However, I picked up a Finnish anthology of old sword and sorcery stories, mainly from Weird Tales, but also from some other pulp mags. The book is called Mustan jumalan suudelma AKA Black God's Kiss after the story by C. L. Moore in the book. Of the stories I read, Moore's was the best. It's full of surreal images and still it moves with a breakneck pace. Very beautiful and thrilling. The story came out first in Weird Tales in 1934.
The other stories I read were Robert E. Howard's novella-length "The Black Stranger" (1934-1935, unpublished in Howard's life-time, published in 1953 in abridged form and in 1987 in original form) and Manly Wade Wellman's "Thunder in the Dawn" (Amazing Stories 1939). Wellman's story was a bit slow and dated, I didn't feel the thrill of adventure in this, even though the premise is pretty good: a stone age warrior is really the Hercules of the Greek lore and is the cause of Atlantis sinking in the ocean. Howard's story pits Conan against some pirates and settlers, in the story everyone deceives one and another. It's a great read, though I still preferred C. L. Moore.
The striking cover in the book was drawn by Jukka Murtosaari, a friend of mine, who's studied classical American illustration art for decades now - and it clearly shows. The editor of the book is one Markku Sadelehto, who's done a good day's work bringing American pulp fiction to Finnish readers, as he's edited tons of anthologies for different publishers for over 20 years now. His magnum opus is the edition of the collected stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The sixth and final volume came out just two months ago.
Alas, I didn't have time to read more of the stories from the book. I've read this when it came out some 20 years ago, but don't remember much of it.
Rereading UNKNOWN and UNKNOWN WORLDS
by Walker Martin
Why reread? I’ve known several readers and collectors who bluntly state that they seldom or never reread stories or books. They argue that there are too many new books waiting to be read, sort of the like the old saying, “So many books, so little time.”
I love to reread but only my favorite books and stories. And only the ones that I consider to be outstanding or great. There is nothing more exasperating than to reread a book and realize that it was not even worth reading the first time. Not to mention the waste of time. That’s why I’ve always noted on a slip of paper the date read, my grade, and comments about the book. Then, decades later, I can tell at a glance what I thought of the book and whether it is worth a second reading or not.
So aside from the enjoyment of rereading an outstanding book, why read it again? Some books demand a second (and a third and a fourth) reading because they have several layers and levels of complex meaning that you might want to explore and investigate. Also a book read in your twenties may reveal additional meanings when you reread it many years later. There have been books that I read as a young man that I didn’t have the proper maturity to truly understand but as an older reader, I now find them to be indispensable.
Every reader has their favorite books that they have reread. Some of mine are:
War and Peace — 3 times.
Moby Dick — 3 times.
The Sun Also Rises –5 times.
Under the Volcano — 5 times.
In the different genres I’ve several books that I’ve reread:
In science fiction: Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and Stars My Destination. Also the novels of Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg; the short stories of J.G. Ballard and Theodore Sturgeon.
In the detective and crime genre: the novels of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard, and Ross Macdonald.
In the western field: the novels of Luke Short, Elmore Leonard, Elmer Kelton. Lonesome Dove is maybe the best western I’ve ever reread.
I also have reread stories in the pulp magazines. Many literary critics make the mistake of lumping all the pulps into one sub-literary category. They think all the pulps published mediocre and poor action fiction of very little redeeming literary value. They are wrong. There is such a thing as excellent pulp fiction, and I’ve tried to point out some examples in this series on collecting pulps.
Of course, I absolutely agree with Sturgeon’s Law which in simple terms may be explained as “90% of everything is crap.” This is a good thing to say to anyone who criticizes your tastes in reading matter. For instance if they sneer at your love for detective, SF, or western fiction, then you can state Sturgeon’s Law, which I’ve found to roughly apply to just about all forms of literary endeavor.
In other words, I’m always looking for that less than 10% that I hope will be worth reading and rereading. As I reread my notes spread throughout thousands of books and fiction magazines, I see I’m now at a good point in my life where I’m reading mainly the good 10%. Sure, every now and then I make a mistake or blunder and find myself reading the 90% crap, but after so many years of reading, I’m getting pretty good at avoiding the stuff that is not worth reading.
A couple months before the August Pulpfest convention, one of the committee members, knowing my love for the magazine Unknown, asked me if I would participate on a panel discussing the title. This made me think about Unknown and how I had started collecting and reading it so many years ago.
When I first started to think about collecting it, I was just a teenager and had very little money. I had enough to buy the SF digests and paperbacks but a set of Unknown back in the 1950′s cost around $50, a sum that I never had until years later. Back then, just about all pulps were a dollar or less, a fact that is hard to believe now.
Finally in 1963, while attending college, I managed to put aside $50 and I started scouting around for a set of the 39 issues. All I could pay was $50 but everyone I contacted wanted more. I even contacted the Werewolf Bookshop in Verona, Pennsylvania (this bookstore advertised in many of the digest SF magazines) and I still have the letter dated September 3, 1963. I stapled it into my Unknown book where I noted my thoughts and comments on the magazine. The owner stated that he had contacted three fans and only one was willing to sell and he wanted $200 for his set.
Back in 1963 this was an outrageous sum, and it’s lucky I did not send money to the Werewolf Bookshop. It seems the owner was in the habit of sending you anything he had if he did not have the books that you ordered. Then when you complained about receiving books that you didn’t want, he would ignore your letters and keep your money. If I had sent him $200, there is no telling what he would have shipped me. Except that it would not have been a set of Unknown. I have read about and even met fellow collectors who fell victim to this scam.
Fortunately, I eventually bought a set from Gerry de la Ree, a SF collector and dealer who lived in New Jersey. For decades in the 1960′s, 1970′s, 1980′s, Gerry mailed out monthly sale lists listing SF pulps, digests, books, and artwork. He wanted only $50 and I now had the complete set. I read several stories in scattered issues, but college and then being drafted into the army delayed my project of reading the complete set.
However, by 1969 I was discharged and I spent six months of doing nothing but reading. I didn’t even look for a job, and I loved living in my mother’s house drinking beer and reading all day. She must of thought she raised a bum, but she was wrong. She raised a book collector and reader.
I started reading from the first issue, March 1939 and I read each issue, every story, every word, until the end in October 1943. That’s 4 1/2 years and 39 issues. Over 250 stories ranging from novel length to short story. John W. Campbell, the editor of both Unknown and Astounding, estimated that the 7 by 10 inch pulp size issues contained 70,000 words of fiction and the 8 1/2 by 11 inch format contained 110,000 words.
That means I read over 3 million words of fiction in 1969 when I started my project of reading the entire set. I forget how long it took me but since I was not wasting any time working, I probably read close to an issue every day or two. I then recorded my thoughts in a standard English composition notebook. I think they still make these things, black with white speckles and it says “Composition” on the front cover. With over 100 pages I could devote two pages to each issue, listing each story and author along with a grade and my comments. At the end of each year, I did a summary listing my favorites.
During the Pulpfest panel, I read some of my comments from this notebook and a couple collectors asked me if I had such books for each magazine that I collected. I used to but I eventually switched to the system of putting a slip of paper in each magazine or book with my comments, grade, and date read. I have thousands of books and magazines with these annotations tucked inside each copy. I still have a few of the notebooks, with the Unknown comments being the most extensive. I see I have one on Weird Tales where I read and noted my reactions to reading three years of issues, 1933-1935.
So to prepare for the panel, I reread only the stories that received an outstanding rating back in 1969. We often think that we were a different person 45 years ago and for the most part we probably were. I was in my twenties back then and ahead of me were all the usual things like getting married, raising a family, starting a career, buying houses, etc. Of course this series of essays deal with my collecting experiences. So what did I think at the age of 72 looking back on my younger self praising and exclaiming over the stories in Unknown?
As I reread story after story, I was impressed again at the literary quality of the magazine. I guess that’s why I’m writing about the magazine again in 2014, only instead of just comments meant for my older self, I’m now writing for other collectors and readers and encouraging them to read and reread Unknown.
What were the outstanding novels? Lest Darkness Fall and The Wheels of If by L. Sprague de Camp, who also wrote the superior Harold Shea novels with Fletcher Pratt. Death’s Deputy and Fear by L. Ron Hubbard; Hell Is Forever by Alfred Bester; Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber; None But Lucifer by H. L .Gold and de Camp.
Among the shorter fiction, we have several novelettes by Henry Kuttner. I believe these stories represent the first quality fiction by Kuttner. Jane Rice also had several stories and when the magazine died in 1943, she almost stopped writing because Unknown was her favorite market. One of the sad things about Unknown ceasing publication was the fact the Jane Rice had a 33,000 word short novel that was scheduled for a future issue. But the manuscript has been lost by Street & Smith and Rice did not keep a copy. Anthony Boucher, Fritz Leiber, and Theodore Sturgeon also had many shorts.
But despite all the excellent fiction in Unknown, the magazine can best be described and explained by simply looking at the art of Edd Cartier. He is Unknownwith its gnomes, demons, and fantasy figures that defy description. I once had a chance to buy an original Unknown cover painting by Cartier. In the 1980′s, someone was walking around one of the Pulpcon conventions with the painting but he wanted $2,000 for it. At the time I had bought many cover paintings but the highest price I ever had to pay was $400. One of my collector mistakes. I should have dug up the money somehow because it’s worth a fortune now.
Cartier dropped out of fantasy and SF illustration sometime in the early fifties but I did manage to meet him around 1990 at Pulpcon in Wayne, NJ. Rusty Hevelin was running Pulpcon and he said Edd Cartier would be available to talk to one night. But it would be for only a special group of pulp collectors who Rusty would choose. Fortunately, I was one of them and it remains a Pulpcon highlight that I still remember all these years later.
Speaking of Cartier brings up what I think of as one of John W. Campbell’s mistakes. With the July 1940 issue the cover art was discontinued. Campbell must have looking to attract more readers with a literary style cover showing a more bland, sedate listing of stories. Maybe he thought the illustrations too garish on the covers. But the lack of any cover art at all just made the magazine seem a puzzle to many newsstand browsers. One of the big reasons for cover art is to grab your attention while you are looking at scores of magazines. Without cover illustrations the magazine just was lost on the stands. Where do you put it? This experiment was tried by previous pulps like Adventure and The Popular Magazine, and it was never successful.
I’ve owned several sets of Unknown during the last 50 years and it is still possible to pick up issues. After the panel a couple collectors told me they wanted to start collecting it and I told them to keep looking through the dealer’s room at Pulpfest because I saw several issues for sale. Usually the price is around $20 but I’ve seen higher and lower prices. Ebay also has issues.
At present I own two sets, one is the usual individual 39 issues and one is a bound set in 14 hardcover volumes. There is an interesting story about this bound set. I only paid $400 for it at Pulpcon a few years ago and neither the dealer or me noticed that it had a signature in the first volume. When I got home I was amazed to realize that I had John W. Campbell’s personal bound set of the magazine. It was inscribed as follows, “To George Scithers, who worked hard for this set”. Signed John W. Campbell. I’ve worked hard for certain sets of magazines, so I know what he means.
The magazine is not really rare because so many SF and fantasy collectors loved the magazine and saved their copies. It is probably the most missed of all the pulp titles. In the letter columns of old SF magazines, it is often referred to as “the late, lamented Unknown.” For several years after it ceased publication due to the war time paper restrictions, letters in Astounding kept asking when the title would be revived. Evidently Campbell intended to start it up again when paper was available. But that was not until 1948 and then Street & Smith killed off all their pulps except for Astounding in 1949.
So Unknown remained dead but several magazines were influenced in the 1950′s. Fantasy Fiction lasted four issues in 1953; Beyond Fantasy Fiction lasted ten issues in 1953-1955; and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is still being published, has often printed Unknown type fiction.
If you are not a collector but you still want to read some of the best fiction, there are several collections available:
UNKNOWN WORLDS: Tales From Beyond, edited by Stanley Schmidt and Martin H. Greenberg (Garland Books, 1988) This is the biggest and best collection. 25 stories and 517 pages.
RIVALS OF WEIRD TALES, edited by Weinberg, Dziemianowicz, and Greenberg. (Bonanza Books, 1990) Among stories from other magazines, there is a section of 11 stories from Unknown, amounting to 200 pages.
THE UNKNOWN, edited by D. R. Bensen (Pyramid, 1963) This paperback has 11 stories and story notes.
THE UNKNOWN FIVE, edited by D.R. Bensen (Pyramid, 1964) Another collection from Bensen.
UNKNOWN, edited by Stanley Schmidt (Baen Books, 1988) Nine of the longer stories and 304 pages. Paperback.
HELL HATH FURY, edited by George Hay (Neville Spearman Ltd., 1963) Seven stories in hardback.
OUT OF THE UNKNOWN, by A.E. Van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull (Powell Publications, 1969) This paperback has seven Unknown stories by Van Vogt and wife.
And finally there are two full-length studies of the magazine:
THE ANNOTATED GUIDE TO UNKNOWN AND UNKNOWN WORLDS, by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz (Starmont House, 1991) This is an excellent study of all aspects of the great magazine. A total of 212 pages with a long essay about the magazine, followed with detailed story annotations on every story, a story index, an author index and much more! Highly Recommended.
ONCE THERE WAS A MAGAZINE, by Fred Smith (Beccon Publications, 2002). Each issue is discussed plus author and title index.
So ends my rereading of Unknown and I hope to return someday. I guess we shall never see a revival of the magazine. I noted over a dozen pleas from readers in Astounding, all asking when Unknown would be revived, but the October 1943 issue was the last one. A digest issue was planned and discussed in the October issue but an order for additional paper reduction came and Unknown was a victim of WW II.
REST IN PEACE: Unknown and Unknown Worlds.
L. P. HOLMES – Destiny Range. Leisure, paperback, March 2009. First book publication: Greenberg, hardcover, 1936. First appeared in Five-Novels Monthly, May 1932; reprinted in Popular Western, October 1951.
Dex Sublette, foreman of the Pinon Ranch, and all of the cowhands working for him are surprised to learn that the retired owner has sold the spread to a woman — and a Russian princess, to boot. They do not take the news with delight:
Shorty couldn’t be more wrong. The young lady is Sonia Stephanovich, or at least it used to be. She now wishes to be called Sonia Stephens. Having fled the Russian Revolution with only a maid and a few belongings, she now hopes to build a new life in this section of the American West she once visited as a child.
As for being a string-necked old battle-axe:
And of course all of the men on the ranch who now call her boss are smitten, but no more than Dex Sublette himself. The story that follows is as much a romance as it is a western novel, with all of the ups and downs and pitfalls that are bound to arise when two human beings of opposite sexes and opposite ways of life meet and are attracted to each other.
Until, that is, page 150 or so, of a 240 page story, when Dex learns that Sonia has been kidnapped and all hell breaks loose. Not everyone survives the battle between good guys and bad, but does true love prevail? I’ll bet you already know the answer to that.
To be honest, though, in spite of all the heroics, flying bullets and tragic deaths that occur in the last third of the book, I enjoyed the on again, off again romance in the first part of the book quite a lot more, as contrived and as (dare I say it?) corny as it reads to a modern day reader.
by Walker Martin
I’m just back from PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio. Out of the six annual conventions which began in 2009, this one was the best. They seem to be improving each year and I’m compelled to file my convention report right away even though I’m exhausted from lack of sleep and the 10 hour ride.
Once again, four of us rented a van because we needed a bigger vehicle to carry all our books, pulps, and artwork. Coming back, we were worried about fitting everything in and a couple big boxes had to be mailed back by UPS. One of these days we might have to take a vote and leave one of our group of biblio maniacs behind due to lack of space!
Why do I consider this one to be the best of the six PulpFests? I never thought I would be praising the evening programming instead of just talking about the dealer’s room but this year set a standard for programming that will be hard to break in the future. During the three evenings we had over a dozen panels, tributes, and discussions:
Laurie Powers lecture at Ohio State about her grandfather Paul Powers
Frank Robinson Tribute
Nathan Madison and Ed Hulse discussing FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, one of the great pulps.
The Avenger’s Diamond Jubilee
FarmerCon panel on Philip Jose Farmer
And that was just Thursday night. Friday we enjoyed:
1939: Science Fiction’s Boom Year
STARTLING STORIES: An overview(Another great pulp)
Philip Jose Farmer’s Early Science Fiction
Pulp Premiums and Promotions by Chris Kalb
Eighty Years of Terror: The Weird Menace Pulps
1939: The Golden Year of ASTOUNDING STORIES
And then Saturday evening we had the auction plus:
UNKNOWN: The Best in Fantasy Fiction
John Newton Howitt: a discussion about the artist by David Saunders
Each night ended with a four chapter Buck Rogers serial.
I’ve spent some time listing the above in detail because the former Pulpcon conventions of 1972-2008 never really had such a great number of interesting and valuable programming. I attended almost all the conventions and each Pulpcon had evening events like the Guest of Honor speech, the banquet, an auction, a radio play, and at the most, a couple of panels.
But this year’s PulpFest had over a dozen programs on the schedule, including much needed discussions of such interesting and influential magazines as FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, STARTLING STORIES, TERROR TALES, ASTOUNDING, and UNKNOWN.
We need even more such panels and tributes because they are the real reason that we continue to meet at these conventions. We read these great pulps because they are filled with excellent fiction; we collect them because they are beautiful artifacts and we are obsessed by them; we talk and discuss and argue about them because they are important subjects in magazine history and popular culture.
I’ve spent my adult life reading, collecting, and discussing these magazines. When I think back over my life, I don’t think of myself as someone who worked as a supervisor and manager in business. No, I was, and I still am, a book, magazine and art collector who arises each day thinking of such subjects as listed above. We should all be proud to be called readers and collectors, especially in this busy modern world where we are constantly bombarded with electronic distractions.
Another great thing about this convention involved the awarding of the Munsey Award to Randy Cox, who has written several books about the pulps and dime novels plus being the editor of THE DIME NOVEL ROUND UP for around 20 years. He has long deserved this award and recognition.
Another pulp enthusiast and worker won the Rusty Hevelin award for service. Congratulations Barry Traylor, a long time committee member of both Pulpcon and PulpFest.
It’s always enjoyable seeing and speaking to such interesting collectors. I also was glad to speak with Mike Nevins, who showed me a proof copy of an upcoming book, and Gordon Huber, who is the only collector to attend every Pulpcon and PulpFest since the beginning in 1972. I was also glad to see Tom Krabacher who was wearing a great UNKNOWN T-shirt one day and an ADVANTURE related shirt the next. I asked if he could make me copies of these shirts and he agreed to try. I’ll be glad to add them to my collection of shirts I wear celebrating various pulp magazines.
In addition to this being the best PulpFest, issue number 23 of THE PULPSTER was the best of the Pulpcon and PulpFest convention magazines. The front cover shows a great Edd Cartier cover from UNKNOWN. Mike Chomko has a long article on the SF pulps, Don Hutchison discusses the weird menace magazines, Garyn Roberts talks about Ray Bradbury’s fanzine and other articles cover Argentine SF, horror pulps, Hannes Bok, Fritz Leiber, and Frank Robinson. Editor William Lampkin deserves our thanks for this excellent issue.
The auction was the best PulpFest auction also. For the first time all items had to have minimum bid of $20 and this kept out most of the trivial and less interesting items. A nice variety of magazines were auctioned but the most interesting items were several lots from the estate of an author by the name of Everil Worrell, who appeared in several issues of WEIRD TALES during the twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. In addition to manuscripts there were several letters from editor Dorothy McIlwraith discussing such interesting subjects as WEIRD TALES art, problems with payments, and the changeover to the smaller digest format.
As usual I had a table in the dealer’s room and I sold several cancelled checks paying for stories in ADVENTURE MAGAZINE. I also sold DVDs, pulp related books, and magazines. But my main interest was in buying pulps and I found one of my major wants, the July 7, 1917 issue of ALL STORY. Not that it has much of interest but I’m close to completing my set of ALL STORY and now only need 3 issues of the over 400 published during 1905-1920. Frankly, when I started collecting the magazine decades ago, I never thought I’d come so close to completion simply because so many issues contain Edgar Rice Burroughs. A great magazine full of so many early science fiction classics.
Since the 1960′s, I’ve had all the ASTOUNDING back issues but I noticed a run of the years when John Campbell worked for the magazine in 1937-1943. 72 issues, most in fine condition, which is better than my set. Naturally I had to buy it and I now have two sets of the individual issues plus a bound set. You can never have too many sets of your favorite magazines! You know it’s true love when you buy duplicate sets, which I’ve done with such titles as ASTOUNDING, PLANET STORIES, UNKNOWN, and FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES. My wife says it’s hoarding but we all know it’s collecting.
There were over 100 tables in a large room and attendance was between 450 and 500. This also makes it not only the best Pulpcon/PulpFest, but also the largest. The committee has already booked the Hyatt for 2015 and 2016, so we are set for the next two years. Speaking of the committee, I must thank them by name. Jack Cullers and his army of family volunteers, Mike Chomko, Barry Traylor, Ed Hulse, and Chuck Welch. Thank you fellow readers and collectors, for all your work done on this convention. I hope we all can continue to attend many more PulpFests!
CLARENCE H. NEW – The Unseen Hand: An Adventure of the Freelancers of Diplomacy. Doubleday Page & Co., hardcover, 1918. Wildside Press, softcover reprint. Illustrated by Clinton Pettee. Available in ebook form online here.
The following appeared in the January 15. 1933, issue of the New York Times:
The will goes on to explain his son and grandson were travelers and prone to leave items behind them, and concludes with a quote from the will:
That explains a bit about New, but not the Freelancers of Diplomacy, whose adventures ran in Blue Book for twenty three years with out a break, a saga Robert Sampson describes in Yesterday’s Heroes as unparalleled in American pulp history.
Despite a history of adventure covering a few thousand pages and by my guesstimate at least one million words, there remains only one novel recounting the adventures of the Freelancers of Diplomacy, The Unseen Hand, what in science fiction used to be called a ‘fixup,’ a bit of new material tying together several shorter adventures from the magazine.
We are given a brief history of said Freelancers from the point of view of the Germans who have recently learned the identity of the group and its leader from an American magazine — a surprisingly modern touch considering recent events in the real world of espionage and diplomacy.
Giving us our introduction to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel — oh, sorry wrong century, the Freelancers of Diplomacy.
Of course we know quite a bit more, for instance that Lord Trevor, the idle sportsman who is mastermind behind this group, is really American Cyrus K, Grisscome, alias Commander Cresspinge, who operated for President Roosevelt (Teddy) using his fast yacht as a mobile base.
Of course the resemblance is only one of those coincidences of fiction … because there are no such people as Viscount Trevor of Dartmoor or Sir Edward Wray (hint, he may be the Prime Minister) in DeBrett’s. “It’s a legend, a joke, Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes combined, gossip, hearsay, pure fiction …”
If you think this is all terribly old-fashioned and out of date I refer you to bestselling writer Ted Bell’s half-American peer Alexander Hawke, Lord Hawke, who ‘freelances’ a bit himself from his heavily armed super fast yacht the Hawke. What goes around as they say.
And it is only a coincidence that the Condessa de Montessa, her moorish servants, her titled Afghan friend, Baron W, and her husband the Earl occupy apartments so like those described in the stories published about the Diplomatic Freelance in Cassells.
In short order we are filled in on the adventures of Cyrus Grisscome and how he ‘might’ have become Viscount Trevor, and how perhaps the Diplomatic Free Lance is something like the Mission Impossible team undertaking missions that the government can deny should they fail or be captured. About the only thing missing is the theme music and the self destructive instructions.
Noticeably there is a good deal of back story to fill in for a series that runs twenty three years, but by chapter two we are off on the adventure, and chapter one has at least been intriguing. The ten chapters that follow are loosely connected adventures from Blue Book such as “The Aldershot Affair,” “Touching on the Honor of Islam,” “The Neutrality of Holland,” “A Machiavellian Coup in Roumania,” “The Mysterious Camp in the Pyrenees” … and the plot and action are almost non-stop and well told. For instance in that last one, Trevor and company have to foil a plot to invade France with sixty thousand men hidden in the Pyrenees wearing stolen American uniforms.
Fantastic? Perhaps, but in WWI the Germans actually tried to smuggle anthrax-infected mules into France through the Pyrenees and in WW II specially trained SS donned American uniforms and penetrated the American lines at the Battle of the Bulge.
Bulldog Drummond fans may appreciate a certain Madame Irma and her ‘supposed husband’ whose allegiances are in question. The Freelancers also barely avert a plot to kill Kitchener with the fleet at Skager Rock — not unlike his real death organized by the real German spy known as Fraulien Doktor. New at least knew how to read the newspapers and extrapolate.
As with Oppenheim, Le Queux, and even Buchan and Sapper, at least some of the appeal of these was the feeling of being in on the back rooms of intrigue and espionage. Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, and John le Carre would all mine the same territory one way or another. Whenever Bell’s Lord Hawke is in conference with the President of PM and the various Secretaries and Ministers he routinely rubs noses with it is a nod to the past and the beginnings of the genre.
Treachery waits at every crossroads. Are there those in Spain who would aid the Kaiser to gain greater favor, can the Bulgarians be trusted (if you read Ian Fleming the answer is no but then the Bulgarians did most of the Soviet’s dirty work in the Cold War), will Holland’s neutrality be violated?
Are people friend or foe, agents of the Boche or agents of the Entente Cordiale, fair or fowl, operating at cross purposes or for the same goal? Who can be trusted, and who should be silenced? Spy fiction hasn’t changed a lot in the century or so since its beginnings. (*)
The Diplomatic Freelancers fall somewhere between E. Phillips Oppenheim and William LeQueux, a bit more active than the former, better written and less melodramatic than the latter. No one reading this is going to discover an early version of James Bond, the real world of Eric Ambler, or even the cut throat back alley secret wars of Peter Cheyney.
Everyone has a title, everyone is a cliche, we are never all that far from the Scarlet Pimpernel; even the relative modernity of John Buchan, Sapper, Dornford Yates and the Clubland Heroes is some time ahead.
But these adventures were written with conviction. As late as the pre-war years Max Brand’s Anthony Hamilton spy stories were still on this mode with spies in white tails and slinky women in black velvet, as, in many ways, were the adventures of Operator #5, and even the more realistic adventures of John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto. And not unlike the heroes those, British agent he may be, Cyrus Grisscome is still an American and knows his own countries neutrality won’t stand against German aggression.
Duck, you Huns, Uncle Sam wants you! And admit it, even today it’s effective.
Like Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent — which it resembles in no other way — it ends with the Russian Revolution and hints of a new secret war to come in which the Diplomatic Freelancers will be needed once again. Already in 1918 the writing on the wall was clear, and this time in bright red.
These tales and the twenty-three years worth of saga from Blue Book are worth reading today for more than nostalgia. We may be as much in Ruritania or Graustark as the real Europe, and there may be a few deadly electronic eyes (even Oppenheim used that one in The Wrath to Come), exploding cigars and poisoned needles (Le Queux’s Duckworth Drew), femme fatales poured into elegant black satin and opera gloves (everyone save Buchan), untrustworthy ‘fureigners’, loyal Afghan princes and moorish servants, and all the trappings of an earlier age, but the writing is good, the stories are fun, and the musty scent of crumbling pulp paper intoxicating, even in electronic form.
If Clarence New and the Diplomatic Freelancers are only a name faintly redolent of black velvet cloaks lined in red satin and crossed daggers, or even if they are completely unknown to you, they are worth the effort to become acquainted with.
There are touches of modernity, good old fashioned swashbuckling, intrigue, adventure, and entertainment to be had, and the dust you have to blow away to get to it is nowhere near as deep as you might expect. Blue Book was one of the Cadillacs of the pulps, in a rank with Adventure, Top Notch, and the various incarnations of Argosy. Names like John Buchan and Agatha Christie graced Blue Book‘s pages, so New is in heady company.
You won’t have to lower your standards to enjoy this book, and you may wish you knew someone with a complete collection of Blue Book so you could read more. That’s a high recommendation for any series out of the pulps, though managing twenty three years of consecutive issues may be a bit ambitious for most collectors. From this example it might well be worth the effort though aside from the countless other examples of well written fiction gracing those pages.
(*) The first modern spy novel, by all critical opinion, is John Buchan’s The Power House from 1910, however Le Queux, Oppenheim, Fred White, the adventures of Norroy and others at least reach back to the late 1880‘s early 1890‘s into the turn of the century, and it could be argued as far back as the Trojan Horse and the two Israelite spies who enter Jericho.
Sherlock Holmes and Martin Hewitt render services to England in the area of espionage and counter-espionage, and Sexton Blake was always encountering foreign agents. Certainly the doings at Zenda in Ruritania are secret service work, and as far back as Stevenson’s ‘Pavillion on the Links’ there is international skullduggery taking place in placid old England.
For that matter Dumas Musketeers and Monte Cristo are the very definition of ‘cloak and dagger.’ The spies may change from the Tsar’s Secret Police to the lads at Wilhelmstrasse, to Reds under the covers, and back to the Gestapo, the Japanese, the Soviets, the Chinese, Islamic terrorists, all the way to Putin’s Russia to day, but the odds and the heroes are remarkably consistent interspersed of course with an overlay of Carl Petersons, Fu Manchus, and Blofields when ever international politics got a bit dull.
— The Thriller Library #538: Rough House: A Norman Conquest Story, by Berkeley Gray. 27 May 1939.
— Dixon Hawke Library #549: The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz, [Anonymous]. 14 December 1940.
— The Sexton Blake Library S3 234: The Green Caravan, by Rex Hardinge. February 1951.
The British pulps came out of a similar tradition as those in America, and like the American brand walked a schizophrenic tightrope between adult and juvenile fiction. Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee, Dixon Hawke, all came from the boys’ papers popular at the turn of the century and well beyond.
Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Creasey, Berkeley Gray all came from a slightly more sophisticated branch, though Creasey and Gray (Edwy Sealey Brooks) both wrote adventures of Sexton Blake.
Brooks wrote well over six million words of Blake material, creating Waldo the Wonder Man, who threatened to overwhelm Blake in his own book, before he was forced out because of age, at which point he created Norman Conquest and Inspector Ironside and became even more popular, writing well into the nineteen sixties, at least one Conquest adventure completed by his wife and son.
The British pulp The Thriller, edited by Monty Haydon, who discovered Charteris and Creasey, featured not only the more adult writers, but serials from the American pulp The Shadow, Sax Rohmer, and the dean of the British pulp creations Sexton Blake. Peter Cheyney came out of The Thriller, and a long list of familiar names with him, some of who saw their careers fade and returned in the 1950‘s to penning Sexton Blake adventures like Rex Hardinge and Hugh Clevely (Maxwell Archer, who got one film outing, and the Gang Smasher, who was unique because his assistant was a Jewish pawnshop owner).
It seems as if you can’t elude Sexton Blake in fiction or fact.
All of these short tales run some sixty or so pages, coming in around thirty five thousand words. All appeared in inexpensive paper editions, either in The Thriller, or digest size paperbacks.
They are reviewed in order of publication from the 1930‘s to the 1950‘s.
Norman Conquest, 1066, the Gay Desperado (before the word Gay was made impossible to use in any but a sexual sense) at one time ran with a fast crowd, the Saint, Blackshirt, the Toff, and the Baron, and in the United Kingdom he ran very close though he never quite made it to American shores.
In The Durable Desperadoes William Butler Vivian wrote fondly of Conquest, and I have to agree. His adventures have energy, speed, violence, a hint of sex in perpetual virtual live in girlfriend Joy ‘Pixie’ Everard (think Simon Templar’s Patricia Holm but Norman eventually marries his).
Gangsters, mad scientists, master criminals, spies, fifth columnists, just about all fell to Conquest’s outlaw ways. He even made it to the screen in the person of Tom Conway for one late but half decent film outing.
In Rough House Conquest is at his toughest, in a Saintly mode with more than a hint of Bulldog Drummond at the edges.
What Conquest wants is to warn Lord Chalston that a criminal in a rubber mask one Toowoomobo Dick wants Lord Chalston dead, and Conquest suspects it’s because Toowoomobo Dick under that rubber mask is:
To be fair to Gray, he does at least make a case that Dick might have some reason to feel cheated out of what is rightfully his just because his mother had a distant grandfather with black skin and it showed up on her baby, but that doesn’t excuse murder or the wax effigies he makes of his victims. Dick is more than a little insane.
Racial stereotypes hung on in British popular fiction much longer and were much more of an issue than in American popular fiction, largely because the English were much less homogenous than their American cousins and foreign much more noticeable. Being a class based society didn’t help. As late as the 1950‘s a character in a Sexton Blake adventure (The Voyage of Fear by Rex Hardinge) is an Italian described as “touched by a tar brush.”
Norman naturally goes a little ballistic when Joy/Pixie is kidnapped right under his nose and as usual charges right in, with less than spectacular results. In fact Joy has to rescue him:
“Norman,” cried Joy chokingly.
Even Norvell Page never entombed Richard Wentworth in wax. Of course she saves Norman, and he does for Lord Chalston in his own inimitable 1066 (get it, the Norman conquest) Gay Desperado way no doubt putting yet another gray hair in the head of Sweet William, his long suffering friend and adversary at Scotland Yard.
World War II posed a problem for rogues and gentleman adventurers. It wasn’t all that glamorous flitting about England in the blitz. Peter Cheyney managed all right with Slim Callaghan and Ettienne McGregor and turned to his best work in spy novels, but the Saint had to sail for the states to fight saboteurs (can you imagine the Saint in uniform?).
The Toff served in intelligence but all his adventures were home based affairs battling things like black marketeers, Norman Conquest fought Nazis at home when not ignoring the war completely, and the Baron was a sergeant manning a telephone for the RAF in a note typical for that grounded series. But Sexton Blake was in it tooth and nail, and where Blake went Dixon Hawke was sure to follow.
The most important thing to note about Dixon Hawke is that young Kenneth Millar, Ross Macdonald, was a fan, and the Hawke books are fun, but they are much closer to the comics than even the hero pulps.
The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz has Hawke penetrating the Nazi high command as said Doctor Krantz. The opening sets the tone.
By which remark Herr Gustav Stonberg revealed his utter lack of a sense of humour, for, as one of the leading members of the German Secret Police, the dreaded Gestapo, he had been responsible for building some of the worst concentration camps in Germany.
At least you know where you are. This is wartime England and subtle was not needed in the pulps. Never fear though, Dixon Hawke outwits Himmler himself, makes a daring escape with his friend Clavering, and gets shot down in a German plane by the RAF before he is rescued with the goods. “Good old Dixon Hawke …” as his boy pal Tommy (since Sexton Blake’s Tinker every hero needed a youthful assistant) says.
The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz reads the way a good B wartime programmer plays, it even resembles the Raoul Walsh Errol Flynn flag waver Desperate Journey a bit with a touch of John Buchan’s Greenmantle thrown in (the bit where Hannay is in WWI Germany in disguise), as well as Manning Coles’ Tommy Hambledon in A Toast to Tomorrow and Drink To Yesterday. It’s closer to a Big Little Book or a juvenile than the pulps, but it is still fun, if not for the same reasons as slightly more mature fare.
Who doesn’t like to figuratively flip the bird to Hitler and Himmler?
The Green Caravan by Rex Hardinge is a Sexton Blake post-war adventure, and it is not for little boys. Philip Neal wants to marry beautiful English rose Mary Young, but the tormented Neal, who had a bad war in a ‘Nazi horror camp,’ was drawn to the gypsy woman Belle Hampton, she of the bulging bosom and flashing eyes, for darker needs. Now he can’t get rid of her, and the best solution seems to be murder.
Not the sanest of people this Philip Neal, and the bodies start falling like flies, random victims killed by three bullets from three guns without warning. Mary Young is scared and turns to Neal’s rival Ben Rorke. Ben survives a trap, and now Neal must be rid of him before he figures out who the killer is. So why not blow up the entire end of the hospital Ben is in?
He misses Ben again, but suspecting the second attack on Ben was not coincidence Sexton Blake, called in on the case with Inspector Coutts of the Yard, has the word spread that Ben is dead and moves him to London. Blake is convinced the murders are not the work of ‘what the Americans call a psycho.” He sees a ‘deliberate plan” behind the crimes.
Ben leads to Mary who leads to Belle with whom she had a violent confrontation, which leads to Philip Neal who has the means and the brains to rig the clever traps the killer uses, but there has to be a motive. Even with evidence and motive they couldn’t charge Neal or convince a jury (unusual for the detective to bother with details like juries in any mystery), and the obvious victim, Belle Hampton, is as yet untouched.
If you don’t smell a trap coming, you haven’t been paying attention reading these and watching television and movies all these years.
Though one would imagine John Mortimer’s Rumpole, John Dickson Carr’s Patrick Butler, or Sara Woods’ Antony Maitland could get him off on an insanity plea pretty easy with say the help of solicitor Arthur Crook or Joshua Clunk. He’s obviously loony.
The Blake books from this era and into the sixties are often very good with writers like W.A. Ballinger, Rex Hardinge, Hugh Clevely, Jack Trevor Story (The Trouble with Harry), and other relatively familiar names penning them.
They are still pulp, still series pulp at that, and hardly up to the level of most American paperback and digest fiction of the era, but they follow a long tradition and there is nothing to be ashamed of here. They have colorful covers, they are well plotted, there is variety, and they are well written.
No wonder they were still doing Sexton Blake movies and television series well into the 1960‘s.
So, three British pulps from three different eras, all fun to read, all fluff, but good fluff, and all uniquely British in style and outlook. Fans won’t let Sexton Blake die and there are sites devoted to him. You can find actual e-books of Thriller, Blake, and a few Dixon Hawke books on line along with Nelson Lee, Falcon Swift, and Waldo the Wonderman, and the covers are still attractive to look at and worth collecting. (Steve Holland at Bear Alley has done a couple of handsome Blake anthologies.)
The past never really dies, somebody just collects it.
Note: All three of these stories (and many others) can be downloaded and read online at Comic Book Plus.
Frank Robinson, 1926-2014
by Walker Martin
I’ve just learned that Frank Robinson died on June 30, 2014. Another of my old pulp friends that I will miss and one less of the collectors who used to actually buy the pulps off the newsstands in the thirties and forties. Frank was born in 1926 and was 87 years old at the time of his death.
Frank wore many hats, and I’m not talking about the hat that he always wore. He was an SF author, a writer of mainstream action fiction, an editor for the men’s magazines such as ROGUE, CAVALIER, PLAYBOY, a speechwriter for Harvey Milk, who was shot and killed in the 1980′s, a member of the San Francisco gay community, and finally at the end of his life, a movie actor. (He had a bit part playing himself in the movie, MILK.)
However, though I was aware of all the above, I knew him only as one of the most intense and fanatical pulp magazine collectors that I have ever known. He was a “condition collector” and probably the top such collector among pulp collectors. Frank just didn’t collect nice condition pulps; he collected magazines that were often in perfect condition with white pages and glossy, new looking covers and spines. This is getting harder and harder to do because the pulp era is now many decades in the past, the last ones dying in 1955. (There are a couple of exceptions such as RANCH ROMANCES.) Some of the beautiful magazines that Frank collected are now close to a hundred years old.
I first came into contact with Frank in the early 1980′s when he wrote me about some of his wants. We corresponded for many years and traded pulps back and forth. Not an easy thing to do because Frank only wanted perfection. He had what other collectors called “the wall of pulps” and they were all in fine or mint condition. His SF magazines were probably the best condition set in existence and his WEIRD TALES were a thing of beauty.
During our correspondence, it was only natural that the subject of Pulpcon would arise. I urged him to attend the annual convention which was usually held in the Dayton, Ohio area. He eventually went to many of the conventions in the 1980′s and 1990′s and was finally awarded Pulpcon’s highest honor, the Lamont Award, at Pulpcon 29 in 2000.
When I think back on our many conversations at Pulpcon, I cannot recall a single non-pulp related discussion. All we ever talked about were book and pulp matters. Wait — I do remember once showing him an original pen and ink illustration from a SF magazine that was used on one of his stories, but that was just about as far afield as we ever strayed.
And that was how I liked it. Pulpcon was like a big book and pulp party, as if you had died and had gone to heaven. No families, no problems, forget your worries and just dive right into a gigantic room full of old magazines and books. I once had a friend who carried on an affair with a motel maid during the convention. When he told me about it, I was puzzled. Why, was my response. Sex could be pursued the other 51 weeks of the year. Why bother during Pulpcon?
Frank felt the same way. Usually he could be found sitting behind a table comparing pulps and upgrading his magazine collection. You couldn’t miss him with his trademark golf cap and sonorous, deep voice. Pulpcon once had a guest that had worked at Ziff Davis as Frank had back in the forties and when he heard The Voice, he immediately knew who it was and yelled, “Why it’s that kid from the mailroom!”. He didn’t recognize the face but you could never forget Frank’s voice.
Great collectors compile great collections not just by buying them but also by helping other collectors. I’ve run into this a hundred times with old-time collectors over the years. Here are some examples where Frank attempted to help me with my collection:
1. During our correspondence, Frank asked me for my want list. At the time I was collecting just about every major pulp title except for the love, sport, and aviation/war magazines. Therefore it was several pages long and handwritten. He found several of my wants and we traded back and forth. A couple months later, I received in the mail a neatly typed manuscript. It was my handwritten want list that Frank had typed and without errors. It must have taken him hours to do it.
2. Upon hearing that I had 112 SEA STORIES and only needed 6 issues for a complete set, he said he was willing to let me have his issues if he had the ones I needed.
3. I was once talking about how I had various parts of the famous October 1912 Tarzan issue of ALL STORY but I was missing some pages. He offered to try and put together a complete issue if he could manage it.
4. Since that didn’t work out, once Frank was at an auction on the east coast, and called me at work. He wanted to know how high I was willing to bid on the Tarzan issue and he would bid and get it for me. Unfortunately I was only prepared to go as high as $5,000 and someone else got it. But this is another beyond the call of duty or friendship action.
As Frank got older, I guess he finally reached the point that we all eventually get to. He decided to find another home for his great collection. One of the great magazine auctions of several decades was held by Adventure House a couple years ago. It was simply called The Frank Robinson Collection auction and of course all serious collectors started to squirrel away money, borrow and rob the family bank accounts, lie to their non-collecting spouses, and otherwise act in ways that would be frowned on in polite society.
I knew that most of the Robinson collection would be beyond my means because of the premium that we put on nice condition pulps. Fortunately I had most of the magazines already in lesser shape. But I did want something from the Frank Robinson Collection for my own collection and in memory of our friendship. I was fortunate to get several WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE issues from the early twenties in beautiful condition. But even these white paper artifacts cost me a lot more that I had thought they would. Each issue cost me over $100. A friend of mine got caught up in a bidding war and paid over $900 for a magazine that was worth less than a hundred.
So I knew I was in dangerous territory. For instance the WEIRD TALES set went for over a quarter of a million dollars. But as all collectors know, you can always get more money, but rare books and pulps are not so easy to find. All collectors make mistakes. One of mine was selling my set of the 71 issues of PLANET STORIES for a thousand dollars several years ago. True, my set was not that great condition but I missed the garish, good girl art covers and the space opera. The letter columns were of great interest and fun to read.
I decided to get the PLANET STORIES set at the Robinson auction. I knew they would go high, maybe cost more money than I would want to spend. I had sold my beat-up set for peanuts, which came to $15 each. What would the best condition set in the world go for? I knew the copies were perfect, white pages, bright, newsstand fresh covers and spines and that new pulp smell. They were new, 60 to 70 years after being printed!
Even at $100 each the set would cost $7100 and I knew such condition would force the bidders to go higher that $100 each. It sure did but after the dust settled, I was the proud owner of the greatest set of PLANET STORIES in existence. Not just in the world but in existence! If you are a serious book or magazine collector, then you know this feeling. At first I figured I paid too much, but maybe not because I soon was offered my money back plus a set of PLANET STORIES in nice shape if I would sell the Robinson copies. I refused of course.
Shortly after the above events, I went to the Windy City pulp show in Chicago. Doug Ellis had invited a few art and pulp collectors out to his house for lunch before the start of the convention. I was wandering through looking at the pulp art when I heard the sound of snoring on a couch in the basement. I went over and there was Frank Robinson laying flat on his back, sleeping. With his hat on! I stress the hat because Frank always had the golf hat on and even swam with it on according to reports. Well, now I knew that he even slept with the hat on.
I didn’t say anything, but in a daze I went upstairs and said to Deb and Doug, “What’s cooler that having pulps from the Frank Robinson Auction?” “Having Frank himself as part of your collection!” Well of course he was just visiting, and I went back downstairs and looked at him again. This time he woke and without a second’s hesitation, said “Hi Walker” and proceeded to talk about pulps. I told him I had a special stamp and ink pad made and I was going to stamp each issue of PLANET STORIES on the cover and contents page the following statement: FROM THE FRANK ROBINSON COLLECTION.
Of course I would be crazy to do that but I have been called crazy before. The magazines are so perfect that I’m afraid to handle them and I certainly can’t read them without degrading the condition. However, I solved my problem by buying back my beat up set that I had sold for $1,000 a dozen years ago. This time it cost me $1,700 to get them back. Now I have two sets of PLANET, one to read and one as a shrine to the memory of Frank.
My last conversation with Frank was a couple years ago. I was looking at some WEIRD TALES that looked perfect and were up for auction. I heard that distinctive voice say, “Hey Walker, look at the paper inside.” I did and it was browned and brittle. We grinned at each other.
TALBOT MUNDY – The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb. First published as “Khufu’s Real Tomb” in Adventure magazine, October 10, 1922. First book edition: Hutchinson & Co., UK, hardcover, 1933. First US edition: D. Appleton-Century Co., hardcover, 1935. Several other reprint editions exist. (Follow the link to an online edition of the pulp magazine version.)
Talbot Mundy’s career was as strange as anything he wrote, and that is no small statement. A con man and adventurer in India he came to the United States, nearly died, saw the light, and reformed by becoming a writer, almost immediately penning a number of classics such as Rung Ho!, The Eye of Zeitoon, and Hira Singh. He shot to the top of the list of Haggard and Kipling successors and stayed there until his death, his work a staple in the pulps, particularly the grand old pulp icon, Adventure.
His King of the Khyber Rifles was twice filmed, a bestseller, and even adapted by Classics Illustrated, and his novel Jimgrim, or King of the World is considered by many, myself included, the greatest achievement of the adventure pulps.
Jimgrim featured one of Mundy’s series heroes (Tros of Samothrace, the Greek trader and opponent of Caesar and Cleopatra, is his other great creation), the American Captain James Schyler Grim, in the service of His Majesty’s Secret Service in the Middle and Near East. With his ally and friend Jeff Ramsden, his Sikh friend Naryan Singh, his Indian Secret Agent companion Chulander Ghose, and a small army of Mundy’s other heroes (Athleston King and Cottswold Ommony among them) he battles to keep the Middle East, Palestine in particular, from exploding.
All of that fairly standard British Raj rah rah rah save for one fact: Talbot Mundy was no admirer of the Empire and stood for self-rule in India and the Middle East. It was a unique view of the world for an adventure story writer in that era. There is little racism or jingoism in Mundy.
Later in life Mundy became obsessed with the philosophy of Theosophy, a semi-mystical religious movement out of Madame Blatavasky and the Golden Dawn. That would have ruined a lesser writer. In Mundy’s case it inspired his finest novels and most loved tales, Om: The Secret of Ahrbor Valley, The Nine Unknown, The Devil’s Guard, Full Moon, and Jimgrim.
The change in his work showed first in the Jimgrim tales in Adventure, where Grim and company left the British Army and Secret Service behind and took up with American millionaire Meldrum Strange who financed their adventures from there on. And what adventures they were, a search for what happened to all the coins minted in the ancient world (they were hidden beneath the Ganges by the Nine Unknown), a war of good and evil on the roof of the world where the Black Lodge is challenged by the White, and the final novel of the series, Jimgrim, in which the world must be saved from a fanatical madman, leading to a finale that still stuns the unsuspecting reader today and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
In the transition period from the heyday of the series to the later deeper novels Mundy’s best is the Jimgrim adventure The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb.
It begins when engineer Jeff Ramsden is nearly run off a road on the Geiger Trail near Virginia City by Joan Angela Leich, the kind of headstrong heiress who was common in fiction of the time. Joan and Jeff are old friends though, and she has nearly gotten him killed before.
That’s Joan all over, and a welcome breath of femininity she is in Mundy’s masculine world. She is also guaranteed trouble, and here is no exception. This time she has gotten involved with one Mrs. Isobel Aintree, a fatale femme with a cobra’s bite that Ramsden and Grim have battled before. Joan needs help concerning a purchase made while in Egypt during a revolution (the more things change …) where she “…went and bought a lot of land that everybody said was no good because it was too far from the Nile.”
Now a man called Moustapha Pasha (“…there are men of all creeds and colours, who can mouth morality like machines printing paper money, but who you know at the first glance have only one rule, and that an automatic, self-adjusting, expanding and collapsing one, that adapts itself to every circumstance and always in the user’s favour. This man was clearly one of those.”) wants the land and won’t take no for an answer, but Joan is too stubborn to ever yield.
Just what is on that land that Mrs. Aintree wants it and Moustapha Pasha is willing to bribe Ramsden to betray Joan to the tune of one million dollars (1920‘s dollars at that)? Mrs. Aintree wants it so bad she marries Moustapha Pasha. The answer must be in Egypt, and anywhere east of the Pillars of Hercules there is no better man to have on your side than Jimgrim, so Joan hires Meldrum Strange’s team to help her.
As usual Grim knows more than might be expected:
“Let’s hope it’s true!” said I.
“Let’s hope it isn’t true!” Grim answered. “Any such sum of money as that would turn Egypt into Hades! If it’s there it means civil war, whoever gets it!”
Two billion dollars and the fate of Egypt, just the sort of thing Grim lives for.
And they are off with the help of a Chinese astronomer, Chu Chi Ying, and it is no real mystery what lies beneath Joan’s land.
So if Khufu, Cheops, money is not in the Great Pyramid of Giseh, where is it? Want to hazard a guess?
Our band of heroes must deal with enemies on all sides and excavate the treasure that Khufu flooded under Joan’s land without drawing too much attention. Mundy never made things easy for his heroes. You may even wish he had, because the danger, sweat, set backs, short-lived victories, and sheer impossibility of the task will leave the reader almost as stretched as the heroes.
And it can only get worse, as Grim battles the forces of Moustapha Pasha and Mrs. Aintree above ground while Jeff and Joan are trapped underground avoiding death traps laid by the determined Khufu, and up against blind mutated giant albino crocodiles.
Long before Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler, and James Rollins Mundy’s heroes were knee deep in the kind of adventures readers today savor. Today’s heroes rely on relentless action though, and while there is no shortage of action and movement, Mundy’s heroes use their brains first, then their brawn.
That is one reason Mundy remains not only readable, but fresh and entertaining to read when so many others have been passed by. It isn’t hard to see the influence he had on Robert E. Howard, Philip Jose Farmer, and Fritz Leiber as well as a generation of adventure writers. His name still triggers images of exotic locales and high adventure in the wild places as much as Rider Haggard before him.
I’ll give Mundy, via Ramsden, the last perfect words:
I don’t see that adventure today is in any better hands.
by Walker Martin
As many of you may know I love going to pulp conventions and I’ve been attending them since 1972. I have a maniacal desire to read and collect old books and pulps. I realize it may be an addiction and a vice but it doesn’t seem to hurt my health or finances like drinking, drugs, gambling, or chasing women. Well at least it didn’t hurt me until this convention.
For the last few months my legs have developed a pain which bothers me while sitting and sleeping. I’m often awakened at night by the pain and I’ve yet to find a comfortable position to sleep. I’ve seen different doctors and pain pills don’t help that much. A nerve doctor said maybe my back problems was the cause and I have scheduled further x-rays and MRI’s. But the main thing the medical profession agreed on was that I would not be taking any 15 hour trip to Chicago. (Airplanes are a problem because of claustrophobia and limited bags to bring back pulps.)
Needless to say, being the insane collector that I am, I ignored all medical advice and on Thursday, April 24, I was in a car heading from Trenton, NJ to Morristown, NJ, where I was one of five collectors who had rented a big van. After an hour in the car, and even before getting to the van, I was in distress and reminding myself that I was a book collector and reader and nothing was going to stop me. I had to keep saying this to myself several times during the trip, which I now refer to as Death Trip 2014.
But somehow, 15 hours later, I limped into the Westin hotel near Chicago and thought only about going to my room and having a stiff drink, pain pills or no pain pills. But in my room, the usual desire to meet other collectors and talk about books and pulps, kicked in and I went to the hospitality room. Once there, I stationed myself against the wall near the refrigerator where the beer was and I proceeded to drink, thinking By God, I made it.
And I’m glad I did because I met a man who runs one of the very best pulp blogs. Sai lives in India and administers a blog called Pulpflakes. A great name for a great website and it’s all about pulps, the authors, the editors, the artists, the magazines. This was Sai’s first pulp convention.
Another interesting person was Mala Mastroberte, the queen of the pulp pin-ups. Ed Hulse had the great idea to have her at his BLOOD n THUNDER table and perhaps it was too great an idea. I heard more than one collector refer to table not as the BLOOD n THUNDER or Ed Hulse table, but as the Mala table. Mala was a big hit and fortunately she had her boyfriend to watch over her because some collectors are all about the books and they don’t know how to act around women. Nothing worse than a leering bookworm. I ought to know.
But don’t feel too sorry for Ed Hulse because he stumbled across the find of the show. Shortly after the convention opened he bought several long comic book boxes of ALL STORY. Most seemed to be priced at $5.00 and included several Edgar Rice Burroughs issues. Most were from 1917-1920 and there were over a hundred. I need one issue from this period and since I only need a total of 4 to complete my set, I was naturally very excited and figured the issue had to be there.
Since we were all busy the first few days of the convention, there was no time to look through the magazines until Sunday afternoon. With great anticipation I watched as the magazines were sorted into years and then into months. The issue I need is dated July 7, 1917 and I noticed there were 11 months well represented from 1917. But one month was completely missing. You guessed it. No July issues at all.
There is nothing more embarrassing than seeing some old guy sobbing because he needs a pulp. I managed to control myself and slunk off to the bar to drown my sorrows. I can deal with leg pain but not with missing out on my book wants.
A good friend of mine told me about his find. He bought over 50 WEIRD TALES from the 1930′s for only like $25 to $45 each. I couldn’t believe such good luck and almost had him convinced that something must be wrong with the issues, perhaps pages excerpted or poor condition. But no, the magazines were ok.
At this point I’d like to talk about the importance of attending these conventions, not only Windy City, but Pulpfest and the few one day shows that are held. I realize there are valid reasons for not attending, such as poor health and lack of money. But I’ve always forced myself to figure out someway to attend because I find so much not only in the dealer’s room but through friends and contacts. For instance I managed to get the several lots I wanted in the auction. If I had stayed home because of my leg problem, I never would have gotten them.
And the conventions revive your interest in collecting, which I seriously believe is one of the joys of life. I actually feel sorry for non-collectors and people who call collectors the dreaded “hoarder” name. (There is a big difference in meaning between “collector” and “hoarder” but that’s another subject that many non-collectors simply do not understand at all.)
Collecting has helped increase my desire to keep living, otherwise I might just pine away and eventually waste away like many of my non-collecting friends. I would have to say collecting books and pulps is the grandest game in the world and one that can give your life meaning.
Now you might ask what did I get after all the trouble described above? Well, one problem with living a fairly long life is the chance that you might start to run out of things to collect. I guess at one time or another, I’ve collected just about every major pulp, digest, and literary title, including many slicks. I never bothered with the love, sport, and aviation genres but I’ve been involved with most other titles.
So my wants are getting kind of esoteric and bizarre. A few issues here and there to complete sets. A few pulp artists or magazine cover paintings. Many years ago I used to collect the hero pulps but I sold them all. But the auction listed several lots of the SHADOW digests. They had most of the issues from 1944-1948, a total of 40 in all.
I was interested in these issues because the magazine became more of an adult crime magazine during the post war years. Returning WW II vets did not give a damn about the Shadow but the back up stories and novelettes were of interest. I managed to be the high bidder on all the Shadow digest lots, a total of 10 lots. The average price came out to only $21 per issue which was far lower than the $50 -$80 prices that I saw in the dealer’s room.
Another item I desperately wanted was a preliminary sketch by artist Lee Brown Coye. The finished piece of art in FANTASTIC, February 1963, I think is stunning and I noticed the preliminary drawing was very detailed and close to the finished art. Again, I was the winning bidder at $650.
Speaking of the auctions, there were two that lasted several hours during the evening. The Friday auction was mainly from the collections of the Jerry Weist estate and the Robert Weinberg collection. The Jerry Weist items were mainly very nice condition SF magazines and the Weinberg collection included some stunning SF correspondence, cancelled Munsey and Popular Publications checks and all sorts of interesting items.
The original manuscript of C. L. Moore’s “Black God’s Kiss,” which appeared in WEIRD TALES, October, 1934, bought the highest amount of money I’ve ever seen at a pulp convention auction: $4,500 plus the $500 buyer’s premium. That’s $5,000 for an iconic, unique item.
Some other authors represented by checks and letters were L. Ron Hubbard, Farnsworth Wright, Henry Whitehead, Abraham Merritt, Austin Hall, Homer Eon Flint, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Murray Leinster, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl, Otis Adelbert Kline, George Allan England, Algis Budrys, Eric Frank Russell, and others too numerous to name.
The Saturday night auction was made up of over 100 lots listing most of the issues of the SHADOW magazine. Most issues went for reasonable prices. Following the SHADOW auction there were almost another 100 lots listing various pulp magazines but there also was a Frank R. Paul illustration from FANTASTIC NOVELS which went for $800.
The Windy City show is not just the dealer’s room and auction, though that’s what most collectors are interested in. There also was a very large art show with quite a few pulp paintings and illustrations from the collections of Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton, Robert and Phyllis Weinberg, and others. Ed Hulse put on his usual fine film show which lasted all day and even after the auction in the early morning hours. The themes celebrated the 95th birthday of BLACK MASK and WESTERN STORY.
There were two panels after the dealer’s room closed. The first one was on a subject that was very much needed but had often been ignored over the years at Pulpcon. The Western Pulps panel was comprised of Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, and Tom Roberts. In about an hour we tried to make up for lost time and discuss major elements of this important topic. Which of course is impossible since there were scores of western titles and it was the biggest selling genre by far except for perhaps the love pulps.
I gave my opinion concerning the best western pulp magazines, all of which I have collected over the years. The biggest of all was WESTERN STORY, 1919-1949 with over 1250 issues. I need about 11 issues including the first one and I’ll never be able to complete the set but I have hopes of getting it down to single digits.
The second best and some would say even better than WESTERN STORY, was definitely the Doubleday issues of WEST during 1926-1934. During this 8 or 9 year span the magazine was often published on a weekly and bi-weekly schedule and had all the good authors. It was sold to another publisher in 1935 and continued on for many years but not at the Doubleday level. Third and fourth best would be DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN and some feel they were the best westerns published by Popular Publications.
We now live in a era that has no western short fiction magazine and this is hard to believe when we look back to the 1930′s and 1940′s when the newsstands groaned under the weight of these titles.
There were many interesting western writers and some of my favorites are Luke Short, W.C. Tuttle, and Walt Coburn. Coburn had a drinking problem and this showed in some of his work but when he was feeling good and sober, he was one of the best because he grew up on a working cowboy’s ranch and knew how the men dressed, talked, and rode. Black Dog Books will soon be publishing a collection of Coburn’s fiction from WESTERN STORY. Keep an eye out for BULLETS IN THE BLACK by Walt Coburn. Introduction by the great James Reasoner.
My old friends of 20 or 30 years ago would have said that I have committed sacrilege by not including Max Brand. Max Brand collectors used to be all over the place at Pulpcon, collecting the pulps, binding the stories into home made books, writing articles and talking about him. In fact, if they were still alive I would not dare say anything negative about Brand. Not if I wanted to keep their friendship. They loved Max Brand and for over 50 years I’ve tried to love him also. Some of his work I like and some I hate. I now would have to say that Max Brand wrote too much and too fast and that’s going to hurt him as far as being remembered.
The Second panel was on Saturday night and discussed Hammett, BLACK MASK, and the Detective Pulps. Moderated by John Wooley along with such experts as Ed Hulse, Digges La Touche, and Bob Weinberg. I was so jealous about not being on this panel that I tried to pick a fight with Digges by yelling at him, “So You’re the expert on Earle Stanley Gardner!”. But I didn’t have enough to drink to be drunk enough, so they ignored me.
Bob Weinberg did make one interesting statement about the cover art of DIME DETECTIVE being better than the covers of BLACK MASK in the 1930′s. Maybe the late thirties yes, but when Paul Herman, another BLACK MASK art collector, and I heard this, we started muttering that though we love and have covers from DIME DETECTIVE, the early 1930′s covers of BLACK MASK are amazing. Joe Shaw made sure the cover artist captured the tough, hardboiled, atmosphere of the magazine.
The funny thing is that someone told Bob Weinberg about my disagreeing with him. Later on, he approached me and told me I was wrong, and how could I say such a thing, etc. But this just shows why Bob and Paul and I, are pulp art collectors. To collect cover art you must be opinionated and passionate about the subject. Otherwise you don’t collect original art at all.
The program book, which is compiled and edited by Tom Roberts, is excellent. About 50 pages on the detective pulps, another 50 pages on the western pulps, and 50 pages on art and film. I’m certain you can get a copy from Black Dog Books.
On Sunday, I talked with Doug Ellis about the attendance. He said they broke 500 for the first time ever (the most the old Pulpcon ever had was 300) and had 150 dealer’s tables. I spent the entire three days limping around the room and the place was always busy. The old Pulpcon used to have periods where it looked deserted but you don’t see this at Windy City or Pulpfest.
So, on Monday morning, in a steady rain, we just barely crammed in all our treasures into the great white van. There were a couple times I almost said to stop the van, so I could get out, but we made it back to Morristown in about 14 hours. I was so exhausted that I wondered if I could make it to the car for the ride back to Trenton. We transferred all the boxes to Digges’ car and were ready to go. I told myself, look I just made 14 hours, I can make another hour or so. Then Digges told me the car battery was dead and the car would not start.
At this point the details are a sort of blur for me. I remember standing in the dark and thinking what now? If it was up to me, I’d still be standing there. Fortunately Ed Hulse’s sister let us come into her house even though it was late and gave us coffee. She even called her Triple A and had them jump start the car. So off we finally went.
Now the big question is will I be able to make to Pulpfest, August 7, 2014? Collectors, you better believe it!