Sunday, August 30, 2015

Airship Hunters (Jim Beard & Duane Spurlock, Meteor House 2015)

Taking a break from the Wold Newton Universe and the prehistory of Opar, one of the other books I picked up at Pulpfest was Airship Hunters, a new novel from authors Jim Beard and Duane Spurlock.  I read a lot of UFO and related conspiracy nonsense - not because I'm a believer in any such things (I was as a kid, but then I learned how to think critically about extraordinary claims), but because I find they make excellent fodder for fiction and role-playing games.  I recently ran a Call of Cthulhu campaign centered around the "mystery" surrounding the death of Meriwether Lewis, and before that a fairly crazy game about British spies in the 1580s trying to prevent the Spanish from utilizing technology from a four-centuries-early Roswell crash.

Another big piece of flying saucer lore I'd been thinking about using was the 1897 "Mystery Airship" flap, in which zeppelin-like airships were seen over the skies of the American Midwest.  These ships occasionally touched down, and the bearded human operators would ask a mystified farmer if they could borrow a set of wrenches or a quart of mineral oil for repairs, paying for the tools with a plate of salty pancakes and claiming to be on their way to Cuba to exterminate the Spanish.

Well, Messrs. Beard and Spurlock have taken that nugget of Forteana and run with it far better than I probably would have.  Their fast-paced novel (almost more of a round-robin anthology; the two authors alternate chapters, each of which is almost a self-contained short story in and of itself) follows Agents Cabot and Valiantine as they are plucked from their previous work - the Treasury Department for Cabot, the U.S. Army for Valiantine - and deputized as "Aero-Marshalls" of the mysterious Department A-13, sent out into the field to determine if the "Mystery Airship" is of American or foreign manufacture and what the creator intends to do with it.

The authors keep the mystery building, and the reader as disoriented by the facts of the case as Cabot and Valiantine are; it is only towards the end that the reader gleans some bit of understanding that only our 21st century perspective and knowledge of science fiction tropes allows us to grasp better than the characters themselves do.

The story is open-ended to allow for a sequel, so hopefully we'll get a return of Agents Cabot and Valiantine in the near future.  I'm kind of hoping they'll look into one of my favorite pieces of the "Mystery Airship" flap that was left out of this volume: the crash of one of these vessels in 1896 in Aurora, Texas, and the burial of its inhuman pilot in the local cemetery!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hadon of Ancient Opar (Philip Jose Farmer, 1974)

I'm reading now, I find, at a rate which I haven't since probably before I entered high school; I have to admit, it feels damn good to be devouring books at the rate I am.  Following hot on the heels of Exiles of Kho, I jump forward eight hundred years in Opar's history, from its founding to its near-destruction - but I get ahead of myself.

We are introduced to the titular Hadon as he embarks on a journey to the heart of the Khokarsan Empire to compete in the Great Games; the man who wins his way through the grueling trials ranging from the hundred meter dash to a swordfight to the death, is allowed to marry the ruling High Priestess of Kho, and thus become King of Khokarsa.  The Empire is jointly ruled by the high priestess of Kho and the king, who's responsible for little other than the command of Khokarsa's army and navy.

Unfortunately for Hadon, after succeeding in the Great Games, he finds his hopes of marrying the lovely high priestess Awineth imperiled by her father, the current king.  King Minruth, called "the Mad" behind his back, has no intention of leaving the throne, and finds a handy means of disposing of Hadon and some other political undesirables when a scribe staggers in from the Wild Lands, bearing a story of encountering the god Sahhindar.  The grey-eyed archer god was accompanied by a "white witch," Lalila, and a dwarf, Paga (aka, Laleela and Pag, from H. Rider Haggard's Allan and the Ice Gods), whom he tasked the scribe's expedition with escorting to Khokarsa.  An attack by savages overturned their canoes, most of the expedition was killed, and Lalila and Paga disappeared.

And so Minruth sends Hadon out as the head of a second expedition into the Wild Lands, to find
Lalila and Paga and bring them back to Khokarsa.  If only it was so easy.

I would like to point out one thing to begin with here: this book is flawlessly edited and proofread.  I've read a lot of books over the years that have been just riddled with scriveners' errors, ranging from simple missed punctuation marks to whole sentences transposed.  I won't point out books that have these errors, because I want to keep things positive around here (which is also why I haven't been remarking too much on the stories in the Pulp Fiction Megapack - I've hit a major vein of dull tales in that collection, and I'm not going to waste my time writing about bad stories), but I wanted to point out and praise the proofreaders of this volume, because there is not so much as a comma out of place.

Hadon ends on a cliffhanger, which I'm guessing leads us directly into the sequel Flight to Opar; but it also feels like there's a story missing before the beginning of Hadon; it felt like the reader was dropped into this novel expected to already know the characters to an extent, especially once Hadon's cousin Kwasin makes an appearance; so many of his past exploits are referenced by characters in ways that suggest the audience should already be familiar with the big, lumbering goon.  I'm guessing I'll get a better feel for Kwasin once the sequel to Flight to Opar, The Song of Kwasin, is republished by Meteor House.

Because I don't want to get too far ahead of what's available for Ancient Opar (I'm waiting with bated breath for The Song of Kwasin), I'm taking a break from Ancient Opar after this book; I'm actually reading faster than I'm blogging, and hopefully tonight I'll have some time to write up the next book I read.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Exiles of Kho (Christopher Paul Carey, Meteor House, 2015)

Onwards and upwards, readers, onwards and upwards! Having finished Time's Last Gift, I launched almost immediately into the next of the Khokarsan prequels, the novella Exiles of Kho, by Christopher Paul Carey.  Set thousands of years after the events of Time's Last Gift, and hundreds of years before Philip Jose Farmer's first novel of Ancient Opar, Hadon of Ancient Opar (which I've started reading in the time between finishing Exiles of Kho and beginning this blogpost...I'm behind on my blogging, sorry!)

Exiles follows the warrior-priestess Lupoeth as she embarks on a quest seemingly ordained by the goddess Kho herself, that Lupoeth take the seed of the nethkarna, the Tree of Life, south across Africa's southern inland see and found a new oracular temple on the far side.  For the new queen, who has usurped the throne that was rightfully Lupoeth's, this is an opportunity to get rid of a troublesome rival permanently: she assigns a corrupt priest of the sun god Resu to accompany Lupoeth and undermine her in any way he can, and the expedition is under-supplied and manned exclusively by people who have earned the queen's dislike.

The only thing Lupoeth really has on her side, besides an indomitable will to persevere, is the Gray-Eyed Archer; the exiled god Sahhindar, the god of time, bronze and plants; he finds and accompanies Lupoeth for his own purposes, and she begins to feel less and less like a priestess of Kho and more and more like a pawn in Sahhindar's machinations...

If Exiles is typical of Christopher Paul Carey's work, then I cannot wait to devour the rest of the books by him that I picked up at Pulpfest.  He writes with a grace of style that carries the reader along as readily as the pulse-pounding adventure of the story itself does.

What jumped out at me most is the almost casual way in which he handles world-building; the world of Exiles is not the world of Hadon of Ancient Opar (though it is related), and Carey recognizes this and guides us into Lupoeth's world with a turn of phrase here, a descriptor there; we're not clubbed over the head with travelogue writing, which is something many writers cannot pull off; I know in my own writing, especially when I'm running a D&D game, I'm prone to exposition-dump to introduce the world to the players, and it's a bad habit I want to try and get away from.  Here, Carey makes it look easy.

Exiles of Kho not only ties into Farmer's Ancient Opar series, but also the French novel Ironcastle, written by J.H. Rosny, which Farmer translated into English.  The references to Ironcastle in Exiles intrigued me enough that I ordered a used copy on Amazon yesterday, and it should be arriving by the end of this week upcoming.  When I'll get a chance to read it -- I can't say.  But it'll be on my shelf ready for me when the day arrives.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Time's Last Gift (Philip Jose Farmer, 1972/1977/2012)

I have lunch breaks at work again, now that I've got my new job.  You, gentle readers, have no idea how magical this is to me.  And when not badgered by certain coworkers into eating lunch with them and talking over said lunch (someone literally showed up at my cube today and said, "We should eat lunch together today." Who does that?), that means I can eat my lunch and spend the remainder of my break reading.  You saw my haul from Pulpfest this past week; now I get to really dig in.

And dig in I have, having finished reading Philip Jose Farmer's 1972 (revised 1977; my copy is the 2012 Titan Books printing with appendices by Christopher Paul Carey, Win Scott Eckert and Dennis E. Power) this afternoon while waiting for Gina to finish her shift, since while we work in the same building, our schedules don't align.

The plot, in short, is as follows: a crew of scientists - trained anthropologists, linguists, botanists, zoologists, etc. - travel back in time from 2070 AD to 12,000 BC to study the Magdalenian culture of paleolithic France.  Their leader, the enigmatic John Gribardson, begins to interact with the people they are studying in a way that makes his compatriots - the husband and wife team of Drummond and Rachel Silverstein, and linguist Von Billman - uneasy; along with the mystery of how Gribardson was chosen for the role of team lead and some questionable comments he's made suggesting a greater age then his looks suggest.  The team begins to tear itself apart around him, as Rachel falls deeply in love with him and Drummond goes mad with jealousy, all while Gribardson interferes with - or creates - prehistory as they all know it.

Gribardson, of course, is a non-copyright-violating pastiche of a certain Lord of the Jungle popularized by author Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Having been rendered immortal by a witch doctor's serum (I'm not familiar with the book in which this event took place - but I also confess that I've only read a very small smattering of the Tarzan novels past Tarzan At The Earth's Core, the 13th novel in the series), Tarzan is of course still alive and virile in 2070.

I thought Farmer's handling of Tarzan's character here was interesting; I liked the consistency I saw with the Tarzan I've known and loved for close to twenty years now, particularly in his interactions with both the "civilized" and "savage" people around him.  Tarzan may be the world's one true meritocrat in his dealings with others.

I do find it a little questionable that Tarzan would go through with carrying the ultimate "White Man's Burden" for thousands of years of both recorded and unrecorded history; why is he appearing as a variety of gods and demigods throughout both recorded and unrecorded history? He's Hercules, he's Quetzalcoatl, he was present at the founding of Rome, he's the father of Abraham, and of course he's the god Sahhindar in Farmer's later Khokarsa series of novels (expanded upon by Christopher Paul Carey).  Why? Tarzan has no love for civilization, but here he's creating them on a large scale.  Is it that the existence of these civilizations is preordained by the nature of Time and he's fulfilling a preexisting destiny that centuries of existence have left him aware of? I'm not sure.

Either way, I found the novel to be a very enjoyable one - clearly so, since I finished it in under 48 hours.  And it sets me on my way to enjoy the rest of the Khokarsa/Ancient Opar series, which I'm very much looking forward to -- and also sets me on my way to reading or rereading H. Rider Haggard's novels, which I haven't revisited in many years, since the Ancient Opar series ties in to his novels as well...

Lord, let me never run out of interesting things to read.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Death Mates for the Lust-Lost (Hugh J. Gallagher, MYSTERY NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES MAGAZINE, July 1940)

Well, having recovered from the glory that was Pulfest (I miss it already - and I'm thinking about setting aside $10 a week between now and next year's show to spend on books) and having begun my new job, it's time to get back to writing about what I'm reading.  I've had to back-track a little; I've been reading these stories faster then I can blog about them, so I've had to re-read this tale to refresh myself.  Truth be told, I'm not sure this one was worth it.  Let's discuss, shall we?

Miriam Daly is heading upriver somewhere in South America, having accepted a contract to perform for a mysterious "Mr. Martinez."  She soon learns that the rest of the women on the boat - that is, the entire passenger list - are all also performers of varying sorts, ranging from a magician's assistant and a trapeze artist to a "public health lecturer" (whom I can only assume is discussing venereal health at her lectures), and they've all accepted similarly mysterious contracts from Mr. Martinez.

Upon arrival at Martinez's castle, Miriam and the rest are briefly greeting by the greasy tub of bearded lard that identifies itself as Martinez, and then half of them are whisked off to their bedrooms and locked in - the other three are to "entertain" Martinez.

The trapeze artist, Phyllis, soon appears at Miriam's window - and reveals that "she" is actually Phil, disguised as a woman to investigate the disappearance of his sister, who was heading to the Martinez estate a year earlier.  The two take off into the jungle, coming across a sinister scene - Martinez torturing the public health lecturer before offering her up as a still-living feast to a cannibal tribe that serves him.  The other two women are then hunted through the jungle by Martinez.

Yes, it's another take on the old "The Most Dangerous Game" territory, but "Death Mates for the Lust-Lost" lacks the visceral adrenaline rush of Richard Connell's classic story, as well as the narrative skill.  Martinez is a disgusting slob, unlike the cultured aristocrat Zaroff, and never comes across as truly menacing.

Worse still, we're never treated to a description of the hunt.  Instead we follow Miriam and Phil playing detective and trying to figure out how to get into Martinez's secret trophy room (which they find only by serendipitous accident, when Miriam faints and falls right into the secret lever that opens the door).  Another serendipitous accident saves these two clods from Martinez.  In fact, I'm fairly certain nothing these two do has any actual impact on bringing a close to Martinez's ghoulish operations.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm not a huge fan of this story, and I usually like "Most Dangerous Game" knockoffs.  But this sent me scurrying back to "The Hounds of Zaroff" instead.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pulpfest Recap

Gina and I got home to Rochester from Pulpfest last night around 9 pm, having stopped in Buffalo to visit with my parents, sister, and grandparents over dinner.

Going to Pulpfest was a wonderful experience, and I'm so glad we went - other than a brief snafu regarding finding the appropriate parking lot, everything went as smooth as glass in terms of getting there, checking in, and settling into our (awesome) 10th story room.

We ended up eating every meal up the street at a place called North Market, as it was a lot cheaper and provided a much greater variety than the hotel would have, and Gina and I have been trying to introduce more new foods into our diets.  Among the places we tried were a Mediterranean place, a Polish deli, a BBQ place, a Belgian waffle bar and an independent doughnut maker.  Everything was delicious, and we ended up taking more photos of our food than we did the show, and we're not normally the type to take endless photos of our food.

I didn't attend quite as many panels as I originally intended to, but the ones I did attend were excellent.  Thursday night I sat in on a discussion of counterintelligence techniques displayed in the Shadow novels of Walter Gibson, Tim King gave a great talk, very informative and lively and he kept it fun as well.

Friday my panel hopping began with a reading from New Fictioneer Jason Scott Aiken, reading his story "The Sword of Lomar" from the new anthology "Swords Against Cthulhu," which was really gripping.  "The Sword of Lomar" takes place slightly before the events of H.P. Lovecraft's "Polaris," and features a flame-haired swordswoman (aren't they all?), Nujah of Lomar, as she tries to stem the advance of the diabolical half-human Inutos.

Following Jason's reading, I was scheduled to run a session of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, which fell
through - no players showed up! It was myself, Rick Thomas and Jeff "Venture" Fournier sitting around telling stories of RPGs past for about an hour.

That night, Gina and I caught the tail end of the talk with Jon Arfstrom, the last surviving artist from the original run of Weird Tales, then enjoyed listening to Chuck Loridans, Jason Scott Aiken and Frank Schildiner discuss the weird tales of Philip Jose Farmer - during which time Gina was carefully writing down the titles of stories that sounded interesting, and whispering to me, "Look for this in the dealer's room tomorrow morning."

After that, we closed out our panel-attending with a discussion of "The Creation of the Lovecraft Mythos" by John Haefele, Don Herron, Tom Krabacher, Rick Lai, and Nathan Madison.  A lot of this went over Gina's head, and it really was geared towards devoted Lovecraftians who knew a lot of what was being covered already, but I do not fault the gents on stage for that one bit - the talk wasn't really intended as an introduction to Lovecraft.

As far as what I bought...well, let me preface by saying I went in with a budget that I set for myself, and a list of things I was specifically looking for.  On the following list, the books I picked up that were on my list are bolded, and the books purchased after I went over budget are italicized.

  • Time's Last Gift - Philip Jose Farmer
  • Hadon of Ancient Opar - Philip Jose Farmer
  • Exiles of Kho - Christopher Paul Carey
  • Flight to Opar - Philip Jose Farmer
  • Hadon, King of Opar - Christopher Paul Carey
  • Tarzan Alive - Philip Jose Farmer
  • Swords Against Cthulhu - various, incl. Jason Scott Aiken
  • Barbarian Crowns - various, incl. Jason Scott Aiken
  • Fall of Cthulhu vol. II - various, incl. Jason Scott Aiken
  • Airship Hunters - Jim Beard and Duane Spurlock
  • Tales of the Wold Newton Universe - Philip Jose Farmer
  • Coffin Kirk - Arch Whitehouse
  • Carnacki: The New Adventures - various, incl. Jim Beard
I might have a slight addiction, and I definitely went in underestimating how much I would want.  

I also picked up the collection "Death Has An Escort," by Roger Torrey, as a retirement present for my father, who retires after almost 30 years at the post office in a few weeks.  He's largely responsible for my interest in the pulps, having introduced me to Tarzan as a very young kid and later taking me to see the '90s film adaptation of THE PHANTOM.  In the last few years, he's gotten really into crime and detective fiction, both vintage and modern, especially stories taking place in unusual times or locales, and over dinner last night we spent quite a bit of time discussing Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.  Once he retires, he's going to have a lot of free time on his hands, and hopefully more reading material will keep him from driving my mother up the wall.  Personally, I think now would be a great time for him to transition from reading detective stories to writing them himself.  

So that was my first experience at Pulpfest.  I met a lot of really nice people - seriously, really nice people.  I was blown away at how friendly everyone I talked to was.  I got my first opportunity to seriously geek out and discuss H. Rider Haggard...probably ever.  I definitely am already planning to attend next year's show.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pulpfest Bound!

At 5am tomorrow morning, Gina and I will be setting off for Pulpfest in scenic Columbus, Ohio! Hope to see some of you there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Shrieking Pool (G.T. Fleming-Roberts, MYSTERY NOVEL MAGAZINE, February 1936)

A bit tamer than the last story (but let's face it, ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS is tamer than the last story), "The Shrieking Pool" is another "Weird Menace" tale.  Let's dive right in, shall we?

Corrin is summoned to the isolated Jordan Scientific Institute on the shores of Black Pool, an inky-watered lake in the middle of nowhere.  It seems the lake has become a source of horror; people are just disappearing into it, and all signs point to the lake being the home of a relic dinosaur, a "Brontozoum."  Corrin is almost ready to believe in the existence of the Brontozoum, especially once he observes it attack two people in a small boat.

His opinion is swung, however, in the direction of human agency once he learns who those two people are and overhears a snippet of their conversation.  She's the wife of one of the scientists, but the guy she was talking sweet nothings with in the boat was not her husband.  Corrin believes this is the key to resolving the mystery of Black Pool.

Of course, being a "Weird Menace" tale, it's entirely a case of human agency at play here, with a full on Scooby Doo reveal, with the "Brontozoum" being revealed to be a giant pair of fake three-toed feet and a "tail" composed of a giant sandbag.  Interestingly, a real-world parallel to this (though one with far fewer deaths) did occur a few years later, when trackways of giant three-toed prints began appearing on Florida beaches in 1948.  Cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson theorized that the prints were made by a 15' tall prehistoric penguin; in the 1980s, it was eventually revealed that the tracks were the creation of a local prankster, who wore a big pair of cast-iron monster feet to leave the tracks.

Overall the story was kind of dull, and relied way too heavily on an entire organization of scientists being a bunch of gullible idiots, but as a big fan of surviving dinosaur stories, it had its charm for me.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fresh Fiances for the Devil's Daughter (Russell Gray, MARVEL TALES, May 1940)

This story has me wondering what kind of marital issues Russell Gray may have had.  Because this story has a level of salaciousness that I was not expecting from the 1940s - more like from the sleazy exploitation films of the 1970s.  Between the nearly-nude woman whipping a man half to death and the balls-out insanity of naked women being hunted with paintball guns...but I get ahead of myself.

"Fresh Fiances for the Devil's Daughter" (listed just as "Fiances for the Devil's Daughter in the Pulp Fiction Megapack) begins with a publishing agent being introduced to "Tala Mag," a bronzed sex goddess who doesn't take no for an answer.  She allegedly wants to meet with him about becoming a client, but her way of going about this is to grind her pleasure-zeppelins into his chest.  A faithful and loving husband, our hero pushes Tala Mag away, leaving her swearing vengeance.

Shortly thereafter, he gets a letter from Portia, one of his best clients, apologizing for Tala Mag's behavior and requesting the agent meet her at her penthouse apartment.  Despite his better judgment (if she wants to be his client, she should meet him at his office), he meets with her, and when he once again rebuffs her sexual advances, she has him stripped and chained up by a thuggish servant, and then whips him into unconsciousness, leaving him half-dead in the warehouse district of town.  He manages to get home to his loving wife, keeping quiet about his experience with Tala Mag.

A few weeks later, he and his wife are invited, again by letter, to a resort cabin being held by another of his writer clients.  Having not learned his lesson, they go - only to discover that not only is Tala Mag not done with him, she has unfinished business with several of his other clients, all of whom had the same initial experience he did.  Five men and their wives are now prisoners of Tala Mag.  After being forced to watch Portia tortured to death with hot irons, the men are presented with a new horror: Armed with paintball guns loaded with acid pellets, they must hunt each other's naked wives for two hours, and the woman with the most acid burns will be tortured to death with the hot irons.

Can the men break free from the crippling psychological trauma of Tala Mag's domination long enough to rescue their wives?

Wow.  There's, uh, a lot of S&M here, and precious little actual story.  This story seems like it'd be more at home in a men's adventure magazine in the 1950s or early 60s.  The characters are all pretty much interchangeable - all the males are the same, all their wives are the same, all the henchmen are the same, and Tala Mag exists solely to be a pair of boobs and a whip.  Her motivation is given solely as "she just wanted a reason to kill us."

I will say, the imagery of people being hunted with paintball guns that shoot acid is a powerful one.  I may have to steal that for when I get back to work on the "private eye vs evil cult" novel I started on a while back.

I'm considering picking up more of Russell Gray's work, because this story was like a train-wreck - I just couldn't look away, and I want to see if the rest of his stuff is this crazily sexual and weird.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mistress of Snarling Death (Paul Chadwick, ACE MYSTERY, July 1936)

Great title, a bit dull of a story though - at least I thought so, and had to re-read the story to remember what was going on.  Oh well; for less then a buck for 25 stories, they're not all going to be gripping reads -- there has to be some filler here somewhere.

Stephen Demerest is summoned to the home of an old family friend, Halliday, with cryptic instructions to pose as a radio repairman and be ready to act when "the signal" is given.  For this Halliday provides him with a check for $500 as compensation.

On his way there, his car bogs down in a muddy road and while walking, he encounters a strangely-dressed, silent woman accompanied by a half-dozen gigantic, sinister hounds.  When she ignores him, Demerest resolves to follow her anyways - wherever she's going, there must be civilization.  Turns out, she's heading to the Halliday house as well.

Demerest is greeted by the ugliest servants he's ever seen, every last one of them variously crippled or deformed, and shown up to see Halliday, who's being watched by an ordinary-looking couple, Eric and Nana.

Getting a moment to speak with Demerest, Halliday explains that he's dying, and Eric and Nana have been blackmailing him for months over an undisclosed discretion; the strange, silent woman is Halliday's daughter, who he's sheltered from the world and tried to inculcate a hatred of men in her, to make sure she never leaves him the way her mother did.  He now realizes that he was wrong to do so, and would Demerest make sure she finds her way in the world and into a good man's bed? Once he gets her away from Eric and Nana of course...

I don't know, this story didn't do a whole lot for me.  I thought it was excessively talky with too little action and a denouement that felt over-simplified.  People getting mauled by giant dogs is always pretty good, but overall the story was a disappointment for me.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Blood for the Vampire Dead (Robert Leslie Bellem, MYSTERY TALES March 1940)

Having finished reading The Green Lama: Scions in under 24 hours, I decided to pick up some more pulp to read; I dropped ninety-nine cents on The Pulp Fiction Megapack last night and started reading.  The stories are short, sweet, and to the point, without any fancy "characterization" getting in the way of the cheese and sleaze.  The fact that I had never read any of the stories before and was only familiar with one author got me very excited - I'd be truly going in blind, with no preconceived notions about what I was getting myself into.

The first story in the collection bears the delightfully lurid title of "Blood for the Vampire Dead," and is, as I understand things, a fairly standard representative of the "Weird Menace" stories, in that there's a seemingly-supernatural threat that turns out to have a mundane resolution -- oops, spoilers!

The story centers around Dr. Tim Croft, a young doctor assigned to a remote region of the Ozarks (I'm not sure why the government is assigning doctors to regions - was this a New Deal thing I'd been unaware of?), and his nurse/girlfriend Brenda.  Dr. Croft has been treating a local woman named Eula Starko for a rare blood disorder, which has ultimately claimed her life.

Another local clan, the Ludwells, get it into their heads that Eula is a "witch-vampire," holding up the naked, bloodless body of clan patriarch Lige Ludwell's teenage daughter as proof (never mind that Lige whipped the shit out of her and drove her naked into the stormy night for dating a boy Lige didn't approve of).  When Croft tries to explain to them that Eula's dead in the next room, investigation reveals that Eula's gone and the other nurse has been stripped, strung up and drained of blood.  When Croft tries to phone the sheriff, he gets whacked upside the head and knocked unconscious.  Coming to some time later, he discovers that Brenda's missing...

It's a short, light, easy read - I think I plowed through it in under ten minutes.  And regardless of the existence or not of "witch-vampires," I found the story very enjoyable and honestly kind of compelling - with a twist I was not expecting.

My biggest complaint with the story was the hackneyed regional dialect of most of the cast.  You know how H.P. Lovecraft spells out phonetically the dialogue of characters like Innsmouth town drunk Zadok Allen, or backwoods degenerate Joe Slater? It's like that, but less elegantly handled.  I have trouble believing that even in the most inbred corner of 1930s Appalachia anyone would say "we-uns" in place of "we."

Also, I want to read all the stories delineated on that cover.  Those titles are pure gold.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Green Lama: Scions (Adam L. Garcia, Moonstone Books, 2014)

So this came up in my Facebook feed the other day from one of the "Pulp" groups I belong to, a new author providing an authorized continuation of a classic pulp hero.  I'd been vaguely familiar with the Green Lama; enough to know that he, more than figures like the Shadow, straddled the line between the pulps' Masked Vigilantes and modern Superheroes.  Crazy costume and some degree of mystical superpowers, but mostly a man trained to superhuman levels, he was also the world's first Buddhist superhero.  But that was all I really knew; I've got the collected volumes of the original Green Lama stories from the 1930s and 40s in my Amazon wishlist, but haven't gotten around to them yet.  Well, Adam Garcia's continuation novel, The Green Lama: Scions, was available for free on Kindle for a while (no longer, unfortunately, but still available at a more than reasonable price), and I thought to myself, "It's time.  Om mani padme hum."

Set in 1938, the book opens with two small-time crooks disposing of a body encased in cement, only to be disposed of themselves when their little rowboat is smashed to flinders on the bow of a runaway cruise ship that drives itself right into Liberty Island, almost crushing the Statue of Liberty's toes.  Once aboard, the police discover a scene that would make Hieronymus Bosch need to change his unmentionables, as all but one of the crew and passengers are torn to bits and splattered across every surface, the floors almost ankle-deep with blood.

Drawn to the scene by disturbances in the celestial ether, the Green Lama finds himself locked in mortal combat with a race of extradimensional horrors intent on re-staking their once-held claim on the Earth.  Yes, it's the Green Lama versus something that pretty closely resembles Lovecraft's fabled Old Ones, though given a luxurious, if such is the right word for such things, coating of body horror over top the cosmicism.

Even given the fairly limited amount of free time I have for reading, I tore through this book in under 24 hours.  It's a light, quick read, unburdened by purple prose or extraneous text.  Garcia gets right to the point in true pulp fashion, and does not linger long on material that doesn't grab the reader by the throat.  Every word is used to its maximum potential, and not a comma is wasted.  It is lean, mean fiction that truly earns the appellation "spellbinding."

Was it the best introduction to the Green Lama I could have asked for? I probably would have been better served by reading the original stories first, as I think Garcia assumes a degree of familiarity on his readers' part with not just the Lama himself, but his supporting cast as well, so I do feel like I was fumbling trying to get a feel for the character.  On the other hand, reading this has convinced me that I *do* need to read the original stories, and fairly soon.

I say, check it out.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Lai Wan: Tales of the Dreamwalker (C.J. Henderson and Friends, 2007, Marietta Press)

I realized it would be foolish of me to try and take this, or any subsequent anthology I read, and do individual posts on each story.  I would quickly get bored with writing them, it would throw off the rhythm of my reading (especially since I don't have a whole lot of time for blogging right now), and it would quickly become irritating to anyone reading this.  So I decided to wait until I finished the collection before saying anything further about it.

Last time, in discussing the introductory story "A Happy Mother Takes Away Pain," I got briefly into the origin of the character Lai Wan, who she was and her spate of abilities, so I won't get into it again here.  Suffice to say, she's a psychometrist - anything she touches, she knows the complete history of.  Any person she touches, she knows every secret, every sin, every shame, every thought.  This has, ironically, destroyed her capacity for normal human contact, let alone relationships.

Six of the ten stories in this anthology are by C.J. Henderson working solo; the remaining four are collaborations, one apiece, with John L. French, Bruce Gehweiler, Patrick Thomas, and John Sunseri.  Of these, only one, "Two Great Pleasures," involve the London Detective Agency and Theodore London, the primary character of the series in which Lai Wan originally appeared.  But this is not a Teddy London anthology, it is a Lai Wan anthology.

The stories here are predominantly what might be called "small" stories, in that they don't deal with "end of the world" scenarios for the most part.  Many are almost "day in the life" tales in which Lai Wan's actions affect only a small group of people - but it means a world of difference to them that she took action.

A couple stories that I wanted to single out for particular praise:

"Mercy" (C.J. Henderson): A letter from an old friend leads Lai Wan to intervene in an abusive relationship that's about to reach new lows.  I think this story best showcases what I think is one of the central points Henderson was trying to make with these stories -- that the worst monsters are all too human.

"Two Great Pleasures" (C.J. Henderson): When the London Agency is contacted to take down a serial killer with a gambling addiction, Lai Wan proposes an offer the killer won't be able to refuse.  This story maintained a nail-biting sense of tension throughout, and I admit to chewing my lip a little as the stakes got higher and higher and the interplay between Lai Wan and the killer more and more emotionally charged.

"The Moment After Death" (C.J. Henderson): Lai Wan explains the origin of her powers to an elderly woman while walking in the park, and in the process reveals that even the simplest acts can have profound effects.  This is the final story in the collection and the perfect capstone, a solemn tale that perfectly sums up the profound sadness and burden of power carried by Lai Wan.

I say, check it out.