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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thrilling Adventures from Robert E. Howard

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thrilling Adventures from Robert E. Howard

“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)

Two weeks ago, we followed Robert E. Howard out of our usual mean streets, and into the Shudder Pulps. Two-Gun Bob was our tour guide again last week, as we wandered into Spicy Adventures territory. Howard is a great guide through the pulps, and this week, Kirby O’Donnell takes us to the Adventure Pulps.

Robert E. Howard sold his first story in 1925, with “Spear and Fang” appearing in the July issue of Weird Tales. One of Howard’s first characters, written as a young teen, was a Texas gunslinger who roamed the wilds of Afghanistan and neighboring areas. Francis Xavier Gordon, who would be better known as El Borak (The Swift) was Howard’s attempt to get into the higher paying, prestigious pulps, like Argosy, and Adventure.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be an unassailable market for Howard, and he did not get his first adventure story published until late 1934. At the peak of his writing skill, he would, sadly, be dead in less than two years. And it wasn’t a more developed El Borak that got Howard into the market. It was a very similar, less complex character named Kirby O’Donnell.

My REH friend Dave Hardy has written two excellent articles on El Borak and Howard’s gunslingers of the Near East. The definitive essay on the topic is in the Del Rey El Borak and other Adventures collection. And you can find the other here at Black Gate, in our Discovering Robert E. Howard series.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spicy Adventures from Robert E. Howard

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Spicy Adventures from Robert E. Howard

“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)

Last week, we followed Robert E. Howard out of our usual mean streets, and into the Shudder Pulps. Well, Two-Gun Bob is our tour guide again this week, as we wander into Spicy Adventures territory. I’m kinda liking this REH theme, and I’ll see if I can’t follow up with a story from the boxing pulps, and maybe an Oriental adventure (which is not what we think of from that title, today).

In the early Pulp days, girlie magazines were known as ‘smooshes.’ The Great Depression hit them hard – just as with all the other pulps. And, they were under attack from civic and morality groups, as well.

In April of 1934, pulp publisher Harry Donenfeld, with editor Frank Armer (Donenfeld had previously bought out that struggling publisher, then hired him) created the Spicy Pulp formula with Spicy Detective Stories. Under the Culture Publications masthead, it took the type of hardboiled crime stories in popular pulps like Black Mask, and Dime Detective, and added in the racy elements of the smoosh mags. Picture Sam Spade leaving no doubt that he bedded a scantily-clad Brigid O’Shaughnessyy in his apartment.

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Cleve Cartmill, The Devil’s in the Details

Cleve Cartmill, The Devil’s in the Details


Astounding Science Fiction, March 1944, containing “Deadline” by Cleve Cartmill. Cover by William Timmins

Pulp writer Cleve Cartmill (1908 – 1964) is probably best known for writing the story that prompted an FBI visit to John W. Campbell’s office at Astounding. The story in question, “Deadline” (March, 1944), featured a bomb eerily similar to the one being developed by the Manhattan Project at the time. As an educated science fiction audience, Black Gate readers probably do not need that old story re-hashed. Instead, I’ll tell you about three of Cartmill’s fantasy stories published in Unknown, all of which are interesting and worth reading.

Historically, Cartmill is considered a competent but undistinguished pulp writer. In A Requiem for Astounding, Alva Rogers writes — “Cartmill wrote with an easy and colloquial fluidity that made his stories eminently readable.” I agree. But I also think there’s more to him than that. In the three pulp fantasy stories I’ll be reviewing here — “Bit of Tapestry” (1941), “Wheesht!” (1943), and “Hell Hath Fury” (1943) — Cartmill examines some deeper themes including free will and what makes us human. Although he doesn’t always follow through on these ideas, you are asked to think about them.

As a heads up, there will be heavy spoilers in this article.

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Galloway Gallegher — Kuttner’s Sauced Scientist

Galloway Gallegher — Kuttner’s Sauced Scientist

Robots Have No Tails (Lancer, 1973). Cover by Ron Walotsky

Try this one on for size…you go to sleep one night and have a lively dream. You see yourself doing wonderful things, creating new devices based on principles so advanced you can’t even image how they could be. You don’t question the fact that it is a dream because you know that, normally, you could never build such fabulous, world-changing technologies. It’s all kind of fuzzy though — what you’re building, the people you’re interacting with, everything.

When you wake in the morning you discover any number of strange devices in your house. You have no idea what they are, how they work, or where they came from. The phone rings. Apparently, there are several people to whom you now owe a lot money. You’ve never met any of them before but they seem to know you. Is it a scam? You hope so because one of them is suing you for breach of contract. Another is taking you to court for assault and battery. What happened? Could your dreams have been real somehow? Regardless, it seems that you’re now morally responsible for a whole lot of trouble.

This is essentially the premise of Henry Kuttner’s five Galloway/Gallegher stories: “Time Locker” (1943), “The World Is Mine” (1943), “The Proud Robot” (1943), “Gallegher Plus” (1943), and “Ex Machina” (1948).

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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Bob’s Books: “Fast, Loose Money” by John D. MacDonald

Bob’s Books: “Fast, Loose Money” by John D. MacDonald

MacDonald_EndTigerCover2EDITEDJohn D. MacDonald broke in near the end of the Pulp Era, writing for science fiction and mystery magazines. He appeared in Dime Detective his first year of writing, and made it into Black Mask the next. Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw became his agent after the legendary editor left the magazine. He quickly became a staple for Fawcett Gold Medal’s paperback origscoinal novels, while still writing short stories, including for slicks like Redbook and Cosmopolitan. With seven stories in 1958 (the same as in 1957), Macdonald effectively ended his run as a short story writer and shifted almost completely to novelist.  He would only write that many short stories in a year twice more for the rest of his life.

The last story published in 1958 was “The Fast, Loose Money,” in the July issue of Cosmopolitan. It was included in the 1966 collection, End of the Tiger and Other Stories. One of the fourteen other stories in that book is “The Trap of Solid Gold,” which I think is one of his best; and which Steve Scott used to name his blog – the best John D. MacDonald site on the web. You can read Steve’s two-part essay on MacDonald’s Park Falkner, here.

At eleven pages of tightly spaced small print, it’s a little longer than almost every other story in the book.

During World War II, MacDonald was an ordnance officer in the India-China-Burma Theater, working in procurement. He was initially assigned to New Delhi, and he did not like India, writing over forty years later, that it “was a sorry country, full of sorry people.”

He was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which became the CIA. He worked out of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, and China. MacDonald would use his experiences and knowledge of his wartime service in the Far East, in several of his short stories. 1958’s “Taint of the Tiger” was expanded into a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback, Soft Touch. Another ‘war-roots’ story from that year is “Fast, Loose Money.”

Something has gone very wrong in Jerry Thompson’s day. Jerry owns three parking lots in a nearby city. He and his wife Marie live well enough off of them, but as he says, “If you play by the rules, you’re a sucker.” So, Jerry had been using a duplicate ticket scheme to grab some off-the-book income, totaling about $26,000, which he kept at home in a wall safe, and spent low-key, to avoid the danger of getting caught.

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A (Black) Gat in The Hand: Bill Crider Reviews ‘The Brass Cupcake’

A (Black) Gat in The Hand: Bill Crider Reviews ‘The Brass Cupcake’

Crider_BillEDITEDYou’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)

If you asked me to name the nicest person I’ve encountered since becoming a writer/blogger/whatever I am, I’d immediately fire back, “Bill Crider.” I have yet to come across one person who had anything bad to say about Bill. He was always friendly, and generous with his knowledge and advice. Bill was an excellent writer of mysteries and westerns, best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series.

His ‘Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine’ was a fun blog, full of all kinds of short posts about books, music, advertisements, history – pop culture stuff. I’m pretty sure that Bill would have liked A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And I think he would have contributed an essay. So, for the final entry in round two, I’m reposting Bill’s review of John D. MacDonld’s The Brass Cupcake. Swing by his blog and read some great stuff!

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)

Davis_DeadMansBrandEDITED

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)

Wasn’t sure what to write about this morning. I went on a mini Sword and Sandals kick and recently finished Scott Oden’s Men of Bronze, and Howard Andrew Jones’ Desert of Souls (reviews coming, time willing). I’ve played a lot of Conan Exiles the past few months (when I could) and I definitely want to do a post on that. It’s Minecraft on Steroids (now THERE’S a post title!). My Game Night group dug into Shadows of Brimstone earlier this year and that was a lot of fun (not as brutal as Descent). And my son and I are revisiting Star Wars Destiny (a neat card/dice game).

I’ve continued to work on what I hope will be the definitive Max Latin (Norbert Davis) essay. Though, to be honest, there isn’t really much competition for that honorific. His Latin stories are even more woefully neglected than Davis himself is. Being in a Davis mood, I decided to get Black Dog Books’ Dead Man’s Brand. Davis is best known for his screwball hardboiled comedies (a style that didn’t get him many sales to Cap Shaw, famed editor of Black Mask).

But he wrote for several pulp genres, as well as for the higher-paying slicks. This collection includes eight solid westerns from the pulps, including Dime Western Magazine and Star Western. There’s a good introduction by Bill Pronzini, and in the afterword, Ed Hulse talks about the lone movie adapted from a Davis story (there’s further proof of the under-valuing of Davis’ work).

Maybe I can talk James Reasoner or Duane Spurlock into doing a much better essay on Davis’ westerns than I could possibly ever hope to write, but I’m just going to talk about the first story: “A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain,” which appeared in Dime Western in October, 1940.

We don’t learn all the details right away, but the story opens with a young girl named Missy trying to crawl under a covered wagon while her drunken uncle (Pops Reese) whips her with a quirt (a short-handled riding whip with a braided leather lash). The coffee she gave him was too hot and burned his tongue. That’s the kind of guy he is. Well, that, and he’s taking her to the town of Cranston to sell her to the local boss – presumably to become a whore in his saloon.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Nine

Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Nine

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Annual_Vol_1_1Master of Kung Fu Annual #1 was a reworking of what would have been Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #5 had Marvel’s short-lived line of quarterly publications not been prematurely discontinued. As it stands it was the only King-Size Annual Marvel published for the series. Marvel Annuals were generally a mixed bag and this is no exception. A few select ones offered truly special longer stories which were a delight for loyal readers, but most were either hurriedly produced or generally disappointing tryouts for aspiring Marvel writers and artists to demonstrate their handling of established properties. Master of Kung Fu Annual fell in the former category with Doug Moench and Keith Pollard tossing off Shang-Chi’s first encounter with Iron Fist.

The story itself isn’t terrible, but Shang-Chi is almost a guest star in what is essentially an Iron Fist story that is centered on the character’s origins. The visit to the otherworldly dimension that Iron Fist calls home to take on an invasion force led by a sorcerer really seems to be more of a martial arts spin on Doctor Strange. The artwork utilizes some of Steve Ditko’s interdimensional concepts, but without any of his sense of abstract wonder. I was not acquainted with Iron Fist having a mystical background and the story did nothing to make me care much either way as it was clearly knocked off quickly by the overworked Doug Moench. Like the companion magazine, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, this seemed largely a wasted opportunity. Fans of the character may be interested that there is a brief continuity reference to an ongoing storyline involving Daughters of the Dragon in the companion magazine which one suspects might have made for a more engaging crossover for Shang-Chi, although based on their crossovers in the magazine, perhaps it would have fared no better.

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Lost Classics of the Pulps: Guy Boothby’s The Curse of the Snake

Lost Classics of the Pulps: Guy Boothby’s The Curse of the Snake

Curse of the SnakeThe Curse of the Snake is the Guy Boothby title I have been waiting years to read. I previously covered the five books in his Dr. Nikola series as well as his 1899 novel, Pharos the Egyptian for Black Gate. Boothby is an author whose works have fallen into relative obscurity, but his influence was quite pervasive. A contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, he turned out works that stand up well against their more celebrated efforts. Most importantly, the influence of Dr. Nikola is felt heavily upon Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Boothby’s great flaw was that he was a prolific author of serialized novels who made no effort to correct inconsistencies when his works were published in book form. This hurt his reputation and, along with the speed with which he produced new works, unfairly suggested he was little more than a hack.

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