Pulp Appeal: Pulp Modern Summer 2019

I’m not just covering Pulp Modern’s latest issue because Matt has a story in it. Honest. In fact, although Matt and I have been friends long enough that we started this publication together, he’s not even the reason I picked up this issue. Nope, I picked it up because I wanted to read more Adam S. Furman, Rex Weiner, and C.W. Blackwell, all of whom have graced our own pages. I’m a touch jealous, but damn if these stories don’t deserve to be read. And not just those three, but all of them.

The issue starts off with editor Alec Cizak’s foreword. Other reviews have highlighted his discussion on imagination and done so better than I would, so I’ll just leave it to them. I did want to highlight his discussion on world psychology and how we in 2019 are entering the same headspace as people a hundred years ago. Without getting political, you can see this both in the governmental world and in the entertainment industries. Rapid changes in delivery and content have altered the way we produce and consume media, and megacorps are standing up much like they did until broken up by anti-trust decisions. I think Cizak is on point here, and the reason we have so much escapist art of late is that there seems to be so much to escape from.

In the first story, “A Pinto, a Hooker, a Gun” Rex Weiner takes readers to the Sunset Strip and the divorced sheriff’s deputy Skull Snyder working a homicide case involving organized crime, a femme fatale, and some convoluted backstabbing. It’s a ride.

Russell Thayer is next with “The Killer,” a noir starring Maggie, a nineteen-year-old waitress, as the heroine standing up to a couple of drug kingpin enforcers. This story is rich with implied backstory and now I want to read more about Maggie and Mrs. Valentine. I’ll be on the lookout.

C.W. Blackwell’s “Her Name Was Larceny” is pretty much exactly what it says on the label. A girl named Larceny gets busted for theft, but there is a lot more to her story than that. And it has my favorite dialogue exchange in the issue. “You killed two men in my county. What side are you on?” “Two and a half.” “What?” “I killed two and a half.”

Prostitutes feature frequently in crime fiction, but rarely are they the heroes of the stories. Diana Andrews, the protagonist of Albert Tucher’s “Modesty” is one of those rarities. In this story, a completely naked Diana gets swept up by some goons and encounters a homeless camp, with the most realistic version of a homeless person I’ve read or seen in years. Tucher does a great job here, and I’ll be adding his name to the ever-growing list of people whose work I need to read.

Next up is Matt’s story “The Price of an Offer Refused.” While it might seem like I’m just stumping for a friend, I have to say I’m super stoked for Matt. I first read this story awhile back in its draft stages, but its inclusion in this issue drives home how much I love the Ariadna character. And it’s a nice change of pace from the previous stories, all of which are hardboiled crime fiction.

Kokoro, the samurai protagonist of Scott Forbes Crawford’s “Heart of a Samurai” stops a group of men on a rampage and befriends a cute white kitten, but not all is at it seems. This cautionary tale is a classic example of the fallacy of “shoot first, ask questions later.”

If I’ve read a story by Adam S. Furman and didn’t immediately question my own self-worth as a writer, have I truly read a story by Adam S. Furman? Man, he’s good. And “Rosetta” is more of the same high caliber work I’ve come to expect from him. Why isn’t he famous yet? I mean, this opening line–”MIKH4IL drank the serenity of the starfields.”

“Odd Jobs” by Adam S. House is a classical horror tale, with echoes of the work of Roger Corman and Wes Craven, but that’s not meant as a criticism. I love Corman and Craven both. If you know your Scottish lore and the tale of Sawney Bean, you’ll get even more out of this story.

With another Celtic reference, this time to Irish folk hero Cú Chulainn, we have “Chulainn” by S. Craig Renfroe, Jr. This story is set during the American Civil War, and follows Patrick, a former preacher turned rebel soldier and his company’s ill-fated journey through his old hometown of Sumerville.

I neglected to mention the art pieces earlier, but Ran Scott, Dan W. Taylor, Alfred Klosterman did some great illustrations for each story. The cover by Rick McCollum is a suitably unsettling depiction of a plot point from “Chulainn.” And the four cartoons by Bob Vojtko are much-needed humorous little palate cleansers.

I have two minor complaints, and they are very minor. I wish the story genres weren’t chunked together as they are. It’s a stylistic choice to be sure, and while there’s a great variety of stories here, I’d prefer them being a bit more interspersed. The other is ragged right edges instead of justified text. Again, it’s a stylistic choice, but I prefer the text edges to be smoothed out as it’s easier on my eyes for some reason.

Overall, this is a really strong issue and Cizak has done a phenomenal job curating this selection of stories.

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