NOTE: The following article was first published on February 14, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
It has long been my contention that pulp fiction not discovered by age thirteen was beyond my ability to appreciate later in life. A certain amount of nostalgia seemed essential to enjoying such escapism once age and responsibility have got the better of you. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule in the rare instances where genuine literary talent is in evidence as is the case with the Holy Trinity of hardboiled detective fiction: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Given that I recently covered Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I decided to revisit Peter Tremayne’s three Dracula novels and one short story that I enjoyed so much as a teenager to see how they held up three decades on.
Peter Tremayne is best known today for his long-running Sister Fidelma mysteries. His medieval detective series is sort of a lightweight version of an Umberto Eco doorstop. Although Tremayne’s real world credentials are quite impressive as both an academic and scholar, his fiction is strictly populist in its appeal. Turn back the clock 40 years and one would find Peter Tremayne as a dedicated pulp pastiche writer trying his hand at extending the lifespan of H. Rider Haggard’s She, deliriously combining Shelley’s Frankenstein with Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, and delving deep into Stoker’s Dracula for a trilogy of loosely connected titles published by Bailey Brothers in the UK.
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The newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, 5th edition, recently passed its one-year anniversary. Though I reviewed the books when they first came out, my gaming group didn’t want to give up their current systems to switch over. They’ve been playing edition 3.5 for years, are comfortable with the rule structure, and like leveling up into prestige classes.
One thing that is notable about this edition of Dungeons & Dragons is that players have not been swarmed by supplemental books or a variety of rule options. After a year, it’s rather refreshing that Dungeons & Dragons continues to have retained an emphasis on their core three books:
But this does mean that hardcore gamers like me, who are used to geeking out over systems where you’re really allowed to customize many aspects of your character, may feel like Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t cater to us. This is a bit unfair, and may be a sign that we’ve just gotten too spoiled with abundant choices in other games system.
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When Arthur Henry Ward adopted the nom de plume of Sax Rohmer, he found a match for the bohemian occultist persona he was working to cultivate. The very name sounded exotic and foreign. It was less of a name than it was a statement of intent. As part of his new identity, Rohmer claimed to be a Rosicrucian as well as a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It appears that both claims were false, although the Ward family doctor, R. Watson Councell was active in occult circles.
It was Dr. Councell who provided much of the information for Rohmer’s 1914 study of the occult, The Romance of Sorcery. It is possible Dr. Councell actually wrote sections of the work considering his own later publication, Apologia Alchymiae (1923) which featured a preface by Rohmer. In the 1970s, Rohmer scholar Dr. Robert E. Briney came across four privately printed titles published by The Theosophical Publishing Society of London credited to one Arthur H. Ward: The Song of the Flaming Heart (1908), The Seven Rays of Development (1910), The Threefold Way (1912), and Masonic Symbolism and the Mystic Way (1913).
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I love kids books. I have three children who were very used to being read to, and would spend long hours each week curled up in my lap — or on the corner of the couch, if my lap was otherwise occupied — listening to the works of Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Alan Snow, and William Joyce (and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, when I could sneak them in).
I enjoyed all kinds of kids books, but the ones I loved the most were those with a sly adult humor. Which is precisely why I so enjoyed A Picnic at the Mountains of Madness, by Neil Baker and Maya Sugihara, published last month by April Moon Books.
On the surface, this is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure story. Harry and Kaylee receive a mysterious map in the mail from their “Uncle Howard,” showing some curious ruins at the south pole. Packing a lunch and some warm clothes, they dash into the garage and climb into the family biplane (passing the family submarine and family excavator on the way), and in moments they’re in the air, on their way to the very bottom of the world.
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Every now and then, fandom needs to take a good, hard look at itself. Considering the recent Hugo kerfuffle, I thought it a fine time to read Norman Spinrad’s famous skewering of fan culture, The Iron Dream.
First published in 1972, this is a masterpiece of metafiction. It is a book within a book, containing the 1955 Hugo Award winner Lord of the Swastika, written by none other than that famous science fiction writer, Adolph Hitler. We are informed that after dabbling in radical politics in Germany, Hitler moved to New York in 1919. In the 1930s he became a sought-after illustrator for pulp magazines and started writing fiction. He was popular in fannish circles for his fanzine work and for his witty banter at conventions.
His best-known work is Lord of the Swastika, a post-apocalyptic tale where the world has been ravaged by nuclear war and most people have become foul mutants. Luckily there is one nation, Heldon, where the Truemen struggle to preserve humanity’s genetic purity.
Enter Feric Jaggar, a Trueman whose family was exiled due to political machinations and forced to live among the mongrel horde. Lord of the Swastika is the tale of Jagger’s triumphant return to Heldon, where he unmasks a plot by the mutants to take over the country and sully the genetic purity of the last real humans. Jagger’s political star rises, the masses rallying around him as he first faces off against a corrupt government, then unites the nation around him in order to start a massive war to wipe the Earth clean of genetic inferiors once and for all.
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NOTE: The following article was first published on January 22, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
Dracula the Undead by Freda Warrington is a true rarity – a sequel to a literary classic that doesn’t pale in comparison. Warrington is a respected British fantasy and horror author with a loyal following in the UK. Her prose is worthy of greater acclaim. Dracula the Undead was first published as a paperback original in the UK in 1997 to coincide with the centennial of Stoker’s classic. The book gained some decent reviews but never made it across the Atlantic and seemed doomed to fade into obscurity.
Flash forward to October 2009 and the publication of Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s “authorized” sequel, Dracula the Un-Dead. Their book received a great deal of media attention and was displayed prominently in retail bookstores. It was the sequel I wanted to love as a Stoker fan, but I’m afraid I am far too much of a purist to embrace it. However, I did note that Severn House (a British publisher that started out in the mid-seventies recycling titles from another British bargain-priced reprint specialty press, Tom Stacey) was bringing the Freda Warrington book back in a hardcover edition to capitalize on the attention granted the nearly identically-titled Stoker/Holt sequel. I was aware of the Warrington book and since my book shelf already contained a few Severn House titles from decades past, I was happy to see they had now acquired US distribution so I made a point of picking the book up.
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Tyrandire, the Palace of Pain, moves secretly and silently through unseen tunnels between the many dimensions of the omniverse, traversing any of them that its grim master wishes to visit. A minute moon, perfectly circular, colder than terror, Tyrandire speeds on its way like light, sometimes lingering like a biting frost. The energy that charges this oval missile is greater than that of any sun, indeed greater than the energy contained within an entire universe, for it is the will of the outlaw god, Ubeggi the Deceitful. Where Ubeggi seeks to go, his Palace of Pain takes him. He has many missions, all of them selfish, all of them corrupt, for the Weaver of Wars exists solely for his own amusement and he delights in knotting together the workings of more thoughful gods or undoing their orderly tapestries of fate. All the gods know of Ubeggi, and when his Palace of Pain nears their own haunts in the omniverse, they curse him, knowing that his mischief will be upon them.
from Part One: The Weaver of Wars
And so, with The Sword of Shadows, we come to the end of the Voidal’s saga. For a series I have already called favorably “a study in sensory overload,” and “excessive, over the top, and incredibly phatasmagorical,” author Adrian Cole ends things as madly and wildly as a reader could hope.
Three of its eight chapters, were published previously as short stories: “The Weaver of Wars,” “At the Council of Gossipers,” and “Dark Destroyer.” Unlike the two previous books, this one reads more like a coherent novel than as a fix-up.
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NOTE: The following article was first published on January 17, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these first 20 articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
Dracula by Bram Stoker is the subject of my very first article as a blogger. I follow several book review blogs, but had mixed feelings about starting my own. Blogs serve no useful purpose save providing a few minutes of distraction from the mundane. As a result, they are fairly inconsequential in the Grand Scheme of Life, but infinitely more useful than a politician.
Dracula is slowly gaining acceptance in literary circles as more than just a genre classic and deservedly so. Of course, mass acceptance for a novel that has never been out of print in its 118 years on the planet means that there are literally hundreds of public domain copies to choose from for the unwary consumer. The focus of this review is on Dracula: The Definitive Edition available from Fall River Press. This edition is recommended not only for Edward Gorey’s fine illustrations and Marvin Kaye’s impressive essays and notes on the text, but it is also affordably priced.
This gets my nod over the many annotated editions out there for the simple fact that Mr. Kaye gives the modern reader all they need to know to enjoy the novel in the context it was written without getting bogged down endlessly in railway timetables and notes on Transylvanian culture, cuisine, superstition, or topography. Nor does he become sidetracked in speculation on Stoker’s marriage, sex life, or physical and mental health. Mr. Kaye provides the salient biographical details and expounds on details that are relevant to better appreciating the text and nothing more. His essays are a model of efficiency and stand on the strength of their factual accuracy above the more verbose and salacious theories one comes to expect with literary classics.
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With NASA announcing astonishing news about the red planet, I thought it high time to talk about the purple planet, and the perils therein.
Maybe YOU were clued in, but despite a widely advertised Kickstarter campaign the impending release – nay, even the existence – of the purple planet completely passed me by until I swung by tenfootpole.org and read an enthusiastic review of a splendid sword-and-planet setting. I determined then and there to lay my hands on the product and learn about those perils myself.
My verdict? If you love sword-and-planet you need it. Even if Dungeon Crawl Classics isn’t your role-playing system of choice, you need it. Hell, you might even need if if you like sword-and-planet and don’t intend to game, because it’s just a blast. And I can highly recommend getting the boxed set. In his own review at tenfootpole, Bruce Lynch laments that it could be even cooler if there are more locations, because he read only the basic adventure. Voila, there ARE, within the set.
For once, the hype on the back cover copy delivers on all that it promises. If this sounds good to you, go ye forth and buy it: “The Purple Planet: Where Tribes of man-beasts wage an endless war beneath a dying sun. Where might death orms rule the wastes, befouled winds whistle through ancient crypts, and forests of fungi flourish in the weirdling light. Where ancient technologies offer life… or a quick death.” If that doesn’t sound interesting, I won’t bother trying to convince you to look within.
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This weekend I read and thoroughly enjoyed a New Pulp novel called Airship Hunters recently published by the fine folks at Meteor House. I really try and make these articles be about classic pulp, but new titles do catch my eye and while I am a fan of co-author Jim Beard’s occult detective, Sgt. Janus, it was actually the airship that caught my attention.
I first read about airships as a kid in several Edgar Rice Burroughs titles. A film dramatizing the Hindenburg disaster and then an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Black Sunday terrified me when I was just starting grade school. My introduction to the New Pulp world in 2009 came via Airship 27 with their nifty logo on each book. I even put an airship in my second Fu Manchu novel a few years later as a result. Far and away, my crowning achievement with airships was discussing their use in two cult classic films of the early 1970s: Darling Lili and Zeppelin with one of the principals involved in their production. So yes, suffice to say if you tell me Meteor House is publishing an airship title from Jim Beard, you have my attention.
Now in all fairness, it should be noted this new title is a collaborative effort between Jim and his co-author, Duane Spurlock. I know of Duane, but I had not previously read his work. Much like Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain a century earlier with Fantomas, the two men authored alternating chapters while compiling the book. Spurlock hails from Kentucky while Beard is my fellow Ohioan. There is a distinct Midwestern flavor to the adventure which lends an undeniable charm and authenticity to the proceedings.
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