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Category: Pulp

Bran Mak Morn: Social Justice Warrior

Bran Mak Morn: Social Justice Warrior

Worms of the Earth by Robert E. Howard (Ace Books, 1979). Cover by Sanjulian

“Worms of the Earth” was published in Weird Tales in November of 1932, and was thus described in the table of contents as “a grim shuddery tale of the days when Roman legions ruled in Britain–a powerful story of a gruesome horror from the bowels of the earth.” It features Bran Mak Morn, the King of the Picts, one of Howard’s barbarian characters. A quasi-Faustian tale, the story dramatizes Bran Mak Morn’s greatest transgression, a dark pact the king makes with diabolic force to avenge his dying and brutalized race: the Picts.

Many consider “Worms of the Earth” one of Howard’s masterpieces, truly haunting and enigmatic, its impact lingering long after a reading, like a stagnant tobacco smell or a leathery flapping of shadowy wings. The story is also notable for its inclusion of allusions to H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, specifically the ancient Mesopotamian god “Dagon” and the sunken city of “R’lyeh,” home to dreaming Cthulhu. Undoubtedly, the story’s themes of racial degeneracy and the violent power of geologic time are steeped in Howard’s legendary 1930s correspondence with Lovecraft.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1936

Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1936

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Margaret Brundage for Red Nails

We return to the golden age of Weird Tales to consider the eleven stories in the July 1936 issue. This time around we’re dealing with many familiar authors, led by the triumvirate of C. L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, one H. P. Lovecraft short of perfection. The big three present classic tales from their popular fantasy series (Northwest Smith, Zothique, Conan). The other familiar names deliver more of a mixed bag, but for the most part come through with decent offerings.

Edmond Hamilton, a prolific pulpster for WT and countless other genre magazines contributes one of his weakest efforts in a tale concerning germs from space. The August Derleth and Manly Wade Wellman stories are both decent, if slight, and the Arthur Conan Doyle reprint, for a change, rises above the level of curiosity.

Of the eleven stories, seven are contemporary (64%), three are set in the future (27%), and one in the past (9%), though it’s a little complicated because two stories use framing devices that cut across temporal periods. Six take place in the United States (55%), one starts in the US then goes off on a round the world tour (9%), two are in fictitious realms (18%), one in France (9%), and one on the Moon (9%).

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Witches, Sorcerers, and Space Citadels: Alan Brown on Swords Against Tomorrow, edited by Robert Hoskins

Witches, Sorcerers, and Space Citadels: Alan Brown on Swords Against Tomorrow, edited by Robert Hoskins

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Swords Against Tomorrow (Signet / New American Library, August 1970). Cover by Gene Szafran.

I’ve been enjoying Alan Brown’s classic science fiction reviews at Tor.com. In just the last few months he’s looked at Masters of the Vortex by E. E. “Doc” Smith, H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pirates of Venus, Sterling E. Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey, and Murray Leinster’s Med Ship. That’s a pretty satisfying journey through some great 20th Century SF right there (depending on how generously you’re disposed towards “Doc” Smith, I grant you).

But I was especially intrigued by his lengthy review of Robert Hoskins’ 1970 sword & sorcery anthology Swords Against Tomorrow, a long-forgotten volume that contained five long stories by Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Lin Carter, John Jakes, and Leigh Brackett, including a pair of reprints from Planet Stories and an original novelette from Lin Carter. All but one are reprints — including a standalone novella by Anderson, a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser adventure, a Brak the Barbarian story, and a tale in Brackett’s famous Venus series.

This is a fine little paperback that introduced readers to some of the most popular heroic fantasy series of the era in the early 70s, and I certainly didn’t expect to see it featured so prominently at the premier genre site over half a century after it was published.

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Women Do It Better? The Women of Weird Tales, from Valancourt Books

Women Do It Better? The Women of Weird Tales, from Valancourt Books

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The Women of Weird Tales
By Everil Worrell, Eli Colter, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and Greye La Spina
Introduction by Melanie Anderson
Valancourt Books (280 pages, $24.99 hardcover/$16.99 paperback/$9.99 digital, November 3, 2020)

It is well known by now that women had a pivotal role in the development of those literary genres called Gothic Fiction, Horror, Dark Fantasy, etc. If we look at the iconic Weird Tales, the golden era of which spanned the ‘20s to the ‘50s, female authors were constantly included, and they penned some of the magazine’s most popular stories. Not to mention that some of the most influential editors and cover artists of the era were women as well.

Valancourt Books has aptly published a new anthology showcasing stories from Weird Tales by female writers, Women of Weird Tales.

Greye La Spina is present with five stories. The most accomplished, to me, is “The Antimacassar,” an effective, well told tale portraying a case of vampirism, gradually disclosed throughout the yarn. Other good tales are the bizarre “The Remorse of Professor Panebianco,” in which a mad scientist designs a device to imprison the soul of dying people; “The Dead-Wagon,” a dark gothic tale about a family curse dating back to the times of the Black Death; and “ The Deadly Theory,” a disturbing piece showing how the power to bring back people from the dead leads to tragedy.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: May 1923

Weird Tales Deep Read: May 1923

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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!

DMR Books: Swords, Sorcery, and Science Fantasy!

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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)

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

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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