Monster Aces was reviewed by Dave Brzeski:
This review is based on an advance review pdf, supplied by the publisher.
Jim Beard (‘Sgt. Janus, Spirit Breaker’, ‘Captain Action: Riddle of the Glowing Men’) is the brains behind the concept, so it was always going to be pulpy fun.
He contributed two of the stories in the book himself. The first introduces us to his team of “Monster Aces”, led by the enigmatic ‘Cap’n’, they include: ‘Joker’, the charming smooth talker of the group, so essential for smoothing their relationship with “civilians”; ‘Digger’, the powerful gentle giant of a man, who strangely also happens to be their stealth expert and ‘Gats’, the weapons expert. If any monster claimed to be immune to mortal weaponry, well Gats was there to put that theory to the test. They travelled and more or less lived on a massive sea vessel called ‘The Whale’, which was piloted by a man known only as ‘Mariner’. Then there’s ‘Trill’, unofficial member of the team. Enigmatic and pretty, almost ethereal in nature. Appearing and disappearing with no warning, she could be a nuisance but was often of immeasurable help. In fact she often as not was responsible for leading the team to wherever they were needed.
They hunted monsters and destroyed them. It was their sole raison d’etre. Cap’n was single-minded in this mission and no monster was looked upon with any sympathy… ever! This could and would lend a certain moral ambiguity to their mission.
In Jim Beard’s first story, ‘The Devil’s Clutch’, the people of the village of Nacht are being hunted. There’s an ancient legend, fearful, uncooperative villagers, a good soul damned and someone who delves into secrets that should have remained buried. It sets the tone for the series, somewhere between 30s pulp fiction and 60s Hammer movies.
Next up is ‘The Swamp People’, by Barry Reese (‘The Rook’, ‘The Adventures of Lazarus Gray’). It involves an innocent teenage girl, her typically stupid boyfriend, a carnival and an ancient race of ‘monsters’, who have been driven to extinction by the spread of humankind. The moral ambiguity of the Aces work is brought into sharper focus in this one.
The next story reminded me somewhat of the classic alien monster stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pre-superhero tales of Marvel-Atlas comics. In, ‘The River of Deceit’, by Van Allen Plexico, our intrepid monster hunters encounter a weird and powerful Alien being on the shores of an uncharted tributary of the Amazon. As the story progresses the question of just who is the monster here is brought into sharp focus once again.
We stay in Kirby territory for Ron Fortier’s ‘The Ghoul’. He has our heroes arrive in an armoured vehicle to take on a Ghoul, which in this world is a demon, who possesses a human victim. When the demon comes forth the hapless host transforms into an eight foot tall rampaging monster with greyish skin. It reminded me of those classic Marvel, or DC war comics, with their squads of misfit soldiers, in this case taking on a creature reminiscent of a certain Marvel Comics monster who has occasionally been portrayed with grey skin. Thankfully, for the Aces, this monster wasn’t quite THAT strong! I’ve read quite a few publications from Ron Fortier’s own Airship 27 productions, but this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure to read any of his own writing. It won’t be the last.
Finally we come to Jim Beard’s second story in the book, ‘Hands of the Monster’, in which the Aces kidnap a famous fictional doctor to help them deal with probably the most infamous monster of them all. It was never going to go according to plan.
There have been many monster hunters in fiction in the past. In fact there are quite a few around now, but these guys are more hardcore than most. They all get seriously injured on a regular basis. I would suggest that the Cap’n look into adding a regular medic to the support team.
This is a very enjoyable book. I look forward to learning more about the Aces in future volumes.
Glad you enjoyed the book, Dave! I definitely tried to focus on the group’s somewhat cloudy moral stance and I’m glad you picked up on that. I haven’t been asked back for any future Monster Aces volumes but I wouldn’t mind taking another swing at the characters.
Liberty Girl was reviewed by DelosJ:
Reads like juvenile lit. Many, many proofreading errors throughout. Almost no character development. At least it is an inexpensive buy and a short book.
Sorry you didn’t care for the book, Delos! I think I did an accurate job of translating the comic book into prose so I’m not sure if your faults lie with my own work or with the original. Nonetheless, sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea. I’ll make sure that Pro Se knows about your proofreading complaints.
Liberty Girl was also reviewed by Paul Sponaugle:
Excellent stand-alone novel that pays winking tribute to another 40’s pulp hero in an fun way. Even without that sly nod, the novel is an excellent two-age story of one person, Liberty Girl, who has to come to grips with something very unusual that happens to her. How it affects her and those around her drives the story without making it a one-gimmick plot. Wonderful story-telling!
Thanks, Paul! Much appreciated.
And, finally, Strange Trails was reviewed by cedarlili:
I prefer my stories a bit tighter, overall. The first one wasn’t too bad, but some suffered from a surfeit of descriptive passages taht detracted from the action. I’d rather have more left to the imagination, and this collection at 535 pages long is a hefty chunk of stories, which could have been pared down and still kept the tales intact.
The collection opens with Mr. Brass and the Master of Serpents, set in what seems to be an alternate history of the Old West. Aliens have done dreadful things to the Earth, and Mr. Brass himself was a pinkerton man before his death, revival in a mechanical body, and now he is still tracking down the evil cultists who would awaken Old Gods and destroy civilization. I really liked the old sheriff in this tale, he reminded me of the heroes of Westerns gone bye, doing what was best for his town, even if it killed him.
Sin and Lillies, by Tommy Hancock and Morgan Minor, is a ghost story, rambling, perhaps over-elaborate in descriptions, and the Lillie of the title (it’s not a misspelling) is a woman bound to her knucklebones which ride in the pocket of an evil man from town to town. The sheriff in this story falls for the beautiful woman only he and her keeper can see, and tries to win her freedom, so she can die fully.
When I started The Mechanical Heart: A Tale of Julia Holst and the Weird West, by Barry Reese, I had to stop and go look up Julia Holst. I was curious if she was some famous figure I hadn’t heard of. I didn’t see anything, so perhaps this is just an attempt to make the story look old-fashioned. The tale of a historically improbable figure, the author plops a blonde-cheerleader type into the role of gunfighter and she has a pet horse, and a sword. Sure, why not, these stories are odd enough, a sword that fell from Mars to Earth, and was owned by Attila the Hun fits right in with Conan, or Burrough’s Pellucidar stories. A clockwork man found in a defunct mine sets her off on a peculiar quest.
The final story, a novella by the length of it, I believe, was The Eye of Ulutoth, by Joel Jenkins. Reminiscent of Jack London’s tales of the South Seas, this saga takes place on a ship, which a cowboy and his Sux-Gun Susannah board, in search of dire Ulutoth, whom they hope to hill before he wakens to bathe in the blood and destruction of humanity. Only one of them will return to solid ground…
Stories of grave-robbing gone wrong, stories populated with magicians, albinos, strange creatures both earthly and aethereal, this collection has it all. For fans of the Weird West, it will doubtless be an enjoyable addition to the small but burgeoning genre. I know I learned a lot, reading it, and things I won’t soon forget. Like if you are seeking the Ankh of Ra, forget about it, lest you wind up on The Mummy Train. If you want to make a quick buck, listen to your gut and don’t tunnel sideways into a man’s grave, when that man was known for his uncanny goings-on.
So did you like my story? I’m unclear on that. I assume the title is what led you to think that Julia Holst was a real person? Wasn’t my intention… she’s simply the main character and I like to sometimes subtitle my stories in such a way. Ah, well. It does sound like you were pleased with the book overall, even with a few caveats. Thanks for the review!