Monday, January 30, 2017

The Terrible Parchment: Review

Our look at Sin's Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances by Manly Wade Wellman continues with his Lovecraft tribute,"The Terrible Parchment." The text can be found here.
***
The Terrible Parchment 

Summary: A wife surprises her husband with an early copy of the next month's Weird Tales. However, the couple quickly finds out that it is a copy of the Necronomicon instead. As they leaf through it, the Latin and Arabic inside shifts to English text. A spell to summon Chthulhu begs to be read.

***

This is a fan's tribute to the Lovecraft Mythos, a tongue-in-cheek story that quickly turned dark. It's a fun little popcorn read that's a in-joke with legs. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar enough with the Mythos to appreciate it on a level beyond a couple discovers a creepy dark artifact with a mind of its own and must resist it.

The Pulp Elements:

Action:  The Necronomicon is alive, and stalks the couple. The couple runs, hides, and tries to pin the book in place.

Impact:  If read aloud, the Necronomicon will summon Chthulhu.

Moral Peril:  As usual, if Wellman is not writing a morality play, moral peril is  replaced with mortal peril. 

Romance:  Although the wooing is long in the past, the couple still does little things for each other. Unfortunately, sinister forces took advantage of this natural affection.

Mystery:  Is it really the Necronomicon? How can we stop it?

Structure:  A shorter version of Lester Dent's Pulp formula, with only two twists and an escalation.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Appendix M: "Haita the Shepherd" by Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce wrote horror short stories that were later mined by Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft for their own stories. In this one, a shepherd prays to Hastur.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cirsova 5&6 Kickstarter


The Kickstarter for this year's Cirsova Magazine subscription is live.  For as low as $1, you can get digital issues of Cirsova 5 and 6, each one filled with sword and planet tales written by some of today's best in the field. This is what you can expect:
Our Spring issue (Cirsova #5) primarily features stories from Misha Burnett's Eldritch Earth Geophysical Society, a writing group devoted to telling Burroughsian adventure stories set on a pre-historic Lovecraftian Earth. Expect unspeakable monsters from the stars, cultists, sorcerers, lizardmen, crabmen, fishmen (and fishwomen) and every manner of daring rogue! Also, Adrian Cole’s Witchfinder Arrul Voruum investigates the lingering evil in Karkesh in an all new Dream Lords story, Michael Tierney cooks up a historical fantasy with Bears of 1812, and Lynn Rushlau tells of daring escape in Through the Star-Thorn Maze.  Plus, the latest installment in James Hutchings' My Name is John Carter.
Our Fall Issue (Cirsova #6) will feature the usual array of exciting SFF goodness, including the return of a few characters introduced to our readers in previous issues; Strongjohn picks up on Triton where At the Feet of Neptune's Queen left off, Thompson's adventurer Captain Anchor Brown pursues a mysterious god-beast deep in the wilds, present meets past in the Sacred City as Cole continues his Dream Lords saga, plus more Othan! We've also got some Raygun Romance from Spencer Hart & Tyler Young, and the start of a brand new Sword & Sorcery series by Jim Breyfogle.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The 2000 Word Master Formula

Lester Dent's Master Formula has been making its way around the pulp and superversive corners of the internet. And, like any storytelling technique, it has undergone its share of criticism. While most focused on how it might be used for longer works, Tom Simon rightly pointed out that there isn't enough room in a 3,000 word short story to get all the twists and confrontations in. Since most short stories have word counts of less that Lester Dent's proposed 6,000 words, Mr. Simon's criticism must be addressed by those who would attempt to use Dent's structure. Fortunately, Manly Wade Wellman's short story "Up Under The Roof" shows one way to use the formula: eliminate the middle twists.

Therefore, for quick works of 1,500-2,000 words, I propose this version of Lester Dent's structure, using his own words:
1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with. 
2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.) 
3–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.) 
4–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn. 
5–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand. 
6–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.) 
7–The snapper, the punch line to end it.  (It is common for the final twist and the punchline to be combined in the last sentence.)


Pulp Radio Wednesday: The Lone Ranger - The Osage Bank Robbery

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Short Fiction: The Terrible Parchment

(A part of the ongoing look through the short fiction of Manly Made Wellman's collection, Sin's Doorway. This tale was found online, at one of the more reputable sources for public domain fiction.)

The Terrible Parchment
(To the memory of H. P. Lovecraft, with all admiration)
by Manly Wade Wellman
***
"Here's your Weird Tales," smiled my wife, entering the apartment.
"Thanks, Gwen," I said, rising and taking the magazine she held out. "But surely it's not the first of the month."
"Not for two days yet," Gwen assured me. "But just as I came to the front door, a funny old man bobbed up with an armful of magazines — advance copies, I guess. He stuck a copy of WT. right under my nose. I gave him a quarter and — oop!"
I had opened the magazine and a page fluttered to the floor. We both stooped for it, both seized it, and we both let go-Gwen gasped and I whistled. For that fallen page had a clammy, wet feel to it. Dank is the word, I think. Still stoop- ing, we grimaced at each other. Then I conquered my momentary disgust, picked up the page, and held it to the light of my desk lamp.
"It's not paper," Gwen said at once.
No more it was, and what could it be doing in Weird Tales'! Though it looked weird enough. It was a rectangle of tawny, limp parchment, grained on the upper side with scales, like the skin of some unfamiliar reptile. I turned it over. The other surface was smoother, with pore-like markings and lines of faint, rusty scribbling.
"Arabic," I pronounced. "Let's phone for Kline to come over. He reads the stuff."
"There's a Greek word," Gwen said. Her pink-tipped finger touched the string of capitals at the upper edge:
ΝΕΚΡΟΝΟΜΙΚΟΝ
"Necronomicon," she spelled out. "P would be rho in Greek. Sounds woogey."
"That's the name of H. P. Lovecraft's book," I told her.
"Book? Oh, yes, he's always mentioning it in his stories."
"And lots of WT. authors — Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch and so on — have put it into their stories," I added.
"But Lovecraft imagined the thing, didn't he?"
I laid the parchment on the desk, for my fingers still rebelled at its strange dankness. "Lovecraft describes it as the work of a mad Arab wizard, Abdul Alhazred, and it's supposed to contain secrets of powerful evils that existed before the modern world. It's become legendary."
Gwen stared at it, but did not touch it. "Is it some sort of Valentine or April Fool's joke, stuck in to thrill the sub- scribers? If so, it's cleverly made. Looks a million years old."
We pored over the rusty scrawl of Arabic, our heads close together. If it was a fake, there was every appearance of dimmed old age about the ink.
"Kline must have a look at it," I said again. "He may know what it's doing in Weird Tales."
Gwen studied the last line of characters.
"That part isn't faked," she said suddenly. She paused a moment, translating in her mind. "It says, 'Chant out the spell and give me life again."' She straightened. "Let's play some cribbage."
We both felt relief as we turned away. Light as had been our talk, we had been daunted by a sense of prodding mystery. I got out the board and the cards and we began to play on the dining table.
Ten minutes later, I turned suddenly, as if a noise had come to my mind's ear. The parchment was no longer on the desk.
"It's blown off on the floor," said Gwen.
I rose and picked it up. It felt even more unpleasant than before, and this time it seemed to wriggle in my hand. Perhaps a draft had stirred it. Dropping it back on the desk, I weighted it with an ash tray and went back to the game.
Gwen beat me soundly, adding to her household money thereby. I taunted her with suggestions of a girlhood misspent at gaming-tables, then turned idly toward the desk. I swore, or so Gwen insists, and jumped over to seize it.
"This is getting ridiculous," said Gwen, fumbling nervously with the cards.
I studied the thing again. "You said the last line was in Latin," I remarked.
"It is in Latin."
"No, in English." I read it aloud. "Chant out the spell and give me life again." And the next to the last line was in English, too, I realized. It also was written with fresh ink, in a bold hand:
Many minds and many wishes give substance to the worship of Cthulhu.
Gwen looked over my shoulder. "You're right, dear, 'Many minds and . . . ' — what does Cthulhu mean? Anything to do with the chthonian gods — the underground rulers the Greeks served?"
"I shouldn't be surprised," I said, and it sounded even drier than I had intended. "Cthulhu's a name that Lovecraft and Smith and the others used in their yarns. A god of old time, and a rank bad one at that."
Gwen shuddered, and turned the shudder into a toss of her shoulders. "Maybe the many minds and wishes gave substance to this page of the Necronomicon."
"Nonsense, the Necronomicons only Lovecraft's imagination."
"Didn't you say it had become a legend?" she reminded, utterly serious. "What's the next step after that?"
"What you suggest," I said, trying to be gaily scornful, "is that so many people have thought and talked about it that they've actually given it substance."
"Something like that," she admitted. Then, more brightly: "Oh, it'll turn out to be a joke or something else anticlimactic."
"Right," I agreed. "After all, we're not living in a weird tale."
"If we were, that would explain things." She warmed to the idea. "It was turning deliberately into language we could read. When we hesitated over the Latin — "
"It accommodatingly turned into English," I finished.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy."
"Trite but true. Still, my name's not Horatio, and it's bedtime. Let's not dream any philosophies that'll turn into nightmares." Once more I picked up that clammy parchment. "I'm putting this under stoppage."
Opening the dictionary on the stand beside my desk, I laid the parchment inside and closed the heavy book on it. "There it stays until we get Kline here tomorrow. And now to bed."
To bed we went, but not to sleep. Gwen squirmed and muttered, and I was weary in every portion of my body except the eyelids. We got up once for sandwiches and milk, and again for aspirin. A third time we lay down and I, at least, dozed off.
I started awake to the pressure of Gwen's fingers on my shoulder. Then I heard what she had heard, a faint, stealthy rustle.
I reached for the light chord above the bed. The room sprang into radiance, and through the open door I could see the living room. I sat up in bed, staring.
Something hung down from between the leaves of the dictionary by the desk, something that moved. Something that would be rectangular if laid flat, but which now seemed to flow from its narrow prison like a trickle of fluid filth.
"It's going to come here for us," breathed Gwen, almost inaudibly.
The parchment worked free and dropped to the floor with a fleshy slap, as though it had soft weight. It began to move across the rug toward the bedroom door. Toward us.
Perhaps I might describe painstakingly how it looked as it moved, how it humped up in the middle and laid its corners to the floor like feet. But how can I convey the horrid nastiness of it, how visualize for you the sense of wicked power that it gave off in waves almost palpable? You might get an idea by draping a sheet of brown paper over a creeping turtle . . . no, that sounds ludicrous. There was nothing funny in the way that parchment moved, not an atom of humor.
Gwen crouched, all doubled up and panicky, against the headboard. Her helpless terror nerved me. Somehow, I got out and stood on the floor. I must have looked unheroic with my rumpled hair and my blue pajamas and my bare feet, but I was ready to fight.
Fight what? And how?
It came hunching over the door sill like a very flat and loathly worm. I saw the writing on it, not rusty-faint but black and heavy Snatching a water glass from the bedside table, I hurled it. The foul thing crumpled suddenly sidewise. The glass splintered on the floor where it had been. The parchment came humping, creeping toward my bare toes.
"Smash it," wailed Gwen. She must have been ready to faint.
Against a chair leaned her little parasol, with a silken tassel at its handle and a ferrule of imitation amber. I seized it and made a stab at the invader. The point thrust the center of it against the floor, pinning it there for a moment. Then I saw in what manner it had changed.
At the top ΝΕΚΡΟΝΟΜΙΚΟΝ still stood in aged ink, but the Arabic writing was transformed into English, large and gold and black as jet. Stooping to pin it, I read at a glance the first line.
A thousand times since I have yearned to speak that line aloud, to write it down, to do something to ease my mind of it. But I must not, now or ever.
Who shaped so dreadful a thought? Abdul Alhazred is a figment of Lovecrafr's imagination. And Lovecraft is human; he could never have dreamed those words that lie on my mind like links of a red-hot iron chain. And they were but the start of the writing. What could it have been like in full?
I dare not surmise. But suddenly I knew this for truth, as I tried to crush the parchment beneath the inadequate parasol — the formless evil of centuries had taken form. An author had fancied the book; others had given it being by their own mental images. The legend had become a fearsome peg on which terror, creeping over the borderland from its forbidden realm, could hang itself, grow tangible, solid, potent.
"Gwen," I called, "hide your eyes. Don't look. Don't read."
"What?" Her pale face moved close as she leaned across the bed.
"Don't read!" I yelled at her.
The parchment squirmed from under the tip of the parasol. It reached my foot, it was climbing my leg.
Would it scale my body drape itself upon my face, force its unspeakable message into my mind? Because then I'd have to speak.
The burden would be too great. My lips would open to ease the torture. "Chant out the spell ..." and the world would be crushed under the fearsome feet of Cthulhu and his brother-horrors. What sins and woes would run loose? And it would be I, I who spoke the words to release them.
Dizzy and faint, I ripped the thing from my leg. It clung, as though with tendrils or suckers, but I dragged it free and dashed it into a metal waste basket, among crumpled bits of paper. It tried to flop out again. I snatched my cigarette lighter from the bedside table. It worked; it burst into flames and I flung it into the basket.
The mass of paper kindled into fire and smoke. Up from it rose a faint, throbbing squeak, to be felt rather than heard, like a far-off voice of a bat. Deeper into the little furnace I jabbed the outcast messenger of destruction. It crinkled and thrashed in the flames, but it did not burn.
Gwen was jabbering into the telephone.
"Father O'Neal!" she cried. "Come quick, with holy water."
Then she hung up and turned to me. "He'll be here in two minutes." Her voice quavered. "But what if the holy water doesn't work?"
It did work. At the first spatter, the parchment and its gospel of wickedness vanished in a fluff of ashes. I pray my thankfulness for that, every day I live. But what if the holy water hadn't worked?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Among Those Present

"Among Those Present", by Manly Wade Wellman
"Moonlight mean romance to me then, and nothing else. I got a girl and went walking by the river, collegian-fashion; she was a Liberal Arts sophomore. There was a sort of sandy jut out into the water, and we loitered out there. Something I said made her laugh, with her face turned up to me in the mmoonlight. Then she stopped laughing, and her mouth twisted like a snake when you tread on it."
Summary: Mr. Craw is introduced to the narrator by a pair of socialites as a man who claims to be a werewolf. He freely spills his story, from silly medical experiments with pre-Rennaisance potions, to a murder under the moonlight. After many attempts to cure himself, Mr. Craw has come to the socialites' house for another cure, but both he and the narrator think that the couple just wants a bit of fun at his expense.  The narrator quickly leaves.  The Next morning, he reads in the paper about the slaughter of the socialites' party.

***

A shorter story than most in the Sin's Doorway collection, "Up Under the Roof" demonstrates the Hitchcockian wisdom in not showing the monster. Nothing that the  boy would have found up under the roof would have been more terrifying than what the reader might imagine was present. The decision to not encounter the monster at all was a brave one, for some readers may feel cheated. But the story was about a beaten down boy summoning the courage to challenge his circumstances, and not the monster under the roof.

The Pulp Elements:

Action:  While the story itself is nothing more than the confession of Mr. Craw, his account hinges on his first murder and his escape from the asylum.

Impact:  Each action is irreversible, from the making and use of the devil-ointments to the murders that follow Mr. Craw in his path.

Moral Peril:  Mr. Craw damned himself by using the ointment he made from rendered baby fat. He escaped prison through lies. By inviting Mr. Craw over for a bit of fun at his expense, the socialites sealed their fates. By fleeing from Mr. Craw, the narrator allowed him to kill the socialites' party. Once again, Wellman tells a story of the costs of moral failures.

Romance:  Mr. Craw ends the life of a young woman quite taken with him, as the moonlight turns him from man to beast.

Mystery:  Is Mr. Craw telling the truth about being a werewolf?

Structure:  Story within a story. The narrator's tale acts as a framing story to Mr. Craw's account. It also provides the obligatory revelation and punch line that characterizes pulp short fiction.  Mr. Craw's account once again follows the five act structure.  The inciting action is the choice to experiment with the devil ointments.  The turning point is Mr. Craw's move to quiet his frightened date.  And the resolution is his decision to lie to earn his freedom from jail.

In response to the "Larroes Catch Meddlers" review, Kevyn Winkless pointed out:
I'd go a step further and note that the image you use to illustrate the structure is particularly apt because the reason for the difference between "Larroes Catch Meddlers" and a typical pulp story is that most pulp stories are heroic, while this one is a tragedy - and the plot structure you've offered is the Elizabethan tragedy structure.
The key difference is that heroic action is driven by the heroes' virtues; tragedy is driven by the protagonists' failings.
Mr. Craw's story, like "Larroes Catch Meddlers" is driven by his failings - and the failings of the narrator.  Thus the use of the tragedy structure comes as no surprise.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Up Under the Roof

"Up Under the Roof", by Manly Wade Wellman
The thing up under the roof sounded as an amoeba looks, a mass that stretches out a thin, loose portion of itself, then rolls and flows all of its substance into that portion, and so creeps along. Only it must have been many, many thousands of times larger than an amoeba.
Summary: A twelve year old boy, currently trapped in a stiffing house, is haunted nightly by strange noises from the garrett above his room. Night by night, the sounds grow more disturbing, as though some thing is trying to break through the ceiling. One day, the noises don't wait for nightfall before starting. The boy grabs an axe and heads into the attic.

***

A shorter story than most in the Sin's Doorway collection, "Up Under the Roof" demonstrates the Hitchcockian wisdom in not showing the monster. Nothing that the  boy would have found up under the roof would have been more terrifying than what the reader might imagine was present. The decision to not encounter the monster at all was a brave one, for some readers may feel cheated. But the story was about a beaten down boy summoning the courage to challenge his circumstances, and not the monster under the roof.

The Pulp Elements:

Action:  Had the boy encountered the monster, there would have been a fight.

Impact:  By confronting that thing under the roof, the boy drives it off. Since that day, it has not returned.

Moral Peril:  At first glance, this is another one of Manly Wade Wellman's stories where mortal peril replaces moral peril. As the boy says:
But I knew then, and I know now, that there was something, or that there had been something, that was a mortal peril until I drove myself to face it. If I had done anything else that day, it would have come looking for me that night.
However, the crisis point of the story is whether or not the boy can summon enough courage to face his monster. Prior to this point, he has been beaten down by uncaring guardians and ignored by the same. The only help he had was what he could give himself. Courage, after all, is a classical virtue. Did the boy have enough?

Romance:  There is only one character.

Mystery:  What is up under the roof?

Structure:  An abbreviated version of Lester Dent's Master Formula. The original formula was intended for 6,000 word stories. "Up Under the Roof" is far shorter. It follows the Master Formula conventions of heaping trouble on the hero's shoulders, introducing a mystery, and shoveling even more trouble onto the hero. But where a longer story has room for multiple twists as it winds its way to the conclusion, "Up Under the Roof" heads straight towards the revelation and punchline that ends Master Formula stories. Michael Moorcock showed how the Master Formula can be adapted to longer works. Here, Manly Wade Wellman adapts it to a shorter work.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Pulp Archivist's Writing Prompts

One of the most venerable traditions in science fiction is the story prompt. John Campbell used to suggest story ideas to his writers. His famous "Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man"defined the genre's ideas of aliens - as well as explained many a universe where humans were the only intelligent species. He also would have stories written to match covers. Many other publishers and editors over the years have continued this tradition, inspiring many of the genre's works.  So, despite being neither editor nor publisher, and in the hopes of triggering a writer more skilled than I, I am throwing my own list of suggestions into the ring.

Let me be explicitly clear about this. I am suggesting these concepts in my own person as Nathan, The Pulp Archivist. I am not speaking in any capacity for Castalia House or any other publisher. Even though I blog for Castalia House, these ideas are not related in any way to Castalia House's submissions process. Castalia House has their own concepts page curated by their editors, of which I am not one. These are a blogger's idle brainstormings, nothing more.

That said, if any of these ideas do tickle a passing writer's fancy enough to sprout a story, please let me know. I would be happy to write a review.  And if none of these do, I expect to grow the list over time.

***

1) A mirai-ki of the 20th century Space Race. For those unfamiliar with the form, Kevyn Winkless described it as:
– a form in which the author writes an interpretation of the present or the past (often fairly recent past) from the perspective of a “prophet” in the distant past.[11]
This is a little hard to wrap one’s mind around in the abstract, so let me give an example: were I to write a mirai-ki today, I might take on the voice of a narrator living in the 15th Century, recording his visions of World War 2. 
Although the form is Japanese, the prophet need not be.

2) A Gothic romance - or similar type of supernatural mystery -  featuring the native haunts and haints of the United States, as might be found in Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer stories or the Foxfire American Library.  While both of these have an Appalachian focus, the ghost stories need not be limited to the Appalachian states.  Oh, and Gothic romances could also be quite light on the romance part as well...

3) Write a story that explains the cover image to Jeffro Johnson's Appendix N.  Why is the axe wielding warrior leaping towards the dragon?

(Once again, my ideas, not Castalia House's.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Just Released: Appendix N


Today is a holiday for many in the writing circles I frequent, for Jeffro Johnson's much anticipated Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons has been released at last!  A survey of the books that inspired the classic role-playing game, Jeffro's work has ignited renewed interest in the sword and sorcery fantasies that have been forgotten over the years. Originally begun as an investigation into how the tales of Conan, John Carter, and Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser influenced the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons, it has become the cornerstone of the Pulp Revolution.

But don't just take my word for it:

From Alexander Macris, founder of The Escapist and creator of Adventurer, Conqueror, King:
Fantasy fiction can and does re-tell the same story endlessly because the story that fantasy re-tells is the best story - the mythic story, the story of the human experience with the sublime. But to do so, to re-tell the best story, the fantasy author must first know it, in its purest and most undiluted form. A chef who hopes to serve a fine meal must have eaten a feast of the freshest morsels, or he will not know what a fine meal is. One who has only tasted reheated and repackaged TV dinners cannot know the taste of better.
Learning the great story is a lifetime of effort and most of us come to it unprepared. We cannot recognize it when we see it. It is too rich for our blood. Howard, Leiber, Vance, Zelazny, Tolkien - all of them were closer to the great story than we are. When we read their works, we find ourselves closer to the fountainhead of the imagination, closer to the mother lode. There is an earnestness, a vitality, a vigor that has been sapped from their epigones. The success of Dungeons & Dragons has spread the beauty of fantasy everywhere, but in so doing it has spread it thin. Appendix N is the original sauce.
From Brian Niemeier, author of the award winning Soul Cycle series:
What Jeffro found when he defied the gatekeepers and delved deep into science fiction's "problematic" past was a lost canon of shared lore that every SFF fan would have been familiar with as recently as the 1970s. This genre-defining body of works now lies largely forgotten to the grave detriment of the field. With Appendix N, Jeffro lays the groundwork for a renaissance that affords science fiction the chance to recover its hidden roots.
Did you know that the line between science fiction and fantasy was once so blurry as to be almost nonexistent? That it was the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, more than Gene Roddenberry's much later work, that inspired NASA scientists to put men on the moon? That a sci-fi generation gap divides the genre conceptions of new and old school SF fans?

Jeffro's exhaustive research uncovered these, and many more, astounding revelations. Now you can benefit from his tireless work and learn the secret history that the self-appointed guardians of science fiction don't want you to know
.
From Schuyler Hernstrom, author of Thune's Vision:
Jeffro has indeed unearthed something. It is the hidden heritage of our beloved genres. I feel a little embarrassed, frankly, that I was so wrong about the fiction that I love so much. What I thought I knew about the genre was a series of walls and fences, put into place to guide me toward opinions and attitudes that were presented as things inevitable. There were few signposts in this landscape. There was the Campbellian stuff. Then came the New Wave, the fathers of Now. Before all that was the Dark Ages. The pulps. Only greats like Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft had the talent to last beyond that laughable and amateurish milieu. And though they remain, their work is forever tainted with the regressive ideas that lace their work. Hovering nearby, neither here nor there, was Tolkien. The source of all fantasy, so I was told. Beloved by millions, trashed by Moorcock and Brin and other forward thinkers, he sat always in the corner, a relic of the days of yore, reeking of pipe smoke and full of old fashioned ideas. Critics, editors, writers, and bloggers, all worked overtime to assure me that we were Almost There. The baggage of the past had given way to a new era where science fiction could finally be regarded as Important, as a force to fight for human progress, as a true literature worthy of critical acclaim in the loftiest towers of the sorcerers who produce taste and proper opinion. 
That dragonfly frozen in amber, Appendix N, yielded a different story. My ideas and attitudes about the genre were changed irrevocably. For me as a writer, it could not have come at a better time. The variety and quality of Appendix N, the mashing of genres, the incredible breadth of works in the forgotten canon, it was all cool water to a man dying of thirst. 
It’s not just me. Jeffro’s work has become a lodestone, pulling at a set of emerging and disparate writers. We are out there, creating what we want from influences as varied as Lord Dunsany and anime. From the maps he drew we are navigating rivers back to their sources. We are exploring myth and knocking the rust off old ideas like heroism and honor. Venues like Cirsova are embracing the pulp heritage with no caveats or apologies. We are creating our own markets and finding readers. The stones of shattered temples are repurposed, the building material for new cathedrals. 
And all from curiosity about the origins of a game.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Larroes Catch Meddlers

Two thieves attempt to steal a Confederate treasure rumored to be inside the abandoned Larro family mansion.  To counteract the hoodoo that is said to haunt the house, they bring a hand of glory, a candle made from a hanged man's hand that can reveal hidden things.  Once inside, the thieves are welcomed by an ancient man of the Larro family, who has returned to the mansion to die.  He confirms that the treasure exists, guarded in secret by his uncles and hidden behind a magically sealed door.  Larro asks the thieves to leave, but one lights the hand of glory instead.

The cellar door creaks open...

"Larroes Catch Meddlers" combines the haunted house with a tale of doomed thieves.  As such, it's pretty standard, a workman-like short story of the type, and not one to stand out from the rest.  While the dread ramps nicely once the thieves hit the cellar, it lacks the vivid evocations of "The Undead Soldier" and Wellman's later John the Balladeer tales.  This is curious, as "Larroes Catch Meddlers" was written between those stories.  Still, an average Wellman tale is better than much of today's fare.

The Pulp Elements:

Action: Implied.  At the end, the thieves react to unseen events happening in the shadows.

Impact:  Each choice made by the thieves leads into the next.  From bringing the hoodoo hand to sneaking into the mansion, and entering the cellar after lighting the hand of glory, the thieves travel down a slippery slope to their destruction, created by their own hands.

Moral Peril: Where many pulp tales require that the protagonists resist temptation, the thieves instead run headlong into damnation.  Sometimes, a story exists to be a warning to others.  Here, the thieves had a chance to escape, by leaving when Larro asked.  But lighting the glory hand sealed their death.

Romance:  This isn't that type of story.

Mystery:  What is hidden in the Larroes mansion?  Where is it hidden?  Are the well-groomed cadavers in the cellar actually dead?

Structure:  Traditional five act.

The inciting action was the theives sneaking onto the Larroes grounds.  The turning point was when the thieves lit the hand of glory.  The climax was when Larro closed the cellar door behind them.

Unlike many pulps, there is no twist.  All the revelations are foreshadowed.  This haunted morality tale rightly concerns itself with the actions of the thieves.  The five act structure, driven as it is by the choices of the protagonist, best fits its aims.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bradford Walker's Archetype of the Flying Ace

  • The Flying Ace is a man in his physical prime, often right at the confluence of youthful exuberance and age-worn experience. Variations on this character often rely on altering the character's age to adjust that balance of influences. For you younger folks, Poe Dameron of The Force Awakens is so typical of the archetype as to be iconic in its expression.
  • Like his ground-bound counterparts (racers and riders), he's got a competitive streak and a certain penchant for mischief- even as an older, more sober-minded man. This is often the basis for his considerable charisma, as his repeated practice of his core habits and skills instills a mindset of competency in adversity born of seeking and overcoming challenges that test him. He is, very much, an Alpha Male sort of character- and often finds himself in positions of leadership, becoming more formal and important as he ages. (e.g. Roy Fokker of Macross fame)
  • His adventures feature the display of his skills as a pilot, both in the coming and going to the sites of his adventures, but often in the formulation of the conflicts as well as their development and resolution. While he is capable on his feet (and often is quite capable of two-fisted action, good with his sidearms, or both), he's routinely deficient in highly-specialized skills or fields of knowledge that fall outside his core competencies- he's a Man of Action first and foremost, like James Bond. (e.g. 
  • He routinely encounters his opposite number in his adventures, either a literal recurring nemesis or simply an enemy ace pilot. If this antagonist is not the chief antagonist, then he will be one of the major lieutenants to that mastermind and his decisive defeat is often the signal that the climax of the adventure just hit. (Otherwise, it's that of the mastermind directly.)
  • His adventures often involve McGuffin hunts, which drive the plot; this is not a mystery subtype, as the Flying Ace is not a detective. This is often a way to integrate the Ace into an ensemble cast where he operates as an equal on a team instead of a master or subordinate in a (para)military unit. Attacking enemy bases, or defending their own, is a regular part of his adventures; the former as part of the final act, and the former as the initial act if not the inciting incident.
  • Because he's an ace, even if he's using a known real aircraft his specific plane is an "ace custom" model tailored to his specific qualities in order to maximize performance- a real-life trope turned genre fiction trope that carried over to newer forms, such as Mobile Suit Gundam and the many Ace Custom models used by Char Aznable. His counterparts will often also have their own customs; these will routinely be visually as well as technically striking and impressive.
 Check out his blog, Walker's Study, for more good articles on science fiction.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Just Released - Doc Savage: Empire of Doom


This is the second team up between Doc Savage and the Shadow in print ever.  The first, last year's Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow, is one of the best of Will Murray's new Doc Savage adventures, so I have high hopes that this one will be just as good.

From the Publisher:

It began with the hijacking of a destroyer from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The stolen warship struck midtown Manhattan with its mighty guns, then vanished far out to sea.

Who were the strange men wearing the golden uniforms of no known power who pulled off the daring highjacking? And who was their mysterious leader, a being of seemingly supernatural abilities?

Doc Savage did not know. But The Shadow did! Combining forces, the Man of Bronze and the Dark Avenger follow the trail of a superfoe from The Shadow’s past.

But can they learn to trust one another?

From fog-shrouded New York to a futuristic underground kingdom in the heart of Asia, the battle sprawls––with the world’s fate at stake!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wellman's The Undead Soldier

Summary: A man takes shelter from a blizzard in an old abandoned cabin.  Looking for fuel for a fire, he pulls up the carpet and finds a bundle of papers.  Inside, he finds an article about a cannibal soldier caught and executed by the Army during the Mexican-American War.  Later on in his reading, he finds more articles, this time about a blood drinking soldier executed in 1879.  He then comes face to face with the revelation that the two soldiers were the same man...

Pulp criteria using Misha Burnett's Pillars of Pulp and Lester Dent's Master Formula:

Action:  The story is a simple one: a man takes refuge in a cabin and discovers the identity of its owner.  So, there's no action by the narrator.  However, the first article contains a campfire-like retelling of the hunt for the Devil of the Fort through Indian territory, complete with gun battles between the Army and the Indians.  So, action does exist, even though the narrator has no hand in it.

Impact: The narrator's decisions to shelter in the cabin and to snoop through the newspapers prove to be lethal.  The relationship between the cannibal soldier and the blood-drinker also hinges on the failure of the Army to carry out his final request: burn his body.

Moral Peril: Absolutely none.  Wellman's Weird Tales stories tend to rely on mortal peril instead.

Romance: None.  Here, romance would be extraneous to the heart of the story.

Mystery: In spades.  The story is an investigation of the owner of the cabin.  The narrator attempts to figure out the common thread between the articles.  That thread relies on a little known aspect of werewolf lore.

Master Formula: The narrator was not in danger until the very end of the story, so the formula does not apply.  However, the structure of "The Undead Soldier" shares aspects with it.  The mystery is introduced immediately.  Also, "The Undead Soldier" follows a series of twists before ending with the revelation and the punchline, similar to the Master Formula.

The first soldier, a cannibal with a taste for hearts and livers, was buried unburnt.  The second soldier, the blood drinker, shared the same appearance as the first.  The two men are the same man, for an unburned werewolf will turn into a vampire when killed.  The punchline - more of a gotcha moment - is that the vampire had returned to the cabin while the narrator was reading...

Impressions: A solid story to open the collection, "The Undead Soldier" introduces us to two of Wellman's trademarks: the South and supernatural legends  While it doea not stand out like the John the Balladeer stories, it's an enjoyable read that questions some the the assumptions I am using to criticise pulp.

"Ancient legends were not legends, they were truth, denied by fear." - Manly Wade Wellman, "The Undead Soldier"

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Manly Wade Wellman and Sin's Doorway

Best known for his John the Balladeer short stories, Manly Wade Wellman was a mainstay of Weird Tales throughout its run.  Unfortunately, with the exception of Who Fears the Devil? and the "Golgotha Dancers", most of his stories have become difficult for an avid reader to find.  In the 2000s, many specialty presses published limited edition runs of Wellman's works, some of which, like Haffner Press's Complete John Thunstone, would could collectors $300 or more to obtain.  With luck, I was able to find a copy of Sin's Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances for far less.

The fourth volume of the now defunct Night Shade Press's Selected Stories of Manly Wade WellmanSin's Doorway collects 25 short stories covering, with a few exceptions, the period of 1936-1941, with fifteen from Weird Tales, including "The Golgotha Dancers", "The Valley was Still", and "These Doth the Lord Hate".  "The Valley was Still" was adapted by the Twilight Zone into "Still Valley".

While physical copies of the five volume Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman might be hard to find, each of the volumes is available on Audio as an audiobook.  Furthermore, "The Golgotha Dancers" is also available in electronic form through Project Gutenberg.  It is my hope that a publisher will pick up the slack from the specialty presses and make the remainder of Manly Wade Wellman's tales available in a mass-market or ebook form.

In the meantime, I will be reading through each of the short stories in the volume, and posting my thoughts and analyses here, starting with "The Undead Soldier".  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ring the Bell!!

So, last month, Jeffro over at the Castalia House blog posted his Top Book Bloggers of 2016.  And, hidden towards the end of the list was, well, me at #13.  While that's a jaw-dropping honor, considering that I can still count the months I've been blogging on my fingers, I am more in awe of the other names.  My fellow Puppy of the Month bloggers, Jon Mollison and The Frisky Pagan, made the list as well, with Jon crowning the list at #1.  Also on the list are John C. Wright, James Cambias, and Ron Edwards, heavyweight writers and game designers in science fiction and fantasy.  Even the fans, such as Kevyn Winkless and Hooc Ott, have been book blogging longer and better than I can hope to match.  By all means do I recommend checking out the entire list.

But there was a secret to that list that no one told me about: not only was it Jeffro's list of the best book bloggers, it was also his shopping list for the Castalia House blog.  So, starting this Thursday, I will be reviewing books every other week for Castalia House.

My boss, the Supreme Dark Lord, or at least how he appears in the minds of the SFF clique.
I admit, blogging has been a little light here and at the Puppy of the Month blog while I have been working on my first couple of articles.  (Yes, the Bakemonogatari review mentioned earlier is for CH.)  But I'm caught up enough to better balance the three blogs.  And, while Castalia House and the Puppy of the Month Club have first priority, I do have a stack of Shadows, Doc Savages, and light novels that I want to start reviewing here as well, plus, hopefully an article or two finally putting to bed my current fixation with the history of science fiction.  After all, it's one thing to learn pulp techniques, and another to see them in action.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Feed My Frankenstein

I've been wanting to take a swing at the popular idea of Frankstein being the first science fiction book ever since I started digging into the French tradition of science fiction.  However, Kevyn Winkless over at the Castalia House blog beat me to it, and constructed a better argument against it than the one I was working on.
But so far we have really been talking about the roots of science fiction – the stories from our distant past that contain the key elements, but that in many cases don’t combine them in the way we would normally define as science fiction. So did it really take until Shelley’s masterpiece for the pieces to snap together to create modern science fiction?
As with everything, it depends on your definition.
Looking backwards on the literature of the past and measuring it against the Campbelline work of the 1940s and 1950s, it’s easy to see how Frankenstein gets placed as the cornerstone of modern SF. But that would be looking with very narrow eyes. In reality, the Renaissance and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution were hotbeds of exactly the kind of untrammeled enthusiasm for technology, the future, and exploration that fuelled the Penny Dreadfuls, the Pulps, and the Campbell Era, and it really shows in the literature.
It might well be a bit of a stretch to call The Tempest a mad scientist story as some do[15] and Bacon’s New Atlantis is similarly difficult to see as SF despite being set in the future, but there are definitely some excellent examples of stories that could be published today, with just a bit of polish to bring the writing up to modern tastes for style.
Although it was written in 1608, it isn’t until 1638 when we see Kepler’s “space travel” story Somnium[16] in which, while there are fantastic elements (the protagonist’s mother is apparently a witch, and the source of her power and the means by which they travel are demons) there is a great deal of scientific detail, and hints of technology – including hibernation to protect humans travelling through space, and an effort to imagine a way to carry atmosphere along with travellers in space.[17]
In 1666 Margaret Cavendish publishes her novel The Blazing World in which her heroine discovers a gateway in the arctic that leads to a world populated by strange animal-creatures, who promptly invade Earth complete with submarines and aerial bombardment.[18] This tale is particularly interesting since the structure and content is echoed by the “lost world discovered” fantastic stories of the late 19th Century and early 20thCentury, such as those popularized in Argosy and Weird Tales.
Not only has Kevyn traced the roots of hard science fiction into the 1600s (that's almost 200 years earlier than what my meager research attempts found), he attempts to explain why Frankenstein's supporters for the first SF novel might have leapt to their conclusions:
Finally though, I think Shelley’s greatest advantage is that she wrote right at the beginning of a revolution in printing technology. The lithograph had been invented only two decades earlier in 1796, and a continuous paper-making process had been invented and was being perfected in the decade before.  Books were getting cheaper, and print runs were getting bigger. Reach was increasing rapidly as more and more people had access to affordable books. Indeed, by the mid-1800s, paper had become cheap enough that the printing industry was starting to revolutionize society.
So maybe the idea of Shelley’s Frankenstein as the first science fiction novel is a little exaggerated, considering the deep history behind it. But the book sits at the cusp of the technological and literary explosion that led inexorably to the literary magazines of the 1890s onwards.
Sitting as it does at the very edge of the watershed, I suppose it makes sense for people to focus on Mary Shelley’s work as a landmark in the literary terrain – a kind of tower on the horizon that shows us the way back to where we came from.
I expect that there is a certain amount of Venus-worship in the choice as well, with the current campaigns to make SF more friendly to women (typically meant of the Leftist, feminist sort). However, some of the appeal must be because it's Frankenstein, one of the true myths of the modern age, who, 199 years after publication, is still haunting our dreams as one of the most beloved monsters of all time.  And if Shelley did not write the first science fiction novel, she wrote one of its most influential and claimed the bigger prize.




Monday, January 2, 2017

Bakemonogatari's Hitagi Crab and Lester Dent's Master Formula

As part of an upcoming gig, I have been reading Bakemonogatari for a review.  Bakemonogatari is a recently translated light novel, a descendant of pulp fiction unique to Japan.  Incorporating manga-style illustrations, these stories are aimed at middle and high school students, but have caught on with wider audiences.

Bakemonogatari consists of five short stories that combine family drama, Shinto/onmyodo magic, and supernatural mystery: "Hitagi Crab", "Mayoi Snail", "Suruga Monkey", "Nadeko Snake", and "Tsubasa Cat".  Currently, only "Hitagi Crab" and "Mayoi Snail" have been published in English.  And, although author NISIOISIN covers the origins with clever wordplay, the plot of "Hitagi Crab" follows the formula created by Lester Dent to write his short fiction.

After Koyomi Araragi catches the falling Hitagi Senjogahara at the start of "Hitagi Crab", he discovers that she is effectively weightless.  In all respects but her weight on a scale, Hitagi is a normal healthy girl. Intrigued, he investigates further, asking her former classmates about her past.   To guard her secrets, Hitagi threatens Koyomi with a box cutter and a stapler, but a strange mention of a crab prompts Koyomi to try to help her regain her missing scale-weight.  He introduces Hitagi to Meme Oshino, the man who had rescued him from a vampire and a classmate from a cat possessing her. A specialist in aberrations, Oshino identifies the source of Hitagi's affliction as a Crab of Weight, also known as a stone-weight crab, and one of the eight million gods of Shinto.  To free Hitagi, however, Oshino says that she must confront the issues in her past that caused her to make a pact with the crab god.  He can help her, but only Hitagi can save herself...

Dent recommends starting with "a different murder method for the villain to use."  In this case, Hitagi offers an unusual mystery instead, a girl who is effectively weightless.  From there, he divides the story into four 1,500 word parts. As translation affects the word-length of the story, instead of the 1,500 words of each section of Lester Dent's Master Formula, I will be using chapters.  Fortunately, "Hitagi Crab" has eight chapters which line up roughly with the sections Dent suggests.  From hereon, there do be spoilers:
FIRST 1500 WORDS
1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.

2--The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.

4--Hero's endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.

5--Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.
 Matching "Hitagi Crab" to this outline, we see:

1) Koyomi catches Hitagi as she falls down the stairs, and then discovers that she is weightless.

2) Koyomi asks Tsubasa Hanewaka about her classmate, Hitagi, to learn more about the mysterious girl's past.

3) Koyomi, Hitagi, Tsubasa, Oshino, and an unamed crab are all introduced in this section.  Although Tsubasa does not have much to do with the plot of "Hitagi Crab", she is the relationship character by which the other humans are connected to each other.

4) Hitagi confronts Koyomi, sticking a boxcutter and a stapler inside his mouth.

5) Hitagi does not want to be helped.
SECOND 1500 WORDS

1--Shovel more grief onto the hero.

2--Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:

3--Another physical conflict.

4--A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.
1) Hitagi is dangerous with her school supplies, stapling the inside of Koyomi's cheek.   She is also as sharp with her words as with her improvised weapons.  Worse still, we find out that Koyomi had recently been attacked by a vampire.

2) Koyomi has to convince Hitagi he can help, which he does by showcasing a miraculous healing ability.  He then introduces her to Oshino, and they both eventually talk Hitagi into accepting their help.

3) Other than another death threat from the stapler girl, there is no action at this stage.

4) Although Oshino as an omyodo practitioner can help Hitagi, only Hitagi can save herself.  At this time, Hitagi joins Koyomi as the hero of "Hitagi Crab".
THIRD 1500 WORDS

1--Shovel the grief onto the hero.

2--Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:

3--A physical conflict.

4--A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.
1) Hitagi reveals that her mom is a cultist, and that her adherence to the religion broke her family.

2) The villain is identified as a Crab of Weight, a type of Shinto god that takes weight away from people in exchange for a request.

3) Hitagi, Koyomi, and Oshino confront the crab.  The crab pins Hitagi against the wall, crucifixion -style.

4) Hitagi admits that she had made a deal with the crab to take away her emotional attachment to her mother.  In exchange, the crab took her weight.
FOURTH 1500 WORDS
1--Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

2--Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)

3--The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.

4--The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes
the situation in hand.

5--Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)

6--The snapper, the punch line to end it.
1-3) Koyomi and Oshino pin the crab to the floor.  Hitagi is helpless against the wall until she begs the crab to return her mother to her.  The crab relents, taking away Hitagi's curse and restoring her weight.

4) Hitagi wanted nothing to do with her mother, as her mother had invited the cult leader to the house to rape Hitagi.  Hitagi escaped by braining the man with her track cleats.  Seeking revenge, the cult leader bankrupted Hitagi's family.  Soon after, Hitagi made her deal with the Crab of Weight.

5) The next day, Koyomi goes to weigh himself.  He now weighs 100 kg, or his weight plus that of Hitagi's normal weight.

6) The gods can be so sloppy in doing their jobs.

Thus Lester Dent's pulps methods are still in active employ in a different language, country, and time from the Depression-era Chicago that inspired his Doc Savage stories, as well as countless other pulps.