Monday, October 10, 2011

Reprint: Shambleau (Old School Heretic)

This article is reprinted from Old School Heretic.

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 Shambleau is very likely C. L. Moore's most famous story.  It concerns her hero Northwest Smith encountering a weird, un-woman-being called a 'Shambleau' on Mars.  The locals are gathered together in a lynch mob to kill the thing and Smith, being the macho adventurer-dude who thinks with his gun, jumps into the fray to defend what he sees as a fairly defenseless and very feminine victim.

All het up and ready for a fight, Smith stands up to the mob and instead of having to crack a few heads like he expected, he finds they instead are revulsed, disgusted and incredulous that he's not only come to the shambleau's defense, but that he claims it as his--the shambleau (obviously female) is claimed as some thing--if not exactly someone--that he fully intends to defend personally against the angry mob.  There's something about his taking possession of the shambleau that somehow almost feels like it is bordering on quasi-bestiality more than any trace of atavistic chivalry.  The mob reacts to his declaring that the shambleau is his with confusion, displeasure and outright incredulous disgust.  This scene is important to the overall piece as it allows Moore to evoke a miasmic whiff of potential bestiality and the spectre of miscegenation both and she does it skillfully, making your skin crawl slightly without overtly hammering the point home like HPL might have (Like the Anti-Tarzan Arthur Jermyn or the immigrant riff-raff in Horror at Red Hook or the Call of Cthulhu...just to pick three quick/easy/obvious examples).  In 1933 in the USA it was illegal for mixed-race couples to get married in most, if not all of the states.  The civil rights movement was more than thirty years ahead in the future when Moore wrote this story.  The whole sordid business of race purity doctrines, politics rooted in eugenics and the scientific ethnic cleansing of the populations of Europe and Russia were just getting going.  Sweden, for example maintained race hygiene policies up until the Seventies.  It wasn't just Nazis who were interested in human biology and applying modern agricultural techniques to human beings.  But that's a very loaded and very tangential area, so we'll just skirt by it this time out.  For our purposes, it's enough, for now, to simply keep in mind that racism was very much part and parcel of nearly everything back in the Thirties and the notion of half-human races of semi-aboriginal/quasi-mulatto (pseudo-quadroon?) hybrids and half-breeds out amongst the periphery of civilization was fairly commonplace throughout early science fiction.  It wasn't just Edgar Rice Burroughs who had the local humanoid egg-laying aliens turn out to be physically (and reproductively) compatible with the good, hearty stock of terran humanity.  It also didn't start with Roddenberry's ultra-famous space-satyr Captain Kirk who left a trail of his seed across dozens of worlds either.

Back to C. L. Moore and Shambleau.  After Smith rescues the shambleau from the angry mob he leads the thing back to his rooms.  He acts in the heat of the moment and doesn't really think about what he's doing, he just spontaneously comes to the defense of a frightened female in distress.  He's a slave of his glands, and his upbringing, which is very clearly an idealized form of noble chauvanism.  He saw a pseudo-woman in trouble and leaped into the fray to protect her.  Standard operating procedure.  She might have been an axe-murderer for all he knew, but that doesn't stop Smith.  It's not until they get a moment away from the threat of mob violence that it finally occurs to Smith what he has done.  Maybe, just maybe the creature exerted some influence upon his mind or his nervous system to get him to come to her aid, but Moore is cagey and never reveals that detail.  We're left with the impression that Smith is impulsive and rash and that he tends to leap without looking, a real daredevil, devil-may-care sort of vagabond adventurer.  The kind of guy who gets himself into sticky situations that are fun to read about.  He's definitely not an accountant who lives at home with his mother, six cats and a host of neuroses and allergies.

He examines the shambleau and it's not what he was expecting at all, not that he was really expecting anything at all...though he did realize that the thing is female and that triggered his chivalric impulse...or was it something a bit more carnal in nature?  The subtle allure of the shambleau seems to co-mingle both an almost pheromonal aspect with a vaguely mesmeric come-hither gaze, making it a truly effective femme fatale.  Moore describes the shambleau's eyes as:
"They were frankly green as young grass, with slit-like, feline pupils that pulsed unceasingly, and there was a look of dark, animal wisdom in their depths -- that look of the beast which sees more than man."
Then it gets slightly more racy as Smith looks at the thing that he has rescued and thinks to himself:
"After all, she was no more than a pretty brown girl-creature from one of the many half-human races peopling the planets."
Yep.  A pretty brown girl-creature.  A grateful female from one of the obscure half-human races that were to be found all over the backwater regions of various other planets, the vaguely humanoid minority underclass beings who didn't have any real, formal place in society.  And hey, she was already partly human, so someone else already committed the really unpardonable crime of mixing the blood, of miscegenation, previously, thus it wasn't anywhere near as bad as that were Smith to consider relations with this fragile-seeming, obviously persecuted and oh so vulnerable female with the smooth, sweet brown skin...if Moore missed any opportunity to pile on the racial/sexual innuendo and erotic implications in this encounter, it wasn't for lack of trying.

Moore deftly and skillfully evokes eroticism without stooping to blatant Romance Novel language nor by hitting the reader over the head with it, she's very sly and stealthy and subtle--just like a shambleau would be--and she builds up the hints and clues and implications like a net of incense smoke in moonlight, never quite coming out and saying it, but then lingering long enough to let the idea of what she's intimating sink in almost osmotically, like a text-borne drug or the luminous malevolence of the unforgettable eyes of Florence Marley in the classic 1966 space-vampire movie Queen of Blood--featuring one of the most shambleau-like movie monsters so far.  But of course the vampiric-Queen is green rather than brown...and she's a blood-drinker not a vitality draining addictive co-dependent...but you can't have everything.  The trailer is right below:


If you're interested, you can watch the entire movie (cut up into parts) of Queen of Blood at YouTube.  It's a bit dated, but still one of the better space-vampire movies, and like I said, the vampiric Queen comes pretty close to being a shambleau.  At least as close as I've seen so far.

 
"She had risen soundlessly. He turned to face her, sheathing his gun and stared at first with curiosity and then in the entirely frank openness with which men regard that which is not wholly human. For she was not. He knew it at a glance, though the brown, sweet body was shaped like a woman's and she wore the garment of scarlet—he saw it was leather—with an ease that few unhuman beings achieve toward clothing. He knew it from the moment he looked into her eyes, and a shiver of unrest went over him as he met them. They were frankly green as young grass, with slit-like, feline pupils that pulsed unceasingly, and there was a look of dark, animal wisdom in their depths—that look of the beast which sees more than man."
Frank openess.  Brown, sweet body.  She has a body that is blatantly shaped like a woman's.  Clingy red leather.  You can almost hear a porn movie guitar in the background. That there 'shiver of unrest' is a nice touch.  Does anyone doubt that Mister Smith has wood at this point?  But alas, Moore is too refined to refer to her male protagonist experiencing a boner.  It was a simpler, less vulgar time that she was writing for, not like today where we'd get way too much in the way of graphic description with nothing left to the imagination.

And it is in the imagination that Moore's shambleau works her feral-erotic black magic best.
"There was no hair upon her face—neither brows nor lashes, and he would have sworn that the tight scarlet turban bound around her head covered baldness. She had three fingers and a thumb, and her feet had four digits apiece too, and all sixteen of them were tipped with round claws that sheathed back into the flesh like a cat's. She ran her tongue over her lips—a thin, pink, flat tongue as feline as her eyes—and spoke with difficulty. He felt that that throat and tongue had never been shaped for human speech."
She ain't from around here.  She's a stranger in these parts, much like Smith himself.  The pseudo-cat's claws make her oh so slightly more dangerous, yet they also hint at a cat-in-heat, perhaps...the thin, pink tongue likewise reinforces the symbolism and is another very sensual cue or hint.  The creature might be not-quite-human, but she's not shy and very possibly aroused and you know that Smith is thinking impure, immodest thoughts.
"Not—afraid now," she said softly, and her little teeth were white and polished as a kitten's.
"What did they want you for?" he asked her curiously. "What have you done? Shambleau . . . is that your name?"
"I—not talk your—speech," she demurred hesitantly.
"Well, try to—I want to know. Why were they chasing you? Will you be safe on the street now, or hadn't you better get indoors somewhere? They looked dangerous."
"I—go with you." She brought it out with difficulty.
"Say you!" Smith grinned. "What are you, anyhow? You look like a kitten to me."
"Shambleau." She said it somberly.
"Where d'you live? Are you a Martian?"
"I come from—from far—from long ago—far country—"
"Wait!" laughed Smith. "You're getting your wires crossed. You're not a Martian?"
She drew herself up very straight beside him, lifting the turbaned head, and there was something queenly in the pose of her.
"Martian?" she said scornfully. "My people—are—are—you have no word. Your speech—hard for me."
"What's yours? I might know it—try me."
She lifted her head and met his eyes squarely, and there was in hers a subtle amusement—he could have sworn it.
"Some day I—speak to you in—my own language," she promised, and the pink tongue flicked out over her lips, swiftly, hungrily.
One thing leads to another and before you can say 'I told you so' in ancient Venusian, Smith becomes the shambleau's victim/lover/addict.  She's some sort of worm-haired medusa/vampire/lamia creature, one of a species that is very, very old and exceptionally well-traveled, and very well acquainted with humanity.  She also feeds on human souls in a highly erotically-charged manner that leaves her victims feeling all sorts of guilt, shame.  It affects them very deeply and makes them feel very, very dirty...and quite desperate to do it all over again, despite it being (eventually/ultimately) lethal. In fact, if Smith's partner Yarol hadn't come looking for him when he did, Smith would have wound up completely drained and left behind like some sort of dessicated junkie-husk that the shambleau shamelessly cast off like the once-shiny wrapper of a yummy soul candy bar.

Yarol is familiar with shambleau, or at least recognizes the thing and the danger it poses, and he kills her without any remorse or hesitation.  To him the shambleau is poisonous vermin, not any sort of half-human paramour.  Smith doesn't really recover from his addiction to the shambleau.  Instead he's left wondering where he might find another shambleau, despite (eventually) promising to try to kill any other shambleaus he might encounter on the spot.  Ha. What's more horrifying, a soul-sucking medusa-vampire woman-thing loose on Mars, or a man who admits his vulnerability, sexual addiction and feelings of violation after having been fed upon by said medusa-vampire on Mars in a story penned in 1933?  Ouch.  The horror.

Shambleau is a fascinating story, not just for the cowboy style space opera aspects, or the deftly merged atmospheric horror and space fantasy tropes, but for the way that Moore takes a seemingly simplistic space western into the dark heart of mythology and human sexuality in a way that's still a bit shocking and thought provoking today and she manages it without being really blatant about it.

That's some damn fine writing.

H. P. Lovecraft cobbled together his Yog Sothery / Cthuluhu Mythos out of his perceived need to come up with new forms with which to convey horror as the old stand-bys such as vampires, werewolves, etc. were ridiculous, ineffective and just too old fashioned to be of much use any more.  He discusses this in his voluminous correspondence and in his essays.  The old critters of the night just aren't scary to modern people in the way that they once were.  Look at Twilight etc. and you can see the apotheosis of vampires and werewolves who've fallen from being terrifying figures of dread and horror to being cartoonish parodies of their former selves suited for being soap opera sex objects, teen angst magnets, goth superheroes or literary devices for tackling the very meaningful issues of contemporary whatever. Lovecraft substituted gelatinous alien gods, bizarre geometries, hackneyed poetry and gurgling inbreeders, not to mention buzzing interplanetary fungi or hillbilly cannibals (amongst a few dozen other innovations) for the tired old lycanthropes and stylishly groomed undead.

But wait a minute.

The vampire, lamia, medusa thing is old stuff.  It goes way back.  By transposing it to Mars, Moore managed to revitalize a synthesis of various aspects of the old myths and accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of making it work here-and-now.  In her skillful hands, Moore makes the vampiric-medusa-lamia-werewoman thing relevant, creepy and horrifically effective all over again...which kind of flies in the face of HPL's whole argument.

Huh.

But is the horror inherent in Shambleau more in regards to the creature, or to Smith's psychological violation and his shame over his total surrender to its foul, lurid, and very much erotic feeding upon his soul?  Or in his realization that given half a chance he would very likely succumb to another shambleau voluntarily, eagerly, like an addict?  Wow. That's a very intimate kind of horror, even if it partakes of certain HPL-ish 'cosmic' aspects and takes place both in the future and on another planet.

It really would have been something to have had the final Northwest Smith story dealing with him facing off against another shambleau.  How would he have reacted/responded?  That one interaction would have summed the guy up better than just about anything else he could ever have done or said.

As it is, we're lucky that Smith's stories aren't all about his obsessive and unrelenting search for another shambleau.  But it could easily have become a very real sub-plot through all the Northwest Smith stories.  Now that would have been weird, horrific and downright creepy.

Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith (Planet Stories Library)
Shambleau is included in the Paizo/Planet Stories collection Northwest of Earth, which is definitely one of their best offerings to date.  Like Gemma Files of Fearzone.com said in her review/blurb for the book; it's a lot like crossbreeding Clark Ashton Smith with Star Wars, only Moore did it originally back in 1933 and it was her first professional sale at that.
Wow.
The above illustration is from a version of C. L. Moore's Shambleau as illustrated by the one and only Jean-Claude Forest, the creator of Barbarella.  It's available over at the Cool French Comics site.  You can find it here.  Of course the text is in French, but you can always read along in English and look at the pictures as you go.  It's classic stuff.

If you're unclear just who C. L. Moore was, then check out the article on The Women of Space Westerns by N. E. Lilly.  The Wikipedia entry for C. L. Moore is an okay place to get started, the ISFDB site has a bunch of Moore links, and there is a nice profile of her at the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

You can find out more about Jean-Claude Forest's most famous character herehere and here.  Oh, and those rumors about a re-make of the 1968 cult-movie?  Don't hold your breath.  But then again, stranger things have happened...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Elbows on the Table

In the course of doing research and conducting a number of interviews for the Pulp Magnet column, I discovered Elbows on the Table. This mock interview show hosted by 'Lawrence Carpetburner,' (played by actor and comedian Jim Meskimen) is 'nearly unedited, uncensored, and un-rehersed interview' featuring characters drawn from the Pulp stories of L. Ron Hubbard, who was once a major-league pulp writer before getting religion, etc.

Yes, these faux-Fifties-style mock interviews are intended to promote and market Golden Age Stories and the Galaxy Press, but don't let that turn you away. These interviews are hilarious, possibly some of the most over the top, disastrous and terrible interviews ever committed to video, and very, very funny.

Here's an interview with gunslinger 'Suicide' Weston...



"Did he mention that he was dead in his letter?" -- That has to be one of the best interview questions ever asked!

There is a YouTube channel for Elbows on the Table: http://www.youtube.com/user/elbowsonthetable
Elbows on the Tablehttp://www.elbowsonthetable.com/history.php
Golden Age Storieshttp://www.goldenagestories.com/
Galaxy Presshttp://www.galaxypress.com/

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reprint: Lester Dent's Master Fiction Plot Formula (OSH)

Reprinted from Old School Heretic.

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Lester Dent's pen name was Kenneth Robeson.  He invented Doc Savage.  There is a decent Bio of Lester Dent at the Altus Press site, as well as herehere and here.  (An essential site for Dent/Doc Savage is Doc Savage Organized.) He often claimed to have cranked out around 200,000 words a month and remains a highly imaginative, effective and influential author, above and beyond his trailblazing work in establishing and developing the Pulps in their prime/Golden Age to this very day.  Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula has been in circulation for decades and is still recommended to up-and-coming writers by many, many established authors--including Michael Moorcock.  (A copy of Lester Dent's Formula is available at the Multiverse Forums here.) This Formula of Dent's is clear, concise and to-the-point just like the man himself, and it worked beautifully for him throughout his career and still offers a very good jumping-off-point for writers seeking to produce riveting yarns, rip roaring adventure, or modern re-tellings of the classic Pulps.  The Formula also will serve as a very effective skeleton for stringing together adventures for Role Playing Games as well.  It's pure gold and you should get a copy ASAP.  You can find a version of Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula herehereherehere and here.  The very best place to get the most authentic version of Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula is very probably the Lester Dent Properties site since they seem to be Dent's literary executors.  Likewise you can find a wealth of Doc Savage links at ThePulp website and over at the Homepage for Popular Culture's Doc Savage page.  PulpGen is also useful as a resource for learning about the Pulps such as The Shadow, Black Mask or Avenger, all contemporaries of Doc Savage.

A Quick Two-Minute Bio of Lester Dent:


One Observation in Regards to Mister Dent's Formula

Lester Dent says:
This is one opinion. It is opinion of one who believes in formula and mechanical construction, for a pulp yarn.  It is opinion of one believing:
1—Majority of pulps are formula.
2—Most editors who say don’t want formula don’t know what they are talking about.
3—Some eds won’t buy anything but formula
Stating that Pulp fiction is inherently formulaic is about as radical and unexpected as admitting that poop Pop music is formulaic.  Yawn.  No kidding.  But the cool thing is that Lester Dent then goes on from this bald-faced admission and spells it all out in no uncertain terms just what to do, and how to do it.  He shows how to make a formula really work.  In point of fact all writing is inherently derived from formulas, this is the role of grammar and plotting.  It's not a bad thing.  It is something to be aware of and to turn to your advantage.  Mister Dent's observation regarding editors who say that they don't want formula and won't buy formula not knowing what they are talking about is a bit harsh at first, but is essentially true, as far as it goes.  All forms of story obey some form of convention and ultimately can be boiled down to a formula.  Some formulas are like Elmer's Glue, others are like the Colonel's Secret Recipe or the formula for Original Coke.  Some we all know in the most general forms, quite a few are heavily used, abused and over-used.  Others are magical things that only a few have figured out for themselves.  It's not enough to bow to Formula, one must come up with their own approach, their own secret recipe for what makes the stories you're doing unique, sexy, engaging, and intrinsically Yours.

Formulas are tools.  Not excuses.  No one wants to see the scaffolding Michelangelo used in painting the Sistine Chapel, they want to see the final product of the process.  Same with your writing, your adventure design, whatever.  Dent gives you a marvellous structure/scaffolding with which to paint your own stories using tried and true techniques that he knew to work and work very well.  Why not give it a shot?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Exciting News from Pro Se Productions


Pro Se Productions, Publisher of New Pulp books, anthologies, and magazines, announces today that the October issue of its magazine, PRO SE PRESENTS, will be a special issue featuring the novella, THE HUNTER ISLAND ADVENTURE by well known New Pulp author Wayne Reinagel.

Never before in print, THE HUNTER ISLAND ADVENTURE features characters from Reinagel's INFINITE HORIZONS Universe and his PULP HEROES trilogy.  "Infinite Horizons," according to Reinagel, "explores the secret lives and revealing the unrecorded adventures of the greatest heroes and villains to ever walk the Earth.

"In the worlds of Infinite Horizons, the question is explored, what if the Victorian and Pulp era adventures actually occurred in our universe. And taking into account all of the events that have happened since that time, how would this have altered the pulp heroes from the 30’s and 40’s? The answers to these questions are presented in the first trilogy of Infinite Horizons novels entitled Pulp Heroes.

"Pulp Heroes is an epic adventure, spanning two centuries in time and linking the incredible lives of history’s most popular Victorian Age adventurers of the 1800’s with the greatest action heroes of the Pulp Era and an assortment of well-known, real-life figures."

THE HUNTER ISLAND ADVENTURE is a story about Pam Titan, Doc Titan's cousin and an adventurer in her own right, and three associates who end up on a wild adventure all their own.  Although available in ebook form, this will be the first time that the story has appeared in print.

"We are more than honored," Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions says, "to be the home for Wayne's novella.  Known for his epic storytelling and adventures that span decades, even centuries, full of his own creations as well as reinterpretations of real historical figures and literary characters, Wayne also proves he's extremely capable in telling gripping tales in a short form.  And you an find out how capable in PRO SE PRESENTS #3 in October."

More information will follow as the release date nears for PRO SE PRESENTS #3 in October!

Pro Se Productionshttp://www.proseproductions.com


Monday, September 26, 2011

Four Bullets for Dillon (Now available!)

Four Bullets for Dillon is now available!

From Dillon's own blog:
"A lost city in the Cambodian jungles run by a pint-sized tyrant wearing a gem-encrusted belt buckle; Beautiful women who lure Dillon and his rival, rock musician Sly Gantlet, into a clash of alpha males and a deadly set-up; a deceitful queen and a backstabbing friend; a quest for an evil artifact linked to the betrayer of Christ. Four Bullets for Dillon includes four hard to find and never before seen stories ripped from the life of global adventurer and instigator, Dillon."
Four Bullets for Dillon  includes the story, Dead Beat in La Esca, that was co-written by Derrick Ferguson and Joel Jenkins and features Dillon's first encounter with Sly Gantlet. It is a hilarious cross-over not to be missed!

And remember that with proof of purchase of Four Bullets for Dillon you'll also get the 10 page illustrated "Dillon And The Escape From Tosegio." Details can be found here.

Get it at Amazon.com
or 
Get it via Pulpwork Press.


Just get it.

Reprint: The Lost World (Old Books)

The following article is reprinted from the Old School Heretic blog. It might have some bearing on a possible New Pulp-oriented project or two. The original still available article is here: http://oldschoolheretic.blogspot.com/2011/04/old-books-lost-world.html

Shifting this article over here to Pulp Magnet from Old School Heretic is the first step towards establishing a new feature focusing on Penny Dreadfuls, Dime Novels, Old Books and the like, with an especial focus on their connection to the New Pulp movement.
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An interesting book by an even more interesting author. The Lost World takes you from London's more fashionably scientifically-oriented drawing rooms and smoke-filled Explorer's Clubs packed with hunting trophies and testosterone, and drops you right in the midst of the Amazon on a plateau (not Leng...though one does wonder...) where the dinosaurs still roam and not a discouraging word is allowed as all must maintain a suitable stiff upper lip. And a loaded high-powered hunting rifle.

When you first look for Sir Arthur's novel, should you ever decide to go do such a thing, you'll find that there are quite a few other entries for Lost World out there. The Lost World page at Wikipedia is rather useful for a jumping-off point to go hare-ing about looking into all the various other forms and versions of the Lost World concept/trope. In fact the Lost World theme is an entire genre unto itself. And it's a very fun one to go exploring as a reader and literarily-excavating as an exercise in data-mining and research as an author/game master/game designer as well. There is also a list of Non-Fictional Lost Worlds at Wikipedia, which we only discovered by chance. That might come in handy down the road...

The Plateau within the Amazon where the Lost World takes place might have been inspired by Mount Roraima, or the tepui or table-top mountains found in South America. It is interesting, and potentially useful to a worldbuilder to take a look at the page on Table (landforms) at Wikipedia in order to get a feel for all the options that are available for developing these sorts of terrains and geographies in a fictional or game-oriented setting. There are such things as tuyasmesaspotrerosbuttesplateaus, and Fluvial Terraces to consider, many of which we've been adapting for use on Riskail. Plateaus have a lot to offer in terms of creating isolated communities, pockets of lost civilizations or lost races, providing niche ecologies of monstrous survivals from primordial epochs, etc. They're well worth considering in your setting. Look at Blair's excellent Iridium Plateau at Planet Algol for an example.

For $30 you can get your hands on Bradley Deane's article: Imperial Barbarians: Primitive Masculinity in Lost World Fiction via Cambridge Journals Online, or you could save the beer money and go over to Jessica Amanda Salmonson's amazingly erudite and wonderfully useful site Aunt Violet's Book Museum and click on the links she provides to her compilations of reviews and notes regarding various forms of antiquated literature including her very handy Lost Race Check-list, her excellent essay A Meditation on Lost Race Literature, and her piece on Mr. Machen is rather interesting as well--though we'll be getting to Machen soon enough in another post, probably several.

Ahem.

Professor Challenger, the star of the show in the novel The Lost World is one of those daring, dashing, intrepid two-fisted  Man Of Science who also happen to be very handy with a rifle. Claude Rains played Prof. Challenger in the 1960 movie (directed by Irwin Allen and including a lot of his infamously  over-recycled footage from his various TV productions), John Rhys Davies took up the role in the 1992 adaptation, and Bob Hoskins took over in the 2001 version. The character is right up there with Alan Quartermain, Carnacki, Sherlock Holmes and Lord Greystoke.

Here is how Professor Challenger was described initially in The Lost World:
His appearance made me gasp. I was prepared for something strange, but not for so overpowering a personality as this. It was his size, which took one's breath away-his size and his imposing presence. His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen upon a human being. I am sure that his top hat, had I ventured to don it, would have slipped over me entirely and rested on my shoulders. He had the face and beard, which I associate with an Assyrian bull; the former florid, the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade-shaped and rippling down over his chest. The hair was peculiar, plastered down in front in a long, curving wisp over his massive forehead. The eyes were blue-grey under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, and very masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel were the other parts of him which appeared above the table, save for two enormous hands covered with long black hair. This and a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice made up my first impression of the notorious Professor Challenger.
Now that's one heck of an initial impression. They don't build them quite like that anymore. Perhaps they ought to. Haven't we suffered through enough morally ambiguous whiny weaklings? Where's the great grand-daughter of Professor Challenger? What's she up to these days? Is anyone writing about her adventures? They ought to be. We'd read them. In a heart-beat. Hey, whatever happened to Section Zero--there was a female descendant of Professor Challenger in that super-group...too bad Gorilla Comics folded...maybe we should further develop a few other descendants of the good Professor, possibly as special or Displaced NPCs for various nefarious gaming purposes...the idea does have a lurid sort of Wold Newton allure to it.


You can find out more about the further adventures of the original Professor Challenger, as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the following links: The Poison BeltThe Land of MistWhen the World Screamed, and The Disintegration Machine.


You can read these stories by clicking over to these sites: The Poison Belt at Ye Old Library or Project GutenbergThe Land of Mist at Classic Literature LibraryWhen the World Screamed at the Classic Literature Library, and The Disintegration Machine, again at the Classic Literature Library site.

The handy Wikipedia page on Professor Challenger also has a lengthy list of Other Author's uses and abuses of Sir Arthur's bombastic master of the direct application of scientifically correct brute force that you can examine and use to rationalize your own use of the guy--or his offspring--in your own stories or game scenarios. He is in the Public Domain, so the issue of canonical depictions and authorized interpretations are not only moot, they're spurious and silly. Anything past Doyle is open to question and completely disposable and eminently dis-regardable.  None of it is necessary nor required to be adhered to, nor adopted. It's all subject to your personal veto or emendation, or adaptation depending on how you want to deal with other people's potentially copyrighted sub-creations and spin-offs. Personally, we tend to opt to ignore everything past the original source materials and forge ahead along our own lines, in our own direction. You decide what works best for you.

The Lost World is an amazingly fun romp through the jungle-like backwash of discredited scientific theories that were once taken seriously by very, very earnest authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a great example of how to further elaborate and expand upon out-moded and exploded, spurious or superceded scientific theories such as the perennial Bierce-Machen-Lovecraft crowd-pleaser about primordial survivals, PreformationismAristotelian PhysicsLuminiferous Aether,  or the Hollow Earth, amongst a plethora of other debunked and discarded theories left lying broken and abandoned along the minefields of scientific orthodoxy and its rigorous enforcement of conformity, compliance and circumspection.

Crack-pottery and pseudoscience can be a writer's and a game designer's and a game master's best friend. All you need is a good guide like Professor Challenger or his grand-niece to lead you through the dense undergrowth to some of the Lost Worlds that have been just waiting to be re-discovered and explored. Just be sure to pack plenty of extra ammo and don't forget your tooth-brush.

There are a lot of other Old Books out there worth taking a look at--and we've just gotten started...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reprint: Gladiator

'Picking Seeds From the Pulp: Gladiator' originally appeared at the Old School Heretic blog on April 22, 2011. It has been reprinted here from Old School Heretic as it appears to have some bearing on a few different New Pulp projects...
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Gladiator is a pulp novel first published in 1930 by Philip Wylie. Yeah, that Philip Wylie -- the guy who also wrote When Worlds Collide. Gladiator was Wylie's third novel (a drastic revision of his first, Titan, actually)  and came out nearly eight years before Siegel & Shuster invented Ubermensch Superman for National/DC. In 1940 Wylie threatened to sue DC & Siegel for infringing/plagiarizing Gladiator, and even though Siegel had reviewed Gladiator in 1932 for his own fanzine, he claimed to not have been influenced or inspired by Wylie's character in developing Superman. Siegel even signed an affidavit to that effect. Whatever the truth of the matter, the case never went anywhere and Wylie seems to have dropped the matter. Speculation is that he did so because both Siegel & Schuster were in the midst of other lawsuits and in financial straits. Maybe that is so. The whole mess faded from public view fairly quickly. Most people forgot all about the brouhaha. But others haven't. Many believe Wylie's novel to have been the original impetus for Siegel & Schuster's very popular (and very litigious) character. This entry over at the Superman Story site is a quick example of someone still carrying the banner of the Gladiator's lost cause forwards into the modern day. They also have a very quick description of Gladiator's Hugo Danner that'll make it fairly obvious that Superman had a predecessor in print eight years his senior. Just saying...


So who is Hugo Danner? Good question. Philip Wylie was quite a bit ahead of the curve in 1930 (or 1926 when he later claimed to have first written the manuscript for Gladiator...). He had Hugo's papa, the not so mad scientist Professor Abednego Danner of Colorado invent a serum that he then injects into his pregnant wife. Really. It's another bit of science fictional spousal abuse just like in The Inmost Light all over again.


The serum doesn't kill the unborn child, nor the wife. Which is probably a darn good thing as it would have led to an investigation and some serious questions regarding Professor Abednego Danner's sanity and highly unethical methods, to say the least. Fortunately for little Hugo Danner, he is born with the proportional strength of an ant and the leaping ability of a grasshopper. Oh and he's bulletproof the way that Achilles was invulnerable to blades, etc., and that's without getting dipped in any smelly old river, and without the whole vulnerable heel thing either.


At first he seems like a lucky, lucky bastard...



...but in truth Hugo Danner is one morose, depressed and frustrated guy. He lacks confidence, has no real direction in life and to be quite frank, he's a real waste of superpowers. But then that was Wylie's intention. He wasn't interested in the colorful tights nor the super competent crime-fighters like The Shadow, Doc Savage, etc. He was looking at things from a more humanistic angle--how possessing such powers would remove a person from the commonplace in a way that might make it difficult for them to adapt, or to find their place in the world.

When some costumed schmuck starts prattling on and on about how they'd like to lead a normal life--it's partly Wylie's fault, and more importantly unrealistic bullshit bad writing, but it's what the unwashed masses expect, so the same old slop gets tossed out to them by the bucket-full.

Hugo Danner has a few modest adventures, most of which you see revised and made a bit more colorful and exciting or at least interesting in the early run of Superman.

In the end Hugo goes up on a mountain top and asks God in a weirdly snivelly manner for some advice and gets struck dead by a lightning bolt.

Boom.

Dead.

Wow.

What a harsh bit of feedback indeed.


But Gladiator's Hugo Danner hasn't quite gone quietly into the good night. There is a very good website at the  Hugodanner.com domain, devoted to Gladiator essays and seems to be one of the best possible resources for all things Gladiator out there. You can read Wylie's Original Introduction, read Will Murray's thought provoking essay on Gladiator, check out a very cryptic inscription in Wylie's own hand, or view a gallery of Book Covers for Gladiator's various editions. There's an amusing Q&A page as well, but we're not sure if the site is still offering $5 for Gladiator essays. But if you're really interested in doing something along those lines, please do contact them--might as well get a $5 check than not...

You can acquire a free copy of the full text of Gladiator at Many Books or Archive(dot)Org -- it isn't old enough to show up on Gutenberg just yet.

A Few Gladiator Links


Perhaps more ignominious than just being ignored, plagiarized paid uncredited homage to, would be having the text converted into a B-grade comedy. This actually happened to Gladiator. They made a comedy out of the Gladiator novel starring Joe E. Brown in 1938IMDb can give you some more details, if you're interested. You just can't make this stuff up.


In 1976 Roy Thomas adapted Gladiator for Marvel Comics in Marvel Preview #9 as 'Man God.' Then Thomas developed "Iron Munro" for DC as a Retcon-doppleganger for the editorially-erased Golden Age Superman. Iron Munro was one part the classic Street & Smith character and another part Wylie's Gladiator, but went on to become fairly well ignored as his own character. It turns out that Hugo Danner (Wylies' Gladiator) was Iron Munro's estranged father. Which was a very nice little precedent to be setting...

It was also very cool of Roy Thomas to have Iron Munro encounter Georgia Challenger in the course of his efforts to locate and learn what happened to his father, the ill-fated, whiny and supposedly lightning-blasted Gladiator, Hugo Danner. That's right. Arn, Iron Munro, meets a living, breathing, beautiful and butt-kicking grand-daughter of Professor Edward Challenger while investigating a secret government project (like one of those other projects all those scientists might have been working on in the secret underground complex featured in The Time Tunnel perhaps?)

Roy Thomas is so much fun.

Howard Chaykin and Russ Heath teamed-up to revise/adapt Wylie's Gladiator in the Wildstorm comics 4-part miniseries which might still be available at eBay for around $10. There isn't much available on this series, even with Chaykin & Heath having been attached to it. The mini-series just seemed to drain away into obscurity, which is very strange given the major talent involved in its creation.

Hugo Danner, the Gladiator, is a flawed, bungled and botched mess of a guy who just happens to have gained superpowers because his daddy was an unethical prick who injected his mother with an untested, experimental serum while he was still in the womb. The guy is a walking victim and a real sob sack, despite being invulnerable. He joined the French Foreign Legion and didn't really gain much in the way of honors or recognition, despite serving in WWI. You'd think that a guy who is bullet-proof, super strong and able to outrun a train just might have found himself making an impact on the battlefields of Europe in 1917. At least you'd think he might. But not this guy. Nope. He's conflicted, emotionally constipated and totally at a loss for what to do with himself.

It's a good thing that he gets blasted with a lightning bolt at the end of the novel.

But then maybe he survives the thunderbolt and goes off to reinvent himself. He was part of the whole Lost Generation, which really, really begs the question, at least for me, why the hell didn't a guy like Wylie who was one of the founders of The New Yorker write a more Upton Sinclair or F. Scott Fitzgerald sort of novel out of this stuff? Hugo Danner could have been a cross between Odd John and The Great Gatsby--and that would have been infinitely cooler than what we were given...

Maybe someone needs to really go back over this stuff and write a sort of pseudo-Regencypunk revision of Gladiator that merges it with Stapledon and Fitzgerald. That would be very, very cool...with or without flying monkeys...or vampires...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

An Interview with Walter B. Gibson

This interview with Walter B. Gibson is simply one of the best, and most motivational things that I have found in my digging about in the Pulps so far...   

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finding Honey West Online

This is a supplement to the column Pulp Magnet: Honey West at the New Pulp blog.

The first two Honey West paperbacks have been reprinted by Overlook Press.

This Girl for Hire (originally published in 1957) is Honey's debut and it is a fun, light-hearted romp that remains entertaining even after all these years. The main event is where Honey is caught playing a potentially lethal game of strip poker with four suspects. Mike Hammer never got himself into quite the same situation...


Kiss for a Killer (originally published in 1958) is the follow-up to This Girl for Hire, and it features a mystery involving a dead quarterback (Honey's own all american boy-toy Rip spenser) and a movie starlet's suspicious suicide at a peculiar nudist colony. Things are stacked against Honey this time out, and someone appears to be framing her. But who? And why? Read the book and all will be revealed...including a lot of Honey West...

So far Overlook Press has only brought out the first two paperbacks as reprints of this vintage series. Granted it's not Great Literature, but the sexual situations and innuendoes that were borderline scandalous back in the day are still more fun than a lot of what has come along since.



The complete Honey West TV series featuring Anne Francis is available on DVD.

If you remember the TV series, or if you want to learn more about it, literally everything you need to know about the Honey West TV Series is covered in the book by John C. Friedrikson – Honey West, (Paperback, 2009) Bear Manor Media (ISBN-10: 1593933460 / ISBN-13: 978-1593933463). You can find this book over at Amazon usually.


If you're interested in the 1966 one-shot comic book produced by Gold Key as a tie-in to the TV series, good luck. Heritage Auctions had a copy up for bid back in 2006, Comicvine has a mostly blank page (just a scan of the cover), and like comic book collector Mike Hammersky has said--this is a tough item to keep in stock, though it does pop up on amazon.com and other book vendors, collector blogs or auction-sites from time to time. Bes tof Luck!

http://moonstonebooks.com/shop/category.aspx?catid=31

Moonstone Books has brought out a Honey West Comic Book series that nicely blends the classic paperback version of the character with the later TV series featuring Anne Francis.

You can see out article at New Pulp for more details on the Moonstone Honey West comic book series.

If you're looking for the rest of the classic Honey West paperbacks, here's a checklist for the original 11 books by the Ficklings:



  • This Girl for Hire (1957)
  • Girl on the Loose (1958)
  • A Gun for Honey (1958)
  • Honey in the Flesh (1959)
  • Girl on the Prowl (1959)
  • Kiss for a Killer (1960)
  • Dig a Dead Doll (1960)
  • Blood and Honey (1961)
  • Bombshell (1964)
  • Honey on her Tail (1971)
  • Stiff as a Board (1972)

  • You can find examples of the vintage paperback covers for Honey West at the following blogs & sites:

    http://bishsbeat.blogspot.com/2011/01/vintage-covers-honey-west.html

    http://www.revelinnewyork.com/blog/01/14/2010/honey-west-girl-with-a-gun

    http://hwestandcompany.com/hwac/hx2.htm


    And as always there is the Wikipedia entry on Honey West or my own recent contribution to all things Honey West via my recent Pulp Magnet column featured at the New Pulp blog.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Introducing Pulp Magnet

    Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, John Carter, Ki-Gor, Tarzan, Conan, The Green Lama, The Shadow, The Spider, Lee Falk's the Phantom, Elak, The Avenger, Domino Lady, Black Mask, Black Bat, The Phantom Detective – the roll call of classic Pulp characters is extensive and, to quote Mike Bullock: “Readers can find a million articles about Edgar Rice Burroughs or Lester Dent or Norman Daniels. Also, there's no end of articles examining the stories they wrote.”

    True enough.

    The Pulps have a rich and varied history and in an era when so many of those old characters are re-emerging in pop culture, revived and revised to better suit the times, it's not enough to look backwards.

    We're seeing an incredible rebirth of the classic characters from the old Pulps. Like Frankenstein's grisly monster or Lovecraft's catatonic cephalopod, the old characters are not dead, they aren't even stunned—they're alive—very much alive; well and thriving. The forgotten heroes of yesterday are coming back with a two-fisted or two-gunned vengeance. And they're not alone. A whole new generation of characters have begun to make their own mark on the world. Heroes like Derrick Ferguson's Dillon , Barry Reese's The Rook , Tommy Hancock's The Freelancer, Mike Bullock's Death Angel, and more—much, much more. And that's what Pulp Magnet is all about: The New Pulp.

    Mike and the folks at the New Pulp Fiction blog wanted someone to go out there, find the fresh stuff, discover the New Pulp characters, profile the New Pulp publishers, and examine the new versions and re-imaginings of the classic Pulp characters as well. This column is devoted to delving deep into the dark heart of the unknown depths of the New Pulp and revealing all the lurid details and dangerous secrets I can uncover in the course of my investigations and interviews. Armed only with some weird little mystic magnet I found in the pocket of a second-hand trenchcoat and a secret decoder ring that might not have belonged to John Dee, I'm setting off into the shadowy alleys and by-ways of the New Pulp looking for the new stuff, the cool stuff, the Good Stuff. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, and let's see what the Pulp Magnet can attract.