Category Archives: Reviews

James Elton’s Perilous Expedition

worldsoffantasy4c4bwStories from Worlds of Fantasy #4 (John Spencer and Company 1951):

“Perilous Expedition” by James Elton is the issue’s cover story. (Elton was a house name, so this one may or may not have been penned by John F. Watt, but it certainly reads as if it were.) Written only a few years after WWII, the story’s protagonists are a racist amalgamation of far easterners dubbed “the Asians.” It’s sometime in the future and Earth is divided even after Atomic War I, and Atomic War II, with the domination-obsessed Asians plotting against the West.

The Asians are about to launch a devastating attack from the planet Luna, that will crush the West for good. Commander Glenn Mader and his crew blast off from New Mexico in Space Ship UN5 on
what could be their final mission, intent on saving the West. Equipped with “Neutralising” they evade the Asian’s elaborate network of radar and pursuit ships to land undetected on the hard, dusty floor of
a crater. Their mission: locate and join the Lunarite underground and together defeat the Asian threat.

But how can they infiltrate the Asian city of Stya and contact the underground while appearing to be Asians themselves? (One might assume Asians and Westerners look different from each other, but apparently not.) Any Lunarite they questioned would refuse to divulge even the existence of the underground to someone they believed to be an Asian. “And it was likewise impossible for the men from the West to admit their identity; for all they knew, the Lunarite they were talking with might be a collaborator, and would give them away to the local Asian authorities.”

This is the most interesting dilemma of the story. When Mader and his crew venture into a restaurant, he pulls a bait and switch on their indifferent Luna waiter. Posing as an obnoxious, arrogant Asian
he insults and berates the Lunarite and his race, finally goading the waiter to admit he doesn’t think much of Asians either. One thing leads to another and the men from the West soon locate and join the underground to end the Asian’s plot.

It’s a shame the Lunarite’s have to help set off the Asian’s massive atomic arsenal on their own planet, but they still have Stya and a growing friendship with the West, so all ends well.

William Tenn and Hallock’s Madness

TennStories from Marvel Science Stories May 1951

The following passage from William Tenn’s “Hallock’s Madness” sparked my interest in his story right from the start:

“Wells W. Hallock in a straitjacket! Huge, fearless Hallock who had shot his way out of the under- ground temple in northern India where the original, primitive Thugee was practiced, who penetrated to the vampire cult of Lengluana and took flashbulb photographs!”

Hallock’s madness is all in his head, and unable to get out, his only course of action is to enlist Ransom Morrow to go in after him. Not a simple task from a straitjacket. But the man is persuasive and has forbidden fruit in his favor. The same sweet gift of the palm that started his troubles.

With imaginative characters, setting, and plot Tenn delivers a memorable story, told in beautiful prose, with his distinctive dry wit. The story was reprinted in Here Comes Civilization: The Complete SF of William Tenn, Volume 2 (NESFA Press 2001).

Mack Reynolds’ Second Advent

bestofmackreynoldsStories from Marvel Science Stories May 1951: “Second Advent” by Mack Reynolds

Reynolds mines the wary relationship between humans and robots on the planet Plemeth in this story. Some 300 years ago a rag tag band of humans settled there, only to be wiped
out by a virus. With the arrival of the elite crew of the battlecraft, Hiroshima, the new rulers plan
to expand their territory—with the unexpected support of the subservient robots who’ve waited 300 years to set the world right.

Mack Reynolds (1917–1983) was an oft used pseudonym of Dallas McCord Reynolds, son of Verne L. Reynolds, twice a presidential candidate of the American Socialist Labor Party. Mack’s science fiction stories lent themselves well to the underlying social themes he wanted to explore, of which “Second Advent” is a great example. The story was reprinted in the collection, The Best of Mack Reynolds (Pocket Books 1976).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

EofSFThe Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls, was first published in 1979. Frank Herbert hailed it as “The most valuable science fiction source book ever written.” Issac Asimov predicted, “It will become the bible for all science fiction fans.”

Both endorsements still hold the ring of truth. Ever since I added it to my reference shelf, it’s been my go-to source for SF-related research. Its editors include Peter Nicholls (general); John Clute (associate); Carolyn Eardley (technical); and Malcolm Edwards and Brian Stableford (contributing). Of course there’s a checklist of contributors beyond the official editing roster—a book of this size and scope requires a small army to compile—but I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say it’s long, impressive, and any person listed deserves our thanks for bringing this encyclopedia to life.

The book includes only a few pages of orientation, covering seven topics:

Introduction Background on the size and scope of the project. It’s built on its predecessors, but the team strove to research their topics from original sources whenever possible to ensure accuracy as best they could. The focus is SF—authors, themes, films, magazines, illustrators, editors, critics, film-makers, publishers, pseudonyms, series, television, original anthologies, comics, countries in addition to the Anglo-American works which dominate the volume, terminology, awards, fanzines, and finally miscellanea such as conventions, fandom and fan language (aka jargon). Fantasy writers who have been important influences within the SF field are included. “This work is not only an Encyclopedia of sf, but also a comprehensive history of and commentary on the genre.”

How to Use this Book Details of the alphabetical rules; bibliographical inclusion and exclusion guidelines; and other important rules are clearly explained.

Checklist of Contributors A key to each author’s entries which are indicated by their initials, and a little background on each of them.

Acknowledgements

Checklist of Themes Beginning with “Absurdist SF” and ending with “Women.” “We have included 175 theme entries, each consisting of a short essay . . . discussing the importance of the theme in sf and the history of modern thought generally, and the variety of ways in which it has been treated over the years.”

Checklist of Abbreviations and Picture Credits

Of the book’s 672 pages, 658 are devoted to content. A quick page-averaging count calculates about 4,500 entries. In today’s age of info access online, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction book is far less valuable than it was in the last century, superseded by its online version (sf-encyclopedia.com, now with 16,700+ entries), the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org), and even Wikipedia. However, the book version remains easy to use, comprehensive, and is often the best starting point researching a given topic or author. It’s also more fun to browse than the web—and easily as distracting.

Betsy Curtis’ The Ones

marvel_science_5_1951Stories from Marvel Science Stories May 1951: “The Ones” by Betsy Curtis

“The Ones” opens in the luxurious Venusberg Club where importer Ebon Macklure reveals his slavery sideline when he kidnaps Galactic Guardsman Arnaud Grath and the beautiful dancer, Aleesa, transporting them to the Ones of Crae for the handsome profit of five thousand units.

Forced into hard labor on the surface of the cruel planet, both captives soon find themselves brought before the Ones for their insolence. The terrible secret of the Ones belies the aliens’ true nature and Arnaud, with the help of another Guardsman, Marco Neery, strikes a bargain that saves the day for all concerned. “The Ones” provides an entertaining space adventure, most memorable for its supporting lead, Aleesa, who projects strength and courage as a defiant captive, in a welcome relief from the female stereotypes so typical of this era.

Ray Mason’s Doomed World

worldsoffantasy4c4bwStories from Worlds of Fantasy #4 (John Spencer and Company 1951): “Doomed World” by Ray Mason

Errant planet Atlanta is torn from its orbit due to intense volcanic activity and suddenly appears on the plexoid instrument panel “right in the recognised traffic lane between Earth and Mars.” First spotted by Radd Baker, in charge of the space freighter LS4K, he and his space-hardened second-in-command, Peter Lorrimer, decide to investigate.

Upon landing they find the planet populated with human beings who escaped from the destruction of Altantis thousands of years ago. Now their descendants face oblivion again at the hands of mother nature.

Radd saves the day with a minor assist from Peter, all while winning the heart of Juda. “They didn’t come any lovelier, not in all the Earth!”

The plot of “Doomed World” is its main asset. The characters are as uninspired as its writing. Only through some combination of nostalgic charm and guilty pleasure can readers plod through to reach “the end.” But man, you gotta love the cover of this digest magazine!

Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals

gold_medalsJust finished reading Stark House’s excellent Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals. It collects Rick Ollerman’s essays about the authors of the paperback original era, along with some additional background material written specifically for the volume. A big part of the Stark House Press mission is to return the best books of the PBO era to print. Ollerman’s book explains why. It’s overflowing with background on the writers and their works. It’s meticulously researched and dangerous to book collectors who won’t be able to resist adding even more to their bulging libraries after reading it.

Michael L. Cook’s Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines

mlcook_colorAdmittedly, the number of reference volumes on my bookshelves
is modest. Nonetheless, Michael L. Cook’s Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines is the most essential, complete and informative book on its topic that I’ve encountered. Its 1983 publishing date is its only real drawback. Until recently, most of the action in genre fiction magazines occurred on newsstands prior to 1983. But with the rise of self-publishing/online distribution, change is rapid and every year dates a reference volume like this one.

Cook explains in his Preface the why and wherefore of the book. Since escapist literature—mystery, detective and espionage in particular—is a preferred reading choice of the general public, Cook advocates it’s an important resource to understand the attitudes and morals of the people who read it, within the context of the era in which it was published.

“There can be no claim made for completeness, although coverage of magazines published in the United States, England and Canada is fairly complete. Magazines included here are of both the professional and amateur categories, and nonfiction magazines providing commentary, as well as magazines providing fiction are included.”

Defining the cutline for what’s relevant and what’s not, can be a source of controversy for researchers and collectors. Cook devotes a page and half to clarify his decisions.

Information on yesterday’s popular culture has always been held in the hands of a few and not necessarily preserved through generations. In the pre-internet world it was often difficult to find authoritative resources and impossible to provide easy access to the information gathered. Few libraries valued and preserved this aspect of popular culture. Cook provides a list of the few who were building their collections in 1983.

A work of this size and scope can only be compiled with the assistance of many experts and contributors. Cook fills a page with his acknowledgements, many names familiar to collectors and avid crime fiction readers.

In the book’s introduction, Cook provides a concise history of fiction magazines beginning with story papers and dime novels, then moving on to pulps and digest magazines. He touches briefly on key publishers, writers and characters and ends with an acknowledgement to fanzines. “Fanzines have made for themselves a significant place in the study, development, and enjoyment of popular fiction and are a vital part of it.” No wonder a few, like The Not So Private Eye, are included in his listings.

The listings make up 627 pages, arranged alphabetically by magazine title. Each entry begins with
a narrative summary of the title’s significance, highlights of its run, a contents overview, key contributors and stories of particular note. Far too many fiction magazines saw only a handful of issues and Cook sometimes speculates on the reason a title ended such as poor funding, distribution, low quality, etc.

The wide-ranging sources of information gathered for each entry is noted, encompassing other reference volumes, private collectors, libraries, articles from magazines and fanzines, etc.

The publication history includes any title changes, number of issues, publisher, editors, original price, dimensions and page count, and current status— which for most is “discontinued.”

The listings are comprehensive and I have seldom run across a title that is not represented.

As mentioned, the main section covers U.S., Canadian and UK titles, but it’s followed by a section devoted to “Overviews of Foreign Magazines” that includes entries for Australia, Denmark, France, Norway and Sweden.

“Book Clubs in Profile” provides a rare look into the history of the book clubs that advertised in many of the magazines covered in the listings. Some like the Detective Book Club experienced amazing growth—from “the humble office in 1923 that rented for $480 a year” to a 23,000 square foot office on Long Island by 1954. Book clubs covered include Ellery Queen’s Mystery, Masterpieces of Mystery Library, Mystery Guild (US and British), Mystery Library, Raven House Mysteries, Thriller (British) and Unicorn Mystery.

Appendices
A: Magazines by Category provides a quick reference to check formats. Separated into three groupings for the U.S., Great Britain and Canada, magazines are grouped as Dime Novels, Pulp Magazines or Digest Size Magazines. Further divisions separate fiction from nonfiction magazines.

B: Key Writers in the Golden Age “While this list is by no means complete, either for the authors listed or for the magazines in which they were published, it will serve to identify many of the early markets for these selected writers.” A list of author pseudonyms follows.

C: Chronology provides the year in which each magazine originally appeared, beginning with 1882 (New York Detective Library) and ending with 1982 (Hamilton T. Caine’s Short Story Newsletter, Mystery News and Spiderweb). Paging through the years it’s easy to see when publishers felt most optimistic, and browsing the titles testifies how difficult it is to launch a title that lasts.

D: American True-Detective Magazines provides a partial list of magazines, noted “if for nothing more than identification, since many bear titles similar to fiction magazines.” A list of 41 titles is certainly better than nothing, but I wish it were more exhaustive and included their size. None
of the few pocket- or digest-size titles I’ve run across are included.

E: Canadian True-Detective Magazines

F: Sherlock Holmes Scion Society Periodicals “While some are of general interest to all who like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, others are primarily of value only to their own members.”

G: Other Periodicals of Interest to the Collector Although its unlikely any of the 25 titles listed remain active, it may provide collectors new titles to seek out in secondary markets.

The final pages of Cook’s volume include a two-page Selected Bibliography, Index and seven pages of Contributors.

Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines
Greenwood Press, 1983
Hardcover, 6.25” x 9.5” 800+ pages
Prices ranges from $50 to $200 in secondary markets
Available at many libraries for reference

Suspense Novel #3: Carl G. Hodges

suspense_novel_3

Suspense Novel #3 Naked Villainy by Carl G. Hodges

Of all the digests in Farrell’s Suspense series, Naked Villainy by Carl G. Hodges is the most provocative. The story’s first victim is shown on the cover in a sheer bra and panties—exactly what she’s wearing in the opening chapter.

“The light was weak, but good enough so that the black panties held no mystery.”

And later: “She had whirled to face me, one hand jerking up from the front of the black bra and tearing the flimsy cloth. A nipple pointed at me, the color of a pecan on top of a cup cake.” Steamy prose for 1951.

Hodges’ reverence for the Midwest MWA provides a wonderful surprise mid-novel when Lieutenant Davis visits one of the chapter’s meetings. Chapter president Bill Brannon is on hand, a journalist and crime fiction writer with reportedly over 5,000 stories and articles to his credit. His biography of con man Joseph Weil, Yellow Kid Weil, is mentioned, but Brannon wrote several other books as well as stories for Coronet, Reader’s Digest, Omnibook, Saga, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and many others. He used his middle name, Tibbetts, to write as William Tibbetts, one of more than a half-dozen pseudonyms he used. Known as “The Dean of Crime Writers,” Brannon was nominated for the Edgar Award in 1951.

In 1976, MWA produced the Mystery Writer’s Handbook, under the guidance of Lawrence Treat. Each chapter tackles an element of the craft, written by a veritable who’s who of the industry. William T. Brannon is onboard with a chapter on how to write true crime. According to Treat: “After reading it, all you need is to go out and do it.”

Back at the fictitious MWA meeting, Lennie Hilts had just sold From Jennys to Jets. As it turned out the book was published in 1951, as The Airmail Jennies to Jets as told to Leonard Finley Hilts.

Milton Ozaki, who apparently coiffed hair by day, and had a “police dog” named Sacre Bleu, receives a quarter page tribute. His novels, A Fiend in Need, The Cuckoo Clock and Too Many Women are mentioned—as is his pseudonym, Robert O. Saber.

Another MWA member, Allen Pruitt, identified by his pseudonym “because he was Commissioner of Public Welfare of the City of Chicago and I guess he figured it would be better to use a pen name for his excursions into the mystery writing field.” This was actually Alvin Emanuel Rose, a Chicago journalist in the 1920s and 1930s before becoming Commissioner. He wrote two novels as Alan Pruitt, The Restless Corpse (1947), which Hodges mentions, and Typed For a Corpse, in 1954.

The final attendee was Paul Fairman, author of The Glass Ladder, Harlequin #139. Fairman’s work appeared most often in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but he also sold to The Saint, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne, Shell Scott—and earlier in pulps like Black Mask, FBI Detective Stories, and Mammoth Detective. He also wrote as Paul Daniels.

Getting back to Hodges, Naked Villainy is an excellent digest original that can leave you searching for more of his work. One of his short stories, “Murder Throws a Ringer” from Thrilling Detective (Dec. 1947), is included in The Noir Mystery Megapack from Wildside Press.

Sherlock Holmes & Mr. Mac in: The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby and The Case of the Unseen Assassin by Gary Lovisi

lovisi-cAuthor/bookseller Gary Lovisi is a frequent contributor to The Digest Enthusiast. I like his writing. In fact, that’s why I publish it myself. I’ve read plenty of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but never The Valley of Fear, where the young Scotland Yard detective, Alec MacDonald (aka Mr. Mac), was first introduced. Now he’s back, with a prominent role in two new Sherlock Holmes adventures in Black Gat Books #11.

It’s obvious from the historical notes that follow each story that Lovisi did his homework before attempting to follow in the footsteps of a legendary author like Doyle. His grasp of the characters, the times, and where these new adventures fit in the Holmes canon are to be commended. The reference points in the stories themselves are kept brief and pertinent, adding credibility without digressing into fannish indulgence.

Both stories are nicely plotted with plenty of complications and twists to keep readers engaged and mystified. The pacing strikes the right balance between the style of Doyle’s originals and today’s more fast-paced narrative drive.

The first story, “The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby,” is the more traditional of the pair. Steeped in English custom and courtesy, it begins with Inspector MacDonald’s investigation of a suspicious burglary attempt. Events escalate quickly into a major dilemma when Lady Westcott herself disappears, compelling Mr. Mac to draw Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the affair. A missing person case with no apparent motive and no apparent kidnapper presents just the sort of challenge the great detective and his fans relish.

The second and final story, “The Case of the Unseen Assassin,” pits Holmes and his companions against a more modern-day threat—a serial sniper whose victims have no discernible connection to their killer. Armed with only their wits and the tools of the 19th Century, the trio of Holmes, Watson, and MacDonald must stop the killer before another victim is murdered.

The Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Mac stories of Black Gat Books #11 offer two entertaining mysteries in the style of the original Doyle classics. Fans of the great detective and old English police procedurals would do well to conclude both are worth their immediate engagement.

Black Gat #11 and earlier books in the series are available directly from Stark House Press and the big river for $9.99.