A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘Pulp Repurposed – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_RobinsonCoverClassicFellow Black Gater Thomas Parker and I have been exchanging our thoughts on the various topics covered here in this column. I mentioned Horace McCoy’s Jerry Frost, head of Hell’s Stepsons, sort of a Seals team for the Air Texas Rangers (also fictional). McCoy is, of course, best-known for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. Which I’ve never read. Nor have I seen the movie. So, I asked Thomas. if he’d like to write a guest post on that book. And boy, did he! 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

A while back our own Hardboiled Bob Byrne gave us a run-down of the May, 1934 issue of Black Mask, which featured a story by Horace McCoy, a writer whose fame rests solely on his 1935 novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which probably more people know from the fine 1969 film version starring Jane Fonda than from actually having read. McCoy’s novel is an ambitious piece of work, and with it he was clearly seeking to extend himself beyond the boundaries of commercial pulp – and yet, the mark of Black Mask and its ten and fifteen cent brethren is everywhere in the book. In They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, pulp atmosphere and pulp devices are deployed, but with a deadlier intent than any found in the pages of Dime Detective. Call it pulp repurposed.

In what amounts to a manifesto for the American pulp style, Raymond Chandler famously declared (in his 1944 essay, “The Simple Art of Murder”), that Dashiell Hammett had started the ball rolling because he

gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily use for these purposes.

In other words, Hammett and those who followed him were realists, in both style and substance – at least as compared with proponents of the unbearably artificial (in Chandler’s estimation, anyway) English school like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and the American S.S. Van Dine, the creator of amateur sleuth Philo Vance, dismissed by Chandler as “the most asinine character in detective fiction.”

If the American pulp style praised by Chandler consists of realistic characters with realistic motives using realistic means to commit crimes in contemporary urban settings, then They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? must be considered a prime example of the form, even more so than Chandler’s own Philip Marlowe stories, with their stainless hero and romantic patina.

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Birthday Reviews: Donald A. Wollheim’s “Blueprint”

Monday, October 1st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Hannes Bok

Cover by Hannes Bok

Donald A. Wollheim was born on October 1, 1914 and died on November 2, 1990.

Wollheim entered science fiction fandom at its birth and was responsible for a meeting in Philadelphia between New York and Philadelphia science fiction fans which is considered by some to be the first science fiction convention. He was a member of the Science Fiction League, founded the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), and the Futurians. He was one of the Futurians not allowed into the first Worldcon as part of the “Exclusion Act.” In the 1940s, he began working as an editor as well as a writer, editing for Avon Books and later Ace before starting up his own line, DAW Books. From 1965 through his death, Wollheim edited an annual World’s Best SF anthology series.

In 1975, Aussiecon One, the 33rd Worldcon, presented Wollheim with a Special Award for being the “Fan Who Has Done Everything.” Wollheim was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 1975 Wollheim won a World Fantasy Special Professional Award in 1981 for DAW Books and a Special Convention Award in 1986. He also won the Milford Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980, the I-Con Award and Forry Award in 1987. He and his wife, Elsie, earned a British Fantasy Special Award in 1984. In 2002, he was inducted posthumously into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and in 2010, SFWA awarded him the Solstice Award, which was accepted by his daughter, Betsy. Wollheim was the Guest of Honor at Nolacon II, the 46th Worldcon in 1988.

Wollheim used a variety of pseudonyms, including Martin Borrow, Graham Conway, Millard Verne Gordon, David Grinnell, Martin Pearson, Allan Warland, W. Malcolm White, and Lawrence Woods. He collaborated, as author and editor, with George Ernsberger, Forrest J Ackerman, Terry Carr, Arthur W. Saha, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert A. W. Lowndes, John Michel, and Lin Carter.

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Birthday Reviews: Willard E. Hawkins’s “The Dwindling Sphere”

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gilmore

Cover by Gilmore

Willard E. Hawkins was born on September 27, 1887 and died on April 17, 1970.

Hawkins only published eleven short stories of genre interest over a span of nearly thirty years, although he published his first story as early as 1912. In addition to writing various genres, he established World Press, for which he was the publisher and editor of mostly non-fiction books about the West. He also worked as a newspaper editor for various Colorado papers, including Denver Times and the Rocky Mountain News. His first genre story, “The Dead Man’s Tale,” appeared in the debut issue of Weird Tales.

“The Dwindling Sphere” was originally published in the March 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Laurence Janiver reprinted it in his 1966 anthology Masters’ Choice (a.k.a. 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories). The story was picked up by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg for their anthology The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 2: 1940 (a.k.a. Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction), which caused it to be translated into German in 1980. In 2017, Hank Davis used the story in his anthology If This Goes Wrong…

Hawkins explores several generations of a single family in “The Dwindling Sphere.” The first section, set in 1945, discusses how Frank Baxter accidentally created the Plastocene process while attempting to find a way to create atomic energy. He was partially successful in creating a reaction, but the energy he was seeking completely dissipated, leaving behind a product which would revolutionize manufacturing. Subsequent sections focus on his descendants who discover Baxter’s journals and add on to them as they deal with the long-term repercussions of his discovery.

Hawkins deals with a society in which the working class has been turned into a luxury class since only a small number of people are needed to supply the world with plastocene, and therefore everything it needs, although food production hasn’t (yet) been switched to plastocene. In this period, the new luxury class is discovering that work provides them with a raison d’etre. Several hundred years later, society has evolved more and the early Baxters have been all but forgotten until a distant relation finds their diary, which corrects many historical misconceptions. By that time, plastocene production is beginning to threaten the livability of Earth, leading to the final sections of the story in which the Baxters’ descendants are forced off Earth by the long-term success of plastocene.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

Monday, September 10th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_GardnerSkeletonEven the best-selling Erle Stanley Gardner struggled to break into the better markets early in his career. Of these early days, Gardner said, “I wrote the worst stories that ever hit New York City. I have the word of an editor for that, and he hadn’t seen the worst stories because the worst ones I wrote under a pen name.”

Gardner sold his first two stories to Breezy Stories and they were published in 1921. Then we have this bit of fun…

In 1923, under the name of Charles M. Green, he submitted a novelette, “The Shrieking Skeleton” to The Black Mask (‘The’ was dropped for the May, 1927 issue). Gardner said that “It was a major opus as far as I was concerned, and looking back on it, I guess it must have been a dilly.” George Sutton was the editor at this time. While Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw is given credit for making Black Mask the leading institution of the hardboiled school, Sutton published the first detective stories of Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett and was at the helm when Race Williams and The Continental Op debuted. He played a big part in the development of the genre.

Upon receipt of the story, somebody thought it was so bad, they sent it on to circulation editor Phil Cody (who would succeed Sutton as editor). They told him it was to be the lead story and they wanted a publicity campaign to promote it. Oh, those scamps!

Cody blew his top and sent it back to the editorial department. He wrote that the story gave him a pain in his neck and it was pretty near the last word in childishness. The characters talked like dictionaries and the so-called plot had whiskers on it like unto Spanish moss hanging from a live oak in a Louisiana bayou (???). He foresaw the end from the beginning and the story was puerile, trite, obvious and unnatural. He begged that the story not be used.

The joke having succeeded, the story was sent back to Gardner with the usual rejection slip (which Gardner was receiving by the dozens). The slip stated that just because the story was returned, it did not necessarily imply that there was any lack of literary merit, it simply did not fit in the schedule. Gardner (who later became good friends with Cody) knows this because Cody’s note was inadvertently included with the returned manuscript.

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Birthday Reviews: Homer Eon Flint’s “The Nth Man”

Sunday, September 9th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Frank R. Paul

Cover by Frank R. Paul

Homer Eon Flint was born Homer Eon Flindt on September 9, 1889 and died on March 27, 1924 under suspicious circumstances.

Flint’s career as a speculative fiction author ran from 1918 until his death in 1924, during which time he collaborated with Austin Hall. The majority of his work appeared in All Story and Argosy All Story, which were published by Munsey. Flint’s death is a mystery that remains unsolved. He was killed when a car he was driving in ran over a cliff. Although there have been claims that Flint stole the car at gunpoint with the intent to commit a bank robbery, that charge was put forward by a gangster, E.L. Handley, several years later. There is no evidence that Flint was involved with anything illegal, and may have found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although “The Nth Man” was originally sold to the Munsey Corporation in 1920, it didn’t appear until after Flint’s death when the rights had been re-sold to Hugo Gernsback and it was published in the April 1928 issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly. It disappeared and wasn’t reprinted until 2015 when it was included in the Wildside Press e-anthology The 26th Golden Age of Science Fiction Megapack.

Flint opens the story with six lengthy vignettes describing miracles that occurred between 1920 and 1933, promising that they were linked in some way, but not offering any explanation for how they occurred. These instances range from the rescue of a nine-year old girl drowning after falling off a cliff to the transportation of a freighter from the middle of a typhoon to the Australian desert, to the disappearance of a bank in Hamburg.

Once he relates all of these miracles, which takes about half of the story, he begins to refocus his tale on the specifics, which tie the various vignettes together. The key vignette to our understanding is the one set in 1920, in which a young Bert Forsburgh meets a young Florence Neil. Fosburgh is the son of a wealthy businessman, Daly Fosburgh, who by the time the main story is set is prepared to economically take over the United States with his son, now a young adult, set to be his figurehead governmental leader.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

Monday, September 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_Spring2017“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)

In the Fall of 2016, Altus Press revived the legendary Black Mask magazine, reprinting stories from the old pulps with a mix of new hardboiled tales; including a cover story from my talented friend Paul Bishop. Altus also relaunched two other classic pulps: Argosy (which only lasted one issue) and Famous Fantastic Mysteries (just two issues). However, the fifth issue of Black Mask will be out this Fall (with an essay from yours truly).

Today in A (Black) Gat in the Hand, we’re going to look at each of the entries in the second issue of the new Black Mask, from the Spring of 2017. And this issue starts big!

Carroll John Daly’s “Murder for a Stuffed Shirt” is a previously unpublished tale!

Carroll John Daly was the biggest star at Black Mask in the twenties and thirties. Putting Race Williams on the cover guaranteed increased sales. When he fell out of favor at Black Mask, Daly took Williams to Dime Detective, where he also created Vee Brown (I have a tough time buying into Brown, a hardboiled special DA operative and also a wealthy composer of hit sentimental songs. I wrote about Daly’s creation of the hardboiled genre with “Three Gun Terry Mack” here.

But this issue of Black Mask contains a never-before-seen Daly story, uncovered by his grandson. It feels very much like a pre-hardboiled piece and not one person is shot! It’s different than any other Daly story I’ve read and I liked it.

“Mr. Detective is Annoyed” by William Robert Cox originally appeared in the March, 1938 issue of Captain Satan. Cox had over 130 stories published in the pulps under his own name, plus more using various pseudonyms. He wrote eighty novels, many westerns and was the creator of Cemetery Jones and the Maverick Kid.

The story is one of four to feature Donny Jordine, who doesn’t like to sit around and wait for the machinery of justice to creak along. He makes things happen on his own. “Mr Detective is Annoyed” isn’t a bad story, but it didn’t leave me wanting more Jordine.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

Monday, August 27th, 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 SleepGat_NebelCardigan

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

Over on Facebook, I frequently post tidbits related to my research for this column. There’s usually a picture included, and all of this happens on my back deck. So, I call it Back Deck Pulp! Well, there’s a lot of stuff coming out of Back Deck Pulp. So, last month, I collected a bunch of those FB posts and Back Deck Pulp #1 appeared here at Black Gate. Well, there have been a LOT more of them, so here’s Back Deck Pulp #2. I’ve already got #3 ready to go! Friend me on Facebook and see the posts as they go up. This is a collection of posts over time, so it doesn’t necessarily flow perfectly. Live with it…


And it’s another Office Desk Pulp. Last week, A (Black) Gat in the Hand was about Donahue of the Interstate Agency. That series was written by Frederick Nebel for Black Mask.

Nebel is one of my favorite pulpsters and I’m a huge fan of his Cardigan of the Cosmos Agency stories.

Cardigan appeared 44 times in Dime Detective – more than any other character.

Altus Press has issued the whole series in four volumes. And only $4.99 per ebook! With a great intro by Will Murray. I’ll be doing a post on this series. Highly recommended!


This Saturday’s back deck pulpster is Horace McCoy, best known for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A WW I pilot, he wrote a series of air adventures featuring Jerry Frost of The Texas Air Rangers. The group, known as Hell’s Stepsons, were a Texas Rangers special ops aerial team. And Frost was hard boiled.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

Monday, August 20th, 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 Chandler’s The Big Sleep

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

October of 1933 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

With “Murder in the Open,” Race Williams made his forty-second appearance in Black Mask, dating back to June 1, 1923. For several years, Williams on the cover had guaranteed increased sales, but Carroll John Daly would be gone from Black Mask in just over a year and he was already regularly appearing in Dime Detective.

Daly was the first author to write in what became the hardboiled style with “Three Gun Terry” (which, of course, you read about here…) in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. Williams would follow in “Knights of the Open Palm in June, with Dashiell Hammett introducing his famous Continental Op in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Daly’s writing style was far less polished and developed than Hammett’s, though I feel that it did improve over the years.

W(illiam) T(odhunter) Ballard was Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout’s first cousin (which would explain why they shared such an unusual middle name). Ballard, who went on to become a very successful western author, wrote extensively for the detective pulps in the thirties and forties. He explained that he was struggling to sell to the lesser pulps when he saw The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez. Hammett’s terse prose spoke to him and he bought an issue of Black Mask. He stayed up all night, wrote a story and sold it to the magazine. He would go on to a long career in the pulps and as a novelist.

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From the Moon to Mars: The British Library Science Fiction Classics by Mike Ashley

Sunday, August 19th, 2018 | Posted by Todd McAulty

Lost Mars The Golden Age of the Red Planet-small Moonrise The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures-small

The Moon and Mars have fascinated science fiction writers for generations, although I thought the era of classic Mars and Moon anthologies was over. But it turns out that’s not the case. At least not while editor Mike Ashley is on the job, anyway.

Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, which collects pulp-era tales (and pre pulp-era tales) from Wonder Stories, Amazing Stories, Astounding, and Worlds of If, was published in April 2018. Its sister anthology Moonrise: The Golden Era of Lunar Adventures, with stories from F&SF, Amazing, Tales of Wonder, Astounding, New Worlds, and Fantastic, arrives in September. Both are part of the British Library Science Fiction Classics, which I’ve never heard of, but for which I immediately have a deep and passionate love. Near as I can figure out, it’s a relatively new imprint devoted to early 20th Century SF. Or maybe just stories of Mars and the Moon, I dunno. But either way, love love love.

These are very welcome books. They include tales of adventure and exploration from the pre-spaceflight era (the most recent stories are from 1963, only two years after the start of the Apollo space program), which means they’re not particularly concerned with getting the science right. Scientific verisimilitude was the province of late 20th Century SF; these stories concern themselves chiefly with imagination and adventure.

And when it comes to the Moon and Mars, human imagination has been pretty darn fertile. These books contain some of the greatest SF ever written, including Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant tale “The Sentinel,” which inspired 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Stanley G. Weinbaum’s groundbreaking “A Martian Odyssey,” which Isaac Asimov said, “had the effect on the field of an exploding grenade. With this single story, Weinbaum was instantly recognized as the world’s best living science fiction writer.” There’s also a Martian Chronicles tale by Ray Bradbury, an excerpt from H.G. Wells’ classic First Men in the Moon, and stories by Walter M. Miller Jr, J. G. Ballard, Gordon R. Dickson, Edmond Hamilton, John Wyndham, E. C. Tubb, and many others.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

Monday, August 13th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_KeeneGander“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)

“The Bloody Tide” appeared in the June, 1950 issue of Dime Detective. John D. MacDonald (my favorite writer) also appeared that month. Both men had stories in the May issue as well, with JDM scoring the cover.

The story opens with Charlie White being released from a Florida prison after serving three years for smuggling. He’s given some advice by another inmate on Death Row to go straight and stay on the outside. Get back to working on the water, even if it’s a menial job. Wouldn’t be much of a story if that’s how things go, though, would it?

White’s lover (not his wife) is waiting outside for him and drives him to a secluded beach cabin. He’s going to get back into that fast life again. While he was in jail, $1,000 had been deposited monthly into his bank account, presumably by the ‘big man,’ who he felt had cast him to the wolves.

‘The Devil came up behind me and pushed. To hell with Beth [his wife]. To hell with everything, I thought. To hell with trying to kill Senor Peso. In his way the guy had played square with me. Why should I try to goose into his grave an egg who laid so many golden pesos?’

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