Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Outlaw World by Edmond Hamilton

I love the smell of old paperbacks. They smell like adventure. This 70s era paperback from Popular Library had a great title and a great cover painting. The novel is a reprint of a 1945 Captain Future story from a pulp magazine. Captain Future was created by editor Mort Weisinger who hired Edmond Hamilton to write most of the stories. Weisinger and Hamilton would work together again at DC Comics where Hamilton wrote Superman stories in the 60s. Outlaw World is Space Opera all the way. Captain Future is “the young earthman who was the system’s greatest scientist-adventurer.” Raised by highly intelligent computer-robots after his parent’s death, young Curtis Newton would one day work for the Space Patrol with a myriad of friends to save the galaxy from evil and become known as Captain Future. Hamilton had the talent to make this all work, if not sound plausible. Outlaw World was approximately the nineteenth Captain Future story depending on the source you consult. In Outlaw World Future’s old nemesis, Ru Ghur, is plotting trouble on a faraway planet. It’s up to Captain Future to find Ru Ghur’s secret base and stop his deadly plot. The Captain Future stories all read like a re-imagined version of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon with a dash of Edgar Rice Burroughs thrown in. Wild and strange worlds, silver-winged bullet-shaped spaceships, a damsel or two in distress, and some All-American heroics punctuate the narrative. Edmond Hamilton was an entertaining and exciting writer with a great imagination. It’s popcorn literature that’s still fun to read. I’m convinced that Gene Roddenberry must have been influenced by the Captain Future stories when he created Star Trek, but I’ve never seen any reviewers make that connection. Read the stories and you’ll see what I mean. Star Trek is a direct descendant of the Captain Future stories and probably some of Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Space. Hafner Press has reprinted most of the Captain Future stories as deluxe hardcovers and some of them are already out of print.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Doc Savage: Skull Island by Will Murray

As I sat down to type my thoughts on Will Murray’s outstanding novel, I realized there is a generation that doesn’t know about Doc Savage. They don’t know about the pulps of the 30s and 40s, or about any of the dozens of writers and artists that made that era so exciting to readers of that fading generation. There is a generation out there raised on the glop of less talented writers like John Grisham and Scott Turow. There is a generation out there that never imagined there could be stories with titles like “The Spook Legion,” “The land of Terror,” “Mystery Under the Sea,” and so many more. They never heard the names Lester Dent, Kenneth Robeson, Monk Mayfair, Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks but known as “Ham,” or Colonel John “Renny” Renwick. If you happen to be one so unfortunate, start googling those names, learn the amazing history of Doc Savage, and then log onto and start ordering the books. Then hang onto your seat. You’re about to get your ass kicked by some of the best adventure stories ever written. Doc Savage – Clark Savage – is among the greatest fictional adventure heroes. For many readers, Doc Savage is number one. In Skull Island, Will Murray continues the tradition of high-octane thrills in a new novel that introduces Doc to King Kong. This fusion of Doc Savage with Merian C. Cooper’s classic 1933 film is a first-rate story. In the opening sequence, Doc Savage returns to New York just moments after Kong falls to his death from the Empire State building. This elicits an untold story from Savage that’s essentially his first adventure. It involves his father, Clark Savage Sr., and his grandfather, Stormalong. Young Doc and his father had met Kong on Skull island years before when they were searching for Stormalong who had been missing for several years. Once on the island, they soon discover that getting off the island won’t be quite as easy. Doc, his father and grandfather are besieged by angry natives who also want the head of Kong. Will Murray writes great adventure stories and I’m collecting all of his Doc Savage novels. Most of them are published under the Kenneth Robeson pseudonym, with the exception of Skull Island. I’ve met Will a few times at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention and he strikes me as a real gentleman. These Altus Press trade paperbacks are expensive - $24.95 – but still collector’s items. The fantastic cover artwork is by Joe DeVito.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Tattered Autumn Sky by Tom Davis

Published by The Lyons Press in 2004, The Tattered Autumn Sky collects twenty-five essays from such magazines as Gray’s Sporting Journal, Gun Dog, and Shooting Sportsman among others. Subtitled Bird Hunting in the Heartland, the prose is vivid and as refreshing as anything you’ll ever read. Tom Davis has published several other books, and I read Gray’s Sporting Journal for years because he had a regular feature. While the principal subject is bird hunting, Davis offers a collection that includes his substantial knowledge of gundogs and the outdoor experiences that draw so many of us to the wind-swept fields with a gun in our hands. Davis is an essayist who writes with a poet’s eye, a man’s thirst for adventure, and a painter’s appreciation for the complex yet beautiful landscape that he travels. He is obviously among my preferred hunters-turned-writers along with Peter Hathaway Capstick, Mike Gaddis, Guy de la Valdene and Robert F. Jones to whom this book was dedicated. Davis holds nothing back. His love for his dogs is sensitive and clearly a heartbreaking experience when one of them passes; his descriptions of the meals after a hunt, the hunt itself and the people that he encounters are all delineated with a craftsman’s skill. In one passage he describes an English setter as “bandy-legged, whiskery chinned,” (p. 117) and in another essay he tosses readers the line “The cold clutched at me like a beggar as I crawled back into the sleeping bag.” (p. 92) The people, places and hunting trips are as alive here as any narrative could make them. Davis makes no apologies and loves what he does, as he should. The topic is bird hunting but the stories are about life. These twenty-five essays will take you across the heartland, into tranquil afternoons and dark evenings, and the experiences will leave you as weary but as satisfied as Davis himself after a long day in the field. I have been enamored with this book since I first read it. I recommend it to readers all the time, no matter if you are a hunter or not. The Tattered Autumn Sky is the work of a fine writer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ravished by the Triceratops by Christie Sims

I didn’t believe it. No sir, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe there was a new sub-category of the romance genre called “Dinosaur Erotica.” It had to be a bad joke. So I downloaded Ravished by the Triceratops by Christie Sims to my Kindle to find out for myself. Lord help us all! Well, Dinosaur Erotica is best described as “Dino Porn” and I’m not whistling the theme from Jurassic Park. After fortifying myself with a pint of Guinness, I sat down and pondered the meaning of Ravished by the Triceratops. Some time later, aided and abetted by another Guinness, I came to....oops, I mean, I arrived at the conclusion that there is no literary value associated with Ravished by the Triceratops. This is all about making money by catering to repressed Catholics everywhere. Seriously. Hey, who among you wouldn’t enjoy becoming a manly Triceratops and having your wanton way with a willing and beautiful cavegirl? Heck, ya’all ain’t as dumb as ya look! Why, shucks! If’n ya’ll could just imagine yourselves as a lizard-skinned, horned and horny Triceratops who just happens to be hung like an Irishman, then you’re already halfway to town! And the worst news of all is that there’s also “Dragon Erotica” and “Troll Erotica” and “Gay Werewolf Erotica” and “Gargoyle Erotica” and probably a few I haven’t heard of yet. At 99 cents a pop it’s cheaper than a bar of soap and a copy of Playboy magazine. I don’t mind a steamy horizontal bop scene from time to time, but dinosaurs? Now as I sit here and give myself a foamy Guinness mustache, I’ve already downloaded Taken by the T-Rex by Christie Sims. It wasn’t as bad as Ravished by the Triceratops, but still just awful. And I’m actually contributing to this author’s success by downloading this incredible display of sexploitative Paleolithic Dino-humping leopard-skinned panty-ripping nippleicious nonsense. Ugh! Oogh! Oink! God Bless America! Is this a great country or what?!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard

I had no idea as to the fascinating life and many other books by author H.F. Heard when I first read this Lancer paperback in 1969. My copy, purchased for 60 cents off the rack at Wieboldt’s Department Store, struck a chord. Already an aficionado of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, I immediately recognized similar elements in A Taste for Honey. Featuring a retired beekeeper with aquiline features named Mycroft, the name Doyle gave to Sherlock Holmes’s brother (intimating that Mycroft is Holmes in disguise), and who possesses an amazing ability at deductive reasoning, I was taken by this slender and leisurely tale, and as the suspense heightened I flipped the pages with increasing rapidity. Narrated by Sydney Silchester, who weaves a frightful tale wherein he learns that his neighbor, Mrs. Heregrove, has been killed after being stung to death by bees. Seeking another source for his prized honey supply, Silchester locates a villager named Mycroft who is not only selling honey but studying local bees which he feels may have been altered through introduction of a biochemical experiment. Soon thereafter, both Silchester and Mycroft continue an investigation, strictly off-the-books, as to Mr. Heregrove’s potential complicity in his wife’s death. The suspense builds slowly but effectively; the writing is clean and proper and very much conversational, but yet retaining that growing sense of horror. This is a masterful mystery. What surprises here are motivations and resolutions, which, quite naturally you’ll need to discover for yourself by reading the book. Incidentally, the back cover features a splendid quote from none other than Boris Karloff who quips: “I thought I knew all the tricks of the trade but I never expected to have my hair stand on end when a bee flew in through an open window.” As for author H. F. Heard (Gerald Heard) he was a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, a philosopher and early experimenter of LSD and friends with such intellectuals as Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary. A Taste for Honey was the first of three “Mycroft” mysteries now regarded as acclaimed pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, although Heard never publicly admitted this. I don’t think he had to.