Thursday, January 31, 2019

Winter in April by Robert Nathan

This 1938 novel by Robert Nathan is another of his delightful books, quite beautifully written, and touching. This is a story told by scholar Henry Pennifer who recounts with love and humor the events of his granddaughter coming to grips with her womanhood, and how she fell in love one season with Henry’s assistant, a young man named Eric. The story is told in the first person, with Henry speaking. The writing is luminescent. All of Robert Nathan’s writing benefits from his uncanny ability to write clean, yet startling images with grace and dignity. There is far more humor here than in Portrait of Jennie or Long After Summer, my other favorites. In fact, the intoxication scene in chapter nine is a tour de force that highlight’s Nathan’s great skill. Near the conclusion, Nathan strikes upon a fundamental modern problem that is just as relevant today as when he penned these words in 1938: “It is no longer necessary to read and write in order to communicate with others. The air itself is full of voices, waves of sound bearing us advertisements, news items, arguments, and music; one has only to turn a knob, to hear whatever one likes. Since there is so much to interest and amuse us, we are not likely to ask ourselves how it is done. A circus is not the best place to discuss grammar and syntax.” Although this is a lighthearted novel, Nathan touches upon some meaningful themes, i.e., the loss of relationships, people struggling to communicate or to find a sense of completeness. Perhaps the key here can be found in the musings of Henry Pennifer: “Kindness: what a strange word to find on anybody’s lips these days. It is like a style in clothes which is no longer worn, or like a musty language no longer spoken.” His granddaughter’s stress at choosing a dress for an upcoming social event is masterfully handled, with Pennifer eventually providing a slapstick resolution. Of course the international backdrop is touched upon in passing, namely the Spanish Civil War which is relevant to Eric. There are no fantasy elements here, but rather a dry humor and sensitive understanding of human nature.  His occasional snarky comment is delivered with such finesse that I remain awed by the delivery: “God, after all, is not a mystery to the church; which is why zoologists are regular church-goers.” Nathan followed Winter in April with Portrait of Jennie in 1940. He published over 50 volumes before his passing in 1985. Also recommended: But Gently Day, The River Journey, The Train in the Meadow, So Love Returns, The Color of Evening, The Wilderness Stone, and The Elixir. Many of his titles are available for Kindle. I am a fan and collector of Nathan’s books and I’ll cover other titles in the future.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Miracle at Caller’s Spring Ranch by Jim Burnett

Miracle at Caller’s Spring Ranch is a Christian-themed Western that I had in my backlog to read for some time. When I finally sat down to read it I felt right at home by the quality of the prose, and solid characterizations. The dialogue is believable and intelligent. This story is categorized as a modern Western, and it’s about a fourth-generation ranching family on the brink of bankruptcy. At the heart of this tale is Jeb Reese who loses his best friend and his parents in a tragic twelve-hour span. These events are described swiftly at the onset. Jeb is only twenty-five and a bull-rider. He promises to keep his father’s dream alive, but doing so is going to be a challenge. Shortly, Jeb’s grandfather tales him to a secret place in the hills called Caller’s Spring. That set-up will play a pivotal role in the story later. Fast-forward a few years and Jeb and his wife Rita have a son named Colton Brandon Reese, or Colt for short. With his son beside him, in the years to come Jeb and Colt work to make their ranch a successful enterprise. Their challenges, and how they face serious problems, is the nucleus of the novel. Author Jim Burnett is a fine writer and he tells the story in a straightforward style. I enjoyed the book and I appreciate the depth of the author’s passion for telling a great, Christian story. Compelling and lively, Miracle at Caller’s Spring Ranch is recommended for readers in general, or anyone interested in solid storytelling. Excellent!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Iron John by Robert Bly

The first book by Robert Bly that I encountered was his poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962), and I soon learned his poetry was the tip of the iceberg. Bly’s translation of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger is the preferred English language text, and his many books are recommended to you all. Iron John tackles the subject of what it is like to be a man – a real man. He outlines his thoughts on this subject into eight sections that illuminate masculinity with discussions on literature, mythology, modernism, and history. He states at the onset, that “We have to accept the possibility that the true radiant energy in the male does not hide in, reside in, or wait for us in the feminine realm, nor in the macho/John Wayne realm, but in the magnetic field of the deep masculine.” He supports his argument with folklore and literary tales, pulling examples from a wide variety of sources. Bly’s assertion that modern men are “half adults” is grounded in his belief that the decline of traditional fathering, and by extension the fractured family that has become all too commonplace, has resulted in a growing immaturity among men. Absent fathers will result in half-formed males unskilled in teaching, mentoring or commiserating with their male children. That’s the heart of the matter, and frankly, this post only alludes to the complex thinking, scholarly insight and in-depth discussion found in Iron John. I recommend the book as a reasonable counterpoint for discussions to any feminist diatribes, Me-Too fashionistas, or hateful or politically correct trolls, which is not what Bly intended. But that’s my reaction to the book. I don’t think of Robert Bly as a visionary writer, although he’s been called visionary by others. I think of him as a practical, intelligent man capable of reasonable discourse, with interesting things to say, with a body of work that resonates long after you read it. I still find him relevant, and in a world populated by racism, religious intolerance, political zealotry, and men who feel entitled to express their prejudice, hatred and insecurities across the Internet, it’s sadly obvious that Robert Bly was right all along. With The Grimm’s Fairy Tale story about “Iron John” as the starting point for a discussion on how a masculine man can mentor and teach, with an eye on saving souls, Robert Bly has created a landmark thesis that resonates with a power and grandeur that readers won’t be able to – and shouldn’t - ignore.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Astounding Science Fiction, August, 1959

The Golden Age of pulp fiction may have passed, but the late 1950s science fiction magazine market was still active, albeit scaled back. I think Astounding Science Fiction was still producing good material just before adding Analog to the title. The August, 1959 issue featured a good story by Murray Leinster, a veteran pulp writer. The cover is credited to Van Dongen. Also included in this issue is fiction by A. Bertram Chandler, Randall Garrett, and George Whitley, also all veteran pulp writers. The story by Murray Leinster was called “The Aliens” and it’s a good story. Leinster’s real name was William F. Jenkins, and in addition to his science fiction stories he wrote many highly regarded pulp fiction stories in several genres. It involves the first contact with another race called the Plumies, and the concern they might be naturally hostile to humans. Leinster was great at making science seem plausible, and he shows off that descriptive skill here on nearly every page. Things like a three-dimensional map and “information beam projector” are put to good use. It’s pseudo-science rendered in generic fictional terms. The main conflict stems not from the Plumies but between humans, Baird and Taine, and Taine himself is described as a xenophobe. Summed up early in the narrative: “...humans have always had to consider that a stranger might be hostile, until he’d proven otherwise.” Leinster weaves a nice plot where the humans are forced to work with the Plumies after an accident, and this, naturally, forces them to understand each other. When it’s done well, science fiction both entertains and enlightens. This issue was one hundred and sixty-two pages with about seventeen or eighteen illustrations, so the majority is text. Editor John W. Campbell eventually removed the word “astounding” from the title, and the slow decline had begun. Known today simply as Analog, the magazine is a waste of time and publishes nearly unreadable fiction which baffles me. I recommend most everything prior to the name change to Analog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Guns of the Timberlands by Louis L’Amour

First Edition Hardcover

There are Westerns, and there are Westerns. I am both a Zane Grey fan and collector, and a Louis L’Amour fan and collector. Don’t be surprised by that. Grey may have been the first truly popular writer of Westerns, but Louis L’Amour took the Western to an unprecedented level of popularity. I read an on-line bit by the late critic-historian Jon Tuska wherein he questioned L’Amour’s effect on the American imagination, all while criticizing the simplicity of L’Amour’s plots. Tuska was a Zane Grey fan, for which I give him points, but he was wrong about L’Amour. So I’ll state this plainly: Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour are responsible, in equal measures, for popularizing, helping define, and keeping alive the Western genre. Louis L’Amour had an ongoing positive effect on the public’s imagination in relation to Westerns, and continues to both inspire and entertain us. Now that I’ve said it, you can stomp about and snort fire all you want if you disagree. I reckon I don’t care.

Guns of the Timberland was first published in West magazine under the pseudonym Jim Mayo in September, 1950. Guns of the Timberlands was then published in hardcover in 1955 by Jason Press, and I own that first edition, (my copy is signed by L’Amour). Bantam Books began publishing paperback editions that same year, and Guns of the Timberlands has never gone out of print. This was Bantam’s first Louis L’Amour paperback. Unfortunately, Bantam Books has begun eliminating those beautiful painted covers that graced L’Amour’s canon for so many decades, opting instead to replace them with the usual bland, photo-shopped picture, as seen below by the scan of the current edition. Guns of the Timberlands is one of those titles that I buy when I encounter the older paperback copies in good shape. I don’t exactly know how many I have. Maybe six. Maybe seven. Here’s the thing about collectors you should understand – we don’t need all of those extra copies, but we have to have them.

The critics missed the point about the simplistic plots. Western plots are often simplistic, but L’Amour’s writing talent was far above the clichéd pack, while his characters are complicated. Those complicated characters, combined with L’Amour’s talent as a great storyteller, elevated most of his novels above the others. L’Amour understood his characters, and his own vast youthful experiences had prepared him to write with conviction about these trailblazing frontiersmen and gunfighters.

One of the reasons why I favor Guns of the Timberlands as a great Western story is nostalgia. This was the first L’Amour Western that I read, not realizing it was one of the first full length Westerns he published. Guns of the Timberlands is archetypical with a premise that involves a rancher fighting against an unscrupulous businessman who wants to log his land for profit. The main character, Clay Bell, is a wise and tough rancher, fast with a gun when he needs to be. Clay Bell provides the moral centerpiece to the tale. The other elements would become requisite fare for L’Amour: a badass named Jud Devitt who loses control of his devious plan thanks to Clay Bell; a love interest, and a knock-down fistfight. L’Amour wrote the best fistfight scenes.

Guns of the Timberlands serves as a great introduction for new readers interested in exploring the Western genre. By no means am I saying it’s a masterpiece, but it’s damn good. Other L’Amour favorites of mine include Crossfire Trail (1954), Silver Canyon (1957), The Tall Stranger (1957), Flint (1960), High Lonesome (1962), and Under the Sweetwater Rim (1971). Of course there are many more.
Dust Jacket Bio

Monday, January 14, 2019

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

I first read Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows in the late summer of 1972. I read it before I read Nine Princes in Amber, which I read immediately thereafter. The storylines are not related. Jack of Shadows is independent of Zelazny’s famed Amber series, of which Nine Princes in Amber was the first volume. Jack of Shadows was a mind-boggling watershed book for me. Like so many of us, I associate certain books with the era in my life when I read it. I was still in High School, which was an unpleasant period in my life. The books saved me. About this time, I had read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, all still favorites of mine. But Jack of Shadows was different. This book had vivid imagery and a tough-guy attitude. Jack’s world was frightening, chock full of political intrigue, strange lands, and merciless villains. Jack himself was fascinating; a vengeful man, but intelligent and not without compassion. I couldn’t put the book down. The first sentence wasn’t the usual fare in a fantasy book: “It happened when Jack whose name is spoken in shadow went to Iglés, in the Twilight Lands, to visit the Hellgames.” What happened? Who was responsible, and what were the Hellgames? What are the Twilight Lands? I had all of these questions from reading one sentence. I realize now what a superb craftsman Zelazny was. In that one sentence he had created a framework for a character and another world that would carry the story through thirteen stunning chapters on an epic adventure unlike anything I had read before. Jack is no square-jawed hero with a cleft chin, no, he is much different, a thief, and he dies in the first chapter. Then he comes back to life in the second chapter, and that’s when things heat up. Jack’s world is split between light and darkness, a recurring motif in Zelazny’s work. Jack of Shadows commences as a revenge story, but metamorphoses into something larger. Jack wants to bring peace to Shadowguard, but first he must find Kolwynia, the Key that was Lost. With elements of an epic quest, a world with a new gothic mythology, and traditional swashbuckling intrigue, Jack of Shadows was unlike any fantasy novel I had read. From this point on I was and remain a fan of Roger Zelazny. I own everything he published. He was gone too soon. Zelazny was only 58 when he died in 1995. I celebrate his contribution now and again by pulling a book from the shelf and reading it again. Isle of the Dead, Lord of Light, Damnation Alley, Madwand, Eye of Cat or any of the Amber novels.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Jules Verne in the 1890s and the Airmont Paperback
Jules Verne had been dead for forty-nine years when Walt Disney premiered his live action feature film based on Verne’s novel. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason. (NOTE: the film uses the numerical variant title while the novel employs the text). The English translations of Verne’s many novels needed no introduction, but Disney did something with that film that struck a chord with film fans. The Disney production team created a set-piece of memorable images that moviegoers have never forgotten. The giant squid attack on Captain Nemo’s submarine, Nautilus, remains an exciting action scene and is perhaps the film’s best known moment.
Scene still of James Mason in the Disney Production
Naturally as a child growing up in the Sixties I was quite familiar with this film. It played on television regularly, and our local elementary school even ran a screening for a dime. My introduction to Jules Verne’s books was an obvious extension of this interest. The first copy I owned of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was the 1963 Airmont paperback. The fantastic cover art mimics the colorful Nautilus design from the Disney film. As you would expect, the film version of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) starring James Mason and Pat Boone, and the 1963 release of The Mysterious Island with stop-motion animation by the great Ray Harryhausen, all added to Verne’s appeal. I was hooked.

Jules Verne has been called “the father of science fiction” and the first steampunk novelist. Those distinctions are debatable, but Verne’s talent and universal appeal can’t be denied. His books have been translated from their original French into numerous languages and his English language editions remain perennial best-sellers. This is also where things get a little murky. The translations are often hatchet-jobs and according to numerous scholars, the French editions all contain scenes and details excised from the English editions.
Ideally, what’s needed is a concentrated translation program, perhaps funded by a University, that will translate and make available all of Verne’s bibliography, thus creating a definitive English language library for Verne’s readers. History teaches us that interpretations are based upon the translator’s agenda, and Verne’s translators were certainly intent on discovering the fastest route to a dollar. They routinely excised long descriptions, dialogue, and shortened sections to achieve their end swiftly. What’s truly amazing is that these translations somehow retained enough of Verne’s tales to keep them not only palpable, but became popular best-sellers. This is not a confirmation of the translator’s skill, but rather a testament to Verne’s extraordinary talent.
In fact, there is progress on this front, especially concerning Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, my favorite of Verne’s books. I first read the flawed Lewis Page Mercier version, but the current preferred translation is by Walter James Miller. Other substantial efforts at reliable translations are ongoing. Jules Verne’s novels are thriving in their after-life.

I re-read the Airmont paperback recently, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has not lost its allure. Captain Nemo and Ned Land and the submarine, Nautilus seem forever fixed in my imagination, and the marine biologist Pierre Arnonax’s narration is just as exciting when I first read it. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is impossible to ignore. Multiple English language versions exist, including newer, accurate translations. It’s a marvelous book, and recommended for readers of all ages.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Forty Days Has September by Milton Lesser

This week I’m digging into another Armchair Fiction double novel, Forty Days Has September by Milton Lesser and The Devil’s Planet by David Wright O’Brien. I’ve covered Milton Lesser before; who wrote under the pseudonym Stephen Marlowe and created the classic Chester Drum mysteries. He’s always fun to read, and his science fiction stories deserve another look. Forty Days Has September concerns some aliens called the Overlords having issued earthlings an eviction notice. Tough guy Paul Reardon is hired by the alien vixen named Hadman as a bodyguard and Reardon learns she’s part of the group that are going to evict the mankind from the planet. He discovers she’s not all that nice, and she’s at odds with the other aliens. Diuniun, a purple Overlord, intervenes and gives Reardon an extra ten days that month (hence, the title) to fulfill three tasks to prove that earthlings are worthy of staying on the planet. The plot is ridiculous but entertaining, like a Disney cartoon, and Lesser’s hard-boiled style makes it all seem plausible. He would put that lean, masculine prose to better use in his Chester Drum novels, but I like his science fiction stories and I pick them up when I encounter them. Armchair Fiction has multiple stories by Milton Lesser available. Check them out! Next was The Devil’s Planet by David Wright O’Brien who died in a bombing mission over Berlin in 1944, and as such his many stories are nearly forgotten. He published in Amazing Stories and Fantastic Tales under his own name and several pseudonyms. The Devil’s Planet is a Space Opera and holds up well. This one is about a mining operation on Igakuro and the efforts of an interplanetary gang of space pirates led by a ringleader they call Satan who enjoys using an atomic pistol to take over the operation. To complicate matters a space missionary arrives with his beautiful daughter Carol Zender who sets Pete Bennett’s heart to going pitter-patter. Predictable but entertaining, The Devil’s Planet has enough snap and crackle to keep you interested. I’m a fan of these Armchair Fiction reprints and for those interested I’m sharing the LINK to their website again.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Don Glut’s Tales of Frankenstein

Writer and film director Don Glut’s direct-to-DVD Tales of Frankenstein pays tribute to Mary Shelley’s novel and the subsequent films with a deft hand. Glut has created a fine film that is at once an homage to the Universal films and the later Hammer films, but is inclusively original and refreshing. Tales of Frankenstein was released to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s story. The film offers four “tales” about the monster: My Creation, My Beloved where a descendent of Victor Frankenstein creates another monster with devastating results; Crawler from the Grave where yet another descendent where a plague-infected arm creates chaos; Madhouse of Death with a detective trapped in an old, dark house; and Dr. Karnstein’s Creation which links the Frankenstein legacy to vampires. The production has a sleek, polished look and the sets are fantastic with some California locations spruced up to look appropriately European and gothic. Don Glut manages to capture the feel and mood of the classic horror films. There are some notable performances here as well. First, Buddy Daniels Friedman as Dr. Gregore Frankenstein sets the mood as a descendent of the mad doctor. Friedman is great. John Blythe Barrymore and Jim Tavare play pivotal roles. The lovely Tatiana DeKhtyar along with Jasmisin Matthews contribute crucial scenes as well. The acting is solid and the players work earnestly. Notable here is the final film appearance of the great writer Len Wein, co-creator with Bernie Wrightson, of Swamp Thing. Wein is excellent as Helmut Frankenstein. Veteran actress Ann Robinson makes an appearance, and other supporting cast include Justin Hoffmeister, T. J. Storm, Jerry Lacy, Beverly Washburn, and Mel Novak. A bevy of beauties spice up a few scenes, and a round of applause please for Jenna Sims, Ashley Caple, Kelsey Bohlen, Serena Hope Sun, Ban-ya Choi, Amy Shi and others. One of the stand-out beauties here is the great Lilian Lev who plays Helga, a female monster. Lilian is a martial artist, actress, model, and should be a future super-star. She’s gorgeous, talented and tough. I’d love to see Lilian as a headliner in action films like the ones Jason Statham stars in. Here, she changes her look and plays a blonde, and her sequence is my favorite. She plays a re-animated dove who comes back to life with startling – and sexy – results. I should mention that the Frankenstein monster from the title and connecting sequences is played by Scott Fresina with make-up that is reminiscent of the classic Jack Pierce makeup from the Universal films. The music soundtrack is outstanding, too. Sometimes cheesy and hammy but always fun, fans of the Frankenstein monster will devour this one.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Chronicle of Clemendy by Arthur Machen

My first encounter with Arthur Machen’s world occurred when I read the story The Great God Pan many years ago. This led me to The Hill of Dreams, his acknowledged masterpiece. Over time I became quite enamored with Machen’s prose and I sought out his many lesser known works. I am not an expert on Machen, and you should think of me only as a fan and avid reader, but Machen offers a heady brew and I recommend an exploration of his works. I own two copies of this first edition, both signed by Machen. The Chronicle of Clemendy was privately printed by the Society of Pantagruelists in 1923 with a print run of 1050, all signed by the author. I own copies 236 and 321. The book was not made well, with an embossed spine and featuring a few interior illustrations. However, the paper was cheap pulp paper and does not hold up well, and the sheets were not cut sequentially to measurement which offers a jagged edge. The book is fairly common with antiquarian book dealers and not all that expensive, depending on the overall condition. One of my copies is rather battered, and the other is much better. In keeping with the intent of pantagruelism, the sections are intended as satirical or comedic discourses with a serious intent. Machen indulges himself here. This is a thick book of 321 pages, comprised of 20 sections. Similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this is essentially a fictional rendering as told by Master Gervase Perrot which documents “amorous inventions and facetious tales;” the highlights being Machen’s sensual prose. He commences with “Master Perrot’s Discourse of Ale,” perhaps the finest piece of satirical writing about beer I have encountered. Machen’s intellect, command of language, and forays into history are evident throughout. I think Machen was having fun here, exercising his mind and allowing the tales and gossip and sometimes the silliness get the better of him. His intention may have been serious, but the result is satirical. Machen’s humor, however, may well be lost on the modern rake, imbiber, scoundrel, clergyman, or reader of Silurian Mythologies. The long pages recount a medieval tryst, a dandy countryside of bumblebees, errant Knights, and sly kisses for a maiden on a summer’s day. This is not an easy book to read, but the reason to press onward is simply to enjoy Machen’s command of English, and to appreciate his great wit. As an oddity, and because I am a Machen fan (a strange breed to be sure), I recommend wading through The Chronicle of Clemendy whilst barefoot. At last he will write an epilogue, and bid you farewell with a wink: “I have to part also with my sweet companion, who has come all the way to Cock-Loft Land to help me and to whisper strange stories in my ear: I mean no less a one than the Merry Muse of Gwent.” The contents included are:
Epistle Dedicatory
The Preparations
With Strange Story of a Red Jar
The Spigot Clerk’s First Tale
How the Folk of Abergavenny Were Pestered by an Accused Knight
The Lord Maltworm’s First Tale
How a Man of Caerleon Found a Great Treasure
The Rubrican’s First Tale – What Fell Out in the Ancient Keep of Caldicot
The Tankard Marshall’s First Tale – The Quest of the Dial and the Vane
By the Way
The Spigot Clerk’s Second Tale – How a Knight of Uske Kept Guard Over a Tree
The Portreeve’s Solemnity
The Tale Told by the Seigneur of La Roche Nemours – The Quant History of a Lord of Gwent and How His Wife Desired to Smell a Rose
The Journey Homeward
Signor Piero Latini’s Tale – How the Duke of San Giuliano Made Build a High Wall
The Lord Maltworm’s Second Tale – The Affair Done at the House with the Lattice
The Rubrican’s Second Tale – The Triumph of Love

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The MechMen of Canis-9 by Joe Bonadonna

The MechMen of Canis-9 is a sequel to Three Against the Stars, the first of Joe Bonadonna’s fast-paced intergalactic Space Operas. Bonadonna is also the author of the sorcery and magic classics Mad Shadows and Mad Shadows II. I recommend all of these books for fans of the New Pulp Fiction literary movement. In this beautifully written and explosive adventure, Seamus O’Hara, Claudia Akira and Fernando Cortez and a platoon of Marines are deployed to Canis-9. The first section details a defeat the Marines suffered on Viluvia where gunnery sergeant Claudia Akira suffered a wound that rendered her incapable of having children. This is the source of friction between Akira and her husband Cooper Preston. Bonadonna’s superb characterization is handled with swift, deft strokes early on, and he manages to build sympathetic characters with lightning speed. The characterizations are vital because at its heart The MechMen of Canis-9 is still a slam-bang action adventure tale, and with my emotions invested in these characters, I found myself flipping the pages with heated anticipation. Seamus O’Hara and Fernando Cortez round out the marine trio, but they are hardly the only characters. Joe Bonadonna is such a skilled writer that immediately in chapter two readers are introduced to another world and Zherisa Nadiri, who loses her island home of Bhacoba. You’ll soon meet the secondary but still vital characters – Barnes, Falco, Rosie, Betty, colonel Dakota and many more. The character development and world building here is exemplary. Less than thirty pages into the story and you’ll be worried about kaizu, the great sea dragons of Devoora. The search for the seven indestructible robot warriors is complicated by a crash landing in an increasingly hostile environment. The characters and world building don’t slow down, and Joe Bonadonna expertly weaves new characters into the mix, such as Voo-Kangan in chapter ten. There are also many creative flourishes that sometimes manifest themselves in the form of an homage to various elements in the grand tradition of Space Opera and science fiction classics. It’s not necessary to identify them, but certain phrasings and images do lend the action a nostalgic tone, which I think is intentional. This is among the best modern science fiction novels I’ve read in many years, and I rate this highly with the strongest recommendation for fans of speculative fiction. Joe Bonadonna’s incredible imagination works in sync with his talent as a storyteller, and The MechMen of Canis-9 is not a novel to forget. The cover is by the talented Erika M. Szabo and The MechMen of Canis-9 is available now on Amazon. CLICK here to find the book on Amazon!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Haunted Den

The Haunted Den
Tales of the Wandering Collector, Part Three
Thomas McNulty
(Click on an image to enlarge)

I was sitting in my leather chair in my new home on Farnsworth Avenue and making notes for my treatise, The Pleasures of Pulp, when there came a sudden knocking on my door. I had been living here less than a month in my retirement and reveling in the excess of a lifelong collection of ephemera, esoterica, erotica and the pulp Bildungsroman and Kunstler roman par excellent, when the knocking interrupted my intense reverie.

Reluctantly, I dragged myself from the comfort of my leather throne, cinched my robe tightly about my waist, dropped into my Superman slippers, heaved forward with a grunt, and flung the door wide.

“Yes, what is it?” I demanded.

Lightning split the night sky beyond the figure in the doorway, followed by an ominous peal of thunder. It was a girl, and a young one with a full, curvaceous figure that was barely concealed by the tight blouse and short skirt. She was a brunette, perky, and sweeter looking than a lollipop in the park on Sunday. She batted her green eyes at me.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but my automobile has stalled and I wonder if I might use your telephone to call a mechanic?”

“Harrumph!” I cleared my throat, sucked in my belly and thrust out my jaw. “Why of course, although at this ungodly hour I doubt if any mechanic is open, but do come in!”

She glided in, and with her came the heavenly scent of a woman in full bloom, a dash of perfume at the nape of her neck, her golden skin luxuriant in the glow of the lamp. We hastily attacked the telephone, but with a shock discovered the line was down.

“It’s this damnable storm,” I said apologetically, “I’m sure we’ll be able to ring for a repairman in the morning, meanwhile, you can avail yourself of my guest room and I’ll make you a cup of strong Irish coffee.”

With this her eyes glowed, and her very aura bespoke of tender pheromones delighting in the freedom of other-worldly delights, although little did I know at the time the wicked turn our chance meeting would take. After some time, we settled in my den and she took the chair opposite mine, dangling a slender fawn like leg over her knee while she gazed at the tall bookcases covering each wall.

“A lovely collection,” she announced at length, “I see you own a copy of Zane Grey’s Sunset Pass? How interesting to see all of these books stacked up like firewood.”

I must admit her statement astounded me, but something in her tone bothered me. “Why, yes, thank you, in fact that’s a signed copy. I have numerous valuable signed books or rare editions of many authors in my collection.” I was suddenly excited, because a book collector enjoys nothing more than to talk about his collection.

She had barely touched her Irish coffee at that point, and I had eagerly introduced a healthy portion of Jameson’s so I was anxious to see the result as I examined her heaving cleavage from across the rug. That’s when she said, “Of course, you know this den is a portal to another galaxy?”

This second shocking statement nearly catapulted me from my chair!

“Nonsense!” I exclaimed, perhaps too quickly. “I’ve been perfectly comfortable the entire month and heard not so much as a mouse whimper!”

She laughed then, and wickedly. Tossing back her head, she opened her mouth and chortled. Her mirth was genuine, I must say, and when she was finished she leveled her gaze on me and a tremendous change came over her. The delicious young morsel metamorphosed into a green, scaly reptilian female. Her body shivered and contorted, the flesh blending and stretching so that in a few moments the last vestige of her humanity was wiped away. She had a skull like a velociraptor’s but with a shorter snout, and her long rows of teeth were white and sharp. Her red, malevolent eyes stared at me.
“You fool!” she cried, “The multidimensional vortex has many doorways, including this house on Farnsworth Avenue! While you’ve been sitting here reading, we, the Reptilians, have plotted our attack against earth. This den is the doorway to our intergalactic conquest!”

“Great Krypton!” I bellowed, “There must be a way to stop you!”

“Furthermore,” she continued, “these books, comics and magazines are piled up and in our way. They must be destroyed!”

Stretching out her hand, a power blast emanated from her fingertips, rattling the bookcases. One book was dislodged, floating in the air. With a twist of her wrist the levitating book opened, revealing the title page signed by the author. Except it wasn’t Zane Grey. How I wish it had been. She had chosen wisely. I watched in abject terror as Guy N. Smith’s signature rose from the page undulating like a black snake. The signature enlarged, looping toward me, and swiftly lashed about me, tying me securely. I had been tied and bound to my leather chair with the animated spirit of Guy N. Smith’s signature!

The Reptilian’s evil laughter echoed in the den. The bookcases were shaking fiercely, and books were dislodged and flung outward to swirl in the air about me. I was besieged by images from books by Joe Bonadonna, Mickey Spillane, Ray Bradbury, Anne Rice, Stephen King, and so many more! I could barely take a breath as the books pummeled me, nearly knocking me senseless. The room swirled madly. The vortex opened before me and the room was filled with strange unearthly creatures, demons from the deepest pits of hell, carnivorous monsters, bug-eyed aliens, and gothic sorcerers.

I heard the Reptilian’s voice mocking me. “You book collectors and readers are all the same,” she cackled, “and now you’ll pay the ultimate price for your precious collection as we invade the earth!”

I began to suffocate as the pulp paper was torn loose and crammed into my mouth. I had a glimpse of Arthur Machen striding toward me, followed by Robert E. Howard, but before I could make sense of it, the blackness consumed me and I was plunged into the ethereal afterlife of fairy tales and fantastic pulp adventures, and I almost felt cozy, drifting along on a paragraph of adjectival pomp...

And slowly, I began to neck was sore and stiff as I regained consciousness. I was in my chair with my head tilted at an angle, having dozed off upon consuming in one mighty gulp a frothy measure of Irish coffee with extra Jameson’s. I shrugged, and stretched my limbs. Glancing about the room I noted that everything was in order, and I shook off the wild nightmare that had seemed all too real.

Then I noticed something odd. There on the floor was my copy of the signed paperback of Guy N. Smith’s Spawn of the Slime Beast. Somehow it had fallen from the bookcase onto the rug. I couldn’t imagine how that could happen, but I vowed then and there to ease up on the Jameson’s whiskey while reading.

Well, maybe a little bit.

Copyright © 2019 by Thomas McNulty
Cover scans are from the author’s collection and books are not for sale.