Tuesday, February 13, 2018

POLLEN'S WOMEN - The Art of Samson Pollen



POLLEN’S WOMEN
The Art of Samson Pollen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Dole
# new texture
135 pgs

One of the tragedies of the original pulp era was the lack of recognition given to the brilliant artists of that time. Every single week hundreds of pulp titles hit the newsstands, each graced with a gorgeous, colorful cover paintings and filled with dozens of wonderful black and illustrations. Whereas these populace magazines were snobbishly ignored by the purveyors of the uppercrust, academia including and no effort was made to save this amazing art. It has been reported that over 90% of all those great covers and illustrations were destroyed and lost to us forever, save in the fading pages of the actual mags, some eighty years or older today.

After World War Two, pulps evolved into comics for kids and two new adult formats to continue the publication of action adventure stories. One was the small paperback designed to be easily carried in one’s back-pocket and produced on the cheap. The other, and more direct descend of the original pulps, was the men’s adventure magazines, hereto referred to as MAGS. From the 50s to early 70s they proliferated in drugstores racks via dozens of titles all aimed at the World War II veterans looking for stories featuring rugged, individuals not afraid to take on the world. The MAMS catered to tales of war heroes, explorers, tough cops and rebel bikers. It was a cornucopia of he-man virility that oozed off every page.

Accompanying these tales was the macho art; a vital element of the entire package. Like their smaller, golden age predecessors, the MAMS were chock full of amazing illustrations, most done in long double page formats while offering up some of the greatest in-your face all action scenes ever put on a cover. Here were soldiers combating overwhelming odds, or treasure hunters battled savage beasts of every kind imaginable while at the same time protecting some half-clad buxom babe. They were simply men’s fantasies brought to stunning visual reality as created a dozen or so remarkable artists.

One such was Samson Pollen and now editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have collected dozens of his more spectacular pieces. Each is represented into versions; first showcasing the actual artwork alone and then the same image as surrounded as folded into the magazine’s layout with text and titles etc. It is a truly effective demonstration of the format challenges posed to Pollen and his peers. One of this book’s most intriguing parts is Pollen’s own memoirs which he shared with co-author Doyle. At 86, the veteran illustrator’s tales of his work-for-hire experiences as a professional illustrator are fascinating. Pollen never assumed he was creating anything but commercial art and his job, as he saw it, was to give the editors what they wanted. No matter how silly those requests often times appeared to be. He was told to draw this or that and he did. He was a workman artist.

Today, one gets the sense that he is happily bemused at how valuable his art has become and the status it has achieved in the scheme of things. In this day of digital art, illustrators are a dying breed and one wonders if future generations will ever see their like again. For now we can only tip our pulp fedoras to Mr. Deis & Mr. Doyle for saving work of this true master; Samson Pollen.

Friday, February 09, 2018

STRANGE VIEW FROM A SKEWED ORBIT



STRANGE VIEW FROM
A SKEWED ORBIT
(An Oddball Memoir)
By Ardath Mayhar
Borgo Press
159 pgs

Dear Readers, this certainly will not be one of my regular reviews. You see the subject matter is much too personal for me and we need to share much more than a few declarative paragraphs concerning this wonderful little book. So time for some history. In the early 80s, pre-PC and internet time, I had joined a group via snail-mail correspondence called SPWAO; the Small Press Writers & Artists Organization. We were made of up both amateur and professional creators all working in one fashion or another with small press. Among that group was Texas based professional sci-fi and fantasy writer Ardath Mayhar. If you’ll allow me to name drop here, the group also included among its ranks Charles Saunders, Richard & Wendy Pini and Kevin Anderson; all of which I’m sure you readily recognized.

We had officers, collected dues and published a monthly newsletter. At one point I was elected the President and responsible for putting out that newsletter. It was along this time that I began a friendly correspondence with Ardath not realizing it would soon become a life-saver for me. Note, members of SPWAO were set on achieving professionalism in various genres, from books to comics. Most of my energies directed towards the latter without much thought at all to novel writing.

Then came my divorce and my world turned upside down. Having three small children unable to comprehend exactly why their father was leaving caused me months of pain and anguish. At one point I let some of this out in a letter to Ardath, this kindly grandmother writer from Texas, as a way of maybe dispelling a little of the hurt I was dealing with. Her response was a rapid reply in which she suggested, “Why don’t we write a book together. It might help take your mind off the sadness.”  She even let me devise the subject matter and plot and we went at it. Six months later her agent sold “Trail of the Seahawks” to TSR’s new Windwalker paperback line and I was a published author. 

And of course, as Ardath was well aware, the rest of my life did settle out. My weekly visitations with my wonderful children eventually proved to them my continued love and devotion and within the next few years some kind of normalcy returned to all of us. Oh, and Ardath and me went on to write two more books together, “Monkey Station” and “Witchfire.” I would have loved to have done more, but she was then in her late 70s and let me know I was good enough to fly on my own, whereas she still had too many of her own tales to tell in whatever time she had left.

That’s the personal stuff.  Now here’s the clinical.  Ardath Mayhar Feb 20 – 1930 to Feb 1st 2012 (aged 81) began writing professionally in 1979. She was nominated for the Mark Twain Award and won the Balrog Award for a horror narrative poem in Masques 1. In 2008 she was honored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as an Author Emeritus. She wrote over sixty books ranging from sci-fi to horror to young adult to historical to westerns; with some work under the pseudonym Frank Cannon, Frances Hurst, and John Killdeer. Mrs. Mayhar also shared her knowledge and skills of writing with many people through the Writer’s Digest correspondence courses.

Recently I learned that in 1996 Ardath compiled a rambling, intimate memoir of her life after having been pestered by friends to do so. That book is “Strange View From a Skewed Orbit.”  It is a truly wonderful glimpse into the heart and mind of a remarkable woman who was descended of pioneer stock. It is a glimpse of both the rugged landscape of East Texas but also of a culture that prides individualism and old fashion grit. In the book’s final few essays, Ardath lambast the wishy-washy nonsense that is today’s feminism, decrying pampered women who have swallowed the entire hogwash philosophy of victimhood. In her own words, “It is not the function of government to make life easy for anyone, rich or poor, male or female, black white, yellow or red. That is a sure route to dependency. We are our own motivators, and if we do not use our strength, our intelligence, and our determination to achieve what we are capable of doing, the fault lies with us, not some anonymous “white male establishment.””

It is one of my life’s major disappointments that we never actually got to meet in this world. But believe me, that is a meeting that will certainly take place in the next. Till then, every time I sit down to write, I know I’ve a friend looking down from on high.
God bless you, Ardath, and thanks.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

THE OBSIDIAN CHAMBER



 THE OBSIDIAN CHAMBER
(A Pendergast Novel)
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
437 pgs

We make no bones that we are devoted fans of this new pulp series. Special Agent Pendergast and his revolving cast of supporting characters are truly colorful and memorable. In this, the sixteen entry, the authors pick up from the dramatic cliffhanger they ended book fifteen, “Crimson Shore.” We won’t tell you what that dangling question was on the off chance some of you are playing catch up and have yet to read it.

Rather we will say the tale opens with Pendergast away from his home on Riverside Drive in New York City, leaving his ward, Constance Greene, chauffeur and bodyguard Proctor and household keeper, Mrs. Trask, to fend for themsevles. Not a good thing when his younger brother, supposedly dead, invades the domicile, subdues Proctor and kidnaps Ms. Greene. Here we should let you know, Diogenes is as great a villain as his brother is a hero. A psychotic genius whose level of cruelty is beyond measure and the one true advisory our protagonist has yet to adequately best.

And with that kidnapping begins a globe trotting chase around the glove, as a frantic Proctor, whose responsibility it was to protect the girl, spares no effort or money to go after them wherever they are bound. That this madcap race takes up the first quarter if the entire book will tell you at what a frenetic pace “The Obsidian Chamber” is propelled. By the time our hero does arrive on the scene, having barely escaped the clutches of a gang of drug smugglers off the coast of Maine, we readers are whipping through pages faster and faster. How on earth is Pendergast ever going to get up to speed? And therein lays the talent of this superb writing team in that they set out that solution so logically via what past books have established; that he is no mere mortal. Pendergast is a man of superior intellect and imagination and he how he employs those talents to solve the most bizarre challenge he has ever faced is the delight of this book.

As with all series pulp adventures, some often time feel like obligatory fillers and are soon forgotten when a new chapter arrives. While others, like “The Obsidian Chamber” hit so many right notes as to create a melody masterpiece of plotting and pace so spectacular that the tune will reverberate in your minds long after you’ve finished the last page.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

UNREMARKABLE



 UNREMARKABLE
 By Geoff Habiger & Coy Kissee
Shadow Dragon Press
205 pages

We’ve often said the fun of writing a review blog is discovering new and exciting talent. Case in point this book sent to us by authors Habiger and Kissee, “Unremarkable.” From the book design it is easy enough to infer that the story deals with death and violence and sure enough it kicks off fast in those directions.

The year is 1929 and young Saul Imbierowicz is a postal clerk in Chicago. For an average fellow, his life has been what most people would consider dull and boring. But when he meets a vivacious redhead named Moira a few days before Valentine’s Day, things seem to be changing for the better. Moira is a beauty and Saul can’t believe his good luck. When she asks him to accompany her on an errand to the North Side, he willingly agrees to tag along. There isn’t much he wouldn’t do for the girl.

Then they find themselves walking into one of the most celebrated gangland shootings in American history, the St. Valentine’s Massacre wherein seven of Al Capone’s men were gunned in a street corner garage by members of the Irish Mob under the orders of Bugs Moran. Tragically Moira and Saul arrive at the location while bullets are still flying and Moira is shot. Shocked and frightened at her body lying in a pool of blood, Saul flees in horror unable to deal with the violence suddenly foisted upon him.

As if that wasn’t enough to totally ruin his life, he is then grabbed by several of Moran’s thugs and brought to a meeting with the mob boss. Moran informs him that federal agents, who maintain offices in the same building as the post office, have come into possession of Frank Capone’s tax accounting records. The data in those books would be sufficient to put Al away for a very long time. Something Moran wants to assure happens. Fearing Capone might somehow steal the books from the feds, he wants Saul to do it first and then bring those books to him. If Saul doesn’t do as he demands, Moran will have his parents and sister killed.

The authors waste no time in building the suspense and the narrative moves at a very steady pace. Saul is the innocent protagonist who, for no fault of his own, finds himself in a seemingly inescapable dilemma. Can he actually do what Moran wants; break into the feds’ offices and steal the Capone books? As he grapples with this question, he is suddenly set upon by the very agents who occupy those offices. They know of his presence at the street corner during the shooting and want to know what happened to Moira? If poor Saul was mixed-up before, this new wrinkle totally leaves him confused.  Moira’s dead, isn’t she? After all, he saw her die. Or did he?  And if she is somehow alive, where is she and how is she involved with the entire affair?

“Unremarkable” is a really fun read that will keep readers guessing from chapter to chapter. The characters are one hundred percent authentic and the underlying mystery reveals itself slowly like a many layered onion. It is a thriller in the best sense of the word and one we highly applaud. Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE BLACK STILETTO - Black & White



THE BLACK STILLETO – Black & White
By Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
309 pgs

In the first book of this series, a divorced unemployed accountant named Martin Talbot uncovered a startling secret upon opening the contents of his mother’s effects.  In the 1950s and 60s, his mother, then Judy Cooper, donned a masked and became a crime fighting vigilante known as the Black Stiletto. Now she suffers from Alzheimer’s and is committed to medical institution. In her diaries, part of the cache he discovers, he learns that as a teenager, Judy had run away from her abusive stepfather in Texas to begin a new life in New York City. There she came under the tutelage of an exboxer named Freddie who taught her how to fight. She later added to her martial skills by studying both judo and karate from a Japanese sensei. Eventually she had a romantic tryst with a young man who she later learned was part of the Mafia. When he was murdered, Judy decided to mete out her own justice in the guise of her secret identity. By the book’s finale, Martin is forced to accept the realities of his discoveries and keep them a secret from everyone including his own daughter, Gina, who adores her grandmother.

With “Black & White,” the saga continues and again is narrated by both Martin in the present and by sections of Judy’s detailed diaries showcasing her exploits. For Judy the year is 1959 and the country is undergoing radical changes. Many are due in part to the racial tensions boiling up in the urban centers of America’s fast growing cities. Harlem has become a blacks-only community and a gangster named Carl Purdy has risen to power. He has grandiose ambitions and challenges the Italian families for control of the growing drug trade.

As the Black Stiletto enters the fray, she finds herself hunted by a smart and handsome F.B.I. agent named John Richardson. Through a series of dangerous outings, the Stiletto manages to start a truly weird, and romantic, relationship with the dedicated agent. While their feelings for each other threaten both of them, Judy finds herself embroiled in the Harlem gang war and agreeing to a truly bizarre alliance with a Mafia Don. Meanwhile, in our time, son Martin has unearthed an actual film reel of Judy in her Black Stiletto get-up and is being blackmailed by a small time New York thug who also owns a copy of the same film.

Once again, Raymond Benson weaves twin stories, interweaving them skillfully while heightening the suspense with each new chapter so that the reader is rewarded with not one but two exciting and dramatic climaxes. What makes this book a winner, as was the first, is his knack of bringing Judy Cooper to life with all her courage, naiveté and sincere empathy for others. She is a wonderful character; one you really should get to know.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

THE OLD MAN'S REQUEST




THE OLD MAN’S REQUEST
(Book One of the Utgarda Trilogy)
By Joab Stieglitz
Available at Amazon
109 pgs

In the summer of 1929, three people are summoned to the hospital by an ailing college professor. Fearing his time is short; Prof. Jason Longborough confides a terrible secret to his prorge, Anna Rykov, a Russian anthropologist, Dr. Harold Lamb, a general practioner and Father Sean O’Malley, a Catholic priest versed in the church’s exorcism rituals. Fifty years earlier, Longbrough, then a college student, and several friends, made the foolish decision to dable in the occult; the end result being they actually summoned a horrific demon named Urgarda. Trapped in our world since that time, the shape-shifting monster has kept his existence secret by murdering those with any knowledge of presence.

The old professor realizes it is his responsibility to somehow re-summon the demon to the abandoned farmhouse where he first appeared and there destroy him. The task is too difficult for one person and thus Longborough brings his three young colleagues into his plans. But time has run out for the guilt ridden teacher and after relating his wild story to the trio, he dies. 

Initially all three question whether the old man’s tale was factual or the rantings of a failing mind. Still, to ignore it would have serious consequence; chief among these allowing the demon to continue his evil machinations in our dimension. Bit by bit, each of the three begin to accept the mission that has been foisted on them and the real horror it portents. Having no other recourse, it is up to them to carry out Longborough’s final request and confront the beast.

Joab Stieglitz offers up a really well crafted thriller filled with enough suspense and action to adroitly move his plot along.  Anna, Dr. Lamb and Father O’Malley aren’t superheroes, but rather good people caught up in an affair far beyond anything any of them had ever experienced before. It will take all their courge and mutual trust in one another to summon the demon and defeat it. If that is even possible? “The Old Man’s Request,” is a sure fire page turned.  Need I say more?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

THE BALLAD OF BLACK BART



 
THE BALLAD OF BLACK BART
By Loren D. Estleman
Forge Books
231 pgs

This being a fictionalized tale based on historical personages by one of the most enjoyable writers in the western field. But before launching into the review, let me confess that Mr. Estleman is one of those treasures we only discovered a few years ago much to our consternation as he as quickly become one of our favorite writers. With over eighty novels to his credit, ranging from mysteries, both historical and modern, to westerns, for which he has often been times recognized with numerous awards, the man just naturally knows how to spin a good yarn. And this latest is no exception.

The plot revolves around two men, one a daring and resourceful outlaw and the other the manhunter who was tasked with bringing him to justice. From 1875 to 1883, the poetry writing criminal known as Black Bart held up 28 Wells, Fargo stagecoaches. What is more remarkable is that he did these crimes on foot and armed only with an empty shotgun. All of which became a personal affront to company agent James B. Hume who became obsessed with catching the road agent no matter how long it took or how much he had to spend to do so.

It is the irony of the tale itself that Wells, Fargo, via Hume, ended up expending much more money in capturing Bart than he ever actually got away with. In the end, the book reads like a marvelous comedy as Estleman skillfully explores each man’s character and seeks to discover what motivated them in their chosen professions. That he finds similarities in their natures and world views is fascinating and by the time we’d reached the book’s middle there was no way we could possibly put it down.

Estleman richly deserves every award he has ever been given and “The Ballad of Black Bart” is a fitting example of why he is so well admired and loved. We’re still sorry we came to the party late, but we’re doing our best to make up for lost time. You might want to join the club with this truly wonderful title.