books

Nightside series by Simon R. Green

It’s too damned cold to be the beginning of June!  I swear, if I have to endure another cold summer, I’m going to have to sic the flying ninja monkeys on somebody at The Weather Channel.  Seriously, it’s been a cold, wet, miserable few days here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, so I’ve been staying in my Happy Place.  Me, some ginger ale, my Kindle and my netbook have been very happy and warm inside my pillow fort, and I am not coming out until the temps top eighty degrees again (that’s twenty-seven-ish for you Celsius types). I want my sauna-like Appalachian summer, darn it all, and I’m going to throw a tantrum until I get it!

Okay, that’s not strictly true.  The other night, Big Sister, who is a terrific cook, sent over a bowl of something that involved chicken, peppers and onions, a ricotta sauce and gnocchi (she likes challenging my palate, and I think she’s trying to fatten me up after the Long Illness, which I’m not opposed to).  I had never tried gnocchi before, but it was very very nice.  Nice enough that I am going to try making it myself.  I’ve never made pasta before — it looks intimidating, and I don’t think I have the right tools — but gnocchi doesn’t seem to require anything more than a bowl and a knife, which I can totally provide.  If it goes well, it may land on the dinner rotation here in our treetop fortress.

So on to business.  I’ve mentioned before that I have fairly loose parameters for what defines a genre.  I think a measurable amount of urban fantasy could arguably fall into the Pulp vein because so much of it plays on the Hardboiled Detective tropes, which are solidly pulpy.  I also think that it can still be steampunk even if there’s not a dirigible to be seen.  Genres are as much about attitude and tone as they are about the props, and, as I pointed out in my last book review, having the right props doesn’t automatically mean the story wins any cred from me.

But I understand that others can feel very differently. So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I present you with the Nightside series by Simon R. Green.  Why do I think it belongs here on a blog focused on Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp?  Because, while our hero constantly claims he is no great shakes at investigation, the stories fall very strongly into the Hardboiled Detective category, in tone, approach and style, and that says Pulp to me, as I said above.  The hardboiled detective started out as a classic pulp genre (hell, it helped define pulp as a classification of fiction), long before it went mainstream.

So, Simon R. Green is a prolific and respected British author, who has done other books besides Nightside.  Memorably, he did the Secret Histories (starting with “The Man with the Golden Torc), as well as Hawk and Fisher, Ghostfinders and the Deathstalker series.  As you can tell, his focus is on science fiction and fantasy, my favorite words in the whole English language.  But Nightside is his most well known work and arguably his best written (personally, I couldn’t get past the Marty Stu-ness of the Secret Histories, and his Ghostfinders just didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons, though your mileage may vary.  I may change my opinion in the future — I am a big one for re-reading — but for now, I’ll pass).

  1. Something from the Nightside
  2. Agents of Light and Darkness
  3. Nightingale’s Lament
  4. Hex and the City
  5. Paths Not Taken
  6. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
  7. Hell to Pay
  8. The Unnatural Inquirer
  9. Just Another Judgement Day
  10. The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny
  11. A Hard Day’s Night
  12. The Bride Wore Black Leather
  13. Tales from the Nightside (short fiction anthology)

The Nightside is a series of twelve novels (plus one collection of short stories) that depict the adventures of one John Taylor, a private investigator, native of the Nightside, and the Chosen One of at least one prophecy.  Being the Chosen One is never a good thing, but in the Nightside, it’s especially bad.  Which is why, when John Taylor finally left the Nightside, he stayed gone up to now.  But at the beginning of the first book, the search for a missing/runaway teen brought him back to his old haunts.  From there, things just snowballed and he took his old place back in the darkness.

So what is the Nightside?  It’s a fictional inner neighborhood of London, older than the city itself.  It’s always night time here, 3:00 am to be exact, “the midnight of the soul,” some call it.  John Taylor describes it as “a place where dreams come true and nightmares come alive. Where one can buy anything, often at the price of your soul… or someone else’s. Where the music never stops and the fun never ends.”  Every possible vice you can think of (and several you wish you hadn’t thought of) is practiced here.  Moreover, what is impossible in the outside world is common as dirt in Nightside:  angels, magic, monsters, time travel, carnivorous cars, homunculi, you name it, it’s here and probably causing trouble.

  • Angels in the Nightside are not benevolent guardians in the Nightside.  They are messengers of God, and scary as hell.
  • Gods are real, all of them, and they hang out in the Street of Gods.  Stay out.  No, really; I don’t care how good a person you’ve been, seriously, stay out.
  • Time slips are invisible, undetectable holes in time.  Sometimes people fall out of them and are stuck in the Nightside present forever.  Sometimes people from this side fall in, and are never seen again.  Watch where you walk.
  • Cars are dangerous.  They go way too fast, brake pedals are for pussies, and cars like the flavor of human flesh.  Cross the street at your own peril.
  • Ghosts can actually be pretty cool.  Knowing you have nothing more to lose is probably very relaxing.
  • Houses can and will eat you.  It’s not pretty.

John Taylor plies his trade, detective and/or thug for hire, here in the Nightside, and keeps the business running more or less.  He is hired to find missing girls, figure out why an up-and-coming singer’s beautiful voice is driving people to commit suicide, figure out why the power grid for the Nightside (they’re only nominally connected to the London grid) is failing, things like that.  But, as is inevitable for hardboiled detective, nothing is ever straightforward.  Yes, he has a small but useful magical talent:  when he concentrates, he can feel where something is, no matter how far away or how well hidden.  An inborn magical GPS for missing stuff is very handy for a PI for hire.  On the other hand,  even with magical GPS, it’s hard to play the PI game when your mother is a demigod and is weaving the destruction of the world when she’s not stalking you.  Or when an army of nearly-unkillable homunculi are looking to destroy you.  Or just when all the scary things from your nightmares think your name is a curse word and your body is great target practice.

To say John Taylor has “friends” is to stretch the blanket a little too much.  But he has colleagues and contacts who  at least respect him.  There’s Walker, who represents The Authorities.  Walker is more or less the police force of the Nightside.  No, he doesn’t care if you kill people, steal, rape, pillage, meh, who cares, so long as Nightside itself is protected.  Walker is an old friend of John’s dad.  Walker and John do NOT like one another, but neither is above using the other when the situation merits.

Alex Morrisey owns the bar John usually hangs out in.  Alex is a direct male descendant of Merlin.  The Merlin, the one and only.  Sounds cool.  But a spell cast by Merlin means that Alex can never leave the bar, ever ever.  Not for a date, not for a quick piss in the alley round back.  This makes Alex more than a little sour; he wears all black all the time because “there’s nothing darker.”  He is the closest thing John has to a friend, and Alex has bailed John out a couple times.  Then there’s Suzie Shooter, bloodthirsty bounty hunter (“dead or alive” means “dead, because there’s less paperwork”) who often partners with John on jobs when he needs muscle; she’s also his love interest, for a certain value of the term “love interest.”  Their relationship is complicated.  Then there are characters like Dead Boy, the Walking Man, Razor Eddie, and The Collector.

The prose style is classic first person, delightfully Chandleresque.  It’s a pity Humphrey Bogart is dead; he’s the only one who could do justice to an audiobook for Nightside.  Green’s style is spartan and clean, but nevertheless it describes the night and neon character of Nightside well enough that even a non-visual reader like myself can picture the place.  The stories are pretty straightforward.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge follower of the hardboiled genre (for some reason, I just can’t follow the logic sometimes), but I can follow these and enjoy them.

Downside?  This is pretty dark stuff.  The trigger warnings in these stories would require a whole new blog post just to list them; do not read if you have a weak constitution or are easily offended/disturbed.  For myself, I can’t really binge-read the Nightside series like I usually do Jim Butcher’s work, for example, just sit down and read and read and read until I’ve consumed the whole series.  I tried it with Nightside twice.  I enjoyed the reading, don’t get me wrong.  But around about Book Seven, I started feeling depressed and fatalistic.  I do better reading these stories in small doses.  Again, your mileage may vary.

All in all, I recommend this series if you’re down with the hardboiled detective pulp genre, but are in the mood for a dark fantasy/SF twist, aren’t easily offended, or just can’t resist the “hidden world” scenario in fiction (my personal favorite flavor).

Aaaaaaand that’s it for me today.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  Next up is Fun Friday, and for that I could really use some recommendations.  Contact me at ajclarkson-at-talwyn-dot-net.  I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting….. Meh, it’ll come to me.  In the meantime, I’m out of here; now I’m in the mood to read Nightside again!  Y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: books, Opinion, Pulp, Review | Leave a comment

Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley

Wow!  It’s been a whole, what, 24 hours since we last spoke!  Nevertheless, I’m back and rarin’ to go.  I have spent a quiet week so far in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  My hubby even fired up the grill yesterday and scorched some dead animal flesh.  Delicious stuff, and he got it all done and dusted before the rains hit.    Best of all, we pulled onions in the garden.  You know what that means?  Onion pancakes for lunch!  Yay!

In the meantime, a quick housekeeping note before we move on to today’s rant. Being techno-challenged, it took me a while to notice that my email addy is acting funny, and I’m not receiving emails like I should.  So if you’ve written me and I haven’t answered, it’s not that I was ignoring you; it’s that my email hates me.  I messaged Elder Son to see if he can help me get set up elsewhere.  Until then, message me in the comments and I’ll keep them private.  As soon as I get set up on a new email (waiting for help from Eldest Son), I’ll post it here and on Twitter, so keep an eye out.

Okay, enough housekeeping.  On to the subject at hand.  On the ride back home from Vandalia, I read Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley.  The back cover describes it as “a steampunk adventure with a serial killer, romance, and a few broken hearts.”  God, I hate giving bad reviews so so much.  But I have to say that this book fails on every point.  It’s steampunk only in the most marginal sense, the romance leaves me cold, and “broken hearts” is a very low play on words.

Okay, the basic plot.  It’s 1861, and we have Cara Devon, a “curious and impetuous” estranged daughter of a famous collector of antiquities.  She ran away from home at a young age (14 years old is implied, but I wasn’t clear on that) because of a terrible event (her father basically sold her to a rapist, then beat her half to death when she fled the marriage).  Now he’s dead, and she’s come back to sell off his fabulous collection.  Meanwhile, a serial killer is stalking the daughters of aristocrats, and murdering them in a very odd manner:  he’s stabbing keys through their hearts.  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Cara makes a connection between the killer’s modus operandi and an artifact in the collection:  Nefertiti’s heart, a fist sized diamond (how is beyond me; the connection is tenuous at best).  So she starts investigating.  During this “investigation,” she comes across Viscount Nathaniel “Nate” Lyons, minor noble, crime boss, pirate and leader of pirates, you name it.  Oh, by the way, he’s dead sexy, and he’s got the hots for Cara.  Between the bouts of heavy breathing and coy flirting, the two of them manage to figure out who the serial killer is before the Queen’s Enforcers can do it.

Oh, gosh, where to start with all the wrong of this?  Okay, start at the beginning.  I feel like I was sold a pig in a poke.  The title and blurb implied that the story was going to be an adventure, like Indiana Jones, trying to find this artifact before the bad guys do.  What I got was a very spicy romance with a little suspense story running parallel.  I don’t like romance.  Yeah, I know, I’m a girl, I’m supposed to love that junk.  But I just don’t.  I’ll take Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade over Pretty Woman any day of the week.  If I had known this story was this romance-heavy, I wouldn’t have bought it.  The book is called “artifact hunters,” but they never really do this, beyond talking about it and occasionally reading a text).

Next.  It’s called a Steampunk story.  I’m not sure what it was, but this was not steampunk.  Oh, it had the trappings.  It had dirigibles and steam powered vehicles and clockworks here and there.  But steampunk is about more than just the props.  It’s about a  juxtaposition of modern thought and action against the structure and attitudes of the Victorian world.  This juxtaposition never happened.  Crap.  This is hard to explain.  Okay, let me give you a for instance.  At one point Cara goes to a fancy ball in London.  She decides to flaunt societal expectations (that this is a rebellious act is quite clearly stated), and wear what a modern reader would recognize as a slinky evening gown.  Fine, whatever.  Except that she wears the dress to the party and nobody notices.  There’s not a word is said, no ladies whispering behind fans, none of the men (except the love interest) ogle her, whatever.  it’s as though she were just like everybody else.

It’s a small thing, I know.  But the whole book is like this.  Everything is just a little bit off, none of the attitudes are there.  It’s like it’s the normal everyday world, only with Steampunk props added.  The props don’t even figure into the story, not in the least.  The male lead arrived once in a dirigible, but beyond that, nothing much. It made it difficult to fall into the world, to feel that I was in a different place and time.  Am I making any sense at all?

Next:  Nathaniel Lyons.  Meh.  Maybe it’s because I don’t read enough of these romances to know the tropes.  But I am utterly bored by the romantic lead in this story.  We’re told he’s a dangerous dude, a pirate, feared and respected by society, blah blah blah.  We never see any of it.  And as for being feared and respected, which one is it?  Nobody seems to take any notice of him.  It’s like I said before, the reactions of the populace was modern, not Victorian, not even faux Victorian.  Same here.  He wasn’t sexy, he was pushy.  Not a turn on.

That brings us to Cara.   Oh, Lord, where do I start?  Okay, first:  rape as character background has been done to death.  I’m not saying you can’t ever use it, because, when well written, it’s very effective.  However, you have to write it well;  dazzle me.  Cara didn’t dazzle me.  She was written as angry and bitter and so averse to touch that she wouldn’t even shake hands.  But she was willing to spill every grim detail on her second meeting with the male lead, a character she said several times that she didn’t like and she didn’t trust.  Hello?  Did I miss something here?  Moreover, it’s like the third meeting when she suddenly lets him into her knickers (which they didn’t have silky panties back then, they had things like bloomers or drawers, which reached almost to the knees; do you research!).  This chick won’t let another woman shake her hand, but she’ll let this self-admitted scoundrel cut her underthings off with a knife.  After that, the two of them are going at it like bunnies; a girl with serious intimacy issues, probably PTSD, and she’s a suddenly a maniac in bed?

And because it needs to be said:  Sex in a tree?  Really?  REALLY?

Finally (i have to get to a “finally” or it’s gonna be midnight before I finish this post).  The plot.  Yes, I’m a little annoyed they promised me an adventure, and I get a soap opera.  But I’m a big girl, I can suck it up and deal. All right, they said Cara has curiosity and impetuosity.  They say it, but I never see it.  Mostly she’s angry and … well, angry.  Next, Cara’s supposed to have come back to sell her father’s collection of antiquities.  Except there’s no collection.  There’s a lot of talk about a collection, but you never see it, Cara never sees it, nobody sees it, because, if it exists at all, he’s scattered the pieces to the four winds.  “Scattered to the four winds” is kind of the opposite of a “collection,” no?

I saw the solution to who the serial killer was about half an hour before the story did, and immediately saw exactly how the last third of the book was gonna play out.  You’ve seen one Lifetime channel movie, you’ve seen them all.  The connection between the serial killer and Nefertiti’s Heart sorta worked; at least I was willing to let it slide.  I’ll give the writer credit for being a little creative with our killer’s methods, at least.  Suitably gruesome and weird and horribly appropriate.  Last:  in the very last scene, there was an implication that the Heart had some sort of mystical power.  No, not an implication, an outright statement.  Okay, if you’d started out by saying mystical things were possible, regardless of how rare, I’d be willing to roll with it.  To say it’s possible, and then they laugh it off publicly while entertaining the though privately, I’d roll with that.  But to never once utter a single sound about it through the entire book and then suddenly come out with “Oh, you and I both bled on it and now we’re bound together by its mystical power” in the last pages?  Cheat cheat cheat!  That’s not how these things are done.  I wish there was a word as good as “deus ex machina” for these sorts of situations.

And then again, I could be completely wrong.  I was so disappointed that I bought an adventure novel and got a smutty romance, that may have biased my opinion.  But I just was not happy.

Okay, I’m sure there was more I wanted to say, but I’ve been picking at this blog post all day, it’s after ten thirty and I’m no longer coherent.  So I’ll leave off here.  You know the drill.  I’ll get back to you on the email thing ASAP.  In the meantime, I’ll be back on Friday, and I expect y’all to be good while I’m gone.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

 

Categories: books, Opinion, Review, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Imitation Game” and Enigma

(Rotor:  II, IV, III; Rotor Start:  NRN; Rings:  AAA, and Plugboard: HC IL WO BX AV UF GZ JS NP KR)

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Confused yet?  Heh heh heh, I’ll explain in a minute.  In the meantime, HI!  Guess what I’m doing tomorrow?  Getting my picture taken!  Seems that a friend of mine needed a model for a project for her photography class, and, silly creature that I am, I volunteered.  What’s interesting is the project itself:  do a photo study that imitates the Victorian look entirely, in setting, costume, pose and photographic techniques.  Pretty cool, huh?  I get to get all Victorian and have my portrait done!  The artist picked out the costumes, which is just as well, since I’ve never really done the cosplay thing before this year.  I’m not accepting any pay for being her model; my price was that she had to give me copies of the photos, and permission to post one or two of them on my blog.  Which she was delighted to do, because Jan rocks! So yeah, be watching for those pictures to make their appearance.

Okay, so on to business….

The Imitation Game (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. I don’t really get all the fuss and frenzy over the man, but I do have to admit, he’s a handsome man, and interesting to watch.

 

So I saw this movie, The Imitation Game, the other day.  It had Benedict Cumberbatch playing computer pioneer Alan Turing, and focused on the cryptography work he did at Bletchley Park during World War II.  It was a pretty good movie, focusing a lot on the character of Alan Turing (depicting him as extremely eccentric, which may or may not be accurate), his homosexuality — about which he was surprisingly open for the 1940’s — and his relationship with fellow cryptologist/mathematician Joan Clarke (played by Keira Knightly in the film).  The movie is based on the nonfiction book, “Alan Turing:  The Enigma.”

The movie was fine for what it was, I give it two thumbs up, and recommend the movie to all computer geeks and WWII history buffs (like me).  But the movie is not what I really want to talk about.  The part that interested me was the actual cryptology work they were doing at Bletchley Park.  During WWII, the Germans used a coding machine called “Enigma,” to encrypt their military communications.  Enigma looked like the picture to the left:  a complicated typewriter.  But the insides held a truly ingenious system of rotors and circuits (as you can see) to create an almost unbreakable code.  Interestingly enough, it was based on a civilian model, easy to purchase in Germany before the war, that industries used to protect their own internal communications from industrial espionage and the like.  The military simply  added a single layer more of encryption (the pegboard at the front), and adopted it.

And for a long time, it kicked the Allied cryptographers’ butts.  It simply could not be broken.  Okay, I take that back.  According to my research, a given day’s code (they changed every day, on a thirty day cycle) could be beaten by a man with a notepad, a pencil and a lot of patience.  But it could conceivably take days and days to solve a single day’s code, and that simply wasn’t fast enough.  But then along comes Alan Turing, with his ideas, and his Turing Machine, which is the father of our own modern day computers.

And this is where I let the experts take over.  My elder son is an unashamed computer geek, currently working for a computer computer company whose name you’d recognize instantly.  When Elder Son was in college, he turned me on to this YouTube channel called “Numberphile.”  In it, mathematicians talk about numbers and complex maths in a way that even math-challenged idiots like me can understand.  And one time (okay, four times)  they talked about Enigma and the work of Alan Turing.  The videos together are long, over an hour cumulatively.  But I strongly recommend you give them a listen; they take something painfully complex and break it down to the point where even I can understand it (and I’m challenged by balancing my checkbook!)  Go on, I’ll wait.

Here’s step one:

Here’s step two:

Here’s step three:

And here’s Step Four

Did you make it through all four videos?  Fascinating stuff, huh?  This whole business caught my attention from a gadget-happy Punk perspective.  The layout of this device is so elegant, almost simplistic.  Yet it can give complexities in numbers that I can’t begin to wrap my head around.  I can totally see this popping up in a Steampunk or Dieselpunk setting; it just fits.

Now, guess what a little Google-Fu turned up:  two, count ’em two, Enigma Simulators.   Both of them are online, which makes them fun and easy to play with.  The code at the top of this blog was fun through the first emulator.  It says, “Welcome to Clarksonpunk, the home of all things Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New and Classic Pulp!

There’s even an app for your Android! 

Be very careful:  time suck danger!  I meant only to code that one sentence, and ended up wasting an hour just playing around with the settings.

And for those of you who enjoy building gadgets for your Steam and Diesel fun, here’s another cool page.  It gives you a print out and instructions on how to build your own Enigma machine from paper.  Not real sure how that works, but it looks intriguing.

Okay, I think that’s it for me.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  If you have any recommendations for Fun Friday, contact me through the email address on my About page.  I’ll see you all on Friday, and between now and then, be good.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught

 

Categories: books, Dieselpunk, History, Video | Leave a comment

The Laundry Series by Charles Stross

Morning!  It’s pretty cold this morning here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, and I have spent most of the morning thus far cooking.  See, it gets hot here in my little valley; 90 degree heat with 70% to 80% humidity in mid-July to early August is not only not unheard of, at times it’s practically de rigeur.  The last thing I want in that kind of weather is to stand over a hot stove and heat up the house.  So I prep as much food as I can well ahead of time (like now, when the mornings are cold) so that, when that hot weather hits, all I have to do is pop something pre-prepped into the oven for thirty minutes.  NO running the stove all afternoon, no standing in the heat minding a grill, no fuss, very little muss, and I can go back to my preferred pastime of lounging on the front porch with my Kindle and a glass of lemonade.

But enough of my ongoing food fetish.  Onward, to the Punk!

So here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, it’s hard to find an expert on the pulp genre.  The only one I knew personally was my father, who was an absolute junkie of the genre.  But he’s gone, God rest his soul, so who am I to ask these strange questions.

Hey!  I’ll ask the Interwebz:  do spy novels belong in the pulp genre?  Is there a cut-off, this one belongs in the pulps, that one doesn’t?  Why?

I think some of them do.  The original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming were written in the early fifties, and were firmly pulp.  Just check this book cover and tell me that doesn’t scream “pulp!!!!”  The books were high on action, light on characterization (though I have to say that Bond is a much darker, less slick character in the books than in the movies), and not afraid to titillate.  Ian Fleming’s writing style was minimalist, clipped, terse, not at all uncommon in the pulps; to me at least, the feeling was a cross between a spy story and a Sam Spade type hardboiled detective.

All that says “pulp” to me.

What confused me for a while is the fact that, while Bond is anchored in the pulps, the series has gone WAY mainstream, and has done almost since its inception.  It was a breakout hit when the series first appeared.  Then the movies, spin off novels (oh yes, there are Bond books by other authors, mostly John Gardner or Raymond Benson, though occasionally other guys contribute).  Then came the book spoofs, the send ups (Our Man Flint (1966) and its sequel, In Like Flint (1967), affectionate send-ups of the Bond style, predated the hyperactive Austin Powers movies by nearly half a century;  by the way, James Coburn ROCKS in the lead role in these movies.  I’d watch him for days before I’d bother with Mike Myers.  (I don’t have a problem with the Austin Powers movies; I’ve seen them all and they’re cute as heck.  But ultimately, I’m underwhelmed)

But you see my confusion:  how can something so mainstream, a character so embraced by the general public, still be “one of us,” still be a pulp.  I have this thing in my mind that says that pulp is not mainstream, and shouldn’t be mainstream.  No, I’m too old to be a hipster.  I’ve just been in the pulp ghetto for so long that I’ve come to like the place.

Anyway, the point is, spy novels, some of them at least, belong to us.  And this allows me to include the works of Charles Stross on this page (the lengths I go to to justify what I wanted to do anyway!  I should be ashamed).  In fact, Stross’s Laundry Files series belongs here anyway, thanks to its Lovecraftian connection.  And boy, does it deliver.  Stross creeps me out in ways that…..

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Who is Charles Stross and what is this Laundry series I’m talking about?  Charles Stross is a British author of hard science fiction.  He has a Wikipedia page here.  He has written a crap-ton of hard science fiction, most of which I’m not even gonna fool with here; there’s a bibliography on his Wikipedia page, go check them out.

What I’m singling out here on the blog is Stross’s Laundry series. How can I describe Bob Howard’s life in the Laundry?  Hmmm…. Imagine Dilbert and James Bond had a baby, and that baby grew up to use an iPhone to fight Cthulhu.

Yeah, it’s like that.  For realz.

There are five books in the Laundry series…

  • The Atrocity Archive
  • The Jennifer Morgue
  • The Fuller Memorandum
  • The Apocalypse Codex
  • The Rhesus Chart

and half a dozen or so short stories, most of which are available online for free (again, check the bibliography on the Wikipedia page linked above; they’re well worth the effort)

Here’s the thing:  in the Laundry series, all the stuff Lovecraft wrote about, the monsters from other dimensions, strange and dangerous races living under the sea and mating with the occasional fisherman, the magic that destroys the mind and consumes the soul?  Yeah, all that stuff is for real.  Except it ain’t magic.  It’s mathematics.  Seems that certain very high level  non-Euclidean, Fermat’s Theorem-level mathematics can open gateways between worlds. Combine that math with various material components (some wire, a few lasers, an iPhone, a severed hand, just stuff you have lying around the house).

So when Bob Howard (our hero) was in university in England, he was playing around on his computers when he (and I’m quasi-quoting the Laundry Files Wiki), “nearly landscaped Wolverhampton by accident when creating a realtime rendering algorithm that used a logical shortcut which turned out to be an open and ungrounded summoning grid. ”  The British government frowns on that sort of thing, and came for him.  He had two choices:  forcible re-education and prison, or join The Laundry.  He chose the Laundry.

The Laundry (called that because it was housed behind a laundry shop during WWII) is a very secret branch of MI5 focused specifically on occult threats.  Their job is to find the mad Bond villains who are trying to destroy the world by summoning something incredibly nasty.  They’re also tasked with finding the schlubs (like Bob) who stumble onto dangerous knowledge while dicking around on the Internet or in their math classes.

So what’s life like in the Laundry?  Well, Bob’s day-to-day really does read like a Dilbert comic strip:  cubicles, post-it notes, boring team meetings, mandatory teamwork (or whatever) classes, dealing with clueless supervisors, computer illiterate types who can’t figure out how to turn on the printer without the computer guy’s help, crap-tons of paperwork, plus executive level types who are scary as hell.  Only in this case “scary as hell” is much more than just a metaphor.

At the beginning of the first novel, The Atrocity Archives, Bob had been another cubicle slave, just marking time and hating his immediate supervisor.  But, since he had volunteered for active service, one of his supervisors tapped him for a little errand.  An “Active Service Errand” in this case means breaking into an office park, stealing somebody’s files and getting out without being spotted.  Entry level spy stuff.

From there the whole thing escalates.  In the first book, the Atrocity Archives, Bob is asked to repatriate a young, beautiful scientist who accidentally stumbled across a very dangerous mathematical formula; this seemingly coincidental encounter leads to an alternate dimension that was populated by Nazis from WWII and is now about to destroy our own dimension.  (an image you won’t forget:  the face of the moon carved to look like Der Fuhrer).  The cool thing is that Bob hooks up with the girl scientist he rescued at the beginning; she is his girlfriend and later his wife for the rest of the series.  I like this, it’s a nice change of pace from the womanizing of most other spy thrillers (yes, Bond, I’m looking at you).

The second book, the Jennifer Morgue, Bob is teamed with a young woman from the underwater realms, to help supervise a megalomaniac’s attempt to find a sunken prize.  This book is very deliberately plotted to reflect a James Bond novel.  It gets kind of meta:  the characters realize they are being forced to follow a Bond novel plot and there is a science fiction-y justification for why it’s happening.  There’s even some interesting confusion as to which player is the Bond expy.  I have to confess, this is my least favorite of the series, so I have only read it the one time.

The third book, The Fuller Memorandum, concerns a mad scramble by factions inside and outside the Laundry to find a document that will give the holders control of a Nyarlathotep-type nightmare that still walks the earth.  Nobody knows who the nightmare currently is, which becomes very important.

The fourth book, The Apocalypse Codex, sees Bob helping an “outside asset” (a very scary woman called Persephone) to infiltrate an American religious movement, one whose leader has gotten rather too close to the British Prime Minister, and seems to have the sort of powers that The Laundry routinely looks for.

The fifth book, The Rhesus Chart, involves vampires as captains of industry.  This one is tough for Bob because the toxic girlfriend he had at the beginning of book one is one of the vampires and, as a member of the Laundry herself, knows way too much about how the Laundry does its work.   According to Wikipedia, at least two more books are scheduled to follow Rhesus, which is good news as far as I’m concerned.

What I like about The Laundry Files is the tone.  Yes, Bob fights tentacled freaks from the 8th Dimension, using only an iPhone and a pigeon foot on a string around his neck (long story, just trust me), all very derring do stuff.  But when he talks about it, he sounds like just one of the guys.  He’s not got a cape or a big S across his chest; he’s just a guy doing a job.  A deeply weird and terrifying job, but still just another wage slave.  He worries about spending too much money on a gadget and what is his live-in girlfriend, Mo, going to say about it.  He hates his supervisor and enjoys goading her.  He’s full of snark and the sort of random mischief that I see my computer geek sons get up to all the time.

For all the Dilbert-level office hell, there’s still plenty of action (my favorite part).  It’s cool to see just an ordinary guy go up against the forces of darkness armed only with a pigeon foot and an iPhone (no, I’m not kidding about the pigeon foot).  Stross is very good at making me believe that the danger is very very real; I have been genuinely frightened a couple times by the stories, in a Cold War paranoia kind of way.  But “Duck and Cover” isn’t going to work against Hastur any more than it would against Kruschev’s little toys.  And this is where Stross impresses me again:  he’s got me freaked out, that’s good.  But then he pits Captain Ordinary against the Forces of Darkness, and he makes me believe it when Captain Ordinary wins.

It’s one thing to throw an ordinary guy up against something terrible and writing him out of it.  Any chapped ass monkey with a keyboard can do that.  But to make me believe it, to convince me that Captain Ordinary has the wherewithal to pull it off and walk away from a battle with the Forces of Darkness?  Yeah, I am impressed.

While I was doing the brushing up for this blog, I found something interesting, something I didn’t know before.  Each book in the series thus far have been pastiches of other, more famous installments in the spy thriller genre.  The Atrocity Archive was a conscious imitation of Len Deighton‘s “Ipcress File.”  As I said before, The Jennifer Morgue imitates Ian Fleming’s Bond series.  The Fuller Memorandum is a pastiche of Anthony Price‘s books about Dr. David Audley and Colonel Jack Butler.  The Apocalypse Codex imitates the Modesty Blaise stories by Peter O’Donnell.

What’s cool is that I didn’t know this.  I don’t often read spy thrillers, and almost never wander out of the science fiction/fantasy/horror ghetto, so I never was exposed to most of these writers (though I recall my father reading them voraciously).  But — and here’s the important thing — I still enjoyed the books.  I didn’t need to recognize the pastiche to have fun with the books.  That’s what annoys me about a lot of pastiches:  you have to know the source material to get the joke and thus to appreciate the story.  Here, you didn’t.  I could read the books, enjoy the hell out of them, and be blissfully innocent of the inside joke.  Now that I know, I can go back and read Ipcress, then read Atrocity Archive again and enjoy the book on an entirely new level.

That’s cool.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about this.  Go to your favorite source of books right now and pick up The Atrocity Archive.  You’ll enjoy it.  Delicious modern day pulpy goodness.

And that’s it for me.  We just had a thunderstorm start; I hope I can get this out before the lightning ganks out internet connection.  So I gotta make this fast:  share, tweet, write, comment.  My email is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net if you wanna talk or if you wanna share some Fun Friday goodness with me.  Fun Friday is up next and I’ve got some fun stuff for you (Hence the name “Fun Friday.”)

Be good!  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught.

 

Don’t forget about Vandalia Con on May 22-24 in Parkersburg WV. Come and have some Steampunk fun and support women’s health in Appalachia!

Categories: books, Dieselpunk, Pulp, Review, Science Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Six Gun Tarot

So I did another disappearing act.  Sorry about that.  I’m getting a little tired of explaining it over and over again, so I’ll give you the short version:  health issues,blah blah, emergency surgery, blah-ditty-blah, week in the hospital, blah blah, recovery is taking forever, blah blah done.  There. Clear?  Good.

Oh, yeah, adding insult to injury:  I broke my glasses.  Grrrr!

So while I’ve been doing the invalid routine, I’ve gotten bugger all writing done; it requires more strength and concentration than I had in me.  But I have gotten piles and piles of reading done, which is very good.  My To Be Read pile of books was getting pretty enormous; either it was gonna soon reach critical mass and explode, or it was going to gain sentience and attempt world domination.  Or both.  Either way, it wasn’t gonna be pretty, so taking advantage of this opportunity to shrink it down was a good thing.

So one of the offerings that’s been on The Pile for a bit is a pair of books entitled Six Gun Tarot and Shotgun Arcana, written by R. S. Belcher. They are part of what Goodreads calls The Golgotha series (only two books in the series, so far; would that be a duology?).

I think this books is Steampunk. Sort of?  It’s set in the Old West, Nevada, 1869.  This definitely falls in the Weird category:  no steam technology, none of the optimism I have come to expect from Steampunk offerings.  This is as though H.P. Lovecraft decided to write an episode of the old Wild Wild West tv show.  Dark, weird stuff.

So the setting, like I said, is Nevada, in a town called Golgotha (for those of you who aren’t up to date on your Sunday School classes, Golgotha is a place in the Bible, the hill outside Jerusalem where Christ was crucified; yeah, kinda says it all about our story setting).  Golgotha looks like a town right out of Central Casting:  respectable town at the bottom of a mountain, mining concern and all the raucous Wild West excitement that comes with miners, enclave of inscrutable Chinese near the mines, colony of Mormons (this one surprised me) down in the respectable part of town, whores and cowboys everywhere.  You get the idea.

Except there’s more to Golgotha than Central Casting.  All the weird in the country is somehow attracted to our little town.  It’s like the Old West’s answer to Sunnydale.    Vampires, werewolves, Lovecraftian nightmares, ghosts, these turn up so often that the good townspeople have stopped even commenting on them.

Not that the townspeople are all that normal.  Mayor Pratt, a Mormon church leader (and closeted homosexual) is the secret guardian of certain ancient LDS artifacts.  Sheriff Hightower bears the scars of the noose on his throat, and has some uncanny anti-Murphy’s-Law thing going on so that, no matter how bad the situation, he can’t be killed.  Deputy Mutt is an Indian and a were-coyote, his pal Jim (who is our entry into the story when he arrives in town) is the carrier of an artifact of the gods. Maude Stapleton, one of the ladies of the town, is a trained assassin and follower of a cult of Lilith, which apparently gives her superhuman powers and unnaturally long life.  Ch’eng, the leader of the Chinese criminal element, is the holder of much ancient, esoteric knowledge.

This is one of my problems with the book. Even the homeless dudes have flashbacks and backstory, an we are forced to sit through all of it.  All.  Of.  It.  I appreciate that in real life, everybody has a story, a depth and a reason for why they ended up where they are.  But in the world of fiction, there simply isn’t enough room to cover every detail of every spear-carrier.  A good author learns to pick and choose only those stories that have bearing on the main narrative.  Mr. Belcher had to put in everything.  And his timing for those flashbacks was odd.  For example, Maude Stapleton’s flashback came in the first 20% of the book, which was fine, in an of itself.  But once he had given her story, he dropped her.  Completely.  She just disappeared from the story entirely until the last 20% of the book.  By then, I had forgotten who she was, and had to go back and re-read, to remind myself why I gave a crap about who this person was.  This happened over and over; there was so much information thrown at me so quickly and over such an odd timeline that I needed a flipping scorecard to keep track of who did what.

The plot was okay:  the mine, which had been played out, has been reopened by a group who are seeking something evil and Lovecraftian under the mountain. Of course they find it, and it comes out to possess half the town into evil zombies.  After that, it’s up to the good guys to stop the invasion, destroy the Evil, and stop the bad guys who dug up said evil.  Not bad; not particularly inspired or original, but not bad.

So, in short, I liked the setting, the plot was okay, and the characters annoyed me, not so much because they were badly written, as much as because there were too many and too busy.  Out of five stars, I’d give the book a solid three.  If you like Weird West stories, go for it, but don’t expect miracles.

On the other hand, I did not like the sequel, Shotgun Arcana, at all.  Same setting, which is great.  Same characters, with the same problems as before:  every new appearance, even by an old character, spawned a new series of flashbacks that drown the narrative in a deluge of minutiae.

But what killed the story for me was the bad guys.  Okay, the plot, as far as I got, is that a fallen angel, seeking to gain an artifact in Golgotha, is summoning an army of evil to come here an lay waste to the town.  Okay, a little far-fetched,but I’m willing to roll with it so far.  But our author gives 23 three flashbacks — Twenty Three, I’m not kidding, the same number as there are arcana in a tarot deck, not coincidentally — one for each incoming baddie.  Twenty three is waaaaaaay too many.  How do you tell them apart?  Why should I care about twenty three?  Give them names, sure, give backstories to a couple of the major players.  But every one?  Too much; I stopped caring.

And the flashbacks?  I understand that he wanted our baddies to be extra bad. But there’s such a thing as stretching credulity to the breaking point.  Every baddie is a serial killer, most of them are cannibals, and many had body counts in the hundreds.  And that’s where the story lost me.  The backstories were appallingly graphic and gross, but I can roll with that. But the most prolific serial killer in real life didn’t have a body count like these guys.  And there were 23 of them, and not only was there not a hue and cry for the killers’ heads, nobody has even noticed babies being eaten???  My imagination is pretty good, but even I couldn’t go that far. I stopped reading.

So the verdict on Shotgun Arcana:  avoid it. It wasn’t worth the money I spent on it.

So that pretty much covers it for me today.  Hopefully my health issues are settled down to the point where there will be no more prolonged disappearances from me.  I really am sorry bout that.  But not it’s time for me to get warm and watch the snow fall here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  For y’all, you know the routine:  share, comment, tweet, email.  You can contact me at the addy in the About page.  Send along your submissions for Fun Friday.  And I’ll talk to you on Wednesday!

Categories: books, Review, Steampunk | 3 Comments

Solomon Kane

Monday morning is here again, and things are restless here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia. For starters, it’s snowing, which sucks in a big big way. Appalachian roads are notorious for being twisty, winding things; my mom always said, “When they laid this road, they didn’t move a single tree or cow.”  And to make the twisty bits even more horrible, they go up and down hills, too. So hilly, twisty roads plus snow equals dangerous, scary travel.  Blech.  Besides, I hate the cold; I much prefer summer.

The second source of restlessness for me is that I have a medical procedure — a combination endoscopy and colonoscopy — scheduled for bright and early tomorrow morning. It’s all to do with why I vanished from the blog through the Christmas season; the doctor is hoping to see what has been causing the problems.  So we do the thing tomorrow morning, and this means I have to fast all day today; nothing but clear liquids and a growly tummy until after lunchtime tomorrow.   I’m hungry!  I’ve only gotten back the ability to eat without horrible pain!  I know, I know, I can tough it out,where’s that hillbilly pluck?  Yeah, well, I have plenty of pluck, but I still want some scrambled eggs and fried potatoes.

 

Robert E. Howard, age 28, two years before his death

So enough whinging.  I have spent the last few days reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, by Robert E. Howard.  Those of you who have spent more than ten minutes in the world of classic pulp has heard of Robert E. Howard:  he’s the creator of Conan the Barbarian.  Howard is a strange and really fascinating character in his own right.  He was born, raised and died in the town of small town Texas.  This picture below is one of him only two years before he died; I’ve always thought it reflected the dichotomy of the man brilliantly.  On the one hand, he’s dressed and posed to look like he should have been running with Al Capone and his cronies in crooked gangland Chicago; tough as nails.  But I look at his face and he looks so young, so innocent of what’s coming.

Just like the picture, Howard was a divided man.  This is a man whose earliest passions were for poetry and stories; but he also spent part of his youth studying boxing and bodybuilding.  Howard never married, and was in every sense a “mama’s boy” (he never married, lived with his mother until his dying day; he killed himself upon being told that his mother wasn’t going to wake from a coma; she died the next day)  But at the same time, he was the creator of one of the most iconic action heroes in 20th century letters, Conan the Barbarian, and the founder of what some call “The Sacred Genre,” sword and sorcery.

Howard was a prolific writer throughout his professional career. He never published a novel, but his short stories and poetry covered sword and sorcery, historical straight adventure, boxing stories, westerns, and some horror, pretty much covering the waterfront of pulp fiction in the 1920’s and 30’s.  I first heard about him because he was a contemporary of and correspondent with H. P. Lovecraft.  He even wrote several stories for the Cthulhu Mythos.

But what brings me to mention him today is Solomon Kane.  Now I saw the Conan the Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, same as every other member of my generation.  This motivated me to hunt down Howard’s original stories, and I read ten or twelve of them (there were 21 completed stories, plus a number of unfinished fragments).  I didn’t care for them.  I know, they are iconic, they are the foundation for Sword and Sorcery, blah blah, I know all this.  My problem was that the stories felt disconnected.  After reading 10 of them, I didn’t feel like I understood Conan the character any better than I did after reading the first sentence of the first one.

Whatever, right?  I was young, barely 17 at the time, so what did I know?  I set the stories aside and got on with my life.  I occasionally read his horror shorts if I happened across one (“Pigeons from Hell” will give you nightmares forever!), but I was not motivated to seek out anything specifically until I heard of Solomon Kane through a fellow writer.  It had been thirty years since my disappointment with Conan; it was past time to give Howard another try.

First, what is Solomon Kane?  Like Conan, Solomon Kane is a short story series created by Howard.  He is a Puritan… well, I guess paladin is the best word for him.  He has no backstory and no motivation beyond “God thinks I should kill these people.”  He is a wanderer in 16-17th century Europe and Africa (kinda loosey-goosey on a firm timeline), using a rapier and occasionally a flintlock pistol (later picking up a magic staff) to protect the innocent and crush the evil-doer beneath his boot. Solomon went up against mundane pirates, murderers and other ne’er-do-wells, but he also went toe to toe with vampires, demons, demi-gods and evil wizards; since the first Kane stories predate Conan and Kull (another one of Howard’s creations), they can be argued to be the true foundation of the Sword and Sorcery genre.  These stories were very popular, even more so than Conan in Howard’s lifetime, and continue to be well-received even today, spawning several comic book appearances (with Marvel and Dark Horse Comics) and a 2009 movie.  I have not checked out the comics or movie, so I can’t yet report back on those.

Now, on to Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.  This is a complete collection, comprising all the completed short stories, several unfinished fragments, and a couple of poems.  The stories are for the most part pretty short, and very succinct; they do not spare a syllable on fluff.  If there’s anything Howard does well, it’s give you plenty of bang for your buck, with the action starting as soon as humanly possible, and keeping it going for as long as necessary.  He doesn’t spare the gore, either, which surprised me, considering how prissy some of the writing from the 1920’s can be; there’s plenty of blood, guys cutting off limbs and stabbing each other through the eye, etc.

Truth be told, Solomon Kane is what I imagine a true paladin would be like:  humorless, dour, driven, judgmental, scary.  A proper paladin would be less like Sir Galahad, and more like the assistant principal at your school, the one who desperately needs a rectal stick-ectomy.  Only, you know, heavily armed and all.  But beyond this, nothing.  I have no idea why Kane is bent on this creepy crusade, what keeps him going, what pleases him, what frightens him.  Nothing.

This is what bugged me about Conan.

Readers (and writers) can be safely divided into those who revel in a good plot, and those who revel in a good character.  I am one of those who needs to be able to connect to the character.  With the best characters, I have this feeling of, “I wish I could be friends with him!” or “I wish I could be her!”  AT the very least, I need to think, “I wouldn’t choose to do that, but I understand why he chose differently.”  No. I couldn’t do it with Kane.  He’s like a marble statue animated; he is smooth and well-carved,but there’s no texture, nothing to give me a firm grasp on who or what he is.  Even James Bond has more depth to him, and Bond (in the books and the movies) is practically the poster child for “no back story.”  Maybe that’s not a problem for you as a reader.  For me, it’s a deal breaker.

Beyond that, if you check this one out, be warned:  racism and sexism are very much on display.  It’s part of the times, I understand that; Howard was writing in the Deep South in the heyday of Jim Crow.  And he is better than his contemporary H.P. Lovecraft; at least Howard was willing to allow for black characters to be good and heroic occasionally.  But the blatant racist mindset is very jarring to encounter if you’re not expecting it. Same with the sexism:  woman are either Madonna or whore, perfectly good and innocent or blackhearted vipers; no middle ground.  This is less surprising to me, coming from a man who never married and, so far as I can find out, never even went on a date, AND had an unhealthy attachment to his mother (remember why he killed himself?).

If you can deal with that — lots of action, essentially no character development, the foundations of a huge genre, but lots of racism and sexism — then I can wholeheartedly say that Solomon Kane is a character you should check out.  Otherwise, give Kane a pass; check out Howard’s horror stuff instead.

And that’s it for me.  I got a little longwinded, huh?  Sorry about that.  All prayers for tomorrow turning out well will be welcome; I’m not afraid, but I desperately hope the tests will finally give us some answers.  In the meantime, don’t forget to email, share, tweet and comment; and send along your recommendations for Fun Friday.  Be good, and I’ll be back on Wednesday (Okay, I’ll be back on Wednesday if you’re not good).

Categories: books, Classic pulp, Comic/Graphic Novels, Pulp, Review, Video | Leave a comment

October Flurry: War of the Worlds

You should all be so glad you can’t see the shameless happy dance I’ve been doing all around the treetop lair since early this morning.  IT’S OCTOBER!!!!!  You cheerful poinsettia-hugging, tinsel-waving types are welcome to The Silly Season; Halloween is the best holiday ever!  Screw that fat house-breaker Santa Claus, give me bloodsucking creatures of the night, and mind-breaking Lovecraftian horrors!

I grew up on a farm in a farming community.  Even now, my nearest neighbors (other than Big Sister) are half a mile down the road; back then, a mile between houses was average.  Trick or treat outings (and most other Halloween traditions) were just not gonna happen.  So our Halloweens were strictly family affairs:  we read scary books, watched scary movies together, told ghost stories (oral storytelling is an important and much-valued part of Appalachian culture), and dreamed up ways to scare each other.  Nobody went cow-tipping (which isn’t really possible, and very dangerous to try), but some delightfully elaborate practical jokes were indulged in that I’m not copping to this year, (because I might want to try them again!). Yeah, Halloween was great in the Clarkson treehouse lair.

I have big plans for ClarksonPunk to celebrate my favorite holiday.  I have decided to try and post every day for the entirety of October.  Fiction Monday will continue as before, so all y’all tuning in to hear more about the crew of Fortuna will not be left hanging for a month.  Fun Fridays will also continue, because I need my fix of pretties; I’ll try to stick to a spooky theme on Fridays, but no guarantees.  But every day between those two landmarks will be devoted to spooky stuff.  You might even get the occasional bit of very short (ie non-serialized) fiction!

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to manage 31 posts in 31 days; that’s a lot of writing on very tight deadlines. But I’m going to give it the old hillbilly try!

Okay, today is October 1, so let’s start things off with a bang.  One of my fondest memories of Halloween is my mother.  No, she was not a wicked witch who sacrificed small children on all Hallow’s Eve (though some of her students suspected it). She was worse:  she was a high school English teacher, the tough teacher who everybody dreaded seeing on their sophomore class schedule and who brooked zero nonsense in her classroom.  I am nearly fifty, and I still have classmates who wouldn’t come visit, for fear Mama was going to make them take a pop quiz or something.  Tough woman in a classroom.

For the record, she was not like that at home; she was a wonderful, funny, brilliant woman.  We lost her this past May after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and I am never going to get over it.

Anyway, as a treat for her students every year, Mama would check out from the library a copy of Mercury Theater on the Air’s performance of War of the Worlds, and play it for her classes on Halloween, instead of doing coursework.  It was always well received.  Moreover, she would play that same recording for us children at home at least once during Halloween week.  I remember sitting in the living room floor, playing cards with my sisters and listening to that scratchy recording of Orson Welles.  That says “Halloween” to me, it always will.

War of the Worlds started its life as a novel by British author H.G. (Herbert George) Wells.  Trained in biology, Wells is considered, along with French author Jules Verne and magazine publisher Hugo Gernsback (namesake of the Hugo Awards) to be one of the fathers of science fiction.  Only a minority of Wells’ writings were science fiction, but they’re the ones that everybody remembers:  The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and, of course, War of the Worlds.  The story is pretty simple:  some meteors crash to Earth, one in Surrey, England (where our unnamed narrator lives).  Those meteors turn out to be spacecraft, and out of them come Martian invaders bent on conquest, driving three legged war machines that look something like this:

Scary stuff, right?  The English call out the military to fight this threat; yeah, that doesn’t work so great and the narrator, along with the population, flee, giving a pretty good impression of a zombie movie:  run, hide, be ugly to one another as resources dwindle, lots and lots of panicking.  Our narrator doesn’t fare terribly well, but he makes it to the end of the book, where the Martians succumb to Terran diseases they had no immunities to (this book is 117 years old, I think the statute of limitations has run out on Spoilers) and the Earth is saved by chicken pox (only not really; the book just says “microbes”).

It’s a good book.  Hell, it’s a great book.  But it’s a decidedly BRITISH book, and I mean that in the kindest sense of the phrase.  The world is going to hell, but our narrator never loses his measured, thoughtful tone of voice; apparently the Brits had a stiff upper lip long before Hitler came along.  For me, once I got used to it, the cool tone made it even more scary, and I can’t really tell you why.  Maybe….. it felt almost fatalistic, in a way, I guess.  it has a “The world is ending, I’m going to die, I must record this accurately before I’m crushed in the Martian War Machine” feeling to it.   I don’t know, it’s a bizarre feeling that’s hard to describe.  But it scared the hell out of me.  However, American readers used to the breathless adrenaline rush of the various movie adaptations might find it strangely distant and, well, measured.  Calm prose in the face of Armageddon; it’s jarring if you’re not expecting it.

War of the Worlds was written in 1897, so it’s firmly planted in the land of Steampunk.  Since then, there have been bunches of adaptations of the book:  radio broadcasts, movies (the best known is the 1953 film starring Gene Barry. Spielberg did one in 2005 with Tom Cruise in the lead; it got good reviews, but I personally didn’t like it), comic books, TV series, and video games.  There was even a Twitter version in August of this year that supposedly got a lot of buzz.

But the most famous adaptation ever is Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of 1938.  In fact, it’s considered one of the most famous radio broadcasts, of anything, in the history of the medium.  In 1937, writer and actor Orson Welles and his fellow actor John Houseman founded Mercury Theater, a production company that performed stage shows out of a small theater in New York City.  They had an offshoot called Mercury Theater on the Air, and had been picked up by CBS, which was still a radio network at the time.  They had a good reputation for good shows, both on the stage and on the radio; you can listen to a bunch of their radio shows here.

Orson Welles’ version of War of the World moved it up to 1938, and to America, specifically Grover’s Mills, New Jersey.  The broadcast itself is stage as a series of breaking news reports, interspersed between sections of what is supposed to be a normally scheduled music show, with Orson Welles, of course in the lead role as the primary reporter on the scene as the Martians appear.  And this format, faux news reports breaking into a regular broadcast, is what caused a lot of fuss. Apparently, lots of people tuned in late, not hearing the bit at the beginning that told that the news reports were pretended.  According to newspapers at the time, lots of people panicked over a “real” Martian invasion, some killed themselves rather than be taken by the invaders, and supposedly the police and emergency services, as well as CBS switchboards were lit up by people calling for help or information.

Nowadays, it’s generally agreed that the “nationwide panic” was widely exaggerated, which makes sense, seeing as how CBS only broadcast to parts of the Atlantic seaboard.  But it sold a lot of papers, it caused a lot of talk, and it made Orson Welles a household name.  It was rumored that he was fired from CBS because of that.  But if I was him, and had caused that much ruckus over a single radio show I wrote, yeah, I’d be sporting a nerd boner for the next fifty years.  It caused the FCC to crack down on radio (and later television), and put a multi-decade moratorium on shows staged to sound like news broadcasts (it’s been a couple times since then, but the TV shows I’ve seen have a constant crawling text at the bottom confirming the story is fictional).

For a good example of a similar event in the UK, check out Ghost Watch, a notorious BBC1 show from 1992.  It purported to be a “live” show about a haunted house, and caused such a fuss that it has never been aired inside the UK since then (though it’s been aired in the U.S. and Canada, is available on DVD, and is bootlegged onto YouTube).  I found it not that scary as I watched it, but it gave some nice creepy nightmares.

BTW:  according to Wikipedia (and more reliably, Jonathan Rosenbaum), Orson Welles and H.G. Wells actually met in person one time.  H.G. supposedly said that he liked the radio broadcast and approved, which no doubt was another nerd boner for Orson.

Do you want to hear the original broadcast?  Here you go:

I enjoy this show and try to listen to it at least once a year, usually during October.  Interestingly enough, it has been remade a couple times, complete with the faux news breaks.  Most of them have tried to duplicate the 1938 feel, the music, the reporting style, etc.  But in 1968, WKBW Radio out of Buffalo, New York, really rebooted it.  They moved the whole story to western New York (to make it local to the radio station), they used modern music and broadcast styles, used real reporters instead of actors, and those reporters worked from an outline rather than a script so that their own modern reporting styles and practices would sound more authentic.  Amazingly enough, it did the same thing again, despite pundits saying such a panic would be impossible in today’s world.  Lots of people thought it was real, and there was a bit of a fuss about the event.  Despite that, it was well received enough that they rebroadcast it several more times.  The 1973 broadcast is available on the Internet Archive here, but I, your intrepid blogger, have found a copy of the original 1968 broadcast, on YouTube.  And here it is:

Okay, that’s about it for me today.  If you’re interested in learning more about War of the Worlds and all its wonderful incarnations, go here:  All things War of the Worlds.  But before you click, do take a moment to share, tweet, comment.  If you have a recommendation for Fun Friday, give me a shout at the email address listed on my About AJ page.  And I’ll see you tomorrow for Day 2 of The October Flurry!

For you, Mama.  I love you.  We all miss you.

Categories: books, Classic pulp, Horror, October Flurry, Pulp, Radio, Science Fiction, Steampunk | 2 Comments

Foundation media: Penny Dreadfuls

Morning, campers!  It’s another meeting of the Order of the Disgruntled Camel, Hump Day, whatever you want to call it, and it is COLD!  I’m both a Southerner and a summer person; I despise the cold.  Add onto that the fact that arthritis is what gave me training wheels (and I’ve had it since I was eleven), so you can guess it’s not so minor; arthritis hates the cold.  So expect a bit of bitching and moaning as last winter’s record colds fed into the coolest summer I can remember in my lifetime and now leads into what is promising to be another miserably cold winter.  And it’s starting early, damn the luck!

Meh. Enough whinging.  I had originally planned to do an article on rationing during World War II.  But in honor of Banned Books week, I decided to talk about books instead.   I have never understood the logic of banning a book.  My parents never censored anything I read, watched, or wrote.  My dad used to say, “All reading is good, whether it’s a comic book, Tolstoy, or the back of a cereal box.”  If I encountered something that was challenging, scary, prurient, etc, well, that’s what Mom and Dad were there for, to talk it over with.  I raised my own children the same way, and I’m proud to say, I now am the happy parent of a quartet of hardcore book junkies.

But not everybody thinks the way my family did.  And, unfathomable to me, some people think that it’s not enough to merely refuse to read something they find objectionable; they simply MUST prevent anybody else from reading it either.  They have the best of motives:  they want to protect the public from the radical, dangerous, disgusting, offensive, and salacious.  Well, I call bullshit! I am an adult.  I will decide for myself.

To ban a book is an act of theft, in my mind.  You ban a book, you’re stealing its contents from me.  You’re stealing information from me, withholding knowledge and insight.  Maybe it’s crap, maybe it’s not.  But how dare you steal it from me!  If I want to fill my mind with dangerous, offensive or salacious crap, that’s my decision, not yours.

I hope you’re the same way, and want to think for yourself.  To that end, here are several links to lists of banned books.  I’ve read a bunch of them on these lists.  Some offended me, some confused me, some were meh. But I’m proud to have read them, and I’ll do it again.   Find them.  Read them.  Keep the lists circulating, and, if you live in a place where a book is banned, find them online.  This is one of the few times I’m all in favor of bootlegging and piracy; if there’s no other legal way to get hold of a book, better to illegally download it than do without because somebody else told you it was bad for you.  If these books offend you, don’t read them again, write bad reviews of them, whatever.  But decide for yourself; nobody gets to decide for you, and you don’t get to decide for anybody else.

Banned Children’s Books

Wikipedia’s (hardly comprehensive) list

A list from the UK

A list from the New York Times

Classic books that have been banned

Okay, I’m putting the soapbox away now, it’s safe to come out of hiding.  All right, remember I said  that periodically I was going to talk about the foundations of our beloved genres, taking a look at media that either directly led to the present day Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp, or were so influential in themselves that they couldn’t help but shape our genres?  Well, here we go again.

If you recall, last week I talked about the TV show “Penny Dreadful.”  That show got its name from the actual books called penny dreadfuls.  They were also called “penny bloods” and “penny numbers” (the “number” was because the issues were usually serialized stories, the issues numbered in order).  So what were penny dreadfuls?  They were books, obviously, the 19th century equivalent of what we’d nowadays call cheap airport novels:  quick, dirty reads, full of sex, violence and sensationalism, written for the lowest common denominator readers, and loved by same.  Think the Victorian equivalent of “Fifty Shades of Gray” or the Twilight novels.

(quick note:  “penny dreadful” in this conversation, refers to the British publications.  It was at first a primarily British phenomenon.  Americans had similar publications at the same time, but were usually called “boy’s papers” or “dime novels.”)

Nowadays, people in the writing business debate endlessly over the differences between Capital-L Literature and the hated “genre” novel.  Both sides have their stances, both have good points and silly notions (the fact is, from the actual act of writing standpoint, there isn’t really that much of a difference between the two, but that’s a conversation for another day).  But many seem to think it’s a 20th and 21st century phenomenon.  That’s silly; there has been such divisions since the invention of the printing press.  Let’s face it:  Gutenburg didn’t print the Bible on his press because he had a high moral character (which he may or may not have had; don’t know, don’t care).  He printed the Bible because he knew he could sell them.  Writers and publishers may have high morals, personal character by the bucketful, and their poop smells like roses. But they gotta pay their heating bills same as everybody else.

What am I getting at?  For every copy of the Great Gatsby that sells, a couple hundred thousand copies of Fifty Shades are sold.  Literature is nice, and has a place.  But the vast maority of people do not have the inclination to read high-minded, intellectual Literature; they want a cheap thrill, a bit of titillation, and, most importantly, a couple hours’ escape from their daily lives. Sensationalism sells.  If a writer or a publisher wants to make a living, he does not ever forget that fact.

a woodcut from Varney the Vampire

That’s what has been happening in publishing since there was such a thing as publishing.  In the 17th and 18th century, the public devoured broadsides over chapbooks.  In the 19th century, it became the penny dreadful.  So what’s a penny dreadful?  It was cheap fiction sold for a penny or half a penny; they had mostly adventures, romances, and violence in the Grand Guignol vein (vein, heh heh heh).  The stories were usually serialized over the course of months, and were woodcut-illustrated with the sort of lurid imagery (a half naked woman bound to a bed, a vampire looming over some helpless child, a masked man on a horse, brandishing pistols) that would feel right at home on any classic pulp novel or modern B-movie poster.

“But this was the age of Dickens and Trollope, of Leo Tolstoy and Victor Hugo, some of the most brilliant literature of any century!  Who was buying this lurid trash and why?”  I’m glad you asked (but you didn’t ask — shush!  I’m expounding)

cover illustration Sweeney Todd

The 19th century saw the beginning of a lot more than just the Industrial Revolution.  It saw major cities like New York and London explode in population as people left the countryside to find work in the factories.  It also saw a rise in the general literacy rates. The poor and the working class had at least a passing familiarity with books and reading, and they hungered for entertainment (TV and the internet not having been invented yet).  For a while, they had what we’d call tabloid newpapers:  magazines and newspapers that specialized in the sensational.

I know, I know:  Dickens.  Right, Dickens was a huge seller, and his appeal crossed all social classes.  But he was just one guy, the Stephen King of his day.  No way he could single handedly feed the hunger of all those new readers.

So what was I saying before I got sidetracked?  Oh, right, penny dreadfuls.  These books were cheaply printed on cheap pulp paper, and they made no pretense of literary merit.  They were meant to appeal to (usually) young lower class men.  And just like today, you want to appeal to young men, you better be writing sex, violence and action, and lots of it.

woodcut from Black Bess

Varney the Vampire was probably the most famous penny dreadful of all time.  (it’s free online!  You can read it here).  He is the archetype of vampire fiction, consolidating a wide array of folklore and locking down the tropes we now consider de rigeur for vampires:  the puncture wounds in the neck, the superhuman strength, mind control/hypnosis.  All those appeared first in Varney the Vampire.  It was even the first appearance of the Anne-Rice-like angsty “sympathetic” vampire.  Are you getting me: this thing was HUGE. It was a big influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, right on up through Buffy and those horny bloodsuckers in True Blood.

My British readers will recognize another hero from the pages of the penny dreadfuls:  Dick Turpin.  Dick Turpin was a real thief from the 18th century, pretty famous in his day.  There were several sensational pieces written about him throughout the 18th and 19th century, the most well known of which was Black Bess or the Knight of the Road, you guessed it, a penny dreadful.  Which may explain how he went from being a sleazy poacher, horse thief and highwayman who killed two people and betrayed his fellow gang members to a romantic highwayman and quasi-Robin-Hood figure  (again, free online from Barnes and Noble; you can read it here).

Okay, this is still the Victorian era; like Jekyll and Hyde, the Victorians were not at all opposed to a little sex and violence, but they didn’t want it out where everybody could watch.  So there was a general outcry against the penny dreadfuls.  Along came a fellow named Alfred Harmsworth.  He decided to introduce story papers with more morally upright stories, and sell them for half a penny, undercutting the cost of the dreadfuls.  It sorta worked, but it wasn’t long before Harmsworth (and his imitators, he wasn’t the only one) was printing the same sort of sensational stuff the dreadfuls had exploited.  Like I said, sensationalism sells.  I bring up Harmsworth in particular because he introduced something that became huge later on:  the comic book.  Basically it was his half penny story paper, only with the story told in pictures.  How huge a success were these?  Umm, Harmsworth used his profits to launch a couple of tiny, insignificant straight London newspapers:  The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail.  Yeah, comics were a big success for him.

Long story short (too late!), the penny dreadful never quite died out, though they evolved over time.  Dime novels were the American version, and the birthplace of the romantic mystique of the Wild West and the cowboy, among others.  They were also, if not the birthplace, at least the nursery of early 20th century science fiction, with Tom Swift and his contemporaries.  And from there, where did they lead?  The pulps, naturally.

The penny dreadfuls were more than a foundation for Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp; they are our literary ancestors, a direct bloodline from the past right up to the stuff you find on Amazon.com today.  Tropes carry over from that day to this, like in Varney the Vampire.  Simply the idea of mass market publishing, aiming at a specific demographic and tailoring your stories to appeal to that demographic came to fruition in the penny dreadful.  Steampunk is, whether it knows it or not, is often an imitation of the themes, atmosphere and sensibilities of the penny bloods; Dieselpunk is a 20th century reincarnation of the same. And without the penny dreadful, there would be no modern pulps or comics.

If you want to read more, check here for two pretty good archives of period British penny dreadfuls and American dime novels.

Stanford University collection of American Dime Novels

An informative page with a small selection of British penny dreadfuls

a small collection of woodcuts from penny dreadfuls

Wow.  I got a little long-winded, didn’t I?  Sorry.  What can I say, it’s a fascinating subject for me.  I read Varney the Vampire back in the day, and enjoyed the heck out of it.  I’m such a nerd.  But that’s it for me today.  Next up is Fun Friday; if you have any ideas for what would make a good subject for Fun Friday, contact me at the email address on my About AJ page.  Even if you don’t have a recommendation, please do tweet, share, and comment; your feedback is all the pay I get for my literary meanderings.  In the meantime, be good (and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!) and remember, only 37 more days to Halloween!

Categories: books, Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, Foundation media, History, Pulp, Steampunk | 9 Comments

Foundations: The Godfather (1972)

Ojez!  Ojez! The members of the Order of the Disgruntled Camel, draw near and take heed!   Welcome to another Hump Day.  It’s a beautiful, sunny day in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, and I have spent my morning writing my little fingers plumb off.  And I have more to go! But first, I couldn’t push on without giving to you, my loyal readers, another treasury of my thoughts on the world of Dieselpunk, Steampunk and New Pulp.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about some Foundation media.  What I mean by that are movies, books, TV shows and music that are not Steampunk/Dieselpunk/Pulp themselves, but they are seminal works that inform the genres.  Some of the foundations I would like to hit are penny dreadfuls (the 19th century’s answer to pulp fiction, not the HBO series, though we’ll be talking about that eventually), the TV show Wild Wild West, the works of H.G Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson, early comic strips and comic books, and like that.  Any suggestions?

Okay, first up:  The Godfather movies.

The Godfather

The Godfather, was made in 1972, by director Francis Ford Coppola, and starring the legendary Marlon Brando in the title role, and Al Pacino, then a relatively newcomer to the movie world.  The story, set in the years between 1945 and 1950, follows the Corleone family, father Vito (Brando), his three sons Santino (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale) and Michael (Pacino), his daughter Constanzia (Talia Shire), plus one adopted son-cum-consiglieri Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall) as they try to live their lives under the shadow of the Mafia. The movie, and its sequels are based on the book of the same name by Mario Puzo, which was an enormously successful bestseller (and a good read; I recommend it highly)

Vito Corleone is the founder and current Godfather, or leader, of the Corleone Crime family.  He owns land, businesses all over New York City, he has politicians, cops and businessmen on his payroll.  In short, the Corleones are the most powerful of the Five Families, the various mobs that rule the state, and possible the country.  Santino (known as Sonny to practically everybody) is the heir apparent to his father’s position, despite his being a womanizer and a hothead.  Fredo, the middle son, is a sweet, weak man, unsuited to the life he was born to, and therefore shunted aside.  Michael, the youngest, and our hero, is the smartest of the boys, the one best suited to follow in his father’s footsteps.  But the problem is that he hates the Mafia, he hates the way his father earns his money and power, and has gone out of his way to buck the expectations of his father; he went against the family to go to college, to join the army during WWII, and now is seriously dating Kay (Diane Keaton) a Protestant and non-Italian.  The story starts at the wedding of Constanzia to sleazy creep Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo).

Interesting note:  when they were shooting this movie, they had a lot of contact with real mafiosi.  There’s a famous bit where hitman Luca Brasi gives this awkward speech of congratulations for Constanzia’s marriage.  This was played by a man named Lenny Montana, a former pro wrestler turned enforcer, arsonist and bodyguard for the REAL Mafia, specifically the Columbo Family.  As soon as the producers saw him, they had to have him in the movie.  The awkwardness of his little speech was not put on; Montana was so terrified to be playing opposite the great Marlon Brando that he couldn’t give them a clean take.  Coppola actually changed the script so he could leave the clumsy take intact, explaining it away as Luca Brasi being overwhelmed at the honor of being invited to the wedding.

Anyway, the wedding introduces most of the characters and establishes everybody’s relationships to one another.  But meat of the story involves heroin smuggling/dealing.  Seems there’s this new player in town, Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) who is the best at this heroin business.  He and his backers in the Tattaglia crime family want Corleone to come into the business with them, bringing his political clout to bear to keep the cops off the operation.  Corleone refuses, and this is not well received.  They try to strong-arm the family into cooperating, mostly by shooting Vito.  This leads to full on war.  Michael wants to stay away from it, but gets pulled in, and eventually ends up assassinating The Turk.  Things escalate from there, Michael flees the country, Santino dies, Vito recovers, there’s a lot of deaths, and the Corleone Family nearly gets eaten by the other families.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but in short, Michael reluctantly ends up in his father’s place as Godfather, and not only taking charge, but doing so in a bloodbath that consolidates his power and confirms him as a man every bit as cold and ruthless as his father.

When I was in school, we talked about the classic definition of a tragedy.  To wit, a classic tragedy is where a man has is given a choice, and, even knowing it’s wrong, he is bound by his own flaws to choose the path to self-destruction.  The Godfather is practically a primer in the classic tragedy.  Michael knows joining the mafia is bad, and he doesn’t want to do it.  But step by step he digs himself in a little deeper, until finally it’s too late, and he can’t get out.

In case you’re interested, and have also been living under a rock for the last thirty years, there are two sequels to this movie.  The Godfather Part II, made in 1974, follows Michael deeper into the Mafia and his personal path of self-destruction; the tragedy pays off as his role in the Corleone family ends up destroying his family, his marriage and everything he holds dear.  Many consider it to be a better movie than the first; it won 7 Academy Awards and made a small fortune.  The third movie, The Godfather Part III came out in 1990.  I didn’t like this movie, so I’m not going to say anything nice about it.

BTW:  if you’re a diehard fan like me, or a newbie wanting to know more, check out the Godfather Wiki.

Okay, so what does this have to do with Dieselpunk and New Pulp?  I mean, movies about The Mafia and organized crime in general have been around almost as long as movies themselves. What makes The Godfather so special?

What makes The Godfather so special is that it was special.  Before Puzo, the Mafia was different.  It wasn’t nearly as well organized as it appears in the books and movies.   Al Capone didn’t run his organization the way Vito Corleone did, with capos and families and soldiers.  Mafiosi were thugs; thugs working together to powerful results, yes, but still thugs, uneducated, violent, and mostly unsophisticated.  In many cases, they were organized as haphazardly as your average youth street gang.  What Puzo — and later Coppola — did was romanticize and glamorize the Mafia.  He took a bunch of thugs and dressed them up in college degrees and nice suits and pinky rings and gave them tragedy, romance, and pathos.  No, mafiosi aren’t mouth-breathing bullies, pimps and killers; they’re sophisticated, noble men, more Robin Hood than Charlie Manson.  He made them look good.  And the Mafia noticed, don’t think they didn’t.  They began to shape their individual behaviors and their group dynamics so that it mirrored what they saw in the movies.  And why not?  Everybody wants to look and feel more glamorous and romantic, even thugs.

And, more importantly, the movies shaped the way the public perceived the Mafia.  Look at me:  I’m a granny from the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  The closest thing I’ve seen to a Sicilian is the kid named Tony who sat in front of me in 7th grade algebra (last name was O’Leary or O’Pell, something O’Irish, so there goes the Italian angle); I wouldn’t know a genuine mafiosi if he bit me on the caboose.  What I know of the Mafia is what I’ve read in books and seen in the movies.  And the movie that is the shining diamond, the movie by which all other mob movies are judged?  The Godfather.

The Mob figures largely in a not-insignificant proportion of Dieselpunk and New Pulp stories.  It only stands to reason that The Godfather would influence how the Mafia is depicted in those stories.  Writers and artists are as much influenced by popular culture as anybody else.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Vaguely organized street thugs, while dangerous and scary, just don’t have the same level of threat for our heroes as a carefully orchestrated, Machiavellian Mafia does.  Bullies and pimps don’t have the sweeping scope or the tragic romance of a Corleone type organization, no matter how criminal.  The influence of the Godfather enriches our new stories of the Pulp world, and we are better off for it.

And that’s it from me.  You know the drill:  comment, tweet ,share, email if you have something to share for Fun Friday.  Next up is, well, I just said it:  Fun Friday.   Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: books, Dieselpunk, Foundation media, History, Pulp, Video | 3 Comments

Fun Friday! Dieselpunk Ahoy!

Fun Friday Strikes Again!  I hope your week went well, and I can only imagine what sort of exciting weekends you might have planned.  For myself, we’re expecting a visit from Princess Lydia Saree, from the Floating Island of Silent Whispers, who is visiting the darkest jungles of Appalachia on a diplomatic mission.  She turns 22 on Saturday, so we’re planning to give her a party, an elegant and restrained affair, as is the tradition of the native Appalachian Hillbilly.

In the meantime, I owe you, my loyal readers, a glimpse of the wonders that I have found in my explorations through the Ether.  And I am here to deliver.

First, let’s talk web series.  I have found a doozy for you.  The Danger Element is a 2013-14 project by web-video auteur John Soares.  (You can find out more about Soares here) .  It’s pulp/dieselpunk fun, an action adventure about a young man, a member of a secret society of crime fighters, who joins his sister in a quest to find a mysterious element that may bring their father back from the dead.  Unfortunately, they are opposed in their quest by men with dark and sinister plans of their own.  Soares is known online for his martial-arts heavy stories, and this one is no exception.  I also really like the Dieselpunk aesthetic which he captures beautifully:  great sets, terrific costumes, and OH MY GOD what cool guns and props!  Seriously, wow.

There are twelve episodes in this (finished!) story, and the entire playlist can be found here.  But to whet your appetite, here’s the teaser…

It might behoove you to do a little YouTube surfing and find out what else John Soares is up to.  With just a little browsing, I found this, which appears to be a series of vlogs purportedly from a … well, he’s a….  Okay, I’m not sure what he is.  Imagine Invader Zim and Doctor Horrible had an illegitimate alien child, and raised him to think he’s Ming the Merciless.  Yeah.  It’s weird.  Anyway, he’s preparing our planet for his imminent arrival and the subjugation of our species.  If he can work out how to make his iPad work.  I haven’t watched all of it, but so far, it’s pretty fun, pulpy goodness.  Here’s a teaser….

On a quieter note, I’ve found an online archive of pulp magazines.  The Pulp Magazines Project is “an open-access digital archive dedicated to the study and preservation of one of the twentieth century’s most influential literary & artistic forms: the all-fiction pulpwood magazine”  to quote their home page.  The site itself is beautiful to look at (if a little clumsy to navigate), and they have galleries of cover art, articles on the history of the genre.  Of course they have facsimiles of the magazines themselves, and a jaw-droppingly extensive bibliography.  The downside is that the linking is not as comprehensive as I would like, which is a pity.  But still, definitely worth checking out if you’re addicted to all things Pulp.  Look here.

Okay, I thought I had one more tidbit for you.  But I want to do a bit more research before I put my stamp of approval on it.  So I think I’m going to leave off here.  I do hope you have fun with the links.  In the meantime, don’t forget to comment, share, tweet, and email and share your Fun Friday recommendations.  Communication is the lifeblood of the blogger, you know.  Enjoy your weekends!

 

 

Categories: books, Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, DIY, Fun Friday, Pulp, Science Fiction, Video | Leave a comment

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