Birthday Reviews: Robert Moore Williams’s “Quest on Io”

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Albert Drake

Cover by Albert Drake

Robert Moore Williams was born on June 19, 1907 and died on May 12, 1977. He published under his own name as well as the pseudonyms Robert Moore, John S. Browning, H.H. Harmon, Russel Storm, and the house name E.K. Jarvis. He may have been best known for his Jongor series.

Moore’s story “Quest on Io” appeared in the Fall 1940 issue of Planet Stories, edited by Malcolm Reiss. The story was never picked up for publication elsewhere, but in 2011, that issue of Planet Stories was reprinted as a trade paperback anthology.

Despite the title of Williams’s “Quest on Io,” there isn’t really a quest. Andy Horn is a navigator who is spending some downtime while his spaceship is being repaired prospecting on Io with his talking Ganymedian honey bear companion, Oscar. The two come under attack from another prospector who believes they are claimjumpers and when Andy confronts the other prospector, he discovers it is a woman, Frieda Dahlem. While the two of them quickly straighten out their differences, it becomes apparent that there are three claimjumpers who are out to kill both of them (plus Oscar) in order to keep their activities secret.

The story is essentially a western, although the action has been moved to Io. It feels written for an audience of young boys who know women exist, but think there are gross, only around to get in the way. Andy’s relationship with Frieda is very basic. Frieda appears to be a competent woman until a man is around, whether Andy, who becomes her hero, or the three claimjumpers, who turn her into a puddle of incompetence. Oscar seems to exist in the story purely for comic relief, although the humor misfires repeatedly.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935

Monday, June 18th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne


“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 Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

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

Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw was still at the helm of Black Mask in January of 1935, when Raymond Chandler’s “Killer in the Rain” scored the cover. But this issue also included stories by Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and Roger Torrey. All that for fifteen cents!

“Killer in the Rain” featured Carmady. I’m in the camp that feels all of Chandler’s PIs: Carmady, Ted Carmady, Ted Malvern and John Dalmas were all essentially Philip Marlowe with slight differences. Carmady appeared in six stories – all in Black Mask.

The story was heavily cannibalized for Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Carmen Dravec became Carmen Sternwood, played memorably by Martha Vickers in the HumphreyBogart film. Two other Carmady stories, “The Curtain” and “Finger Man,” were also used. I think that “Killer in the Rain” is a strong story on its own and is definitely worth reading. I’m tinkering with ideas for a separate post on this story.

Frederick Nebel, whose Tough Dick Donahue (subject of an earlier post in the series) would replace The Continental Op when Dashiell Hammett left the pulps, provided Black Mask readers with the twenty-eighth adventure featuring Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police and newsman Kennedy of the Free Press. MacBride is a tough, by-the-book cop, while Kennedy is a hard-drinking smart aleck reporter. However, both are committed to justice and cleaning up corrupt Richmond City.

Except for one story (“Hell on Wheels” – Dime Detective), the entire series appeared in Black Mask. The collection has been reprinted in a three-volume series from Altus Press.

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Birthday Reviews: Murray Leinster’s “Pipeline to Pluto”

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by William Timmins

Cover by William Timmins

Murray Leinster was born William F. Jenkins on June 16, 1896 and died on June 8, 1975.

Murray Leinster was one of many nom de plumes used by William Fitzgerald Jenkins. He won the Liberty Award in 1937 for “A Very Nice Family,” the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette for “Exploration Team,” and a retro-Hugo in 1996 for Best Novelette for “First Contact.” Leinster was the Guest of Honor at the 21st Worldcon in 1963 and in 1969 was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. In 1995, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established, named after Leinster’s story “Sidewise in Time.”

Jenkins holds patent #2727427, issued on December 20, 1955 for an “Apparatus for Production of Light Effects in Composite Photography” and patent 2727429, issued the same day for an “Apparatus for Production of Composite Photographic Effects.”

Leinster first published “Pipeline to Pluto” in the August 1945 issue of Astounding, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Ten years later, Groff Conklin included it in his anthology Science Fiction Terror Tales. It appeared in both versions of The Best of Murray Leinster, the British volume edited by Brian Davis and the American volume edited by J.J. Pierce (each book had a completely different table of contents). The story most recently appeared in First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. Over the years, it has been translated into Japanese, Croatian, German, Italian, and Russian.

“Pipeline to Pluto” is a slight story, focusing on Hill’s attempts to get from Earth to Pluto via a system of cargos shuttles. A bruiser, all that Leinster lets the reader know about him is that he has an urgent need to stowaway in the “pipeline” and he has bought another stowaway’s rights to a place. The majority of the action looks at Hill’s attempts to convince Crowder and Moore, who run the smuggling ring, to get him off Earth that evening.

Hill’s pleading and threats to the men are punctuated with exposition in which Leinster explains how the pipeline works. A series of cargo ships, one launched each day from Pluto and one launched from Earth, forming a long line carrying supplies to Pluto and ores mined on Pluto back to the home planet. Leinster not only describes the vessels and how they launch, but eventually describes the impact of being on board the vessels to humans.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh

Monday, June 11th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_WalshDiamonds“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 Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

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

Eighteen years after writing his first story, Thomas Walsh’s 1951 debut novel, Nightmare in Manhattan, won an Edgar Award. Twenty-seven years later in 1978, he picked up another Edgar for the short story “Chance After Chance.” That is impressive! Walsh wrote a half-dozen stories for Black Mask in the thirties and his “Best Man” was included by Joseph Shaw in his prestigious Hard-Boiled Omnibus.

“Double Check” appeared in the July, 1933 issue of Black Mask, which also included stories by Raoul Whitfield (Jo Gar), Erle Stanley Gardner (Ken Corning), Frederick Nebel (Tough Dick Donahue) and Carroll John Daly (Race Williams). How’s that for less than a quarter?!

It’s a buddy cop story – except the two men aren’t buddies. Flaherty is well-dressed, small and the smart detective. Mike Martin is big, rough, not the quickest thinker and looks rumpled. It’s brains and brawn.

A banker named Conrad Devine is being threatened, presumably with death, if he doesn’t pay out.

Flaherty constantly pokes at Martin, annoying the bigger man. More than once, Martin’s exasperation with his temporary partner is expressed as “I’m gonna lay you like a rug.”
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With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue

Monday, June 4th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_August1931(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Carroll John Daly’s action-packed adventures of Race Williams sold more copies of Black Mask than any other author’s stories. But editor Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, who was willing to hold his nose and put Williams on the cover, considered the far more literate Dashiell Hammett to be the magazine’s cornerstone.

In January of 1930, the final installment of The Maltese Falcon appeared in Black Mask. A Continental Op story followed in February, then the next three months saw the stories that would become The Glass Key. But at the peak of his pulp abilities, Hammett left the genre. He was interested in the easy money of Hollywood and the better paying ‘slick’ magazines. He bid adieu to Black Mask in November of 1930.

Shaw had lost his best writer. The irreplaceable Hammett had to be replaced. He turned to Frederick Nebel, whose MacBride and Kennedy stories had appeared over a dozen times. That November issue of Black Mask included the thirty-sixth and final Continental Op story, “Death and Company.” It also featured “Rough Justice,” the first tale of Donahue of the Inter-State agency.

After the phenomenal success of The Maltese Falcon, Shaw had urged Hammett to write more stories featuring Sam Spade. Dash wasn’t interested and not only refused, but he shortly thereafter left the magazine forever. Though, he did write three more Spade stories in 1932 for the slicks. Shaw tagged the reliable Nebel to provide Black Mask readers with a tough private eye to replace the immensely popular Continental Op. The writer most certainly did that.

In “Rough Justice,” the Irish New York City PI, a former cop bounced from the force for being too honest, finds himself in sweltering St. Louis. In August of 1931 Donahue would return to the Arch City in “Spare the Rod.” In between, Nebel wrote a three-story serial of connected adventures that appeared in consecutive issues.

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Birthday Reviews: Nictzin Dyalhis’s “Heart of Atlantan”

Monday, June 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Ray Quigley

Cover by Ray Quigley

Nictzin Dyalhis was born on June 4, 1873 and died on May 8, 1942.

Dyalhis’s writing career began with the story “Who Keep the Desert Law” in 1922 and saw the publication of fewer than 20 stories over the next 18 years. His first story in Weird Tales, “When the Green Star Waned,” may have been the first use of the word “blaster” for a ray gun. Although L. Sprague de Camp has stated that Nictzin Dyalhis was his birthname and appears on his draft card, people have suggested that he changed the spelling of his last name from Dallas. Dyalhis also appears to have changed the date of his birth as suited him. One of the few members of the science fiction community to have actually met him was Willis Conover, Jr.

“Heart of Atlantan” first appeared in the September 1940 issue of Weird Tales, edited by D. McIlwraith. It remained out of print for 30 years before Lin Carter selected it for his anthology The Magic of Atlantis. In 1976, Peter Haining published a retrospective of Weird Tales and chose the story to represent Dyalhis’s contributions to the magazine. Wildside Press issued several of Dyalhis’s stories, including “Heart of Atlantan” in their e-book The Golden Age of Weird Fiction Megapack: Volume 4 in 2015. The story most recently appears in The Sapphire Goddess, published in 2018 by DMR Books and edited by Dave Ritzlin. “Heart of Atlantan was Dyalhis’s final published story.

Framing techniques in weird fiction were a common device in the early pulp era, an attempt to give some sort of credence to the tale. The events didn’t often happen to the narrator, but to a friend, or were found in a book. In “Heart of Atlantan,” Henri d’Armond describes how he was having a conversation with his friend, Leonard Carman, about the possibility of lost ancient civilizations. Carman is convinced they exist and to prove his point calls a woman, Otilie, to join them. Bent, broken, ugly, and illiterate, Otilie has the ability to serve as a medium, writing messages from a lost race.

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Today’s Bit of Odd Pulp-Related Ephemera

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018 | Posted by Doug Ellis

Astounding Stories of Super-Science Wesso March 1930-small Astounding Stories of Super-Science June 1930-small

A pair of Wesso covers for the Clayton Astounding — March and June, 1930

For today’s bit of odd pulp related ephemera…

Among the material I acquired from the estate of Jack Darrow back in 2001 were his runs of two early fanzines, The Time Traveler and Science Fiction Digest. Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz, destined for even bigger things in the worlds of pulp and comic publishing, were involved in both. In a foolish moment of weakness, I let my friend Jerry Weist talk me out of The Time Traveler set. But I think that I’ll get over that one of these days…

I was looking through some of my Science Fiction Digest issues recently for some info a friend wanted on a project he’s doing, and when I opened the March 1933 issue, I discovered that tucked inside was a notice to Darrow that his subscription expired with this issue. On rare occasions I’ve found a notice like that in an issue of a pulp, but hadn’t encountered one in an early fanzine before, so thought I’d post it below.

The following issue, April 1933,contained an article that Weisinger and Schwartz wrote based on their interview of artist Hans Wessolowski, better known as Wesso. Wesso did a lot of work for the Clayton chain of pulps (taking their name from publisher William Clayton), including the covers to Strange Tales and the Clayton issues of Astounding. I’ve seen a few original interior illustrations by Wesso over the years, but as far as I know, none of his original pulp paintings from the Clayton chain still exist.

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Birthday Reviews: Neil R. Jones’s “Hermit of Saturn’s Rings”

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by A. Drake

Cover by A. Drake

Neil R. Jones was born on May 29, 1909 and died on February 15, 1988.

Jones was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1988 at Nolacon II. Jones published more than twenty story in his long-running Professor Jameson series, which were eventually collected in five volumes. A second series, the Durna Rangue stories, were published concurrently with the Jameson tales. Jones may have been the first author to use the word “astronaut” in fiction in his debut story, “The Death’s Head Meteor.”

Malcolm Reiss purchased “Hermit of Saturn’s Rings” for publication in the Fall 1940 issue of Planet Stories. A decade later, Donald A. Wollheim included it in his anthology Flight Into Space. It was selected for inclusion in American Science Fiction #6 in 1952. In 1975, Michael Ashley chose “Hermit of Saturn’s Rings” to represent Neil R. Jones’s career in The History of the Science Fiction Magazine: Volume 2: 1936-1945. It was also translated into German and published in 1957 in Utopia Science Fiction Magazin #6 and again in 1973 in Science-Fiction Stories 21, edited by Walter Spiegl.

The protagonist of Jones’s “Hermit of Saturn’s Rings” is atypical in science fiction. Among the first things Jones reveals about Jasper Jezzan is that he was on the first expedition to Mars, had traveled throughout the explored system, and was now on the first expedition to Saturn. The thing that sets Jezzan apart from so many other characters in science fiction is that when the story begins, he is more than 70 years old.

Shortly after beginning to traverse Saturn’s rings, the ship Jezzan is on finds itself facing a strange white cloud. Jezzan is separated from the rest of the crew and when he rejoins them, he discovers that the white cloud has killed everyone it could get to. Jezzan must learn how to avoid the strange creature that lives in Saturn’s rings and live as a futuristic Robinson Crusoe, making a home for himself first aboard his ship and later inside a hollow rock in Saturn’s rings.

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With a (Black) Gat: Some Harboiled Anthologies

Monday, May 28th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps-small(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

There are a lot of anthologies out there that collect old pulp stories and I’m using several for the With a (Black) Gat series. While my hard-boiled collection doesn’t remotely rival my Sherlock Holmes library (or even my Nixon/Watergate, Civil War and Constitutional Convention of 1787 libraries), I’ve managed to amass quite a bit of good reading.

Of course, I have novels and individual short story collections from Black Lizard, Mysterious Press, Hard Case Crime and other imprints, as well as anthologies of stories from just one author. But for this post, I thought I’d talk about a few of the multi-author anthologies I’m drawing on. I’ll do a similar post with a few of the reference books I’m tapping.

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps

I got the idea for the new column from this book. It’s one of a series of ‘Big Books’ edited by Otto Penzler. We talked about The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories (which, of course, I own) here at Black Gate earlier. It’s a great series for collecting a wide variety of stories in a particular genre. This bad boy has more than 50 stories covering over 1,100 pages, including multiple tales from such pulpsters as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Paul Cain and Roger Torrey.

I like the interior artwork, which includes original illustrations from Black Mask, Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly. I try to include at least one piece in each With a (Black) Gat post.

You can go to the book’s Amazon page and ‘Look Inside’ to see the Table of Contents. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine any pulp fan not finding this anthology to be an excellent buy. And if you were just starting out, this is probably my very first recommendation. It’s a fantastic collection and I’ll be talking about quite a few of the stories in With a (Black) Gat.
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Birthday Reviews: Irving E. Cox, Jr.’s “Too Many Worlds”

Thursday, May 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Walter Popp

Cover by Walter Popp

Irving E. Cox, Jr. was born on May 24, 1917 and died on February 13, 2001.

Cox began publishing in 1951 with “Hell’s Pavement,” which appeared in Astounding Science Fiction. He published most of his work during that decade, and only his final two stories, “Impact” and “Way Station,” appeared during the 1960s. During that time, however, his stories appeared in several different magazines as well as in original anthologies.

“Too Many Worlds” was originally purchased by Howard Browne for Amazing Stories, where it appeared in the November 1952 issue. It was reprinted in May of the following year in the British edition of the magazine. In 1973, the story appeared in the May issue of Science Fiction Adventures. More recently it appeared in Science Fiction Gems, Volume Twelve, edited by Gregory Luce.

Science fiction authors have long had their characters travel from one version of the world to another, which is how Cox begins “Too Many Worlds.” He dumps Albert Hammond into a world that resembles his own. In the new world, however, Hammond’s shipping company is much more successful than the one he knows. Where Cox tries something different is by making Hammond very aware of who he is, but unable to respond to things the way he wants to. Instead, no matter how hard he tries, the words and tone that come out of his mouth belong to the new world’s Albert Hammond, who is a much harder man.

A psychiatrist, naturally, tells Hammond that the world he sees is the way the world is ,and his view of himself as less rigid, having a smaller company, and two children who don’t exist is a delusion he has built up for some reason. The new world’s Hammond indulges in business practices that the original Hammond feels are poor choices and bad for business, yet invariably turn out to work to his benefit.

His situation takes a turn for the worse, although more interesting for the reader, when in addition to his memories of his reasonably successful life, he begins to experience a life in which he didn’t even achieve the level of success he had in his original life. The constants in the different versions of his reality are the company he works for, his wife, and, he comes to realize, an old high school friend, Willie Tuttle. Once Tuttle comes into the picture, the cause of the different worlds becomes obvious, but Hammond must still try to figure out how to break the cycle.

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