Friday, October 16, 2020

THE GUNS OF PLUTO

 

Edmond Hamilton’s Captain Future

The GUNS OF PLUTO

By Allen Steele

Experimenter Publishing

195 pgs

 

We first discovered sci-fi writer Edmond Hamilton while in high school and immediately became a fan of his unique action/adventure stories. Unlike the hard science fiction of writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Hamilton gave us Flash Gordon – Buck Rogers style tales we later learned to identify as “space operas.” As time went on we read more and more of Hamilton’s work but these were the 60s and we simply were unfamiliar at that time with his sci-fi pulp hero, Captain Future. The closest we came to that part of his legacy was when he created the Star Wolf series for a paperback outfit. We find it odd that in his bio at the back of this volume, that particular series is totally forgotten.

But we digress. Fact is during the heyday of the pulps Hamilton created Curt Newton, a tough as nails science hero and his team; a robot, a cyborg and an encased human brain. They were known as the Futuremen and over time their adventures brought about a truly loyal fanbase. One of these was writer Allen Steele who dreamed of one day writing new Captain Future novels. This book is part of that dream fulfillment. Although we should mention it is not first Captain Future book he wrote. That was published by another publisher and if you’re lucky, you might find copies at second-hand retailers via Amazon. For now, our focus is on this now on-going series established by the folks operating under the famous Amazing Stories banner.

In “The Guns of Pluto,” one of Newton’s old foes, the Black Pirate, attacks an interplanetary prison on the frozen planet. He then sends a message back to our hero claiming to hold two important hostages who will be executed unless Captain Future arrives on the site within the next twenty-four hours. Naturally Newton and his allies know the Black Pirate has an ulterior motive, other than simply besting his nemesis. What that is can only be uncovered if Captain Future acquiesces to his demands and thus begins the adventure.

Sure enough, once on Pluto, there are betrayals and surprises in store for our hero and his Futuremen. Eventually they learn the Black Pirate’s plan; a daring space voyage that if it succeeds will have severe consequences for the entire galaxy. Like all the classic pulps of old, “The Guns of Pluto” is a fast paced, rollicking adventure and Steele’s re-imagining of the Futermen is terrific. His writing has a sophisticated edge we truly believe Hamilton would have happily approved of. Just one note of caution, loyal readers. The book does not have an ending but climaxes with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next volume. This may turn some of you away, but for this reviewer, it was a marvelous tease that worked. We cannot wait for the next installment.

Monday, October 12, 2020

BLACK STILETTO - Endings & Beginnings

 

THE BLACK STILETTO – Endings & Beginnings

By Raymond Benson

Oceanview Publishing

324 pgs

Sometimes a series is so damn good, we wish it would never end. Whereas going into Raymond Benson’s homage to old fashion comicbook superheroes, we knew that it would be told in five installments. From our initial delight at the first volume, each new chapter not only thrilled and entertained us, but at the same time saddened us as we could see the finale approaching.

Without repeating my reviews for the previous volumes, let’s get into how magnificent that ending is. The story picks up exactly where book four, “Secrets and Lies” left off. Judy Copper, aka as the masked vigilante Black Stiletto is in Los Angeles in 1962 involved with a handsome criminal named Leo Kelly. Kelly has aspirations to rise in the hierarchy of the Vegas mob run by brutal Italian family. But his beautiful, but psycho sister, Christina, isn’t willing to wait and disguised as the Black Stiletto, she murders the Boss’s daughter and later one of his top lieutenants.

Judy is trying to clear her name when she discovers she’s pregnant with Leo’s baby. That pretty much turns her world upside down. All this is told via Judy’s diaries now in the possession of her adult son, Martin Talbot. In present time, an aged Judy is confined to a senior facility suffering advanced Alzheimer’s and nearing her last days. When two criminal hitmen from Texas show up and nearly kill Martin, he realizes his mother’s past exploits are about to catch up with them. Meanwhile is own daughter, Gina, has become an expert in martial arts and reminds him all too much of his mother. When he finally reveals Judy’s secret to Gina, she volunteers to travel to Odessa and uncover exactly what happened there decades earlier.

Though most of the interweaving threads are predictable, that doesn’t in any way diminish their impact as Benson has created truly likeable characters that the reader comes to know and love. The last few chapters pack an emotional wallop that had us brushing back tears. This has been an exceptional series brilliantly told with heart and understanding. And there’s even an opportunity for a “new” Black Stiletto, one we truly hope Mr. Benson will explore some day.

 

Sunday, October 04, 2020

THE MYSTERY OF THE COWBOY SUMMIT

 

MYSTERY OF THE COWBOY SUMMIT

A Hollywood Cowboy Detectives Adventure

By Darryle Purcell

A Buckskins Edition

144 pgs.

Okay, so right up front, we love this series by Arizona writer Darryle Purcell. The concept is a fun one and the action revolves around Republic Studios in the early 1940s. At that time they were pumping out B westerns super fast. Folks like Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Tim McCoy were the childhood heroes of boys and girls across the country. Curly Woods is the studio’s flack, i.e. marketing rep with the task of promoting these horse operas and their stars via newsprint, radio and the popular newsreels. Curly’s boss is Rick Danby, an Executive Producer at the studio while his brother, Nick Danby, works as a chauffeur for the company. Curly and Nick are beer drinking buddies who regular chum around with silent film cowboy Hoot Gibson. The three of them are the principal protagonists in the series of which “The Mystery of the Cowboy Summit” is the tenth.

In each new book, Purcell often features cameos by other popular stars of the time. In this story, Federal Agents working for President Franklin Roosevelt have come to recruit the trio to be his “goodwill” ambassadors at a South American political summit to be held in Brazil. The affair will be attended by dozens of foreign business men from the surrounding countries and Roosevelt hopes to assure their allegiance should the war in Europe ultimately reach our shores. Knowing these cowboy personalities are recognized and admired throughout South America, Roosevelt believes they are the perfect envoys to win over these powerful financiers.

Tagging along this time is Buck Jones and Crash Corrigan. Of course like all previous capers, once in the Amazon jungles of Brazil, en-route to the fancy hacienda where the summit will be held, our guys soon learn there are other aspects of their mission the G-Men failed to mention. They find a field of giant corn inhabited by giant bugs, scorpions, worms and spiders. They are told this is all due to a super growth chemical invented by one Dr. Anita Lafond, a guest on the ranch. The idea is to supposedly perfect this potion and sell it to American farmers; the giant insects are a by-product not yet resolved. This is all well and good until they discover the ranch’s owners, Dom Sebastian and his sister Maria, may be German agents in cahoots with opium growing Arabs also in bed with Third Reich.

As ever it doesn’t take long for the action to ramp up and pretty soon our Cowboy envoys are in the battle of their lives attempting to stop thwart an insidious Nazis’ plan while at the same time having to rescue the innocent diplomats caught in the crossfire. Purcell, as in all his previous books, knows his history and depicts the characters with as much authenticity as his wild tale will allow. Himself an Army veteran of Vietnam, he’s familiar with weaponry and combat. He’s also proud patriot unashamed to cheer the old red, white and blue.

The Hollywood Cowboy Detectives series is one of the finest in New Pulp today. “The Mystery of the Cowboy Summit” is an excellent addition to it and now we can’t wait for the next one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

CURSED SANDS

 

CURSED SANDS

By B.C. James

Available at Amazon

96 pgs.

Having read some of our reviews, writer B.C. James send along his self-published “Cursed Sands” asking if we’d read and review it. Coming in at only 96 pgs, this volume is a novella which gives proof to the old adage, “Big things come in small packages.” In those 96 pages, James packs enough action and adventure to equal any of the currently bloated bestselling paperbacks on the market today.

The setting is Iraq today and four members of an American military squad are traveling through the desert when they are attacked by terrorists. After firing several shots, the black-clad enemy runs away and Corporal Kace McCrae suspects the soft-contact was simply a ploy to lead them into an ambush. The shooters have fled into the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon. Being a one time seminary student, Kace is aware of the city’s history and curse. Still, his men support his decision to pursue the enemy. Leaving their armored vehicle behind, they enter the ruins.

Immediately upon doing so, they find themselves caught in an alternate reality as other buildings and edifices suddenly materialize all around them. With them come living nightmares actually culled from their own imaginations. When one of them is brutally murdered, the three remaining soldiers realize they are now battling the supernatural. Their new battleground is home to weird, twisted demons who take pleasure in torturing their victims.

Throughout the tale, James never lets the pacing lag, propelling his narrative along while at the same time expertly defining his characters so that in a relatively short time, we found ourselves rooting for them. There is also a healthy does of humor that is very indicative of men in combat, a dark gravesite jesting that adds another layer to an already terrific read.  Will Cpl. McCrae and his men survive? And if so, how? “Cursed Sands” is pure pulp, loyal readers and we enjoyed every single page of it. You will too.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

SON OF RAVAGE

 

SON OF RAVAGE

By J.P. Linde

El Dorado Publishing

310 pages

 

What happens when a comedian takes it upon himself to write a pulp adventure? What you get, if you’re lucky, is a wacky, fast-paced and totally outrageous tale called “Son of Ravage.” Now attempting to satirize something that is already satirical could give one headaches. Pulps were never meant to be taken seriously and by their very nature they were exaggerated stories filled with larger than life characters. Whereas Linde opts to up the ante and make his own characters ever more audacious.

Can you image Doc Savage having a son? One who is unaware of his heritage, is brought up by adoptive parents and at the age of thirty is a shiftless slacker with absolutely no ambition at all. That’s Barry Levitt and unbeknown to poor Barry, his real father was none other than the 40s world trotting adventurer, Rock Ravage. Whereas by some quirk of cosmic destiny, Barry, like his famous sire, has accumulated four colorful pals who are extremely loyal to him. They include Doc, portly chemist, Brain, an intellectual genius, Face, a self-centered thespian and Beast, a rough and tumble redneck with an addiction to action. Thus, when a mercenary named Tanktop (he wears a mini-tank turret on his head that actually has a firing canon) attempts to kill Barry, his friends come to his aid and thus begins their quest to learn who is real father was and why people are tying their best to end his life.

Sound wild and madcap? It is. Honestly, from killer robots guarding an underground marijuana field to space aliens hiding in the ocean, a family of Bigfoots on the loose in the Northwest and a mechanical dinosaur on a lost tropical island. These are just some of the dangers the five will encounter as they race to find the actual mastermind; the villain who actually murdered Barry’s dad.

“Son of Ravage” is hilarious and a really fun read. Enough so that we’ll forgive Linde for constantly misspelling HANGAR; you know, those big structures on airfields that house aircraft. Hangers with an E are for hanging up clothes. And will hardly mention that pathetic excuse for a pulp cover. Really? A book filled with so many wonderful, zany characters and this was the best you could put together to sell it? Shame, shame.

That all being said, we loved this book. All too often pulp scribes forget the element of humor and offer up intense stories with so much angst, one wonders what actual enjoyment can be had from these offerings. Whereas “Son of Ravage” is pure entertainment from start to finish. And we’ll swear to that on a stack of classic pulps any day of the year.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

LEVON'S HOME

 

LEVON’S HOME

By Chuck Dixon

Wolfpack Publishing

241 pgs

We’ve been wanting to read a Chuck Dixon Levon Cade book from some time now. As always, time seemed to get away from us. According to Amazon, there are seven of these with this one being the latest. Before anything else, let us state the book was a gift from the writer, who is a friend. But that has never stopped us from posting an honest review.

From what is only hinted at in “Levon’s Home,” our protagonist is a military veteran of recent Middle Eastern conflicts and known in his Alabama hometown as some kind of war hero. There are also brief mentions of post-service duty with secret government agencies. Again, we really need to pick up those first six books. Whereas this one is fairly easily laid out. Cade is a widower living with his Uncle Fern and daughters Merry and Hope in the country. When an ex-con cousin named Teddy comes to see him, it is with an unusual plea. Teddy’s ten years old son Jason, who lived with his ex-wife, has disappeared and Teddy wants Levon to help find him.

At Uncle Fern’s urging, Levon reluctantly agrees and begins his own investigation by questioning the mother and confiscating the boy’s laptop. At the same time the local sheriff is dealing with other cases of missing boys and it soon becomes obvious that Jason’s disappearance isn’t an isolated event. Someone with deep pockets is kidnapping these boys and holding them as sex slaves for powerful men with perverted souls.

By the time Levon begins to put the pieces together, he’s ready to mete out his own brand of “southern” justice and the bodies start to pile up. Dixon isn’t one to shy away from the horrors that infest the human spirit and the required merciless retribution required to combat it. Something Levon Cade has no trouble dispensing. “Levon’s Home” is an old fashion pot-boiler that our fingers turning pages as fast as a casino blackjack dealer flipping cards. Action junkies, this is the good stuff. Don’t miss it.

 


Monday, September 14, 2020

SGT. JANUS on the DARK TRACK

 

SGT. JANUS ON THE DARK TRACK

By Jim Beard

Flinch Books

197 pgs


Six years after it was officially announced, book # 3 in the Sgt. Janus series by Jim Beard is at long last here. We are happy to report that the wait was a worthwhile one.

The adventure begins with Sgt. Janus and his companion, Mrs. Valerie Havelock-Mayer, on a train for home having just attended a conference for occult investigators.  Aboard the train is a politician named Clowers and his teenage daughter Laura. When Laura unexpectedly takes sick, Janus suspects she has been possessed by the ghost of another young woman whose own life ended tragically on that very train.

As his previous two books, Beard narrates the story from the first person accounts of the supporting players, never Sgt. Janus himself. Thus in the first half of the tale, Valerie’s diary entries share that task along with letters and notations by the other passengers including those written by the assistant conductor, Gabriel Butters. We soon learn that Butters has knowledge of an old African magic referred to as “the Dark Track.” Is the train itself haunted by the specter of a notorious outlaw and what was his connection to the ghost now controlling Laura?

To solve that mystery, Janus, Valerie and Butters decide to leave the train at a country station and proceed along the “Dark Track” on foot. This brings us to the book’s second half where becomes a whole lot more complex. The trio find themselves in what can only be described as an alternate timeline…as other people. If that wasn’t confusing enough, they are in Jordon, a small town dominated by the ironworks factory. It is the hometown of the dead girl; only here she is still among the living and the mystery of her actions and their repercussions to the events on the train only deepens.

Beard’s strength as a writer is his use of language to define his characters. It allows us an intimate glimpse as to their purposes and motivations. Sadly it is also his weakness as this attention to each individual flower fogs our view of the entire garden. Meaning quite simply that at the book’s conclusion neither the principle characters nor we readers are exactly sure what the actual resolution was. Much like H.P. Lovecraft, Beard is truly skilled at creating atmosphere and mood, which works beautifully in ghost stories but we would have appreciated a more defined conclusion. It is our one and only critique.

“Sgt. Janus on the Dark Track” is unique reading experience one the reader will not soon forget.