Saturday, November 26, 2011

Imagination Science Fiction Magazine October 1957

Here’s a fun blast from the past, the October 1957 issue of Imagination science fiction magazine, published during that bygone era when readers bought magazines because the covers were simply too cool to turn down. Quite often the interior stories failed to realize the creative imagery found on the covers, but readers seldom complained. This issue is actually quite good, coming as it did at the tail end of the pulp era. And pulp is the key word here. The cover story, You Can’t Buy Eternity by Dwight V. Swain, even features chapter titles such as “Hunt the Man Down,” “Smell of Death” and best of all “Write it in Blood!” This is a pulp action story all the way. The second story, John Holder’s Weapon by Robert Moore Williams, is a futuristic thriller pitting the protagonist against communists; The Mannion Court-Martial by Randall Garrett involves a space officer charged with leading an android rebellion (but did he?); The Overlord of Colony Eight by Robert Silverberg, who was a regular contributor to Imagination, is a bon-bon among cashews, as is The Ambassador’s Pet by Alexander Blade (a house pseudonym). Barnstormer by Tom W. Harris, is the final story and the weakest. In the back pages editor Henry Bott reviews Robert A. Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, and Robert Bloch meanders through several pages of meaningless commentary in his regular feature “Fandora’s Box” which waxes less than eloquently on the state of science fiction fandom. Overall a minor issue but You Can’t Buy Eternity by Dwight V. Swain was pure pulp fun. And in addition to the cartoon reproduced here, you’ve gotta love the cover.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dark Beasts by Frank Belknap Long

For this month’s retro paperback review I grabbed The Dark Beasts by Frank Belknap Long from my bookshelf...

Frank Belknap Long (1901 - 1994) isn’t quite as well known as his contemporaries – H.P. Lovecraft and Clarke Ashton Smith – but his stories are worth checking out. The Dark Beasts is a 1964 paperback from Belmont Books that includes nine of the stories that appeared in Long’s acknowledged classic collection The Hounds of Tindalos. Of these nine I think the best known are “The Ocean Leech” and “The Flame Midget.” Long’s stories are sometimes derivative of other writers from the golden age of pulps. For example, I could easily detect the influence of William Hope Hodgson and John Collier in several passages. Such an influence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Long’s stories often fall into the category of short-shorts (six to ten pages) but never give the impression of having been rushed. Throughout his career Long produced entertaining tales of the weird and fantastic and interested readers are encouraged to hunt down this paperback if you’re interested in introducing yourself to the weird and wondrous world of Frank Belknap Long. The nine stories included here are: “The Dark Beasts,” “The Ocean Leech,” “The Flame Midget,” “A Stitch in Time,” “Death Waters,” “Step Into My Garden,” “It Will Come to You,” “The Census Takers” and “The Refugees.”
Frank Belknap Long

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trail of the Snake by Norvell Page

Here’s yet another outstanding collection from Black Dog Books. The legendary Norvell Page, best known as the scribe of The Spider, also wrote westerns. His output in the pulp western genre was modest compared to others, but the five stories collected here are action packed tales in the grand tradition of the pulps. Page’s westerns offer the requisite imagery: “The crash of the six-guns swelled the walls, let them clap back together again. The invader’s arm flew in a wide circle. His six-shooter slammed into the wall. The impetus of that bullet-driven arm hurled the man to his knees. Cougar Charlie held his gun poised – and saw that the man he had wounded was his enemy, Flash Burden! He laughed harshly.” (p. 42, from Brand of the Cougar, from 1935). The earliest story, Coralled, collected here dates from 1930. Also included are Trail of the Snake (1935), Secret Guns (1936), and Hell’s Backtrail (1935). Page’s westerns come across as derivative of Zane Grey and Max Brand which wasn’t all that unusual for the period. Zane Grey set a high standard for westerns and Max Brand was, at best, an emulator of Grey’s style. Still, Page does well with his westerns although having read his crime stories it’s obvious this was a genre that he wasn’t completely comfortable with. I enjoyed Trail of the Snake and recommend it for fans of classic pulp westerns. The brief bio on Page by Tom Roberts along with the introduction by Bill Crider are well written and informative.

You can visit Black Dog Books HERE!

Shadows From Boot Hill by L. Ron Hubbard

It’s refreshing to see such noted writers as James Reasoner and Will Murray make public statements acknowledging L. Ron Hubbard’s talent as a pulp writer. I began reading and writing the occasional review of this historic reprint series from Galaxy Press commencing in 2008. Incidentally, my reviews have nothing to do with religion but rather stem from a love of reading and an abiding interest in the pulp era.

Originally published in a 1940 issue of Wild West Weekly, Shadows From Boot Hill was Hubbard’s only western with supernatural elements. That he added a supernatural slant to the story isn’t unusual because by 1940 had had begun writing fantasy and science fiction steadily, but adding such an element to a western was a first. The genre we now refer to as “The Weird Western” had yet to be invented. Shadows From Boot Hill must certainly qualify as among the first weird westerns. The plot is straightforward but far from typical: When the murderer Brazos encounters a witch doctor he soon thereafter discovers he has two shadows. Brazos gets involved with additional mayhem in addition to extracting gold from an oxide ore. The story breaks from tradition with its lack of redeeming characters. There are no heroes in Shadows From Boot Hill but in the end, of course, justice of a type is served. Told in four brisk chapters, Shadows From Boot Hill is a typically action-packed piece of pulp fiction. I was surprised that Hubbard chose to make it a character study of an outlaw who gets what he deserves in the end. This is a tight, fun story to read. Its unique plot twists make it a special story among connoisseurs of pulp fiction. This volume also features the western stories The Gunner From Gehenna and Gunman! Both are from the golden age of pulp western fiction and feature Hubbard’s trademark action and pacing.