Tuesday, July 18, 2023

SPACE DETECTIVE: A novel excerpt

I set up the distribution for Space Detective to avoid limiting access to just Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, so readers could procure it from their preferred online dealer, whether for a paperback or an ebook edition. Even libraries and retail brick-and-mortar stores can order and put this book on their shelves.

However, the teaser preview that online retailers provide differs according to the site you visit. Amazon appears to offer the longest preview. Other retailers, none at all.

So I’m posting an extended excerpt so everyone can have a look, no matter where you choose to shop.

You'll find it at my writer's site by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review: THE ARSENAL OF WONDERS by Dwight Decker

If you grew up reading primarily DC Comics during the Silver Age (National Periodical Publications in those days, rather than DC; I’m focusing on the 1960s when I say Silver Age), you were accustomed to a far different sort of comic book storytelling than we’re seeing nowadays in what I’ll call, for simplicity’s sake, the Graphic Novel era. (I’ll posit that this era has many overlapping names and motifs, but the lowest common denominator seems to be long-form storytelling, thus graphic novel.)

In most cases those days a complete story would’ve been published in a single issue. Likewise, a single issue might’ve included a primary, cover-featured story plus a back-up story: a shorter tale and likely starring a second-string hero. Detective Comics is a good example, because many issues used Batman in the lead and usually Elongated Man—but sometimes Batgirl—in the back up.

You would’ve been familiar with the 80-page Giant issues, which were priced 25 cents and compiled stories from the past and typically focused on a single theme. For example, I recall a Superman Giant issue whose stories focused on the different colors of kryptonite; a Jimmy Olsen Giant issue featured several of the strange transformations Superman’s pal had undergone over the years. (I won’t go into those changes, but you can click here for an article that describes 15 of those stories—and it’s absolutely appropriate that the word bonkers is in the essay title. Gregor Samsa never had so much fun, but Jimmy Olsen never experienced much existential angst before the reader reached the letters column.)

This rambling preamble boils down to a simple statement: These Silver Age comics were intended to be fun and had little to do with the real world (except occasionally: Jimmy Olsen infiltrated a gang of juvenile delinquents and learned Perry White’s son was a member in "Jimmy Olsen, Juvenile Delinquent!"; it appeared in the October 1959 issue of Jimmy’s comic). The superhero stories were diverting tales focused on good guys battling bad guys and often incorporated elements lifted from pulp science fiction magazines.

If the sharp swerve into noirish (nightmarish?) superheroics initiated by Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight in 1986 was preceded by a long transition period launched with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ grittier takes on Batman and the socially conscious/relative Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up starting in 1970, we can perhaps describe the Silver Age DC era as a pastoral superhero age.

This latter world is the sort of setting that anchors Dwight Decker’s novel The Arsenal of Wonders. (It’s worth noting the book’s title echoes that of The Arsenal of Miracles, a 1964 SF novel by Gardner F. Fox, one of DC’s most prolific scripters during both the Golden Age and the Silver Age.) Using tropes familiar to fans of the Silver Age, Decker builds a universe about a superhero who is displaced in time and in space.

Decker introduced Astroman, the hero of this book, in a prior novel, The Secret Citadel. Matt Dawson was thrown into a parallel Earth thanks to a lab experiment gone awry. This new Earth is very like Matt’s own except that it’s 1967 and superheroes and supervillains are among those who populate the world. Matt gains some powers of his own because of his dimensional transition.

In this novel, Matt and Astrogirl travel through space and time to visit Helionn, the planet from which Astrogirl and Astroman came to Earth. They must go back in time to visit the planet because it exploded years ago.

They travel to Helionn to find a legendary arsenal that will help them battle an arch foe, Garth Bolton, whose crime spree is expanding as it exploits the disappearance of Astroman.

If this sounds familiar—like the origin story of Superman and the fodder for many Silver Age tales in which Kal El visited Krypton or viewed scenes from its past—then understand that Decker is writing homage. This novel is an extended letter of thanks and loving respect to all those creators who built, story by story, the remarkably rich universe the Silver Age heroes inhabited before it was exploded—quite literally—by the Crisis on Infinite Earths (presented in a 12-issue series published in 1985 and ’86) and subsequent Crises and . . . assorted other continuity-busting reboots (by whatever names) that successively dilute the iconic legends established during the Silver Age and based on the Golden Age versions of those heroes and stories.

As homage, this is not an explosion-illuminated tale cuing up life-or-death battles in every other scene: in other words, this is not comparable in any way to a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just as it took decades for the details of Superman’s canon to accrete to the Man of Steel—Smallville, Krypto, the many colors of kryptonite and its multifarious radiations, the Fortress of Solitude, Kandor the bottled city, Lori Lemaris, Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch, Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and on and on—Decker’s tale is a more leisurely stroll through the inventories of SF tropes used in countless sword-and-planet and space opera novels and stories from the time of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars (1912) through the 1960s—and beyond, really, if you consider how Star Wars was influenced by pulp fiction and Hollywood serials.

If you occasionally are swept by nostalgia for a simpler era of comic book storytelling, for heroes untainted by shades of gray and who knew good from bad—for heroes who were heroic—you may enjoy The Arsenal of Wonders. Reading it is an experience much like that of Matt Dawson: a trip through time and space.

It's available from Amazon at this link.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Indie review: Tyche's Flight by Richard Parry

Parry, Richard.  Tyche's Flight: A Space Opera Adventure Science Fiction Epic (Ezeroc Wars Book 1)

This review is about a science fiction novel titled Tyche’sFlight. Why I’m writing it is covered in the Introduction, which follows. But if you just want to read the review, feel free to skip the Introduction.


In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Hollywood’s Big Studio system began to collapse under its own weight and changing fashions as the French film fashion of auteur worship spread and young renegades and small, independent producers began more and more to scrounge together funding and make films on a shoestring budget that made money at the box office.

Something similar started happening in mainstream publishing not long after, as publishing houses began growing by acquiring other houses, so that nowadays what was once a stand-alone publisher is now just an imprint of a larger international conglomerate, and a publisher’s name is now a string of names separated by slashes or hyphens. Here are just two examples to illustrate the corporate complexity common to mainstream publishers:

·         Hachette Book Group imprints: Hachette Books (formerly Hyperion Books, acquired in 2013), Little, Brown and Company (bought by Time Inc. in 1968), Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner Books, which was part of Time Warner Publishing, which had bought MacDonald & Co. in 1992, Popular Library in 1982, and Paperback Library in 1970), Yen Press, FaithWords, Center Street Books, Windblown Media, Perseus Books (acquired 2014), DaKapo Press, Basic Books, Seal Press, Orbit

·         Penguin-Random House imprints: Penguin, Random House, Vintage Books, Crown Publishing Group, Modern Library, Bantam, Ballantine, Del Rey Books, The Dial Press, Knopf Doubleday (remember when they were separate businesses?), and more

All this acquiring and conglomerating meant, in some cases, economies of scale could be achieved. In other cases, it meant a loss of smaller companies’ editorial idiosyncrasies as the larger corporations’ expectations percolated through the editorial and marketing and acquisition departments.

It also meant a greater dependence on big sellers. Mid-list writers found it harder to gain or maintain a toehold, and their books eventually went out of print.

Fortunately, improvements in Print On Demand technology and the rise of small and independent publishers—usually focused on a single or two genres—and the ease of self-publishing have led to an explosion of books being published and easily available outside the traditional mainstream publishers’ catalogs.

This is a good thing.

Unfortunately, there’s so much to choose from, it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next, unless you happen to know the author or have a reliable word-of-mouth network. Have you ever gone to the grocery for bath soap only to discover one entire aisle of the store is devoted to different brands and types of bath soap? It’s kinda like that.

Marketing is important for getting your books noticed. But marketing can be an expensive proposition—in time and money—which is valuable for indie writers and publishers: if they’re spending their time marketing their books, they’re not writing and producing the next book; and if that next book doesn’t exist, no readers can buy it, which makes balancing the writer’s budget an even harder job.

There are a few scattered blogs that review indie books, but tracking them down isn’t always easy, and their approach may be scattershot.

So, to support indie writers’ efforts, I started this year with the intention of reading more indie books. (I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution—“resolve” sounds very formal, and that makes me twitch a little. Also, resolutions have a reputation for being broken. So I’ll stick with intention. Much more casual-sounding word.) I’ll also write some reviews for these books. Some will be for books by my pals. Some will be for books I don’t know anything about, but thought I’d just jump in and try ‘em. This first indie review, for Tyche’s Flight, is in that latter category.

 The Review

Tyche’s Flight is the first in at least two Space Opera trilogies - part of a larger story cycle, the Ezeroc Wars - about the ship and its crew. It’s Space Opera of the sort for those who like the Firefly TV series. If you like the camaraderie of the Rocinante’s crew in The Expanse novels without the macropolitical and socio-cultural discursions, you’ll like Tyche’s Flight. If you like the action in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet novels, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Grace Gushikenis on the run. She is an esper, a creation of the Empire—now known in the Republic as the Old Empire—and her kind are hunted down and destroyed. So Grace is on the grift, running cons to get from one planet to the next so she can stay at least one step ahead of the Republic’s Men In Black. Her efforts lead her to insinuate herself onto the crew of Tyche, an independent cargo runner. (Think the Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon with a captain--Nathan Chevell—a little less rogue-ish but just as headstrong as Han Solo.

Author Richard Parry doesn’t counterfeit characters from other series, but they are recognizable types. And the characters are interesting and likeable. The Tyche’s crew includes Hope, a young but highly competent engineer who keeps the Tyche running, and who has a secret that’s keeping her hiding from the Republic, just like Grace is. But the rest of the crew knows Hope’s secret. Grace is a newcomer, and hasn't yet earned the level of trust that will let them share that sort of family secret Grace doesn’t let anyone in on her reasons for running.

Elspeth Roussel—El to the rest of the crew—is a top-notch (of course) pilot who zigs and zags and punches it whenever the need arises for Tyche to evade or escape or rush into harm’s way.

October Kohl is both muscle and juggernaut. When there’s a fight, he’s first in line for the fun. (It’s also likely that he started it.) Think Amos Burton (from The Expanse) with a shorter fuse and a great capacity for holding a grudge. He's not simply a two-dimensional character, and his skill at being in the center of dust ups means he has a strong cadre of fans among Parry's readership.

Tyche’s Flight explores the dynamics of this crew’s relationships—among each other and with the greater universe around them—as they learn Grace’s secrets and as she learns theirs. The plot focuses on the Tyche’s mission: the Republic hires the crew to deliver a replacement to a distant star gate that’s stopped working and whose station has gone silent.

Perfect set up for bad stuff to happen.

Parry creates tension and real thrills—not just when Tyche reaches its destination, but along the way. Hope demonstrates that she’s indeed a crackerjack engineer, saving the ship and her crewmates more than once. Grace’s esper abilities—though abhorred by everyone around her—allow the crew to discover the secret behind the threat once they reach the disabled star gate. (The Bugs from the film version of Heinlein's Starship Troopers are probably a distant cousin to these villains.)

If you like the alien mysteries and space battles that push the narrative in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet books, you’ll find plenty of elements in Tyche’s Flight to enjoy.

This story stands alone as an enjoyable SF adventure. It also opens up possibilities for the subsequent novels. The characters are interesting. The incidents are entertaining, and the action is engaging. I’ll be reading the next book in the series, Tyche’s Deceit.

Book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0995104107/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=thepulprack-20&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0995104107&linkId=6eb786de50d1b5b507554a10a38251b2

 Kindle Ebook:



Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Cincinnati Kid by Richard Jessup

An excellent tale about humans testing their limits and their human qualities. That sounds like a stretch for a story about stud poker, but Jessup does it well in this short novel. Because while the story appears to be about poker, really it’s about the Kid of the title. It’s like the description of a cigarette someone once gave me: smoking itself—whether for satisfying an oral fixation or looking cool or whatever—isn’t really the object of putting fire to a cigarette and inhaling the fumes from its immolation; instead, a cigarette is actually just a transport device for nicotine. In this case, the novel—The Cincinnati Kid—uses poker to show the reader who the Kid really is.

This is only the second novel by Jessup I’ve read. The first—a western titled Wyoming Jones—isn’t nearly as good as this story. It’s essentially a pulp western featuring some hardcases driving a plot to its conclusion. The Cincinnati Kid is an honestly hard-boiled novel about people maneuvering to control the events in their lives. The tone is consistent and believable from start to finish. Whether Jessup’s writing improved between 1958 (Wyoming Jones) and 1963 (The Cincinnati Kid) or he could handle contemporary settings better than westerns, I can’t say. Maybe the latter is more on target, for Ed Gorman (whose discerning eye for writing I’m willing to trust) has stated about Jessup’s pre-western writing,

We first see Jessup in the early `50s when Gold Medal was promoting him as their own angry young man. The books were thick and dealt with social themes such as race and juvenile delinquency. I haven't read them in years but I remember liking them.

Or perhaps Jessup was sufficiently inspired and influenced by Walter Tevis’ The Hustler (for like Tevis' Fast Eddie, the Kid is a young gun who challenges the top player in his field) to sustain the proper voice throughout the novel. 

There's honesty and reality in that voice. Jessup relies on some of his own history to flesh out the laconic Kid: according to a 2017 article from The Poker News, Jessup spent time working as a dealer in a Harlem gambling joint, which allowed him to play with the professional card-players’ jargon so believably in the novel. Further, there’s the sense of emptiness in the Kid’s background. Jessup spent his youth growing up in orphanages, and the reader’s realization that the Kid’s quest--at least part of that quest--throughout the tale is to build a family may come after turning the last page. It’s evident in how he relates to the other card players in his circuit, especially to his mentor, The Shooter; in how he reacts to the departure of “his woman,” Christian Craigie, and how he talks with her afterwards.

As an aside, I was surprised that this novel—which takes place nearly entirely in St. Louis—veers off to the Ozarks near its midpoint, predating Daniel Woodrell’s remarkable narratives set in the Ozarks; but the Kid’s adventures there are quite different from the sorts of tales Woodrell’s characters live out in those hard-scrabble backwaters.

Jessup handles all these elements masterfully, never showing off to appear “literary,” but telling his tale in its pared-down style and disguising it as just a genre novel. The scenes of the poker match between the Kid and Lancey—“The Man”—are marvelously handled and Jessup builds tension in this stretch of prose seemingly effortlessly. (If all you know is Texas Hold'em, you owe it to yourself to read this and learn about stud poker.) By the end of the tale, Jessup has allowed the reader to see the depth of the Kid’s character without ever pointing it out explicitly. He does this so well, it’s quite possible the reader knows more about the Kid’s values than the Kid may know about himself.

It’s really an excellent novel. It’s short, too, so you can probably read it in a day or over a weekend. I recommend it.

Maybe now I’ll watch the Steve McQueen movie.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tex Rickard, boxing promoter

George Lewis Rickard, known as Tex, died January 6, 1959—four days after his 59th birthday.
He was a true entrepreneur. He launched the New York Rangers franchise of the National Hockey League in 1926. He owned the team until his death.

Tex was the primary force behind building the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden in 1925. It was located at Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in Manhattan.

Rickard was an innovator. Between 1921 and 1927, Tex raised the popularity of boxing by promoting a number of fights for “The Manassa Mauler,” world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. For the Dempsey-Charles Carpentier bout in 1921, Tex was responsible for the first live radio broadcast of a title fight and the first million-dollar fight.

Tex promoted the July 4, 1910 Fight Of The Century in Reno, Nevada, between former heavyweight champion and “Great White Hope” Jim Jeffries and reigning heavyweight Jack Johnson. 15,760 fans paid $270,775 to watch the bout. Tex sold the film rights to the match for $101,000.
In 1906, while running a saloon in Goldfield, Nevada, Tex organized the first boxing matches in that state.

After moving to Alaska in 1895 during the Gold Rush, Tex earned and lost several fortunes. As owner of The Northern Saloon in Nome, he befriended famous lawman and gunman Wyatt Earp. And in 1900, he met down-on-his-luck bareknuckle boxer Jean St. Vrain—an encounter that would lead to a very different sort of fight.

You can read about the results of their meeting in FIGHTING ALASKA, a Fight Card book, now in paperback, by clicking here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pre-publication review for AIRSHIP HUNTERS

Writing partner Jim Beard and I are very pleased to let you know AIRSHIP HUNTERS has received a very nice pre-publication review from Dave Brzeski. You can visit Dave's British Fantasy Society site and read his review by clicking here or by using the following URL:


Meanwhile, Meteor House reports that the deadline for pre-orders has been extended to July 13! Check out the details by clicking here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Interview on PulpCrazy blog

Jason Aiken is the brain behind a blog-and-podcast combo, PulpCrazy. He posts reviews, interviews, and all sorts of pulp-related items sure to interest fans of fun, exciting speculative fiction.

Jason recently posted an interview he conducted with Jim Beard and me about our soon-to-be-published novel, Airship Hunters. He did a nice job of asking the right questions. The book will be released at PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio. Here's the promotional copy for the book:

A thrilling novel of turn-of-the-century intrigue and mystery!
It is 1897 and the skies are haunted by mysterious airships and unfathomable secrets.

Tasked with hunting down these strange vehicles of the air and determining their origin and intent, two U.S. government agents toil under unusual conditions to supply their shadowy superiors with information. But that information proves to be as elusive as the airships themselves.

Ride with Agents Valiantine and Cabot across the Midwest as they encounter reports of strange lights, phantom soldiers, unreliable witnesses, and the ultimate source of their airborne prey.

They are the Airship Hunters, and they cannot be waylaid from their path to uncover the greatest mystery of them all.

 PulpFest is scheduled for August 13-16. It is a very enjoyable convention focused on pop culture--particularly the pulp magazines that thrived as the primary form of mass entertainment from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, and served as the birthplace of some remarkable characters: Tarzan and John Carter, Sam Spade and the Continental Op, Elmore Leonard's western heroes, Mickey Spillane's tough guys, Louis L'Amour's western characters, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, A.E. van Vogt's Black Destroyer (the inspiration for Ridley Scott's Alien), John W. Campbell Jr.'s Thing From Another World (the basis for John Carpenter's Thing), and more.

Remember, Airship Hunters will be released as a limited edition! By pre-ordering by July 1, you will receive a signed copy and your name will appear in the Acknowledgments. Please note: The number of copies printed of Airship Hunters will be determined by the number of pre-orders. The book will be published this summer. Only a small number of copies will be printed beyond the number pre-ordered. What this means: the only way to guarantee you'll get a copy of this book is to pre-order it. You can do that at the Meteor House Press site by clicking here.

Thanks for your patronage! Enjoy Jason Aiken's interview with Jim and I by clicking here.