Weird Tales Deep Read: May 1923

Saturday, October 17th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Cover by William Heitman

This time we’re considering another early Weird Tales, the third issue, May 1923. This was one of the oversized bed-sheet sized issues and contained 21 stories by 22 authors. Astonishingly, fourteen of these authors were one and done, with no additional published stories in the sf/fan field. Another two have two stories listed at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

The two most significant authors in this issue are Vincent Starrett, a long-time newspaper man who produced several out of genre books and a single slim collection of fantasy stories published by Arkham House in 1965. The other is Edward Bulwar-Lytton (yes, of a “dark and stormy night” fame), represented by a reprint that is more of a curiosity than anything else.

The other author worth commenting is Culpeper Chunn (a byline that screams pseudonym), whose real name was Seymour Cunningham Chunn (1889-1927). His two stories in Weird Tales are his only listed genre works, but if you google his name you’ll find repeated offers for his book Plotting the Short Story (it’s in public domain, so naturally it’s currently available in countless editions, even on Amazon) so he must have some kind of track record, somewhere. But that’s not why he gets a mention here. The protagonist of “The Whispering Thing,” co-authored by Laurie McClintock (who otherwise has left no trace in the written record), is Jules Peret, a French-born ex-policeman and current consulting detective, “a small, effeminate man with delicate features, small hands and feet,” given to uttering extravagant oaths. Sound familiar? The first Jules de Granden story appeared in Weird Tales in 1925. I have no explanation for this extraordinary coincidence.

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DMR Books: Swords, Sorcery, and Science Fantasy!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020 | Posted by D.M. Ritzlin

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Cover by Brian LeBlanc

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most people aren’t very happy with how 2020 has turned out. However, there have been some bright spots. For one, fans of quality Sword and Sorcery have plenty of new reading material, as I’ve released six titles so far this year through DMR Books.

Things kicked off in grand fashion with the reprint anthology Renegade Swords, which collected stories that were rare or overlooked in some way. The lead story is “The House of Arabu” by Robert E. Howard, a historical fantasy set in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s not especially well-known, as it features no recurring characters, but I think it’s one of Howard’s best. (I included it in my article “The Ten Greatest Sword and Sorcery Stories by Robert E. Howard.”) Other highlights include the unabridged, rarely reprinted version of “Necromancy in Naat” by my favorite author, Clark Ashton Smith, and a previously unpublished version of A. Merritt’s classic “The Woman of the Wood.”

Let me tell you about that…

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Why I Read Old Science Fiction Stories? (Spoiler: For Entertainment)

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020 | Posted by M Harold Page

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“Written by authors who mostly died before we were born”

What is wrong with us?

A gazillion SF&F books get published every month, and here we are reading books written by people who mostly died before we were born. And this is Science Fiction we’re talking about! Surely that’s the genre that riffs off the present to paint a plausible future, or at least an illuminating one? Why are we still reading the old stuff?

Is it because we’re wedded to some idea of “canon”? Probably not.

Sure, it’s interesting to visit the roots of a genre, but most of us want to be also entertained in our scarce leisure time. It’s why people who like theatre come back to Shakespeare for pleasure, but mostly approach Jonson and Marlow out of intellectual interest, and why I still dip into Malory’s pulpy Le Morte De Arthur, but not the ploddy Vulgate Cycle by some Medieval French guy(s?) I forget.

Similarly, aspiring authors are well-advised to see how their predecessors managed the… choreography of certain kinds of story: there’s no point in reinventing the wheel when past generations have left so many tried and tested examples just lying around. However, that presupposes that those wheels were proven in action, that they carried along stories that were entertaining.

And, yes, given how wide the field is, we’re more likely to find common ground talking about CL Moore than China Mieville: the best place to catch your mates is outside the pub, not in its murky depths. Even so, we want to be able to rant about books we loved and why… books that we found entertaining.

And there’s that word again: entertaining.

What does the old stuff have that the new doesn’t? After all, modern SF comes in meaty tomes of 100K words, generally has plausible extrapolation, and often takes us out of our comfort zone. How can 30K of often lightly characterized and emotionally distant narrative with not much contemporary significance compete with that?

Except, that’s the point,  I think.

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D.M. Ritzlin on the Ten Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Stories by Robert E. Howard

Saturday, September 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Brian LeBlanc, Sanjulian, and Margaret Brundage

Dave Ritzlin is the mastermind behind DMR books, publishers of the Swords of Steel anthologies, The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories,  the 2020 anthology Renegade Swords, and many other volumes of adventure and weird fantasy. He’s also a fine blogger and Robert E. Howard enthusiast, and this month he produced one of the most interesting articles on REH I’ve read in many years — The Ten Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Stories by Robert E. Howard.

This lengthy and entertaining piece features all of Howard’s most famous creations, including Kull, Solomon Kane, and of course Conan the Cimmerian. Here’s Dave on “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.”

The heroes of “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” are two renegades: Irishman Turlogh O’Brien, outlawed from his clan, and the Saxon Athelstane, who has thrown in with a group of Norse Vikings. The two have a history together, but they meet again when the Vikings attack a ship on which Turlogh is a passenger. The Saxon recognizes Turlogh in the stormy sea battle and takes him alive. Shortly thereafter the Vikings’ ship in blown off course and destroyed by a tempest. Athelstane is knocked unconscious, but Turlogh manages to save him. The two are the only survivors, and they wash up on a mysterious island (a classic sword and sorcery set-up!)…

In addition to being a spectacular sword and sorcery tale, “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” also inspired the name of one of the most amazing metal bands of all time. Byron A. Roberts, vocalist of Bal-Sagoth, is a talented sword-and-sorcery author as well.

Read the entire thing at The DMR Blog — a fine place to learn about new and classic fantasy of interest to REH fans old and new.


Vintage Treasures: A Sense of Wonder by John Wyndham, Jack Williamson and Murray Leinster

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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A Sense of Wonder (New English Library, 1974). Cover by Bruce Pennington

A Sense of Wonder was originally published in hardcover in the UK by Sidgwick & Jackson in 1967, and reprinted in the US as The Moon Era (which we covered as part of our survey of Sixty Years of Lunar Anthologies back in December.) It’s a short little anthology (175 pages) of early 30s SF by three of the biggest names of the pulp era, assembled and edited by pulp SF afficionado Sam Moskowitz. It contains three novellas:

“Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
“The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Stories, November 1934)
“The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

This slender volume was popular enough to enjoy a total of eight editions between 1967-87, mostly paperback reprints from New English Library, who seemed to insist on a new cover every time (see below for a few interesting examples). I covered the last, the 1987 reprint, back in 2017.

The reason I’m showcasing this book again isn’t its enduring popularity, or the notoriety of its three authors. It’s the exquisite Bruce Pennington cover on the 1974 edition (above), which I only recently managed to find. Bruce is one of my favorite SF artists, and he was gracious enough to provide covers for two of the last two print editions of Black Gate, and these days I kinda haunt the virtual shops on the lookout for (mostly British) paperbacks with his colorful and distinctive artwork. His cover for A Sense of Wonder is typical of his work in this period — a mysterious craft looms over a desolate alien landscape, while a small flock of birds introduce a strange sense of normalcy to the eerie tableau. The result is eye catching, and warmly reminiscent of classic science fiction, with its love of superscience, exploration, and the unfathomable mysteries of outer space.

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Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51WvS1lFaXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_PulpNoir_1280__06197.1518283264Black Gate: Bold Venture Press is, in many ways, the unsung hero of the pulp world of the 21st Century. You’ve an impressive catalog of new titles and classic reprints, but let’s start at the beginning and tell readers about Bold Venture Press’ history and accomplishments.

Bold Venture Press: Rich Harvey was working in the newspaper field, and founded Pulp Adventures Press in 1992, which eventually became Bold Venture Press. The Bold Venture imprint published The Spider and Pulp Adventures magazine, went on hiatus for a few years, then returned in 2014, reviving Pulp Adventures.

Audrey Parente was an investigative reporter and pulp historian who put her pulp connections on hiatus as her reporting career went into high gear. She rejoined the pulp fold after taking early retirement by attending Rich’s Pulp AdventureCon in New Jersey in 2012. Meeting at other pulp conventions, Rich and Audrey became reacquainted.

A fictionalized version of their romance, Pulp Noir was published by Bold Venture Press. They joined forces in Florida in 2014. Bold Venture has been cranking out several books every month, first focusing on pulp reprints and then adding new pulp and mainstream authors. Rich’s connections with Zorro Productions has led to the biggest and most exciting projects they have tackled.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: November 1934

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Weird Tales, November 1934. Cover by Margaret Brundage (for “Queen of the Lillin”)

We’re back on more familiar ground with this issue of Weird Tales from its classic period. More familiar authors are represented, and although not every story is a classic the editors at least avoided any real stumbles this. The issue grades out to a 2.1, which all in all is pretty decent.

Both Howard and Lovecraft appear, although the Lovecraft tale is a reprint and the Howard is the last installment of a serial. E. Hoffman Price, Paul Ernst, and August Derleth, seasoned pulp veterans all, also contributed stories. Price tale’s is part of his Pierre d’Atois stories; , d’Atois, like another Frenchman who appears in a series of WT stories, is an occult detective. The Ernst is one of his slighter efforts. The Derleth is somewhat more unusual, although, as is common, also rather slight. We have to cover already trodden ground with two serials this time around. I’ve included the information on those stories for those who haven’t read all the posts in this series.

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Are Some “Classics” Best Neglected?: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier

Thursday, August 27th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

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Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell; Magazine version: Unknown, March 1939.
Cover art H. W. Scott. (Click to enlarge)

Sinister Barrier
by Eric Frank Russell
UK: World’s Work (135 pages, 5/-, hardcover, 1943)
US: Fantasy Press (253, $3.00, hardcover, 1948)

Here’s an early “classic” of science fiction that I came across in a used bookstore in Oakland early last year. I say “classic” with quotes because I had heard of the title for years, but hadn’t recalled ever seeing a copy. Indeed, the invaluable isfdb.com indicates that while it was included in an omnibus from NESFA Press in 2001, there hasn’t been a separate English language edition of the book since Ballantine Del Rey issued it in 1986, nearly 35 years ago. Hmm, why would this be?

Well, because it’s a terribly written book, dated both in language and in plotting and in its sexual and racial attitudes, exhibiting all the worst features of pulp writing, and far worse than the works of, say, Asimov and Heinlein that have survived from that era. That would be the reason modern publishers haven’t kept it in print. If it’s a classic in any way, it’s for its striking conceptual premise, and then only in its historical context. More on that in a bit.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ ‘Have One on the House’

Monday, August 17th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

DimeDetective_March1942EDITED“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 termsp for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I’ve said many times that Norbert Davis is on my Hardboiled Mt. Rushmore. He’s not the first face carved in hardboiled stone, but he’s one of only four that are. Max Latin is my favorite Davis character, and he appeared in five issues of Dime Detective. There were five Benjamin Martin stories – all in Detective Tales. It was William (Bail Bond) Dodd that was Davis’ frequently recurring character. There were eight stories in Dime Detective between February, 1940 through December, 1943.

Dodd is a physically unprepossessing bail bondsman. He doesn’t actively seek out trouble. You can’t even call his adventures cases. “Have one on the House” was in the March, 1942 issue of Dime Detective. That issue also included a Steve Midnight story from John K. Butler. Midnight was a broke former playboy who found adventures as a night shift cabbie. There was also a Bookie Barnes story from Robert Reeves. Reeves broke into Black Mask in 1940 at the age of 28. He was serving with a bomber unit in the Philippines when he died in 1945, only one month before the war ended. He had continued to write while in the service. His budding career was cut tragically short.

Back to Dodd! Norbert Davis is remembered as perhaps the best at screwball hardboiled. However, then and now, that carries a stigma and he is generally dismissed because of it. And it’s both inaccurate and unfair. He could write straight hardboiled, like “The Red Goose,” which Raymond Chandler praised as influencing him when he decided to become a writer. But what Davis did so well was inject humor into his hardboiled stories, without overwhelming them with it. That’s the case with the Bail-Bond Dodd stories. It’s not that the characters are funny – it’s the situations that Dodd (and his assistant, Meekins) find themselves in.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: C.M. Kornbluth’s Pulp

Monday, August 10th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Kornbluth_PolkaEDITEDSteven H Silver and I shared office space in the dungeon…cellar…basement….journalist’s suite (yeah, that’s it) at the Black Gate World Headquarters. Then, Steven published his cool new novel, After Hastings, and got moved above ground level. He tapped out a message to me on the pipes and said that it has taken a while for his eyes to get used to all that natural light. But before he moved on up, we worked on the joint post you are now reading. I look at a hardboiled PI story by C. M. Kornbluth. Then Steven follows with one of the author’s science fiction stories. Kornbluth wrote a lot more of the latter, than the former. So, read on from the pride of the BG World Headquarters underground offices!

C.M. Kornbluth started to emerge as a science fiction star, then went off and earned a Bronze Star for service in The Battle of the Bulge. He resumed his writing career and died at the young age of thirty-four. Primarily in the late forties, he wrote sixteen mystery stories for the pulps. Two of those appeared in Black Mask in 1946. “Beer-Bottle Polka” introduced tough PI Tim Skeat in the September issue, and he made a return appearance in November with “The Brooklyn Eye.” All of his other mystery stories were one-offs, without a recurring character.

Skeat gets a phone call from Detective Lieutenant Angonides, telling him to come to the crime scene, where a dead body has been found. The stiff had been tied to a bed and seriously tortured with a broken beer bottle. It ain’t pretty. One of Skeats’ business cards had been found in the deceased’s hat band, prompting the call. Skeat tells him the man was a nut who visited his office, tried to sell him a secret, and was sent packing.

Angonides doesn’t like that answer. He has Skeat taken down to the station. And when he still doesn’t like that answer, down into the basement. First he sweats Skeat with a hot spotlight. And when that doesn’t work, he punches him over and over, right below a rib. Then moves about six inches to the side and repeats the process. Skeat isn’t a suspect in the killing. Angonides is just convinced he knows more than he’s telling. So he works him over. Skeat doesn’t change his story and is beaten into unconsciousness. And told not to bother filing a complaint. He takes his undeserved beating and heads to a Turkish bath for treatment, and falls asleep there.

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