Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51G8TVzla+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently got around to reading Gerry Conway’s introduction to Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus, Volume One for a forthcoming article. If there was a retroactive Astounding Award for Best Self-Loathing Writer of 2016, Mr. Conway would surely be a contender. There is nothing wrong with a writer looking back in some embarrassment over past work or even admitting their good intentions now seem naive from the vantage point of the present, but Mr. Conway apologizes so profusely for several thousand words one would be forgiven for thinking he committed a capital crime.

Truth be told, Mr. Conway’s unforgivable sin was his cultural appropriation in daring to cast people of color as heroes in his fiction of the 1970s. For you see, by some cruel twist of fate, he had the misfortune to be born to a white family and raised in a white neighborhood in the 1950s. Personally, I thought his having created diverse characters to appeal to minority readers and encourage tolerance among all readers in the decade following the Civil Rights movement is something he should be proud of, but apparently not so.

What’s more, all of his wailing and grinding of teeth is in the form of an introduction to a volume reprinting the work he is so ashamed of. One wonders what the purpose is of writers telling readers who just spent money buying reprints of their work how truly offensive those same works are. Given that Mr. Conway spent much of his career at Marvel Comics channeling Stan Lee’s voice, one wonders why Stan Lee isn’t likewise condemned for cultural appropriation for creating Black Panther and the Utopian nation of Wakanda. Of course, logical thinking isn’t advisable in a society that feeds off emotional reactions to maintain a constant state of division.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cave_KaneCoverEDITED“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)

Matt Moring of Steeger Books (and Altus Press, and Black Mask, and…) allowed me to write the introduction to Hugh B. Cave’s The Complete Cases of Peter Kane. Matt has kindly let me reproduce that intro as an entry here for A (Black) Gat in the Hand.

Hugh B. Cave was the last of the great pulpsters. From hundreds of short stories in the pulp magazines of the thirties, to his final novel in 2004, Cave wrote over a thousand shorts and over three dozen novels. He was also a war reporter and later even owned and managed a coffee plantation in Jamaica.

While H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard are better remembered for weird menace/horror stories, Cave is worthy of standing alongside them. But early in his career, Cave also wrote extensively in the mystery field.

He was one of the few to write for the last three (named) editors of the king of mystery pulps, Black Mask: the legendary Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, Fanny Ellsworth and Kenneth S. White.

Black Mask’s major competition came in the form of Dime Detective Magazine, which touted itself as “twice as good – for half the price” (Black Mask cost 20 cents at the time; though the price would shortly drop to 15 cents, in part due to Dime Detective’s success at the cheaper cost).

Editor Kenneth White (the same mentioned above) was instructed to lure as many writers from Black Mask as he could, paying an extra penny a word as enticement. And with a going rate of one to two cents for pulp writers (Black Mask’s three cents a word was indicative of its standing and quality in the field), the four cent rate made a significant difference to writers. As the prolific Erle Stanley Gardner supposedly replied to observations that he always seemed to use his hero’s last bullet to knock off the story’s antagonist:

“At three cents a word, every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has fifteen cents worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts.”

Writers were forbidden from doing novel serializations (The Maltese Falcon was first a serial) and were also instructed to create their own characters, which could not appear elsewhere, for the magazine. The onslaught was successful, with many of the era’s most popular writers switching to Dime Detective. Carroll John Daly (who brought the iconic Race Williams with him), Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel and Norbert Davis (whose humorous stories were frequently rejected by Shaw but who flourished at his new home) were among those lured to Dime Detective.

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Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-small The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-back-small

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (1978) was the seventeenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his fifth cover of the series (tying with Dean Ellis at this point). Raymond Z. Gallun (1911–1994), still living at the time, did the Afterword.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database reports that Gallun (rhymes with “balloon,” not pronounced “gallon”) wrote five novels, including The Planets Strappers (1961, see Rich Horton’s review here), The Eden Cycle (1974) and Skyclimber (1981), but these were written later in his life. Most of Gallun’s writing career is comprised of dozens of short stories and serials. Like so many of the authors in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, Gallun had been a prolific writer in the pre-WWII heyday of the pulp magazines. But unlike many pulp authors, including many in this series, Gallun seems to have stayed mostly within the sci-fi genre instead of branching out to fantasy, horror, detective, etc. And we’re talking “old school” science fiction!

Overall, I’ve liked the majority of the authors that I’ve read thus far in the Del Rey series. But there have been some that I liked better than others. I found Frederik Pohl and John Campbell both a little hard to get into, and I found Cordwainer Smith very difficult to sync with, though there were stories in all of these collections I enjoyed. But I have to say that I really, really struggled reading The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun, more than any other book in this series so far.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand – II: Will Murray on Doc Savage

Monday, August 19th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Savage_Magazine1EDITED“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)

Back in June, I posted that A (Black) Gat in the Hand was returning this summer. Last year, from May 14th through December 31st, every Monday morning featured a new hardboiled/pulp-related post – mostly by me, but with several friends who wrote some great stuff. I love hardboiled/PI stories and I’m as proud of that series as I am of the two Robert E. Howard ones I’ve helped coordinate here at Black Gate.

So, I called on some more friends this year, and I sought out some wider-ranging topics – the pulp magazines were FAR more than just mystery and detective-based. The Adventure Pulps were the dominant ones for years, with exciting tales of derring do and discovery. Even today, Doc Savage remains the best-known name among adventure heroes. And Will Murray, who is currently writing authorized Doc Savage novels (plus a LOT more), kicks off our series with a look at the Man of Bronze.

DOC FRANKENSTEIN

Doc Savage was not created so much as he was assembled in much the way Victor Frankenstein stitched together his infamous monster from unconnected charnel parts.

The year was 1932. At the Street & Smith publishing company, they had a surprise runaway success in a magazine called The Shadow. Inspired by a creepy radio voice used to promote their Detective Story Magazine, the mockingly laughing Shadow captured America’s imagination in that dark Depression year. The magazine kept selling out. S&S pushed author Walter B. Gibson into producing two novels a month so they could release the pulp periodical every other week. The Shadow Magazine kept selling.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Four

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

61Wi5uAwkoL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3 continues the run of excellent issues from writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy. While the early cycle of stories suffer from an over-reliance on Fu Manchu as the villain (to levels that rival Baron Mordo in the early Lee-Diko Dr. Strange stories), there was a method to their madness. The blowback from Sax Rohmer fans (which started in the pages of The Rohmer Review fanzine) was followed by the author’s widow filing a complaint with The Society of Authors over Marvel’s mismanagement of her husband’s property.

Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin had no way of knowing that killing off an old character in Shang-Chi’s debut would constitute not keeping to the tone and content of the originals. They were a writer and artist assigned to a property and were more interested in creating a Marvel variation on the successful Kung Fu television series than they were in reviving Fu Manchu. Moench and Gulacy were determined to avoid further legal hassles by showing something approaching fidelity to Rohmer while carefully positioning the storyline to more closely model Ian Fleming and Len Deighton spy thrillers than Rohmer.

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Hither Came Conan: Gabe Dybing on “The People of the Black Circle”

Monday, July 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Black_Circle

Fellow Black Gater Gabe Dybing loaded his entry directly into the website and it fell off my radar. My fault. HERE is the final entry in our Hither Came Conan series, as he tackles “The People of the Black Circle,” which I’ve always felt, story-wise, was one of REH’s more unique Conan tales. Read on! 

Robert E. Howard’s novella “The People of the Black Circle,” first published in the September, October and November 1934 issues of Weird Tales, contains all of the elements that, in retrospect, entail an ultimate Conan tale. As an exemplar of what was to become known as the Sword & Sorcery subgenre of fantasy literature, “Black Circle” exhibits Conan as a swordsmen at the height of his career in brigandry: the tale commences with Conan negotiating for the release of seven of his hillmen chieftains who are being held by the Devi of Vendhya for ransom or execution.

But Conan has not lost any of his more youthful thiefly abilities; his introduction in this story has him climbing through a window after sneaking over a barbican and single-handedly dispatching of the guards there. The “sorcery” portion of the Sword & Sorcery subgenre is supplied here by not just one but by an entire Circle of magic-users. Most notable of these are Khemsa (who even is a perspective character!) and the Master of Yimsha, who ultimately is the chief adversary of the novella. To further exemplify the Sword & Sorcery genre, the narrative contains ample doses of the weird—monstrous antagonists, an adventure locale worthy of a Dungeons & Dragons module, and even one secret passage! But that’s not all!

Other Conan stories contain these things, too, but this story is the very best Conan story because it has what no other does — the Devi of Vendhya. “Black Circle” exhibits all the things that we love about Conan, but, unlike any other, it also details the making of a lover and a heroine to complement Conan in every way.

What? Isn’t that heroine supposed to be Red Sonja (to confuse the Conan “canon”) or one of Conan’s two great “loves” (Belit or Zenobia)? Perhaps, perhaps not. Conan had many women throughout his varied careers, and if he never came to actually “love” Yasmina, the Devi of Vendhya, then he at least recognized in her, at the end of this tale, all of the qualities that he most valued in a woman. A major aspect of “Black Circle” is just who Conan is at this time of his life and what characteristics could counterbalance this hero as a satisfying lover, if not a full mate. Through her experiences in this tale, Yasmina transforms — at least in Conan’s eyes — from an artificial and unattainable Devi into a true “elemental” woman of passion and desire.

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Vintage Treasures: Science Fiction of the 40’s, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander, and Frederik Pohl

Saturday, July 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Science Fiction of the 40s-small Science Fiction of the 40s-back-small

Cover by Earle Bergey

In 1972, Knight famously wrote a cranky essay for Robin Scott Wilson’s Clarion II about the disappearance of SF’s old guard, focusing on the long-forgotten pulp writer Henry J. Kostkos, who published a dozen stories in Amazing and Astounding from 1933-1940. Knight complained that it was impossible to sell pulp reprints to a modern audience, mostly because the stories were crap.

In 1974 Isaac Asimov published Before the Golden Age, a massive 928-page retrospective of the early science fiction pulps, wth stories by Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, P. Schuyler Miller, Clifford D. Simak, Stanley G. Weinbaum, John W. Campbell, Jr., Charles R. Tanner, and many others. It was picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club and became a huge hit, remaining in print for nearly 15 years.

Two years after Asimov proved just how wrong he was, Knight published his own pulp anthology, Science Fiction of the 30’s. He opened with this mea culpa in his introduction.

In compiling this volume I have partially fulfilled an old ambition, one which I thought I had give up years ago — to reread all the old science fiction magazines I loved when I was young and write their critical history. I wrote about this in an essay called “Goodbye. Henry J. Kostkos, Goodbye” [Clarion II, edited by Robin Scott Wilson], where I said the project was no longer possible because there was no audience for the old stories, and, in addition, because they were all junk. This was sour grapes. In fact, as you will see, many of the forgotten stories of thirties are neglected gems.

Science Fiction of the 30’s was a success, and it was quickly followed by Science Fiction of the 40’s (1978) and Science Fiction of the 50’s (1979), all three of which were reprinted as oversize trade paperbacks by Avon Books. For the 40’s volume the editing reins were picked up by Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph Olander, and Frederik Pohl, who assembled a very fine book that still reads well today, with a robot story by Isaac Asimov, a Martian Chronicles tale by Ray Bradbury, a City story by Clifford D. Simak, a classic novella by William Tenn, and Retro Hugo Award nominees by CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, and Fredric Brown.

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Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

REHfrazetta barsoomIt may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.

During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.

The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.

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Hither Came Conan – The (Almost) Final Post

Monday, July 15th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

HIther_RoguesVallejoEDITEDEDITOR (ME, BOB)  SCREW UP – Our own Gabe Dybing brought to my attention that I forgot to run his post. He is correct! Entirely an oversight on my part. It will run next Monday morning, and I’ll update this ‘final’ listing afterwards. My fault. Sorry about that.

And so, Hither Came Conan comes to an end. Every Monday morning, from January 7th through today, July 14th, Black Gate brought you story insights from some of the most knowledgeable Robert E.  Howard writers around. And me. We covered all twenty-one completed Conan tales written by Howard: and even tossed in “Wolves Beyond the Border” for good measure!

In case you forgot, each story was randomly assigned to one essayist.  The most common comment I heard was some variation of “Thank goodness I didn’t get “Vale of Lost Women.” Unfortunately for Dave Hardy, he didn’t get to say that…

But while it’s natural that some stories are better than others, what I think this series showed, is that even a ‘bad’ story, contained some worthwhile elements. Whether it was a character, or an exciting scene, or some of his excellent prose, there’s always something worth reading in a Howard story. Or in this case, a Conan tale. Because, while he did write some stories that weren’t particularly good (“The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” almost makes my eyes bleed) Robert E. Howard was an excellent writer.

I am a fan of William Bernhardt’s The Red Sneaker Writers Book Series. Bernhardt, author of the excellent Ben Kincaid legal thriller series, has written some terrific books to help writers. And one of them is Thinking Theme. Several writers mentioned Howard’s frequent depiction of the conflict between barbarism and civilization. That theme is a powerful engine for the Conan series. Decaying civilizations, and honor and justice, were also themes Howard used Conan to comment on. “Beyond the Black River,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” “Rogues in the House”: Howard’s strong belief in theme formed foundations for his tales.

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