Pulp Appeal: Econoclash Review #1

Econoclash Review

Editor: J.D. Graves

Econcolash Review advertises itself as Quality Cheap Thrills, and much like Broadswords and Blasters, bills itself as a contemporary pulp journal publishing “publish only the best crime/sci-fi/noir/horror/humor/fantasy and everything else in between.” For a first issue debut, I can only gape in awe at the amount of talent pulled together into this anthology and will definitely be adding EconoClash to the list of small press magazines to keep a very close eye on.

You aren’t here to listen to me gush though, so let’s take a look at the stories included within.

Cover Art for Issue 1

“The Last Book” by Rick McQuiston

“In the Mouth of Madness” style metahorror piece. When a writer writes to entertain the eldritch horrors, what happens when he decides to quit the game? The meta-fiction aspect is a little heavy handed and not what I would have expected fresh out the gate from this anthology, and it doesn’t quite set the tone for everything that comes after.

“Recompense” by William R. Soldan

What happens when addiction takes hold and you can’t shake its hooks from where they’ve buried under your skin. How it destroys not just the addict, but everything it touches, like a crap version of King Midas. This story drills home the inherent tragedy, without indulging in angst.

“The Boss Man Cometh” by Christopher Hivner

A demon keeps escaping from the abyss, and each time he’s dragged back. But as each trip makes him a bit more human, maybe he’ll be able to escape for good? Well, he would if the Boss didn’t come down on him like a bucket truck of bricks. And sometimes being handed what you want turns out to be the worst punishment of all.

“Blessed He Be, Shinokaze” by Joachim Heijndermans

A Kaiju cult in London, trying to spread the good word of imminent destruction. A study in what bravery looks like in the face of death, or at least a fatalistic look at what inevitability looks like. So when the Kaiju comes, do you run or do you except that you are going to be consumed in glory? I really enjoyed the perspective this piece gave, with the focus lasered in on a couple of characters and with the Kaiju being treated like the natural disaster it would be.

“Meet the Family” by Charlotte Platt

What happens when a con man goes to Scotland with the pretense to meet his bride-to-be’s family but in fact planning to kill her and cash in on a life insurance policy? Sure, the girl is nice enough, but when you owe a lot of money to some very bad people, you start to look for ways out. What Steven wasn’t counting on was his fiancée’s pedigree.  A great atmospheric piece and I couldn’t help but feel that vicarious thrill you get when a bad thing happens to a terrible person.

“The Little Death of Jacob Green” by J.D. Graves

Small towns keep secrets like bees keep honey, but you always suspect that the dirty laundry is there. A whiff in the air, the stench of something foul. This story is kind of like that, where one man’s apparent suicide is what makes the town wonder what was really going on. Also, a strong story on marriage, and what it might take to keep a couple together. Graves’ metaphor on marriage being like a casino gamble against the house is deeply cynical and jaded, but his characters hold true throughout, despite the personal cost exacted.

“Exit Ramp” by Lyndon Perry

What starts out as a standard crime fiction story takes a sharp turn into the weird in the best way. The criminal underworld mashed up with the supernatural underworld was an unexpected delight. Perry’s setting and set-up were well done and his delivery pitch perfect with characters that would fit right into any hardboiled story you’d care to name.

“Green Eyed Monster” by Gerri R. Gray

Honestly, this was probably my least favorite piece in the magazine. The dialogue came off a bit stilted and the plot a bit too B-movieish. It does, however capture the struggles of two people who both wanted a little more out of life, and the danger when you let your ambitions blind you to those around you.

“Quick Pick” by Nick Manzolillo

A dead body and a lottery ticket are all that stand between Billy and the easy life, but the ticket’s buried with the body. So what’s a guy to do? Grab a shovel and get to digging is what. But what happens when he’s discovered late at night in the graveyard? This story’s humor is about as black as you can get, but you can’t help but feel a little sorry for poor Billy.

“Beneath Me” by Edward Turner III

A creepy horror piece. What if, when you’re dead, you can still sense the world around you? How do you cope with seeing your loved ones walking by your corpse? How do you deal with being buried? And what might you hear, crawling in the dirt around you?

“Neon Anemone” by Scotch Rutherford

An unexpected cyberpunk story that hums with energy, and manages to blend substance and style. The story unfolds beautifully. This is the story that rewards the most on a second read through, and to say too much of it would give away the plot. Set in Las Vegas, it works in summer blockbuster levels of action. I sincerely hope there is more from Rutherford using this setting, if not these exact characters. My one complaint is that this story could have used another pass in editing as some of the sentences comes across as somewhat awkward.

 

You can grab EconoClash Review at Amazon. You can also check out their website and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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Pulp Appeal: The Goonies

568b86df-4c6c-46cc-b5a5-c7618d4389e6_1.384063bbefbb6e9b73ebd94c66b95068Pirates, gangsters, deadly boobytraps, diatribes about the uselessness of wishing wells, Cyndi Lauper[1], jocks vs. nerds, stolen kisses, braces, Baby Ruths, and the Truffle Shuffle.

I mean, holy crap.

I’m sure some of my love of The Goonies is simply the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, but look at the list above. It’s like screenwriter Chris Columbus knocked over a shelf containing stacks of National Geographic, Smithsonian, Black Mask, The Outsiders, grocery store flyers, Rolling Stone, and the plot for Indiana Jones. Papers scattered across the floor in every direction and as Columbus attempted to pick everything up, it came out in the shape of The Goonies.

All jokes aside, the movie was directed by Richard Donner, who rose to fame with 1976’s The Omen and then struck movie gold with his Superman (starring my favorite Superman to date, Christopher Reeve) two years later. Although he was famously fired from Superman II, his fingerprints are all over the movie, considering most of it was cut together from film shot during the original. After those two successes, he moved into a string of alternating hits and flops, including The Toy[2], The Goonies, Ladyhawke[3], Lethal Weapon (and its sequels), Scrooged, and Maverick. That said, The Goonies feels more like Steven Spielberg than anyone else. If you’d told me Spielberg had actually directed it, I wouldn’t be surprised, but it doesn’t appear to be the case.

The Goonies connected to children and teenagers at a fundamental level. The opening scene is a car chase ranging all across Astoria, Oregon as the Fratelli family, a mother and her two sons—nothing more than Italian Stereotypes masquerading as characters—escape from the police after breaking the older son out of prison. Through the chase we are introduced to each of the main characters as they go about their day. We meet Mikey (Sean Astin), the asthmatic younger brother of high school senior meathead Brand (Josh Brolin); Chunk (Jeff Cohen), a chubby nerd with a penchant for telling outlandish stories about meeting Michael Jackson; Data (Jonathan Ke Huy Quan), an inventor/tech nerd whose father is an inventor of weird gadgets; and Mouth (Corey Feldman), a fast-talking polyglot who is endearing and sociopathic in equal measure. After the story gets rolling, we meet Andy, (Kerri Green) a potential love interest for Brand but currently the girlfriend of uber-rich asshole Troy; and Stef (Martha Plimpton), Andy’s best friend and potential match for Mouth.

The protagonists are all young adolescents who live in the Goon Docks, a middle class neighborhood, which has recently been sold off to an unscrupulous and filthy-rich developer who intends to demolish the Goon Docks in order to replace it with a country club. If that’s not a commentary on 1980s me-first yuppie politics, I don’t know what is.

Mikey, the main POV character, is fascinated with the history of the town and regales his friends with stories of Astoria’s founding, supposedly as the location of a hidden pirate treasure. As it turns out, the story is true, which the characters discover after accidentally breaking a frame containing a pirate map. Mouth translates the Spanish written on the map. Mikey, Mouth, Chunk, and Data hatch a plan to seek the treasure of One-Eyed Willy, in the hopes they can save the Goon Docks from foreclosure.
lg_20170713095732_69


The rest of the Goonies tie up Brand, who is supposed to be watching them while Mrs. Walsh is out shopping, and then run out in search of the treasure. Along the way they cross paths with the Fratellis, including Mama Fratelli’s deformed son, Sloth, who forms a bond with Chunk over a shared Baby Ruth candybar. While braving the traps set by One-Eyed Willy, running from the Fratellis, and dodging snotty rich brats, the Goonies team up with Brand, Andy, and Stef who have been searching for the younger kids.

It’s not spoiling anything to say they find the treasure, the Fratellis get arrested, and the Goon Docks are saved, as it is simply to be expected in a feel-good kids’ movie from the 1980s. And while the childhood sense of awe and wonder is hard to recreate as I  approach 40, it’s hard not to smile at the reverence Mikey has when he meets One-Eyed Willy’s skeleton.

This movie really does seem like the mishmash I described above, but that’s why I love it. Pirate treasure, slick shoes, BMX bikes, video games, and candybars? It’s my 80s in a nutshell.

Are you “good enough”?


[1] The music video (above) features 1980s WWF Superstars Captain Lou Albano as Cyndi’s father and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as an oil baron buying up the land where Cyndi’s family lives. Cyndi famously hated the song for years, but has apparently relented and begun to perform it live.

[2] A godawful Richard Pryor vehicle shot around the same time of his famous stand-up special Live on the Sunset Strip.

[3] This may become its own article at a later date.

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Pulp Appeal: CIRSOVA #5

CIRSOVA: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine recently released their seventh issue and in celebration they made issue five free on Amazon. I’d been meaning to pick up an issue anyway, and this acted as the perfect excuse to do so.

What’s interesting about this issue is that it acts as a formal introduction to a new shared world, Eldritch Earth. The concept is that during the Triassic period the Earth was colonized by the Great Ones. They were responsible for engineering various sub-species of humans to serve as slaves, but also imported other entities not native to Earth. There also the amphibious Yrrowaine who raid humans for mates, and the insectoid Slagborn and reptilian Dryth to contend with[1]. The idea is to have a setting where Lovecraft elements can be used in sword-and-planet and heroic fantasy stories. This isn’t exactly a new concept, and when reading through the stories, I was reminded less of Lovecraft and more of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique cycle, though more in the style elements than the actual stories themselves[2]. Indeed, a world where humans and dinosaurs strive in the same world, along with other races would be ripe for adventure in exotic locales and against fearsome foes. Continue reading

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Issue 5 of Broadswords and Blasters Available Now!

That’s right, year two of the indie magazine officially started last week with the release of issue 5. And, while we love all of our little mutant babies, we feel especially proud of this issue.

So what will you find inside Issue 5?

“After War”: A retelling of the African tale of Yennenga of Burkina Faso by Alison McBain.

“Irini”: A princess is caught in the middle of a palace coup, and discovers more about her family than she ever realized. An excellent slipstream fantasy by Aaron Emmel.

Cover by Luke Spooner of carrionhouse.com

“Let It All Bleed Out”: a dark piece on small town Americana by J Rohr. What happens when you call out to the darkness, and what might be listening?

“Jerold’s Stand”: An honest-to-God medieval ballad dressed up like a fantasy story by David F. Schultz.

“Giving Up the Ghost”: A man is stranded alone on an alien planet with nothing but the ghost of his dead wife and some alien lizards for company. But when given the chance to escape, what will he be forced to leave behind? A bittersweet story of forgiveness and regret by Dianne Williams.

“Last Train to Oblivion”: Henry wakes up on a train, only he doesn’t remember how he got on board and he doesn’t know where it’s going. I mean, he’s just a simple chiropractor from Ohio, right? A tale of hidden monsters and how promises of paradise might not be all they are cracked up to be, by Tom Howard.

“Petals Falling Like Memories”: A wuxia tale of full of high action and intrigue following Brother Sword as he takes lives and memories. L Chan delivers on the promise of the title, and his story is the inspiration for our cover this issue.

Issue 5 is available for POD or Kindle via Amazon. As always, reviews are appreciated and welcome!

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Pulp Appeal: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Poster

“Fourscore and…seven minutes ago… we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by our new friends, Bill… and Ted.”

Two high school losers, Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves), are on the verge of failing their high school history class when they are met by Rufus (George Carlin[1]), a mysterious man in a trenchcoat, who tells them the future is in jeopardy unless they pass their final report.

After talking with future versions of themselves, the two set off in a time machine disguised as a phone booth. They meet and convince/kidnap historical figures from different eras to bring back to San Dimas, California so they can do their final report and pass the class. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the historical figures cause chaos in 1980s southern California.

Along the way they become friends with Billy the Kid, Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Abraham Lincoln. They also meet two Tudor princesses (fictional daughters of Henry VI) with whom they fall in love, and, eventually, form the world-shaping band Wyld Stallyns.

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey Poster

Bogus is right. Critics be damned, because I supremely disliked this movie. Though I may still own the comic book version somewhere.

Okay, synopsis done. But I suspect most of you reading this have seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Some of you may even have seen the aptly named Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey[2]. So, what makes this particular film pulp?

Glad you asked.

What does pulp require? Well, if you’ve paid attention to the works we write about and stories we publish, it requires action-oriented protagonists who drive the plot forward based on doing things rather than sitting around and staring at their belly buttons while waiting for something else to happen. People doing great[3] things in the service of accomplishing their goals, and a plot that changes as the characters take action.

Although our heroes are not particularly bright, they are determined to succeed. The consequences are just too dire, and not in the sense that the future will collapse, though those are the consequences for time traveler Rufus. For Ted, failure means being sent to an Alaskan military school as punishment from a father who just doesn’t understand his son’s taste in music and friends. For Bill, it means a future without his best friend just when his own life hits peak weirdness as his father has recently married a girl just a few years older than Bill himself. For both, it means their dreams of forming a great rock band going down in flames.

Then there is completely unscientific time travel concept. Time travel is itself a major concept in the realm of pulp fiction, starting with, at a minimum, the work of H.G. Wells. Unlike in the type of sci-fi that follows pulp in the 60s and 70s, there’s clearly no accounting for any sort of scientific accuracy. Admittedly, time travel itself is likely not feasible, but there’s not even a wink and a nod to plausibility. It’s just in the service of the story. It simply exists to allow the plot to move forward.

So why am I even talking about Bill and Ted, an almost 30-year-old movie? This is why.

Bill and Ted 3 Teaser Image

I can’t wait.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln
“Be excellent to each other. And… PARTY ON, DUDES!”


[1] Side note – George Carlin is without a doubt my favorite stand-up comedian. No one performing today even comes close.
[2] That this bit of schlock (highly reviewed schlock!) references a classic Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal, which very few people today have likely seen, elevates it a bit higher than I would otherwise classify it. Your time is much better spent watching Bergman’s masterpiece.
[3] Great in the sense of scale, not moral judgement.

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Pulp Appeal: WILLOW

Dark Magic. Sword fights. Magical transformations. Prophecy. An evil queen and a good sorceress. A small magician whose one good trick is making a pig disappear. And brownies! (No, not those kind… but given how they act in the film…)

Of course, I am talking about the 1988 film WILLOW starring Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Patricia Hayes, and the scenery chewing skills of Jean Marsh as the evil queen Bavmorda. WILLOW’s story was written by George Lucas (but notably not the screen play) and directed by Ron Howard.

sorsha willow

Badass redhead warrior woman? Don’t mind if I do.

The action kicks off (as so many fantasy films do), with a prophecy. A child will be born that will lead to Bavmorda’s downfall. How will people know that it is the right child? Well, they’ll be a birthmark noting it as such. Bavmorda though has fully read up on her prophecies, and decides that the best way to preempt any infant deposing her is to not only kill the infant but banish her soul so that she might never be reborn.

Before Bavmorda can kill the child, however, it is spirited away and sent downstream on a raft, because surely it won’t die of exposure that way! Luckily, the babe is discovered by a pair of dwarf… excuse me Nelwynn children, who bring it back to their village. After an attack, the village decides Willow is responsible for bringing the child back to the humans, in the main so that Willow’s village won’t be attacked. This simple plan goes South fast when Willow frees an imprisoned swordsman (Madmartigan) who promptly loses the child to a pair of brownies. A forest spirit, Cherlindrea, entrusts a wand to Willow and instructs him to find Fin Raziel who will aid the child.

The film definitely leans more to epic fantasy than sword-and-sorcery, which probably isn’t much of a surprise given that it came out in 1988. Willow as a main character is a far cry from the adventurism of Conan or the roguish wit of a Gray Mouser. He’s a simple villager who aspires to a little magic and running his farm. At the end of the movie, the evil dispatched and his services no longer required, he doesn’t join court or go on further adventures but settles back down in the same village, albeit with a bit more respect than he had when he left. Sorsha and Madmartigan, while important characters in their own right, are not the focus for the audience but act as deuteragonists, both with their own (intersecting) arcs.

madmartigan

He got better.

It still helps to have memorable set-piece fights, though, and who can forget the magic battle between Fin Raziel and Bavmorda at the end[1]? Likewise the battle at Tir Asleen Castle where a few brave heroes have to fend off the enemy army… and some trolls… and a two-headed fire-breathing beast Willow transformed one of the trolls into. The comic relief of the brownies Franjean and Rool also keep the movie from going completely dark and there is a fair bit of physical humor (quite frequently at the expense of Madmartigan… there’s a reason why this movie was one of Val Kilmer’s breakout roles).

WILLOW goes a long way to show that there is more than one way to tell a story, and that it doesn’t always have to be the “classic” hero and that the simple farmer can be the biggest hero in the story. If you haven’t watched the movie, or if it’s been a while, you owe it to yourself to go back and watch one of the great movies from the ‘80s[2].

 

 

[1] Predating the Saruman/Gandalf fight by a solid 13 years!

[2] Even if it was nominated for two Razzies.

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Pulp Consumption: Sharp Ends

 

[Steve DuBois was kind enough to pull this article together for our on-going PULP CONSUMPTION series of articles. Have an idea for an article? Drop us a line through our contact us box. Payment is a digital copy of the issue of your choice.]

There are people who will argue that Joe Abercrombie’s work is the diametric opposite of pulp.  Abercrombie is broadly categorized as a “Grimdark” author, and his novels—especially those of his First Law universe—do not show heroic virtue being rewarded.  To the extent that there’s a governing intelligence at work, it seems to operate according to the principle of master-manipulator Bayaz: “God smiles upon results.”  Make no mistake, Abercrombie’s work is in no sense “superversive”[1].

Abercrombie ain’t for everybody.  He’s sure as hell for me, though.  Pulp or no, the First Law novels are full of what makes pulp fun.  His plots are consistently action-driven.  His gifts for describing violence, and for putting memorable lines in the mouths of memorable people, are elite.  His characters are painted in bright colors and possess rich internal lives and complex psychologies.  Moreover, while virtue may not be affirmed in Abercrombie’s work, he doesn’t descend to the level of contending that Might Makes Right.  Skullduggery may occasionally produce success, as his characters define it, but the more vile specimens in Abercrombie’s rogues’ gallery often arrive at the realization that their victories do not bring them happiness; that what they wanted and what they needed were two very different things.  In Abercrombie’s world, joy and fulfillment lie in the cracks between the schemes, in small moments of mutual support and camaraderie, and these small victories are primarily experienced by generally sympathetic characters.

sharp ends

UK Cover of Sharp Ends

This dynamic has never been more evident than in Abercrombie’s recent short story collection, Sharp Ends, which introduces the pseudo-heroic pairing of Javre and Shevedieh to the Abercrombie pantheon.  Javre, the Lioness of Hoskopp, is a sinewy warrior woman of enormous personality and enormous appetites, forever crashing and carousing about the landscape, finding fortunes and immediately losing them in taverns, gambling-halls, and especially all-male brothels.  When the cynical former thief Shevedieh encounters the unconscious Javre and takes her in, she soon finds herself swept up in her wake, drawn into conflict with her formidable enemies, and forced to make use of talents that she’d prefer to leave behind her.

The pulp canon is full of dynamic duos, and Javre and Shev are a continuation of that legacy.  Fritz Leiber’s influence is clearly present in the combination of a huge sword-swinging barbarian and a small, nimble rogue, but where Fafhrd and the Mouser were an equal pairing, Shev is very much subordinate, a viewpoint character through whom the reader is exposed to Javre’s larger-than-life doings.  Indeed, the question of Shev’s specific status—henchman?  Sidekick?  Partner, even?—is fodder for entertaining bickering between the two.  There’s a dash of Xena and Gabrielle here as well, though there’s no sexual tension between Shev and the emphatically-hetero Javre (although Abercrombie does go out of his way to express Shev’s lust for pretty much every other woman the two of them run across).  The bickering-partners dynamic between the two has been done before, in instances ranging from Legolas and Gimli through Riggs and Murtaugh, but it’s done exceptionally well here; the guffaw-per-line ratio is quite high.

In truth, the tales do tend to follow a template:  the pairing rolls into a new city, town, or wilderness area; Javre’s relentless id and unwillingness to back down leads them into trouble; Shev rolls her eyes at Javre’s antics, is forced to throw knives and/or steal something, and expresses lesbian attraction to someone; a magically-beweaponed woman warrior shows up and identifies herself as one of Javre’s old enemies; Javre give voice to memorable threats and then gets her stab on, wrecking the opposition and destroying the surrounding landscape; the two of them flee the smoking ruins just ahead of a mob of outraged natives.  A formula, yes, but sometimes formulae exist for a reason.  Abercrombie’s craftsmanship and the outsized personalities of his heroines consistently carry the day.

I can’t promise that any given fantasy reader will love Joe Abercrombie.  I do think that I can say that the best introduction to Abercrombie, for pulp fans, is the Javre and Shev stories.  Pick up Sharp Ends, if you’re so inclined, and read “Small Kindnesses,” “Skipping Town,” “Two’s Company,” and “Three’s A Crowd.”  If you like what you read, proceed from there to the full novel The Blade Itself and read the rest of his work in publication order[2].  It’s a gritty old world that Abercrombie’s created, but I’ve found it to be well worth the visit.

Steve DuBois (@Twitlysium) is a high school teacher and spec-fic author from Kansas City. For more of his fiction and nonfiction, visit http://www.stevedubois.net . His short story “Monsters in Heaven” appeared in issue 4 of Broadswords and Blasters.

[1] Editor’s note: In case you were wondering what superversive is, here’s a decent starting point.

[2] Editor’s Note: Best Served Cold is a personal favorite of editor Matthew Gomez.

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