Reviews

New Review—Adventures of Jehannum Smith

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A new write-up appeared several week back on the site Pulp Flakes of our title, The Adventures of Jehannum Smith by Gordon MacCreagh.

 

NY Journal of Books reviews BDB

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A review of our new title Bring 'Em Back Dead is now online at the New York Journal of Books.

The Man Who Found Zero Review

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The Man Who Found Zero a review by Mark Squirek

The folks who created the adventure and science fiction comics of the 1930s and ‘40s had to read something when they were growing up. There had to be something that inspired their minds and fired up their imaginations to create beings who come from other planets, characters who can fly and others who have power rings. Of course many read fables and myths, stories such as Aladdin and the works of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells.

But in the then current world, in the modern writing of the 1890s, there was something new for a kid or avid reader to seek out. This was the time of the rapidly expanding world of magazines and the very earliest days of what we now know as pulps. In this world there was one place to go where the stories were out of the bounds of normal experience and broke through the confining bounds of the gravity of this world.

For a reader growing up at the turn of the twentieth century who wanted something different, something strange and something challenging, the magazine Black Cat was the one to read. Earlier this year Black Dog Books released their second anthology devoted to "speculative fiction" and fantasy dating from 1896-1915. The Man Who Found Zero holds ideas and works that, over one hundred years since they first saw publication are as fascinating and enjoyable as anything written today.

Black Cat was one of the very first pulp magazines as well as one of the most successful. Editor Gene Christie (who also did the bang-up job on assembling the first volume in this series as well) addresses exactly how popular it was in his introduction: "Its success spawned numerous incredibly blatant imitations, including The White Elephant, The Blue Mule, The White Owl, and others that lasted only a few years." In a testament to its strength, individuality and longevity, Black Cat, the original and best of the breed lasted until 1920.

Like the first volume in this series, The Space Annihilator and Other Early Science Fiction from The Argosy, The Man Who Found Zero is packed with stories by authors whose names have drifted into the ephemeral world of forgotten writers who never got past a few publications. As Christie points out in his introduction, some of the names may actually be pseudonyms to begin with.

Still, Black Cat had its stars. Jack London had his first story published in its pages. Henry Miller sold stories to them, as did O. Henry, Damon Runyon and fantasy legend Clark Ashton Smith. The magazine was a lightning rod for people who had something original and stylish to say. This was not a magazine of lightweights. To be published in Black Cat meant something.

In this second volume of stories from that fabled era of publishing, Black Dog has reprinted London's memorable "A Thousand Deaths." Opening with the stark and very real images of a man "...Drowning in San Francisco bay because of a disastrously successful attempt to desert my ship." In eight fascinating pages London takes us through the man's choice to desert and tells us just enough to allow us to become involved before ending his tale at exactly the right moment.

What is fascinating in this wonderfully complied reprint series is the way so many of the stories seemed to foreshadow or hint at what was coming in the next few generations of writers. Christie mentions several telling examples in his introduction.

Most interesting among the works he mentions is Ethel Watts Mumford's "When Time Turned." Christie makes a very clear point for this story as a predecessor to F. Scott Fitzgerald's much better known "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (and Christie does address the similarities of the recent film as well) or George Allan England's 1911 novel, "The Elixir of Hate."

This is just one curious example of what inspired other creators down the line. There are a few other examples, but the main reasons to read this skillfully assembled anthology is the quality of the stories themselves. They are the real time machine. Work such as this is the building blocks for everything that follows.

At the time of their publications magazines are beginning to rise as the most wide-spread forms of communication in America. Literacy is on the rise and those who can read want something that will make their brains click and snap. Black Cat delivered. To have stories from that long forgotten magazine in print, and done is such a professional and respectful manner, not only gives a comic fan a look at what inspired the science fiction and fantasy aspect of comic books, but it allows the reader to see what people over a hundred years ago found captivating and interesting.

When it comes to reading material written that long ago there are stylistic and occasionally embarrassing deviations from what we find in the work of today. Often the science or logic can seem simple or at worst, downright wrong. More often than not, these concerns are swept away by the skill and energy of the writer.

Some of the stories may take a little work, there are words and phrases that can stop you in your tracks as you try and figure out exactly what is meant, but if you make that effort the rewards are that much greater.

Consider how much of what is written today will look to someone reading it a hundred years from now. With technology and communication moving so incredibly fast, what is current today is often outdated in ten years.

The Man Who Found Zero is a richly awarding anthology that is guaranteed to give you thrills and also introduce you to something you may have never thought of before, that the answer to the future may be in the past.

Over the past decade the readership for original pulps has taken off. Black Dog is one of the best reprint and anthology houses around. The care and time they take in restoring and cleaning the stories and magazines that they use as source material shows in the final product. Each paperback and hardcover they publish is a work unto itself.

 

Mark Squirek


 

This review originally appeared at Scoop. Read it on their page here.

To learn more, or purchase a copy of this book visit of our The Man Who Found Zero listing.

 

Bish's Beat Review—Horse Money

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Horse Money—a review by Paul Bishop

horse_money_thumbnail_websiteBlack Dog Books continues to publish some of the best collections of pulp reprints on the market. Horse Money, a collection of Richard's Wormser's four stories featuring racetrack cop Van Eyck, is no exception.

Everything from the cover photo, the quality of the paper, and the crispness of print, to the preface by Robert Randisi, and the stories themselves, is top notch. The only problem is I wanted more Van Eyck stories, but for that to happen I'm going to have to convince publisher Tom Roberts to write some himself—or turn Bob Randisi and me loose with a beat up typewriter and a tote ticket . . .

Paul Bishop

 


 

This review originally appeared at Bish's Beat. Read it on their page here.

To purchase a copy of this book visit of our Horse Money listing.

 

 

Blogcritics review—King Corrigan's treasure

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King Corrigan's Treasure—a review by Bill Sherman

An action fictioner in the early years of the pulp magazines, H.D. Couzens is not a well-known name a hundred years later, a situation that the pulp revivalists at Black Dog Books hope to redress with King Corrigan's Treasure, the first publication of Couzens' short stories. Subtitled "The Collected Adventures of Billy Englehart," Treasure gathers seven tales of South Sea escapades starring Couzens' one recurring character, a canny and hard-bitten customer who sails the seas around Hawaii in the early 1900s.

king_corrigans_treasure_slideshow_websiteCouzens, who himself worked as an Internal Revenue agent on the then Territory of Hawaii, was familiar with both the region and the men who skirted the laws of the day. He brought this first-hand knowledge to his fiction, which captures its rough-and-tumble characters so distinctly that you barely notice the blanked-out swear words. The majority of these fictions appeared in Adventure, a long-running pulp where Couzens had quickly picked up a devoted readership. (His novelette, "Brethren of the Beach," is one of the highlights of Black Dog's earlier The Best of Adventure.) With the Englehart stories, Couzens came up with the closest to a Conan as he would in his too-short career as a fiction writer: a sturdy man's man protagonist who survives a variety of hair-raising scrapes, including a shipboard encounter with an orangutan.

Within Treasure's six short stories plus its title novelette, our hero takes on mutinies, pirates, cannibals, a ghost ship overrun with vicious beasts and sundry duplicitous fellow sons of the sea. The title piece, "King Corrigan's Treasure," best shows the grizzled salt in his element. Told from the perspective of a shanghaied young would-be adventurer named Harvey Winthrop, it recounts the battle of smarts and might between Billy and a vicious crew of treasure hunters that includes a malevolent doctor who has honed his interrogation skills torturing children on the "Model Prison" in Tasmania ("the most pestiferous hole the British Government ever maintained," we're told). Said doctor gets to demonstrate his skills in the story—you don't introduce a detail like that and not follow it up—but we never doubt that Billy won't prevail.

But it's not before Winthrop gets some hard lessons in the evil that men can do. Couzens doesn't belabor the point, but at one level "Treasure" is as much about Winthrop's schooling in the harshness of South Seas life as it is a treasure hunt. Not incidentally, our young man is the only character in the book to be provided a full romantic interest. The title treasure, we're told, was once the accumulated property of a "hard-bitten, close-fisted, mean-souled Irishman, with no more conscience than a conger-eel," and his comely daughter Anita, who's been brought into the conflict by Englehart's nasty rival Paul Anson, is the lass who catches Winthrop's eye. That we're not quite sure which side Anita is taking in the treasure dispute adds a complication to the story.

One thing we do know that is that self-described "trader, ‘recruiter,' pearler and dabbler in various other forms of activity" Englehart has no time for romantic tomfoolery. Dames and sea—nuthin' but trouble, right?

Edited and introed by pulp scholar Doug Ellis (who seems to have a preference for the more straight-faced action pulps as opposed to the outré horror and s-f work that Black Dog also revives), King Corrigan's Treasure provides a needed introduction to an engaging yarn-spinner who might have been better known if he hadn't died too soon from tuberculosis in 1914. As with many writers who toiled in the not-entirely-reputable pulp fiction industry back in the day, Couzens' bibliography is admittedly incomplete but packed with enough tantalizing titles to get this reader hoping for a second collection of his seafaring exploits. A second volume in the The Best of Adventure promises another single Couzens' piece, "The Chang-Hwa Pearl." Sounds like the kind of MacGuffin that Cap'n Billy would pursue.

Bill Sherman


This review originally appeared on Blogcritics.  Read it on their page here.

To purchase a copy of this book visit of our King Corrigan's Treasure
listing.