Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Coming From Stark House: Three Harry Whittington Westerns

Bryant Shafter is the trouble marshal. Town leaders call him in when they need a gun to quiet things down. Which is why Bry settled in Pony Wells. But now the town is under control. They don't need him anymore more particularly, they don't need to be paying his salary. Even his young deputy, Zach Adams, thinks it's time he moved on. So when three businessmen from Gravehead make him an offer to leave Pony Wells to clean up their town, he's sorely tempted. Holding down the law is what Bry does best. Until a young prostitute named Glory is found murdered. Until the town bosses hire their own guns. Until a young buck named Rio, out to prove himself, comes gunning for him. Now Bry's got a townful of trouble.

Jim Gilmore is on the run from the rumors that plague him. When he is mistaken for a bank robber in Kiowa, Wyoming, he decides to take a stand. He knows he's innocent, so he turns himself in and is acquitted. But he remains guilty in the eyes of the town folk. Still, Gilmore is looking for a place to settle down, and decides that Kiowa is no worse than anywhere else. People will talk wherever you go. But trouble seems to follow Gilmore, and he is soon accused of another robbery. This time he figures it's personal, and if he doesn't find out who's trying to frame him, he might find himself at the end of a noose instead.

There is an epidemic at San Carlos, and Blade Merrick is riding the medicine wagon across Apache territory. That's when he meets up with Hardhead Charley Clinton, his son Billy, and Perch Fisher... and Valerie, headed out West with her husband. They had all just met when they were attacked by Apaches. Merrick leads them to a water hole he knows about. Merrick has been here before--this is where he found the bullet-riddled body of his brother. Now, he has a new problem, because the Clinton gang wants to go to Fort Ambush, in the opposite direction. And they've got the guns to back up their request. Merrick finds himself torn between the returning Apaches, the desperation of three hardened men, and the most desirable woman he has ever met in his life.

I've read all three of these novels in their original editions, and they're excellent. This is another great collection from Stark House, and with a fine introduction by David Laurence Wilson covering Harry Whittington's career as a Western writer, it's a must for Whittington fans or anybody who just wants to read some good Westerns. Highly recommended, and you can pre-order it now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Guns in the Dark

I remember my dad watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on TV when I was a kid, but I hadn't seen one in more than 50 years. GUNS IN THE DARK is a fairly average B-Western, but it's based on a story by veteran Western pulpster E.B. Mann, so it has a few nice touches. Brown is a drifting cowpoke on his way back across the border from Mexico to Texas, but he and a friend stop in a cantina, get mixed up in a crooked poker game, and wind up in the middle of a shootout. Brown's pard winds up dead. Brown blames himself and takes off his guns, vowing never to use them again. But no sooner does he get back across the border than he meets a pretty girl who's got a range war on her hands, and of course Brown has to help her . . .

The way that moral dilemma plays out is actually sort of interesting. Brown makes a good lead and turns in a decent performance. Of course, mostly he just has to be charming, handsome, and athletic, all of which probably came natural to him since he was a star college football player at Alabama. Syd Saylor is the comedy relief sidekick, although most of the "comedy" he's involved in has to do with the fact that his character stutters.

Like FUGITIVE OF THE PLAINS, which I wrote about last week, GUNS IN THE DARK was directed by Sam Newfield, and he can fill more screen time with the characters galloping around aimlessly on horseback than any director I've ever seen. Occasionally there's a point to the lengthy chase scenes. In this case, it seems to be that Johnny Mack Brown can ride real good.

Overall I enjoyed this one despite a few weaknesses, and I wouldn't mind watching more of Johnny Mack Brown's movies. I don't think he'll ever be one of my favorite movie cowboys, though.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF 2015 - David Afsharirad, ed.

I had pretty much given up contemporary science fiction as a lost cause, but over the past few years I’ve discovered there’s still plenty of stuff out there I like to read. I just didn’t know where to look for it. If you’re in the same boat, a good starting place is THE YEAR’S BEST MILITARY & ADVENTURE SF 2015, a fine collection edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen. The authors are a mixture of veteran writers such as David Drake, David Brin, David Weber (honest, there are people involved in this book who aren’t named David), Hank Davis (well, that’s still close), and Brad R. Torgersen (completely David-free), as well as newer writers like Eric Leif Davin, Claudine Griggs, and Seth Dickinson. Then there’s Brendan DuBois, hardly a new writer but fairly new to SF, and Joe R. Lansdale, who, of course, is a genre unto his own self.

Those two contribute my favorite two stories in the book. DuBois’s “The Siege of Denver” is an absolute knockout, a fine piece of MilSF that ties in with his novel DARK VICTORY (which I have and hope to be reading soon). Lansdale’s “The Wizard of the Trees” is pure fun, an Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired adventure on Venus the way long-time readers like me wish it was.

Not all the stories quite worked for me, which is not surprising. I never expect to like all the stories in an anthology, but you might enjoy some of the ones that weren’t to my taste. The others from this volume I particularly liked are “Save What You Can”, the first Hammer’s Slammers story by David Drake in quite a while; Brad R. Torgersen’s “Gyre”, part of a multi-author series called The Sargasso Containment that’s been running in the magazine Galaxy’s Edge; “Helping Hand” by Claudine Griggs and “Twilight on Olympus”, two problem stories in the classic SF tradition that end very differently; and David Brin’s “The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss”, a hard SF tale set on a far future Venus, or rather, at the bottom of one of Venus’s oceans.

David Afsharirad has assembled a very good collection here, and I hope he continues putting together these annual volumes for a while. I’ll certainly be a regular reader if he does. Recommended.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Love Story, July 22, 1939

This cover, of course, is exactly how Livia and I have spent the past 40 years of our marriage. I'd talk about the authors in this issue, but I never heard of any of 'em. The cover is by John Newton Howitt, who did a bunch of covers for THE SPIDER, OPERATOR #5, and other hero and adventure pulps. I didn't know he did love pulp covers, too, but this one is pretty good.

Forty Years Ago Today . . .

I've said many times this was the best thing I've ever done. (Marrying Livia, I mean, not the sideburns. And the suit really wasn't purple, it just sort of looks like it in this picture.) Forty years is a long time, but it doesn't seem like it. Just yesterday, in a lot of ways.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Romances, November 1931

WESTERN ROMANCES was Dell's attempt to compete with RANCH ROMANCES, I supppose, and judging by this issue, they did a pretty good job of it, at least where the quality of the cover and fiction is concerned. That's a nice Oklahoma Land Rush cover by Sidney Riesenberg. Inside are stories by top-notch pulpsters Murray Leinster, F.V.W. Mason, J.E. Grinstead, Anthony M. Rud, and Kenneth Perkins. The editor was Archibald Bittner, who also wrote pulp fiction as Wayne Rogers.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Hesitant Hostess - Erle Stanley Gardner

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on December 31, 2007. I'll probably be in rerun mode for the next few weeks, as most of my time is going to be taken up with research reading for a couple of projects, but I'll make them posts from the early days of the blog in the hope that they'll be new to some of you.)

This novel from 1953 is different in several respects from the usual Perry Mason yarn. For one thing, the trial in which Mason is involved is already underway when the book begins. For another, he’s defending a client on an armed robbery charge, rather than trying to save him from a murder rap. And finally, he’s working on this case pro bono, having had it assigned to him by the judge.

If you’ve read very much by Erle Stanley Gardner, though, you know that things won’t stay that simple. Mason’s client is charged with yanking open the door of a car stopped at a red light and robbing the couple in the car at gunpoint. But before you know it, the case involves a chain of successful nightclubs, beautiful hostesses who are little better than prostitutes, a model who winds up with a garrotte around her neck, a shady gambling ring, possibly crooked cops, a cutthroat assistant district attorney and a flying trip to Las Vegas, where, the gossip mavens report, the noted lawyer Perry Mason has eloped with his beautiful secretary Della Street.

This book barely pauses to take a breath. As usual, Gardner packs a lot of story into a fairly short amount of time. There are two long, very effective courtroom scenes, and Mason races around and even throws a punch or two in some hardboiled action reminscent of the early novels in the series. In the end, the plot is relatively easy to figure out, but Gardner is having so much fun it doesn’t matter. THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS is one of the best Perry Mason novels I’ve read.

A Middle of the Nght Music Post: Smoke From a Distant Fire - Sanford Townsend Band

Yeah, I'm stuck in the Seventies again. I went to high school with the bass player in this band, Jerry Rightmer, who passed away a while back.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Route 101 - Herb Alpert

I don't think I've ever heard a bad Herb Alpert song. I've even learned to tolerate "This Guy's In Love With You". But this is a good one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016