Friday, November 09, 2018

THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS


THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
By Robert A. Heinlein
A Tom Doherty Associate Book
382 pgs

I discovered science fiction while a high school. As it was always intended to do, the genre fired my imagination aided me to looking beyond the every day world I inhabited and explore the infinite possibilities of what the future might bring. This was the early 60s, the amazing leap from turn century flight to the world reaching for the Moon had all happened within relatively short moment in human history. And I was discovering new and amazing writers every day; names like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, Gordon Dickinson, Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein. Among all of them, Heinlein stood higher on my list as his range of fiction went from the silly, to the sarcastic and eventually the political. In a unique voice, he mirrored the world we will lived in and skewered its shortcomings and lack of vision whenever necessary.

A graduate of the Naval Academy and veteran of World War II, there was no arguing is patriotism or love of country, but the man detested the inherent tyranny of all formal government and by the end of his life was a staunch Libertarian. Government will always be evil and the antagonist of personal freedom and responsibility. Government breeds slavery. He was never more forceful about liberty and the sacredness of individual rights than in his masterwork, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

In the distant future the moon has become a penal colony and convicts sent there work on giant tunnel farms producing wheat for the Earth’s population. As generations pass, the “Loonies” born there begin to chafe at their unjust servitude. Whereas gaining their independence is impossible until a computer tech named Manuel Davis discovers the giant computer that controls nearly all of the satellite’s functions has become self-aware; alive for want of a better term. Mannie dubs the computer Mike. Only then does the possibility of a successful rebellion become viable and when Davis joins forces with a political anarchist named Professor La Paz and a rebellious hellion named Wyoming Knott. Thus the book is about three humans and a computer waging a war of independence and it is masterfully written with many of Heinlein’s political views scattered throughout. It is a thought provoking adventure while at the same time offering a realistic view on the physical challenges that will face men and women who dare venture beyond the Earth’s bounds.

In the course of a lifetime, I’ve read thousands of books. Most I’ve forgotten weeks after finishing them. A select group, maybe a few dozen became cherished whereas only a handful reached a point in my memories where it was necessary to go back and re-read them. In re-reading “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” over fifty years later, I realize it’s daring in challenging authority is what molded a great deal of my own life’s personal philosophies. Good or bad, it subtly shaped the way I think and see the world. Re-reading was very much like going home again.

Friday, October 26, 2018

THE CONDEMNATION OF CROW


THE CONDEMNATION OF CROW
An Anthology
By Joel Jenkins
Pulpwork Press
287 pgs

One of New Pulp’s most exciting characters is Indian shaman, bounty hunter and gunslinger, Lone Crow, created by writer Joel Jenkins. The last of his tribe, Crow travels the post Civil-War west encountering all manner of supernatural horrors which he is fates to battle. With this collection, Jenkins brings together ten of Crow’s adventures written over a period of three years.  Each is a gem of weird western thrills.

“True Love” is set in New Orleans immediately after the end of the war and has Crow falling head over heels in love with a beautiful prostitute named Candide only to discover a Mexican gunfighter is also enamored of her. The two agree to a duel to be held at night in a nearby cemetery and it is there they encounter an ages old horror still exiting beneath the ground. 

“Shaman” at two pages is easily Joel’s shortest piece ever. Reads as if it was meant to be a connecting thread to other tales. In “The Vorpal Tomahawk,” Lone Crow crossed paths with none other than Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in the Oklahoma badlands. A different kind of encounter for sure. With “Blood For the Jaguar,” Lone Crow and his bounty-hunting partner, Six-Gun Susanna Johnson cross paths with her ex-husband, a gunfighter capable of enducing illusions in others.

“The Summoner’s Sacrifice,” has Crow going to Salt Lake City to investigate the brutal murder of a local business. The victim’s body, torn to shred, was discovered stretched across a crudely painted pentagram and the local constable is afraid the killer is a demon that still might be on the loose. Next up is the “Suicide Ride,” a two page gem about a jilted Indian maid brilliantly delivered. One of the best stories in the collection. With “Dead Before Sunrise,” Crow and friend Shotgun Ferguson find themselves trapped underground in a city of ghouls. Crow and his friends battle alien horrors emerging from a crashed meteor in “It Fell From The Sky.”

At this point in the collection, we come to the only story not written by Jenkins. It is a Charles St. Cyprian story by fellow New Pulp scribe, “The Third Death of Henry Antrim” is a surprise bonus, especially the connection between the Royal Occultist and Lone Crow.

The book’s final yarn, “The Condemnation of Crow,” is the longest and has the Indian shaman working alongside Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp and Texas Lawyer Temple Houston to battle a weird menace terrorizing Dodge City. All too quickly the trio find themselves in the middle of a war between a corrupt judge and railroad tycoon, one of which is the source of the supernatural force. A page turner and excellent tale to conclude what is a really great pulp collection.  Proving once again that writer Joel Jenkins is star in the New Pulp community.

Friday, October 05, 2018

CITY OF ENDLESS NIGHT


CITY OF ENDLESS NIGHT
A Pendergast Novel
Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
358 pgs

We absolutely love modern pulp thrillers and there is no better series on the market today than Preston and Child’s Special Agent Pendergast books.  Pendergast is a wealthy FBI agent who lives in New York but his cases often take him to exotic locales around the world. Whereas in “City of Endless Night,” the seventeenth in the series, the action takes place in the Big Apple itself.

A vicious serial killer is on the loose. One who, after killing his victims, decapitates them? Put in charge of the investigation is veteran detective, Lt. Vincent D’Agosta. Understanding the uniqueness of the killings, D’Agosta is only glad to accept Agent Pendergast’s assistant; the two are close friends having shared several cases in the past. The problem with this one is the disparaging lack of any connection between the suspects; one is a young woman, the next two adult males. All of them are from different social backgrounds.

When the FBI’s own Unsub Profiling Unit fails to deliver any kind of reliable data, D’Agosta and Pendergast begin to suspect the killer is a bonafide sociopath selecting his targets at random. Without a clear modus operandi, they are challenged with doing the impossible. Find a killer who can strike anytime, anywhere against anyone.

“City of Endless Night” is a clever mystery meticulously plotted and offers up an intriguing puzzle we found wonderfully original. It is a thriller that will keep readers guessing from chapter to chapter until the final confrontation between the inimitable Agent Pendergast and the most brilliant fiend he’s ever hunted. Not to be missed.

Friday, September 28, 2018

CAVE OF THE BLOOD DEMONS


CAVE OF THE BLOOD DEMONS
A Man of the Mist Adventure
By Darryle Purcell
Digital Parchment Press
160 pgs

This is the second in writer Darryle Purcell’s new pulp series, featuring his Man in the Mist and the second of his books to land on my review stack. The first was part of his older series, The Hollywood Cowboy Detectives of which there are currently fifteen. The Man in the Mist is actually Los Angeles manufacturing industrialist Ralph Thorn. Trained by mystics in the Far East, Thorn can cloud the minds of men and blind them to his very presence, thus becoming an invisible avenger meting out justice to those beyond the law.

As the adventure opens, it is 1938 and a poisoned drug is turning people into mindless killers. Helping the police investigate the source of the lethal drug, Thorn and his feisty secretary sidekick, Moxie Malone, discover the tainted heroin is actually being delivered hidden in small dragon statues imported by one of his own companies from Indochina.
Determined to discover the actual source, Thorn, Moxie and Police Detective Farmisht are soon on a cruise ship bound for the Orient. With them is the lovely Cecile Nguyen, whose father runs the rubber plantation that services Thorn Industries.

But danger is also along for the ride, as agents for the mysterious mastermind, known only as the Dutchman, launch several attacks on Thorn and his companions. The action never stops, as Purcell captures the speedy pace of the classic pulps while adding a healthy dose of comedic banter to ease the suspense along the way to his action packed finale.  “Cave of the Blood Demons” is one hundred percent pure pulp fun and shouldn’t be missed.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

KILL THE NIGHT


KILL THE NIGHT
Self-Published
By Terry Mark
PO Box 272572
Fort Collins, CO 80527
353 pg

Writing a first book is always a tricky challenge. All too often most would-be authors spend months, even years, on a project only to end up with pages of uninspired words.
It is all too rare when a new writer puts in lots of blood, sweat and tears to deliver something truly original and fun. The latter is the case with Terry Mark’s first effort, “Kill The Night.” This is an out and out pulp thriller that moves like a runaway freight train.

The story begins in Paris where inventor Nikolas Tesla has debut his newest wonder, a giant robot that can lift and move heavy transportation barges on the Seine River. When a later demonstration goes awry, a beautiful young lady is killed. Her lover, looking like American gunslinger, vows vengeance on Tesla.

The book then jumps ahead in time and space to New York where Tesla and American genius, Thomas Editor have become bitter foes over various patent litigations and broken contractual agreements. Enter a spunky female journalist named Ida Tarbell who sees the feud between these two famous men as the story of a lifetime. She follows the two men to the Chicago World Exhibition, where Tesla has agreed to light the famous “White City” with electricity.

When the Gunslinger appears, Tesla is forced to flee westward. As it turns out, the mysterious hunter as added Edison as a target and both men’s lives art in jeopardy. But who exactly is this man and what terrible dark secret does he hide. From Chicago onto Kansas City and then a wild race to the mountains of Colorado for a bang up finale.
Writer Mark Terry pulls out all the stops.

“Kill The Night,” is wonderfully set in a time when Americans saw science and progress as the twin paths to a brighter future. It was a time of wonder and awe. In this whirlwind era, three courageous people struggle not only to triumph, but to survive. This is a terrific. Sadly it is not currently available through normal distribution channels and interested readers should contact Mr. Mark directly at the address above. Tell him we sent you…with the highest recommendations.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

MURDER IN THE BALL PARK


MURDER IN THE BALL PARK
A Nero Wolfe Mystery
By Robert Goldsborough
A Mysterious Press Original
224 pgs

As we love both baseball and Nero Wolfe mysteries, this new entry by Robert Goldsborough was a much anticipated read. Happily it did not disappoint in any way offering up another intriguing murder and the all too familiar investigative routines originating from the brownstone at West 35th Street in New York. 

The story opens with Archie Goodwin and his pal, Saul Panzer, attending a Giants vs Dodgers game at the Polo Grounds. Upon arriving, they learn it is Flag Day at the ballpark and among the dignitaries on hand is State Senator Orson Milbank and his entourage. At the top of the 4th inning a homerun is hit into the second deck area over left field and as the crowd of thousands jump to their feet to cheer, the Senator keels over having been shot in the head by an assassin’s bullet. By the time Archie and Saul reach Milbank, he is dead. Several days later the Senator’s widow, a much younger former Hollywood actress, calls the Brownstone requesting to emply the famous Nero Wolfe to solve her husband’s murder and bring the killer to justice.

The late Rex Stout, Wolfe’s creator, was a genius in developing a mold by which the rotund detective’s tales would be laid out. Basically Wolfe never leaves his home. Rather he assigns Goodwin to do the leg work; which also includes interviewing the various suspects. Archie has a knack for remembering conversations verbatim and these he reports back to Wolfe. When all the pieces of a puzzle have been assembled in the tale, Wolfe deduces the solution and has all the suspects invited to his office where he then reveals the “how it was done” and the killer’s identity. It is a formula Robert Goldsborough has captured perfectly in these new Wolfe mysteries which is why we love them so much.

Much like the Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson stories that clearly inspired Stout, the mysteries themselves often prove secondary in importance to the actual fun of simply “being” with these wonderful characters. “Murder In The Ball Park” is no exception. If you are Wolfe and Goodwin fan as this reviewer is, you will relish every single scene in this dandy little caper where in the end, murder strikes out.

Monday, August 20, 2018

SWIFT VENGEANCE


SWIFT VENGEANCE
By T. Jefferson Parker
Putnam Books
353 pgs

Lindsay Rakes is a former drone operator for the U.S. Air Force.  In the end, her work of dropping missiles on enemy targets a world away becomes too much for her own conscience. The post guilt eventually ruins her marriage, losing both her husband and son through to the abuse of alcohol. Ultimately it is San Diego Private Investigator, Roland Ford, who comes to Rakes’ rescue, seeing the psychological scars she carries. He can identify as a Marine veteran who had served in Fallujah. He eventually gets Rakes in AA and on a path of sobriety.

As the book opens, Ford is still grieving for the loss of his wife in a single engine plane crash a year earlier. When Rakes shows up at his doorstep with a note threatening her life via beheading, he puts that melancholy aside. The note is written in a stylized Arabic calligraphy and the author signs himself Caliphornia openly identifying himself as a Muslim and alluding to her service activities. As it turns out, the other two men in her unit, also drone operators, had received the same thread on similar stationary. Ford takes Rakes note to FBI Agent Joan Taucher, a dedicated warrior obsessed with protecting her community from suffering terrorist attacks of any kind. She sees the threat as real and together, they begin their hunt for the elusive villain.

When one of the other two targeted veterans is murdered and beheaded, both Ford and Taucher find themselves in a race with a madman bent on a very singular vengeance. He has not chosen his targets at random, but because of their involvement with one specific mission. Now it’s up to the world weary P.I. to find that connection before the killer strikes again on an ever larger scale.

“Swift Vengeance,” like all good thrillers, works because of Parker’s ability to create believable characters, both good and bad. His insights into the human soul with its flaws and strengths is what propels the story. It allows us to know these people as if they were our own friends and neighbors. When the climax arrives, we’ve become invested and it carries us to a powerful finale cruel in its truth and inevitability. The last page of this amazing book is one this reviewer will never forget.