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Son Of Retro Pulp Tales

01/03/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

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Son Of Retro Pulp Tales edited by Joe R. Lansdale and Keith Lansdale. pub: Subterranean Press. 211 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-260-3.

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When Reverend Jebediah Mercer rescues Jud from the makeshift jail in a nowhere town called Wood Tick out in the wild, wild west and then sets off with him to fight a monster that done ate Jud’s purty wife, why fer shure it sets the tone for the first part of this anthology. ‘The Crawling Sky’ by Joe R. Lansdale is a right fine piece of pulp fiction, dagnabit, that might have come from the typewriter of Robert Erwin Howard hisself.

The western theme continues with ‘Quiet Bullets’ by Christopher Golden who wanted to write a story of a more innocent age – the fifties. Back then, American school bullies merely broke a lad’s finger rather than slaughtering the entire class with a sub-machine gun. Teddy, our hero, is a fine young feller being raised by his Mom alone after Pa died in the Korean War. One day, he sees a cowboy ghost who leads him out to a quiet place and teaches him to shoot his Daddy’s old revolver using the strangest bullets you’ll ever come across in a yarn. Then the bad guy shows up. Mister Golden succeeds in writing a kind of nice story about a decent, ordinary kid.

David J. Schow’s lead character, Proctor, is not at all nice. He’s a professional outlaw and gets caught in ‘A Gunfight’ when the bank robbing crew turn on each other over the loot and the big bosses who organised the job turn on the winner of that free for all – him! ‘Gunfight’ is precisely described mayhem, the prose version of an action film finale. An interesting writing exercise neatly delivered.

Lucifer Jones is a preacher who wanders the world having adventures. His religion was worked out between him and God one afternoon and it doesn’t seem too strong on ethics or good works. In Peru, he teams up with Jasper MacCorkle to go in search of ‘The Forgotten Kingdom’ of the title. Machu Picchu isn’t very forgotten by anybody, though, and the two adventurers fall out over a beautiful half-naked priestess and nearly cause a civil war among the natives. Mike Resnick’s tale is made hugely enjoyable through the bad jokes enabled by the sheer dimness of his protagonist.

A gypsy girl turns up at a railway station on the Canadian border. She is being chased by evil Nazis. A crew of decent, small-town American folks do their best to save her. ‘Border Town’ by James Grady fits the number one criteria for pulp fiction, namely, it might be made into a pretty good adventure film or even a great one like ‘Bad Day At Black Rock’. It is also damn fine as a piece of prose because Grady has the gift of language, using some nice similes and arresting short paragraphs to convey fast action. I think this is the same James Grady who wrote ‘Six Days Of The Condor’, which was reduced to three condor days when turned into a film. Happily this principle is not universally applied by Hollywood or else we would have ‘The Nineteen and a Half Steps’, ‘Catch 11’ and ‘Fahrenheit 225½’.

‘The Toad Prince Or Sex Queen Of The Martian Pleasure-Domes’ is by Harlan Ellison, a revered name in the field of fantasy and Science Fiction. A feared name, too. I was rather wary of saying anything bad about this story in case editor Uncle Geoff gets a dead fish in the post or worse. Happily, it was excellent, starting out as a sort of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars pastiche with modern overtones, but moving on to an almost Lovecraftian cosmic ending. There’s a sort of preface about a princess and a frog in which Harlan displays his pyrotechnic skills with language.

These also ran: ‘The Perfect Nanny’ by William F. Nolan might be made into a straight to DVD ‘B’ movie one day. Its plot about a Scandinavian hired girl with evil designs on a nice five year-old would suit, especially the dramatic climax in a graveyard. ‘The Catastrophe Box’ by Cherie Priest is a pretty good Lovecraft pastiche. ‘Pretty Green Eyes’ by Timothy Truman is a bloody tale of two bootlegging brothers, hired tough strike-breakers and a beautiful woman. ‘The Brown Bomber And The Nazi Werewolves Of The S.S.’ was an enjoyable piece of nonsense featuring Joe Louis in the clutches of Heinrich Himmler but was perhaps a bit too daft even for pulp fiction. ‘The Lizard Men Of Blood River’ is a tale of derring-do set in a South American jungle. Indiana Jones is not eating his heart out but author Matt Venne meant well.

There are two possible explanations for my impression that, apart from the last story by Ellison, the best stuff was in the first half of the book. Either pulp fiction palls if you read too much at once or the best stuff was in the first half of the book. I could read it backwards in a few years time to find out which is true. For now, I’ll say that there are enough enjoyable stories here to make the book worth buying. Sequels are generally inferior to the initial product but since I haven’t read ‘Retro Pulp Tales’ I can’t tell. Judging by its offspring it’s certainly worth a look. Kudos, once again, to Subterranean Press for keeping short stories alive.

Eamonn Murphy

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