Pulp Appeal: Sandman Slim

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Alright, admittedly, on the surface Richard Kadrey’s anti-hero James Stark might seem an odd fit for a pulp appeal article, what with him being a supernatural vigilante-type in an ostensibly urban fantasy setting. Scratch the surface though, and what you get is a high-octane version of that most basic of pulp tropes: the revenge story. Or in other words, they are the best damn B-movie novels[1] you can get your hands on.

The reader meets James Stark (the eponymous Sandman Slim) as he’s just escaped from Hell, having been trapped their by his former compatriots in a black magic cabal. Stark’s back and looking for blood, not just because of what was done to him, but because he found out his former girlfriend had recently been murdered… and the culprits were the same people that sent him to Hell in the first place. Stark’s seven years in Hell have made him tougher and meaner, having survived the gladiator pits and been promoted to assassin for one of Hell’s princes. What’s so pulp about that? Change the details to a con having recently gotten out of prison and coming back for revenge for having taken the fall, and you’ve got a classic noir setup don’t you?

Part of the unabashed joy of Kadrey’s writing is watching Stark act like a metaphoric wrecking ball, crashing through the meticulously laid plans of other characters. He’s a barbarian whose first instinct is always to hit back first, and lucky for our hero is able to take a punch/stab/wrecked Ducati/gunshot in return. He’s the outsider who scares everyone else even as they try and use him toward their own ends. Despite the nefarious factions arranged against him from Hell’s princes to Nazi-esque abominations birthed by the creation of the universe to zombies, none of them can withstand the sheer badass attitude Stark brings to the table.

The rest of the appeal comes from the supporting cast of characters, from the immortal alchemist Dupin to Stark’s girlfriend Candy (who causes nearly as much destruction as Stark), to Kasabian (a foul mouthed head and Stark’s business partner) to Brigitte Bardo (a zombie slayer who uses her career in porn as a cover). The characters transcend the cardboard stock that they might otherwise fall victim to, and Kadrey’s villains are the kind of amped up monsters you’d expect someone like Stark would have to run into.

Now ten books in, Sandman Slim shows no sign of slowing down, a fact I’m very grateful for.

[1] Kadrey also throws in enough references to B-movies to make it worth playing “Where’s Waldo?” with the references.

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Issue 2 Cover Reveal

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We’d be lying if we said we weren’t super excited that Luke Spooner/Carrion House did the cover for issue two of Broadswords and Blasters. The image you see is based on one of the stories, “Feathered Death” by Steve Cook.

We are still working on finalizing Issue 2 but plan to have it available for preorder by the end of the month and available for general order by middle of July.

In the mean time you can check out issue 1 here!

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Pulp Appeal: H. Rider Haggard

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Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress – http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.06516/

H. Rider Haggard was not really a pulp fiction author, having been a “respectable” author of Victorian literature whose first stories were published in literary magazines in the late 1870s. He was a lawyer but paid more attention to his writing, probably for the best as he was an excellent writer. So you may ask yourself why I’m talking about a Victorian author who was published in the slicks, whose work predates the height of pulp fiction as a trend. Like Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe, it’s because his work had an outsized impact not only on pulp fiction, but fiction in general.

His most famous creation, the English explorer Allan Quatermain, was introduced in the 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines. While there are earlier examples of Lost World fiction, including Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, King Solomon’s Mines is considered the father of the style and tropes that came later. The exploration of “darkest Africa” was a particular focus of adventurers at the height of Victoria’s reign at the end of the British Colonial Empire, and the reading public had a thirst for stories of such as well.

In the very first Pulp Appeal article, I wrote about Solomon Kane and his friend N’Longa, whose relationship is clearly founded upon that of Quatermain and Umslopogaas. That friendship doesn’t appear in the first Quatermain book, but there is another cross-cultural friendship that develops between Umbopa/Ignosi and Quatermain. In this novel there is ample evidence that Quatermain is more enlightened racially than his peers. It’s still colonial British literature, so it’s certainly not progressive by modern standards, but the tribespeople Quatermain encounters have agency, take actions on their own for their own self-interest, and run the gamut of emotional, intellectual, and moral development. There is certainly some awful stereotyping in evidence, particularly in the portrayal of the witch Gagool and King Twala, but Umbopa/Ignosi runs counter to such stereotyping. In many ways, he serves as a model for the character of Umslopogaas.

Haggard wrote a lot of stories and books, but he was most famous for Quatermain and Ayesha, a nigh-immortal woman warrior who ruled as “She-who-must-be-obeyed.” While Quatermain’s adventures have some supernatural magic, the stories of Ayesha are full-on fantasy. And if King Solomon’s Mines set the stage for most of the Lost World stories to come, She solidified it. As well, the positive portrayal of strength in women was seen as pushing the bounds of decorum, but today it reads as more quaint and sexist than it would have at the time. Still, between the positive and sympathetic portrayals of African tribes and the exploration of women in leadership and power, Haggard, like Robert E. Howard 30 years later, was far more than the racist-sexist tar critics try to coat him in. This is not to excuse the colonial apologism of Victorian literature, but to condemn it all and throw the baby out with the bathwater is misguided at best.

There were other Victorian adventure authors of the time, like Kipling and Conan Doyle, but they owe a lot to the ground Haggard trod first. And that’s leaving out later authors who carried Haggard’s influence forward, people like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and Philip Jose Farmer, among others.

Last, but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Indiana Jones, who is as clear an analog for Quatermain as exists. There have been a few relatively recent attempts to bring Quatermain to film1, notably two films starring Richard Chamberlain (both attempting to parody Indiana Jones and both critical and commercial flops) and the recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen2, but their less-than-stellar execution (particularly LXG) harmed the brand more than they extended it. Luckily, other interpretations exist, like the graphic novel version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen written by Alan Moore (and boy is he rightfully pissed at the film version), and the original books are all public domain as well as dozens of other books by Haggard.

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1 There were several older ones in the middle part of the 20th Century, but they were about as faithful as the more modern ones and not much better in quality.

2 If you’d like to watch an excellent show that is pretty much LXG with the serial numbers filed off, go hit up Penny Dreadful (on Showtime in the US and Sky in the UK).

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Pulp Appeal: Jirel of Joiry

C.L. Moore, stands out as one of the godparents of sword and sorcery and science-fiction, and nowhere is this more apparent than in her creation, Jirel of Joiry. Jirel stands out for several reasons as a character of the Golden Age of Pulp. She is a female character being written by a female writer, a rarity for the time. (While there were other women writing for the pulps at the time, a large percentage of them were writing hard-boiled detective stories, not fantasy). She is a creature of her passions, frequently overcome with rage that dictate her actions. She is also placed in a historic setting, in this case medieval France[1].

Jirel is a noblewoman, to be sure, but one that is more likely to don armor and meet her foes head-on then to sit behind her castle walls and busy herself with embroidery. In the sadly few stories Moore wrote featuring her, she is a character who takes her fate in her own hands, who strives against dark villains and triumphs, though not through skill at sword or physical prowess, but the characters sheer emotional power and will. Throughout all her tribulations, she maintains a rock-solid foundation of who she is, and she is no man’s woman.

One of the characteristics that strikes me the most is the settings Moore chose to set her stories in. Despite having the pretense of medieval France, Moore flings Jirel into supernatural settings, be it a parallel world through a magic portal (“Jirel Meets Magic”) or through a portal to what can only be considered a version of Hell (“Black God’s Kiss” and “Black God’s Shadow”). The unique nature of these settings, and the obstacles Jirel encounters are unique to the character, and never fall into the trap of imitation or pastiche.

As readers and writers of pulp, you can do far worse than checking out Jirel of Joiry.

The biggest downside is that there are so few Jirel of Joiry stories, with Moore having only penned six (and one of those costarred Moore’s other creation- Northwest Smith). But if anyone ever asks you, “Where are the women?” when it comes to the pulps, here is one ready answer.

[1] I view Howard’s Hyborian age as more closely related to pseudohistory as divorced as it was from any historic setting.

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Pulp Appeal: Hap and Leonard (Guest Post by Matt Spencer)

(Editor’s note: Matt Spencer is the author of several novels, including the acclaimed Deschembine trilogy, The Night and the Land, Trail of the Beast, and The Blazing Chief (forthcoming from Caliburn Press), as well as numerous short-stories and novellas. Find him online at https://mattspencerauthor.wordpress.com/, and on Twitter as @MattSpencerFSFH.

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If there’s a modern author who qualifies for heir-apparent to the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction, keeping the form alive and relevant today, it’s Joe R. Lansdale. Far from a one-trick pony, Lansdale seems at home writing just about anything, from adventure, mystery, horror, sci-fi, Western, to mainstream fiction. The man refuses to pigeon-hole himself, and goes wherever the hell the muse takes him.

 

He sure makes it hard to pick favorites, that Crazy Uncle Joe, especially from the body-of-work of such a prolific storyteller who’s resonated with me so strongly and had such a profound impact on my own work. If you were to put a gun to my head over the matter, I’d say his talent shines brightest in his personal brand of rural East Texas-style hardboiled crime fiction. And there nowhere better than with his two recurring heroes Hap Collins and Leonard Pine.

First introduced in the short novel Savage Season (1990), this pair of Texas rough-housin’ good ol’ boys don’t fit the profile. Hap’s a white, skirt-chasing ex-hippie who spent time in jail during the Vietnam War. Leonard’s a black, gay Vietnam vet with an old-school conservative streak. The first novel opens with Hap’s ex-wife Trudy showing up from their old hippie days, to lure him back into a caper to recover a carload of bank-robbery money from the bottom of the Sabine River. From there, things go from bad to worse very quickly, through a scenario made of violent twists and turns and character relationships I won’t give away here. It’s no spoiler to say that Hap and Leonard live through it – the series is named after the eponymous buddy-duo, after all, and all of these stories are told from Hap’s first-person narration. Yet suffice it to say, Lansdale ratchets the action and tension and danger throughout the climax of the story, so hot damn, you feel like you’re right there, bleeding and sweating in the moment with these guys, almost scared to turn the next page, sharing their anxiety over whether either of them will make it out of this alive.

Lansdale has since written eight more novels of the duo, as well as numerous short-stories and novellas, consistently upping the ante every time. As Hap and Leonard grow older and more seasoned, settling into their life’s calling as semi-vigilante private investigators, Lansdale never seems to run out of ways to keep them on their toes.

Lansdale’s rough, witty workman’s prose reads extremely fast, painting people and places in broad, vivid strokes, so their dialogue fills in the rest, putting you there. Hap’s snarky, laconic narrative voice recalls that of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, with a down-home redneck spin, so any fan of old-school hard-boiled detective pulp should feel instantly right at home…but with a twist. See, while so much of our favorite old-school pulp yarns are tainted by outdated attitudes on race and gender and such, Lansdale confronts and addresses these social issues directly, through a thought-provoking modern lens, in ways that hurt. Lansdale’s own real-life background, as a Texas roughneck and as a Martial Arts instructor, lend the seedy situations and bare-knuckle two-fisted action-sequences an authenticity that’s impossible to fake. At the heart of it all lies the inseparable brotherhood between our two ne’er-do-well heroes. That’s what makes you care and keep turning the pages, even when shit gets so grim and gut-wrenching that you’re afraid to see what happens next. Hap and Leonard keep each other going with a rhythmic banter that rings true. They constantly jibe and rib at each other, in vulgar, hilariously offensive ways that only the closest, truest brothers-in-arms get away with talking to each other. They’re down-home hardasses who rely on their brains, hearts, and critical thinking skills, as well as their brawn and swagger. As with any iconic great adventuresome literary friendship, you’re likely to recognize shades of yourself and your own BFF in them, especially if you know what it is to get through some insane, dangerous times together.

Hap and Leonard have recently come to life on the small screen, in a Sundance TV series starring James Purefoy as Hap and Michael K Williams as Leonard, already renewed for a third. Here’s hoping the boys are here to stay with us, for a long time to come, ‘cause if you ask me, they’re the heroes we need right now.

For a great place to start, I’d suggest either the first novel, Savage Season, or the recent collection of novellas and short-stories, titled appropriately, Hap & Leonard.

 (Editor: You can also follow Lansdale on twitter, or find him on his webpage at http://www.joerlansdale.com/

 Interested in writing a Pulp Appeal article for Broadswords and Blasters? Drop us a line through our contact page and let us know what you’re interested in contributing.)

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Pulp Appeal: Erle Stanley Gardner

All_detective_193311You can’t read pulp fiction, particularly gumshoe detective stories, without stumbling across Erle Stanley Gardner. The guy was such a prolific writer that the eighty, yes EIGHTY, novels he wrote featuring his most famous character, Perry Mason, don’t even account for half of his total bibliography. Holy crap.

Perry Mason is one of the most iconic lawyers in American pop culture. Fun fact: Ozzy Osbourne has a heavy metal song about the character. Before the original tv series run in the 1950s–60s, there were no filmed legal dramas. Of course, you say, because it was the 1950s and there were few tv shows. Yes, but nearly every trope of every legal drama that has come since was copied from the show and the novels upon which it was based. Perry Mason wasn’t just an iconic television legal drama; it was THE archetype for everything from Columbo to Law & Order, from Matlock to LA Law, from Quincy, ME to CSI to Bones.

But Mason wasn’t Gardner’s only creation. He also created Cool & Lam, the anti-hard-boiled heroes. Bertha Cool is a widow in her 60s, overweight and greedy. Donald Lam is a nebbish. If you picture Woody Allen’s or Rick Moranis’ characters, only smarter and less prone to rambling, you’ve almost nailed Lam. I’ve only read a few of the Cool & Lam stories, but I’ll be going back to them again and again as this duo account for thirty more novels in Gardner’s bibliography.

Tdetective_fiction_weekly_19290831he character I like best after Perry Mason is one Lester Leith. That’s probably because I read E.W. Hornung’s The Amateur Cracksman as a kid. I think it was a book my parents got for me after I expressed an interest in more Holmes-like characters. Hornung’s character, A.J. Raffles, is more Moriarty than Holmes, but the comparison still stands, and Gardner’s Leith is essentially Raffles written for an American audience. There are indications that Gardner intended Leith to be a parody, but the stories aren’t parody in the way Saturday Night Live or MAD Magazine are. Rather, I’d consider Leith to be a pastiche or a regional variant (like Zorro is to Robin Hood). If you’re not familiar with either Raffles or Leith, you’d likely still recognize the idea of the gentleman thief1. The Saint, Arsene Lupin, and Danny Ocean (from the Ocean’s Eleven movies) are some other examples. The characters are well-heeled aristocrats who engage in complex burglaries of other well-heeled aristocrats while thumbing their noses at law enforcement who know these guys2 are criminals but can never prove it.

Unfortunately, none of Gardner’s works are in the public domain, but Perry Mason reruns3 are on television quite frequently and his works are pretty widely available for purchase. If all you know of Gardner is Perry Mason, you’ve managed to miss more than half of the prolific author’s output. Honestly, I find much of Mason’s stories to be self-pastiche and overly repetitive, so discovering the other characters in the last few years, particularly Leith, gave me a new appreciation for Gardner as a writer. People who denigrate pulp fiction often decry the repetitive nature of the stories, and there is some merit to that criticism, but most of those critics are either willfully blind to the multitude of stories that aren’t simple rehashes or else woefully ignorant of breadth and depth of variation.

1 For a modern example, I highly recommend Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora.

2 Almost every literary example of a gentleman thief is a man. There are a handful of women, but they are mostly cat burglars, like Catwoman Selina Kyle, and thus represent a different sort of subgenre thief protagonist.

3 CBS has the first ten episodes available to stream for free. If you have CBS All Access, the whole series is available.

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Pulp Appeal: Egil & Nix

I first came across Paul S. Kemp’s characters of Egil and Nix in the highly recommended Blackguards anthology put out by Ragnarok Press, and I have been sure to pick up their individual novels . Coming across as a couple of rogues of the first order, it is easy to see their pulp pedigree. In point of fact, it would be perhaps too easy to dismiss them as pastiche of Fritz Leiber’s rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

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Cover to the first book.

Egil is a giant of a man, the sole priest of a god who lasted only a moment. Nix is the more roguish of the two, smaller of build, meaner of disposition, and fascinated by magic. Both are intrinsically flawed, whether it is the depressions Egil falls into as a result of having lost wife and child, or Nix, for being, well, Nix. During the course of their adventures, they escort a sorcerous nobleman and his sisters, tangle with a mindmage, battle a thieves’ guild with mystical connections, and become ensnared in a groundhog’s day type loop. They also just happen to own a brothel, though it is also fair to say that they aren’t the ones that are running it.

Like their literary predecessors, their home base is a city rife with corruption, but within striking distance of adventure. Neither is truly happy living a sedentary life, and their friends often encourage them to go on adventures to knock them out of their funk if nothing else. Kemp does an excellent job interjecting his larger than life characters with an element of absolute humanity, however, that can sometimes be lacking in pulp characters. Egil misses his family, deeply, while Nix cares deeply for his foster mother Mamabird, and leaves coins about in the slums where he grew up as a thought to his own humble beginnings.

It is easy to draw parallels between Kemp’s writing and that of Leiber’s as certain elements reappear. Demons and dark magic are commonplace, as are distressed noblewomen and a treacherous Thieves’ Guild.  The action too is fast-paced and heart pounding, and the banter between Egil and Nix makes for an entertaining read (particularly Egil’s disdain for what he considers gewgaws). One of the key differences is that Kemp’s creations are beholden to no sorcerous patrons, bow to no gods, and have no compunction raiding a demon-guarded tomb if there’s a whiff of treasure about it.

So if you’re looking to scratch that sword and sorcery itch, but you’ve already delved into the classics, I say look no further. And if you are looking for just a taste, I do highly recommend the Blackguards anthology mentioned at the top, as it functions as a terrific gateway to some writers you might not have been exposed to before.

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