Blogging The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer – Part One: “The Zayat Kiss”

Sunday, February 14th, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

NOTE: The following article was first published on March 7, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.

ZayatInColliersinsidious 1Arthur Henry Ward was born in England in 1883. His father hoped his son would make his way through life as a respectable businessman, but young Arthur was determined to make a name for himself as an author. He discovered immortality with the invention of two unlikely monikers that conjured an air of exotic intrigue when they debuted in print a century ago. The first was his chosen pen name, Sax Rohmer and the second was the name of the character at the heart of his first published novel, Dr. Fu-Manchu.

Over the years, the name lost its hyphen and became synonymous with the moustache artists and actors always depicted the character as wearing despite the fact that he was always described in print as clean-shaven. Dr. Fu-Manchu is a brilliant and honorable scientist who is opposed to British colonial interference in the East. Using a variety of fiendish inventions, insects, and assassins, he sets out to remove Western influence and silence those who know too much about the East. Most intriguing in our post-9/11 world, the Devil Doctor chooses to fight his battles not in China, but on British soil using terror as his weapon. He is opposed in his efforts by stalwart British colonialist Nayland Smith and Smith’s bodyguard and Fu-Manchu’s chronicler, Dr. Petrie. Rohmer’s stories spanned five decades moving in real time with his characters aging alongside their author. For much of the first half of the last century, Dr. Fu-Manchu was the villain readers loved to hate.

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On the Trail of the Octopus

Saturday, February 13th, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Serial Squadron DVDseriados-the-trail-of-the-octopus-posterEric Stedman of The Serial Squadron has a well-deserved reputation for restoring vintage serials (in many cases salvaging otherwise lost serials) and preserving them for posterity. As Sax Rohmer’s 133rd birthday is rapidly approaching, I thought I would turn our attention to a vintage 1919 serial that borrowed quite a few elements from Rohmer’s work, The Trail of the Octopus. The Serial Squadron released their restored version of this forgotten gem in 2012.

The original serial produced by Hallmark Pictures nearly a century earlier comprises 15 chapters. The serial is centered around an Asian criminal mastermind, Wang Foo (known as “The Octopus”) who commands an international gang of Egyptians, Chinese, Africans, Turks, Jews, even a cult of devil worshippers in pursuit of an ancient Egyptian artifact, the Sacred Talisman of Set. While Fu Manchu was the head of an international secret society that contained Europeans as well as Asians and Arabs, it’s impossible not to see that The Octopus commands all of the stereotypical foreign and/or exotic elements feared by white Europeans just after the First World War.

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The Great Pulp Gathering: That Time Jack Williamson, L. Sprague de Camp, Frank Belknap Long, Edmond Hamilton, John W. Campbell, Manly Wade Wellman, Otis Adelbert Kline and others met at Mort Weisinger’s House in 1937

Thursday, February 11th, 2016 | Posted by Doug Ellis

weisinger home 1937 07 - top l to r Williamson de Camp Clark Long Weisinger Hamilton Kline bottom l to r Binder Wellman Schwartz-small

From time to time I’ve posted in various places material I acquired at an auction many years ago from the estate of Jack Darrow. In the 1930’s, Darrow (whose real name was Clifford Kornoelje) was pretty much science fiction fan #2 behind Forry Ackerman.

Darrow’s best friend was science fiction pulp author Otto Binder – who, with his brother, Earl, formed half of the writing tandem of Eando Binder (their other brother was pulp/comic artist Jack Binder). By 1936 however, although the byline often continued to read Eando, the stories were written solely by Otto. In 1939, Binder also began working in comics, particularly for Captain Marvel and the other Fawcett titles, though he would eventually work for all the major publishers. Among the material in Darrow’s estate was a box of correspondence between him and Binder about a foot thick.

Among these letters was one from Binder to Darrow, dated July 10, 1937, which was accompanied by two snapshots. On the back of each, Binder writes that these are photos of “science fiction authors at Mort Weisinger’s home June 1937” (the home was in New Jersey). At the time, Weisinger was the editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

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The Galaxy Science Fiction $6,500 Novel-Writing Sham

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction March 1953-smallIn the March, 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, H. L. Gold announed a novel contest. Simon and Schuster and Galaxy partnered together to offer a $6,500 prize, “guaranteed to the author of the best original science fiction novel submitted.”

The $6,500 was only a minimum for the first world serial and TV rights. It was the largest cash prize offered to date for a science fiction novel. Other details were that the contest closed October 15, 1953, and the novel had to be between 60,000 and 75,000 words. Anyone could enter, with the following caveats:

…except employees of the Galaxy Publishing Corp. and of Simon and Shuster, Inc., and their families; AND authors who are ineligible because of contractual obligations to their present publishers… which means, in effect, that contestants will NOT be competing with most of the established ‘big names’ of science fiction.

When you consider that cars could be purchased for about $2,000 in 1953, this was an enormous prize. And let’s face it: how many of us would still be happy to sell a novel in today’s market for $6,500?

Given that the contest ended long ago, I had to find out who won. The winner was Edson McCann, whose novel Preferred Risk was serialized in Galaxy in 1955 and later published by Simon and Schuster that same year. Congratulations, Edson!

Oh… except there never was an Edson McCann.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “The Black Stranger”

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Conquering Sword of Conan-smallHoward Andrew Jones and Bill Ward are wrapping up their re-read of The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard, the third and final omnibus volume collecting the complete tales of Conan, with what Howard calls “my most pleasant surprise so far during the re-read,” the story “The Black Stranger.” It was never published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime, appearing for the first time in Karl Edward Wagner’s anthology Echoes of Valor in 1987. Here’s Bill:

Like “Beyond the Black River” which precedes it, “The Black Stranger” is a tale set in the Pictish wilderness of Hyboria that sees a vulnerable outpost of civilization overrun by the wild men of the wood. But this time around the threat of the Picts — still an Amerindian analog — serve as more of a backdrop to the infighting and machinations of pirate captains, an exiled nobleman, and a cagey Conan. Again REH draws on the American frontier for inspiration, but it isn’t the dominant theme of the piece, which also manages to end on a far more up tempo note despite the carnage. Wild battles, double-crossing, pirate treasure, and a mysterious demonic stranger are all skillfully woven together into a complex but nonetheless fast-paced adventure that stands solidly alongside the better Conan stories.

Read the complete exchange here.

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Post-Modern Pulp: Speaking With Indie Action Writer Jack Badelaire

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

COA_SmallToday we’re talking to Jack Badelaire, author of numerous action books in the tradition of the 70s “Men’s Adventure” genre. His best known work is his Commando series of WWII action novels. Jack reflects on indie publishing and the state of the genre.

Full Disclosure: Jack is a critique partner of mine. He’s also a fellow member of the secret commando group Sicko Slaughterers (“SS,” we really need a new acronym), which goes after terrorists and human traffickers. So far I’ve killed 1,487 sickos, while wimpy little Jack has only killed 1,059. He gets props for killing that ISIS commander in Raqqa with a blender, though.

Anyway, on with the interview.

The Men’s Adventure fiction of the 60s and 70s is obviously a huge influence on your work. You’ve mentioned that you think there’s a lot more going on in these books than many people think. Could you expand on that?

This genre of fiction was brewed up during an especially turbulent period of history. The Cold War, Vietnam, rejuvenated organized crime syndicates, the rise of international terrorist organizations, the War on Drugs… and those are just the chart-toppers.  These post-modern pulps of the period were a direct reflection of, if we want to get Freudian for a moment, society’s collective Id. The Executioner went out and slaughtered Mafiosi because we wished someone would, and Phoenix Force obliterated terrorists because we wished someone would. Even today, the modern successors to these stories feature ex-SEALs and former Delta Force operators hunting terrorists and organized crime syndicates, stories little different than those written thirty or forty years ago.

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Frankenstein and R. J. Myers’ Domination Fantasies

Sunday, January 31st, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

NOTE: The following article was first published on May 30, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.

Myers Slave 2Myers Slave 1A couple weeks ago I reviewed R. J. Myers’ The Cross of Frankenstein. It was the respected political commentator’s first foray into fiction. He followed it with a sequel, 1976’s The Slave of Frankenstein and despite the promise of a third book, his only other genre efforts were a late seventies soft-core vampire title and a privately-published guide to blood-drinking as an alternative lifestyle.

I always feel a pang of guilt when I come down hard on a fellow pastiche writer. I’ve been on the receiving end of disappointed Sax Rohmer and Conan Doyle fans who felt I had no business continuing the adventures of characters they love. At the same time, I believe I have been fair and honest in my assessments when reviewing pastiches. I have the utmost respect for Joe Gores, Michael Hardwick, Cay Van Ash, and Freda Warrington as writers who tried hard to stay true to the original author in terms of style and spirit. I can still enjoy Peter Tremayne and Basil Copper who, despite falling short of the mark, can still spin an entertaining yarn. Consequently, I feel justified when I confine Myers to the lowest pit of literary Hell alongside Ian Holt and Richard Jaccoma for The Slave of Frankenstein, while a very different beast than Myers’ first effort, is equally contemptible.

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A Crossover Too Far

Friday, January 29th, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Combined-ForcesBulldog_Drummond_1st_edition_cover,_1920A. J. Smithers is a respected author of fiction and non-fiction titles with a special dedication to the Clubland fiction of Dornford Yates, John Buchan, and H. C. “Sapper” McNeile. His 1983 novel, Combined Forces was subtitled Being the Latter-Day Adventures of Richard Hannay, “Bulldog” Drummond, and Berry and Co. Clubland literary scholar Richard Usborne praised the book and Smithers’ willingness to expose the dark sides of its characters’ lives. Wold Newtonians sometimes seek out this rare work because of the literary crossover within its pages. I approached the book first as a Bulldog Drummond completist and secondly as a fan of Richard Hannay.

While most people know of The Thirty-Nine Steps thanks to Alfred Hitchcock’s celebrated film version, they are unaware of how different the character of Richard Hannay is in John Buchan’s fiction. Most are unaware that Hannay appeared in a total of seven spy thriller novels by Buchan published between 1915 and 1940. Unlike many long-running series, Buchan chose to have Hannay age in real time and grow as a person as he marries and settles down and even retires. Buchan’s approach appears to have influenced some of Gerald Fairlie’s modifications to Hugh Drummond’s character and life as he continued the series after Sapper’s death.

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Tracking Down Frank Kelly Freas’ Planet Stories Cover for “The Ambassadors of Flesh”

Friday, January 22nd, 2016 | Posted by Doug Ellis

Planet Stories Summer 1954-small

A little while ago, I posted one of our two big IlluxCon purchases — a Hubert Rogers Astounding cover that we had arranged to buy over the summer from a friend, and the deal was completed at IlluxCon. This is the other major piece we picked up there, also from the same friend (click for a bigger version).

It’s by the great Frank Kelly Freas, and is the cover for the Summer 1954 issue of Planet Stories. It illustrates “The Ambassadors of Flesh” by Poul Anderson, which was the third of his Dominic Flandry stories. Needless to say, Flandry saves the day, and the girl.

Like all of the original Planet Stories covers I’ve seen, the block where the magazine’s logo went was just painted as a solid color. My friend had the logo scanned and printed onto mylar, which is laid in on top of the painting as it’s framed, so the logo is actually not on the artwork. Freas won the first of his ten Best Artist Hugos in 1955, about a year after this painting was published.

On a side note, artist Herman Vestal, a Fiction House regular, contributed a double-page spread which ran as the interior illustration for this story. Several years ago at Windy City, I managed to pick up the left half of that illo (still looking for the right half!), which has Flandry in a good action scene. I’ll post that down the road.


Can You Help Date This John W. Campbell Pic?

Sunday, January 17th, 2016 | Posted by Doug Ellis

John W Campbell-small

A few weeks ago I talked about Hubert Rogers’ Astounding covers, and his fascinating correspondence with Robert A. Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp.

During one of his trips to visit editor John W. Campbell at Astounding‘s offices, Rogers took along his camera. Here’s one of several shots that Rogers took that day of Campbell at his desk. [Click the image for a bigger version.]

None of the photos are dated, unfortunately, but my guess is that it’s sometime in the 1940’s. If anyone can pin down a more precise date, I’d love to hear it!


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