Friday, May 26, 2017

Forgotten Books: Trouble at War Eagle - W.C. Tuttle

I've mentioned many times how much I enjoy W.C. Tuttle's stories and novels featuring drifting range detectives Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens. The short novel TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE is from very late in the series, but it shows that Tuttle hadn't lost any enthusiasm for or skill in writing about his best-known characters after 30 years of chronicling their adventures. In this one, Hashknife and Sleepy stop at an isolated railroad flag depot to warm up on a cold and rainy night. They've barely gotten there when a cowboy comes in to send a telegram, and that unfortunate soul has barely started writing out his message when a shot comes from outside in the dark and kills him. The murderer gets away, but mere moments after that there's another shot, and Hashknife and Sleepy find a badly wounded man behind the depot. Nobody knows who the murdered cowboy is, but the wounded man is one of the local cattle barons, who's engaged in a hot feud with the area's other dominant rancher.

Well, naturally Hashknife can't stand to see this mystery go unsolved, so he starts poking around in his usual low-key, folksy manner, assisted not only by Sleepy but also by the local deputy, "Honey" Moon, who's an old friend of theirs. (In Tuttle's stories, deputies are nearly always smarter than the sheriffs they work for.) There's a Romeo-and-Juliet romance—only it turns out "Romeo" has vanished mysteriously—and the looming threat of sheep—sheep!—moving into the valley, as well as a kidnapping and assorted shootouts. Along the way there's plenty of humorous banter but not much of the slapstick comedy you sometimes get with Tuttle. The focus stays primarily on the mystery element, which is okay with me. It's great fun watching Hashknife untangle everything. Like most great fictional detectives, he's always two or three steps ahead of everybody else, as you realize when you get to the end and see how neatly he's carried out his investigation.

The history of this novel has a mystery to it as well. It was reprinted in 1991 by Tor, in a double edition along with another short novel of Tuttle's entitled THE REDHEAD OF AZTEC WELLS (which I'll be reading in the fairly near future, I expect). The copyright is 1950 by Short Stories Inc. The problem is, no Tuttle story called TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE appeared in SHORT STORIES in 1950 or any other time, or anywhere else, for that matter. However, in the August 1950 issue of SHORT STORIES, there's a Hashknife yarn called "The Kingdom of Cole", and because there's a character in TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE named Cole, I assume it's the same story, although I don't have the pulp to check and be certain. If that's the case, I don't know if Tuttle or the editor at SHORT STORIES came up with the title. TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE may have been Tuttle's original title, or whoever edited the double edition at Tor may have come up with it. To me, TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE sounds much more like a typical Tuttle title (say that three times fast) than "The Kingdom of Cole". At this late date, we'll never know, but I find such speculation interesting.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Now Available: Rocket's Red Glare

The trade paperback edition of the new Rough Edges Press anthology ROCKET'S RED GLARE is now available on Amazon, and ebook editions for all platforms are available at the various on-line retailers.

I just want to say how proud I am of this book and all the authors involved, and how grateful I am to them and to Brad R. Torgersen and Livia J. Washburn for their work on the cover. There are some great stories in ROCKET'S RED GLARE: a major new novella from Brad R. Torgersen, a USAian story by Sarah A. Hoyt, gritty military SF from Nathan E. Meyer, an interstellar epic by Keith West, a superb first contact yarn from Robert E. Vardeman, suspenseful tales set in our solar system by Christopher Chupik and David Hardy, a poignant look at the future on Mars by Lou Antonelli, and stories set on Earth but involving galactic conflict from Martin L. Shoemaker and myself. Classic SF from top-notch authors. You can't go wrong with that.

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fill a Stein and Grab a Bloody Haunch! - Peter Brandvold

FILL A STEIN AND GRAB A BLOODY HAUNCH! isn't your normal writing how-to book. You can read some dry, dusty tome about story arcs and character development, or you can let Mean Pete Brandvold grab you by the throat, give you a few good shakes like a dog trying to kill a rat, and listen to his advice on how to slap your reader across the face and get his attention. Chances are, you're more likely to write something I want to read if you go the Mean Pete route.

Despite the colorful trappings, however, this book will give you plenty of practical tips on narrative hooks, point of view, dialogue, description, pacing, plotting, and characterization, all from the prospective of a top professional who's been making his living as a writer for almost twenty years. And you're going to be mighty entertained in the process, as well.

FILL A STEIN AND GRAB A BLOODY HAUNCH! isn't just a book about writing, though. Brandvold also includes several touching autobiographical essays and a couple of short stories. This is a fine collection by a writer I've long admired. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Stagecoach--The Texas Jack Story (2016)

STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY, which seems to have gone straight to DVD, is about as cheaply made a Western as you'll ever see. The gunshots sound more like cap pistols, and all the different stagecoaches are pulled by the same pair of horses. The less said about the wig worn by one of the characters, the better. And it has that undeniable "shot in Canada" look that too many Westerns do these days.

That said, I found the movie pretty entertaining. Country music star Trace Adkins plays the title character, a reformed outlaw whose efforts to go straight and build a life for himself and his new wife are ruined by a crazed ex-marshal and a vicious female bounty hunter. An almost unrecognizable Judd Nelson plays another outlaw. Those are probably the only two people in the cast you've ever heard of. There's plenty of action, some good lines of dialogue here and there, and Adkins has a great voice and screen presence. Adjust your expectations accordingly, and STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY is worth watching for die-hard Western fans like me.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Rocket's Red Glare, A New Anthology from Rough Edges Press

From distant galaxies to the mean streets of Hollywood . . . from the war-torn skies of France in 1918 to the far side of the moon . . . The stories in Rocket's Red Glare exemplify the adventure, courage, and sense of discovery so vital to the American spirit. Whether daring to cross interstellar space or battling alien conquerors when they come right to our own back yard, the characters in these tales never give up, never stop fighting for their country, their lives, their honor. Featuring all-new stories by Sarah A. Hoyt (part of her USAian series), Brad R. Torgersen, Martin L. Shoemaker, Lou Antonelli, James Reasoner, Robert E. Vardeman, Nathan E. Meyer, Keith West, Christopher Chupik, and David Hardy, Rocket's Red Glare is packed with space opera excitement, dazzling scientific speculation, gritty action, and compelling characters.

I'm really proud of this book. This is the kind of SF I love to read. The ebook is available for pre-order through Amazon and Smashwords and will go live on Thursday, and the print edition should be available then, too.

The Moses Deception - Stephen Mertz

Archeological thrillers have become quite popular over the past twenty or so years, but as you'd expect when Stephen Mertz tackles a genre, you're not going to get the same old same old, as the saying goes. True, in his recent novel THE MOSES DECEPTION, you get a male/female pair of intrepid archeologists, but they're not involved in a romantic relationship as so often happens in books like this. Rather, Drs. Adam Chase and Lara Newton are partners and allies, although there is some attraction between them. Sure enough, on a dig in the Middle East, they make a discovery with implications that could change the entire world: fragments of the original Ten Commandments that Moses broke when he came down from Mount Sinai. And according to these fragments, there was an eleventh commandment that no one ever knew about because Moses kept it to himself (hence the title).

Adam and Lara are already in an area plagued by violence, and this momentous discovery just puts them in more danger, as it's important enough for various factions to kill over, which is exactly what happens as the two of them try to reach safety at the estate belonging to their wealthy backer in the Swiss Alps. Much double-crossing and intrigue ensues.

What really sets THE MOSES DECEPTION apart is Mertz's writing, which as usual is lean and fast-paced and filled with action and compelling characters. So many thrillers these days are bloated, with page after page of padding that puts me to sleep. Not so anything by Steve Mertz, who has been one of the top action writers in the business for the past forty years. THE MOSES DECEPTION is great entertainment and highly recommended.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, June 1949

This cover by Arnold Kohn has some obvious attributes, but what I really like is the crazed look in the horse's eye, right at the edge of the cover. Now that's a war horse. Inside, the lead story is by "Alexander Blade", who appears in this case to have been Richard S. Shaver, not a good sign. Then there's a story by S.M. Tenneshaw, also a house name, but the real author of this one isn't known. Robert Moore Williams and a handful of lesser known names round out the issue. I have a feeling that based on the fiction this may not be a top-notch issue of AMAZING STORIES, but I do like that cover.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, April 19, 1941

As usual for this era, a cover by H.W. Scott graces this issue of WESTERN STORY. It's not Scott's best cover, by any means, but it's not bad. The featured novel (really a novella) is "Spawn of the Gun Pack" by T.T. Flynn, one of my favorite Western authors. I'll have more to say about this story next week, when I feature a pulp I happen to own that reprints this story. Backing up Flynn in this issue is a mighty fine line-up of authors: Walker Tompkins, L.P. Holmes, S. Omar Barker, and John Colohan, I don't own this one, but with those authors I'm sure it's a fine issue. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Cannibal Kingdom - John Peter Drummond

Well, I knew that if I continued reading the Ki-Gor novels in order, I'd get to some that weren't, shall we say, top-notch yarns. For the sake of completeness, though, a few words about KI-GOR—AND THE CANNIBAL KINGDOM, from the Summer 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES.

First of all, it's actually not badly written. The prose flows fairly well, the settings are described nicely, and the action scenes are okay, if rather sparse. I have no idea who was behind the John Peter Drummond house-name on this one. But whoever it was neglected to come up with much of a plot. Ki-Gor goes to the aid of his old friend and sidekick George Spelvin, the former railroad porter from Cincinnati who's become the chief of the M'Balla tribe in Africa, when George and his people are attacked and besieged by a horde of cannibals. That's all there is to it. A lot of the novel consists of Ki-Gor and his beautiful redheaded wife Helene (who's given nothing to do) traveling from one place to another. There's one nice bit near the end where Ki-Gor exposes a jungle con-man, but that's not enough to save a plot that really needed a few twists.

One other way in which KI-GOR—AND THE CANNIBAL KINGDOM is noteworthy is that it's the first story, as far as I recall, in which George Spelvin is referred to as Tembo George, Tembo meaning elephant (because he's a great big guy, of course). This is the name by which he's known for the most part in the rest of the series.

At some point I'll have to start skipping some of the stories because I don't have all of them, but I probably have 80% of the series in one form or another (all reprints except for one issue of JUNGLE STORIES). For now, though, I'm going to continue reading them in order and writing about them here from time to time. If you're following along at home, though, you could probably skip KI-GOR—AND THE CANNIBAL KINGDOM without missing much. Sad but true.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Broken Trail (2006)

We missed this Western "mini-series" (actually a glorified two-part TV movie) when it came out in 2006 and never got around to watching it until now. Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church play uncle and nephew, respectively, who take a herd of horses from Oregon to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1898 to sell them to a representative of the British government looking for war horses. Along the way they wind up taking care of five young Chinese women who have been sold to a madam in a Wyoming settlement for a life of prostitution. When Duvall and Church won't turn the women over to the madam, she sends a brutal gunman after the drive to retrieve them and kill their protectors.

That's the plot, which would have made a nice, taut, hardboiled 90 minute Western. To stretch it out to twice that length, there's a lot of spectacular Canadian scenery (like so many Westerns in the past 20 years, BROKEN TRAIL was filmed in Alberta), some romance, and a lot of scenes of the horses being driven along. The pace is leisurely, even meandering. But eventually, even most of the scenes that seem like filler do have some sort of payoff, and the ending is very satisfying.

What really makes this film work are the performances of Duvall and Church, both of whom have the sort of weatherbeaten, lived-in faces appropriate to Westerns. Duvall, of course, can do this sort of stuff in his sleep, but he works at it and doesn't phone in his performance. I think of Church primarily as a comedic actor, but he's fine as a cowboy with a stubborn streak, and impressive enough that I wish he'd made more Westerns. Greta Scacchi is also good as a soiled dove who throws in with them to get away from her life.

BROKEN TRAIL is one of those movies that has a lot of excellent individual scenes. While those scenes don't add up to a great Western, it is a good one, very watchable and entertaining.