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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Five – “The Final Count”

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

1189621421509Sapper’s The Final Count (1926) saw the Bulldog Drummond formula being shaken and stirred yet again. The first four books in the series are the most popular because they chronicle Drummond’s ongoing battle with criminal mastermind Carl Peterson. The interesting factor is how different the four books are from one another. Sapper seemed determined to cast aside the idea of the series following a template and the result kept the long-running series fresh, as well as atypical.

The most striking feature this time is the decision to opt for a first person narrator in the form of John Stockton, the newest member of Drummond’s gang. While Drummond’s wife, Phyllis, played a crucial role in the first book, she barely registers in the early sequels. One would have expected Sapper to have continued the damsel in distress formula with Phyllis in peril, but he really only exploits this angle in the second book in the series, The Black Gang (1922).

The Black Gang reappear here, if only briefly, and are quickly dispatched by the more competent and deadly foe they face. This befits the more serious tone of this book, which has very few humorous passages. The reason for the somber tone is the focus is on a scientific discovery of devastating consequence that threatens to either revolutionize war or end its threat forever. Robin Gaunt is the tragic genius whose invention of a deadly poison that could wipe out a city the size of London by being released into the air proves eerily prescient.

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The Original Bug-Eyed Monster: Astounding Stories, May 1931

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Astounding Stories May 1931-smallPulps are my weakness. I discovered them when I was just 12 years old, in Jacques Sadoul’s marvelous art book 2000 A.D. Illustrations From the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps (which I discussed back in May). That book sparked a lifetime interest in pulp magazines, where American science fiction was born.

Of course, I was too young to have purchased or read any pulp magazines myself in 1976. Pulps died out in the 1950s, killed off by wartime paper shortages and changing economics. So I’ve relied on the collector’s market to supply me with magazines — an expensive proposition, especially if you’re a completist.

Over the years, I’ve gotten more discriminating in my collecting. I dearly love Planet Stories, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder, Unknown, Air Wonder Stories, and many other pulps. But my favorite is Astounding Stories (later Astounding Science Fiction), the magazine which — under legendary editor John W. Campbell — ushered in the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, discovering Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and many, many others. Campbell became editor with the October 1937 issue and he quickly transformed the entire field. 

Curiously, the most expensive and in-demand issues of Astounding aren’t from Campbell’s reign, however. They’re from its first three years, 1930-1933, the period known as the Clayton Astounding, when it was owned by Clayton Magazines. That’s their symbol, the little blue pennant, in the top right of the cover at left.

Very little fiction from the Clayton period is remembered today — and if you’ve never heard of the Clayton Astounding, you’re not missing much. The magazine’s early editors, like most of the American public, didn’t really understand science fiction and mostly filled the magazine with thinly disguised westerns in space and early space operas. But the covers… ah. They’re a very different story.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Four – “The Third Round”

Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

510+vaEqotL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_20974339Sapper’s The Third Round (1926) marked a return to the more humorous tone of the first book in the series. Not only the humor, but the premise of that initial book is invoked with the decision to again build the plot around a spunky female whose doddering old father has fallen prey to heinous villains. All trace of The Black Gang (1924) and its doom-laden paranoia over England likewise falling prey to a communist revolution has been removed. In its place we have Hugh Drummond once again eager to escape the boredom of everyday life and engaging in comical banter with friends and foes alike.

The starting point for the adventure this time is the impending nuptials of Algy Longworth, Hugh’s old friend who has finally been reduced to the silly ass familiar from the stage play and film adaptations. The catalyst for Algy’s descent into idiocy is his having fallen head over heels in love to the extent that he now horrifies his friends by reciting poetry. So serious is his obsession with the girl of his dreams that he has become a literal walking disaster shunned by all who know him.

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Blogging Sax Rohmer… in the Beginning, Part One

Friday, July 4th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

illo-Sax Rohmerrohmer2“The Mysterious Mummy” marked Sax Rohmer’s first appearance in print. Only 20 years old at the time, Rohmer was then writing under the byline of A. Sarsfield Ward. Born Arthur Henry Ward, Sarsfield was a surname of historical repute from his mother’s side of the family, which he adopted at the start of his writing career.

A preview of the story was featured in the November 19, 1903 issue of Pearson’s Weekly, with the full story printed in the November 24 issue. “The Mysterious Mummy” languished in obscurity until it was reprinted by Peter Haining in the 1986 anthology, Ray Bradbury Introduces Tales of Dungeons and Dragons. Haining also included the story in the 1988 anthology, The Mummy: Stories of the Living Corpse. Rohmer scholar Gene Christie selected the story for inclusion in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense, published in 2011.

The most interesting feature about this first foray into fiction is that it is not at all a living mummy story, but rather a straight heist caper. Rohmer later disingenuously claimed that a copycat theft was attempted in France and the thief was arrested with a copy of Pearson’s Weekly on his person, featuring the story which he claimed was so good he had to risk trying it in real life. Rohmer, of course, was a terribly unreliable interview subject. While it is possible the press were more gullible a century ago, it is more likely they viewed his tall tales as good copy.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Three – The Black Gang

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

2940011937965_p0_v1_s260x420BD02-Cover-01The most striking feature of the second Bulldog Drummond thriller by Sapper is the near complete removal of humor from the proceedings compared with the frequent light touch demonstrated with the initial book in the series. There is also precious little mention of the First World War, which was such an important factor in the first book, as the focus here is much more on the reaction against the Russian Revolution and the fear of a similar Communist uprising occurring in Britain during the early 1920s. Once more the influence of Edgar Wallace’s Four Just Men series is strongly felt, particularly in the first half of the book, where the Black Gang are featured anonymously with no mention of their true identities.

Many critics label this second entry in the long-running series as fascist. I suppose that is an understandable reaction to a vigilante storyline in which it is suggested Britain would benefit from modifying freedom of speech to deny protection to political radicals. The Black Gang is very much a Machiavellian work, but one which seeks to restore order at its conclusion by having Hugh Drummond agree to dismantle the Black Gang and let the law sit in judgment over criminals going forward. Of course with such a finale as this, one wonders why Sapper bothered to take the proceedings to such an extreme in the first place.

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New Treasures: Planets of Adventure by Murray Leinster

Friday, June 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Planets of Adventure-smallThere’s lot of great new arrivals to tell you about this week. I’ve got them all stacked up beside my green chair, unread. Because the book I’m really excited about is Planets of Adventure by Murray Leinster, published by Baen Books over a decade ago.

That’s when I first bought it, too — over a decade ago. I went hunting for a copy as a birthday gift for my son last week, and was thrilled to find it was still in print. A fat omnibus of pulp science fiction from one of my favorite science fiction writers, still in print in mass market after nearly eleven years!

Just like that, my faith in humanity is restored. Here’s the back cover blurb, ’cause it’s awesome.

Breathtaking space adventure by a master of interplanetary science fiction. Including two complete novels, one of them a Hugo Award-winner.

The Planet Explorer: As humans spread throughout the galaxy, thousands of planets have been colonized. Often, the colonists discover too late that an apparently hospitable planet conceals a danger to their survival. The fate of these colonies scattered across the galaxy rests with one man, whose own fate is to race forever against looming interstellar disaster.

The Forgotten Planet: A ship is marooned on a planet whose existence has been mislaid by the galactic bureaucracy. And the planet’s ecology has gone wild, breeding deadly giant insects. The ship’s crew and passengers have no hope of rescue. Can they and their descendants survive? Tune in next millennium.

Plus more exciting adventures of men and women against the hostile stars.

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New Treasures: Adventure Tales #7

Sunday, June 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Adventure Tales 7-smallHurrah! Hurrah! The latest issue of Adventure Tales has arrived! And a spectacular issue it is.

It starts with the cover, a reprint of my all-time favorite Planet Stories cover. I’ve always wanted to know who painted it — and I still don’t know, as the cover artist remains uncredited. (Maybe nobody knows? Sadly, that’s entirely possible.)

It’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen an issue of Adventure Tales, Wildside Press’s flagship magazine of pulp reprints. And speaking as a magazine publisher who thought he was doing well putting out one issue a year, that means something. Here’s an explanatory snippet from John Betancourt’s (anonymous) editorial:

We are, as usual, managing to keep to our “irregular” schedule with an issue that’s “only” 4 years in following the last one. Hopefully that won’t happen again. (Blame the economy… we’ve had to focus on things that actually make money, rather than the publisher’s time-consuming pulp-magazine hobby!)

I’m hugely appreciative of Wildside’s tireless efforts to keep countless genre authors — many of whom have no other outlet — constantly in print. But having said that. I still vote for more issues of Adventure Tales. Let’s hear it for time-consuming pulp-magazine hobbies! They make the world go round.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Two

Friday, June 6th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

4b19b9961e944_71847n861809-superdicklib_3The strongest scenes in Bulldog Drummond (1920) are the ones that show off Sapper’s strengths as a humorist. While it has since become commonplace to see Bondian heroes tossing off quips while being menaced by an unfailingly polite villain, it hardly compares to the way Hugh Drummond handled himself in similar scenarios. Drummond regularly displays a self-deprecating humor when it comes to his features and his intellect, yet his ability to needle villains by refusing to treat them as a serious threat displays an intelligence and understanding of the criminal mind that provides a constant source of amusement to the reader.

Drummond may start off as an independently wealthy and very bored veteran of the First World War seeking adventure, but the character soon transforms into the head of a gang of vigilantes determined to right wrongs as they see fit. He and his gang view meting out justice without resorting to the law as their right as recently demobilized soldiers. The wartime ability to kill without fear of criminal punishment continues into their clandestine civilian activities, although they take the precaution of hiding behind masks and hoods to protect their identities when doing so.

Drummond’s gang includes his fellow World War I veterans Algy Longworth, Peter Darrell, Ted Jerningham, Toby Sinclair, and Jerry Seymour, as well as New York police detective Jerome Green. Later dubbed The Black Gang, the vigilante squad was clearly inspired by Edgar Wallace’s bestselling Four Just Men series. The secret war they wage is aimed squarely against the forces of socialism and communism to an extent that was matched only by Harold Gray’s original version of Little Orphan Annie. The anti-foreign sentiments in the first book are rooted in the perceived threat of foreigners altering the course of England’s political identity and economic status.

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Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part One

Friday, May 30th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

170px-Bulldog_Drummond_Poster2566515-bulldogdrummond2Bulldog Drummond is a peculiar case. The reputation of the original novels is more maligned than even Sax Rohmer’s Yellow Peril thrillers. To be sure, “Sapper” (the pseudonym of author H. C. McNeile) expressed views that stand out as offensive even among the common colonial prejudices of Edwardian England. The reason for this is easily understood. The author’s nationalistic fervor was predicated on the belief that the only good nation was Britain and every other nationality was inferior to varying degrees.

McNeile was a “True Blue” Brit in every way. A decorated veteran of the Great War, Sapper and his characters adore England and are intolerant of everyone else. Americans are castigated for their crudeness, the French are pompous, and Germans are a vile and irredeemable people. More bigoted views will follow, but that is the extent in the first quarter of the first book in the series.

Having covered the bad, what is it that makes the books still worth reading nearly a century later? Are they simply a document of more repressive times or do they offer value that makes one willing to overlook the reliance upon stereotypes and casual slurs? I would argue that anyone interested in the development of the thriller and pulp fiction should be exposed to at least the first four books in the long-running series. There is much that is light and entertaining in Sapper’s fiction, to the extent that they often read like drawing room comedies until thriller aspects interrupt the humor.

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John D. MacDonald: A Writer’s Writer

Thursday, May 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne


That thing he’s using is called a ‘typewriter’

“With sufficient funds to cover four months’ living expenses, he set out and wrote at an incredible pace, providing eight hundred thousand words. Writing for a wide variety of magazines, he kept more than thirty stories in the mail constantly, not giving up on a story until it had been rejected by at least ten markets

In the process he accumulated almost a thousand rejection slips after five months of effort. During this period, MacDonald worked fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, literally learning his craft and gaining the experience of a decade as he went along, which was important for a man who made no serious attempt to write until he was thirty.”

– Martin H. Greenberg, in the introduction to Other Times, Other Worlds.

That is how John D. MacDonald, thirty years old, fresh out of the military in 1946 and with one published short story (which he actually sent to his wife in a letter: she submitted it to a magazine) learned the craft of fiction writing.

One of America’s finest writers (note: I didn’t qualify that with the word ‘fiction’) set himself upon a course that no sane person would have undertaken in that situation.

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