William Michael Mott
Grave Distractions Publications (190 pp. $14.99)
Reviewed by Howard Andrew Jones
A couple of years ago I had the chance to read a cracking good heroic fiction story by William Michael Mott. I knew Mott was a Robert E. Howard fan and a pulp aficionado, but what I didn’t know was that his “Temple of the Salamander” would read like a head-on collision between some of the best features of the stories of Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. “Temple of the Salamander” was set in the dying days of Earth, on a vast, last plateau crossed by an amazing road that may well be intelligent and is certainly dangerous. Traveling this road is the warrior Tulruhk, who is different from the rest of his tribe in part because of his curiosity and in part because he’s capable of compassion, so rare in his world that it makes his occasional act of mercy look like a saintly visit. Tulruhk aids a dying scholar and is rewarded with a chance for membership in an exclusive order dedicated to exploration. Tulruhk’s quest to gain that membership fuels the action in two of his chronicled adventures.
Mott’s drafted three stories of Tulruhk and the last plateau, and they’re collected in Pulp Winds, an anthology of his original work that includes heroic poetry, some atmospheric horror that hearkens back to Lovecraft and Shaver without emulating their sometimes difficult prose, and what may be the only homage I’ve ever read to one of Robert E. Howard’s fight stories. If Howard had ever written a Costigan fight story with weird elements it would have sounded an awful lot like “Fisticuffs of the Damned.” I think the biggest surprises of the collection were two heroic stories featuring Jack the Giant Killer. When Mott first mentioned these in an e-mail I was skeptical, but there’s nothing light and airy about these, and I ended up enjoying them almost as much as the adventures of Tulruhk.
Pulp Winds won’t appeal to every reader — in Mott’s work the hero gets the girl and the monsters are there for the pummeling. Which isn’t to say that they’re predictable or that there are no surprises; it’s just that Mott proudly wears his love for pulpy story elements on his sleeve. Mott wants to serve up new adventures in the style of some of the best adventure writers from the golden days of the pulps, hence the title of his collection. If you’re like me and are sometimes in the mood for some monster bashing, sword-slinging, and damsel saving, Pulp Winds delivers in spades.