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New Pulp Recommendations: Sanctuary Falls

Wayne Reinagel is the king of the New Pulp epic. He writes frenetic action scenes that smack of classic pulp but these sequences are nestled in between chapters that go in-depth into the history of the pulp publishing industry, the golden age of comics and so many pastiches and nods to both classic fictional characters and real-life personages that your head will be left spinning!

This book is a whopping 781 pages plus a lengthy timeline. It features hardboiled detectives, outer space action and finally reveals who murdered The Black Dahlia. It is audacious and stunning. The only thing that keeps it from being a 5-star is that sometimes the wink-wink-nudge-nudge cameos and pastiches seem a little off-putting and distracting — in a narrative that spirals outward as much as this one does, that can impede your enjoyment.

Highly recommended – but make sure you’ve read the previous books in the series first!

New Pulp Recommendation: Exciting Pulp Tales by Tom Johnson

EPTTom Johnson is simply not as famous as he should be. He’s one of those guys who really kept the pulp fiction flame burning during the long period between the end of the traditional pulps, their transition into men’s adventure paperbacks and finally the current New Pulp movement.

In this collection, he revives a handful of classic pulp heroes – some of whom were virtually unknown to me – and crafts new stories around them. In all cases, his writing is thoroughly pulp, with fast moving storylines and characterizations that perfectly reveal the characters without diving into the kind of depth that would detract from the real purpose of the tale: action.

My favorite stories were those featuring The Cobra, The Purple Scar, the Jungle Queen and Ki-Gor. The characters of The Angel and Funny Face were ones that I wasn’t familiar with but Tom Johnson does enough here to make me want to seek out more information.

If you like classic pulp action, this is perfect for you and can serve as a wonderful introduction to some characters that most pulp fans probably aren’t familiar with.

New Pulp Reviews

GRVSHWPROMOIMAGEA trio of reviews this time, starting off with:

GRENDEL VS. THE SHADOW – Given that I love both Hunter Rose and The Shadow, this pairing excited me from day one. Add the fact that Matt Wagner was writing and drawing it… and you had the makings of a classic. This three-issue series lived up to its billing, showing exactly how a crossover should be done. Both characters got a chance to sign and their face-to-face confrontations crackled with energy and emotion. The artwork was beautiful all the way through and I liked the way that Wagner contrasted the two lead characters. The only stumble, for me, was that the time travel contrivance felt a bit too convenient and I’m not 100% onboard with the way Wagner portrays The Shadow/Margo relationship. Even so, I adored this series and will pick it up in trade. While not everything Dynamite has published with their pulp heroes has been to my liking, I’d rank this series, The Shadow: Year One and The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights as being among the best Shadow comics ever published.

Knight From Hell by David White: I’ve been a fan of David White’s writing for quite awhile. He’s got a straight-forward style that’s perfect for New Pulp stories. His works have that same breakneck pace that the classic pulp series did but he incorporates modern characterization and mature elements seamlessly.

This particular story is not for the easily offended. If the notion of angels fornicating and committing adultery doesn’t sit well with you, you might want to give it a pass. But if you’re willing to approach it with an open mind, you’ll find an intriguing protagonist that mixes the hard-boiled P.I. type with some fantasy elements.

Characters are briskly but vividly described and the tale manages to feel dense despite the small page count. Can’t wait for the follow-up!

Justice, Inc # 4: I think Michael Uslan is, along with Matt Wagner, one of the best Shadow writers working for Dynamite right now. This particular series reveals an alternate universe take on The Avenger, pairing him with both Doc Savage and The Shadow. The two “big” heroes are perfectly portrayed but The Avenger’s voice still feels slightly off to me — I’m going with the fact that he’s still so new and that this is a slightly different version to explain it. A pair of classic villains – John Sunlight and The Voodoo Master — are working together in this one and I love Voodoo’s scenery-chewing dialogue. It was odd not seeing Sunlight in his trademark monochromatic clothing, though. Art-wise, this is the best work I’ve ever seen from Giovanni Timpano. It’s solid throughout with nice facial expression. When all is said and done, I think this will stand beside Uslan’s Dark Nights as a wonderful addition to Shadow lore.

New Pulp Recommendation: Staff of Judea (Rogue Angel # 41)

judeaEvery so often I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out Staff of Judea, which is the 41st book in the Rogue Angel series published by Gold Eagle. Before we launch into a detailed look at the book itself, let’s see how the publisher describes the volume:

The Staff of Aaron…the sword of Joan of Arc.After decoding an ancient scroll—one that purports to pinpont the treasure of the Jewish Temple, lost for two thousand years—archaeologist Annja Creed agrees to lead the party to recover the find in Judea. It’s a perilous desert journey through sandstorms and bandits, and complicated by mysterious sabotage within the group, to arrive at a long-forgotten fortress deep beneath a mountain. Only then does Annja discover that this archaeological expedition is really one man’s quest for the mystical Staff of Aaron, one of the Bible’s holiest and most powerful relics—a weapon they say can do incalculable harm in the hands of the wrong individual. She must try everything humanly possible to prevent the staff from being used for selfish purposes. Even if it puts her in the mightiest battle yet—sword against staff.Rogue Angel stars Annja Creed, archaeologist and host of a television series, Chasing History’s Monsters. In the very first book in the series (“Destiny”), Annja becomes the owner of a sword that once belonged to Joan of Arc. This sword can be summoned to her mentally — when she’s not using it, it floats in another dimension, waiting for her call.

Rogue Angel is a consistently entertaining New Pulp series — and one of the most successful, to boot. New books come out every other month and you can find them at your local grocery store or convenience center. I bought this one at a K-Mart… how many other New Pulp series can you say that about these days?

At first glance, Annja looks like a Lara Croft ripoff and I’m certain that played a part in her creation. But despite her beauty, the series does not pander at all… in fact, it’s almost oddly sexless. There’s no romance to be found in most of these — it’s straight-ahead adventure fiction, just with a female protagonist. Plots vary wildly from book to book but are almost always based around ancient myths and relics.

This particular volume is written by Joe Nassise, though it’s credited to the house name of Alex Archer on the cover. The story moves quickly and, while it gives you sufficient historical detail about the Staff of Aaron and the various mysteries being explored here, it’s never a dry read. Some old faces from the series (like Roux) reappear but for the most part, Annja is with new characters in this novel and they play off of her very well. I sometimes worry when we delve into Christian myths that we’re going to somehow become a little too spiritual for my tastes but it’s handled well here, with little difference from how they treat any other mythology.

If you want some fun reads that can bring you back every other month, I heartily recommend not only Staff of Judea but the entire Rogue Angel series.

New Pulp Recommendation: The Bishop of Port Victoria

Bishop_of_Port_Victoria_Ebook_CoverRecently I was looking for something new to read and I mentioned to a friend that I wanted something that was New Pulp. He proceeded to list a bunch of “unique,” “different” and “original” tales… which wasn’t really what I wanted. I was looking, I said, for some good old-fashioned hero pulp action. Kind of like the stuff that I used to write lol.

So finally he mentioned The Bishop of Port Victoria by D. Alan Lewis. “It’s hero pulp,” he said. So I went out and got it.

I now wonder if my friend is seriously unhinged or just has a different view of “hero pulp” than I do.

Because I don’t consider this traditional hero pulp at all.

So on  the one hand, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see what I wanted to see – escapist entertainment. On the other hand, what I did get was really, really good.

Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

With ultimate power, who is corrupted more? The Good or the Evil? At the start of the 20th century in the city of Port Victoria, three college students were given a formula that imbued them with incredible powers; strength, agility, and speed. Donning masks and capes, they took to the streets to fight crime and battle evil. Their tactics were effective but harsh, stacking up a body count larger than the mobs. But as the decades went by, the heroes passed their abilities through their bloodline to each generation of their descendants. And each generation spawned a hero to protect the Port. Born into a city when the first generation of heroes fought, Eric Raven struggled in the mean streets of Port Victoria to survive. After witnessing the horrific murder of his mother, he found a home in an orphanage where the men of God taught him right from wrong. Another lesson he learned, however, is that sometimes what is considered right by some is evil in the eyes of others. Although lacking super powers, Eric transforms himself into The Bishop to bring his own form of justice and peace to the city. But as he grows physically and spiritually, he finds the lines between good and evil blurred. Are the heroes doing God’s work or is he? And in the end, will he be the city’s spiritual leader or the world’s most diabolical villain? The Bishop of Port Victoria by D. Alan Lewis chronicles the life of Eric Raven from orphaned street rat to a bastion of power in his nineties in a collection of intertwining stories. Set in the city Lewis debuted in Pro Se Productions’ ground breaking Black Pulp anthology, these two fisted tales not only feature stunning characters and edge of your seat action, but also explore truly what it means to be a hero and a villain…and how a man might just be both. The Bishop of Port Victoria by D. Alan Lewis from Pro Se Productions.

Now, I think that description is way too wordy but it does describe it all quite nicely.

Basically we have a series of vignettes that span the entire life of Eric Raven, the young man who eventually becomes The Bishop. Tormented by a terrible childhood and a seriously skewed set of religious beliefs, Eric becomes a masked killer, obsessed with controlling the bloodline of a superhero family. Along the way we get some really well-written character scenes, lots of graphic violence and a couple of genuine twists and surprises towards the end. I had figured out the “big” reveal but there were certainly aspects that left me going “Ohhhh! Why didn’t I see that?!”

Kudos to the author for that!

The cover is pretty cool and the story was a nice mix of Silence of the Lambs and old-school pulp adventure. It’s very much a psychological horror story, though, so don’t be confused by the fact that it has a masked lead.

I give it a solid 4 out of 5 and recommend it if you’re looking something that’s character-driven, slanted towards horror/suspense and don’t mind seeing good people treated very, very poorly.

New Pulp Recommendation: The Bone Queen

bone_queenEvery now and then I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out The Bone Queen by Andrea Judy.

Before we talk about the book itself, let’s see how the publisher describes it:

From the Pages of THE PULPTRESS Comes A Villain Like No Other-THE BONE QUEEN by Andrea Judy. All of humanity shares one inescapable experience, one inevitable fate. They all die. And in death, one woman finds her destiny. To be a Villain, to stand toe to toe with the ultimate heroine, The Pulptress. But first, evil had to rise from somewhere dark. Renata, a devotee of Mene, Goddess of Death, is on a singular mission during the era of the Black Death: to kill the Necromancer who is bringing the dead back as chiffoniers, rag and bone men. With a small band of men who have survived the Plague, Renata must find who is attempting to steal away the power of death and destroy them once and for all. Chiffoniers dog them every step of the way. And when death itself finally comes for Renata, everything changes. Once hunted, she becomes the hunter, tracking down the necromancer at any cost to herself and those around her. THE BONE QUEEN by Andrea Judy reveals the origin of its title character, first featured in THE PULPTRESS from Pro Se Productions. Proving as popular as her foe, The Bone Queen now stands at the center of Judy’s first digest novel. From devotee to deliverer of death, follow Renata as she discovers her true purpose lies in what comes after life. May The Gods Help Us All.

Having read (and enjoyed) this character’s prior appearance in The Pulptress anthology, I was curious to see her back-story fleshed out. What we have here is definitely a fantasy novel, complete with zombies and supernatural entities galore. The opening prologue is set in the modern day but from there, it’s more Robert E. Howard than the masked vigilante genre that The Bone Queen made her debut in.

The author does some mighty fine combat scenes and handles certain details with true creepiness. The descriptions of The Bone Queen munching on her bone snacks was well-done each time. The inevitable fall of Renata is clearly choreographed (we’ve seen her ultimate state in the modern day, after all) but still compelling reading.

I found myself very interested in the supporting characters and their fates. In fact, while I’d prefer to see The Bone Queen in the modern day in the future, there’s obviously more stories to be told with these characters. Heck, if Judy wanted to, she could go back even further and do a prequel to THIS story, showing Renata’s path to becoming the warrior we find her as in this novel. I’d be interested in that, too.

Well-written, tightly plotted and powerful in its characterizations, The Bone Queen is, I think, the best villain yet created in the New Pulp field. I’d love to see her continue on in not only her own adventures but she’s perfectly built for more throw-downs with The Pulptress or other New Pulp heroes. The biggest compliment I can give is that I really wish I’d created her.

Great stuff.

New Pulp Recommendation: Wayne of Gotham

wayne_coverEvery so often I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman.

Before we dive into the book itself, let me show you how the publisher describes the work:

Two men separated by murder: Thomas, the rebellious doctor and heir to the vast Wayne empire, and Bruce, his son, whose life is forever altered by witnessing his parents’ murder. The slaying of Thomas and Martha Wayne is the torturous point on which Bruce turns to become Batman.

The Dark Knight’s file on the case has long been closed, the foundations of Bruce Wayne’s secret life secure in the simple genesis of a mugging gone horribly wrong.

These foundations are shaken, however, when an unexpected guest invades the grounds of Wayne Manor, raising questions about the event that ended the lives of the mother he loved and the father he worshipped, and sparked his unquenchable drive to protect and avenge.

To discover his real family history, Batman must face down old foes, his only confidant, and the evil heart of Arkham Asylum, and shoulder the new burden of a dark legacy.

This novel is a prose adventure of Batman – such things are sometimes very, very good. Other times, they are very, very bad. Since I am familiar with other works by Mr. Hickman (mostly in conjunction with Margaret Weis), I expected to enjoy this story quite a bit.

I most certainly did, though it’s not without some flaws.

There is no mention of the other Bat allies here, so there’s no Robin, Huntress, etc. We do get references to Barbara being in a wheelchair but there’s no telling if she was ever Batgirl or Oracle in this universe. The story jumps back and forth between the modern day and Thomas Wayne’s time. We find out that the elder Wayne was involved in a project aimed at removing all crime from Gotham City… but it ended with disastrous results, which are now haunting Bruce. Alfred may have complicit in keeping the truth from Bruce, which leads to some very tense scenes between the two. It’s pretty shocking to see their relationship disintegrate.

There’s a very compelling mystery here and I was riveted, curious to see where the author would go with it. He definitely went some places that I never thought he would.

If I have any complaints, it’s that some scenes are needlessly confusing and this version of Bruce is, if you’ll pardon my language, a real dick. He’s just a self-absorbed ass, who sits in the Batcave thinking these kinds of morose, over-written thoughts: I was young once… or was I? I don’t remember being young. The face is still strong but there are more lines in it than I remember. Dusk to dawn, fall to spring… Did the wheel of the years turn and I never noticed? There are no seasons in this cavern tomb where my soul resides. Does Gotham exist in an eternal rain-soaked night, or do I only see it that way?

I know – it’s like something straight out of Twilight. Thankfully, the entire book isn’t written like that… but too much of it is. That and the constant “tech babble” keeps this book from being a classic, in my opinion.

It is, however, worth reading if you’re a fan of Batman and want something a bit different.

New Pulp Recommendation: Metalgod

MetalGodEvery so often, I like to focus on a New Pulp book that I think all of you should give a look at. Sometimes, they’re  brand-new releases, sometimes they’re be a little older. These recommendations aren’t in the form of a straight review. I’ll be doing overviews of the books, explaining why I think it’s worth your time to look into it, which is slightly different.

Today we’re looking at Metalgod, which is book 7 in Van Allen Plexico’s Sentinels series. Here’s what the publisher has to say about the book:

In the wake of the Worldmind/Stellarax Crisis, the Sentinels have scattered to the four winds. But there’s little time to relax and recover, as the dangers facing Earth have never been greater. Esro and Mondrian cross the depths of space in a desperate attempt to stave off galactic civil war, while Pulsar and her sister work to assemble an entirely new team of heroes back on Earth. Now time is short, and the supply of heroes shorter, and enemies old and new lurk at every turn; foremost among them the deadly mechanoid from space–the being known only as METALGOD! Presenting the first volume in the new SENTINELS story arc, “Order Above All”–where action and adventure await at every turn, and nothing is quite what it seems! Interior illustrations by Chris Kohler; cover art by Chris Kohler and Sarah White.

That’s a pretty good description of what you’ll get here! I’ve enjoyed the Sentinels series and think that the plotting, pacing & characterization has improved as the series has gone on. What you’re basically getting with this is 1970s & early 80s-style Marvel superheroics, particularly of the Jim Starlin Warlock & Captain Marvel/David Michelinie Avengers variety. If you like that period of comics’ history, you’ll enjoy this. Some of the dialogue is expository and there definitely parts of the story that I could predict with my eyes closed but that’s not a bad thing — part of the joy of pulp *is* the occasional bout of familiarity. And, hell, nobody would read more than five years’ worth of superhero comics if you didn’t like comfort — because after awhile, the stories begin to feel a bit familiar. What Van does do to mix it up a bit is that he injects a strong dose of modern-day sci-fi into the mix. It’s not quite Star Wars or Star Trek but you can feel the space opera drenching the page.

This particular arc starts off with a lot of stuff that reminds me of Marvel’s Kree Empire but Van is able to inject enough freshness into it that it never feels like a pastiche. The inspirations are proudly on display but it also feels unique and exists as it’s own thing. As with all ensemble casts, your interests will veer towards one character over another. I really like Pulsar (and, I suspect, so does Van — she’s right up there next to the logo on the cover and she gets some of the best subplots) but don’t care so much for certain members of the group. With Pulsar, the pose she’s in on the cover makes me wonder if Van was thinking of Ms. Marvel when he created her. I’m a huge Carol Danvers fan but had never really put that thought together until I saw her pose here.

Can you jump in with this book? I’d cautiously say yes. Van does enough back-story to catch you up but there are a *lot* of characters and despite there being a lengthy introduction to the main ones in the front of the book, there were still plenty that aren’t included there. It had been a little while since I read a Sentinels book and I was a bit lost at times, trying to recall who certain folks were, sending back to the list of characters in the front. But after about a hundred pages, I was back into the groove and things went well from there.

I know a lot of folks don’t like the pulp/comics comparisons but I see no problem with it. Both are meant to be, at their heart, escapist entertainment — “disposable enjoyment,” as it were. Comics helped replace pulps… and now Van is taking the beating heart of comics (the superhero story) and transporting it back into the prose world of the pulps. And he’s going it very, very well.

Jump aboard the Sentinels train today — you won’t regret it.

New Pulp Recommendation: Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira

dillon-piratesEvery so often I take a look at a New Pulp release that I feel is deserving of your attention. Sometimes these are new releases, sometimes they’re a few years old. Sometimes they might even challenge your definition of ‘pulp.’ This time around, I’m turning my critical eye towards Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira by Derrick Ferguson. Here’s how the publisher described the book:

Once upon a time in the far away island nation of Xonira, Dillon was instrumental in halting a bloody revolution and handing the reins of power over to Lord Chancellor C’jai. Now, a mysterious group of international businessmen contact Dillon with evidence that Dillon’s old friend, the Lord Chancellor C’jai, is engaging in high seas piracy in the oceans surrounding Xonira. In order to discover the truth behind the matter, Dillon decides to fight fire with fire and assembles a motley crew of rogues and cutthroats aboard the diesel-powered submarine, Morgan Adams, and sails for Xonira. In Xonira, it seems, beautiful women, traitors, and tyrants are in no short supply, and Dillon’s less than triumphant return is is marked by a cascade of bullets, bombs, and blood!

This is the fourth book in the Dillon series and I’m very pleased to say that I’ve read and enjoyed every one of them. Authored by Derrick Ferguson, Dillon is easily one of the ‘stars’ of the New Pulp Movement and is frequently mentioned whenever any group of fans start talking about their favorites — and with good reason. The character of Dillon is kind of a modern-day Doc Savage, though without some of the cheesier trappings that Doc accumulated. In fact, you can see lots of influences on the series but in no case does it ever become pastiche — there are elements of this series that remind me of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books, for instance.

There’s such an ease to reading this book and its predecessors — you can tell that the author is 100% in control of the story and that the characters are so familiar to him that they have a genuine life of their own. Dillon is so fully drawn that I or any reader can feel comfortable guessing how he would react to a situation — it’s very much like you ‘know’ the person you’re reading about. The amazing thing is that Derrick accomplished this even in the very first book in the series!

This particular novel focuses on the island of Xonira and there are enough twists and turns along the way to please any action/adventure fan. I really like the opening scene with Professor Sunjoy and the femme fatale who seduces her way into Dillon’s life has a lot of personality. The interplay between her and Dillon is sexy and provocative but it never devolves into the more porn-like aspects of, say, The Destroyer series.

Derrick is great at detailing action and this book has plenty of that — there are scenes that take place in a wide variety of settings and Derrick takes advantage of the natural environment to add some fun elements to each fight sequence.

Can you start with this book? I think you can — you’ll get added enjoyment out of it if you already the characters but Derrick does a fine job of introducing (or reintroducing) each of them. My personal all-time favorite Dillon story is “Dillon and the Bad-Ass Belt Buckle,” which can be found in Four Bullets for Dillon. I’ve given the Belt Buckle story to friends who want to quickly decide if they want “in” on the series but are hesitant to try a novel.

A word about the cover, which is by the talented Sean Ali. There have been a wide variety to the covers in this series… All have been good but it’s made it a little hard to find a definitive look to Dillon as a result. Lately, Sean Ali has been doing a number of promo pieces for the character and he’s keeping the same look that we see on this cover. I think that’s a good thing — while I love seeing different artistic interpretations for my own characters and for others’, I think it’s also good to have a solid “look” for the main hero. I’d like to see the previous books re-released at some point with a similar trade dress and cover scheme. Maybe that’s just me, though!

Highly recommended — if you haven’t picked up Dillon yet, you’ve truly been missing out.

New Pulp Recommendation: Sgt. Janus Returns

Sgt._Janus_ReturnsEvery now and then I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out Sgt. Janus Returns by Jim Beard.

Before we talk about the book itself, let’s see how the publisher describes it:

Jim Beard’s original occult investigator, Sgt. Roman Janus, returns in a second all-new collection of suspenseful adventures. Or does he? At the end of the first book, SGT. JANUS – SPIRIT BREAKER, our intrepid hero mysteriously vanished into another realm never to be seen again. Now, almost a full year later, a dark haired beauty, with no memory of her own identity, suddenly appears and begins assuming Janus’ role in seeking out troublesome poltergeist and laying them to rest. Aided by a young clerk named Joshua, this mysterious Lady Janus possesses personal knowledge known only to the missing occultist. Who is this strange, daring woman? Is she Janus reincarnated? Or is she something even more sinister? Once again writer Jim Beard turns the entire occult genre upside down as he delivers another eight stories filled with mystery, horror and non-stop action—all driving to a startling finale pulp fans of the weird dare not miss.

Before we get too deep into the review, let me say this: the first book in this series was a solidly plotted and well-constructed homage to the old Victorian-style ghost breakers. It was a fantastic read.

But this book blows it out of the water.

The author does something that’s so bold with this book — I don’t want to spoil all the details — but to do a volume in which the main character functions almost as a secondary figure is something that you don’t see all the time. Even more interesting is the fact that the “replacement” characters who take center stage were just as fascinating as Sgt. Janus himself. To be honest, I would have been fine seeing Lady Janus and Joshua continue on for the rest of the series! Their interplay was very well done and I love how it was allowed to slowly deepen over the course of the book.

As with the first volume, this one contains multiple stories. The conceit of the first one was that each was narrated by a different person. Here, we get a consistent voice — Joshua — and I think that while the first book was an excellent example of its type, I found myself pleased to have the same narrator from story to story in this one. It allowed for us to get a strong connection to the character and to see Lady Janus through his eyes.

The cover… when I first saw it, I honestly didn’t care for it. Something about it just didn’t seem right for the ambiance I felt the author was going for. But the interior pieces were fantastic and by the end of the book, I’d gotten so used to the artist’s portrayal of Lady Janus and Joshua that I felt like I was looking at the cover with new eyes. It’s hard for me to imagine these characters looking like anything else, to be honest.

This book is one of the best New Pulp adventures I have ever read. High praise? It’s well deserved. I’ve enjoyed the author’s past works but I really feel that he’s elevated his game with this one. I simply can’t recommend it high enough!