A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on The Spider

Monday, November 11th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Murray_SpiderdoomLegionEDITED“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)

You know, of course, that Will Murray carried on the adventure tales of the Doc Savage – because you read about it here!  Will is also carrying on the adventures of another legendary pulp figure – The Shadow.  So, he’s making another guest post here in the series. Read on for: Secret Origins of the Spider.

I have to confess that writing The Spider is a completely different experience for me than writing the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, Tarzan, John Carter, or any of the other classic pulp heroes I’ve been privileged to bring back to life in new novels.

With these other pulp heroes, it’s largely a matter of concocting a logical plot and having the heroes go through their customary pieces, although I seem to have quickly become an accidental king of crossovers since I’ve managed to convince the various license holders to permit me to have a few of them collide, such as Doc Savage and The Shadow, Tarzan of the Apes and King Kong. Most recently, the Spider encountered both Jimmy Christopher of Operator #5 magazine fame and G-8, but without his Battle Aces in my first Spider novel, The Doom Legion. So some of their customary paces are not so customary.

When I acquired a license to the Spider a few years ago, I asked the late Joel Frieman of Argosy Communications about a mystery that had vexed me for a long time. Namely, why did Canadian novelist R.T.M. Scott write only the first two Spider novels, and then give way to Norvell W. Page, who worked under the house name of Grant Stockbridge?

Joel knew Popular Publications founder Harry Steeger and got the answer from him.

Watching the phenomenal sales growth of Street & Smith’s Shadow Magazine, he naturally itched to produce something in that emerging category. But Steeger didn’t want to get sued. So he conferred with his attorney and asked, essentially, how do we do something like The Shadow and not risk an expensive lawsuit?

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The Return of The Thing: Frozen Hell by John W. Campbell

Saturday, November 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Frozen Hell John W Campbell-back-small Frozen Hell John W Campbell-small

Cover by Bob Eggleton

Several years ago, while researching his groundbreaking book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which Thomas Parker reviewed for us here), Alec Nevala-Lee found a yellowing letter from John W. Campbell that mentioned he’d donated his papers to Harvard Library. Alec tracked them down, and inside a carton in an offsite storage facility he made a major discovery: the original uncut version of “Who Goes There?”, which Alec calls “The greatest science fiction horror story of all time.” Last year John Gregory Betancourt of Wildside Press launched a hugely successful Kickstarter to publish it (raising $155,366 on a $1,000 goal), and the book appeared last month. Here’s John’s Kickstarter description.

In 1938, acclaimed science fiction author John W. Campbell published the novella “Who Goes There?,” about a team of scientists in Antarctica who discover and are terrorized by a monstrous, shape-shifting alien entity. The story would later be adapted into John Carpenter’s iconic movie The Thing (following an earlier film adaptation in 1951). The published novella was actually an abridged version of Campbell’s original story, called “Frozen Hell,” which had to be shortened for publication. The “Frozen Hell” manuscript remained unknown and unpublished for decades, and it was only recently rediscovered. “Frozen Hell” expands the Thing story dramatically, giving vital backstory and context to an already incredible tale. We are pleased and honored to offer Frozen Hell to you now, as Campbell intended it.

Frozen Hell will include a preface written by Alec Nevala-Lee, who rediscovered the “Frozen Hell” manuscript while doing research for his upcoming book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Dey Street Books).

This is a highly anticipated book, and for good reason. I don’t know if the post-Worldcon negative publicity around John W. Campbell will impact sales at all, but I’m certainly still interested, and I know I’m not the only one. Frozen Hell was published by Wildside Press on October 8, 2019. It is 158 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $6.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Bob Eggleton.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steve Scott on John D. MacDonald’s ‘Park Falkner’

Monday, November 4th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

MacDonald_BreatheNoMoreEDITED“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)

Steve Scott runs The Trap of Solid Gold. It’s not just a blog dedicated to my favorite author. It’s THE blog dedicated to the late, great John D. MacDonald. It is absolutely the best place on the web to read about JDM. Period. I was going to do a post on an early, quickly aborted attempt by MacDonald to write a series character – if two stories qualifies as a series. Then I remembered, I had read a post by Steve on one of those stories. Turns out, he’d covered both of them. And his essays were FAR better than anything I could have come up with. So, I got permission from Steve to combine them and run a long post as part of A (Black) Gat in the Hand. Woohoo! Read on about the not-a-private eye, Park Falkner

Story One – “Breathe No More My Lovely”

Long before Travis McGee was even a random thought in the mind of author John D MacDonald, before he had established himself as a first-rate writer of crime fiction, before he had even a full year of life as a published author, MacDonald began experimenting with a “series” character. In two early Doc Savage submissions, “Private War” in December 1946 and “Eight Dozen Agents” in January 1947, he created a hero he called Benton Walters. Having never read either of these stories, I don’t know if Walters was a private eye, a secret agent or a super hero.

According to Ed Hirshberg, he was a “war veteran… working at a humdrum civilian job somewhere in the northeastern United States…” who was disillusioned with his “unexciting” postwar job. Sounds like a great idea for a series. I do know that MacDonald quickly dropped the idea, writing to Babette Rosmond (the editor of Doc Savage):

“Honest to God — I’m never going to start another series. They are limiting and I hate them.”

Sixteen years later Travis McGee was attempting to have a quiet evening a home while Chookie McCall was dancing up a storm in the lounge of The Busted Flush.

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Analog Announces 90th Anniversary Reprint Series

Friday, October 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Analog Science Fiction November-December 2019-small Analog on running reprints in 2019-small

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November-December 2019, and an excerpt from Trevor Quachri’s editorial

Gabe Dybing, who clearly gets his issues of Analog faster than I do, tipped me off that editor Trevor Quachri has something very interesting planned for the magazine’s upcoming 90th Anniversary year (90! Holy cats). Gabe sent me the above pic of Trevor’s editorial in the November-December issue, on sale this week. For those of you who don’t like to squint, here’s the relevant text.

As many of you may know, 2020 is going to be Astounding/Analog’s 90th anniversary year, and the January/February issue is the 90th anniversary of our very first issue. Something we’ll be doing that requires a little explanation is a series of limited retrospectives over the year: each issue we’re running a reprint from one of our past decades, with an introduction (in the editorial/guest-editorial space) talking about it either as a historical artifact, an overlooked gem, or just a personal favorite — a story that an editor or knowledagable (sic) author found interesting for whatever reason but didn’t have an appropriate venue in which to chat about it.

The goal is to cover the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, the thinking being that most of the material from the ’30s isn’t really reflective of the magazine’s later identity, and anything from 2000 on is too recent. We’re going to try to keep it to one story per decade, though the nature of the project (tracking down the rights to older material particularly) means that’s not entirely set in stone. Some of those decades had a lot of good stories! But we have to save some ideas for the centennial, after all.

This is great news for classic SF fans, and I look forward to seeing what Trevor chooses (and I hope some bright-eyed new readers will discover a few giants of the genre as a result).

But since I’m old, I also have to grouse a little… Trevor can’t find one pulp story from the 1930s worth a look?? In the 1930s, John W. Campbell and Astounding published stellar fiction by the best pulp writers of the era — including “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr, “Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey, “Black Destroyer” by A. E. van Vogt, “Life-Line” by Robert A. Heinlein, “Ether Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon, and many, many more. Maybe Trevor is just looking for suggestions. Shout yours out in the Comments.


Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Eight

Friday, October 25th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

DEADLY_HANDS_OF_KUNG_FU_9_8_5-1Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #9 featured a Doug Moench-Mike Vosburg story whose sole purpose was to reinforce (in the fashion of the hit television series, Kung Fu) that martial arts is about discipline and control and not violence. Of course, making this point provides ample opportunity to portray martial arts violence since conflict is inevitable within the confines of action-adventure storytelling.

The story gets underway when Shang-Chi stops a mugger in the park and finds himself challenged by Johnny Chen, the local martial arts champion whose arrogance and insecurities demand he publicly demonstrate his superiority to Shang-Chi. The fact that Mike Vosburg draws Chen to strongly resemble Bruce Lee (who could exhibit an arrogant side both and on and off screen) only adds another level to the story.

The real key here is the young Asian-American boy who also witnessed Shang-Chi’s heroism and whose hero worship of him leads to unhealthy projection and deception. The dangers of idolizing those we admire is the second plot strand that points back to Bruce Lee in this story. Given that this was another of Doug Moench’s scripts concerned with the non-violent philosophy of martial arts being ignored amidst the martial arts craze sweeping the West, his decision to paint the most recognizable face of martial arts as flawed and highlight the shortcomings of fandom was particularly daring.

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Of Phibes and Androbots I Sing

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

phibes 5Phibes 4Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.

Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes films of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.

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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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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Seven

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Deadly_Hands_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_15The continuing success of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella led Marvel to relaunch its black & white magazine division in 1973. While the best of these Marvel Magazine titles supplemented the color comic line with material that could not easily be published in a monthly Code-approved title (Dracula Lives and Savage Sword of Conan, for instance) or offered unique material not spun-off as a companion title to a monthly (Planet of the Apes and Tales of the Zombie, among others), The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu sought a middle ground as a response to the martial arts craze that had taken America by storm on the silver screen, the small screen, comic books, and even the radio (Enter the Dragon, TV’s Kung Fu, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, and Carl Douglas’ novelty hit single “Kung Fu Fighting”).

Master of Kung Fu may have been the lead feature at the start of the magazine’s run, but the title was never built solely around the continuing adventures of Shang-Chi alone. Articles, interviews, reviews, back-up strips, and reprints were just as important for a magazine that wanted not only to exploit the martial arts fad but also be taken seriously by martial arts students. For the purpose of our continuing series on Shang-Chi, we shall only be considering the black & white Master of Kung Fu strip that featured in most issues with passing reference to other material only where appropriate.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 launched in April 1974 with Master of Kung Fu as the lead feature written and illustrated by Shang-Chi’s creators Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Following just a few months after the character’s color comics debut in Special Marvel Edition #15, the story returned us to Shang-Chi’s early years in Honan, China when he trained as an assassin in service of his father. We see that as early as age fourteen, the seeds of doubt were sown in Shang-Chi as he questions the deadly violence of his martial arts training after learning from his mentor, Cho Lin that the assassins he dispatched who infiltrated the temple for the sole purpose of murdering the son of Fu Manchu were actually hired by his father as a lethal training exercise. The largest flaw here is that Starlin clearly drew Shang-Chi without knowledge that Englehart wanted him depicted as a fourteen year old. It is a nice touch to see that the deliberate manipulation of Shang-Chi by Cho Lin is intended as a slow fuse rebellion on his part. The monk recognizes that Shang-Chi will eventually reject his father’s doctrine and the deadly force that is Shang-Chi will be turned upon his maker.

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That Buck Rogers Stuff

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1930-11-02 Buck Rogers header
1930-11-23 Buck Rogers header

Those of us on the inside, the fans steeped in the history of science fiction and fantasy, mark the beginning of modern science fiction with Hugo Gernsback’s launching of Amazing Stories in August 1926. A thousand historians, critics, and commentators use that date as a dividing line between the proto-fictions of Verne and Wells and the lesser-known William Wallace Cook and George England and the Frank Reade Jr. series of boy’s adventures and Gernsback’s own favorite, Clement Fezandié.

The outside world didn’t see it that way. They didn’t see Amazing Stories at all or its first competitor, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, or the various Wonder magazines Gernsback started in 1929 when he lost control of Amazing. They were invisible, no matter how we today look back at Doc Smith or Murray Leinster or Edmond Hamilton. Or a first story by Philip Francis Nowlan, “Armageddon—2419 A.D.,” a fairly silly and racist Yellow Peril yarn starring one Anthony Rogers, or a sequel, “The Airlords of Han,” in which Nowlan tries to excuse the racism by postulating that the evil Han were not Chinese but alien interlopers who “mated forcibly with the Tibetans.” Disintegrator rays and anti-gravity flying belts and an “electrono plant operating from atomic energy” impinged not a bit on the public consciousness.

Yet by 1935, that “Buck Rogers stuff” was a national catchphrase, in high culture and low. Malcolm W. Bingay criticized Sir Arthur Eddington’s book, New Pathways in Science, as “Buck Rogers stuff panoplied in jargon that passes for scientific terminology.” And talking about new children’s toys, an article reported that “the Buck Rogers stuff backs ‘em all off the sales map, nearly tying Mickey Mouse, who had a head start.”

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Vintage Treasures: The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Robert Bloch Panther editions-small

Panther edition paperbacks (1976). Covers by Anthony Roberts.

The Opener of the Way was Robert Bloch’s very first collection, published by Arkham House way back in 1945, when he was all of 28 years old. It contained 21 stories, all but two of which originally appeared in Weird Tales, including classics such as “Waxworks,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” and the Cthulhu Mythos tale “The Shambler from the Stars,” which inspired Lovecraft to write “The Haunter of the Dark,” his last work.

The Opener of the Way was to be Bloch’s only fantasy collection until Pleasant Dreams—Nightmares was published by Arkham fifteen long years later. Like most early Arkham House collections, it is a very expensive book these days. It has never been reprinted in the US, which hasn’t hurt its collectability any. Fortunately Panther reprinted it in the UK in 1976, splitting it into two paperback volumes: The Opener of the Way and House of the Hatchet.

Of course, those two paperbacks are now highly sought after as well (the set pictured above sold on eBay this summer for $72.51). Which figures. I only learned about the Panther reprints recently, and after a brief search tracked down a copy of The Opener of the Way paperback for $9.95, which made me happy. Here’s a look at the contents.

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