Pulp Appeal: THE GETAWAY by Jim Thompson (Guest Post by Matt Spencer)

Editors’ Note: Matt Spencer is the author of numerous novellas and short-stories, as well as the novels The Night and the LandThe Trail of the Beast, and Summer Reaping on the Fields of Nowhere. His latest book is the short-fiction collection Story Time With Crazy Uncle Matt. He’s been a journalist, New Orleans restaurant cook, factory worker, radio DJ, and a no-good ramblin’ bum. He’s also a song lyricist, playwright, actor, and martial artist. As of this writing, he lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Among the genre-defining noir writers of the 40s and 50s, Jim Thompson stands out for his brutal subversiveness. Rather than following a hard-nosed detective through a criminal underworld (where our protagonist may be morally ambiguous, but remains, in essence, a clear-cut good guy up against clear-cut bad guys), Thompson was among the first major writers to explore stories from the point of view of thieves, murderers, gangsters, sociopaths and lunatics, with no heroes present, and no happy ending in the cards.

Image result for the getaway jim thompson

When Quentin Tarantino titled his breakout star-making film Pulp Fiction, there can be little doubt that Thompson was the author at the front of his mind. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Thompson’s heist/road trip-novel The Getaway. While getting to know bank-robber lovers-on-the-run Carol and Carter “Doc” McCoy, one quickly recognizes shades of such outlaw couples of early Tarantino screenplays. See Pumpkin and Honey Bunny in Pulp Fiction, Clarence and Alabama in True Romance, and Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers.

After a stint in prison, Doc promptly arranges a lucrative bank-robbery with the help of Carol and some of their nefarious associates. The job goes off fairly well, but things quickly go sideways from there, thanks to a series of double-crosses, surprise revelations, and a rapidly rising body-count, complicating the couple’s plans to flee across the border into Mexico.

What makes this often-imitated book still stand out as a classic is the psychological and emotional complexity with which Thompson treats his protagonists, and how that weaves into the gripping, suspenseful power of the narrative. Doc and Carol are unambiguously bad people who should by no means be viewed as “relationship goals” (even in the snarky, ironically romanticized sense many like to do with the aforementioned Tarantino couples). At the same time, there’s a surprising truthfulness and relatability to their relationship. Like any young couple dealing with the stress of getting by in the world together after the “honeymoon phase” is over, they both wrestle internally with anxieties of trust, their shifting perceptions of each other and themselves, and what kind of future they have to look forward to, in a way that feels authentic. The difference is, their anxieties involve staying a step ahead of both the law and their turncoat criminal associates, and they’re not above disposing of anyone who happens to get in their way (readers expecting any romanticized “honor among thieves” are in for some rude jolts). The fact that there’s genuine love between them only heightens the growing, ominous sense of impending tragedy; just how long can love stay true, once one’s made a lifestyle of being untrustworthy and never trusting anyone? It’s here that Thompson’s most lauded trademark skill shines, namely putting readers inside the heads of unreliable narrators. The guy was a master at steadily show-don’t-tell clueing readers in that his POV characters’ narrative of events wasn’t exactly on the money, so we feel an escalating tension and anxiety as we question their perceptions and our own, which ratchets up the suspense to the breaking point.

Image result for the getaway jim thompson

Most of Thompson’s books tend to stay inside the head of a single POV protagonist. This was the first of his I read that regularly jumps around between multiple perspectives, between Doc, Carol, their friends and enemies, sometimes innocent bystanders who’ve unwittingly become entangled in the caper, sometimes within paragraphs, in ways modern editors don’t look kindly on, to say the least. For this and other reasons, Thompson’s prose feels far less polished here than in other works. At times, the book reads like a barely-edited first draft. For example, someone will be having a conversation presented as dialogue, then it’ll switch to a quick narration summing up how the rest of the conversation went. It’s a testament to the power of the raw material that this never took me out of the flow of the story. Thompson keeps the action and forward-momentum tight and ever-in-motion, with twists and reversals piling up almost quicker than the reader can keep up. In short, everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

One of the novel’s more surprising, memorable features is how in the final act, it switches from being a straight-forward crime novel to a surreal, dreamlike hellscape, leading to a haunting conclusion that’s at once tragic, darkly funny, ambiguous-and-yet-not-ambiguous.

The Getaway has been made into a movie twice, first in 1972, directed by the great Sam Pekinpah, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and in a now-mostly-forgotten 1994 remake directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Both movies have screenplays by Walter Hill, interestingly enough. I haven’t seen either of them, but looking at the trailers on YouTube, both appear to have turned it into much more of an action-adventure, with a lot more car-chases, gun-fights and explosions. The remake even had one of those cross-promotional hit-single pop love-songs attached to it, the kind that were all the rage in the early ’90s, which amuses me for all the wrong reasons.

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Pulp Appeal: “The Garden of Adompha” by Clark Ashton Smith (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

Cover of Weird Tales April 1938

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys good stories across many different genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in Swords and Sorcery Magazine and DMR Books Blog. If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.

“The Garden of Adompha” was published in the April 1938 issue of Weird Tales. King Adompha, ruler of the eastern isle of Sotar’s life is filled with a constant sense of ennui. In order to relieve himself of this boredom, Adompha has enlisted the aid of the court magician, Dwerulas, in the upkeep and maintenance of a secret garden. This is no typical, run of the mill garden. A person of Adompha’s station is above these mundane pastimes. Nothing but the most outré pleasure is fit for a king. The garden of Adompha is secreted away behind a “square built granite walls… high and formidable as those of a prison” and “roofed over against the sun with great sheets of lead and copper, leaving no cranny through which the tinniest star could peer down.” This sealed off area can only be accessed through a thick brazen door, of which only the two conspirators know how to unlock. At the structure’s center, floats a strange miniature orb that produces a degree of heat and throws off a blood red light. This miniature sun gives nourishment to a species of plant life that is not of this world. In fact, Dwerulas raised both plants and orb through sorcerous means from the same place; the hell of Thasaidon.

First page of the story as it appeared in the Weird Tales issue (with some significant yellowing because of age)

In the deepest part of night, King Adompha sneaks off to his secret garden and discovers that in the midst of the alien vegetation, his court sorcerer is about his business in cultivating his charge. Next to a freshly dug hole, lies Thuloneah, the king’s current concubine, senseless in a drugged state. Next to her are strewn about the tools of the sorcerer, including various knives. The wizard removes the girl’s hands and grafts them onto the topmost branches of the dedaim. He throws the body into the pit; all throughout the branches and foliage of the monstrous plants can be seen the handiwork of the wizard. Various body parts, taken from a multitude of the king’s servitors (who have outlived their usefulness) including the heads of eunuchs, the ears of guardsmen, several palpitating hearts, torsos and still blinking eyes are grafted onto the alien plant forms. This is a hybrid organism, made up of the remnants of human beings coupled with extra-dimensional plants. In another pique of displeasure, the king brains his sorcerer with a spade and dumps him in with the body of the concubine and inters them together. The days pass by and rumors abound throughout the king’s court as to the sudden disappearance of the wizard Dwerulas. Eventually, the gossip dies down and court life returns to normal. But like a moth to the flame, King Adompha is again drawn to his secret garden. In the dead of night, he goes to the forbidden chamber and as often happens on the continent of Zothique, events quickly go pear shaped.

Adompha notices that changes have occurred within. The orb is burning hotter, emitting a deeper shade of light and the plants have grown to excessive heights, filled out with denser foliage. The king enters a green hell. The plant life is exuding stronger fragrances coupled with a musical half articulate murmuring that puts Adompha in a state of intoxication. The walls of plants part like a curtain to let the esteemed guest of honor pass into the structure’s center; the show is about to begin. The human plant hybrid starts reconfiguring itself to the point of a swinging, convulsing, mass. “Then, by some undiscerned transition, it seemed that they were no longer rooted in the ground but were moving about him on dim, fantastic feet in ever-swiftening circles, like the dancers of some bewildering festival.”(3) Intoxicated and head swirling with this grotesque ballet of murdered retainers; King Adompha is gently caressed by the hands of his lover Thuloneah. Up to the point where he is ripped apart limb from limb by the hybrid, under the direction of the deceased sorcerer Dwerulas.

A clearer version of the image from the illustration in Weird Tales

For readers that are just discovering the works of Clark Ashton Smith (and Zothique) “The Garden of Adompha” is a good starting point. The length of the work is on the shorter side that conveys perfectly the predominant tone of the stories set on the last continent; much of the Zothique cycle is rife with decadence and doom. This story is easily digestible in one sitting that exposes newcomers to Smith’s baroque use of the English language. This tale also delivers a large helping of grotesquery and the Weird. “The Garden of Adompha” is a fine representation of the larger cycle. Many of the aspects that make the Zothique stories unique are present and on display here, including the repellant sorcerer who dabbles in the necromantic arts, the debauched potentate that snuffs out the lives of others to relieve his boredom and the manifestation of the otherworldly that brings about ruination. Once a reader cuts their teeth on this story and gets a feel for the author’s florid style, they can easily move onto such high strangeness to be found in “The Empire of the Necromancers”, “The Isle of the Torturers” or “The Dark Eidolon”. Those three tales represent Smith firing on all cylinders; the decadence and doom factor in those stories increases exponentially.

In my view, King Adompha seems to be a literary descendant of William Beckford’s character, Vathek.  First translated into English in 1786 (Beckford originally wrote the story in French), Vathek is a Gothic novel about the titular Caliph who lives a life of dissipation and vice. This novel, heavily inspired by Galland’s translation of The Arabian Nights, is an Orientalist fantasy; in which the autocrat is brought low (by hubris) in trafficking with entities and subjects that man was not meant to know. This is a variation of the same fate shared by King Adompha. Although in all honesty, the end result couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual. As the old Roman saying goes; Sic semper tyrannis. It’s good to see that a modicum of poetic justice still exists on the last continent.

The Eldritch Dark: The Sanctum of Clark Ashton Smith.  www.eldritchdark.com
“The Garden of Adompha” (direct story link)

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Pulp Appeal: “The Tomb Spawn” by Clark Ashton Smith (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys good stories across many different genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in Swords and Sorcery Magazine and DMR Books Blog. If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.

May 1934 cover of Weird Tales. First appearance of Conan on the cover, but inside is “The Tomb Spawn.”

In a wine shop at the northern gate of the city of Faraad, a merchant caravan is settling down for the evening, washing away the dust of the road with the heady vintages of Yoros. A skald is regaling the crowd with tales from antiquity. The story for the evening concerns the mythic Ossaru, wizard-king who ruled over half of the continent of Zothique, whose “armies were like the rolling of sands…He commanded the genii of storm and darkness, he called down the spirits of the sun.” The skald tells of how the long lived Ossaru, in his extensive reign, read the portents of the heavens, travelled to the desert and captured the space demon Nioth Korghai, who arrived by comet.

Ossaru imprisoned the creature in a vault beneath his throne room, whereby the alien would advise the king in uncanny astrological lore. In return for this knowledge, Ossaru, at certain stellar conjunctions would send down into the vaults young maidens and warriors which were never heard from again. At these times, the throne room would resound with the muffled sounds of mad cackling combined with the slow beating of a deep drum and the rilling of water as if from an underground fountain. This ritual persisted for many years until one day, the subterranean noises subsided and died entirely. Nioth Korghai succumbed to a strange disease. After the creature’s death, Ossaru created a double circle barrier within the vault, through sorcerous means, to act as a containment field. After long epochs, at the death of the wizard-king, his attendants lowered his mummified remains down to abide with Nioth Korghai in perpetuity.

In the audience are two brothers, Milab and Marabac, jewel merchants from Ustaim, who inquire of the bard the tales ending, given the fact that a definitive one is lacking. Ossaru’s empire has been lost and forgotten to the sands of time and has yet to be recovered. The skald gives the brothers a cryptic prophesy however, from the long dead sorcerer Namirrha as a clue; “prophesying darkly, foretold many ages ago that certain travelers, passing though the desert, would someday come upon it unaware. And he said that these travelers, descending into the tomb by another way than a door, would behold a strange prodigy.” The next day, the caravan departs for Tasuun at dawn. As the day wears on, the party approaches the borders of Yoros, the desert landscape gradually changes, with dry lake beds caked with salt, crumbling cliff faces and deep walled, boulder strewn ravines. The merchant train is traversing a turn in one such ravine, when suddenly, they are set upon by a large pack of bestial Ghorii (Smith describes them as a cross between a ghoul and jackal). The beasts make short work of the caravan and their dromedary mounts, spilling boxes of pearls, rubies, onyx idols and bolts of rich fabric into the dust.

An audio version of “The Tomb Spawn” someone read and uploaded to YouTube.

Fortunately for Milab and Marabac, they were positioned at the rear of the caravan due to Milab’s camel being lame by a stone bruise and unseen by the beast pack. At the sight, the two brothers unhitch and level their spears, ready to charge the pack, when their mounts, catching the scent of the spilt blood and the Ghorii, balk and bolt in the opposite direction. While they are fleeing, another contingent of Ghorii, on the southern slope of the ravine, spots the two survivors and gives pursuit. Heading eastward, by mid afternoon, the brothers make out over the sunken plain in the distance, the white walls and domes of a city. Having no better alternatives, the two make for the structures.

For two days, the pair trek across the powdery terrain, burning through their limited stores of food and water, losing a camel in the process, in search of that ever receding city in the distance. Half mad from thirst and starvation, Milab and Marabac finally enter the city an hour before sunset; the realization dawns on the brothers that the city is a ruin from ancient days. On the verge of death, the pair begins to search the city in a desperate attempt to locate potable water. They detect several fountains, cisterns and aqueducts, but they carry only dust and sand. Trudging on, the pair eventually find a stately palace whose walls have withstood better than most, the constant eroding force of the desert winds. Upon entering the grand edifice, within a sand choked throne room sits a black veined marble dais. Faint gurgling sounds can be heard, resembling an underground stream. Upon closer inspection, a large crack has formed in the marble from falling debris; as the brothers approach the hole it becomes apparent that the gurgling sound is coming from somewhere beneath the throne room. They remove the leather straps and reins from their camel and knot together a makeshift rope.

Milab descends first and upon determining that at twelve feet he is again on solid ground, Marabac follows. As the last of the sunlight fails to penetrate the subterranean darkness, Milab tears off and lights a piece of his burnoose. Standing before them, dimly illuminated by the small spark is the entity Nioth Korghai. Smith states: “Its main portion or body was urn-like in form and was pedestalled on a queerly tilted block of stone at the vault’s center. It was palish and pitted with innumerable small apertures. From its bosom and flat-tened base many arm-like and leg-like projections trailed in swollen nightmare segments to the ground; and two other members, sloping tautly, reached down like roots into an open and seemingly empty sarcophagus of gilded metal, graven with weird archaic ciphers, that stood beside the block. The urn-shaped torso was endowed with two heads. One of these heads was beaked like a cuttlefish and was lined with long oblique slits where the eyes should have been. The other head, in cose juxta-position on the narrow shoulders, was that of an aged man dark and regal and terrible, whose burning eyes were like balas-rubies and whose grizzled beard had grown to the length of jungle moss on the loathsomely porous trunk. This trunk, on the side below the human head, dis-played a faint outline as of ribs; and some of the members ended in human hands and feet, or possessed anthropomorphic jointings.”

The first page of “The Tomb Spawn” as it appeared in Weird Tales.

In actuality, the looming creature is an amalgamation of Ossaru and his alien monster. The deep bass drum heartbeat thunders within the chamber, while the cuttlefish head shrieks with sinister cackles. The head of the grizzled wizard-king begins a chant in a solemn cadence in an unknown tongue (perhaps in his native dead language, or a spell?). The monstrosity ponderously shambles over to the pair, its multitude of segmented appendages reaching out for them. In horror, they flee towards a half open door on the far side of the tomb. Unfortunately, for the brothers, they fail to notice a few paces from the exit a faint red line etched into the ground. This is the perimeter of the containment spell activated ages ago by Ossaru. Marabac crosses the red line and is immediately vaporized; turned into a cloud of dust. Milab reacts quickly enough to stop in his tracks, when he feels the grasp of the monster’s slimy withered claws on his shoulders. Milab lets out a final cry and leaps over the red line, to his death. The creature reaches out past the perimeter for the ashen remains of his prey, only to have it scorched off as well.

“The Tomb Spawn” is a typical Clark Ashton Smith story as illustrated by its bleak conclusion. The attrition rate of his protagonists is quite high; usually ending in death, but in certain instances, in fates worse than death. Smith was a purveyor of what the French termed the ‘Conte Cruel’ or Cruel Tale. This was a type of short fiction born of the decadent movement, in late 19th century France; typical stories of this genre hinge upon an ironic twist ending that comes crashing down on the main character, illustrating the cruelty of fate. This cruel twist is a mainstay of Smith’s work; unfortunately for them, Milab and Marabac become actors in the denouement of the skald’s tale. The strength of this story in my view is twofold. The first aspect is Smith’s inventive approach in creating a sense of antagonistic Weird Menace. The beastlike Ghorii, described as half jackal and half ghoul, who when attacking, “[u]tter[s] no sound, other than a sort of hoarse coughing and spitting” is pretty unnerving. But these creatures pale in comparison to the big reveal within the tomb. The hybrid Ossaru- Nioth Korghai is worthy of Lovecraft with regards to its bizarre alien biology (large, urn shaped torso, leaking viscous ichor from innumerable apertures and cuttlefish head), very much reminiscent of his Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness.

Sargon the Great

The story’s second strength lies in Smith’s portrayal of Zothique as being a continent that is vastly ancient, with strata upon strata accruing over countless cycles. In a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, Smith stated that; “Zothique as I have conceived it belongs to the future rather than the past, and lies at the other end of the time-cycle from Hyperborea, Mu, etc. The peoples of Zothique, one might say, have rounded the circle and have returned to the conditions of what we of the present era might regard as antiquity.” A subtle way in which the author conveys this sense of vast antiquity is by mentioning the prophecy of the sorcerer Namirrha, who himself was the lead character of 1935’s highly regarded, “The Dark Eidolon.” By stating that Namirrha (and his deeds) lived ages ago, in Zothique’s distant past, coupled with the fact that Ossaru was extremely long lived, surviving from epoch to epoch, Smith is able to communicate to the reader a profound sense of deep time. The author never penned a definitive internal chronology for his Zothique cycle (that I know of); he was not beholden to a strict timeline like later writers such as Asimov, Bradbury or Clarke. However, if you pay close attention, Smith does provide us some scant clues. Of course, this is an intentional act on the writer’s part; the Zothique tales are meant to have a timeless, almost dreamlike quality to them. When Milab and Marabac find themselves in the ancient ruins of Ossaru’s lost city, engulfed by the desert sands, I couldn’t help but recall the section in the Anabasis, when Xenophon and his men encounter the ruins of Larissa: “Here they came upon a large deserted city, the name of which was Larissa: a place inhabited by the Medes in days of old; the breadth of its walls was twenty-five feet, and the height of them a hundred, and the circuit of the whole two parasangs. It was built of clay-bricks, supported on a stone basis twenty feet high. . . . By the side of this city there was a stone pyramid in breadth a hundred feet, and in height two hundred feet.” This passage certainly conveys a sense of majesty and grandeur of places long lost to time. The wizard-king Ossaru, in his prime, brings to mind, a post-historical version of Sargon the Great, first ruler and founder of the Akkadian Empire (2334 BCE to 2279BCE), an actual historical personage who accomplished great deeds in our distant past. Ancient history and post history come full circle.

Guy Pradel's illustration of The Tomb Spawn
The first image from Guy Pradel’s website. The rest is equally awesome, so definitely go check it out.

“The Tomb Spawn” is an entertaining piece of early sword and sorcery fiction that appeared in the pages of Weird Tales in May, 1934. It shares similarities of tone with another tale in the Zothique cycle, published that same year, entitled “The Weaver in the Vault”. Both stories contain the Weird Menace, ruins of long dead cities and the cruel endings that were hallmarks of Smith’s writing style. At their heart, both tales are what RPG enthusiasts today would label as dungeon crawls. These two works complement each other perfectly. While reading this story, I would recommend you check out French artist, Guy Pradel’s website. He has produced six black and white, full page illustrations for “The Tomb Spawn”. The simple, yet striking line work, combined with a heavy dose of India ink is reminiscent of the legendary Alex Toth, at the height of his formidable powers. These six pieces enhance the mood of the story, while enriching the overall reading experience. The images can be found at Guy Pradel’s website, http://guypradel.fr/tomb-spawn/.


The Eldritch Dark: The Sanctum of Clark Ashton Smithwww.eldritchdark.com

“The Tomb Spawn”(direct story link)

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Pulp Appeal: I Love a Mystery

Editors’ Note: J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history.  He writes the blog www.honestyisnotcontagious.com, and has the band Beerfinger (available on iTunes) in order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life.  His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.”  If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.

I’ve often joked with people that in addition to being well read I’m well heard, by which I mean I’ve listened to a lot of fiction over the years.  Growing up little held my fascination more so than the weird world of darker radio dramas.  Programs like X-Minus One, The Whistler, and I Love a Mystery held a particular fascination, especially that last one. 

I Love a Mystery follows the adventures of three friends — Jack, Doc, and Reggie — who formed the A-1 detective agency.  Jack is the quintessential leader, who solves cases, and is capable of spotting a femme fatale from a mile away.  Reggie is a classy strongman, gentleman brawler with a British accent, while Doc is typical comic relief, a Texan with folksy expressions as well as a weakness for pretty faces. 

Written by Carlton E. Morris, the series ran from 1939-44.  Unfortunately, most of the episodes have been lost.  Only two series exist entirely intact, “The Things that Cries in the Night” and “Bury Your Dead, Arizona.”  That said, these two more than demonstrate the quality of the show as well as the potential of scripted audio drama. 

Image result for i love a mystery radio

Both titles drip with dread, and implications of horror lurking around the corner.  Even better, they deliver.  “The Thing that Cries in the Night” finds the trio almost forced into helping a wealthy dysfunctional family.  What begins as a straight forward lite noir soon turns into something far more sinister and twisted. 

The youngest daughter, Charity Martin, is being plagued by mysterious forces she refers to only as, “They.”  They throw her down stairs, the very shadows seem to slash her without warning, and They arealways lurking, watching her every move.  What’s worse, whenever something terrible is about to happen a baby lets loose unsettling cries which echo throughout the Martin family mansion, though there is no baby in the house.  Death and torment creep through the home.  Matters come to a head when Charity is abducted by someone she describes as a hooded man wearing a blood red smock.  Rescued at the last second, she’s found in the basement beside a roaring furnace, her vanished abductor apparently intending to burn her alive. 

Image result for i love a mystery bury your dead arizona

“Bury Your Dead, Arizona” is no less weird.  Taking place immediately after “The Thing…” the trio are on the run from gangsters.  Fleeing town in a freight train they encounter an odd individual who insists on being called The Maestro.  Accompanying him is a beautiful Eastern European woman, Nasha, who has a tendency to threaten to stab people.  The Maestro claims to possess mystical powers, and continuously attempts to prove as much to an ever skeptical Jack.  Things really take off when they arrive in the titular town.  People are found dead, torn to pieces, and The Maestro claims he’s been summoning wolves to attack the townsfolk.  At one point, he even seems to turn a wolf into a man, and after her death, he calls forth Nasha’s ghost. 

What these stories excel at is creating a palpable atmosphere.  A combination of quality acting, tight dialogue, and excellent sound effects help even the dullest imagination bring everything to life.  One can easily picture sitting in a dark decaying mansion as a baby cries out unexpectedly.  Charity’s terror is infectious, and The Maestro’s confidence in his supposedly mystical abilities makes one worried to look out the window lest you’ll glimpse the leering hideous malformed face of that wolf turned into a man. 

Another adventure survived, though isn’t intact.  “The Temple of Vampires” finds the trio in the jungles of Central America.  There they discover a lost ruin filled with worshipers of vampire bats as large as any human.  Less a mystery, more of a straightforward adventure, the quality remains the same.  It’s worth mentioning, however, not only because it shows the narrative diversity of the show, easily oscillating between mystery and adventure, but because there are episodes missing. 

Due to the program being written prior to the bingeing age we live in, there are regular recaps of previous episodes that allow one to piece together what’s lost.  That said, these recaps, found throughout the series, are rarely tedious since they allow perspectives to enter the narrative; the way different characters recap says something about that individual.  In other words, Carlton E. Morris utilized the potentially tedious nature of regular recaps as a means to expand characters.

Overall, what survives of the series is a set of tales that are haunting.  “The Thing that Cries in the Night” features characters with enough depth to make them feel real which turns the hideous events in the story into something all together tragic.  “Bury Your Dead…” is a bit more quirky, yet there’s an unsettling plausibility stoking one’s curiosity as to where things are heading next.  Meanwhile, “The Temple of Vampires” is a classic monster adventure, where the humans are worse than the creatures.  After all, giant bats are just animals, the strange cult worshiping them, feeding them, are the ones with malicious intentions. 

Scripted audio drama is a unique medium with a great deal of potential.  That’s why it’s nice to see it making a comeback.  Programs such as Welcome to Night Vale are popular enough they’ve started producing other shows, while podcasts like Homecoming have gone on to become television series.  Even Marvel comics got in on the act with Wolverine:  The Long Night.  Though not as sophisticated as these modern examples, I Love a Mystery and others like it paved the way for today’s scripted podcasts.  There’s a lot to learn from the show, but perhaps more importantly, it’s still entertaining.

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Pulp Appeal: “The Master of the Crabs” by Clark Ashton Smith (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys good stories across many different genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in Swords and Sorcery Magazine and DMR Books Blog. If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.

Cover of Weird Tales March 1948
Cover of Weird Tales March 1948,

Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Master of the Crabs” originally appeared in the March 1948 issue of Weird Tales magazine. It is the penultimate Zothique cycle fantasy published in his lifetime. The supercontinent of Zothique is a geological patchwork made up of sections of Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, east Africa and the Indonesian archipelago. It is the far future and the sun is nearing its extinguishing point, dark sorcery is ubiquitous, and monarchs rule the populace with an iron fist. Technology on the last continent is comparable to that of Earth’s Bronze Age. Taken together, all of these combined factors make for a bleak outlook for our distant descendants. Hallmarks of a typical Zothique story include a sense of pervasive decadence and inescapable doom. Smith did make some exceptions to this formula however. There are a few examples of life affirming, heroic fiction that act as counterpoint to much of the prevailing doom and gloom found in this story cycle. As in all historic periods (fictional or otherwise), there will always be individuals who strive for nobility, even in the face of oncoming eternal night. “The Master of the Crabs” is a spirited piece of adventure fiction that (for me) evokes the works of such writers as Robert Louis Stevenson, Ursula K. Le Guin and Umberto Eco.

1st page of "The Master of Crabs" as originally published in Weird Tales March 1948
This is the first page of the story from the Weird Tales publication.

“The Master of the Crabs” starts out in the Xylacian port city of Mirouane, where Manthar, an apprentice sorcerer, is brusquely awoken from his nights slumber by his master, Mior Lumivix.  Lumivix orders (via some imaginative oaths about his lineage) the young man to get dressed and pack provisions for a multiple day sea voyage without delay. The master wizard has gleaned the whereabouts of his rival and nemesis, Sarcand and time is of the essence. Through the use occult means and drinking the juice from the purple dedaim, Lumivix has ascertained (through a chancy journey of astral projection)  that his enemy has in his possession the ancient chart of Omvor; a pirate from antiquity that sacked the moon god’s temple in Faraad. Once the pirate made away with the swag, he fled across the western sea (to an undisclosed isle) and buried the treasure. The chart is a treasure map of the horde of the moon god, consisting of a fortune in gold and precious stones, along with several magical talismans, phylacteries and grimoires of eldritch elder lore. Sarcand has absconded from Mirouane in the dead of night, due west. His destination is Iribos, known in antiquity as the Island of Crabs, the burial site of the treasure horde. Mior Lumivix collects his assistant and supplies for the two day sea voyage in hot pursuit!

Before they depart their residence for the harbor, the master wizard provides Manthar with a weapon for self defense. At this point in the work, I noted a very Meta moment that brought a smile to my face. Not only does this piece fall squarely in the genre of sword and sorcery, the two protagonists are actual sorcerers, armed with magically imbued athames (CAS’ spelling, arthames). These are commonplace tools of a sorcerer; black handled blades used in magical rites. When I searched for these tools online, the Googleverse consensus lists them primarily as knives, both single and double edged. However, in the story, Smith repeatedly refers to them as swords. The heroes are sorcerers, wielding magically infused swords, in a piece of sword and sorcery fiction. From a rational standpoint, I understand that the term ‘sword and sorcery’ did not exist when this story was written, but still in all, it seems like a self referential, meta-scenario taken straight from a Grant Morrison comic book. The sea voyage that Mior Lumivix and Manthar undertake to the Island of Crabs brings to mind the journey of Ged and Vetch set out on, to track the gebbeth at the culmination of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Besides the fact that the two pairs of protagonists are sorcerers, the comparisons end there. I believe Mior Lumivix and Manthar resemble a different pair of fictional characters; but more on that in a bit.

Photograph of Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith

When the two sorcerers sight the island, they begin to search for the sea tunnel carved through the sheer cliff face that leads to a hidden inlet. The ocean is becalmed and they are forced to row to the entrance mouth. Suddenly, the sea begins foaming a tossing the boat around wildly, all the while pulling them towards the entrance. The two companions notice that the shaft is flooded and if they enter, they will drown. The boat shoots into the opening, snapping off the mast in the process. While inside, the boat is inundated with sea water and sinks. Everything goes black for Manthar. He is awakened (again) by Mior Lumivix, while coughing up the swallowed brine. The two sorcerers have made it beyond the outer ring of the island. Just ahead of them is the curving shelf of a beach, strewn with boulders, driftwood and a beached (intact) boat with a sail the color of fresh blood. The sorcerers notice two half submerged corpses, newly deceased. These were Sarcand’s sailor accomplices who tried double crossing him out of the treasure.  The two men notice that the corpses are covered with a yellowish brown drapery. Upon closer inspection, they find out that; “It consisted of a great number of crabs who were crawling over the half submerged bodies and running to and fro behind a heap of immense boulders…We went forward and stopped over the bodies, from which the crabs were busily detaching morsels of bloody flesh.” The multitude of crabs is stripping the flesh from the sailors and carrying it away into the mouth of a hidden cavern; this is the secret burial place of Omvor’s treasure. Master and apprentice follow the crabs into the portal. 

Once inside, the cavern opens up cathedral like, with a natural fissure high above admitting ample sunlight. Before them is Sarcand, propped up against an open chest of age darkened bronze. The wizard’s right leg is broken, splinted and bound with shafts of driftwood. Before him on his silk cloak lies spread the ancient spoils, an assortment of gems, amulets, gold coins, bejeweled vessels and an open book, “showing illuminations drawn in fiery ancient inks.” On Sarcand’s index finger is the signet ring of the sea god Basatan, forged in the image of a kraken’s tentacles clasping an orb-like gem. The nemesis wizard is channeling the powers of the sea god and controls the local tides and sea life (in this case, the island’s namesake), not to mention putting Manthar under a hypnotic spell. Sarcand is a native of Naat, the infamous Isle of the Necromancers (of which his father is one). The island is also inhabited by black cannibals that Sarcand states are his mother’s people. Smith describes the wizard of Naat as “His huge ebon-black body, powerfully muscled though inclining toward corpulence, was nude except for a necklace of rubies, each the size of a plover’s egg, that depended about his throat.” The crabs, under the command of the wizard of Naat, are providing him the sustenance he needs in order to heal his injured leg. “His lubber lips were curved in a broad sardonic grin, showing his strong white teeth that were pointed like those of a shark.” Sarcand is planning on killing and eating Mior Lumivix and his pupil. Utilizing the power of the ring, Sarcand compels the crabs to attack the master and apprentice. The pair are swarmed and almost overwhelmed by the host of crustaceans.  In a last ditch effort, Mior Lumivix throws his arthame in a circular pattern that amputates Sarcand ring hand. The cannibal wizard, blood gushing from his cleaved wrist, loses control of the arthropods and the throng surges him, tearing him to pieces. Our heroes are left with the ancient treasure.  

Photo of crabs walking along the ocean floor
Something about creatures with too many legs and hard shells awakens epigenetic nightmares most humans seem to share.

When comparing Sarcand to another of Smith’s character of color, Ujuk from “The Black Abbot of Puthuum,” it cannot be denied that the author’s views are racist in this regard. The question I have however is are the views expressed by Smith a product of the era in which he lived or was he like say, H.P. Lovecraft, an extreme example of a racist and xenophobe? Whatever the answer, suffice it to say, these views are pretty disturbing from the standpoint of a 21st century reader. So caveat emptor. And yet, given the author’s bigotry, there is some nuance involved in Smith’s world building; the vast majority of the population of Zothique is descended from Semitic or Near Eastern people. Certainly a far cry from Tolkien’s lily white pastoral fantasies. The master and apprentice relationship reminds me of Brother William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk, from Umberto Eco’s wonderful 1980 novel, The Name of the Rose. Although Mior Lumivix is gruff and curmudgeonly towards his neophyte, he is continually looking out for his well being. Given the seafaring nature of this tale coupled with the Near Eastern flavor of the Zothique cycle, I imagine Mirouane to be analogous to the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre (or perhaps Carthage), with the two sorcerers decked out in all the cultural trappings of that ancient metropolis.  This lends an exotic flourish to this fast paced sword and sorcery yarn.


STORY LINK
The Eldritch Dark: The Sanctum of Clark Ashton Smith (homepage of all things CAS)
“The Master of Crabs” (direct story link)

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Pulp Consumption: The Mummy (2017)

Honest to goodness – just read the article and skip the movie. I wish I was joking.

Last week Matt tackled the Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weisz The Mummy. That movie was created as a deliberate homage to B movies, down to some of the cheesy dialogue and throwaway one-liners. And that’s why I love it. It’s one of those movies whenever it’s broadcast you can just drop into 20 minutes in and stick with it until the end. In this way, it’s much like a personal favorite, The Fifth Element.

Again, I wish I was joking, but I’d rather watch this a second time than The Mummy.

However! The 2017 “remake” starring Tom Cruise had to go and rear its ugly head and taint the very name “The Mummy” with a script so poorly written you have to wonder how the hell the studio even approved it in print, let alone the abomination that made it to the editing room. Look, during the winter break from regularly scheduled television shows my wife and I made a point of looking through Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO for movies we hadn’t seen yet that came out in the last couple years. We watched movies like Ocean’s 8, Game Night, Justice League, Rampage, and The Mummy. I mean this completely seriously – the best, most enjoyable of those was Rampage.

How the hell does Universal Pictures screw up a Tom Cruise helmed recreation of one of the best movie monsters of the mid-20th Century to the point that a crappy C-movie interpretation of a 1980s arcade video game starring The Rock was by far the better film? I was mystified. Still am, truth be told.

The Mummy is not without some merit, but I’m being totally charitable here. Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll[1] was one of the few pieces of shiny steel rebar in the concrete wreckage that was the rest of the film. Not that he wasn’t emoting his ass off and chewing through scenery like he did in Noah, but it was at least appropriate to his character. As a fan of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though not the *shudder* POS movie version[2]), I appreciated the idea of ringing in the penny dreadful-adjacent Jekyll and Hyde to create a new Universal Monsters universe. I wish the studio had done more to enhance and embrace some of the camp that comes with the territory. I mean, when Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania series of films manages to capture more of the spirit than a Tom Cruise-led blockbuster, we’ve got some issues.

The other not totally corrupted part of the wreck was Sofia Boutella’s portrayal of the titular mummy, Ahmanet. The last time I saw her was in the first Kingsman[3] movie as Gazelle, the assassin with razor sharp leg prosthetics who works for Samuel L. Jackson’s big bad Richmond Valentine. Her portrayal of the mummy is perhaps the best acting in the film. It was almost like she’d been given a different script and different direction from everyone else on camera. Ahmanet is a conglomerated character, combining the original titular mummy, Imhotep[4], with the primordial Egyptian goddess Amunet, the consort/counterpart to Amun. The essential details of the mummy’s backstory differ quite a bit from the previous versions. In the Karloff original and Fraser remake, Imhotep is attempting to raise his dead lover, which is considered black magic, and then Imhotep is mummified and forced to suffer eternity without his lover. In this version, Ahmanet is cast aside as heir apparent by a newborn half brother, and she slaughters her family so she can rule, but also invokes black magic to ensure her power.

Although Cruise “won” a Razzie for his acting, acting itself really isn’t the biggest issue for the film. If it was, the movie could have been an enjoyable bit of schlock like Rampage. But no, it’s definitely the screen writing that’s at fault. It may be the screenwriters themselves are to blame, but I’d have to chalk it more up to on-set direction and incongruous moods fighting for dominance. For all the faults the Michael Bay Transformers movies have (and there are many), uniformity of tone isn’t usually one of them. Which is why you should just skip the Cruise Mummy completely. If you’re in the mood for ancient mummified humans casting curses and sowing evil, just watch the Brendan Fraser films. Hell, even The Rock’s Scorpion King movie is light-years ahead of this cluster#%*@!


[1] It’s worth noting that Crowe is actually younger than Cruise, but whatever devil Cruise sold his soul to for immortality appears to have delivered in spades, at least for now.

[2] In the parlance of millennials and post-millennials – I can’t even.

[3] At some point we’ll have to tackle those films. I had to double check and make sure we had in fact not covered them.

[4] It’s a shame the historical Imhotep, of whom little is really known, has his name dragged through this kind of mud. At least Vlad Dracula really was monstrous in his dealings with humanity. Imhotep appears to have been a rather intelligent high priest who designed pyramids and lived a relatively peaceful existence.

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Pulp Consumption: The Mummy (1999)

One of the things we talk about quite a bit at Broadswords and Blasters is the concept of the mash-up. Taking two disparate genres and mixing them together until you get something that isn’t one hundred percent one or the other, but definitely its own unique beast. The Mummy (1999 version) is an excellent example of this.

It opens with a “how we got here” opening. Imhotep (the always great Arnold Vosloo) is in love with Anck-su-naman… only Anck-su-naman belongs to the Pharaoh. When their deceit is discovered, Anck-su-naman kills herself, and Imhotep flees. Later, he recovers her body and attempts to resurrect her. Only the attempt is prevented by the Pharaoh and his men, and Imhotep is cursed, his tongue removed, and he’s placed into a sarcophagus… no longer alive, but not fully dead either.

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/img_0438.JPG

The time skips ahead 3000 years to Egypt in 1923. Rick O’Neill (Brendan Fraser) is a member of the French Foreign Legion… which is quickly overrun. Three years later, and he’s stuck in a prison, about to be executed. Luckily enough for him, he’s rescued by Evelyn Carnahan, an assistant the Cairo museum who is looking to make a name for herself as an archaeologist. And Rick just so happens to know where the discovery of a lifetime is waiting. It’s when Imhotep’s sarcophagus is discovered, and Evelyn reads from The Book of the Dead, that the movie flips from being an action-adventure flick to more of a horror movie… complete with an implacable monster killing off a rival team of archaeologists one by one.

Image result for the mummy rick o'connell
Sadly, yelling at the mummy didn’t have much effect.

One of the unique aspects of the film is the amount of time it spends on the characters. None of the film is spent on fleshing the characters out beyond broad strokes. We never find out why Rick was in the French Foreign Legion. We don’t know why Evelyn and her brother are in Egypt… though there is an oblique reference to their parents being explorers as well. And you know what? That works for this film. What’s more interesting than their background is the situations they find themselves in be it fighting off assassins on a river boat (which then catches fire), or exploring the tombs and dealing with traps. At the end of the day, its less about what the characters are and more about what they do, which is exactly the kind of stories we look for as editors.

While some of the special effects do appear dated, the spirit of adventure runs strong through the course of the movie, and still manages to have a sense of humor at the same time. The movie does realize how silly it is at times, even when it also has flesh devouring scarabs.

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