Friday, July 28, 2017

Forgotten Books: Children of the Sun - Edmond Hamilton

"Children of the Sun" is the second of the Captain Future novellas to appear in the pulp STARTLING STORIES (the May 1950 issue) after the character was on a long hiatus. In this one, Curt Newton, the adventurer/scientist known as Captain Future, and his three friends, brain-in-a-box Simon Wright, android Otho, and robot Grag, are searching for a fellow scientist who disappeared while doing research on Vulcan, a planetoid circling the Sun inside the orbit of Mercury.

Author Edmond Hamilton, with a likely assist from his wife Leigh Brackett, does a great job of world-building in this story. It seems from the context that Vulcan appeared in an earlier Captain Future yarn, but if that's the case I don't know which one. That background isn't necessary to enjoy this story, which does a perfectly fine job of getting the reader up to speed. Vulcan is an interesting world and seems at least sort of scientifically plausible. It's one of those inner worlds like Pellucidar and Skartaris and is inhabited by primitive descendants of colonists from the Old Empire, which collapsed millennia earlier, as well as the strange creatures known as Children of the Sun.

It's not really a spoiler to say that Captain Future and his friends find the scientist they're looking for, although how they go about it requires some heavy-duty suspension of disbelief. To be honest I kind of struggled with that, which is the main reason I didn't like this story as much as the previous one. But it's very well-written, has the same sort of epic scope to it despite the relatively short length, and once again uses a poignant, offbeat ending to great effect. This is intelligent, big-idea, well-written space opera, just the sort of science fiction I like.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Overlooked TV: The White Queen (2013)

I like a good historical costume drama, and while THE WHITE QUEEN, a BBC mini-series from 2013 that ran on the cable channel Starz in the U.S., isn’t quite a top-notch entry in that genre, it’s certainly watchable.

I imagine some of the people who watched this said, “Hey, what a rip-off! They just stole the plot from GAME OF THRONES. Lancasters and Yorks? Come on!” Yep, it’s the War of the Roses again, beginning in this version with King Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville that kicks off all sorts of intrigue and violence over the next twenty years, culminating with Henry Tudor’s defeat of Richard III to become King Henry VII. I’m no expert on British history, but I know just enough that I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen all the way through.

THE WHITE QUEEN, based on several novels by Philippa Gregory, indulges in a little historical speculation here and there, mostly about what really happened to the princes in the Tower of London. Many years ago, I read a mystery novel by Josephine Tey called THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, which features a British police inspector passing the time while he’s recuperating from an injury by trying to figure out what really happened to the princes. I remember thinking it was very good, and I ought to reread it one of these days. But to get back to THE WHITE QUEEN, I thought it did a reasonably good job of sticking to the history, but that may be because, like I said above, I’m no expert.

I didn’t recognize anybody in the cast except one of the villains, but they all do a pretty good job. There’s quite a bit of scenery-chewing, but it works in context. An apparently low budget kind of hurts this production, though. Whenever there’s a scene with the “armies” of the various contenders for the throne, the so-called army usually consists of maybe two dozen guys standing around. Then later, somebody will burst into a scene in some castle and exclaim, “There’s just been a huge battle! Their guys beat our guys!” Or vice versa. There are a couple of actual battle scenes, but they’re small-scale and not very well-staged, with a lot of that quick-cut editing to disguise the fact that there are only a couple dozen guys in the armies.

So why watch THE WHITE QUEEN? The history behind the story actually is pretty dramatic and interesting, and it’s very much a real-life soap opera. And there’s one aspect in which THE WHITE QUEEN maybe even outdoes GAME OF THRONES: gratuitous nudity. Lots and lots of gratuitious nudity. So if you watch it, you know what you’re getting into, as the actress said to the bishop.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, July 1952

I used to own a copy of this pulp many years ago, but I don't recall if I ever read it. I remember that cover by Walter Popp, though. My old editor and mentor Sam Merwin Jr. has a story in this issue, as does John Jakes. The other authors are E.K. Jarvis (a house name), William Morrison (who was really Joseph Samachson), and Ralph Sholto, about whom I know absolutely nothing. But it's an eye-catching cover and I always found FANTASTIC ADVENTURES to be fun.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, April 1933

You can't ask for much more out of a Western pulp than this issue of DIME WESTERN delivers. Start with a colorful, exciting cover by Walter Baumhofer and then add stories by Harry F. Olmsted, Walt Coburn, E.B. Mann, Gunnison Steele, John G. Pearsol, Miles Overholt, and more. And that's just a normal issue for this great pulp.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bonus Forgotten Heist Novella: We Are All Dead - Bruno Fischer

I read this novella, which originally appeared in the May 1955 issue of the legendary crime fiction digest MANHUNT, after I’d reread the L’Amour novel and written my post about it. But “We Are All Dead” is good enough and fits the day’s theme perfectly, so I decided I’d do a second post.

I haven’t read a lot of Bruno Fischer’s work, but what I have read has been very good. “We Are All Dead” is the story of a payroll robbery and what happens afterward. As if the title’s not enough to establish what’s coming, the first line gives you a pretty good idea that things aren’t going to work out well for the guys involved: The caper went off without a hitch except that Wally Garden got plugged.

But it’s getting to that noir ending that matters, and Fischer takes us on a harrowing, suspenseful, very well-written ride with plot twists galore. I have to admit, I saw the final big twist coming, but that didn’t detract any from my enjoyment of Fischer’s pure yarn-spinning ability. This story has been reprinted at least once, in THE NEW MAMMOTH BOOK OF PULP FICTION, and it’s also available as an e-book from Amazon. It’s well worth seeking out, and it’s also made me feel like I need to read something else by Fischer in the near future.

Forgotten Heist Novels: High Lonesome - Louis L'Amour

I first read this novel more than 35 years ago and remembered that I liked it quite a bit. It's also one of Louis L'Amour's novels that you don't hear much about, and a bank robbery is the driving factor in the plot, so it seemed like a good choice to reread for Forgotten Heist Novels Week.

After holding up a bank doesn't net them as much money as they expected, a gang consisting of four men decide to rob a bank in another town that's famous for never being held up successfully. The leader of the bunch is Considine; Dutch is the explosives expert; Hardy is a young gunman; and the Kiowa is a tracker, scout, and highly efficient killer. Considine has always avoided hitting this particular bank because it's in his hometown, and the local marshal is his former best friend who wound up marrying the girl they both loved.

HIGH LONESOME has the classic three-part heist novel setup: the planning, the job itself, the getaway and pursuit. Complications, as they always do, ensue. In this case the main complications are an old man and his beautiful daughter, who are being stalked by Apaches. Do the outlaws get away, or do they risk their freedom and their lives to help these pilgrims?

This novel held up very well on rereading. It's still my third favorite L'Amour novel after TO TAME A LAND and FLINT. I'm not as big a fan of L'Amour's work as many Western readers. His novels tend to have a repetitiveness and lack of attention to detail, and there's a little of that in HIGH LONESOME, but for the most part it's very tight and well-written. The second half of the book, following the bank robbery, is especially suspenseful and effective. There's one of those long, brutal fistfights you get sometimes in L'Amour books, and plenty of other action as well. When he was at the top of his game, L'Amour was very good indeed, and that's true in this novel. It works as both a crime novel and a Western, and I'm glad this week's theme on Forgotten Books gave me a good excuse to reread it. Recommended.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, June 18, 1919

Here we have another of those self-referential covers: an issue of ADVENTURE with a guy sitting in front of a fireplace reading . . . an issue of ADVENTURE. The art, which I think is pretty good, is by an artist I've never heard of: Hibberd V.B. Kline (the V.B. stands for Van Buren). Is the premise a little cute? Yeah, but I think it works okay here. Inside the issue, there's no question about the authors: W.C. Tuttle, Gordon Young, Talbot Mundy, Gordon MacCreagh, J. Allan Dunn, and S.B.H. Hurst. That's a really strong bunch of writers.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Peacemaker Award Submissions Now Open

Submissions for the 8th Annual WF Peacemaker Awards are now being accepted for works originally published in the year 2017. 


First time in print must be between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, no reprints or revisions.  Limit of 2 entries per category.

Books and short stories may be published in any country in the world (submissions must be in English) in print or electronic format. Electronic submissions must be made with Kindle/mobi or Word/text files. WF reserves the right to decline any submission for consideration of an Award.

Authors, agents, or publishers may submit a work for consideration of an Award.

At least three entrants in a category must be received during the submission period for an Award to be presented.

Novels and short stories must be set in the time period between 1830-1920 to be considered Westerns under WF guidelines. Time periods beyond the 1830-1920 traditional western focus may be included in submissions as long as the periods outside of the 1830-1920 span constitute no more than 50% of the story. At least 50% of the story MUST TAKE PLACE in the 1830-1920 period. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Nominees for the WF Peacemaker Award will be announced on 05/15/2018 and the winners will be announced on 06/15/2018.

The WF Peacemaker Award will be awarded in four categories:

Best Western Novel – Any novel published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 30,000 words and higher. There are no format requirements. The novel may be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook.

Best Western YA/Children Fiction– Any fiction written for ages 1-17 published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920). May be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook.

Best Western Short Fiction – Any short story, novelette, or novella published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 500 words to 29,999 words. There are no format requirements. The short story may be published in any publication, print or electronic.

Best Western First Novel – Must meet the same requirements as Best Novel, and must be the author’s first published Western novel. If the author has published novels in any other genre they will not disqualify the author from the Best Western First Novel Award competition. Submissions for Best Western First Novel may also be submitted in the Best Novel category in the same year. 


If sending print form, one copy of the work must be sent to each judge (3 per category), and the Awards Chair for a total of four, accompanied with the appropriate form. 

Electronic versions should be emailed to the Awards Chair, James Reasoner with the appropriate submission form. The electronic submissions will be distributed to the judges by the Awards Chair. All entries must be postmarked or received via email by midnight, CST, January 15, 2018. Judges should not be contacted by any entrant concerning their entry during the consideration period. Doing so may result in disqualification of eligibility for the WF Peacemaker Award. Works submitted will not be returned after the awards have been announced. There is no fee to enter. There will be no exceptions made to the submission procedures, for any reason. 

Links to forms to include are at the bottom of the list of judges. You will need 4 copies for each printed entry, one for each judge and one for the Awards Chair. 

Awards Chair: James Reasoner
P.O. Box 931
Azle, TX 76098-0931

The list of judges and appropriate submission forms can be found on the Western Fictioneers website.

Speaking as the awards chair, let me say that if you plan to submit a book or story and it's already out . . . go ahead and send it in! Spreading out the submissions rather than waiting for the last minute makes it much easier on the judges, and waiting doesn't increase your odds of winning.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrllling Western, February 1939

I don't know who the cover artist is on this issue of THRILLING WESTERN, but I think it's pretty good although I'm not that fond of extreme close-ups on pulp covers. I'm certainly fond of a couple of the authors in this issue, though: A. Leslie Scott, one of my favorites, writing as A. Leslie with a railroading yarn, a subject he handled very well, along with the always dependable Lee Bond. The other stories are by Sam Brant (a house-name, so who knows), Cibolo Ford (a name that sounds like a pseudonym, but I don't know if it was or not), Victor Kaufman (an author I know nothing about), and William S. Sullivan, whose story in this issue is his only credit in the Fictionmags Index. I'd read this issue anyway, if only for the Scott and Bond stories; if the others are any good, it would be a nice bonus.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Paradise That Time Forgot - John Peter Drummond

KI-GOR—AND THE PARADISE THAT TIME FORGOT, from the Fall 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, seems to mark the arrival of yet another new writer behind the John Peter Drummond house-name, especially during the first half of the novel, which is more low-key and realistic than the volumes that have come before. Ki-Gor and Helene come across an expedition led by three Americans: a brutal, alcoholic doctor; his meek, long-suffering wife; and an equally meek anthropologist who is the couple's friend. They're supposed to be in Africa to hunt gorillas, but really the wife and friend are trying to force the doctor to dry out from his booze binges. This domestic drama is a decidedly odd fit for a jungle adventure story.

Then part of the way through, everything lurches sideways and this becomes a lost race yarn, and one with a fairly interesting and plausible basis, too. Naturally, Ki-Gor, Helene, and the bickering Americans get trapped in the hidden valley where the lost race lives and wind up in danger. Then another abrupt shift in the plot and danger from another source rears its head. This story gets a little schizophrenic after a while.

There's no Tembo George, no Bantu tribesmen. Ki-Gor's sidekick is a pygmy named Ngeeso, and he's a pretty good character. Ki-Gor and Helene now live on an island in the middle of a river, something I don't remember from previous stories. But overall, KI-GOR—AND THE PARADISE THAT TIME FORGOT is well-written other than not being able to make up its mind what sort of story it's going to be. It has just enough going for it to be readable and entertaining, in a very minor way. At the very least, it's an improvement over the previous novel in the series.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Now Available: Blaze! Bad Medicine - Michael Newton

Arizona Territory is heating up—and Kate and J.D. Blaze are about to get burned! A fanatical Apache medicine man is determined to bring about all-out war between his people and the army, and he's doing it by slaughtering as many white settlers as he can find. Kate and J.D. are drawn into this dangerous situation when a woman and her children are kidnapped by the Apache raiders and intended for a gruesome sacrifice. The Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters will need all their cunning and deadly skill to bring the captives back alive and stop the medicine man's scheme to flood the desert with blood!

Legendary adventure writer Michael Newton is back with another gritty, fast-action novel filled with all the passion and excitement of the Old West.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Montana Territory (1952)

The first exchange of dialogue in this movie is between Jack Elam and Clayton Moore. That right there ought to be enough to tell you whether you'd want to watch it, even though to be honest, and to get this out of the way right from the start, it's not very good. This is another Western that I'd never heard of before watching it recently.

It's based on the real-life activities of Sheriff Henry Plummer, the notorious outlaw sheriff whose gang of thieves and cutthroats plagued the Montana gold fields, even while Plummer was pretending to be trying to catch them. In this version, Lon McCallister plays a young man who is duped by Plummer (played by an old, paunchy Preston Foster) into becoming a deputy without knowing that he's really working for the bad guys. Cute Wanda Hendrix, wearing tight jeans, toting a Winchester, and looking like she stepped right off a RANCH ROMANCES cover, plays the daughter of a stagecoach station owner who is an uneasy ally of the outlaws. Inevitably, as it did in history, a group of vigilantes is formed to go after the outlaws, and that sets the stage for the final confrontation.

To get the bad stuff out of the way first, Clayton Moore is badly miscast as Plummer's chief henchman. With a mustache and goatee, he looks great, but he should have been the hero of this movie. When that distinctive voice of his rolls out, there's no way I could believe he's evil, although Moore tries hard, I'll give him credit for that. Which brings us to the movie's biggest weakness, bland little Lon McCallister, who might have made a halfway decent Audie Murphy-type hero if the script had given him anything to work with. Instead, his character is the dumbest, most useless protagonist I think I've ever seen in a Western. Honestly, Don Knotts in THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST is more of a Western hero than McCallister.

On the plus side, there's plenty of action, including stagecoach chases, gunfights, and some decent stunt work. Wanda Hendrix looks good, Jack Elam has a fine time playing a club-footed, hatchet-wielding killer named Gimp, and Preston Foster seems to be channeling Roy Barcroft and Charles King in his performance as Henry Plummer.

If you want a much better fictionalization of this story, read Robert E. Howard's great short novel THE VULTURES OF WAHPETON. I can't really recommend MONTANA TERRITORY as a movie, but I'm glad I watched it, for whatever that's worth.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Detective Magazine, September 1933

Okay, now that's a creepy cover! It's by an artist I hadn't heard of named Victor Julius. I don't know if I would have bought that issue if I'd seen it staring out at me from the newsstand in 1933, but I would have noticed it, that's for sure. On the other hand, I might have bought it if I'd had an extra dime in my pocket, because inside are stories by Erle Stanley Gardner, E. Hoffmann Price, Arthur J. Burks, and Frederick C. Painton, all excellent writers. Don't know how well I would have slept that night, though, with that thing in the room with me.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Romantic Western, July 1938

ROMANTIC WESTERN was the Spicy imprint's answer to RANCH ROMANCES, I suppose, and it looks like it had some pretty good authors appearing in it. All the stories in this issue except one were published under pseudonyms: James P. Olsen writing as James A. Lawson, John A. Saxon writing as Rex Norman, Laurence Donovan writing as Larry Dunn, Robert Leslie Bellem writing as Jerome Severs Perry (a reprint of a story originally published in SPICY WESTERN under Bellem's name), and E. Hoffmann Price writing as John Prentice (Prentice being a house-name but this particular story is another reprint from SPICY WESTERN of a yarn published under the name Hamlin Daly, which was Price's exclusive pseudonym, as far as I know). Got all that? The only other story in the issue is by Jean Beaumont, who has only two credits in the Fictionmags Index, both from ROMANTIC WESTERN in 1938, so that may well be a pseudonym or house-name, too. That reprint information by the way, was compiled by the late Glenn Lord, who in addition to being the world's greatest Robert E. Howard fan also probably knew more about the Spicy pulps than just about anybody. I miss Glenn and am honored that I was able to call him a friend for a number of years. I think there's a lot of good reading in the Spicy pulps, and although I've never read an issue of ROMANTIC WESTERN, or even seen one, I'm sure I would enjoy it.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Forgotten Books: Hell's Recruit - Phil Richards

Phil Richards' second novel (or novella, to be more accurate) featuring Kid Calvert and the Calvert Horde is "Hell's Recruit", which appeared in the March 1935 issue of WESTERN ACES with the usual great cover by Rafael DeSoto. In this very fast-paced yarn, everybody is after the notorious bank robber Eagle Hawn: our band of noble owlhoots, the forces of the law led by Sheriff Terry Reynolds, and a gang of Mexican bandits ramrodded by the evil and mostly insane Blade Morales. The reason all these factions want to get hold of Eagle Hawn is because he's pulled off a series of robberies and has cached a fortune in stolen gold, but no one knows where it is except him. And while everybody is chasing after Hawn and his loot, Kid Calvert and Terry Reynolds once more have to deal with their doomed love affair—doomed because they're on opposite sides of the law and always will be.

If anything, this story is even more melodramatic and over-the-top than Richards' previous effort, "Horde of Hated Men". The breathless, breakneck action seldom slows down, and when it does, there's enough angst to fill up two or three normal Western pulps. This oddball blend of shoot-em-up and soap opera works better than it has any right to and really kept me flipping the pages (well, digital pages, since I'm reading the ebook edition of THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF KID CALVERT). However, modern readers should be aware that "Hell's Recruit" is about as politically incorrect as it can get. This doesn't bother me, since I know when it was written and published, but it might some people. It also has a fairly large hole in the plot involving the hidden gold, and I would have sworn that Terry Reynolds was a brunette in the first two stories, not a blonde as she is here.

But despite all that, I had a heck of a good time reading "Hell's Recruit". I really like the Kid and his band of heroic outlaws. There are two more novellas in their saga, and I'm eager to read them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Ambush at Tomahawk Gap (1953)

Not only had I never seen this Western movie, I don't think I'd ever even heard of it until we watched it recently. It's certainly a little unusual for the time period in that there are no real "good guys". Four ex-cons are released from Yuma Prison and go after the loot from a hold-up that was hidden before they went to prison. The twist is that one of them (played by John Hodiak) wasn't even part of the robbery. He was just an innocent cowboy swept up by the posse when the others were captured. The actual fourth man who was in on the job got away, and the others are supposed to meet him and claim their shares of the loot. Hodiak wants a share, too, because he did the time even though he didn't do the crime.

But the fourth man is dead, and nobody knows where the money is, except that it's supposed to be hidden in the town of Tomahawk Gap, and there are Apaches on the war path, and when they get to Tomahawk Gap it's a ghost town, deserted except for a crazy old geezer who's taking care of the graveyard, and they also have a girl on their hands, a Navajo prisoner they rescued from the Apaches, and it's a question of whether they'll all kill each other before they find the loot or will the Apaches get them?

That's a long sentence, but that's the way the plot tumbles out in this movie, not always making complete sense but never slowing down, either. In addition to Hodiak, the guys after the money are David Brian (a suitably despicable villain), veteran character actor Ray Teal, and an incredibly young John Derek. The crazy old geezer is played by another great character actor, John Qualen (with no Swedish accent this time), and yet another great character actor, Percy Helton, has a small part early on. This is a good cast, and the production values are high for the most part. Lots of good stunt work during the Indian battles. The fistfights are embarrassingly bad, though, with the actors clearly missing each other by a foot or more.

This could have easily been one of those hardboiled Western novels published by Gold Medal in the Fifties, by Lewis B. Patten or William Heuman or Harry Whittington. The bleak tone it achieves works really well. I'm not sure why I never ran across AMBUSH AT TOMAHAWK GAP before, but I'm glad I watched it now.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, Summer 1941

That's kind of a busy cover on this issue of PLANET STORIES, but the art is by Virgil Finlay, so I'm not complaining. There's a really strong line-up of authors inside, too, including Leigh Brackett, Raymond Z. Gallun, Nelson S. Bond, Ross Rocklynne, Ray Cummings, Henry Hasse, and Frederic A. Kummer, Jr. PLANET STORIES was always fun.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, First May Number, 1952

I really like the Fifties issues of RANCH ROMANCES. Generally great covers, of which this is another one, and top-notch authors. This issue includes stories by Frank C. Robertson, Joseph Chadwick, S. Omar Barker, Bryce Walton, Chandler Whipple, and Cy Kees.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Forgotten Books: Kothar--Barbarian Swordsman - Gardner F. Fox

I must have read hundreds of comic books written by Gardner Fox when I was growing up, but at that time I had no idea he was also a novelist. The only books by him that I read were his sexy spy novels in the Lady From L.U.S.T. series, which he wrote as Rod Gray. I figured Rod Gray was a real guy and never dreamed he was the same person writing all those issues of THE FLASH and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA I read. Anyway, I've since learned that Fox was a prolific paperbacker and wrote quite a bit of science fiction and fantasy under his own name, including a couple of sword and sorcery series. I've seen these books around for years and finally read one of them, KOTHAR: BARBARIAN SWORDSMAN, the first book in the Kothar series.

Kothar is a mercenary swordsman from the northern land of Cumberia (any resemblance to Cimmeria is totally coincidental, I'm sure), although he wasn't born there. He was found as an infant in a boat that washed up in a bay, and his true origins are unknown, at least when this book opens. Maybe his history will be revealed later on. This volume consists of three related novellas, which as far as I can tell were written for it, instead of being published elsewhere and then collected here.

In the first story, "The Sword of the Sorcerer", Kothar is working as a captain of foreign mercenaries in the land of Commoral, which is engaged in a civil war between the witch Red Lori, who has claimed the throne through sorcerous means, and Elfa, the rightful queen. Both women, of course, are breathtaking beautiful. After a battle against Lori's forces in which he's the only survivor, Kothar stumbles over the crypt of an ancient wizard who gives him a magic sword and commands him to help Queen Elfa regain the throne. The only catch is that whoever possesses the enchanted blade Frostfire can't own anything else valuable, which amounts of a vow of poverty. With that in mind, off Kothar goes to battle a sea monster, rescue another wizard who's on Elfa's side, and hack and slash with a bunch of Red Lori's soldiers before finally battling the witch in a final showdown. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to reveal that Kothar wins and Elfa's kingdom is restored to her.

The second story, "The Treasure in the Labyrinth", finds Kothar being hired by a wealthy merchant to penetrate to the center of a labyrinth filled with deadly traps and steal the treasure that's supposed to be hidden there. No one knows what that treasure is, but everyone believes it's something immensely valuable. Kothar, naturally enough, battles his way to the center of the labyrinth, taking on several different supernatural menaces including a giant spider, rescues a beautiful girl, and eventually recovers the treasure. There's a twist, of course, but it's not too obvious and turns out to be fairly satisfying. Even more than the first story, this one shows a lot of Robert E. Howard influence.

"The Woman in the Witch-Wood" is the Lady Alaine, a sorceress who's been trapped there by an evil warlock who has taken over her castle. When Kothar meets her, of course he agrees to defeat the warlock and lift the spell holding Alaine in the evil woods. This leads to Kothar battling all sorts of mystical dangers that the warlock throws at him, then squaring off against the wizard himself. This final story in the book has a very nice twist at the end that I didn't see coming.

Kothar makes one big mistake in this book: he leaves Red Lori alive, and although she doesn't really play a part in the other stories, I have a hunch she'll show up again in later books in the series to cause more trouble for Kothar.

So what did I think of KOTHAR: BARBARIAN SWORDSMAN? Well, starting out, it struck me as generic, derivative, and downright silly. And really . . . it is. But somehow Fox won me over. His writing is vivid and fast-paced and has plenty of action, as well as being appropriately creepy when it needs to be. And the plots, while very typical of the genre, take an interesting turn here and there. Plus Kothar is a likable protagonist, not the smartest guy around but not exactly dumb, either, and certainly stalwart when it comes to battling evil. Novellas like these are the perfect antidote to the enormous doorstopper endless series that have come to dominate heroic fantasy. I had a lot of fun reading this book. I have the other four books in the series and suspect that I'll get around to them, too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Stiletto #2: The Fairmont Maneuver - Brian Drake

CIA agent Scott Stiletto is back in Brian Drake’s latest novel THE FAIRMONT MANEUVER, and as usual, it’s a fast-paced espionage thriller with plenty of action. In this one, Scott rescues a Swiss scientist who’s being blackmailed by the Iranians into building triggers for nuclear bombs. That’s just the beginning, though, as Scott then answers a call for help from an ex-CIA colleague and former lover whose father has been murdered by mobsters trying to pressure her into selling her fashion design business. Why would mobsters want to take over a fashion design business, you ask? Well, in a clever plot twist from Drake, the reason doesn’t turn out to be what you’d expect.

I’m really enjoying this series for a couple of reasons. There’s a lot of all-out action, and Drake is very good at writing it in a style reminiscent of the classic men’s adventure novels. Also, Scott Stiletto is a very likable protagonist, human but not weighed down with angst or some cliched back-story. He’s one of the good guys and is very competent at what he does. Nor does Drake burden the tale he wants to tell with page after page of padding, as so many bloated contemporary thrillers do. THE FAIRMONT MANEUVER is lean and swift and very enjoyable.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 30, 1940

ARGOSY was still a full-fledged pulp in 1940, as you can probably tell by this octopus-fighting cover by Rudolph Belarski. Despite Foster-Harris's name being on the cover, he's not listed in the contents for this issue in the Fictionmags Index. However, there are stories by Donald Barr Chidsey, Johnston McCulley, Borden Chase, Robert Arthur, Jack Byrne, Kenneth Perkins, and David V. Reed, so that's no shortage of good authors.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, November 18, 1933

That's an action-packed cover by Walter Baumhofer on this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY, and the line-up of authors and stories inside is great: a Johnny Forty-Five story by Paul S. Powers writing as Andrew A. Griffin, a Border Eagle story by Walker A. Tompkins writing as Philip F. Deere, a Hungry and Rusty story by Samuel H. Nickels, a Shorty Master story by Allan R. Bosworth, and non-series yarns by William F. Bragg, Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, and Cliff Farrell writing as Nelse Anderson. Pretty entertaining from cover to cover, I expect.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Forgotten Books: Avalon - Francis Stevens

Avalon is a family name in this long-forgotten pulp novel, not a place. Originally serialized in ARGOSY in September and October of 1919, it takes place on a group of isolated islands off the coast of South Carolina. In pre-Revolutionary times, these islands were granted by the King of England to the Avalon family, who still rule them as a sort of feudal fiefdom despite the presence of a few modern items such as automobiles, gasoline launches, and wireless communication with the mainland.

The current master of Five Isles is Florence “Flurry” Avalon, who is a rugged male despite his feminine name. Avalon is seldom in residence there since he also runs a coffee plantation in South America, but his sister and younger brother live in Cliff House, the ancestral family residence which serves as this novel’s version of The Old Dark House . . . because that’s the kind of story this is, filled with secret passages, villainous Spaniards, shipwrecked survivors, mobs of torch-bearing villagers, unexpected shots in the night, and love at first sight between Avalon and one of the passengers from the wrecked schooner who show up at Cliff House.

The author of AVALON is Francis Stevens (the pseudonym of Gertrude Bennett), who also wrote some early weird thrillers such as THE LABYRINTH and THE CITADEL OF FEAR. I’ve read THE LABYRINTH and thought it was okay up to a point. AVALON lacks as many weird elements, but its plot holds together better and overall I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, it’s melodramatic, and its style is so old-fashioned that it might be off-putting to most modern readers. But if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind, the story moves along at a good clip and some of the writing holds up well. It’s available in a reprint edition from Beb Books, and if you enjoy early pulp thrillers, you might want to give it a try.

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on May 11, 2008.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Bad Medicine - Michael Newton

Arizona Territory is heating up—and Kate and J.D. Blaze are about to get burned! A fanatical Apache medicine man is determined to bring about all-out war between his people and the army, and he's doing it by slaughtering as many white settlers as he can find. Kate and J.D. are drawn into his dangerous situation when a woman and her children are kidnapped by the Apache raiders and intended for a gruesome sacrifice. The Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters will need all their cunning and deadly skill to bring the captives back alive and stop the medicine man's scheme to flood the desert with blood!

Legendary adventure writer Michael Newton is back with another gritty, fast-action novel filled with all the passion and excitement of the Old West.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Victory - Two Steps From Hell

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Lies and Alibis (2006)

I'd never heard of this movie, but hey, it's got Sam Elliott (quite possibly my favorite living actor) and Rebecca Romijn in it, so why not watch it? And as it turns out, LIES AND ALIBIS is a pretty entertaining, if hard to follow, little thriller.

British comedian Steve Coogan plays a guy whose business provides alibis for cheating spouses to help them get away with their affairs. Romijn, in an underwritten role, works for him. In a fairly predictable plot twist, one of their clients winds up killing somebody and wants Coogan to help him cover up the crime. As if that's not enough of a problem, Coogan is a former con man whose partner has a five million dollar bounty on his head from a Saudi prince they scammed. So people are after Coogan trying to get him to reveal where said partner is. There's also a hitman stalking him. Sam Elliott plays another hitman, this one known as the Mormon because he's, well, a Mormon. Selma Blair is one of his wives. James Brolin is a rich guy who can't be trusted. Lots of stuff happens, much of it not making any sense at the time, but it finally all comes together okay, if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth right.

LIES AND ALIBIS was written by Noah Hawley, who now writes FARGO. We've seen the first two seasons of that series, and when I told Livia that this movie was written by the same guy, she said, "I can see that." Quirky but entertaining dialogue, unlikable characters that you somehow like anyway, and lots of plot twists. I enjoyed it . . . but I think Rebecca Romijn is really good-looking and I can listen to Sam Elliott talk all day, no matter what he's talking about, so if you don't feel that way, you may not enjoy this movie as much as I did. I had a good time watching it and didn't fall asleep, which is my equivalent of the old "two thumbs up" bit, for those of you old enough to remember that.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Science Fiction Quarterly, February 1957

Ed Emshwiller is one of the classic science fiction cover artists, and this is a pretty good one. This issue of SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY has a good line-up of well-regarded authors inside, too: Frederik Pohl, Philip K. Dick, Wallace West, Randall Garrett, and Margaret St. Clair. I don't know anything about D.A. Jourdan, who wrote the other story featured on the cover.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: On and On - Stephen Bishop

I admit, when I think of Stephen Bishop the first thing that comes to mind is his scene with John Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE, but this is still a pretty song and I like it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, April 1958

This digest issue of FAMOUS WESTERN has a Norman Saunders cover, although that doesn't really jump out at me as Saunders' work. The biggest names among the contributors, at least as far as Western pulpsters are concerned, are Roe Richmond and Wade Hamilton, who was really Lee Floren. The lead novel is by E.E. Clement, a pseudonym for editor Robert A.W. Lowndes. The other novel is by Jim Mac Collister, his only credit in the Fictionmags Index. I have to wonder if he was Lowndes, too. And then there's a story by an author who probably wasn't well-known at all to Western readers of the day: Harlan Ellison. I don't know if "The End of the Time of Leinard" is his only Western, but it's a pretty good one, as I recall. It was reprinted in the anthology WESTERYEAR, edited by Ed Gorman.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Suavecito - Malo

Another song from the Seventies that I always liked.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Books: Latigo - Frank O'Rourke

Frank O'Rourke is one of those authors whose books I've seen around forever, but I've never read much by him. Three books, actually, WARBONNET LAW and GUN HAND, a pair of Westerns I thought were okay, and HIGH DIVE, a hardboiled mystery I didn't care for. LATIGO, my third Frank O'Rourke novel, is sort of a cross between those two genres. It takes place in a small town on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory, 1875, and involves three crooks—one local and two outsiders—who are plotting together to stage a phony bank robbery. They're also scheming to double-cross each other the first chance they get. But things go awry, as they always seem to in books like this, and a woman gets involved, and then more complications ensue and nobody can be trusted.

Something seemed very familiar to me as I was reading this book, and after a while I realized what it was. With its complex and unsympathetic but human characters, the melancholy noirish tone that dominates the book, and the lack of the genre's usual trappings, LATIGO reminded me very much of an Ed Gorman Western. O'Rourke's prose doesn't have the elegance of Gorman's, nor are his characters as compelling, but LATIGO is certainly in the same neighborhood. It's not really a likable book, but it's well written and definitely suspenseful. My biggest complaint is the title, which has nothing to do with the book and seems slapped on just to make it sound more like a traditional Western, which it really isn't. It's a good book, though, and worth reading, although I suspect that O'Rourke will never be one of my favorites.

(That's the 1956 Bantam paperback above, the original 1953 Random House hardback below, both scans from the Internet. I own and read the hardback but don't have scanning capability at the moment.)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Western Fictioneers Announces the 7th Annual Peacemaker Award Winners

Has it been seven years already? The winners of the 7th annual Peacemaker Awards, honoring the best in Western fiction from 2016, have been announced and you can read all about it right here. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists! In the spirit of full disclosure, one of the finalists for Best Novel was my Outlaw Ranger yarn, GUN DEVILS OF THE RIO GRANDE, and it's an honor indeed to be nominated.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Savage Scrolls: Scholarship From the Hyborian Age, Volume One - Fred Blosser

Back in the Seventies, when I was reading Marvel's black-and-white magazine THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN and the color CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic book, I always enjoyed Fred Blosser's articles and essays about various aspects of Robert E. Howard's life and work. These pieces popped up from time to time and were favorites of mine. I had no idea who Fred Blosser was, but the guy knew his stuff.

Well, forty years or so have passed and Fred Blosser is a friend of mine and also a top-notch novelist I've been pleased to publish, and when it comes to Robert E. Howard . . . the guy still knows his stuff.

SAVAGE SCROLLS: SCHOLARSHIP FROM THE HYBORIAN AGE, VOLUME ONE features revised and expanded versions of some of those essays from the Seventies, along with a great deal of new material. In an earlier book, Blosser tackled REH's Lovecraftian fiction. About half of this one is devoted to Howard's best-known creation, Conan the Cimmerian, and the Hyborian Age in which he lives. It's an in-depth look at the characters and settings to be found in the stories, and if you want to know anything about Hyborian geography, weapons, government and legal systems, flora and fauna, etc., it's here, presented in a lively, informative, and entertaining style.

The rest of this volume takes the same approach to Howard's other series characters and his ventures into genres other than sword-and-sorcery. Blosser doesn't cover Howard's comedy Westerns, his boxing stories, and most of his horror stories. I assume they'll be the subjects of future volumes.

This is a wonderful book, very enjoyable, and the only bad part about it is that it makes me want to reread a bunch of Robert E. Howard stories. Of course, now that I think about it, maybe that's not such a bad thing . . . 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Stalking Moon (1968)

THE STALKING MOON is another Western that somehow I never watched until now. Based on a novel by T.V. Olsen, it's the story of Sam Varner (Gregory Peck), a civilian scout for the Army, who on his last mission before retiring finds a white woman (Eva Marie Saint) who's been a captive of the Apaches for the past ten years. She has her young son with her, and she wants Varner to help her and the boy get back to Ohio where she had family. Against his better judgment, Varner agrees.

What he doesn't know is that the boy's father is some ninja-like super-Apache who slaughters a bunch of people (off-screen) while tracking Varner, the woman, and the boy across Arizona and New Mexico Territories before finally catching up to them on the ranch Varner had intended to be his retirement home.

Quite a few people seem to like this movie a lot, but I'm afraid my verdict is decidedly mixed. The acting is good all around (Robert Forster, who I've always liked, plays a young scout), the production values are good, and the action scenes, when they finally arrive, are well-staged and effective. But man, this is an hour's worth of movie in two hours of running time. For most of the way the pace is beyond leisurely, especially considering that there's not a plot twist to be found anywhere. I don't want to seem too harsh--I'm glad I finally saw this--but I found it to be pretty much of a disappointment. I haven't read Olsen's novel, but I have to wonder if the story worked better as a book.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Coming Soon: Girl in a Big Brass Bed/The Spy Who Was 3 Feet Tall/Code Name Gadget - Peter Rabe

Lobbe wants his painting back. Goering confiscated it when the Nazis raided Rotterdam. But now, years later, it has been located, and the German government wants to return it. So Lobbe sends his assistant Manny deWitt to Munich to fetch it. The painting is Vermeer's Apple Girl, Lobbe's prized possession. The mission seems easy enough. But as deWitt soon discovers, those who have the misfortune to come in contact with the elusive Vermeer seem to experience an early and unpleasant death. The sooner he gets the painting and gets out, the better. If only it were that simple.

This time Lobbe sends Manny to a recently emerged African nation called Motana. It's deWitt s job to negotiate the contract to build a road through the country. As usual, Lobbe doesn't muddy the waters with too much information for deWitt. But this time, everyone seems to be up on the project but him. Yum Lee, the Chinese emissary who also wants the contract, is one step ahead of him. Inge, Lobbe's delightful niece, is strictly undercover. And then there's his ubiquitous taxi driver, Baby, who is much more (or less) than what he seems. Just what the hell is so important about this road anyway?

As gadgets go, it was supposedly a fairly large one, large enough to fill a medium-sized factory. Manny's mission is to buy it for his boss Lobbe before the competition beats him to it. The mission takes him to England under the eccentric guidance of a pilot named Max Garten, and into the unexpected arms of Meghan Bushmill. Together, the three of them form a kind of team as they try to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and if it even makes any difference anymore. Because whoever has the gadget can destroy the world, and even Lobbe may not be able to buy his way out of that one.

I had copies of all these books in their original editions back in my younger days and never got around to reading any of them. (Sadly, an all too common occurrence where me and books are concerned.) Now I can remedy that because Stark House is reprinting them in one big volume with a great introduction by Rick Ollerman. I'm really looking forward to these.

Bloody Arizona #3: Chiricahua Blues - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

Half-breed lawman Yakima Henry and the rest of his friends and enemies in the town of Apache Springs are back in CHIRICAHUA BLUES, the third book of Peter Brandvold's epic four-part series BLOODY ARIZONA. In this novel, Brandvold (writing under his familiar pen-name Frank Leslie) follows two storylines. In Apache Springs, Marshal Yakima Henry deals with the arrival of the long-awaited spur railroad line, as well a new threat to the mysterious old Spanish mission filled with gold that's played a part in the previous books. At the same time, Yakima's deputy, the reformed outlaw known as the Rio Grande Kid, is trying to deliver a prisoner by stagecoach, only to have the coach attacked and pursued by vengeful Apaches out to kill the Kid's prisoner and anybody who gets in their way.

As always in Brandvold's work, action abounds, and nobody in the business today writes better action. Also, Yakima and the Kid are both very likable characters, and the on-going romantic triangle involving Yakima and the Kosgrove sisters, Julia and Emma, is as intriguing as ever. These are great stories told in a distinctive voice, and I really enjoy them. CHIRICAHUA BLUES gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, January 1936

This isn't a great machine gun cover, but it's a good one. And the authors in this issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES are mighty good: Hugh B. Cave, Leslie T. White, George Fielding Eliot, Oscar Schisgall, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), and house-name Jackson Cole.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, July 1940

I don't know about you, but I want to read the story that cover illustrates. It looks great! The line-up of authors in this issue of STAR WESTERN isn't as strong as some but still pretty good. Inside are stories by Harry F. Olmsted, W. Ryerson Johnson (billed on the cover as William Ryerson Johnson, which I don't recall seeing before), Stone Cody (Thomas Mount), John G. Pearsol, Dee Linford, Charles W. Tyler, and Kenneth Fowler. Great cover, good authors, and over-the-top story titles . . . Yep, that's a Popular Publications Western pulp.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Rebel Rouser - Duane Eddy

Another song from my childhood. It annoys me that they've got Duane Eddy's name switched around at the beginning of this clip, but that doesn't affect the music.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Forgotten Books: Lust Shop - John Dexter

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 15, 2009.)

LUST SHOP is narrated by Pete Ritchie, who lives in a suburb of Los Angeles and owns a garage specializing in repairing foreign cars. Pete is a young, virile guy, of course, who enjoys romancing the rich, beautiful married women who bring in their foreign sports cars for him to work on, hence the title. To his surprise, Pete gets really hung up on one of his customers, a gorgeous blonde named Chris. She won’t have anything to do with him, though, until he agrees to handle a little problem for her. It seems that she’s being blackmailed . . .

Well, you know as well as I do that this is a set-up for a Gold Medal novel. However, since this isn’t a Gold Medal novel but rather an Evening Reader, Pete doesn’t jump right away at the chance to get involved in Chris’s troubles. Instead he tries to distract himself by bedding various other women in a series of scenes that seem like nothing more than padding at first. In a nice twist, though, later on they actually turn out to be connected to the main plot. When Pete finally does decide to try to get the blackmailer off of Chris’s back, you know things won’t turn out the way he wants them to. They’re just going to get worse. Again, this isn’t a Gold Medal, so even though you’d have to call it a hardboiled crime novel, the plot doesn’t play out exactly like you might expect if it was written by Charles Williams or Gil Brewer.

The thing about books published under the “John Dexter” house-name is that you never know what you’re going to get. I’m reasonably certain that this book isn’t by Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, or Donald E. Westlake. All the Harry Whittington novels published under the John Dexter name have been identified, and anyway, LUST SHOP doesn’t read anything like Whittington’s work. The breezy, wise-cracking style reminds me a little of the Clyde Allison books by William Knoles, but this doesn’t seem like a Knoles plot to me. Which means the actual author is probably one of the half-dozen or so other writers who turned out books for William Hamling’s sleaze publishing empire. I have no real idea which one it might have been.

LUST SHOP certainly isn’t some sort of lost classic, but it is a fast-paced, fairly entertaining yarn with a couple of decent plot twists and the occasional nice line. If you like this sort of book – and obviously I do – it’s worth reading if you come across a copy. I recently picked up a nice stack of coverless John Dexter books (including a couple of Whittingtons), so you can expect to be reading about more of them here on the blog.

(Yeah, well, I'm still working on that . . . There was no cover scan in the original version of this post because my copy is coverless and I couldn't find one on-line back in '09. But the one above comes from the great Vintage Greenleaf Classics website, which you have to check out if you have any interest in these books at all.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Now Available: Summer Issue of Lowestoft Chronicle

Check out the latest issue of Lowestoft Chronicle, the free online magazine featuring fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews.

This summer at Lowestoft Chronicle:
On a summer vacation to Jersey Shore a restless seven-year-old awaits his first encounter with a hot new arcade game. In Japan, a longtime expatriate relates his many peculiar taxicab experiences. And in Thailand, a rough journey by ferry turns into a chaotic roller coaster ride of misery and despair for returning partygoers.

Laden with insightful and highly entertaining poetry and prose, we proudly present Issue #30, featuring the work of AN Block, Charles G Chettiar, Mary Donaldson-Evans, Brennen Fahy, Lou Gaglia, Elliot Greiner, Jill Hawkins, Anthony Head, Todd McKie, Frank Morelli, James B. Nicola, and Saundra Norton.

Now Available: The Digest Enthusiast, Book Six

It's always a good day when the latest issue of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST arrives. This one starts off with a fine barbarian cover by Brian Bruniak. Some of the highlights inside are interviews with science fiction writer Edd Vick and mystery writer B.K. Stevens, articles on everything from a book authored by Bob Hope and his team of comedy writers to Brian Aldiss's series of "Hothouse" stories that originally appeared in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and reviews of WEIRDBOOK #34 and an SF magazine I don't remember ever seeing, INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION. The highlight of the issue for me, though, is Peter Enfantino's in-depth review of the first four issues of the iconic crime fiction digest MANHUNT. I don't agree with all of his opinions, mind you, but there's still a lot of great information to be found here and I love the way Enfantino writes about such things. As always, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST gets a high recommendation from me.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Telstar - The Tornadoes

One of the songs of my childhood.