Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, July 1948

Stagecoaches show up a lot on Western pulp covers, and there's usually some sort of action going on. This one from the July 1948 issue of EXCITING WESTERN is no exception. Authors responsible for the action inside are Louis L'Amour (with two stories, one under the Jim Mayo pseudonym), my old favorite W.C. Tuttle, Robert J. Hogan of G-8 and His Battle Aces fame, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, and a couple of house names, Jackson Cole and Reeve Walker.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Man From Scotland Yard - Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)

I hadn't read a Shadow novel in quite a while and was in the mood for one, so I picked a story that I'd heard was pretty good, THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD, which appeared in the August 1, 1935 issue of THE SHADOW. It turned out to be a decent choice, but before I talk about that, I'm going to wallow a bit in nostalgia. Consider yourself warned.

I have a long history with The Shadow. I first encountered the character in syndicated reruns of the radio show back in the early 1960s. I thoroughly enjoyed them, although I had no idea at the time of the character's pulp origins. A few years later, on the paperback spinner rack in Tompkins' Drugstore, I came across the Belmont edition of THE SHADOW STRIKES, the first original Shadow novel by Dennis Lynds, writing under the house-name Maxwell Grant. Of course, I didn't know then that Lynds wrote it, and I certainly never would have guessed that years later he and I would become friends through correspondence. All I knew was that I loved the book and thought this version of the character was even better than the one in the radio show. Lynds wrote more Shadow novels for Belmont over the next few years, and I snatched them all up as I found them and read them with eagerness and great enjoyment.

(A little background: When Belmont began this new series of Shadow paperbacks, the first one, RETURN OF THE SHADOW, was written by Walter B. Gibson, who created the character and wrote the vast majority of the pulp novels. I didn't find that one and read it until several years later. When the arrangement with Gibson didn't work out, Belmont turned to Lynds to continue the series. This was a very busy time for Lynds. Not only was he writing the Shadow paperbacks, he was also writing all the Mike Shayne novelettes and novellas in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, many of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. novellas in the digest of the same name, and starting his long-running series of award-winning, critically acclaimed novels about one-armed private eye Dan Fortune under the name Michael Collins. He certainly didn't stint on his Shadow novels, though, at least not to my mind at the time. I've never reread any of them, but I'd like to if I could find the time.)

Moving on, a few more years went by, and I found the Bantam paperback reprint of THE LIVING SHADOW, the first novel in the pulp series from 1931. I still remember reading it while sitting on the front porch of my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas, seemingly unable to turn the pages fast enough to keep up with the excitement of the tale. This was the best Shadow so far.

By then I had encountered Doc Savage and learned some about the pulps. While The Shadow never replaced Doc as my favorite from that era, I read all the paperbacks published by Bantam and then later by Pyramid and Jove, many of the latter with great covers by the legendary Jim Steranko. By that time I was in college, attending what was then North Texas State University in Denton. One summer when I was commuting from my home in Azle, about 50 miles away, the vagaries of the schedule meant that I had one class early in the morning and another late in the afternoon, with a big block of time in the middle of the day to kill. It was too far to go home and come back. Most days I spent that time in the basement of the library, sitting in one of the study carrels 'way in the back, behind the stacks. Did I study? Heck, no. I smuggled in food and drink and sat there in near-isolation reading paperbacks, and the ones I remember most vividly are those Shadow novels with Steranko covers. (I now realize that I actually was studying for what turned out to be my career, I just didn't know it at the time. What better preparation could there be, though, for writing hundreds of over-the-top action novels than reading the novels of Walter B. Gibson and all the other pulpsters whose work I was devouring back then?)

In the 40 years since, I've read many, many Shadow novels, some in reprint and quite a few in the original pulps. I remember sitting in the hospital reading a Shadow pulp right after our first daughter was born, while Livia and Shayna were both sleeping. THE SHADOW ran from 1931 to 1949, and the quality of the series breaks pretty neatly in the middle. The stories from the 1930s are consistently good to excellent, although there are some mediocre entries in the bunch. The 1940s stories are just the opposite: some gems here and there, but mostly bland, uninspiring little mysteries. No criminal super-masterminds, no hordes of vicious gangsters being mowed down by The Shadow's .45s, no apocalyptic action scenes.

So where does THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD fit in? Sort of in the middle. The main plot concerns a gang of international spies who are out to steal some weapons plans and sell them to an unnamed power in Europe. (Cough*Germany*cough.) It's somewhat interesting but not that compelling. But there's a great scene where The Shadow lands his autogyro on the deck of the bad guys' ship in the middle of the Atlantic and goes to town with those .45 automatics. A few other action scenes are pretty good, but overall there aren't as many of them as in some of the novels, and The Shadow is off-screen a lot. Quite a bit of the story consists of guys standing in hotel rooms talking.

However, through a very neat bit of trickery, Gibson sets up a situation where the reader doesn't know if one of the characters is really a hero, a villain, a hero pretending to be a villain, or vice versa. It takes almost the entire novel for that conundrum to be resolved, and I enjoyed being puzzled. THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD doesn't reach the operatic heights of some of the early novels, but it's considerably better than most of the ones I've read from the Forties. It was reprinted a while back in one of those double editions with ZEMBA, a novel that's considered by many fans to be one of the best in the whole series. That edition seems to be out of print, but I imagine copies can be found at various places on-line. I enjoyed THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD enough that I plan to read another Shadow novel fairly soon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Now Available for Pre-Order: Outlaw Ranger #3: Blood and Gold - James Reasoner

A savage ambush...twenty men slaughtered in a brutal massacre...a fortune in gold stolen! This was a crime big enough and bold enough to bring the Outlaw Ranger to the wide-open settlement of Cemetery Butte, where a powerful mining tycoon rode roughshod over any who dared to oppose him. But even that atrocity doesn't prepare G.W. Braddock for the evil that awaits him, stretching bloody hands out of the past. 

Gritty, compelling, and packed with action, the saga of the Outlaw Ranger continues in BLOOD AND GOLD, the third exciting installment in this series from bestselling author James Reasoner.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Tucker's Witch

This oddball private eye series ran for only 12 episodes more than 30 years ago, but I remember it. Does that say something about it, or me? Who knows? But I recall it as being pretty entertaining. While the plots were standard private eye fare about husband-and-wife PIs, the gimmick was that the wife was also a witch. Like if Darrin Stevens gave up advertising, got his PI license, and Samantha came in on the agency with him. The cast was pretty good: Tim Matheson (an actor I've always liked who's currently on HART OF DIXIE) as the husband, Catherine Hicks as the wife (best known as the mom on SEVENTH HEAVEN, I suppose, but to me she was always one of the Faith Coleridges from RYAN'S HOPE), and Barbara Barrie and Alfre Woodard in supporting roles. There are a few episodes on YouTube, but I don't think it was ever released on video or DVD.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Now Available: Souls of the Dead - Robert J. Randisi

When ex-sheriff Ken Burke is attacked and winds up in an unusual coma, the former hitman Sangster finds himself pulled into the world of Voodoo in order to save his friend. 

Sangster discovers he has stepped into a hornet’s nest as the search leads him through a myriad of French Quarter Voodoo businesses, a Catholic church, a mysterious Voodoo priest in the bayou while avoiding the next would-be hitman wanting to take Sangster out. 

“Leave it to master-storyteller Robert Randisi to come up with a soulful new spin on the hitman genre. Sangster is a unique addition to the ranks of killers for hire.” 
—Max Allan Collins, creator of QUARRY 

“As many excellent hitman novels as there have been over the years…you wouldn’t think there would be much left to do with the sub-genre. But you’d be wrong, as Robert J. Randisi…proves quite handily. 
—James Reasoner, author of Texas Wind 

“…an ambitious, fast-paced thriller that plunges readers headlong into the world of professional hitmen…author Randisi promptly throws some fresh twists into his tale that amp up the excitement and suspense all the more.” 
—Wayne D. Dundee, author of the Joe Hannibal PI series 

About SOULS OF THE DEAD author Gary Phillips had this to say: 
“Taut, clever and gritty, under the sure hand of Robert Randisi, The Souls of the Dead is an unputdownable crime story with a rough-hewn charm.  Bring me more Sangster.”
     -- Gary Phillips, author of Treacherous: Ruffians, Grifters and Killers

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950

I always enjoy Earle Bergey's science fiction pulp covers. This one from the June 1950 issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES is a good one. My old mentor Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor then, and he filled this issue with stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Raymond Z. Gallun, Mack Reynolds, Cleve Cartmill, Raymond F. Jones, and Margaret St. Clair. That's a fine bunch of authors and shows why TWS under Merwin's editorship has a good reputation, at least among old geezers such as myself.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, March 1947

"Why, shore, Ah kin roll a quirley and plug some no-good rannie at the same time. Cain't ever'body?"

Meanwhile, inside this issue of WEST are stories by Edward Churchill (I've read some of his G-Men yarns that were pretty good, but no Westerns that I recall), Gunnison Steele, and Johnston McCulley. Fine reading, I'm sure.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Forgotten Books: Rustler of the Owlhorns - Jim O'Mara (Vernon L. Fluharty)

This book begins by dropping us right in the middle of the problems faced by rancher Clay Tennant. Clay's brother Frank has inherited the family ranch following their father's death, leaving Clay with only a single section of land where he's trying to build up a herd. Naturally, this results in a lot of friction between the brothers. On the side, Clay works for Parr Battles and Ed Blount, owners of the Trans-Mountain Cattle and Land Company, which provides beef for the Indian reservations in the area. But Battles and Blount are involved in a crooked deal with the Indian agent, and Clay's brother Frank is part of it. When Clay finds out about it, the conspirators take action to see that he can't ruin their scheme. Almost before Clay knows what's going on, he finds himself framed for rustling and then murder. The rest of this book concerns his efforts to extricate himself from this deadly situation, while also being torn between his beautiful but selfish fiancee and the neighboring rancher's daughter (also beautiful, but tomboyish) who has always secretly loved him.

I really went back and forth in my reactions to this book. After getting off to a nice running start, the plot then takes forever to develop, and many of the elements, such as the romantic triangle, are stereotypical and predictable, even allowing for the time period. A couple of other minor annoyances, both relating to the women, are that except for a slight variation in hair color, they're described in almost the same words, and Fluharty has a habit of referring to their "small faces", which bothered me for some reason.

However, the action scenes are well-handled, and during the second half of the book, Fluharty succeeds in creating some genuine suspense regarding the outcome. He tightens the screws so much on his hero that I really had to wonder how Clay was going to get out of his troubles. The resolution is maybe a little far-fetched, but believable enough that I bought it. I wound up enjoying the second half of the book enough to more than balance out its predictability and lapses in style.

Here are some review quotes from the paperback edition:

"There is no relaxation of tension in the writing of this Western. The author pictures his characters strong and real, the action fast and rough. The book will please Western fans." -- Wichita Eagle

"The reader of Westerns is, or should be by now, quite well adjusted to villains of assorted degrees of perfidy, but Jim O'Mara's RUSTLER OF THE OWLHORNS introduces a skunk who takes all medals and silver casters for slick-as-grease skunkiness. A cracking good plot. Grade A from soda to hock." -- NY Times

"Two feuding brothers, a disputed will, a mercurial lass, and a murder bring plenty of excitement to the U Bar Ranch." -- Oakland Tribune

"There is action aplenty in this one, a good twisty plot, and a minimum of gunplay. One thing you can certainly say for this writer--each of his yarns shows a steady improvement." -- Hoofs and Horns

Somehow, I don't think many of the current reviewers for the New York Times use expressions like "from soda to hock".

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Merlin

I wrote about the first season of this series several years ago, but we've recently watched the fifth and final season so I thought it might be time to take a look at the whole thing. I've always enjoyed Arthurian fiction, movies, and TV shows, and this is a pretty good one.

There are so many versions of the King Arthur story that it's difficult to consider any of them "canon", but the first couple of seasons of MERLIN seem to have discarded some of the traditional elements of the legend and played it more as an updated, politically correct version. The series picks up with Uther Pendragon still the king of Camelot. His son Arthur is the handsome young prince, and Merlin (who the viewer knows from the first is really a powerful sorcerer) pretends to be Arthur's hapless servent while actually looking out for him. Morgana is Uther's ward, Guinevere a serving girl. With so many young, pretty people in the cast, MERLIN almost comes off like CAMELOT 90210. (Yes, I used that line in the earlier post, but it's still true.)

These early episodes are perfectly serviceable lightweight sword-and-sorcery adventures and I found them enjoyable enough to keep watching. But as the series goes on it begins to take on a darker tone and a more epic scale, and I realized that the writers were going for the classic version of the King Arthur legend after all, just in a roundabout way. The whole thing builds to a dramatic climax and generates a considerable amount of tension and suspense in the final season.

Colin Morgan as Merlin and Bradley James as Arthur play off each other very well, creating a real sense of camaraderie. Veteran British actor Richard Morgan does a good job as Gaius, Merlin's friend and mentor. Anthony Head (Giles from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) plays Uther in the early seasons and is by turn admirable and despicable. The most impressive performance, however, comes from Katie McGrath, who over the course of the series does a remarkable job of transforming from a cute, innocent ingénue to a totally evil sorceress.

I can't say that I was totally pleased with the ending—too many plot holes—but I really did like the very last scene. MERLIN is a good series, well worth watching, and it's whetted my appetite for more Arthurian tales. I probably won't get around to watching or reading any of them before the urge goes away, but you never know.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, April 8, 1939

I haven't read that many issues of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, but all the ones I've read have been good. This one sports a cover by Rudolph Belarski, and the line-up of authors includes Richard Sale, Hugh B. Cave, Howard Wandrei, William R. Cox, and Cleve F. Adams. That's a top-notch group, all the way around.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, May 1938

It's hard to beat STAR WESTERN. This issue's cover has another appearance of the familiar cowboy/girl/geezer trio, although the girl's not a redhead this time around. And inside are stories by Harry F. Olmsted, T.T. Flynn, Peter Dawson, and Gunnison Steele, four of my favorite Western pulp authors, plus yarns by Robert E. Mahaffey, John G. Pearsol, and Glenn Wichman, prolific and well-regarded pulpsters. Some mighty fine reading in there, I'll bet.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Coming Soon: Outlaw Ranger #3: Blood and Gold - James Reasoner

A savage ambush...twenty men slaughtered in a brutal massacre...a fortune in gold stolen! This was a crime big enough and bold enough to bring the Outlaw Ranger to the wide-open settlement of Cemetery Butte, where a powerful mining tycoon rode roughshod over any who dared to oppose him. But even that atrocity doesn't prepare G.W. Braddock for the evil that awaits him, stretching bloody hands out of the past.

Gritty, compelling, and packed with action, the saga of the Outlaw Ranger continues in BLOOD AND GOLD, the third exciting installment in this series from bestselling author James Reasoner.

Forgotten Books: The Sucker - Orrie Hitt

I felt like reading an Orrie Hitt novel since it had been a while, and I picked a really good one in THE SUCKER. It's written to the usual Hitt formula, but also as usual, he finds ways to change things up enough to keep the story fresh and interesting.

I thought this was going to be a car racing book at first—some of the back-story concerns how one of the female characters winds up in business with the driver responsible for the accident that killed her father—but instead it centers around a company that sells engines and engine parts to hotrodders, as well as a revolutionary design for one of those engines.

The protagonist and narrator is Slade Harper, the engineer responsible for that design, who's running a down-on-its-luck gas station that he won in a card game from a guy on a construction project in Iceland. The guy wound up blowing his brains out over an Icelandic girl, and when Slade shows up to claim the gas station, he finds the former owner's sister still living there and running the place. (You can't accuse Hitt of skimping on the back-story.) Anyway, Slade winds up working for a former race car driver and the beautiful daughter of the guy the driver killed in a crash (see above paragraph), and being an unscrupulous heel, Slade figures out a way to swindle them out of the company. But then he falls for the girl, and things get complicated...

Hitt's writing is really sharp in those one, with plenty of good lines and a pace that barrels along and an overwhelming sense of blue-collar angst. Slade Harper may well be the most unsympathetic Hitt protagonist I've encountered so far. Usually the main characters in these novels are amoral jerks (or at least they think they are), but deep inside they have a streak of decency. With Slade, the reader really has to wonder if that's going to turn out to be the case.

Hitt's "heroes" are usually torn between three women: the good one, the bad one, and the tragically flawed one. That seems not to be the case in THE SUCKER, as all three women Slade gets involved with are basically sympathetic characters. Or are they? Again, Hitt comes up with some nice twists. I've read enough of these novels to know who the protagonist is going to wind up with most of the time, but that question kept me in suspense all the way to the end, too.

Originally published by Beacon Books in 1957, THE SUCKER is available in an e-book edition from Prologue Books. It's a fine example of the thing Hitt did best: he wrote novels that are actually very small in scope, where not much happens and the things that do affect only a small handful of people. But in the lives of those people, those events are epic and earth-shaking, and nobody ever conveyed that emotion more powerfully than Orrie Hitt.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Weird Menace Anthology Now Open for Submissions

I'm going ahead with that Weird Menace anthology idea I mentioned on the blog a couple of days ago. If you're interested in possibly writing a story for it, here are the submission guidelines.

I'm looking for the sort of stories that would have been submitted to pulp magazines such as DIME MYSTERY, TERROR TALES, and SPICY MYSTERY during the heyday of the Weird Menace pulps in the 1930s. If you're a fan of those pulps, you know what I'm talking about: Old dark houses. Sinister scientists. Grotesque henchmen. Death cults. Beautiful women who run screaming into the night. Stalwart heroes who are, at times, not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they manage to emerge triumphant in the end anyway (sometimes due as much to luck as anything else). Supernatural-seeming threats should wind up having logical (if far-fetched at times) explanations, although a hint of the unexplained in the story's resolution is fine, too. Stories need to have plenty of action and a headlong pace to go with a strong sense of menace and dread. The best way to get in the mood to write stories like this is to read some of them. A number of anthologies reprinting actual Weird Menace stories are available from Altus Press, Ramble House, and Black Dog Books, and there are stories on-line at that can be downloaded and read for free.

Stories should be between 7500 and 10,000 words, although if they go a little longer than that it shouldn't be a problem. I'd like for them to be set during the 1930s, but don't go overboard with period detail, just enough to capture the feeling of that era. The boundaries on language, violence, and sex are a little looser than those of the pulp editors, but nothing too graphic. Obviously, yarns like this can be a little tongue-in-cheek and over the top—I'm sure most of the pulp authors felt that way about them—but play it straight for the most part. No smirking.

Stories should be emailed to me and attached as Word files. Doc format is preferred, but .docx is acceptable. Any normal font is fine, just don't include headers or footers. Deadline is May 1, because I'd like to get the book out during the summer. I expect to use eight stories, and if I get more good ones than that I'll just do another anthology a little later on. Questions about anything I didn't cover, email me. Thanks!

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The IT Crowd

I had never heard of this British sitcom until my daughter Shayna recommended it. She has all four seasons on DVD, so we've been watching it recently, and I'm really glad she brought it to our attention.

THE IT CROWD follows the misadventures of the three people who make up the entire I.T. department of a British corporation. They're stuck in a dingy basement office and get no respect from their co-workers, even though without their efforts the whole operation would probably come crashing to a halt. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, since their efforts seem to consist of asking the question that becomes the series' catchphrase: "Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

The three protagonists are Roy, a 30ish slacker; Moss, somewhat younger and nerdier; and Jen, who has a lot more corporate ambition but winds up trapped in the basement office as Roy and Moss's boss even though she knows nothing about computers. There are a few supporting characters—the sleazy head of the corporation and a Goth who works with Roy and Moss for a while being the main ones—but mostly the stories are just about the bizarre situations in which these three find themselves.

Shayna said she hesitated about recommending this series to us because, in her words, "It could have gone either way." I suspect that's true. Most people would probably either love the series or think it's completely unfunny.

I found THE IT CROWD absolutely hilarious. I haven't laughed as hard or as much at a sitcom since the first few years of THE BIG BANG THEORY. It's perfectly cast—Chris O'Dowd as Roy, Richard Ayoade as Moss, and Katherine Parkinson as Jen—and the writing is sharp and funny in every episode, all of which were written by Graham Linehan, who also directed the entire series. Because the three main characters are so dominant, and because Linehan was in total control all the way through, the series is absolutely consistent. And I was really sad when we watched the final episode. They could have gone on making it forever as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Lawyer: Stay of Execution - Wayne D. Dundee

J.D. Miller was a practicing attorney in Louisiana, a good man with a wife and children. Then a mob raped and murdered his wife and killed his children, and Miller was transformed into a relentless gunman seeking vengeance on those who stole everything from him. Going by the name Smith and sporting a distinctive top hat, he was soon known as The Lawyer as he cut a bloody swath through the Old West.

The Lawyer made his debut in a short story of the same name by Edward A. Grainger, also known as David Cranmer, the publisher of Beat to a Pulp. That story (which is also included in this volume) featured Grainger's best known character, Deputy U.S. Marshal Cash Laramie. But The Lawyer proved to be compelling enough to merit his own series. The first entry, STAY OF EXECUTION, is by Wayne D. Dundee, one of the most prolific and acclaimed Western authors around these days.

This fast-moving yarn finds The Lawyer still on the trail of one of the men responsible for the tragedy that made him who he is, but he's sidetracked by the dilemma of a wounded farmer and the man's very pregnant wife. The farmer was shot by the very man The Lawyer is after, but instead of continuing the chase Smith gives in to the part of his humanity that's left and takes the pair to the nearest town for medical attention, where he promptly finds himself up to his gun in more trouble.

As with all of Dundee's work, there's a strong thread of compassion and melancholy in STAY OF EXECUTION, along with plenty of tough, gritty action. The Lawyer is a complex character, and in a genre that's full of vengeance-seeking protagonists, Dundee makes him fresh and interesting enough that I'm eager to read more about him. I hope this is just the first of many installments in the series. If you enjoy well-written hardboiled Westerns, it gets a strong recommendation from me.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery, August 1934

Time for another Weird Menace cover, this time from one of the leading magazines in the genre, DIME MYSTERY, featuring a suitably lurid cover by Walter Baumhofer and stories by three of the top authors, Wyatt Blassingame, Hugh B. Cave, and Arthur Leo Zagat.

I've given some serious thought to doing a Weird Menace anthology for Rough Edges Press, writing one of the stories myself and opening up the rest of the book to submissions from anyone who's interested. I'd want period stories, because I'm not sure the genre would work in any other era than the Thirties. But I'm not sure there's enough of an audience for such a book or writers who would want to contribute. Still, I'm intrigued by the idea. If you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to post in the comments or email me directly.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Now Available: Hannibal for Hire (The Joe Hannibal Collection, Part II) - Wayne D. Dundee

This e-book collection brings together a second trio of complete novels from Wayne D. Dundee's Joe Hannibal series, some of the finest private eye novels you'll ever find. If you haven't made Joe's acquaintance yet, I strongly recommend that you pick up both collections. I guarantee you'll be entertained. (And as for that cover...yowza. I'm not talking about my blurb, either.)

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western, January 1948

One of those "telephone" covers you see now and then on a Western pulp. The conversations never seem to be peaceful. They're always interrupted by a gunfight. 10 STORY WESTERN was a consistently entertaining pulp. This issue features stories by Tom W. Blackburn, Giles A. Lutz, Richard Brister, Art Lawson, and several other authors I'm not familiar with. I've seen Branch Carter's name on covers before but don't recall ever reading anything by him. I like the name of his series character, though: Johnny Hardluck. I'll bet the stories are pretty good, too.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Print Editions Now Available of Outlaw Ranger and Outlaw Ranger #2: Hangman's Knot

You can now get trade paperback editions of the first two novels in the Outlaw Ranger series. And here's one more bit of news: if all goes as planned, the third Outlaw Ranger novel, BLOOD AND GOLD, should be available in February.

Forgotten Books: Operation: Outer Space - Murray Leinster

I have to admire Murray Leinster. He was writing science fiction before the term existed. But he also wrote mystery, adventure, and Western yarns for the pulps. He wrote movie novelizations. Late in his career he wrote TV tie-in paperback novels. He wrote a little bit of everything for more than fifty years and did it well.

He's remembered mostly for his science fiction, though, and OPERATION: OUTER SPACE is a good example of his work. Originally published in 1954, this novel manages to be very much of its time while also being sort of a throwback to the "scientific romances" published in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, when Leinster started writing.

The protagonist of OPERATION: OUTER SPACE is Jed Cochrane, who works for an advertising agency producing TV shows that the agency's clients sponsor. He's very Madison Avenue, a slick guy with a smart, beautiful secretary he can't see is in love with him. As a favor to one of his bosses, he's sent to Lunar City to promote a scientific discovery by the executive's son-in-law. Cochrane's secretary Babs goes with him, of course. The first part of the novel plays a lot like MAD MEN, only set on the Moon. In its satire of the advertising business, it reminded me as well of Pohl and Kornbluth's THE SPACE MERCHANTS, although it's considerably more gentle in its humor than that novel.

But then it turns out that the invention Cochrane is there to promote, a new method of radio transmission, can be adapted into a faster-than-light drive for spaceships. (Trust me, it makes sense in the book. Sort of. Enough to buy the premise, anyway.) So what does an ad man do when he finds himself with an FTL drive? He gets a cameraman and a writer and takes off for the stars, of course, taking along his faithful secretary. Then he sells advertising time and beams their adventures back to Earth for a TV show.

There are some other characters going along for the trip, including a psychologist and a sociopathic wealthy playboy and his beautiful wife. The rest of the book consists of a travelogue of distant worlds, one of the staples of early-day SF, along with the adventures our intrepid travelers have there. To be honest, those adventures are pretty mild, but they're still interesting and Leinster is one of the best at describing alien worlds.

We get a little more satire to close out the book when the group returns home, and Leinster wraps things up nicely. There's nothing groundbreaking about OPERATION: OUTER SPACE, but it's well-written, has a likable hero, provides a number of funny lines, and is generally just a pleasant, enjoyable book. A comfort read, if you will, for those of us who grew up in an era when rocket ships had fins and still miss those days.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Hitler's Time Machine - Robert F. Dorr

Robert F. Dorr is one of the leading military historians in the business and the author of numerous volumes of non-fiction. I'm particularly fond of HELL HAWKS, an excellent account of the air war in Europe during World War II. Before that he wrote scores of stories for the men's adventure magazines, often but not always with military themes.

So it's not surprising that Dorr's first full-length novel also has the Second World War as its backdrop, but I might not have predicted that it would also be science fiction. HITLER'S TIME MACHINE is part of the sub-genre known as Alternate History. Actually, it fits even better into what I think of as Secret History. Dorr doesn't actually alter historical events so much as tell us the truth about what was really going on.

What you didn't know is that during the war, American and German scientists were in a deadly race to see which side could develop a working time machine and turn it into a weapon first. Along the way there are journeys into the past, assassination attempts on famous historical figures, miscalculations that result in unintended consequences (the so-called Philadelphia Experiment), and commando raids that change the course of the war.

As always, Dorr's research is impeccable. Many of the events in this novel actually happened; Dorr just gives them a different spin than what we're used to. His characters are a mix of fictional and historical, and he does a fine job making us care about them, especially Barbara Stafford, the young scientist who heads up the American time travel project. The action scenes are excellent, and so is the speculation about the nature of time travel and its effect on history. Like Chuck Dixon in the Bad Times series, Dorr comes up with some angles that haven't been done to death.

HITLER'S TIME MACHINE manages to be both a fine war novel and a top-notch science fiction yarn. If you're a fan of either, I highly recommend that you check it out.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Print Editions of the Blaze! Novels

The trade paperback editions of the first three BLAZE! novels from Stephen Mertz, Robert J. Randisi, and Wayne D. Dundee are now available from Amazon.


The Marvels Project: Birth of the Super Heroes - Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

This hardback collection reprints a mini-series published in 2009 and 2010, a short time before I started reading comics again, but somehow I'd never heard of it until I came across a copy at the Half Price Books in Corpus Christi last summer. It's written by one of my favorite modern comics authors, Ed Brubaker, and drawn by one of the best artists, Steve Epting. Since those two were responsible for what's probably the best run on CAPTAIN AMERICA since the days of Lee and Kirby, I expected to enjoy THE MARVELS PROJECT, and I certainly did.

Like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross's iconic MARVELS, this story takes a look at some familiar events from a different perspective. The primary point of view character in THE MARVELS PROJECT is Dr. Thomas Halloway, who was also the masked crimefighter known as The Angel in Golden Age comics stories published by Timely, the company that would one day become Marvel Comics. Through Halloway's eyes we get a fresh look at some pivotal events in comics history: the creation of the original Human Torch; the attack on New York by Prince Namor, the Submariner, and the epic battles between him and the Torch; the transformation of Steve Rogers into Captain America; the introductions of the sidekicks, Bucky and Toro; and finally, after foiling a diabolical plot by the Red Skull, the formation of The Invaders, the first superhero team. Along the way, a number of other familiar characters show up, such as Nick Fury, The Destroyer, and even The Two-Gun Kid.

That last line is enough to tell comics fans that THE MARVELS PROJECT is a mixture of comics history from the actual Golden Age and some modern-day retconning that includes elements like The Invaders and John Steele. I'm generally a purist when it comes to such things, but Brubaker, after all, is the guy who not only did the unthinkable—bringing Bucky Barnes back to life after fifty years—but made even comics curmudgeons such as myself not only accept it but like it. He does a great job here, telling a fast-paced story steeped in history and nostalgia. Epting's art is excellent as well. His Captain America is the best since Jack Kirby's, and his period details are top-notch.

I'm glad I came across this one. It's thoroughly enjoyable and brought back a lot of good memories of Golden Age stories I've read, mostly in reprint volumes but a few in the original comics that I bought many years after they were first published. It was a different era in comics but a good one, and if you'd like to revisit it, THE MARVELS PROJECT is well worth your time.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Texican

I've been an Audie Murphy fan ever since I watched a bunch of his Westerns on TV with my dad when I was a kid. I suspect my dad felt a certain kinship with Audie, since they were both from small towns in Texas and the sons of farmers. They were close to the same age, too, although my dad was a little older. Of course, my dad didn't have the same sort of combat exploits—he arrived in Europe right after V-E Day and spent his time stringing telephone wire—but I suspect a lot of servicemen from that era identified with Audie to a certain extent.

At any rate, I've enjoyed Audie Murphy's movies for a long time, but somehow I'd never seen THE TEXICAN until now. It's from 1966, late in his career, and a Spaghetti Western shot in Spain rather than a Hollywood studio film, although the two leads, the writer, and the director were all American.

Murphy plays a former lawman from Texas named Jess Carlin. He's framed for a crime by the local owlhoot mastermind (an old and tired-looking Broderick Crawford) and forced to flee into Mexico. But when Corbin hears that his brother, a crusading newspaperman, has been murdered, he has to return to find the killer.

Oddly enough, after Murphy's character returns to Texas, the script by John C. Champion never again mentions the fact that he's wanted by the law. He walks around seemingly without any worries about being arrested, all the while trying to dig up evidence that will prove who killed his brother. We know all along, of course, that Crawford's character was responsible for the killing. Murphy's character seems to know that, too, but his low-key investigation into the affair makes the movie drag considerably at times before it moseys its way to a pretty good final showdown.

Murphy turns in a decent performance, as he usually did. Technically, maybe, he wasn't a very good actor, but I always found him believable and likable in his roles. Crawford seems bored by the whole thing, but his commanding voice and physical presence mostly make up for that. The rest of the cast is all European and adequate at best.

But the photography is excellent, the music's not bad (not Ennio Morricone level, but not bad), and old pro director Lesley Selander, who got his start directing B-Westerns in the mid-Thirties, including some of the Hopalong Cassidy pictures, does a top-notch job of staging the few action scenes the script gives him. All that adds up to a movie that's maybe slightly below average, but it still held my interest and I'm glad I watched it.

Monday, January 05, 2015

40 Years

40 years ago tonight, Livia and I went out on our first date. We saw the movie FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, which I've already written about here. Despite some circumstances that were less than perfect, she must have seen something worthwhile in me. Or maybe she's still hoping to find it if she's stubborn enough. The photo above is her senior class picture which was taken a few months earlier.

Needless to say, the decision to ask her out was the smartest move I ever made.

Now Available: The First Three Blaze! Novels

E-book editions of the first three books in the new Adult Western series BLAZE! are now available. Print editions should be live soon. If you're a fan of Longarm, The Gunsmith, Slocum, and the Trailsman, you need to check out these books. They're excellent novels by some of the best writers in the business, and I look forward to the series having a long, successful run.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: South Sea Stories, October 1940

Looks almost like a romance pulp, doesn't it . . . until you notice the dead body floating face-down beside them. Ah, there's always trouble in paradise, I suppose. And yes, that's none other than the famous science fiction writer Alfred Bester whose story "Treachery on Camoia" appears in this issue, along with yarns by E. Hoffmann Price, George Armin Shaftel, William O'Sullivan, and Alexander Blade his own self. (There's a part of me that wishes I had written something as "Alexander Blade".) SOUTH SEA STORIES lasted only a handful of issues, but it appears to have been pretty good reading.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, May 1935

Umm, I don't know about you, but that cover strikes me as a little . . . creepy. I'm not sure if it's the crazy eyes or the giant nostrils or the fact that those horses look rather carnivorous, but my first impulse would have been to run the other way. Inside, though, you've got stories by the well-regarded Dane Coolidge, the dependable Harry Sinclair Drago, and somebody named Anson Hard, whose real name was W.C. Harding. COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE was usually a pretty good pulp, but I think I might have left this one at the newsstand.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Forgotten Books: A Short Bier - Frank Kane

For my first Forgotten Book of the new year, we've got another old favorite author of mine whose work I've been reading since high school. Frank Kane has come in for a good deal of criticism over the years because of the formulaic nature of his books and his tendency to cannibalize his earlier work, but for some reason his private eye yarns nearly always resonate well with me. They're definitely literary comfort food.

A SHORT BIER is from 1960, a Dell paperback original with a cover by Harry Bennett, who did the covers for several of Kane's novels. Bennett is no Robert McGinnis, but I like his covers all right. They always seem to fit the subject matter well.

This case opens with the murder of a crusading newspaper reporter. In a nice twist, there's no real mystery about this killing. We know the murder is a mob hit, and we have a pretty good idea why the contract was carried out. A SHORT BIER becomes, instead, sort of a private eye procedural, as we watch Johnny Liddell unravel the plot behind the murder and discover who ordered the reporter killed. Later on there's another murder where the reader doesn't know who the killer is, and Kane handles that part of the plot expertly as well.

In between we get some nice scenes involving Liddell and his friend Jim Kiely, the editor of the newspaper the murdered man worked for, and Jim's beautiful, redheaded reporter daughter Muggsy, who happens to be Liddell's girlfriend. I've always liked Muggsy Kiely. She's almost as good a girlfriend/sidekick for Liddell as Lucy Hamilton is for Michael Shayne. Liddell also tangles with Las Vegas showgirls, Syndicate triggermen, Puerto Rican juvenile delinquents, prizefighters, stoolies, bartenders, and corrupt politicians. He smokes constantly and guzzles down bourbon while not walking along rainy streets in New York. This is a 1960 private eye novel, and don't you forget it.

I'm sure you can tell from that description whether this is the sort of book that would appeal to you. As for me, I raced through it and enjoyed every page. Johnny Liddell is my kind of private eye: smart, tough, a bit of a wise-ass, a little world-weary at times, and hell on killers. Good stuff, I say.