.

This is a relatively short novel, and Wallon never lets the action slow down for long. Jay Durango is a fine hero, tough but honorable and with a touch of mystery about his background. We don't really learn a lot about the supporting cast, but they're likable enough and this is just the first book in a long-running series, after all. I really enjoyed the mixture of fiction and history, such as the appearance of Bear River Tom Smith, who was the marshal in Abilene immediately before Wild Bill Hickok. Wallon provides an entertaining afterword about the historical aspects of the novel, as well as some background on his Rio Concho series.

SHOWDOWN IN ABILENE is a good solid traditional Western, and I'm glad it's now available in English. If you're a Western fan, it's certainly well worth reading. You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Star Adventure Magazine, December 1936

Decent Foreign Legion cover on this pulp I've never encountered before. "All Star" is maybe a little strong to describe the authors in this issue. I think only Eugene Cunningham and Georges Surdez fall into that category. But I'm sure it's pretty entertaining.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, March 1935

Nice Rafael DeSoto cover on this early issue of WESTERN ACES, and a pretty good line-up of authors inside: T.W. Ford, L.L. Foreman, Joe Archibald, and Phil Richards. Shame about the cowboy's hat, but the girl might be worth it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Forgotten Books: Herbert West: Reanimator - H.P. Lovecraft

My general dislike of H.P. Lovecraft's work, while still acknowledging its influence and historical significance in the field of Weird Fiction, has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion in the past. But for some reason, every so often I get the urge to read something by him, maybe in the hope of finding a story that I like. And whaddaya know, I finally did.

I'm fudging a little with this week's entry. "Herbert West: Reanimator" is a novella, not a novel, but it's been published by itself enough times that I think I can count it as a book. Nor is it really forgotten, since it's readily available in any number of print and digital editions. However, if Jeff Shanks hadn't included it in his recent anthology ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, I probably never would have read it, so it was pretty close to being forgotten where I was concerned.

All the things I find annoying about Lovecraft's work are present here: the long-winded prose (although this one does seem to move along at a little faster clip that the other stories I've read by him), the scarcity of dialogue, the overall wussiness of the protagonists. But the genuine creepiness of this tale of a doctor who tries to discover the secret of reanimating dead bodies won me over. It's episodic, reflecting its origins as a serial in a literary magazine in 1922, but that works for me since it serves to pick up the pace. (The novella was reprinted in WEIRD TALES in 1942, after Lovecraft's death.) There are even several instances of violent action that work pretty well.

So, being curious how other people feel about this story since I liked it, I went on-line and discovered that Lovecraft himself reportedly hated it. Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi says that it's universally reviled as Lovecraft's worst story. Somehow this does not surprise me. It figures that the one I like, many of his fans hate. But as usual, I don't care. It's the most pulpish Lovecraft story I've read so far, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. And it's got me interested enough to read something else by Lovecraft in the relatively near future. If anybody wants to recommend anything in the comments, based on my comments on this one, have at it. I'd appreciate the input.

I'll have more to say about ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS! in due course. It'll probably take me a while to read it, since I tend to work in stories from anthologies between novels, but for me it's off to a good start with "Herbert West: Reanimator". (Side note: I've never seen the movies based on this story, which supposedly don't share much with it other than the title. I'd watch a faithful movie adaptation of it, though.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Black/White - Andrez Bergen

Up until now I've known Andrez Bergen primarily as a novelist with a distinctive, entertaining voice, as is evident in TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT, WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?, and DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH, among others. But he also writes comics, and BLACK/WHITE, a new anthology title he's produced with several different artists, is just out.

Most of the stories in this book are noir, starting with "Zig Zag", which opens with a man cleaning an antique gun. You know that gun's going to go off sooner or later. Very spare, effective art by Drezz Rodriguez on this one. "Get Busy", with art by Marcos Vergara, is about the odd goings-on in a busy bar. "Linoleum Actress" is probably my favorite story in the book, a nasty slice of domestic noir with great art by Michael Grills. "The Writing on the Wall" is a dystopian story with art by Nathan St. John. Bergen provides both story and art in "Waiting for Sod All", a tale of desperation. The anthology closes with "Come Out Swinging" by Bergen and artist Andrew Chiu, a short, action-packed private eye tale.

All these stories are well written and enjoyable, and the art is good in all of them. If you're a fan of noir comics, BLACK/WHITE is well worth reading. It's available in both print and digital editions, and it can be ordered directly from the publisher here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blood Trail of the Horsetooth Widow - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

Peter  Brandvold's half-breed Western adventurer Yakima Henry returns in the latest release from Mean Pete Press, BLOOD TRAIL OF THE HORSETOOTH WIDOW, a sequel of sorts to the first book in the series, THE LONELY BREED. Written under the Frank Leslie pseudonym, this novel finds Yakima teaming up with the beautiful but deadly Paloma Collado to recover a stolen army payroll after Yakima is forced to shoot Paloma's husband. He doesn't feel particularly guilty about that—the hombre was trying to shoot him, after all—and even less so when it quickly becomes obvious that Paloma isn't mourning her late spouse.

Naturally this quest through Arizona Territory's Chiricahua Mountains and on down into Mexico puts Yakima and Paloma in considerable danger. They have to deal with renegade Apaches, ruthless bandidos, and a deputy U.S. marshal who may or may not have turned outlaw himself. Throw in Paloma's frequent attempts to double-cross just about everybody she meets, and Yakima will be doing good just to get out of this mess alive, let alone get his hands on the hundred grand in hidden loot.

As always in a Brandvold novel, the action scenes are gritty and very well done, the pace seldom lets up, and the setting is rendered vividly. Yakima Henry is a fine hero, plenty tough but with an honorable streak, haunted at times by his past, and a bad man to have for an enemy. There's an unexpected and very effective plot twist late in the book, always a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Brandvold is one of the top Western writers in the business, and BLOOD TRAIL OF THE HORSETOOTH WIDOW just adds to that reputation.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Hart of Dixie

Instead of an older TV series, I'm talking about a current one this time. After a hiatus of several weeks, HART OF DIXIE returns to the CW line-up this week, although its move to Friday nights—a dumping ground of sorts for the CW, if not for the other broadcast networks—may not bode that well for its future. Which would be a shame, because this comedy/drama set in a small town in Alabama, now in its third season, is a very likable series.

HART OF DIXIE is one of those quirky, small town, fish-out-of-water shows in the tradition of NORTHERN EXPOSURE (although to quote the great Herb Tarleck from WKRP IN CINCINNATI, God help me, I never "got" NORTHERN EXPOSURE). One of my daughters who's a big GILMORE GIRLS fan loves HART OF DIXIE as well and says that they're very similar. I can't offer an opinion on that because I still haven't seen any of GILMORE GIRLS, but I'll get around to it one of these days.

The protagonist of HART OF DIXIE is Zoe Hart, a New York doctor played by Rachel Bilson, who through a complicated set of circumstances finds herself living in the small town of Bluebell, Alabama, which of course is full of zany Southern characters. People who really live in small towns in Alabama probably hate this show because of the stereotypes. Believe me, as someone from Texas, I know the feeling. But taking it as the fantasy it is, this is a smart, funny, well-written series with some surprisingly complex plots. Almost everyone in it has been involved romantically with everybody else at one time or another, and I've been known to say that I don't know how the writers can keep up with it. There's also a lot of deadpan humor, including a show-within-a-show about golf, of all things. From top to bottom, the cast is really likable, from old pro Tim Matheson as a folksy doctor to Jaime King as a scheming but sympathetic Southern belle to Scott Porter (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) as an earnest young lawyer.

If you haven't seen HART OF DIXIE, I think it's certainly worth watching and I'd love it if more people did so and increased its chances of being renewed. It's a sweet, funny series, lightweight to be sure but really entertaining and sometimes that's exactly what I want to watch.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: The Man From U.N.C.L.E., February 1966

As a huge fan of the TV series THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., I can't tell you how excited I was to walk into Lester's Pharmacy one day after school to pick up my week's supply of comic books, only to find the first issue of this magazine on the rack there. Luckily I had enough allowance money to buy it without having to give up any comics. I was already reading the paperback U.N.C.L.E. novels, so I was glad to get more reading material based on the show. In small-town Texas in those pre-Internet days, I had no idea what was coming out and didn't know what to expect until I saw it.

"The Howling Teenagers Affair" was actually a novella, probably about 25,000 words, and the author behind the house-name Robert Hart Davis was really Dennis Lynds, although I had no idea of that at the time. (And I certainly didn't dream that about 15 years later, I would be trading letters with the guy who wrote "The Howling Teenagers Affair".) Lynds was a busy guy in the Sixties, writing all the Mike Shayne stories in MSMM from 1963 to 1970, or thereabouts, writing the new series of Shadow paperbacks published by Belmont Books, and turning out seven of these U.N.C.L.E. novellas for the digest magazine, in addition to mystery novels and short stories under his own name and several other pseudonyms. I was a regular reader of his work, I just never knew it at the time.

The other two main writers on the U.N.C.L.E. digest were Harry Whittington and John Jakes, with stories contributed here and there by Bill Pronzini, Talmage Powell, Frank Belknap Long, Richard Curtis, and I.G. Edmonds. Each issue featured an assortment of mystery and espionage novelettes and short stories to go with the lead "novel". Tom Ramirez, who wrote Nightstand Books as Tony Calvano, had an espionage series, and Dan Ross, probably best remembered for writing the Dark Shadows paperbacks and hosts of other Gothics as Marilyn Ross, contributed a series about a Chinese detective.

I bought nearly every issue of the magazine at Lester's, and when I got home I generally had time to sit down and read the U.N.C.L.E. novella straight through before supper. I'd read the back-up stories later. Many years later when I was writing the Mike Shayne stories in MSMM, I did one that was a tribute to those U.N.C.L.E. stories and called it "The Death From the Sky Affair". The manuscript carried a dedication to Robert Hart Davis, the house-name on those earlier stories. (And as a side note, Leo Margulies came up with that name as a tribute to Robert Davis, an early pulp editor Margulies had known.) Chuck Fritch, the editor at MSMM, didn't run the dedication with that Shayne story, and he changed the title to the simpler "Death From the Sky". But I knew what it really was, and now so do you.

UPDATE: My memory has betrayed me. It was actually my Mike Shayne story "Doomsday Island" that was the U.N.C.L.E. homage. "Death From the Sky" was an earlier story in the same series featuring Shayne's battles against The Black Lotus. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, February 6, 1937

I think it's safe to say that with stories by both Edgar Rice Burroughs and L. Ron Hubbard in it, this issue would probably fetch a nice price from collectors of those authors. I don't have a copy, mind you, but if I did I'd just be happy to read it, since it also features stories by Bennett Foster and one of my favorite ARGOSY authors, Donald Barr Chidsey, along with a zombie yarn by the great Theodore Roscoe. That's a pretty good line-up for you.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double-Action Western, March 1955

For supposedly bottom-of-the-barrel markets, the Columbia Western pulps featured some pretty good authors. This issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN has a novella by the great Gordon D. Shirreffs and stories by James P. Olsen, Lauran Paine, A.A. Baker, Herbert D. Kastle, and W. Edmunds Claussen, all veteran pulpsters, if not what you'd call big names. And a decent cover to boot.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Forgotten Books: Pal Joey - John O'Hara

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on October 18, 2007.)

PAL JOEY is an early novel of John O'Hara's from 1940 that’s told in the form of letters from Joey, a struggling nightclub singer in the Midwest, to his friend Ted, a much more successful singer and bandleader. I was aware of PAL JOEY only as a movie musical I’ve never seen starring Frank Sinatra and didn’t know the film was based on an O’Hara novel until recently. It must have been quite a chore for the screenwriter to turn this book into a coherent screenplay, since there’s not much actual story to work with. Joey sings in various second-rate nightclubs, romances an assortment of beautiful young women (or “mice”, as he calls them), and is jealous of his friend Ted’s success. That’s about it for the plot.

But O’Hara’s work isn’t really strong on plot to start with. He concentrates on characterization and dialogue instead. PAL JOEY manages to be both funny and very dark at the same time. Joey is uneducated, as is evident from the misspellings, grammatical errors, and tortured sentence structures in the letters he writes, but he has more than enough lust, greed, and ambition to make up for it. His jealousy of his friend’s success comes through plainly, as does his unwillingness to take any of the blame for his failures, even though most of them result from losing his temper or trying to take advantage of someone. He’s about the most venal character you’re ever going to come across, which is probably just what O’Hara intended.

PAL JOEY is also short and moves right along, always a plus in my book. I enjoyed it, and it’s got me really curious about the film version. I’m going to have to hunt up a copy of the DVD and give it a try.

UPDATE: So, have I watched the movie version of PAL JOEY, in the almost six-and-a-half years since this post first appeared? Well, no, not yet. But I'll get around to it one of these days!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Issue of The Lowestoft Chronicle Now On-Line

The latest issue of The Lowestoft Chronicle is now available. Loosely themed around travel and adventure, this is the only literary magazine I read these days, and it's always enjoyable, a fine blend of short stories, poetry, and essays. Editor Nicholas Litchfield does a fine job with it, and you can check out the new issue here. The magazine's latest print anthology SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME just came out, too, and I'll be reviewing it soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Firecreek

FIRECREEK is another of those James Stewart Westerns I somehow never saw. That's even more surprising when you consider that Henry Fonda, another favorite, is also in it.

Stewart plays a farmer who is also the part-time sheriff of the little town of Firecreek. Fonda is the leader of a group of hired guns who stop over in the town on their way from one range war to another. Their horses need rest, and Fonda has a bullet hole in him that needs tending to. We never really find out how he got shot, but it doesn't matter. The implication is that it happened in one of those range wars. Fonda and his men aren't outlaws, and that distinction is important in his mind. They are, however, brutal, ruthless, and accustomed to taking whatever they want. Slowly but surely, they begin to terrorize the town. Stewart tries to keep a lid on things in hopes that the hired guns will just move on before any real trouble breaks out, but you just know that's not going to happen.

There's not really a lot of action in FIRECREEK until the latter part of the movie. There's plenty of slow-burn tension, though, and that leisurely build-up just makes the final eruption of violence that much more effective. The cast is great. Fonda's fellow gunmen are played by Gary Lockwood, Jack Elam, Morgan Woodward, and James Best. The townspeople include Dean Jagger, Jay C. Flippen, and John Qualen. Inger Stevens plays the hotelkeeper's granddaughter who develops a tentative romance with Fonda when she tends to his bullet wound.

Stewart is good, but it's a role he could have played in his sleep. Fonda's character is more intriguing. He's not completely evil, like his character in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but he's certainly not the flawed but still stalwart hero he is in so many of his movies. Watching these two iconic actors work together is a real joy, as you'd probably expect.

Not surprisingly, in many ways FIRECREEK plays like a big-budget episode of GUNSMOKE. It was written by Calvin Clements and directed by Vincent McEveety, who worked on many episodes of that TV series. You've also got Morgan Woodward and Louise Latham in the cast, and sometimes it seemed like they were in GUNSMOKE almost as much as James Arness. I can easily see Matt Dillon riding into Firecreek on his way back to Dodge City from somewhere and helping the local lawman put a stop to the hired guns' reign of terror. But then it wouldn't have been a movie, would it?

FIRECREEK's a good one. I enjoyed it a lot.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Starless Midnight - Wayne D. Dundee

On a stormy night in Nebraska, a beautiful young woman in a nightgown runs out in front of a pickup driven by ex-cop and current bar owner Chance Smith, and that sets in motion an action-packed series of events in Wayne D. Dundee's new e-book STARLESS MIDNIGHT. Throw in a couple of troubled marriages, a wealthy older man feuding with his son, an outburst of violence, some sultry sex, and you've got a novelette that reads like a vintage Gold Medal novel in miniature. This is an excellent hardboiled yarn and definitely a one-sitting read because of Dundee's sure hand in pacing the action. Great fun, and highly recommended. You can buy it on Amazon here.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1940

A story about a giant alien dinosaur rampaging through Washington D.C.? I'd read that. I don't know if that's actually one of the stories in this issue, but if it's not, it should have been. What I do know is that inside there are stories by Henry Kuttner (two, in fact, one of them in collaboration with Arthur K. Barnes), Oscar J. Friend, Ward Hawkins, Robert Moore Williams, Don Tracy, and Stanton A. Coblentz. Familiar names to me, but with the exception of Kuttner and to a lesser extent Friend and Williams, I haven't really read much by any of them.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, January 7, 1939

I like these offbeat covers that show up from time to time on WESTERN STORY. I don't know who painted this one. It's signed, but I can't make out the name. Inside we have a couple of big names in Luke Short and Tom Roan, along with lesser-known authors Jay Lucas, Crawford Sullivan, and Howard J. Perry. Plus a poem by S. Omar Barker. Probably an entertaining issue.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Forgotten Books: Pleasure Ground - Orrie Hitt

It had been a while since I'd read anything by our old pal Orrie Hitt, so I figured it was time. PLEASURE GROUND was published originally by Kozy Books in 1961. It's not one of the novels that's been reprinted in recent years, although it seems to me to be a good candidate.

Hitt wrote a number of books set on farms, including this one. Bert Forbes is a typical Hitt narrator/protagonist: a big galoot, not overly bright, not burdened with an excess of morals, but deep down a fairly decent guy. He's been hired by farmer Flint Collins to paint Collins's house and barn. Collins is a brutal skinflint who pays all his help cheaply and treats them badly, including his teenage daughter Norma. He's maybe the most despicable villain I've run across so far in Hitt's work.

Things seem to look up a bit for Bert when he meets beautiful Lucy Martin, who owns the farm next to the Collins place, and in true soft-core fashion he first encounters her when she's sunbathing nude next to a swimming hole in the local creek. But then Bert's sleazy ex-wife Emily shows up with a tragic story, and Collins, a widower, brings home a new wife, a beautiful, amoral bitch named Sharon, and things start to get very complicated and messy, including an unwanted pregnancy (a staple in Hitt's books), blackmail, and finally murder.

Read enough of Hitt's books and the nuts and bolts of his various formulas really start to show, and I've reached that point. However, even when you know what he's doing, he has a way of dragging you in and making you care what's going to happen to his characters. I think it's the sheer passion that he brought to his work. He believed in it, so the reader does, too. Although by all accounts he had a happy home life and a reasonably successful career, he knew the desperation of people pushed to the brink, sometimes by their own choices and sometimes by a cruel fate they can't control, and he conveyed those emotions with a lot of power.

PLEASURE GROUND is a good example of that. It's not without its flaws—it seems to me to go on a little too long, stretching out not quite enough plot for its wordage—but I certainly enjoyed it, all the way to the seemingly tacked-on happy ending that Hitt employed in most of his books. People have speculated that such endings were an editorial requirement, but I'm not so sure. I think Hitt believed in them, as much as in all the angst that comes before them. If you're a fan of his work, this one is well worth reading.

As a side note, another Hitt novel called PLEASURE GROUND was published two years earlier by Bedside Books, but I don't think it's the same novel. The description of it given by an Internet bookseller doesn't match the plot of the one I read except in its rural setting. But I've never seen a copy of the earlier book, only a scan of its cover, so I don't really know.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Big Boys Don't Cry - Tom Kratman

Tom Kratman is another contemporary science fiction author whose work I've been wanting to try. I have several of his novels on my shelves. But they're all so long I haven't been able to work up the mental energy to dive into them. That's why I was glad to see this new e-book novella. Stories like this are perfect for trying new authors.

Kratman is known for his military SF, and BIG BOYS DON'T CRY is solidly in that sub-genre. It's the story of a battle tank operated by a sentient AI known as Magnolia, or Maggie for short. Huge, heavily armored, and sporting dozens of weapons, Maggie fights alongside other sentient war machines in battles across the galaxy against a number of different alien races. She's badly damaged in one of them, and while she's waiting to be "salvaged" by her human masters, Kratman uses a series of flashbacks to cover her career as a Ratha fighting machine, including her initial programming.

It's while this is going on that the reader begins to realize not everything is what it appears to be. The story actually becomes pretty poignant and packed with a lot more emotion than you might expect a tale about a mechanized, computerized killer to be. It all leads up to a dark but very effective ending.

I didn't know if I was going to like this one at first. It seemed a little heavy on mindless action to me. However, that was just Kratman fooling me, gradually drawing me into the yarn he was spinning. I wound up thinking that BIG BOYS DON'T CRY is an excellent SF novella. I still want to read Kratman's novels, but who knows when I'll have a big enough block of time to do that.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Bible

This ten-hour miniseries aired on the History Channel a couple of years ago and got high ratings, but we didn't see it until now, qualifying it—sort of—as overlooked, I suppose. I grew up in a family of staunch Baptists and went to Sunday school nearly every week for years and years, so I was curious to see how much I remembered. Turns out, nearly everything in the series was familiar to me.

The first half covers the Old Testament, starting with Noah, and since there's a lot of ground to cover the pace moves pretty fast through Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses and the flight from Egypt, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, Solomon, and so on. One of the complaints about the series that I read on-line is that too much was left out. I'd say maybe too much was left in for the time that was allotted, because it seemed that no sooner did one storyline get started good than there would be a graphic on the screen reading "40 Years Later". Still, there's some good stuff here, mostly notably for me some sword-fightin' ninja angels in the Sodom and Gomorrah section. In fact, all the angels in this series are pretty much badasses, which I like. (Something else that was roundly criticized on-line, by the way.)

The second half deals with the New Testament and focuses primarily on Jesus's life, and I think it was a little better because of that ability to delve more deeply into one story. A Portuguese actor named Diogo Morgado plays Jesus and does a fine job, I thought. (There are no actors in this mini-series you've ever heard of with the exception of Roma Downey, who was also one of the producers with her husband Mark Burnett, the SURVIVOR guy.)

The production values are pretty high throughout. Everything looks right. The special effects aren't spectacular, but they work. Despite all that time spent in Sunday school, I'm no theologian, so arguing about what got put in, what got left out, and how this particular event was interpreted doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I thought that overall THE BIBLE was both entertaining and moving, although I wouldn't put it in the top rank of Biblical movies. In fact, I'm not sure what films actually are in the top rank of Biblical movies. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS? THE ROBE? It's been too long since I've seen any. I don't have any idea how they'd hold up.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1956

I'm trying in this series to concentrate on issues that have some personal meaning to me. In this case, MSMM was certainly important to me, although about twenty years later. But this is the first issue, and as it happens, I once had a copy of this one. Notice that it's called MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, rather than the tougher and more laconic MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The first six issues carried that title before it was shortened. Sam Merwin Jr., not that far removed from his pulp editing and writing days, was the editor, as he would be again years later when he started buying stories from me, and he also wrote the Shayne novelette in this issue under the Brett Halliday house-name. MSMM was a fine magazine, and I'm sure you'll be seeing more covers from it in this series.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, September 3, 1921

ADVENTURE's covers during this era tended to be simple but pretty effective. That's certainly the case here. We don't know where those Viking ships are going, but there'll be blood spilled when they get there. In the meantime, the authors in this issue include W.C. Tuttle, Rafael Sabatini, Arthur D. Howden-Smith, Captain Dingle, Thomson Burtis, and Stephen Chalmers. Hard to beat a line-up like that.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blue Ribbon Western, October 1937

Yet another appearance by a trio we've seen before: the Cowboy, the Geezer, and the Gun-Totin' Redhead. She doesn't look quite as angry in this painting as she does in some. The contents look pretty good, with stories by Eugene Cunningham, J.E. Grinstead, Oscar Schisgall, and Jack Bertin, who if I recall correctly was related to Peter Germano, better known under the pseudonym Barry Cord.