Ralph Arnote: In the Middle of Interesting Stories

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters

Fallen Idol Ralph Arnote-small False Promises Ralph Arnote-small Evil's Fancy Ralph Arnote-small

Paperback editions of Ralph’s Willy Hanson novels: Fallen Idols (Tor, 1992), False Promises (Forge, 1995), and Evil’s Fancy (Forge, 1996)

Note: Most of this comes straight out of my wee tiny brain. So, dates may be off, but I’m telling these stories as best as my memory allows. I also have a few people from the industry vetting some of my stories.

Ralph Arnote was in the middle of many interesting book and magazine stories. Ralph was manager of sales for Ace (where I worked for him), for Ballantine, and Beagle Books, and, he finished his sales career heading up sales for Tom Doherty and Tor Books.

After retiring, Ralph wrote several novels for Tor. We lost Ralph in 1998 after a heart attack. Harry Hills called and let me know Ralph had passed.

During a brilliant career, Ralph was known and welcome everywhere. He always wanted to build a ship, sail to Singapore, and drink a Singapore Sling at Raffles. I’m certain Ralph had his share of Singapore Slings, but he never got around to building that boat.

One of my favorite stories, Ralph was working for Capital Distribution. Capital was a small magazine and book distributor. Ralph had just lost his book line, so he had a sales force but nothing to sell.

That year, the ABA (American Booksellers Association) met in Washington DC. One afternoon, Ralph was dining al fresco, when an older gentleman asked to share Ralph’s table. This man was Ian Ballantine, founder of many successful publishing companies, one of the people, if not “the” person who brought paperback books into their greatest glory (Several Ian Ballantine stories will appear here at a later date.).

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner on ‘The Bad Guys of Pulp’

Monday, October 28th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Schildiner_LesHabits1EDITEDMy buddy Frank Schildiner is a prolific New Pulpster who wrote about Max Allen Collins in the first run of A (Black) Gat in the Hand. I immediately turned back to him and he’s back again for round two with a look at the bad guys of pulp. 

“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)

  “Bring on the Bad Guys…Pulp Edition”

“The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“There’s something about America’s sweetheart and America’s bad boy. That juxtaposition is what everyone desires.” – Machine Gun Kelly

Bad guy, villain, evildoer, crook, criminal, and gangster. Fiction has a love affair with these characters ranging from low-level sneak thieves to wizards intent on destroying all life on Earth. In many cases, the villain is the driving force behind the tale. Where would fiction be without Lady MacBeth, Grendel’s Mother, Long John Silver, or Count Dracula?

Though the villain is often the impetus, they rarely hold the place of protagonist in novels until recent times. A few famous characters did achieve notoriety, influencing fiction to this day.

The first true villain-centered, serialized fiction was probably Paul Féval’s series Les Habits Noirs. The eleven novels reveal a worldwide criminal conspiracy led by the evil, manipulative, and possibly immortal, Colonel Bozzo-Corona. The Colonel, and his organization the Black Coats, battled the forces of good as well as each other in tales which thrilled readers for thirty-one years.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Eight

Friday, October 25th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

DEADLY_HANDS_OF_KUNG_FU_9_8_5-1Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #9 featured a Doug Moench-Mike Vosburg story whose sole purpose was to reinforce (in the fashion of the hit television series, Kung Fu) that martial arts is about discipline and control and not violence. Of course, making this point provides ample opportunity to portray martial arts violence since conflict is inevitable within the confines of action-adventure storytelling.

The story gets underway when Shang-Chi stops a mugger in the park and finds himself challenged by Johnny Chen, the local martial arts champion whose arrogance and insecurities demand he publicly demonstrate his superiority to Shang-Chi. The fact that Mike Vosburg draws Chen to strongly resemble Bruce Lee (who could exhibit an arrogant side both and on and off screen) only adds another level to the story.

The real key here is the young Asian-American boy who also witnessed Shang-Chi’s heroism and whose hero worship of him leads to unhealthy projection and deception. The dangers of idolizing those we admire is the second plot strand that points back to Bruce Lee in this story. Given that this was another of Doug Moench’s scripts concerned with the non-violent philosophy of martial arts being ignored amidst the martial arts craze sweeping the West, his decision to paint the most recognizable face of martial arts as flawed and highlight the shortcomings of fandom was particularly daring.

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Robots! In! Space!

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

NASA The Power-Driven Articulated Dummy space suit tester 1963-5 Power Driven Articulated Dummy color

Science fiction writers from Doc Smith to Robert Heinlein had their lone inventors hop into spaceships they built in their back yards. NASA had no such luxury. Space was the absolute unknown in the 1950s. A few rockets and satellites had poked their noses into the vacuum, but piloted craft were on the horizon and next to nothing was understood about how the rigors of space would affect human bodies. NASA had to worry about a million small details, using thousands of engineers at dozens of companies.

The pressure to learn grew more urgent in the early 1960s as the Americans prepped for a moon voyage. Project Gemini followed the just-get-‘em-in-space Mercury with the specific goal to understand space and “To demonstrate endurance of humans and equipment in spaceflight for extended periods, at least eight days required for a Moon landing, to a maximum of two weeks.” That put them into a quandary. The conditions of space couldn’t truly be duplicated here on Earth and starting tests on astronauts after they got to space defeated the whole notion of preparation.

Some bright – and at this distance unknown – engineer at NASA had the lightbulb idea: robot astronauts.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: 3 Good Reasons – Murder is Corny

Monday, October 21st, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Nero WolfeAlas – the home front is a bit…chaotic, with my wife halfway around the world on a mission and trip and the eleven-year old still needing school transportation – among other things. I didn’t get to finish editing this week’s A (Black) Gat in the Hand post – so, here’s the second entry in a feature which I hope will be part of a Nero Wolfe column next year. You can read my first try, covering “Not Quite Dead Enough.”

With a goal of eventually tackling every tale of the Corpus, I’ll give three reasons why the particular story at hand is the best Nero Wolfe of them all. Since I’m writing over seventy ‘Best Story’ essays, the point isn’t actually to pick one – just to point out some of what is good in every adventure featuring Wolfe and Archie (BTW – I got the idea from Hither Came Conan from this Wolfe series!). And I’ll toss in one reason it’s not the best story. Now – These essays will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned!

The Story

Today’s story is “Murder is Corny,” from Trio for Blunt Instruments. Nero Wolfe is upset because the weekly delivery of fresh corn is late. It finally arrives in the hands of Inspector Cramer, who got it from the scene of the murder of the delivery man. Archie had had a few dates with Susan McLeod, the farmer’s daughter, and she has unintentionally framed him for murder. Cramer arrests Archie, and to preserve his comfort level, Wolfe takes on the case, with Archie as his client.



ONE – The Corn

This story contains one of my favorite openings. Every Tuesday, from July 20 to October 5, sixteen ears of just-picked corn are delivered to the brownstone from the farm of Duncan McLeod. Wolfe, of course, is very particular about the corn, including the requirements that it must be picked not more than three hours before he receives it, and that it must arrive between 5:30 and 6:30. Fritz prepares all of it for that evening’s dinner. But on this September Tuesday, the corn never arrives and Fritz has to make do with stuffed eggplant. Oh, the horror!

Wolfe is out of sorts and doesn’t engage Archie in their usual post-dinner conversation, over coffee in the office. He is standing at the giant globe, whirling it and scowling at it. This is unwarranted physical exertion on Wolfe’s part!

Inspector Cramer rings the doorbell and is admitted, carrying a carton with Wolfe’s name on it. He marches down the hall, deposits it on Wolfe’s desk and cuts the cord around the box. As Wolfe comes over to his desk, Cramer opens the flaps, holds up an ear of corn and says, “If you were going to have this for dinner, I guess it’s too late.”

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On the Virtue of Patience in Publishing

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters


At a publishing convention in New Orleans in the 80: Ralph Arnote, book sales guru; Jim Baen,
Editor-in-chief for Tom Doherty at Ace; C.M. “Dink” Starns, my mentor; Tom Doherty, founder
and publisher of Tor; Ed Gabrielli, Macmillan VP; Jane Rice, career sales rep at Ace; and others

I was thinking of the importance of patience. Beth Meacham brought it to mind with a post.

An example: In the 80s, there was a time when my income was neither stable nor plentiful. At the time, Pocket Books was distributing Zebra Books. The local wholesaler was feuding with Pocket. As a consequence, Zebra was not being distributed either.

The Zebra Publisher, Walter Zacharius, was a power in publishing and a friend. But a dear friend of mine, one of Walter’s comrades, was Harry Hills. A mentor.

Harry and I went back to the 70s at Ballantine together. Harry started out doing marketing stunts at Bantam. One involved 6 people, including Harry, holding a very large python on a California beach. I’m not sure if Ian Ballantine was still at Bantam then.

Harry’s memos always started, “Attention All Hands!”

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon on David Montrose

Monday, October 14th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

This week, I got fellow Sherlock Holmes friend Andrew Salmon to hold forth on hardboiled pulp. You’d be surprised how many Holmes fans are also pulpsters. Andrew is a leading light in the New Pulp movement (along with some other Black Gate guest posters, like Frank Schildiner, Will Murray and Duane Spurlock – who wrote last week’s post). Today, he takes us international, so read on!

“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)

A FRIEND IN TEED – The Lost World of Montreal Noir

Montrose_DorvalEDITEDThoughts of hardboiled fiction’s history conjure Mike Hammer’s New York or the sunny California of Sam Spade and Lew Archer. But the rich tradition of the genre along with Noir has expanded immensely, yielding rich gold mines in Berlin Noir and Dublin Noir to name two of many.

And yet there is a closer example of the universality of mean streets all over the world laid out in grimy exuberance in a hardboiled tale well told – and it is not a recent offshoot. I’m talking about the little known, until recently, forgotten hardboiled Canadian noir of the 1950s.

These were paperbacks to be found on spinner racks on both sides of the border. Issued by small printing houses in small print runs for the much smaller population of Canada, the pulp yarns churned out by a host of writers was long forgotten and scarce hardly sums up their availability. They aren’t collectible offerings from big names in publishing. The books came and went to molder in attics, landfills and to find second use helping to start fires on cold Canadian nights. Lost to time.

Until Ricochet Books, an arm of Vehicule Publishing, decided to pick up the gauntlet laid down by Hard Case Crime Books (among others) and began hunting up these lost gems. The books are widely available now in new editions with the old, classic covers and I urge you to look them up.

For the sake of this piece, however, I’d like to focus on a trio of novels that best fit the hardboiled school. Author Charles Ross Graham, writing as David Montrose, produced three Russell Teed novels between 1950 and 1953. Teed’s a former reporter turned private eye and in typically understated Canadian fashion works insurance claims and other non-violent crimes.

That is until the first book, The Crime on Cote Des Neiges (1951), which has him thrown into the investigation of a bootlegger’s murder. The police are convinced the widow is the guilty party and Teed has to get her out from under before it’s too late. What follows is an engaging mystery the hard drinking Teed weaves his way through amidst an entertaining presentation of Montreal when it was the Sin City of the North.

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Of Phibes and Androbots I Sing

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

phibes 5Phibes 4Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.

Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes films of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.

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Gyro Gearloose’s Little Helper

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

Four Color Comics #1267, Dec.-Feb. 1961 cover

I started reading comics in about 1958, or at least those are the oldest ones I still have, mostly bedraggled, torn, or coverless from hundreds of readings. They were age-appropriate Disney comics, from Dell Comics. (Gold Key wouldn’t take over until the 1960s.) I was indiscriminate, of course, having no idea which were good or even what good meant, so I had piles of Mickey Mouse and Chip ‘n’ Dale. I soon realized why I was drawn to those titles. They were all regular features in the flagship Walt Disney Comics and Stories (WDCS), the comic of comics. A Donald Duck tale always ranked first, better told than any of the others. Those stories contained witty adventures, taking place all around the world, and often off it in that post-Sputnik year. Oddly, no Donald Duck comic could be found. Instead, I picked up a comic about a non-title character: Uncle Scrooge. The miserly multiplujillionnaire drove all the adventures, roping in Donald, and his nephews, and the other residents of Duckburg, a city more amazing and more fully realized than Metropolis in the Superman comics I soon found. That superiority was due entirely to writer/artist Carl Barks but I wouldn’t know that for decades. No matter. The difference between a Barks story and anyone else’s was a lesson I took with me to better comics and then to better science fiction. There was fun and there was good and then there was superior. Thus a critic (none dare say carper) was born.

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The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – Thoughts

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The_Dark_Crystal_1982 Film_Poster 2

This was almost my entire childhood.

Good morning, Readers!

I grew up on The Dark Crystal. In my house, it shared a VCR tape with The Secret of NIMH. Or was it a Beta Max cassette? I can’t really remember, save that we had both players in the house. That’s not the point. The point is, I grew up watching The Dark Crystal. It was one of the favorite movies of my childhood. I remember being so invested in Jen and Kyra, terrified of the Garthim, and utterly petrified of the Chamberlain, whose terrible whimper became a signal for immediate danger.

I credit this movie for my love of all things dark fantasy, because it was incredibly dark. With the name Jim Henson attached, one might be forgiven in thinking it is a light, friendly tale designed for young children. While I would recommend it for children, as a matter of personal philosophy, The Muppets it is not. It is a dark story with frightening events that led to more than one nightmare (incidentally, having rewatched it as an adult, I found the story still excellent, the puppetry breathtaking, but the narration so thoroughly irritating. It’s still watchable for me, as long as I fast forward through the narration).

When I heard Netflix was “remaking” The Dark Crystal, my eyes rolled skywards and I cursed under my breath. Not only was The Dark Crystal perfectly fine as it is, but there are so many original stories, or even adaptations of original stories that deserve attention. Whhyyyyyyyyyyyyy must studios constantly remake things that already exist? I resolved to never watch it. Until I saw the trailer.

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