Monday, June 29, 2015

A SERPENT'S TOOTH



A SERPENT’S TOOTH
(A Longmire Mystery)
By Craig Johnson
Penguin Books
335 pages

First of all, we really wish we could read these in order, but life has conspired against us with this particular series so we plow ahead reviewing whichever is within arms reach at any given day.  Two week-ends ago, we were packing for a flight to Kentucky and wanted a lightweight paperback to read on the plane.  The nearest on hand was this Longmire mystery by the ever reliable Craig Johnson.  We stuffed it in our bag and headed out.

Having read several Longmire mysteries, we’ve only ever found we really didn’t care for.  Not a bad track record and “A Serpert’s Tooth” falls into the positive box in a big way as it delivers all the things we love about this series.  When a runaway teenage boy is discovered in Absaroka County Wyoming, it’s left to Sheriff Walt Longmire and his  team of deputies to uncover the boy’s identity and get him back to his family.  It is soon learned that he escaped from a fanatical religious cult with headquarters in South Dakota.  Upon further investigation Longmire learns that the boy’s mother has gone missing about the same time he popped up in the sheriff’s backyard.

When his routine probes into the church’s history, and past run-ins with the law, start to draw some very reactionary actions from the cult, Longmire soon suspects the group is hiding more than just a body.  Further investigation links the group to former government agents with connections to illegal oil drilling.  Like all good mysteries, this one comes with all sorts of pieces that at the beginning seem totally unrelated; impossible to form into one cohesive image.  But Longmire is tenacious if nothing else.  He’s got an orphan boy on his hands, a possible dead mother and the shady dealings of a cult group that attempts to impede his investigation at every turn.  Then, amidst this convoluted puzzle, a crazy bearded fellow shows up claiming to be a two-hundred years old Mormon gunfighter on a mission for the prophet John Smith.

Johnson’s best stories are those that mix his wry, sarcastic humor with brilliant flashes of intuition that peers into the human psyche like a laser beam.  He mixes dark humor with love and loss so brilliantly, you’ll find yourself reading some of his passages out loud like the poetry they really are.  “A Serpent’s Tooth,” is classic Longmire and honestly, we couldn’t give it any higher praise. 

Sunday, June 07, 2015

LIGTHWEIGHT - Senior Year




LIGHTWEIGHT
(Senior Year)
Nick Ahlhelm
Metahuman Press
151 pages

Kevin Mathis is an only child living in a world with superheroes.  He lives in a town called Federation and is about to start his senior year of high school.  Neither a nerd nor a jock, Kevin is pretty much your average American teenage boy.  He has two close friends, Andy, who he has known since childhood and Millie, his neighbor next door. 

As the school year begins, Kevin is plagued by strange dreams in which he is flying while at the same time hearing strange, ominous voices.  Over a period of a few days he discovers he has the ability to move things with his mind; telekinesis.  He gets so good at using this skill he eventually ends up saving the city from a runaway robot and decides to become a masked superhero.  He takes the name Lightweight.  Though he shares his secret with Millie, he still finds having a dual identity a problematic challenge.

Which only gets worse after he is confronted by a hooded figure called the Gray Man who informs Kevin he is actually a pawn in an ancient war between the forces of good, the Eloi, and the forces of darkness, the Morlock.  Yes, they’ve taken their names from the H.G. Wells classic sci-fi novel, “The Time Machine.”

Nick Ahlhelm has a keen awareness youthful awkwardness and insecurity.  Kevin, Millie and Andy come across as believable teenagers all of us have met before.  It is this juggling of life, school and hormones that make Kevin such a fun character.  By the time he meets a sexy, female werewolf named Howl, the book is speeding along like a runaway freight train until it comes to a screeching, cliffhanger finale.  And that, fellow readers, is our one warning in regards to this tome; it is only the first in a series and the ending is by no means the climax.

So if you don’t like continuing series, then you’d best let this one pass.  On the other hand if you enjoy well written superhero fiction that takes a fresh, new look at this familiar genre, then “LIGHTWEIGHT – Senior Year” is something you really should pick up.  It’s a quick and fast read and we enjoyed it a great deal.  Happily, the next one is sitting on our bookshelves and we’ll be digging into it shortly.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

WHERE STORIES DWELL



WHERE STORIES DWELL
By I.A. Watson
Pro Se Press
204 pages

If you haven’t been paying close attention over the past few years, then it might have escaped you that one of the leading voices in New Pulp Fiction these days is British writer, I.A. Watson.  We can confirm that easily enough by telling you in the past ten years he’s won two of the coveted Pulp Factory Awards for Best Short Story.  The first was for a Sherlock Holmes story and the second for frontier adventure featuring the characters from James Fennimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans.” 

Now that bit of information leads us into this particular volume which is a pure reading light.  You see those Pulp Factory Awards I just mentioned are given out by the internet group on Yahoo called the Pulp Factory; an informal group of New Pulp writers, artists, editors, publisher and fans with a membership numbering 128.  Watson has been a member since its inception nearly ten years ago and he has used this particular internet board to regale his fellow members with entertaining essays covering such a wide range of topics it sometimes boggles the mind.  Let anyone even hint at an odd tidbit found on-line and instantly Watson is putting forth a two page dissertation on the subject, filled with insightful commentary, humor and the most outlandish historical notes once could ever imagine.

Watson’s Pulp Factory essays have rambled freely over such topics as the birth of heroic fantasy and fairy tales; the legend of King Arthur, heroes, the most powerful female monarch in history, how bad guys die, the purpose of using chapters, the dead World War II hero, Hollywood’s misunderstanding of pulps, etc. etc. etc.  Just to name a few of the dozens between these pages.  There’s even an essay explaining the genealogy of British Kings which I confess still confuses me to no end.  But what was crystal clear from the first page to the last was just how much fun this book truly is.

And this is where, as a fellow publisher in the New Pulp field, I humbly tip my hat to Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Press.  While the rest of us were reading Watson’s essays and enjoying them, it was Tommy who had the oh-so brilliant idea of publishing them and producing this remarkable book.  Oh, and if you are wise enough to pick up a copy, there’s a challenge for you in the very cover by Jeff Hayes, which includes an item related to every single essay in the book itself.  Can you pick them all out?

“Where Stories Dwell,” is that rarest of books; on that both amuses and informs at the same time by a writer I’ve come to believe is truly the World’s Last Renaissance Man.
Read it and then tell me I’m wrong.  That’s a safe bet on my part.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

THE SPECIALISTS



THE SPECIALIST
By Joel Jenkins & Derrick Ferguson
PulpWork Press
306 pages

In the world of New Pulp fiction, two of the coolest heroes out there are Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon and Joel Jenkins’ Sly Gantlet.  The latter has appeared in several in adventures along with his brothers as they are a world famous rock and roll band who just happen to work for the U.S. Government as a side job.  Whereas Dillon is a globe trotting adventurer much in the tradition of Leslie Charteris’ Saint, only with a lot more punch and swagger.

That these two larger than life heroes would team up for one action packed tale would cause for celebration.  To do so in three tales, as this volume collects, is nothing but sheer pulp action Nirvana. 

In “Dead Beat in Khusea,” our two heroes cross paths in Northern Africa and immediately butt heads over a beautiful Princess who once left Dillon out to dry in a previous adventure.  No sooner do Dillon and Sly start going at each other when the lady in question is abruptly kidnapped by a group of black-clad terrorist and taken to a long hidden Nazi stronghold in the desert mountains.  Their aim is to revive a horrible biological weapon that has lain dormant since World War II and use it to blackmail the rich countries of the world.  The problem is the chemical threat has no antidote and could easily destroy all of mankind if allowed to spread freely.  Now it’s up to our two heroes to find this hidden base, rescue the damsel in distress and save the day.  And that’s just the first story.

“Dead Beat in the Gobi,” has Sly and Dillon fleeing from a Russian military base with the biological weapon they’ve just stolen.  When their helicopter goes down in the frigid wasteland and they open the sealed canister they discover a beautiful woman awakening from a cryogenic nap.  What’s her connection to the biological weapon and how will our two adventurers escape an all out attack by wilderness cannibals hoping to make them the main course of their next meal?

“The Specialists,” is the novella length final entry of the volume and easily one of the most action packed tales we’ve ever read.  It’s pretty much a final swan song to one of the characters as Sly, Dillon and a half dozen other special operatives are sent on a suicide mission into Russia to destroy a munitions factory that has built four electronic pulp generator bombs; any of which could knock out the power grid of any country if denoted in the upper atmosphere.  From its inception the mission is plagued with mishaps until it is obvious to our two central characters that there is spy onboard determined to see the mission fail before it is even begun.  “The Specialists” reminded us a great deal of some those early Alistair McLean thrillers such as “The Guns of Navaroone” and “Where Eagles Dare,” only set the clandestine world of modern espionage.  Our only critique is that at the offset there are too many characters to keep track of and it becomes confusing to remember whose who.  But again, a minor quibble, as before too long many of them are dead and the core group of survivors that manages to infiltrate the hidden Russian facility are finally etched as the story goes into hyper-drive.  Once begun, “The Specialists” is impossible to be put down.

This book is one of the finest produced since the inception of the New Pulp Movement and we urge you to pick up a copy.  They don’t get any better than this.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY



AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY
By Fred Saberhagen
Tor Books
207 pages

“An Old Friend of the Family,” was the third in the New Dracula series written by the late Fred Saberhagen (1930-2007).   Best known for his Beserker science fiction series, his reimagining of the Dracula legend put forth the concept that Vlad Tepes, the Prince of Wallachia, only became a vampire after he was murdered.  In the books, he is the protagonist and the humans bent on his destruction are portrayed as bumbling fools.

This volume was the third in the series and with it he moved the saga to modern times with the descendants of Mina Harker, Dracula’s one true love, living in the suburbs of Chicago (where Saberhagen was born) and coming under the attack of New World vampires hoping to lure the Old Count to America and defeat him. 

It is the middle of a brutal Illinois winter and Kate Sutherland is kidnapped party and made into a vampire.   Her grandmother Clarissa, Mina Harker’s granddaughter, recalls being told that should she, or her loved ones, ever find themselves in danger, all she had to do is read aloud an ancient Latin chant and help would appear.  After Kate’s body is discovered, her younger brother Johnny is then snatched and brutal kidnapped.  The old woman, with the help of her remaining granddaughter, Judy, speaks the chant and a few days later Dr. Corday arrives on their doorstep.  He is the old friend of the family and though vague and mysterious, it is immediately obvious to Gran and Judy that they have a very powerful ally in this strange old man.

Dr. Corday waste no time investigating the attacks on the Sutherlands and offers his assistant to Joe Hagen, Kate’s detective boyfriend.  It is Corday who, upon examining Kate’s body in the morgue before her autopsy, discovers that she is not dead.  Rather she’s been turned and he manages to get her out of the morgue and sequesters her in the family mausoleum until he can properly educate her in regards to her new status as one of the undead.

But as the savage blizzard continues to blanket the Windy City and its outlying communities, Corday’s supernatural foes learn of his arrival and double their efforts to capture and destroy him.  “An Old Friend of the Family,” is a gripping, fast moving vampire adventure told by a master whose hero is presented in a new light while maintaining his dark appeal.  We’d heard of this series often over the years, especially of this particular entry, and are now very glad to have finally read it.   If you’re a fan of classic vampire tales, this book will put a huge smile on your face.  Just watch out for the fangs.

Monday, May 18, 2015

THE SLEEP DETECTIVES



THE SLEEP DETECTIVES
By Matthew Bieniek
Self-Published
ISBN-13  978-1493620142
134 pages

Many times, while attending various pulp conventions, new writers will present me with copies of their self-published books to obtain a review.  Such was the case with this little gem from Matthew Bieniek.  It is a wonderful, extremely well written story about a young man named Tony who has the ability to go places and events in his dreams that have actually happened.  All he has to do is think of the time and place before falling off to sleep and in his dreams he is there.  This can happen with mundane incidents to those with rich historical significant such as being at Gettysburg to see President Lincoln deliver his famous address to a war weary nation.  Or appearing in a parking late at night to see who it was that stole his co-worker’s car.

Tony works in a grocery store and spends most of his time with his best friends, Dom and Danny.  When he confides in them about his special “dream” abilities, they see the potential for Tony being able to assist the police in solving crimes that have been relegated to the cold-cases files.  Eventually, Dom gets a job with a local detective agency and connects Tony with the owner of the company.  Invariably our likeable hero is asked to help solve the five year old disappearance of a young lady.  This assignment takes him to some dark places and ultimately endangers Tony and his friends when a  murderer is exposed.

“The Sleep Detectives” is fresh, original and its characters believable from the first page to the last.  Bieniek’s pacing is balanced and he pulls us along effortlessly.  It is rare to find such an unpretentious writer who clearly loves what he is doing and achieves what he sets out to do, completely entertain his readers.  Go find “The Sleep Detectives.”  You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

FLYING FISH "PROMETHEUS"



FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS”
By Vilhelm Bergsoe
Translated by Dwight R. Decker
Vesper Press
47 pages

When little books, sometimes called chap-books, land on my desk, they bring within their pages lots of unique, long forgotten literary treasures.  FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS” is a very old Danish science fiction tale reminiscent of the works of Jules Verne.  It is a rare story, considering its source, and little known among most sci-fi buffs until only recently.  It was published in 1870 and tells the story of a Danish engineer who travels in a remarkable airship.

In the tale, the author sets his adventure in the future of 1969 and his hero is on his way to Central America to witness the opening of the Panama Canal.  The fun of this short tale is seeing which of the author’s predictions came true and which were pure flights of imaginative fancy. (Pun intended.)  Perhaps the greatest of these being the aircraft itself which works less than conventional dirigibles and more like an actual flying fish having to propel itself out of a body of water to attain flight. 

For those of you who enjoy finding such long lost sci-fi gems, this wonderful package comes with additional material to include an essay on the author and the story’s history and a post article by the translator, Dwight Decker, on his role in bringing the story back into print and the inherent challenges in the translation.  All in all, FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS” is a rare sci-fi oddity we think readers will enjoy discovering…at long last.