A Trip to Venus

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) the Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery

The summer of 2019 is in the books, and for me, the dog days just past were the most memorable of my life. As an elementary school teacher, I have June and July off and as I’ve shared here before, for my summer breaks I have a plan that I never deviate from – I hew my way through a big pile of science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, just like I did during those long-ago vacations when I was a kid.

Why? I won’t deny that stoking the fires of nostalgia plays a big part in it. But beyond that, why do any of us read all this science fiction and fantasy in the first place, instead of, say, westerns or police procedurals or genteel comedies of manners? Your reasons may be different, but speaking for myself, in voyaging to another planet or to a realm of wizardry, I’m looking for some sort of transcendence, some intimation or even confirmation that this routine, workaday world is not all that there is. Ah, but how rarely does any work of fiction truly satisfy that deep desire.

This year was different, though. Instead of galloping through as many pages of pulp as my bleary old eyes could manage, I spent three weeks in Italy, seeing Rome, Florence, and Naples, wearing out my feet and my savings account as well as my eyes. Sorry, Edgar Rice Burroughs; I love you but I finally got a better offer. (I did manage to get some Jack Vance and Brian Aldiss read even in Europe, though.)

Not surprisingly, my trip was full of memorable sights and amazing moments, but there is one that stands head and shoulders above them all, because it supplied in spades that very glimpse into a world of deeper meaning that I’m always looking for in my reading.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn’s Westerns

Monday, October 7th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Flynn_DeepCanonEDITEDAnd we’re back live here at A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And we went big, making our first foray into that venerable pulp genre, The Western. I lobbied author Duane Spurlock to join in during the column’s first run, and he decided it was easier to write a post than have me pestering him again. I discovered T.T. Flynn through his Dime Detective stories about racetrack bookie Joe Maddox. But Flynn would go on to a long, successful career writing Westerns. Read what Duane has to tell us!

“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)

When we discuss hard-boiled narrative, the default topic typically is crime fiction—usually the pulp-magazine-era tales from Black Mask and its contemporary competitors through the digest era, culminating in the pages of Manhunt and engendering the rise of the paperback original novel. Bob Byrne  has been admirably addressing the earlier realm of hard-boiled narrative in his Black Gat essays.

But hard-boiled writing encompasses more than the works of Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and their followers. The western genre is a prime example.

These days, if someone mentions the hard-boiled western, what usually come to mind are the violent Spaghetti Western film genre and the resulting prodigious output from the Piccadilly Cowboys and The Man With No Name novels written by Joe Millard and others. Actually, the western and hard-boiled narrative have a long, intertwined history. It began at least with the novel that launched what we recognize as the literary western romance: the 1902 bestseller by Owen Wister, The Virginian, which includes the famous line, “When you call me that, SMILE!” If that’s not hard boiled, I’m not sure where we’ll go with this discussion.

(1902: Twenty years before Daly published ‘the first hard-boiled story,’ “The False Burton Combs” in Black Mask and before Hammett’s first stories, “Holiday” and “The Parthian Knot,” appeared in Pearson’s Magazine and The Smart Set; twenty-one years before Ernest Hemingway’s first short stories were published in Paris, “Three Stories and Ten Poems“)

Of course, the western and the crime story are closely related: since most involve robbers, rustlers, and murderers, we don’t really need John Cawelti’s The Six-Gun Mystique or Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation to make those connections. During the pulp era, many writers worked in both western and crime/mystery genres, as a number of contemporary authors continue to do – the late Ed Gorman, Loren Estleman, Bill Pronzini, Robert Randisi, and the late Bill Crider have all created excellent tales in both arenas). Among them was T.T. Flynn, whose writing career began in the 1920s.

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Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

REHfrazetta barsoomIt may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.

During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.

The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.

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A Medieval Castle and Spanish Civil War Bunker on the Outskirts of Madrid

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In a previous post about Spanish castles I wrote six years ago, I talked about the Castillo de Alameda de Osuna, a fifteenth-century castle on the northeastern fringes of Madrid. Back then it was rather neglected, standing as an enigmatic ruin in the middle of a field. Now it’s been restored and has opened as a museum.

The site first became important in the 12th century with the founding of two towns in the area, Barajas and La Alameda. Together they became the manor of the Mendoza family in 1369, only to be transferred to the Zapata family in 1406.

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Spectacular Church Frescoes in Valencia, Spain

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In my last post, we looked at some of Valencia’s ancient ruins, but of course this historic Spanish port has more to offer. Perhaps the city’s most impressive sight is the Church of San Nicolás.

Like so many other European churches, it’s built on the remains of an old pagan temple from the Roman times. The first Christian building on the site was founded by James I of Aragon (ruled 1213-1276) and donated to the Dominicans.

In the 15th century, the church was greatly refurbished, taking on a Gothic style and the addition of a rose window.

When I visited a couple of weeks ago, I barely noticed those medieval elements. They’re almost invisible next to the flamboyant Baroque frescoes covering the entire vault. Painted between 1690 and 1693 by Juan Pérez Castiel, these frescoes have been brilliantly restored in recent years.

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Archaeological Discoveries Beneath Valencia, Spain

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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A portion of the cemetery of Valentia, from the Roman Republic

Last week, work took me to Valencia, a city on the east coast of Spain. Like many Spanish cities, it is built on layers of history, and luckily for the visitor, archaeologists digging under one of the city squares found a rich collection of remains from various periods. These have been preserved as El Centro Arqueológico de l’Almoina.

With some 2,500 square meters of remains uncovered between 1985 and 2005, it displays numerous buildings from the Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish periods. Some of them date back to the city’s founding in 138 BC during the Roman Republic as a home for retired soldiers. The city, called Valentia, expanded with typical Roman efficiency until it was obliterated, with equal Roman efficiency, by Pompey in 75 BC during the Roman civil war. It remained abandoned for more than 50 years.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Friday, May 10th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

05-10 2001 1 05-10 2001 2 05-10 2001 3

The Balrog Award, often referred to as the coveted Balrog Award, was created by Jonathan Bacon and first conceived in issue 10/11 of his Fantasy Crossroads fanzine in 1977 and actually announced in the final issue, where he also proposed the Smitty Awards for fantasy poetry. The awards were presented for the first time at Fool-Con II at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas on April 1, 1979. The awards were never taken particularly seriously, even by those who won the award. The final awards were presented in 1985. The Film Hall of Fame Awards were not presented the first year the Balrogs were given out, being created in 1980. The SF Film Hall of Fame was given to two films each in its first and final years.

Filmed by Stanley Kubrick and based on several short stories by Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: a space odyssey was released to theatres in April of 1968, it was nothing like the B science fiction films which preceded it.  Kubrick, guided by Clarke, attempted to make a realistic portrayal of space flight, even if it did have an ending that would appeal to the drug culture of the period.

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Inquisition Dungeons, Decapitated Heads, and Fighting Gentrification: A Creepy Tour Through Lavapiés, Madrid

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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“Anarchy in the nursery!”

Madrid is a walkable town. Most of the city’s interesting barrios are clustered close together, and even if you have to take a quick trip on the bus or Metro, you’ll find that each barrio has all you need within an easy stroll. That makes Madrid feel a lot smaller than it is, because you can shop, dine, drink, work, and go to school all in the same barrio.

Several tour companies offer interesting walking tours of the city, focusing on Madrid’s history, nightlife, or culture. The latest addition is The Making of Madrid, which specializes in history. I recently took a tour of the working class barrio of Lavapiés, known for its left-leaning politics and large immigrant community.

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The Storyteller’s Voice: Basil Rathbone Reads Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, May 6th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone

If I say the name Basil Rathbone, I have a very good chance of guessing exactly what you’ll think (if you’re old enough, that is — if you’re below a certain age, you may only think, “Who?”); ten will get you twenty you’ll think “Sherlock Holmes,” the character that Rathbone indelibly portrayed in fourteen films from 1939 to 1946, so successfully that for many people his name has become synonymous with the character.

And if by some chance you don’t think of Holmes, you’ll almost certainly think of the greatest swordsman in Hollywood, the piercing-eyed, hawk-visaged athlete who figured in some of the screen’s most thrilling duels, most famously against John Barrymore and Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet (1936), Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro (1940), the latter battle the most exciting swordfight in movie history, in my opinion.

In addition to these swashbuckling villains, in his almost fifty year film career Rathbone applied his singular talents to bringing many other characters to vivid life. Some of his most memorable non-action roles are his icily sadistic Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield, his brutally indifferent Marquis St. Evrémonde in A Tale of Two Cities, his rigid, fatally conventional Alexi Karenin in Anna Karenina (all in 1935 — studio era Hollywood worked its players hard), and his witty, cynical Richard III in Tower of London (1939), with Vincent Price as his brother Clarence and Boris Karloff as his murderous, club-footed henchman, Mord; truly, they don’t make ’em like that anymore!

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A Medieval Synagogue in Toledo, Spain

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In my last post, I talked about an early Christian church and some Visigothic remains in Toledo in central Spain. Toledo was a mix of cultures during the Middle Ages, with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities all leaving their mark. The city is home to an excellent Sephardi Museum housed in a medieval synagogue.

The synagogue was founded in 1356 by Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, Royal Treasurer to King Pedro of Castile and León. It was attached to Abulafia’s palace and intended as a private house of worship.

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