A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

Monday, July 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Powell as Phlip Marlowe

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Dick Powell was Johnny Dollar? Well, no, not exactly. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, was a very successful radio show, which ran for over 800 episodes, covering thirteen years. It easily outlasted many competing programs, such as The Adventures of Sam Spade, and The (New) Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Dollar was “the insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account,” though he started out as more of a typical private eye. Which can also be said of Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer, Perry Mason.

In December of 1948, Dick Powell auditioned for the new show, recording the episode Milford Brooks III. With movies such as 1944’s Murder My Sweet, and 1947’s Johnny O’Clock, the popular song-and-dance man had carved out a niche as an unlikely hardboiled star. He’s actually my favorite movie Marlowe, and I wrote about Johnny O’Clock here at Black Gate. Here’s the episode, for your listening pleasure.

He had also spent the previous two years as Richard Rogue in the rather unusual PI radio show, Rogue’s Gallery. Like many shows of the time, Rogue’s Gallery had a lack of stability in network, time slot and even renewal, and Powell left after 1947, replaced by Barry Sullivan. This left him available to try out for Johnny Dollar. The original title was Yours Truly, Lloyd London, but was presumably changed to avoid trouble with the well-known insurance company.

However, it appears that Powell decided to pass on the part to pursue a different radio opportunity; Richard Diamond, Private Eye (another of my favorites). So, actor Charles Russell was given the part. This essay is going to talk mostly about Powell’s audition, but will go beyond that focus.

In this earliest incarnation, Powell plays a somewhat light-hearted version of Dollar, though he’s still more of a typical private eye than a distinctive insurance investigator. His witty patter is consistent throughout, and he even hums ‘Slow Boat to China;’ a tip of the fedora to his Hollywood musical background. In fact, Powell comes across as pretty similar to his next part, Richard Diamond.

Early on, a young man he’s dealing with bites him, which later lets Dollar make a cryptic comment that “Let’s just say, he put the bite on me.” That comes just after saying, “That kid’s liquor sure can hold him.” Very much like Diamond, Powell’s Dollar is quick with a quip. Which is fine. But it’s more prevalent here than it would be with other actors in the role.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: August, 1934

Sunday, July 5th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales August 1934-small

Yet another Brundage cover

We have another nine stories to consider this time around, but what is particularly noteworthy is that all nine of the authors are at least somewhat well known. The most obscure on the list is probably Anthony Rud (here writing under the name of R. Anthony, perhaps best known for his story “Oooze,” arguably the best offering in WT’s initial issue [3-23]), which is partially due to his passing in 1942 at the relatively young age of 49. Also unknown today is Arlton Eadie, who died even earlier (1935) also at 49, but everyone else had long writing careers, although some, of course, have fallen by the wayside due to the relentless march of time.

Of the nine stories, eight (89%) are either fantasy or science fiction, several actually in the gray area between the two genres. Seven stories (78%) have contemporary settings, one (11%) is set in the far past and one (11%) in the future. Four (44%) take place in the United States, and one each in a fictitious realm in the far past, on the planet Mars, in the South Seas (mostly), Great Britain, and a fictional Central European country. Three (33%) are part of a series.

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Vintage Treasures: Dark Stars edited by Robert Silverberg

Sunday, July 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark Stars Silverberg-small Dark Stars Silverberg-back-small

Dark Stars (Ballantine Books, 1969). Cover by Ronald Walotsky

I’ve lamented before (more than a few times, as some regular readers have wearily noted) about the death of the mass market SF anthology.  They were a fixture on bookstore shelves a generation ago, and were a great way to discover new writers. In fact, I discovered virtually all of my favorite writers — Roger Zelazny, Clifford D. Simak, Isaac Asimov, James Tiptree, Jr. — in paperback anthologies in the 70s and 80s.

Well, if I can’t celebrate new ones, I can still tell you about the old ones, and encourage you to hunt down a few. At least as long as vintage SF paperbacks remain cheap, plentiful, and easy to find — which looks like forever, if AbeBooks and eBay are any indication. Today’s subject is a neat little one-off anthology by Robert Silverberg from 1969, with an unusual theme: dark science fiction. Here’s Silverberg from the introduction.

In the Soviet Union, I understand, science fiction is supposed to be a positive literature full of positive ideals. Its function is to dramatize the coming triumph of the socialist philosophy and the extension of that philosophy into the universe…. In the United States, too, there are those who prefer their science fiction to be a literature of ideals, demonstrating the heroic fortitude of mankind under stress and depicting the glories of the future… The purpose of the writer of fiction, I think, is neither to glorify not to abuse, but to set down his vision of the universe as he sees it. He should not be a propagandist for the space program, at least not as his basic item of concern….

Once upon a time the bulk of science fiction was written by cheerful Rotarians eager to leap into the lovely future. That was in the 1930’s, when the future still looked pretty good (especially in contrast with the present) and in the 1940’s, when the defeat of the bestial Axis foe was supposed to open the gateway to Utopia. But a good chunk of that future has already unveiled itself since those days of s-f’s innocence, and what has appeared has not been so inspiring. The stories in the present collection reflect that look into the future that is now our present. By measuring the fictional “1963” of 1938 against the real 1963, s-f writers have of necessity suffered a darkening of vision. Hymns to the miracle that is color television become less meaningful when that screen is so often reddened by the blood of those who were our best.

Here, then, is a book of dark dreams for a dark time.

If you don’t mind reading yellowing pages from high-res photos, you can see Bob’s complete 3-page intro to Dark Stars using the pics I took with my new iPhone here and here.

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Return to Dragon Pass with The Red Cow Campaign by Ian Cooper, Jeff Richard, and Greg Stafford

Saturday, July 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Coming Storm Chaosium-small The Eleven Lights-small

The Coming Storm (March 2016) and The Eleven Lights (April 2018), published by Chaosium

We live in a Golden Age of board gaming, and if you’re in the market for a fantasy game, you literally have thousands to choose from. Mind you, that wasn’t the case 40 years ago. In fact, if you were looking for a serious fantasy-based pastime in those days, there were literally only a few games in town: SPI’s War of the Ring (1977), TSR’s Divine Right(1979), and Chaosium’s Dragon Pass (1981).

In terms of gaming history, there’s little question that by far the most important of those was Dragon Pass. It was originally developed in 1975 by Greg Stafford, and published under the name White Bear and Red Moon. Stafford decided to form a company to produce and market it; inspired by the nearby Oakland Coliseum, he called his new enterprise ‘Chaosium.’ Stafford sold White Bear and Red Moon, and its sequel Nomad Gads, in ziplock bags out of his house in Oakland. Chaosium grew rapidly, and in less than ten years was one of the most important publishers in the industry. If it weren’t for the early success of White Bear and Red Moon and its sequels, we wouldn’t have  RuneQuest, Thieves World, and Call of Cthulhu, just to name a few.

The setting for White Bear and Red Moon, a Bronze Age world rich with human and nonhuman gods, cults, clans and mythology, was Glorantha. Today Glorantha is one of the most important settings in modern fantasy, home of numerous role playing campaigns, board games, novels and stories, and even a popular computer game, King of Dragon Pass. There are many reasons for its popularity and longevity, of course, but personally I believe Dragon Pass — the game that introduced Glorantha to the world — deserves much of the credit. If you’ve spent hours staring at the colorful map of Glorantha, moving your outnumbered clans across the rugged terrain of Sartar, through the Skull Ruins and towards a desperate battle in Snakepipe Hollow, the chance to visit those iconic settings in a role playing environment is just too irresistible.

A few years ago Chaosium released an epic two-part campaign set in Glorantha that explores much of the history and rising tensions that eventually exploded into the Hero Wars: The Coming Storm and The Eleven Lights, which together comprise the Red Cow Campaign. I recently purchased both books, and have really been enjoying this chance to revisit the colorful and dynamic setting where I spent so much time in my youth.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 14: 1973 and 1974 – Magneto, the Hulk, Banshee and Post-Watergate Captain America

Saturday, July 4th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Welcome to part 14 of my X-Men reread! The X-Men are still in their publishing purgatory that lasted from 1970-1975. During this time, the X-Men series is reprinting middling mid-1960s material. Hank McCoy lasted 6 issues as the star of Amazing Adventures and the Silver Age X-Men seem to have had so little impact on the 1970s working creatives that artists, writers and colorists don’t know them well enough to get powers, personalities or even costumes right. It’s a dark era for X-Men fans.

But before getting into the main guest appearances in this post, I’m going to go back in time to cover four issues where the X-Men had at best a tangential role in the story because I like being something of a completist. Just before Hank McCoy’s run on Amazing Adventures, the title had been devoted to the Inhumans, who often split the issues with Black Widow. In issue #9-10 (Nov, 1971) Gerry Conway and Mike Sekowsky concluded an ongoing story-line with Magneto looking to make Blackbolt leader of a bunch of mutants Magneto would create.

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Future Treasures: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Friday, July 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Only Good Indians-small The Only Good Indians-back-small

Cover designed by Ella Laytham

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of the World Fantasy Award nominee Mapping the Interior, The Last Final Girl, Mongrels, and the acclaimed collection After the People Lights Have Gone Off. His latest novel, The Only Good Indians, arrives from Saga Press in two weeks. Paul Tremblay calls it “A masterpiece,” and my interest was greatly heightened by a rave review at Columbia Journal by Max Asher Miller. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s unabashedly a slasher, and blood is plentiful, but a deeper layer runs through the material as Jones, a Blackfeet native, uses the trappings of horror to delve into a dissection of contemporary Native American identity.

The Only Good Indians follows a friend group of Blackfeet a decade after they trespass on hunting land reserved for tribal elders and slaughter a herd of elk, including a pregnant cow who refuses to die easily. The vengeful spirit manifests as a woman with the head of an elk who tracks the group down one by one to exact revenge. The killings are shocking, yes, but they feel like exclamation points on larger ideas. They are not the entre, but the garnish upon it.

The novel puts its ideas on the table almost immediately with a prologue in which the first of the four main characters, Ricky Boss Ribs, is jumped by a group of white guys from his construction crew outside a dive bar. The racialized dynamic of the attack is its focal point, Jones delineating the body politics of the beat-down…. Constant awareness of what it means to navigate the world as Native American is of central concern to the novel’s characters…

A terrifying whirlwind of blood with the brains to match, The Only Good Indians is sure to be among the most exciting novels this summer can scare up.

The Only Good Indians will be published by Saga Press on July 14, 2020. It is 310 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Ella Laytham.

See all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming fantasy and horror here.

Goth Chick News: A Plea for Classic Horror

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

They Live poster-small

Black Gate photographer Chris Z and I have the pleasure of meeting horror enthusiasts year-round at the various events and trade shows we attend. Though this year is definitely different is some regards, it thankfully has not interrupted the connections we continue to make in this fascinating industry. I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Elichek in person, prior to the shutdown. He is not only a horror connoisseur, but an indie film writer and most importantly, a fan of Black Gate. It is therefore with great pleasure that I introduce you to him via his guest post for this week’s Goth Chick News.

Scott, meet everyone.

Everyone, meet Scott.

A Plea for Classic Horror

By Scott Elichek

Many legendary horror directors provided the foundation for the movies which came with the turn of the millennium. Trail-blazers such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Lucio Fulci, Clive Barker and Sean Cunningham, created films that not only entertained, but provided horror fans a mental escape. However, with the turn of the century the genre appeared to shift gears.  Many of these directors exited the industry for a variety of reasons, and a new generation took the helm.

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Humanity Uplifted: Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

Brain Wave Poul Anderson

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson; First Edition: Ballantine Books, 1954
Cover art by Richard Powers

Brain Wave
by Poul Anderson
Ballantine Books (164 pages, $0.35, paperback, June 1954)
Cover by Richard Powers

Poul Anderson was a prolific writer of both science fiction and fantasy from the late 1940s to his death in 2001. He was especially known for a couple space opera series, one about the Psychotechnic League and others about Dominic Flandry and Nicholas Van Rijn (I have not read any of these). But his best novels, reputedly, were his singletons, like Brain Wave (1954), The High Crusade (1960), Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961), and Tau Zero (1970), and later works like The Avatar (1978) and The Boat of a Million Years (1989), from decades when everyone’s novels got much longer.

Brain Wave was Anderson’s third novel, after juvenile SF Vault of the Stars in 1952 and fantasy novel The Broken Sword earlier in 1954. The first part of Brain Wave appeared in Space Science Fiction in 1953, but the magazine went out of business before serializing the remainder.

I reread this book recently not to extend a series of reviews of first — or almost-first — novels, but because I wanted to revisit its striking premise. I think I’ll revisit Tau Zero soon, for the same reason.

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Space Opera and Romance in Equal Measure: The Consortium Rebellion Trilogy by Jessie Mihalik

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Authors love to blend genres these days, and I’m heartily glad to see it. Thus you get the Horror Comedy, the Science Fiction Police Procedural, the Weird Western (my favorite!) and many other tasty fiction concoctions.

Of course, some are harder to craft than others. I think the trickiest may be the science fiction romance, just based on the fact that there are so few successful examples. So I was very intrigued to see Jessie Mihalik’s 2019 debut novel Polaris Rising hit a bullseye with critics. Here’s The New York Times.

Jessie Mihalik’s splendid Polaris Rising… [is] a thrill of a book. Ada von Hasenberg is the fifth child of one of the three royal houses of the universe’s ruling Consortium. She’s been on the run for the last two years, fleeing an arranged marriage with the son of a rival house. When she finds herself about to be captured by her intended, she manages to escape with a fellow prisoner: Marcus Loch, the Devil of Fornax Zero, and the most wanted man in the universe. Ada soon discovers that the small ship they’ve stolen for their escape holds secrets that could topple the universe’s delicate balance of power.

Mihalik’s universe is vividly imagined… The book is told entirely from Ada’s point of view, offering the reader no more insight past Loch’s cold exterior than Ada herself has. It’s a risk on Mihalik’s part — Loch starts out menacing and mysterious, and he always remains a bit opaque — but it pays off as the reader, right along with Ada, gets to treasure every small crack in his stoic facade. Besides, Ada’s a tremendous heroine, brilliant and capable but never infallible, and I wouldn’t want to give up a moment with her. The set pieces skew toward sci-fi, but the burgeoning attraction between Ada and Loch is just as important to the story. This is space-opera adventure and sweeping romance in equal parts, an enthralling and eminently satisfying book.

You can check out the full review here. Mihalik followed up the success of her first book with Aurora Blazing (“A standout, memorable book that oozes crossover appeal” — BookPage) late last year, and in May of 2020 the series concluded with Chaos Reigning. The Seattle Review of Book says “The third and final volume in this blaster-filled space adventure romance series lands with a bang…” (Is that a euphemism for sex? I’m pretty sure it is.)

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The Stakes Have Never Been More Reasonable: A Quiet Afternoon, edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Quiet AfternoonI don’t think of science fiction as a predictable genre. It’s filled with widely varying ideas, settings, characters, and plots, and produced by a hugely diverse group of writers all over the planet. But in at least one way, SF does tend to be predictable: it’s a genre of high-stakes drama. It concerns itself with apocalypses, alien invasions, desperate battles against evil empires, dystopias, life-and-death court intrigue, world-altering time travel, thunderous space battles — a whole lot of sound and fury, really.

But it doesn’t have to be. Does a good tale require high stakes? That’s the question posed by the new anthology from Canadian small press Grace & Victory, run by Grace Seybold and Victoria Feistner. A Quiet Afternoon, edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold, collects 14 original low-stakes tales that aim to simultaneously entertain and comfort. Here’s the description.

A peaceful break from a stressful world.

The stakes have never been milder or more reasonable.

A Quiet Afternoon brings readers thirteen Low-Fi tales of gentle speculative fiction, stories of wonder and the celebration of small successes. Ease into worlds of quiet triumph and gracious victories; of found families and unlikely friendships; magical constructs, pensive mermaids, fairies and dragons and a barbecue sauce that will literally change your life.

The stakes are low. The expectations are reasonable. The resolutions are satisfactory. Wrap yourself up in a cozy blanket, make a cup of tea, and enjoy A Quiet Afternoon.

Here’s a snippet from Laura DeHaan’s Foreword which explains the intriguing genesis behind the book.

In early 2019, Victoria Feistner and I just wanted to read speculative fiction that wasn’t high-stakes, where the fate of the world didn’t hinge on the actions of a single hero overcoming impossible odds … Manga and anime do a good job of incorporating the fantastic with the mundane (Fruits Basket, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, My Neighbour Totoro), but Western SF really likes its earth-shattering consequences and do-or-die protagonists … We started reading for A Quiet Anthology in late 2019. The world was in a weird place, but that made the selection process relatively easy. If the story left behind a feeling of comfort, or relief, or a little sigh of “Wasn’t that nice,” then it was pretty much a shoo-in for the anthology… We are all overcoming impossible odds in our everyday lives — and when that’s the case, where do we escape to? … So, check in with yourself. Take a nap. Have a juice box. Would you like to read stories with magical robots and talking animals and the beginnings of a wonderful friendship? It’s okay. They’re here for you. Take care, and enjoy A Quiet Afternoon.

I think this is a great idea for an anthology, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. It was released today; here’s the complete Table of Contents for A Quiet Afternoon.

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