A (Black) Gat in the Hand – Rory Gallagher Sings of the Continental Op (And It’s Great!)

Monday, November 19th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_GallagherBlindsYou’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

Somebody asked me if I actually write for this column, or just put up the posts for it. I started explaining the work involved in pitching the concept, recruiting guest posters, editing the posts, promoting the column through Back Deck Pulp posts on my FB page….then I gave up and said, “Yes, I do write this column. In fact, I wrote this coming Monday’s post.”

That wasn’t exactly a bold prediction, since I didn’t have a guest post in hand. Although, my essay on the excellent Joe Gores isn’t nearly done, so there was that. But I got it all worked out in the end!

Rory Gallagher was a world-class guitarist from Ireland who died of liver problems in 1995 at the age of 47. In 1987, he recorded a song entitled, “The Continental Op,” which was included on his Defender album. There’s also a song called “Kickback City” on that album and the lyrics are very much in the style of Raymond Chandler and other pulpsters who depicted the corruption and hopelessness of urban cities. And you could take the story of “Loanshark Blues” and you’d have a pretty good character for a hardbacked PI story. I recommend giving Defender a listen.

But we’re here to talk about his tribute to Dashiell Hammett, “The Continental Op.”

If you’ve come here to A (Black) Gat in the Hand, you probably already know about The Op. While The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon are Hammett’s best-known works, it’s the Op that made him the father of the hardboiled school. In seven years, he wrote over three dozen tales featuring the nameless private eye for the Continental Detective Agency. I don’t think any other PI series has equaled the Continental Op stories.

The Op stories are readily available and are cornerstone hardboiled reading. All of the stories were recently collected in The Big Book of Continental Op Stories.

I cannot give Gallagher enough kudos for writing a song about the Continental Op, then providing a video that absolutely captures the hardboiled, pulp feel. The black and white, graphic novel style is pure throwback. You could almost storyboard a movie from it. Some of the frames fly by so fast, I had to rewatch them several times. But the overall effect works.

Watch the video. Then work through the rest of the post with me. It should be fun.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon Remembers Frederick C. Davis

Monday, November 12th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Salmon_DavisAcesEditedA (Black) Gat in the Hand continues on with quality guest posts (something’s got to make this column work, and it sure as heck isn’t my writing!) this week, as Andrew Salmon holds forth on pulpster Frederick C. Davis. I knew I wasn’t qualified to write about Davis (though I did hold my own on Norbert Davis!). And since Andrew, author of the excellent Sherlock Holmes Fight Club novels, wrote the introductions to Altus’ Press’ Moon Man collections, I knew he was the guy. So, 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

Any good pulp author from the glory days of Classic Pulp had to be very good at two things: he or she had to be fast and versatile. And, of course, said pulpsmith had to have some modicum of talent thrown into the mix.

Frederick C. Davis (1902-1977) has all of these – in spades. Known today as the author of the first 20 Operator #5 adventures, one doesn’t hear his name come up when Max Brand, Erle Stanley Gardner, Lester Dent, Walter Gibson, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are being discussed. And yet, you could pick an old pulp at random today and most likely find a Davis story within its crumbling yellow pages.

He wrote hundreds of pulp stories and a lot of them are really, really good. In addition to those Operator #5 yarns, he also created the Moon Man, cranking out 38 tales of the globed gladiator. Throw in Mark Hazard and Ravenwood and his versatility begins to show through.

The Moon Man, long out of print and never collected until recently, had a much more profound effect on comics than the pulp world of yesteryear. It’s long been established that Superman sprang, partially, from Doc Savage and Batman owes much to the Shadow. But few know how much Spider-Man owes to the Moon Man. Not the classic pulp character, the Spider – the Moon Man. Huh? Stay with me.

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Birthday Reviews: Mack Reynolds’s “Doctor’s Orders”

Sunday, November 11th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Fantastic Story Magazine

Fantastic Story Magazine

Mack Reynolds was born on November 11, 1917 and died on January 30, 1983.

He was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1962 for his short story “Status Quo” and in 1966 was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “A Leader for Yesteryear” and for Best Novelette for “The Adventure of the Extraterrestrial.” Reynolds, whose birth name was Dallas McCord Reynolds, published under the pseudonyms Bob Belmont, Clark Collins, Mark Mallory, Guy McCord, Maxine Reynolds, and Dallas Ross. He collaborated with Fredric Brown on the anthology Science-Fiction Carnival. He collaborated on fiction with August Derleth, Brown, Theodore Cogswell, and Gary Jennings. Following his death Dean Ing completed several of his novels and Michael Banks completed one.

Originally published as “Four-Legged Hotfoot” in the Winter 1952 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine, edited by Samuel Mines, the story was reprinted in the NESFA Press collection Compounded Interest using the title “Doctor’s Orders.” It was included by Wildside Press in The 12th Science Fiction Megapack e-book collection in 2016.

Reynolds offers a starship story in “Doctor’s Orders,” setting up an interstellar journey with a crew that is filled with redundancy. As the navigator, Dick Roland, complains to Doc Thorndon, nobody really has anything to do. They are all back-ups for the computers, which fail so rarely that each person might have something to do once every several trips. If that weren’t enough, the crew was sent out with insufficient leave between missions, so they were already starting to suffer from cafard, a debilitating mental illness caused by spending too much time on board ship.

The story does an excellent job demonstrating the boredom inherent in any long journey and the ship’s crew try, and fail, to stave off boredom by playing a variety of games. What finally pulls them from their ennui is the discovery of an animal on board, which Doc Thorndon identifies as a rat, long extinct on Earth, but thriving on the Venusian colonies, where the ship may have picked up its stowaway. Catching the rat, named Arthur, goes from being a game to something more important when Doc Thorndon notes that the rat may be carrying the Bubonic Plague and could prevent them from docking when they return to Earth.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Maynard’s ‘Shades of Yellow’

Monday, November 5th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Because I find it’s easier to get somebody else to do all the heavy lifting, I secured another guest poster for this week! Fellow Black Gater William Patrick Maynard knows more about Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril genre than anybody else I know. And if you see his credentials at the end of the post, you’ll understand why! Today, he takes a pulpy look at the ‘menace from the Far East’ topic. 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

Maynard_WuFangMagEditContext is a challenge in politically correct times that seek to view the past through the myopic lenses of an eternal present. Over 130 years ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created an archetype in fiction with his consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. While Holmes lives on at least in name and reputation, most of his antecedents, contemporaries, and successors in the fantastic fiction of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are rapidly fading into obscurity.

While forgotten by the public at large, the traits and exploits of many of these same characters have been disseminated into today’s pop culture icons (James Bond, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the glut of superheroes that continue to dominate movie screens). What remains of the past is largely through the efforts of pulp specialty publishers and public domain reprint specialists who keep these classic works in print for a niche market that still reads works from a different, simpler, though not always better, world.

Much of this fantastic fiction sprung directly from colonial viewpoints of the British Empire. Among the xenophobic byproducts of colonialism in popular culture was the Yellow Peril, the paranoid delusion that Chinese immigrants were plotting to conquer the West. There was certainly crime in Chinatown: there is always crime among the economically underprivileged, but what made the Yellow Peril thrive as a sub-genre of the thriller was the creation of a brilliant, amoral Chinese criminal mastermind in the same fashion as Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty and Guy Boothby’s Dr. Nikola.

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu became the personification of the Yellow Peril. Without the character’s introduction, the sub-genre would never have prevailed. Fu Manchu took the reading public by storm just before the outbreak of the First World War and remained a bestselling franchise up to the Cold War. Rohmer’s insidious fiend was everywhere: magazines (slicks, not pulps), books, newspaper strips, comic books, radio series, films, the theater, and eventually television.

Holmes and Fu Manchu were certainly among the most influential characters in the first half of the last century. Arthur B. Reeve’s American variation on Holmes, the scientific detective Craig Kennedy was likewise pitted against a variation on Fu Manchu, the diabolical Wu Fang in The Exploits of Elaine (1914), The Romance of Elaine (1915), and The Triumph of Elaine (1915). The Elaine triptych were inspired by the phenomenal success of the 1914 serial, The Perils of Pauline.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I reached out to some friends to help me with A (Black) Gat in the Hand, as I certainly can’t cover everything and do it all justice. Our latest guest is author and fellow Black Gater, Joe Bonadonna. And Joe delivered an in-depth look at hardboiled adaptations on the silver screen. In fact, he covered so much ground, it’s gonna be a two-parter! So, let’s dig in! 

Hardboiled Film Noir: From Printed Page to Moving Pictures (Part One)

“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


Bonadonna_HardboiledAnthologyCrime does not discriminate. From city streets and slums to quiet suburbia, from the mansions of the rich to the boardrooms of the powerful, crime is alive and well. It can be found in dance halls, beer halls and gambling halls . . . speakeasies, seedy gin joints, smoke-filled pool halls, dive hotels, and wharf-side saloons. Crime exists everywhere, and writers and filmmakers have been telling stories about crime since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This article deals mainly with American pulp fiction, novels and films, and a few theatrical plays, too. I’m going to give a little background history on the source material for these films and on some of the writers who penned the original stories upon which they were based.

Long ago, long before television came along, the film industry turned to books, magazine stories, theatrical plays, and radio shows for their source material, as well as original screenplays. Movie moguls bought the rights to numerous best-selling novels, mined the pages of pulp magazines, comic books, and even newspaper comic strips.

Many films made during this period were Saturday matinee serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and The Shadow. Dick Tracy was actually given a series of stand-alone films, and of course we had Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

Most of these serials were the “comic book” films about pulp fiction superheroes, caped crusaders, masked avengers, and magical crime fighters. Many others films, however, were turned into “programmers,” as they were sometimes called: B-pictures with low budgets, made by up-and-coming directors, and featuring actors who had not yet attained A-list status.

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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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