Page 6 of 6

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.