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New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Captain Action – Riddle of the Glowing Men

CapActfrntEvery Friday 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 Captain Action – Riddle of the Glowing Men by Jim Beard. This is how the publisher describes the book:

One of the most popular heroes of the 1960s returns in his first ever full-length novel. Super-spy and master of disguises, Miles Drake, aka Captain Action investigates the “Riddle of the Glowing Men,” by writer Jim Beard. Foreign assassins are sent to kill Captain Action and though he manages to defeat them, it is their lifeless bodies that pose the greater mystery as they give off a green, glowing radiation. Teamed with a beautiful and seductive Russian Agent, Captain Action travels to the barren, frozen wastelands of Siberia where the secret behind the glowing men lies buried in a fantastic, lost underground world. It is a secret also pursued by his most dangerous nemesis, the alien-born Dr. Evil. What is this strange power hidden beneath the earth that could destroy all of mankind and who will unlock its mysteries first? “Riddle of the Glowing Men” is a classic pulp thriller packed with enough intrigue, daring escapes and breakneck adventure to fill a dozen books. Featuring a stunning cover by artist Nick Runge and interior illustrations by award winning artist, Rob Davis, it presents a well loved hero to a new audience eager to experience his special brand of two-fisted battling, Captain Action style! Airship 27 Productions – Pulp Fiction For A New Generation.

Let me preface this review by saying that I have never seen a Captain Action toy in real life. I have no particular affection for him as a concept and my only real exposure to him was a trade paperback put out by Moonstone Books that reprinted some of their comics. So going into this, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of “connection” to the material. Licensed properties that I don’t have a pre-existing interest in are difficult for me to get into.

Jim Beard is an author whose work I enjoy and that was the main reason I gave this a shot. Billed as “What if James Bond went on a Doc Savage adventure,” it mostly succeeds in its aims. The story is fluid and moves at breakneck speed, though never too fast to ignore characterization. Our hero is of the rugged, manly type that this sort of fiction loves so well. He’s a hero, through and through, having taken in a young boy who was orphaned by his enemy, Dr. Evil. In this story, the central plot revolves around a group of glowing men and the Siberian Explosion of 1908 (always a good subject to deal with!). Captain Action is teamed with a beautiful brunette who has recently defected from Russia.

Being a period piece, the entire affair plays with elements of the Cold War very effectively.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Captain’s lair and equipment and thought the author did a good job of utilizing Action Boy (who is not dubbed that in this story but that’s who he is) in a way that avoided the usual Wesley Crusher syndrome. There’s no sign of Lady Action in this book.

The core concept is a bit silly — our hero wears a yachting cap, is called Captain Action, battles Dr. Evil and works for Advanced Command for Telluric Interdiction Observation and Nullification (A.C.T.I.O.N.). The author plays the material straight but does seem to realize that this is not meant to be Shakespeare. It’s pure escapism and isn’t ashamed to be so.

Interior illustrations are by Rob Davis and accurately depict the scenes from the book. The cover art by Nick Runge is eye-catching but it feels like three different images that have been Photoshopped together. Captain Action is staring off at… something. The girl who is tied up is also looking off at… something. No one seems completely aware of each other. And the woman on the cover is blonde — I would have preferred to have seen a brunette to match Uliana Ulanova’s initial description from the story. Uliana does have a blonde “turn” in the book but for the most part, she is described as having dark hair and I think that would have made more of an impact as the reader was going through the tale. As it is, the cover actually spoils a major reveal that occurs in the book.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fun book to spend a few hours with, this fits the bill. It’s fun, breezy and entertaining. It made me curious about a sequel despite not being a fan of the core concept, which is an impressive feat.

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: The Third Caliph

rogueangelEvery Friday 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 Third Caliph, which is the 40th book in the Rogue Angel series. The author listed on the cover is Alex Archer, which is a house name. The actual writer for this book is Mel Odom, who is thanked for his contributions on the inside cover. Golden Eagle does the same thing with it’s Executioner series. Here’s how the publisher described this volume:

A holy war. An ancient scroll lost in history…until now.During a dig in Morocco, archaeologist Annja Creed and her companions are nearly buried alive when the khettara ceiling collapses, revealing a 1,300-year-old corpse. But when Bedouin bandits raid the camp, Annja barely escapes with her life…and half of a scroll in ancient Kufic script. Her companions’ survival now depends on her.The scroll dates back to 656 AD, when Muslim raised sword against Muslim and the assassination of the third caliph left no clear heir to Muhammad’s teachings. It’s a coveted find. Annja quickly finds herself caught between a devious terrorist whose family honor depends on destroying what she possesses and a ruthless CIA team. Both believe the end justifies the means. And that Annja cannot allow.

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 book is a good one — a solid read, with a clearly defined plot and solid action. Mel Odom was one of the original authors on the series and he really shines, showing off his understanding of the character. There are other books in the series that I’ve enjoyed more but this is a recent one, coming out in January 2013, and should be easy to locate.

If you love Indiana Jones, Lara Croft or The Librarian, you should check this series out. They’re quick, pulpy reads that maybe aren’t great literature but they are great fun. The first three books have been combined into an omnibus called Rogue Angel: Renaissance so you can dive in quickly. You can start anywhere, though, as they always recap the important information with each new story.

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Cadaver Island

Cadaver Island FCEvery Friday 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 Cadavar Island by Kevin Rodgers.

Before we get too far into our discussion, let’s see how the publisher describes the book:

Pro Se Productions Proudly Presents CADAVER ISLAND, the debut novel from Author Kevin Rodgers! In the year 2212, long after the world has been reshaped by seismic cataclysms and polar shifts, Princess Angelique Bosc recovers from a terrible Hovercraft accident, which left her injured and near death. Her friend and physician, Dr. Laurent Stine, used his skills as a robotics engineer to replace her damaged organs with android components. Angelique realizes that her mechanical heart will require a fresh battery pack within 48 hours. However, a loathed and exiled warlock, Xavier Thames, steals all of the battery packs and transports them to his castle, Thames Keep, in order to build a time machine. Angelique, Dr. Stine, and their allies are forced to embark on a long, perilous journey to Thames Keep located on Cadaver Island. Can they reach Thames Keep and replace Angelique’s battery pack before she goes into cardiac arrest? Cadaver Island is the first installment of a trilogy by Author Kevin Rodgers, who introduces readers to a fractured, ruined world where forgotten, legendary creatures live and thrive in towering mountains, magical forests, and barren deserts. Angelique Bosc and her allies will traverse harsh, nightmarish landscapes to discover the secrets of the past, stabilize events in the present day, and unlock the mysteries of the future. Featuring stunning artwork by Adrianne Soares of Fitztown and mindblowing design and format by Sean Ali, Cadaver Island is a mind blowing futuristic horror thriller guaranteed to chill and amaze! From Pro Se Productions, a leader in Genre and New Pulp Fiction!

That’s quite a mouthful, eh? But I’m not sure you could have narrowed down this plot into anything shorter — there’s a lot going on here! The book clocks in at around 200 pages and there’s not a single one of them wasted — the author manages the difficult task of combining multiple horror and fantasy elements into a plot that seems wholly unique. The cover would indicate that this is simply another horror novel but the truth is much more. As the first book in a trilogy, not all the questions are answered but enough of them are that you can feel you’ve gotten a complete story.

The characters are briskly introduced and Rodgers has a gift that serves him well when writing New Pulp: he can give you characterization “on the run,” so to speak. There are no long-winded expository scenes over coffee here… there’s a timetable for our heroine and she’s not going to waste the 48 hours she has. I think that’s one of the real appeals of pulp fiction — you can still have depth, you can still have well-rounded characters and you can still deal with lofty concepts, but you’re going to be getting them while the story barrels along with constant momentum.

Let’s also touch on the cover for a moment… I’ve shown it to several people and it always evokes interest. It’s a good, spooky image — people seem to particularly like the rats! A different kind of cover than most New Pulp books have but it’s very professional and looks great.

I truly believe that Rodgers is one of the most exciting voices in New Pulp. Rather than falling upon the stereotypical masked hero conventions that so many of us do (I’m raising my own hand here), he’s decided to take elements of Lovecraft, Romero and others & blend them with ideas that are straight out of high fantasy. Ambitious? Yes. But carried off with aplomb.

If you like horror… if you like fantasy… if you like action-oriented pulp… you’ll love this book and be anxiously awaiting the sequels! Jump onto the Kevin Rodgers train before it leaves the station, people.

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Skull Island by Will Murray

Doc Savage Skull Island cover 600Every Friday 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 Doc Savage: Skull Island by Will Murray.

Let’s start by taking a look at how the publisher describes the book:

Doc Savage returns from his Fortress of Solitude to discover the cold corpse of King Kong lying on his doorstep. He stuns his men when he reveals that he knows this creature. The story of how Doc Savage first ventured to Skull Island back in 1920 comprises this epic adventure of how Doc Savage first became the Man of Bronze!

Now I’m not a fan of book descriptions that give everything away but I have to say that a book pairing Doc Savage with King Kong deserves more than a three sentence summary! Anyway, that does accurately describe what you’ll get here — it’s the titanic meeting between one of pulp’s greatest heroes and the famous giant from Skull Island.

Let me say that I grew up with Doc Savage and as a kid, I loved the characters and the concepts. But as I grew older, I felt that Lester Dent’s writing was far more juvenile than his pulp contemporaries and I’d put Walter Gibson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Paul Ernst, Norvell Page and Robert E. Howard as being light years above and beyond anything that Lester Dent ever wrote. That’s just my personal opinion, of course! Now, Will Murray has been writing new Doc Savage novels for years, most of them based upon outlines or notes left behind by Dent — I’ve often wondered where Dent ended and Murray began, because Will is usually able to perfectly capture the tone and style of Dent’s work… which, considering my ambivalence for Dent’s writing, isn’t always a good thing.

This book, however, is wholly original to Murray — and if this is any indication of what he’s capable of when freed from the shackles of writing a pastiche, all I have to say is that I wish he’d cut loose more often! This is the best Doc Savage novel I have ever read and that’s coming from someone who’s read well over a hundred of the books, not even counting Murray’s pastiches. There’s honest-to-god characterization here! Most Doc novels replace true characterization with well-worn tropes (Monk & Ham are arguing! Johnny just said super-amalgamated! etc.) but this is the first time I felt like I was really being taken inside Doc’s screwed-up head. I say screwed-up because I’ve always thought he was an awkward man-child produced by an upbringing that at best could be described as cruel and unusual… and that upbringing is repeatedly brought to the fore in this novel, as even Doc himself wonders what kind of father would have done that to him.

Speaking of Doc’s father, the scenes between the two of them echo with restrained emotion. It’s a testimony to the skill of Murray that you can feel the tension between these two men, both of whom are too damned awkward to show true emotion 99% of the time. They obviously feel passion and concern for each other & others… but it’s so tightly restrained that they both border on the fringe of madness. I’m sure some Doc fans will bristle at that description but I’ve always felt that Doc was just a healthy push and shove away from having an emotional breakdown.

The pacing of the story is wonderful — I felt like it was providing forward momentum even when the characters are just hanging out on a boat. There are some scenes here — like the “test” on the beach where Doc tries to see if he can hold his breath longer than his opponent — that I think I’ll always remember. And while I wondered if I would enjoy a Doc story where the Fabulous Five are mostly absent, I actually found that I preferred it. Unlike The Shadow’s aides (many of whom I really, really like), most of the Fabulous Five have never been remotely as interesting to me as Doc himself… freeing him from their bickering presence allowed me to truly immerse myself in Doc’s mindset. Again, if Murray could do this on a regular basis, I’d be all over a ‘young Doc’ series that put the emphasis on Doc as the star attraction like this did.

I will say that I groaned inwardly every time ‘Stormalong’ Savage was mentioned. Doc’s grandfather is alternately referred to Stormalong and Stormy throughout and I absolutely loathe it. Makes me think of Poopdeck Pappy from Popeye every time. Their last name is ‘Savage’ — you don’t need to put anything ‘cool’ in front of it! Indiana Jones isn’t called Indiana Prometheus, for Pete’s sake. The rule should be ordinary name/cool name, not cool name/cool name. Though, let’s be frank here: Stormalong is so far into uncool that it’s just silly.

Aside from that relatively minor quibble, this novel is a tour de force that not only made Doc exciting for me for the first time in years, it actually made me feel like re-reading some of the older novels, which I’ve avoided for quite awhile.

Hands-down, a must-read for pulp fans. I truly, truly enjoyed it.

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira

dillon-piratesEvery Friday 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 of the Week: The Cestus Concern

cestus-concern-coverEvery Friday 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 The Cestus Concern: Weir Codex Book 1 by Mat Nastos.

Before we get too far into the discussion, let’s see how the publisher described the book:

WHO IS MALCOLM WEIR?
Waking up in an operating room, much to the surprise of the attending surgeons, Malcolm Weir frantically fights his way out of a secret government installation, located in downtown Los Angeles. Battling through a mass of armed guards and meta-gene operatives, the cyborg warrior realizes he has no memory of how he got there. The past 11 months are gone. With a hole in his mind, Weir must retrace his steps for the past year, fighting his way through the nearly endless horde of super powered mercenaries and assassins the government sends after him. Travel along with Weir, facing some of the most intense action ever put to paper, along with a body count of ridiculous proportions, as he tracks down the secrets trapped in his head. In the end, Weir must stand alone against a former friend and a squad of the deadliest killers ever created, all to learn the terrifying truth behind Project: Hardwired. Fans of films like “Bourne Identity” or “Smoking Aces,” or the comics of Deadpool and Wolverine, will love the over-the-top science fiction action of “The Cestus Concern” by Mat Nastos.

What surprises me about that description is that it omits any reference to The Six-Million Dollar Man, which is what this reminded me most strongly of. Maybe they decided that comparing it to a television show from the 1970s would make it feel dated? Regardless, this novel feels very contemporary — we have a military officer transformed into a cybernetic killing machine (again, think the Bionic Man, only with a hell of a lot more collateral damage!) and we get lots of references to modern technology and tactics. Our main character, Malcolm Weir, was never supposed to have his own mind — a highly-developed artificial intelligence was supposed to control his actions, making him the perfect soldier: one who could take lots of damage, dish out even more and who would never question his orders. But when something goes wrong, Weir’s personality reasserts itself… and all hell breaks loose.

In that way, this book does definitely give impressions of things like Bourne or Wolverine, in that we have a hero who has been turned into something that he doesn’t understand… and whose memories are now suspect. The quest for identity is a major one in this book but don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s lots of introspection here — most of that occurs while Weir is acting like a human tank or falling from 30,000 feet. The action starts immediately and never lets up, with a breathless quality that left me feeling spent when I finally reached the end of the story.

Despite that, the characters are vividly described and within paragraphs, you feel like you know who each of them is and how they should react. I definitely admire the author’s ability to craft these  kinds of believable characters while never letting his foot off the accelerator.

Is this book going to change the way you look at the world or give you a deeper insight into the nature of humanity? Hell, no! But what it will do is grab you by the neck and give you a major throttling that you won’t soon forget. It’s a big budget action film played out in prose and if you can kick back with your favorite beverage and give it a few hours, you’ll find yourself immersed in a very engrossing new world.

Sign me up for Book 2!

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Yesteryear by Tommy Hancock

yesteryear2000Greetings! Every Friday, I like to turn the focus onto a work of New Pulp that I’ve really enjoyed. Sometimes they’re new books, sometimes they’ve been out for a few years. It all depends on my mood. Today, we’re taking a look at Yesteryear by Tommy Hancock. This book was published by Pro Se Press in 2011 so it’s still a relatively new work but it’s proven popular enough that it’s already spawned a roleplaying game based on upon it! Before we get too far into my own comments about this book, let’s take a look at how the publisher hyped it:

YesterYear by Tommy Hancock, Published by Pro Se Press. Cover Art by Jay Piscopo, Interior art by Peter Cooper, Format and Design by Sean Ali. A world where heroes and villains existed since the day the market crashed and the world almost collapsed. Common people granted great powers and awesome responsibility. A world where one of them knew all the secrets, good and bad, and put them down in a book. A world where that man and that manuscript disappeared. Until now. YESTERYEAR is the first book in an epic series chronicling the adventures of Heroes and Villains, both in the Heroic Age of the 1920s-1950s and in the modern day. Centered around a missing manuscript that might hold information that could literally change history and even mean the end of the world, YESTERYEAR alternates between a fast paced modern storyline about the man who ends up with the legendary book and excerpts from the mythic tome itself. Marvel to pulp like adventures of glory and adrenaline and become engrossed in the humanity and horror of being a Hero. YESTERYEAR by Tommy Hancock-Sometimes the Greatest Mystery of Tomorrow happened Yesterday!

Like Van Plexico’s Sentinels series, this is one of those books that seeks to bridge the gap between pulp and the superhero comics that in many ways helped kill the golden age of heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow. The connections between comics and pulp have been well known for decades but it’s been a relatively recent attempt to tie them together in prose. Hancock goes a slightly different route than Plexico in doing so — he makes this a historical piece, which allows him the freedom of inserting a bit of meta-fictional commentary. Don’t worry, though — this isn’t some sort of deconstruction of golden age heroism. Quite the opposite. While Hancock definitely inserts more realism into the setting and into the characters than the old stories he’s homaging would have done, he never loses sight of the innate need we have for true heroes.

The basic plot revolves around a journal that falls into the hands of J.C. Smitherson, a former boy detective who has grown up to be a writer & publisher. This journal was the work of Ramsey Long, once part of the Golden Age of Heroes in this universe. The secrets contained in this journal are ones that could tear the mythology surrounding the period asunder, which causes multiple factions to seek its destruction and the death of anyone who might have read its contents. This facet of the story reminded a bit of the end of Watchmen, in which Rorschach’s journal ends up being sent to a magazine’s slush pile and is a great way of providing story momentum.

The book is also quite interesting from a design standpoint, as there are multiple fonts and even cursive text used to depict the different passages from the journal. While some reviewers found this to be a bit off-putting, I thought it helped set the scene very well and enabled me to clearly tell when we were jumping around in time.

The interior art varies a bit in quality — some pieces are absolutely beautiful, others look a tad rushed. Overall, they do add to the package and allow us to adequately see the heroes & villains being described.

Should you read Yesteryear? If you like the Golden Age of comics & pulp, then yes, you should. It’s a quick read, propelled by Hancock’s fine writing style. The characters are engaging and never dip into the pastiche category — even when you can recognize the influences that inspired them, you are always aware of the differences that make them stand on their own.

Highly recommended!

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Khan Dynasty

khan_dynastyWelcome to a new Friday feature! Every Friday, I’m going to be focusing on a New Pulp book that I think all of you should give a look at. Sometimes, they’ll be brand-new releases, sometimes they’ll be a little older — but all will fall into the nebulous category of “New Pulp,” meaning you won’t see me recommending any Shadow novels here — not unless somebody starts writing new ones! These recommendations won’t be 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.

This week we’re focusing our attention on Pulp Heroes – Khan Dynasty by Wayne Reinagel. This book was published in 2010 by Knightraven Studios. Here’s how the publisher described it:

The prequel to Pulp Heroes – More Than Mortal, Khan Dynasty is an epic adventure spanning two centuries in time and linking the incredible lives of history’s most popular Victorian Age adventurers of the 1800’s with the greatest action heroes of the Pulp Era and an assortment of well-known, real-life figures. Beginning in Cairo, Egypt, nearly a century in the past, a series of seemingly random events lead to danger and intrigue, as two generations of heroes race to stop a diabolical duo from unleashing a devastating wave of death and destruction. Is there a dark alliance between the Victorian man-monster Edward Hyde and the insidious devil-doctor Hunan Sun? What is the deadly secret of the mysterious Chimera? In this completely original action-packed story, four champions of justice, Doc Titan – The Ultimate Man, The Darkness – The Master of Shadows, Guardian – Steel and Ice Justice, and The Scorpion – The Deadliest Man Alive, race to unravel a century old mystery, and prevent the destruction of England and America, while the nations of the Earth teeter on the brink of another world war. In addition to the 1930’s pulp heroes, Pulp Heroes – Khan Dynasty also features famous fictional characters from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger series, Chester Hawks’ Captain Hazzard, J.H. Rosny’s Ironcastle, John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?/Thing from Another World, H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Philip Wylie’s Savage Gentleman and Gladiator, and many more.

If that sounds pretty epic, then you’ve gotten the proper gist of it. This book features everything you’d ever want in a mega-sized pulp novel and would make one hell of a movie. The pastiches are thin enough that you recognize who everyone is supposed to be (The Darkness=The Shadow, Doc Titan=Doc Savage, Guardian=The Avenger, etc.) but also have a few unique twists that make them their own unique characters. Wayne doesn’t stop with just the pulp world, though, throwing in characters and places from a wide range of movies, tv shows and probably a whole bunch of things even I didn’t catch.

As the description says, this is a prequel to Pulp Heroes – More Than Mortal but I read Khan Dynasty first and think it’s a great introduction to Wayne’s work. It’s a little more polished than More Than Mortal and the plot is just so damned cool that I can’t in good conscience steer you away from this one.

Wayne’s able to not only juggle a huge cast of characters but he writes some of the best action scenes I’ve ever read. I’m seriously jealous of his ability to make the fights seem so exciting.

Is it perfect? No. Sometimes Wayne tries *too* hard to shoehorn in references to everything he’s ever liked and the structure begins to creak under the weight of it all. And the cover — which is comprised of multiple fake magazine covers spotlighting the heroes and villains of the story, is too busy. Individually, a number of the covers are great works of art — all pasted next to each other, it looks like a hot mess from a distance.

Wayne isn’t the most prolific of New Pulp authors but I think most of that stems from the fact that every one of his books is a huge, sprawling work that really knocks your socks off. You can’t go wrong with any of his books but Khan Dynasty stands above the rest.

Give it a try!

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: The Hounds of Hell

hounds_of_hellWelcome to a new Friday feature! Every Friday, I’m going to be focusing on a New Pulp book that I think all of you should give a look at. Sometimes, they’ll be brand-new releases, sometimes they’ll be a little older — but all will fall into the nebulous category of “New Pulp,” meaning you won’t see me recommending any Shadow novels here — not unless somebody starts writing new ones! These recommendations won’t be 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.

This week we’re focusing on The Hounds of Hell by Ron Fortier and Gordon Linzner. Originally published by Wild Cat Books in 2005, this title was later reprinted by Airship 27 in 2008. Here’s how the publisher describes the title:

When Pulp Worlds Collide! The Moon Man and Doctor Satan, hero and villain of their own pulp magazines, meet here for the first time ever in the cross-over that will leave you spellbound and begging for more. Illustrated by Rob Davis and Bradley Walton, with an eye-popping wrap-around cover by Tom Floyd. This edition also includes 2 short stories by Ron Fortier: “Lady Arcane – Mistress of Magic” and “Angel In His Sights” as bonus pieces in this pulp fiction masterpiece.

Pulp fiction masterpiece? That’s strong words — but in this case, they’re well deserved. The Hounds of Hell was the first “New Pulp” book I read. I’d grown up on the classics, of course, and I was reading lots of stuff that could be described as pulpy back in 2006… but when I stumbled upon The Hounds of Hell, I was blown away. This was straight-on pulp that called itself that. It featured two classic pulp characters (The Moon Man & Doctor Satan) in a crossover clash. It was pure cool. I had already been working on my first pulp novel (Conquerors of Shadow, reprinted by Pro Se in The Family Grace) but this was the book that cemented in my mind that I could do more of this… I could do the kind of pulp that I really loved, the masked vigilante stuff. Without this book, I wouldn’t have kept writing my own pulp stories — so you wouldn’t have seen The Rook or Lazarus Gray. Now, that may not be a good thing if you don’t like my work but it’s true nonetheless! The impact on my own work can be seen in the way I’ve used The Moon Man (in The Rook Volume One), Ascott Keane (in The Rook and Rabbit Heart) and Doctor Satan (in The Rook and, soon, Lazarus Gray).

Anyway, what Ron and Gordon do here is take two different characters and throw them together in a really fun way, emphasizing each supporting cast to the fullest. The villains are dastardly and the heroes are inspirational. It’s all that good pulp should be! The interior art Rob Davis is perfectly suited to the story and was a great reminder of the days when pulps contained interior art. Again, this is one reason why I usually insist on having art in my books!

Obviously, considering how much this work has inspired me, I’d heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good time. Is it High Art? Well, no. It’s a fun romp, full of escapist pleasure. Embrace it.

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: Metalgod by Van Allen Plexico

MetalGodWelcome to a new Friday feature! Every Friday, I’m going to be focusing on a New Pulp book that I think all of you should give a look at. Sometimes, they’ll be brand-new releases, sometimes they’ll be a little older — but all will fall into the nebulous category of “New Pulp,” meaning you won’t see me recommending any Shadow novels here — not unless somebody starts writing new ones! These recommendations won’t be 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.

Our first recommendation is 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.