Monday, December 30, 2013

The Wood by Guy N. Smith

There are horror writers who take themselves oh so seriously, and then there are horror writers who crank out the pages with the intensity of a pulp writer, and have fun doing it. Guy N. Smith falls into the latter category, and that’s why he is so enjoyable to read. Smith knows what his readers want, and he gives it to them in proper dosages. His novels are not overlong but they are heavy with action, mood, thrills, plot twists and energy. They are also chilling. The Wood is a 1985 scream-fest that is wickedly fun to read. This one gets off to a fast start: During World War II Bertie Hass, a Luftwaffe pilot, parachutes from his crippled airplane over England and lands in a place called Droy Wood. He doesn’t know it, but he’ll never see Germany again. Droy Wood is haunted, and Hass becomes part of an ancient and sinister tableau. Cut to modern times: Carol Embleton is pissed at her boyfriend, Andy Dark, and walks home from the discotheque, passing perilously close to Droy Wood. Carol accepts a ride from a stranger as she passes Droy Wood, and suddenly she’s been stripped naked and raped. Fearing for her life, she runs naked into Droy Wood, pursued by James Foster, the rapist. Later Andy and the police organize a search party and everyone slips into Droy Wood looking for Carol, who remains naked, frightened but most decidedly not alone. In addition to Bertie Hass, there are strange creatures in the cold bog and an ancient army preparing for battle. Droy Wood is one spooky damn place. There are multiple characters in this book, and many of them come to a gruesome end. Guy N. Smith lives in England and has published dozens of books, all of them good. The Wood is a typical example of his work, and I mean that in a positive way. I much prefer Smith over certain horror writers who write thousand page tomes that are ultimately unreadable. Smith provides horror in just the right percentages. Watch this blog for additional reviews of Guy N. Smith’s books in the near future.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cult of the Witch Queen by Richard S. Shaver

Richard S. Shaver was never a great writer, but there is enough entertaining nonsense in his pulp fiction to make his stories interesting. Some of his stories are better than others, but more often the plots and ideas he presented were far more interesting than the stories themselves. It was as if his talent couldn’t rise to the occasion of his ideas. Still, he is entertaining, and there is a lingering interest in his work. Shaver is best known because “The Shaver Mystery,” a series of science fiction tales published in Amazing Stories in the late 1940s. Shaver claimed his stories were autobiographical and that an advanced civilization lived in large caverns deep below the earth’s surface. Editor and publisher Ray Palmer exploited Shaver’s stories, going so far as to state he agreed with Shaver’s claims. Shaver stated that Deros, the people living in the caverns, had held him captive for several years and that his stories were but thinly disguised accounts of his own adventures. Although the Hollow Earth theory was far from original (Edgar Rice Burroughs did much better with it in his Pellucidar stories), Shaver’s fiction became popular and helped increase sales of Amazing Stories. In fact, “Shaver Mystery Clubs” were fashionable activities for young readers and fans. In later years, Shaver asserted that certain rocks contained the remnants of an ancient language. One thing is certain - Richard S. Shaver had a wild imagination.

Cult of the Witch Queen was originally published in the August 1946 issue of Amazing Stories. It features all of those elements that made his stories popular. Big Jim gets hoodwinked into servitude in the caverns beneath the earth. Held captive by The Watchers, he falls for a Venusian named Ceulna who tells Jim about The Limping Hag, the vampire queen who is breeding Venusians for their children’s blood. Jim himself is slated for a trip to Venus to help defeat the Venusian rebels at war with the Witch Queen. The Rulers want Jim to become a soldier for them. Jim has to be careful because sometimes The Watchers can read his mind. The Venusians held captive on earth are naturally quite beautiful, and Jim brews up a plan to stow Ceulna on the spaceship so they might reconnoiter on Venus and somehow set her and her people free. Out in space, Jim learns that the followers of the Witch Queen are the remnants of the cult of Hecate, an offshoot of the Rosicrucians. And then it gets a lot weirder. Shaver even throws in footnotes relating to mineralogy and other “relevant” historical points. The second half of Cult of the Witch Queen is pure bombastic Space Opera. Once on Venus readers will learn of the Elder Race and you’ll get glimpses of Venus including the tree city of Lefern. Armies at war, Venusian political intrigue and even Ray Guns come into play in this wacky but entertaining tale.

Cult of the Witch Queen is but one of Shaver’s stories available as reprints. This edition from Fiction House and Pulpville Press reproduces the original cover from Amazing Stories. Visit for additional information, and watch this blog more reviews of Shaver’s fiction.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

White Fire by Preston & Child

In a previous post I mentioned that FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast ranks among literature’s greatest detectives, and I linked him to Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and others. Now, with the publication of White Fire, authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have actually linked Pendergast directly with Holmes in a story that left me breathless. Keep in mind that ALL of Preston & Child’s Pendergast novels leave me breathless. With White Fire, Pendergast’s young friend, Corrie Swanson, takes center stage for the first time as she pursues a college education in a story that leads her – or Pendergast – to a lost Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. That story is included in the text, so readers get a double treat here. Pendergast and Holmes have a lot in common, and now I’m wondering if those similarities weren’t intentional. Authors Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston know their literature, and they certainly know Holmes. Corrie Swanson discovers some tantalizing clues in a series of deaths 150 years earlier, all of which has great relevance today. There are the requisite nasty villians, some twists and turns and loads of suspense. After the incredible events of what is being called “The Helen Trilogy,” which consists of Two Graves, Cold Vengeance and Fever Dream, I was curious has to how the series might continue. White Fire does NOT answer that question, and I view the book as more of an interlude. There are but the briefest references to previous events in White Fire, so readers interested in learning the status of Pendergast’s two sons (one good, one evil), and his relationships with Constance Green and other longstanding characters will have to wait. The good news is that we are introduced to a fascinating new character, Captain Stacy Bowdree, USAF. White Fire is a taut, suspenseful book and a fine addition to the Pendergast canon. With Aloysius Pendergast, authors Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston have created a literary character that will stand the test of time. People will be reading the Pendergast novels in one hundred years, just as we are reading the Sherlock Holmes novels today. This is literary history in the making.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Indian Summer by John T. McCutcheon

John T. McCutcheon's Indian Summer was first published in the Chicago Tribune on September 30, 1907. It was reprinted nearly yearly until 1992 when concerns of it being “political incorrect” prompted it’s removal. When asked about his ever-popular cartoon, McCutcheon replied: “There was, in fact, little on my young horizon in the middle '70s beyond corn and Indian traditions," he recalled later. "It required only a small effort of the imagination to see spears and tossing feathers in the tasseled stalks, tepees through the smoky haze. .” Inspired by his youth in Indiana in the 1870s, the cartoon was a favorite of mine as a child. I’m not aware that the Chicago Tribune prints this cartoon very often, although they do receive a lot of requests for it. Here it is along with McCutcheon’s original text. Enjoy!
Yep, sonny this is sure enough Injun summer. Don't know what that is, I reckon, do you? Well, that's when all the homesick Injuns come back to play; You know, a long time ago, long afore yer granddaddy was born even, there used to be heaps of Injuns around here—thousands—millions, I reckon, far as that's concerned. Reg'lar sure 'nough Injuns—none o' yer cigar store Injuns, not much. They wuz all around here—right here where you're standin'. Don't be skeered—hain't none around here now, leastways no live ones. They been gone this many a year. They all went away and died, so they ain't no more left.

But every year, 'long about now, they all come back, leastways their sperrits do. They're here now. You can see 'em off across the fields. Look real hard. See that kind o' hazy misty look out yonder? Well, them's Injuns—Injun sperrits marchin' along an' dancin' in the sunlight. That's what makes that kind o' haze that's everywhere—it's jest the sperrits of the Injuns all come back. They're all around us now. See off yonder; see them tepees? They kind o' look like corn shocks from here, but them's Injun tents, sure as you're a foot high. See 'em now? Sure, I knowed you could. Smell that smoky sort o' smell in the air? That's the campfires a-burnin' and their pipes a-goin'.

Lots o' people say it's just leaves burnin', but it ain't. It's the campfires, an' th' Injuns are hoppin' 'round 'em t'beat the old Harry. You jest come out here tonight when the moon is hangin' over the hill off yonder an' the harvest fields is all swimmin' in the moonlight, an' you can see the Injuns and the tepees jest as plain as kin be. You can, eh? I knowed you would after a little while. Jever notice how the leaves turn red 'bout this time o' year? That's jest another sign o' redskins. That's when an old Injun sperrit gits tired dancin' an' goes up an' squats on a leaf t'rest. Why I kin hear 'em rustlin' an' whisper in' an' creepin' 'round among the leaves all the time; an' ever' once'n a while a leaf gives way under some fat old Injun ghost and comes floatin' down to the ground. See—here's one now. See how red it is? That's the war paint rubbed off'n an Injun ghost, sure's you're born. Purty soon all the Injuns'll go marchin' away agin, back to the happy huntin' ground, but next year you'll see 'em troopin' back—th' sky jest hazy with 'em and their campfires smolderin' away jest like they are now.