Sunday, June 16, 2019

Mysterious Old-Time Listening Society

The podcast The Mysterious Old-Time Listening Society was kind enough to use a suggestion from me for one episode and also to plug my books.

Here it is.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

My books on sale

My publsher, McFarland, is having a 40th Anniversary sale. If you use the code ANN2019 before the end of the month, you can get 25% off anything you order directly from them.

Here's direct links to my books:

Storytelling in the Pulps, Comics and Radio

Radio by the Book

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Black Museum: "The Straight Razor" 1944

The straight razor displayed in Scotland Yard's Black Museum isn't a murder weapon, but was a clue towards catching a murderer.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Man Named Yuma

It's always fun to encounter a pretty standard plot that is elevated above the average by vivid prose and exciting action. A Man Named Yuma (1974), by T.V. Olsen) is one such novel.

In this one, a half-Apache has to deal with distrust and bigotry while escorting survivors from a wrecked stagecoach across a searing hot desert, pursued  along the way by Apaches on the war path.

Much of the novel is a Last Stand situation, with Yuma and his charges forted up at a water hole while the Apaches surround them, pinning them down with occasional sniper fire and launching full-on attacks. This is bad enough, but what makes matters worse is that the leader of the Apache band is Yuma's half-brother and very much wants to reduce the number of siblings he has by one. He's been wanting to kill Yuma all his life and now it looks like he has a chance.

Yuma knows this and considers striking out on his own. But its too late for that. His half-brother would kill the whites anyway (he's lost too many men to them to do otherwise) and the whites couldn't possibly get through the desert without his help anyways. He has to stay to help them, even though this also makes them more of a target.

That one of those in the water hole with them is a vicious outlaw who might just be as dangerous as the Apaches is yet another problem Yuma must deal with.

The Last Stand scenario--the trek through the desert--the Apache uprising--the diverse personalities forced to work together--all these are well-used tropes in Westerns. Variations of these plot elements  have been done countless times, but good writing all the difference. Olsen's prose puts us right there in the searing desert with the main characters, giving us a real sense of the hardship, danger and tension they are all enduring. Olsen's characters are realistic and well-drawn. All this makes A Man Named Yuma a fun and memorable read.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Iron Man and the Champions

cover art by Al Milgrom
Iron Man Annual #4 (August 1977) does just what an annual or giant-sized comic should do. It tells an entertaining adventure story featuring characters we enjoy, but one that stands alone, not concerning itself with whatever ongoing stories might be taking place in the pages of those characters regular series.

Writer Bill Mantlo and artist George Tuska start off the story with a bang. Iron Man, who has just learned that villain MODOK is still alive, is smashing into an AIM base in search of the big-headed bad guy.

I don't think I read this one when it first came out and I'm pretty sure I'd remember it if I did. The cover, drawn by Al Milgrom, is great. MODOK's visual design is unusual and effective--he should be silly-looking, but in the hands of a good artist, he is always creepy looking. So featuring him on this effectively composed and action-packed cover would have been a selling point back in the day when paper-route money would have been enough to make it a viable impulse buy. The slam-bang opening would have added to book's appeal had I thumbed through the first few pages.

Iron Man trashes some robots and other booby traps, then realizes that MODOK is already gone, taking along a power source that is undoubtedly meant to power a super-weapon.

This is all taking place on the West Coast, so Iron Man decides to seek out some West Coast help to track down MODOK. Since this is before the West Coast Avengers, then the Champions become Iron Man's go-to hero team.

But this plan gets off to a bad start when Tony sees Ghost Rider and automatically attacks the scary-looking guy.

This leads to a brief tussle between Iron Man and the Champions before Black Widow orders everyone to shut up and platy nice. I think this largely entertaining issue is open to some criticism here. The cause of the fight between Iron Man and the Champions is pretty contrived and seems to be there simply because is obligatory for heroes to briefly fight each other before teaming up against the villain.

But Iron Man and the Champions do calm down and start playing nice. Iron Man explains the situation and briefs them on SHIELD intel about three different AIM hideouts in the area. Iron Man fights a mook who has been turned into a powerful robot, but he realizes all these battles are just a decoy.

Figuring that MODOK and the super weapon are at one of these spots, they divide into teams. Three Champions apiece check out two of the sites, while Iron Man investigates the third.

It's here that my other criticism of the story comes into play. It would have been nice to have Iron Man directly interacting with the Champions during a battle. For most of this story, he and the super-team are battling bad guys separately. Gee whiz, this is a team-up story. Let 'em team-up!

Anyway, it looks as if Black Widow, Hercules and Angel are about to get beaten by AIM agents, while Iceman, Dark Star and Ghost Rider are about to be eaten by sea monsters.

He rounds up the Champions, who had regained the upper hand in their own battles, and brings them back to the secret base he had raided at the beginning of the story. Iron Man has figured out MODOK's double-bluff in pretending to abandon his original H.Q., only to later return to it.

But MODOK has finished building his new power source into his chair, which greatly enhances his mental powers and allows him to essentially drop a mountain on top of the good guys. Hercules, though, manages to hold the mountain up long enough for Iron Man to Macgyver some of MODOK's equipment and boost his own power enough to blast everyone free.

MODOK's chair is damaged in this blast. Iron Man does try to save him, but the villain crashes to an apparent death despite this.

I've pointed out a few minor flaws--the contrived but thankfully brief fight between Iron Man and the Champions and the relative lack of interaction between the Avenger and the West Coast team. But overall, this is an exciting and well-constructed adventure tale. I enjoyed the Marvel superhero comics from this decade and appreciated extended story arcs, but I also enjoyed those annuals that effectively told a self-contained story that could be enjoyed entirely on its own. Comic Book Universes are big places. There's room for both long and short tales with their borders.

Next week, we ride one last time with the Pony Express.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

Jim Steranko gave us some awesome covers for the 1970s Pyramid reprints of the Shadow novels. This one is from 1976.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Where's Melvin?

A mistaken click erased my banner illustration. I have a copy stored on my work computer, so the illustration will be back up on Monday.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Challenge of the Yukon: "Klondike Queen" 3/16/49

A scheme to cheat a father and son out of a gold mine involves luring the son to an Indian burial ground to get him killed by the Indians. Sgt. Preston comes up with a counter-plan to out-con the con artists.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Spock Plays Chess with Paladin

cover art by Boris Vallejo
Recently, I was in the mood to read a Star Trek novel. I know from experience that this is a very hit-or-miss proposition. There have been so many ST novels published over the last few years that it's quite impossible to grab one at random and take it for granted that it will be good. There have been a number of bad novels, or at least novels that I didn't care for on a personal level.

So I posted  on a ST Facebook group and asked for fellow fans to reply with recommendations, along with the reason why they liked a particular novel. As soon as someone mentioned the plot of 1985's Ishmael, written by Barbara Hambly, I knew I had to read that one.

Spock has sneaked aboard a Klingon ship to investigate suspicions of some sort of anti-Federation shenanigans. He's captured, put through a Mind-Sifter (see the original series episode "Errand of Mercy") and left with almost total amnesia. Despite this, he manages to escape. But the Klingon ship has, in the meantime, has gone through a time warp and is orbiting Earth in the year 1867. Their mission is to kill a particular human, which will start a domino-effect that will leave the Earth open to alien conquest before the Federation is formed.

Spock ends up on Earth working as an accountant for a guy who owns a sawmill near Seattle. The guy's name is Aaron Stempel--and this is where the book really gets fun.

Stemple is one of the main characters from a Western titled Here Comes the Brides that ran on ABC from 1968 to 1970, overlapping with Star Trek. Mark Lenard played the role of Aaron Stempel on that series. Lenard, as all good geeks know, also played Spock's father Sarak in both the original ST series, several Next Generation episodes and several of the movies. He also played a Romulan commander in the original series episode "Balance of Terror" and a Klingon in the first ST movie. To add to his geek cred, he was the gorilla military commander Urko in the 1974 live action TV series version of Planet of the Apes.

So Here Comes the Brides lets him play a human. In this series, he is a sawmill owner who wants to gain ownership of a lumber-rich mountain. The three brothers who own the mountain have recently imported thirty women (a rare commodity at the time) as potential wives for the local men. Stempel bets the brothers that they cannot find husbands for all the women in a set period of time. He gets the mountain if they fail.

I haven't seen the series, but my understanding is that Stempel is the antagonist early on, but by the show's second season had mellowed out and become at least a slightly nicer person. According to the novel Ishmael, this is in large part because of Spock's influence on his life. Ishmael, by the way, is the name Spock uses when pretended to be Stempel's nephew (hiding his ears behind a long haircut) while desperately trying to remember his own past. He knows he's an alien, but he doesn't know he's displaced in time or what his purpose is. He doesn't know that two Klingon assassins are trying to track down Stempel with the intent of killing him.

Meanwhile, back in the 23rd Century, Spock is presumed dead. But he was able to leave clues behind that allow Kirk and Company to do some detective work and gradually figure out what the Klingons are up to.

The novel's plot (though probably not fitting cleanly into regular ST canon) is very well-constructed, with a reasonable explanation for why Stempel is a key to history gradually explained to us. It is Spock's interaction with the various Here Comes the Brides characters that really gives the novel its sense of fun, though. Without his memory, Spock allows himself to become emotionally attached to his new friends (while still remaining something of a "cold fish" in their eyes--he's never completely out of character). As I mentioned, I've never watched Brides, but the author does a good job of explaining the backstory and catching me up. She is obviously a fan who gives life and likability to all the characters, while using Spock's growing friendship with Stempel to realistically influence the sawmill owner into eventually making more ethically-sound decisions.

Hambly has a ball with the novel in other ways. There are references to Poul Anderson's Hokas and unnamed cameos by characters from Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Bonanza, and Maverick, as well as a few I probably missed. Spock also gets to play chess (and win) against Paladin, the protagonist from Have Gun, Will Travel. It's all great fun--a plot that sounds like it should be fan fiction, but written with the skill of a professional novelist.
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