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Into the Tomb: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Eleven: Valley of Death

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Captain Marvel Chapter Eleven - poster-smallAh, the excitement in the theater is palpable as we near the end of our journey and today’s eleventh chapter in The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Valley of Death,” begins to flicker across the screen. Because the seats are largely filled with sweaty elementary school children, something else is palpable too — whew! Baths and showers are definitely called for when you get home, kids…

Today’s title cards summarizing Chapter Ten will, as always, enlighten the enlightenable and confuse the confusable. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) “Malcolm — Is shipwrecked on a reef off the coast of Siam.” “Captain Marvel — Rescues Malcolm’s party and the crew from the S.S. Carfax.” “Betty — Is left aboard ship by the Scorpion.” Now it’s time for the word we’ve come to know so well, though I’m sure only a few of you remember exactly what the letters mean. Me? Of course I know… but, uh, we’ve no time to waste with trivia… Shazam!

A flashback to the previous cliffhanger puts us with Billy and the unconscious Betty on board the sinking Carfax (and if the title card says it’s the Carfax, that’s good enough for me). As the ship goes down and water pours into Betty’s cabin, Billy gets himself and Betty off the doomed vessel (a judicious cut ensures that we don’t quite see how) and manages to swim to shore with the buoyant secretary in tow. It’s a good thing he decided to skip band camp last summer and take those swimming lessons at the YMCA.

Once on dry ground, Betty relates how an unknown assailant struck her from behind. “Why would anyone want to kill you?” Billy asks. “He must have been after my section of the map; he took my handbag,” Betty replies. Everyone seems satisfied with this explanation. This is 1941 and it won’t do to entertain the idea that the Scorpion just wanted the purse. But what of the map? It wasn’t in the bag — “It’s in a waterproof envelope pinned inside my jacket.” At this news, Bentley looks like a kid who wanted the big new Hot Wheels set for Christmas and instead got one of those last-resort toys that isn’t even really a toy, like a grip-strengthener.

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Gonji: Fortress of Lost Worlds by T. C. Rypel

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2924853GW8NECCJBack in January, I reviewed the first three books of T. C. Rypel’s Gonji series. Though thirty-odd years old, the books are exemplars of what heroic fantasy should be: exciting, wildly inventive, well-written, and — above all — starring a heroic protagonist. Exiled half-caste samurai Gonji Sabatake, try as he might, is unable to avoid fighting evil or behaving courageously. This stuff is why I still read S&S.

While the first three books (actually, one big book chopped into three parts by the original publisher, Zebra) are a complete story, they are also the introduction to a much wider and wilder tale. Gonji’s adventures start anew in Fortress of Lost Worlds (1985), republished this past May by Wildside Press. The fifth book, A Hungering of Wolves, should be rereleased pretty soon by Wildside as well.

At the end of the previous book, Deathwind of Vedun, Gonji left his surviving companions in order to pursue the werewolf, Simon Sardonis. He had been told years before by a Shinto priest that his destiny lay with something or someone called the Deathwind, which he discovered to be Simon. But driven by his own fears and burdens, Simon wants little to do with the Easterner and cares even less for their supposed entwined fate, so he keeps moving to prevent Gonji from finding him.

Fortress of Lost Worlds’ main story picks up two years into Gonji’s trek to find Simon. He and his party of soldiers have been savaged and chased to the feet of the Pyrenees by an unknown band he calls the Dark Company. As his last companion is lost in the frigid night, the samurai makes his escape into caverns in the mountainside. While the caves possess magical properties that both warm the nearly frozen warrior and his horse and fill their bellies, they turn out also to have occupants: ogres.

That sets the stage for Gonji’s monster-filled journey from the mountains to the town of Barbaso. He’d been warned that evil was loose in the valley, but having decided to travel to Toledo to settle an old debt, the straightest route lay through the valley, and Barbaso.

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Vintage Treasures: Runyon First and Last by Damon Runyon

Sunday, July 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Runyon First and Last-smallIt was Chicago writer Steven Silver who introduced me to Damon Runyon, with his hilarious Cthulhu-Runyon mash-up “In the Shadows of Broadway,” published as a podcast in StarShipSofa #236 in May, 2012. Since then, I’ve been acquainting myself with Runyon’s comedic short stories, several of which were the basis for the famous Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.

Runyon First and Last is a fine sampling of his earliest and later stories, including his last, “Blonde Mink,” published in Collier’s Magazine in August, 1945, the tale of a ghost who cannot rest until his fiancé buys the headstone she promised with the $23,000 he left her… and the strange fate of the blonde mink coat she bought with the money instead. Hilarious and sad, it’s unlike any other fantasy you’ve ever read.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book.

This is a collection of 25 short stories by one of the truly great writers of American fiction. Six of the stories presented here were written during Runyon’s earliest phase. They are technically expert and have a non-Broadway background.

Among his later stories, his last, titled “Blonde Mink,” sets a new high in the art of short story writing. It displays the full flower of that Runyonese which perfectly conveys the flavor of Manhattan’s high-flying guys and dolls.

“The Informal Execution of Soupbone Pew” is the story of the revenge wreaked upon a vile vicious character who killed a kid who had been popular with a gang of tramps and hobos.

The kind of writing included in this collection clearly shows the reasons for Damon Runyon’s world-wide reputation.

Runyon First and Last was published in paperback by Graphic Publications in 1951. It contains 27 stories of the 39 stories included in the 1949 hardcover edition. It is 189 pages; there is no cover price. The cover is uncredited. I bought my copy on eBay last month as part of a collection for just under one dollar.


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 Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series: The Sorcerer’s Ship by Hannes Bok

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by westkeith

The Sorcerer's Ship 001The Sorcerer’s Ship
Hannes Bok
Ballantine, 205 p., December 1969, $0.95
Cover Art by Ray Cruz

First, I’d like to apologize to John and everyone else who reads these posts for taking so long to get this one done. I was on the road quite a bit from the end of May up through the Fourth, but I thought I would be able to get this particular post done quickly. Then things started happening. Car repairs, then house repairs, and then more car repairs. (This has necessitated bank account repairs.) Then last night, one of the wires in my son’s braces snapped loose. If anything else happens, I’m going to snap.

I don’t mean to kvetch. As you can see, I’ve been a bit distracted and apologize for the delay. I’ve already started the next book I’ll read for this series.

Anyway, on to something a little different than what we’ve seen in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series up to this point. Rather than something deep and complex, with complicated writing (The Wood Beyond the World) or bizarre imagery (Lilith) or even not-so-subtle innuendo (The Silver Stallion), The Sorcerer’s Ship is almost a children’s story.

It’s not intended to be, but this is one that might hold a younger person’s interest. There’s certainly nothing in it that most parents would find objectionable for a child capable of reading a book of this length.

Hannes Bok is best remembered for his art, but as Lin Carter discusses in his introduction, Bok was also a more than capable writer. Carter chose this volume and The Golden Stair for inclusion in the BAF line. The Sorcerer’s Ship was originally published by John Campbell (not the world’s easiest sell by any means) in Unknown in December 1942. After Weird Tales, Unknown is arguably the greatest fantasy pulp in the history of the field.

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Vintage Treasures: To Here and the Easel by Theodore Sturgeon

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

To Here and the Easel-smallA few weeks ago, I wrote about Theodore Sturgeon’s collection The Stars Are the Styx and complained that virtually all of Sturgeon’s brilliant short story collections had now been out of print for over three decades.

I did this mostly out of bitterness and greed. I’d spent several years happily tracking down all 16 of Sturgeon’s paperback collections — a highly collectible lot — but now, those days were over. I wanted more, but  no more were forthcoming. It’s not like I was going to discover a new Sturgeon collection I’d never heard of or something.

Of course, a few days after I wrote that article, I discovered a new Sturgeon collection I’d never heard of.

It was To Here and the Easel, a gorgeous Panther paperback from 1975, with an eye-catching Peter Jones cover. I discovered it accidentally on eBay and, after gawking at it for several long minutes — and them making sure it wasn’t simply a retitled version of a US collection I already had — I promptly purchased it.

It arrived a few days later and I am thrilled to have it. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Here are all the ingredients for a splendidly varied and entertaining collection of science fiction and science fantasy: a mental parasite which lives in the minds of successive human hosts, forcing them to do its will… the man who ‘reads’ gravestones… a devastating weapon sent from beyond space and time which poses the ultimate threat to an already shaky galactic federation… and more!

With virtuoso skill and brilliance of invention, Theodore Sturgeon displays in this collection the mastery of his field which has won him international acclaim.

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Headed For a Watery Grave: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Ten: Doom Ship

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Captain Marvel Chapter Ten BettyI’m glad to see that you’ve gotten here early — as we near the end of our saga, seats are going to be at a premium, and you’re fast running out of opportunities to see Frank Coughlan Jr. and Tom Tyler perform their mystic switcheroo. I mean, once this silly thing is out of the theater, it’ll be forever relegated to the realm of nostalgic memory — it’s not like anyone will be able to watch it at home sixty years from now! That would be magic…

And so, while we still have the chance, let’s join the ragged remains of the Malcolm Scientific Expedition in their struggle against the malific machinations of the sinister Scorpion in this week’s chapter of The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Doom Ship.” Shazam! (Cough, cough…)

Pay close attention to this week’s title cards, recapping Chapter Nine; there will be a quiz after the main feature. “The Scorpion — Forces Doctor Lang to reveal the hiding place of his lens.” “Doctor Lang — Gives Betty the combination to his safe.” “Captain Marvel — Tries to warn Betty of a death trap at Lang’s home.” “Billy Batson — And Betty decide to get the lens.” Now to pick up where we left off…

Last week, we left Billy and Betty standing in front of the late Doctor Lang’s safe, unaware that two tommy guns were aimed at their backs, primed to fire as soon as the safe is opened. (They’re also unaware that Barnett and two other Scorpion men are watching them from hiding.) Just as Billy turns the safe’s dial to the last number, but before he can open the door, Barnett and his boys emerge from behind the drapes.

One of them shoves Betty out of the way. She slams against the wall and is knocked out (by the serial’s end, this woman will have suffered more concussions than Brett Favre) and then he slugs Billy on the head with a gun, laying the intrepid broadcaster out cold.

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Game Changers

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

book4In previous posts, I may have mentioned that, as a kid, there were three roleplaying games that I liked – and played – above all others: Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, and Call of Cthulhu. I played lots of other games, too, but these were the ones that most strongly captured my imagination. Because I played these three so much, I was also a voracious consumer of supplementary materials produced for them. Of course, being a young person, my funds were limited; I had to be judicious in what I purchased. Consequently, I tended to put a priority on items I deemed to have the most overall utility. This meant, in the case of AD&D for example, that I placed greater value on hardcover rulebooks than on adventure modules (though I still bought plenty of adventures over the years).

My appetite for such broadly “useful” supplements was practical, since my friends and I played RPGs a lot. We were young and well nigh addicted to this weird new form of game. During the summer months, we quite literally played all day long, from the time we got up until the time the sun set, taking brief breaks only to scarf down some food before returning to the table. I’d conservatively reckon that, in terms of raw hours of play, my friends and I had probably played more than had many of our elders who’d started roleplaying years before us. That’s the nature of youth, as we had the free time to indulge our boundless enthusiasm in a way that most people do not.

I hesitate to say that, because we played so much, we more quickly became jaded than did many of our peers, but it’s probably true nonetheless. We were constantly on the lookout for ways to take our campaigns in new directions, to stoke the flame of our RPG ardor. The first supplement that I remember achieving this was Book 4: Mercenary for GDW’s Traveller. My friends and I started playing Traveller with The Traveller Book, which was released in 1982. That book alone was enough to keep us busy for many, many months of science fiction adventure in the far future. However, we did eventually want more out Traveller and Mercenary fit the bill, providing us with new skills, equipment, and – most importantly – expanded rules for generating Army and Marine characters.

Mercenary changed the way we played Traveller forever. Previously, Merchants, Scouts, and Navy personnel were favored, because these careers were all space-based and thus what we considered to be the stuff of sci-fi. But Mercenary-generated characters were so much better than those generated using the original system. They had more (and better) skills, as well as lots of fun perks like advanced training and commendations. Our campaigns quickly shifted gears to focus on ground-pounding mercenaries involved in interstellar brush fire wars (which, as it turned out, was how nearly everyone else we knew played the game). Mercenary had a profound impact on us and extended the life of our ongoing Traveller campaign considerably.

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Vintage Treasures: Subterranean Magazine, Issue #2

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

SubterraneanMmagazine 2-smallAfter the the 2014 Windy City Pulp & Paper show in April was over, I collected all the pulps, vintage paperback, fanzines, art books, and old magazines I’d acquired and packed them snugly in two boxes next to my big green chair. I’ve been digging into the boxes at my leisure ever since.

I highly recommend this. Strange as it sounds, it’s a little like time travel. Most of the old magazines I bought — including OMNI, Interzone, Weird Tales, Starlog, Cosmos, Galileo, and the great Fantasy Review — are from the 80s and 90s. Which means they’re largely concerned with the same group of writers, movies, and books.

After a few weeks of reading ads and reviews from the early 80s, you start to feel oddly plugged in to the state of the industry thirty years ago (and realize just how much good reading you have to catch up on – and I’m not even caught up on my reading from last year!)

You also start to appreciate what a fabulous resource magazines are. No one can keep up on even a fraction of the genre novels published every year. But the best fiction magazines will keep you current on the exciting, new, emerging writers, with a diverse range of short fiction — not to mention novel reviews.(And the ads. Let’s not forget the ads.)

One of the great delights I pulled out of those Windy City boxes was a pristine copy of the second issue of Subterranean Magazine from 2005, back when it was still available in print. The magazine is still very much alive and excellent as ever, published these days as Subterranean Online (see their latest issue here.) But nine years ago, you could curl up with a thick issue printed on quality paper, and believe me, it was definitely worth your time.

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The Start Of A Grand Adventure Goblin Moon by Teresa Edgerton

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2254425vQLXHqXWMatthew David Surridge reviewed Teresa Edgerton’s Goblin Moon (1991) here at Black Gate early last year, and here I am to write about it again. It’s a book that, though recently reprinted, I suspect most readers are unaware of, so I want to shine another spotlight on it. Also, since reading Tim Powers’s The Drawing of the Dark, my itch for swashbuckling adventure got itchier.

I read this when it first came out and my memory of it was very pleasant. I remembered loving the dry humor and also the tremendous detail. Now my friend Carl, on the other hand, said he hated any book that spent as much time as it did describing characters’ clothes. My response was, if I recall correctly, that he was missing the point or something like that.

On rereading Goblin Moon this past week, I was happy to find that, one, the book held up very well and two, yes, Carl missed the point or something. Actually, the point he missed was that Teresa Edgerton created a deliriously detailed world, down to the clothing, that is richer than just about any other in fantasy.

There are a host of things that make Goblin Moon a fun read. The elaborate world-building, the intricate plot, and the colorful characters, to name an important triumvirate, are exactly the sorts of things you want to find in a book with its roots in Stevenson, Thorndike, and Sabatini. Add a lively pace and clever writing and you’ve got the perfect way to while away several lazy hours amidst floating coffins, decadent diabolists, a vengeful fairy, and an interlude with pirates.

Goblin Moon opens with a pair of river scavengers, Jed Braun and his uncle Caleb, drawing a coffin out of the waters of the River Lunn. The casket bears the strangely undecayed body of a man and several tomes of dark magic. Their discovery leads Caleb back to an old companion, the bookseller and one-time alchemist Gottfried Jenk, and consequently leaves young Jed in need of a new way to support himself.

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