Do you like your pulp spicy?

I may have a problem. Everyone knows I love old pulp magazines, especially the cover art, but I REALLY love the old spicy pulps!

What were the spicy pulps? While most pulp magazines could be read by younger readers despite the lurid cover art and the promise of salacious titillation within, most of the general pulps were pretty harmless in that regard.

But not the Spicy Pulps. Those delivered stories of two fisted heroes faced with deadly decisions and surrounded by beautiful, scantily clad women hanging in the balance for the victor. Although tame by today’s standards, this sub genre of the pulp era was considered to be most risque. Pulp magazines like Spicy Detective, Spicy Mystery and Spicy Adventure provided some of the most eye-catching covers, many of which contributed to the pulps’ bad reputation in many circles

Though the contents of the magazines may be tame by today’s standards the covers were lurid, risque and, above all tasteless! These were the NSFW images from back in the day. And a perusal of any selection of these spicy covers are bound to turn up something to offend from the casual racism of the soft, alabaster skinned heroine being menaced by various POC’s to depictions of violence that verge on the worst kind of torture porn.

Well, there’s your trigger warning, folks. What follows is a slightly curated selection of some of the best (and by that I mean, some of the worst) of the spicy pulp covers. Avert your eyes, you faint of heart! For these images are only for those with the strongest of constitutions!

The Shattered Men: An Excerpt

All art by M. D. Jackson

Once he hit the street, Harry stopped running, forcing himself to adopt an easy walk. He slowly headed back the way he and Sarah had come originally. He gritted his teeth as he walked, trying to look nonchalant. It wasn’t easy. After what he’d just seen Harry wanted nothing more than to run away screaming.

The scarred man with the knife had seen him, He’d looked right at him. He’d seen Harry’s face and knew that he had witnessed what had gone down in the alley. Harry’s heart was pounding and his head felt hot. He was witness to a crime and in his experience a witness was not a safe thing to be.

But what exactly had he witnessed?

He shook his head and pushed away the vision of the big gunman turning into so much black powder. He also had to forcibly push the image of Sarah staring up into the sky with sightless eyes, He had to calm himself. He had to think about the situation at hand.

First things first, he thought. Have to try to look casual and blend in. That shouldn’t be too difficult. A young, brown-skinned, okay-looking East Indian man would not look out of place wandering the streets of the Big Apple.

The only problem was his tee shirt

It was bright blue with a lemon yellow logo on the breast. The logo was designed specifically for the Ontario New Hope Evangelical Church’s Mission to the Homeless and it showed a dove with a twig in its mouth winging its way over a cross with the sun rising behind. Harry’s jeans and sneakers were nondescript enough but the godawful ugly tee-shirt was as distinctive as a neon sign and it had to go.

Harry had cash. It wasn’t his.

It had been collected from the good parishioners of the New Hope Church for the express purpose of helping the homeless on the streets of New York. Sarah had it in a leather belt pack. Before he’d scampered out of the alley he’d unzipped the pack and pulled out the cash, trying not to look at the pool of blood that had been growing from underneath the back of her head onto the alley’s dirty concrete. He stuffed the cash into his front pocket and ran.

He had felt a twinge of guilt at that. Not about taking the money (he’d already justified that with the fact that he was now one of New York’s homeless and needed help getting off the streets) but about leaving Sarah’s body in the alley. He tried not to think how long it would take for her to be discovered or how many rodents would be gnawing on her remains by nightfall.

Harry spied a store with an open front that sold candy bars, gum and scarves. He saw a rack with tee shirts. Bingo.

Harry stepped up to the rack and grabbed a black tee-shirt with a Megadeth logo printed on the front. It would do.

As he made his way towards the cash register his foot kicked something on the floor. It was a black leather wallet with a logo he didn’t recognize – a stylized red ‘W’ – on the floor below a wire mesh tray filled with faux leather wallets.

He’d need a wallet for the cash. He picked it up off the floor, then grabbed a pack of Beeman’s gum before cashing out.

The man behind the cash register was an older Asian man. The man scanned the tee shirt and the gum but couldn’t find a price tag on the wallet. “Five bucks,” he shrugged.

Harry handed over the cash and walked out. He ducked into an alley, exchanged the New Hope Church for Megadeath, stuffed the cash into the wallet and popped a stick of gum into his mouth. He stuffed the old tee shirt into a garbage can on the street and kept moving.

As he walked Harry heard sirens wailing in the distance. Some sort of emergency was still going on north of where he was. He could see the occasional fire truck making its way up distant streets. He decided to head South.

He needed to find a bus depot. He had enough cash to buy a Greyhound ticket back to Toronto. The only problem would be what story to tell about what happened and why.

Harry had joined the church mission as part of his community service. The community service was a condition of his parole. The Church group had gone to a lot of trouble to include him in the mission, filling out forms and consulting with his parole officer. Harry was determined to stay out of trouble.

Being witness to a murder wasn’t staying out of trouble. Particularly when one of the murderers knew what you looked like.

Hauling his ass back home was clearly the right thing to do from a survival standpoint, but he’d have to be careful how he sold it to his parole officer.

His parole officer was a plain looking woman with a bleeding heart. Harry had learned quickly that she was a sucker for the right kind of sob story. He could sell his flight back to Toronto as blind panic. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

The only problem was the money he’d stolen from Sarah’s corpse – the money he’d stolen from the church. That was a bit of a problem. He could hear her asking the question: “If you were that scared then why did you stop long enough to take the money?”

Harry’s stomach rumbled. He needed a quiet place to think.

Read the rest here:

The Shattered Men: An Excerpt

or buy the book!

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Hero Pulps: Champions of Excitement

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G. W. Thomas over at Dark Worlds Quarterly has written an article about hero pulps which gives my new novel a nice mention:

The hero Pulp was a product of the 1930s and the Great Depression. In a time when all seemed doom and gloom, it was exciting and inspiring to read about heroes who always beat the odds. With names like The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Spider, Operator #5, Captain Future and The Phantom Detective, you knew these weren’t your run-of-the-mill do-gooders.

Artist Unknown

The character-lead series is far older than 1930. The dime novels of America featured heroes like Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, Frank Reade Jr. and Nick Carter. It was this last one that transitioned into a Mystery pulp called Detective Story Magazine. Pulp publishers were always looking for that quick name recognition that had sold dime novels by the thousands.

Art by George Rozen

Probably the most successful of all the hero Pulps was The Shadow. He began as a mysterious voice (provided by Orson Welles) on a radio show. Slowly over time, he developed into an actual character and finally into a Pulp magazine lead in Lamont Cranston. Street & Smith was the company that got the property and hired magician Walter B. Gibson to write those hundreds of novels, sold every two weeks.

Later S&S tried to duplicate the formula with Doc Savage, written by Missourian telegraph operator and inventor, Lester Dent. The publishers found Doc sold differently, well over the month, not in crackling hot two weeks spurts. Still, Dent and his host of ghost writers, put out 181 of the short novels. Later, in the paperback era, Doc Savage would be the top dog when it came to reprint sales. Other heroes tried to duplicate Doc’s paperback appeal but failed.

Read the rest:

Hero Pulps: Champions of Excitement

Heralded by Blood and Other Tales

RAGE MACHINE BOOKS has published  my collection of short Dark Fantasy stories!

If you ever feel that you are doing well as a writer, I would recommend re-reading all of your old short stories. That will put a pin in any inflated sense of accomplishment right quick.

As I have gone through the process of selecting stories for this volume I have run headlong into countless cringeworthy examples of my many bad writing habits. I have shuddered with embarrassment at the numerous examples of passive voice, imprecise word choices, repetition, bad grammar, not to mention atrocious spelling.

When I began I was keen to become reacquainted with my older works, but as I slogged through I became more and more mortified at my own inadequacies as a writer. And what made it worse was that most of this work has seen print!

If ever there was an argument as to why a writer needs a good editor, I am the embodiment of it.

Nevertheless, it has been somewhat illuminating to look back at where my head was at when I wrote these stories. It is interesting, particularly at my age, to read the words of a much younger version of myself, to smile indulgently at my youth’s misconceptions, and to be reminded of the things that I once considered to be very important. As I head North through my middle age, the concerns and cares of my bygone days seem quaint, if not downright mystifying to my older (and hopefully wiser) self.

As well I have been able to track the voice of the writer Jack Mackenzie as it developed, slowly and painfully throughout my early career, such as it was. I can clearly see the influences, the bad imitations, the clumsy striving for poetic turns of phrase as well as the many places where I was just plain bullshitting my way through a story.

I fear that my naked prose is not as elegant as I had hoped it was. My dialogue seems to work, though, far better than the simple task of describing clearly and concisely what the hell is going on. Perhaps I should have been writing screenplays instead of short stories.

Well, what’s done is done. As the venerable Omar Khayyam puts it in his classic Rubaiyat;

The Moving Finger writes and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears blot out a word of it.

However, as true as that is, another aphorism about vanity may apply here, for I have not let all of my mistakes stand. I know many writers who present their earlier works “warts and all” but I simply cannot let these little darlings into the house without first insisting that they wipe their feet. I find that I am compelled to wipe away the dirt from their faces and try to smooth down the cow licks as best I can before I let company in.

I always felt that when someone comes to visit you should at least try to put your best face forward. Perhaps that seems old fashioned, put it’s how I was brought up and it is how I continue to live today even when I do not feel like it, thanks to my beloved wife.

Besides that, it is a sign of respect to one’s company to try to present an inviting and clean atmosphere – to not let the dogs run wild, to pull out the best china that you have (the sets that match best and have the least amount of chips and cracks) to serve the better quality biscuits, the nice tea and to provide some clean seats and dusted surfaces when company comes to call.

And you, dear reader, are the best company.

As for the kinds of tales these are, well, these are tales of the darkest fantasy. These are the literary spawn – bastards though some may be – of the stories that one would have read in the pages of Weird Tales, that venerated pulp magazine of the early part of the twentieth century. That pulp rag that birthed the stories of Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn, C. L. Moore, and many others. These stories have percolated in those pages as well as through the fiction of Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. They have been steeped in heroic fantasy fiction, sword and sorcery, and outright horror.

One is even a sequel, of sorts, to a story by the great horror icon and popular Weird Tales author, H. P. Lovecraft.

Does this literary inspiration guarantee that my tales will inherit the quality of the stories which have provided their impetus? No. Of course not. My poor efforts cannot be faulted for their enthusiasm, however. My love for these authors and the types of tales for which they are famous knows no bounds and I have tried to infuse much of that love and admiration into these stories.

If you have a similar love for these kinds of tales, then I am certain that these efforts will prove to be acceptable to you. It is my hope, dear reader, that they provide you with a modicum of pleasure. It is my sincerest wish that they will thrill you in the same way that those Weird Tales once did.

I have tried my best, dear reader. I have cleaned the furniture and importuned the children to behave. I hope you enjoy the biscuits and that you find the tea satisfactory.

Lets spend some time visiting, shall we?

You can purchase the e-book at Amazon.com. The print version will follow shortly.

 

Science Fiction as Social Commentary

Despite its far flung settings and futuristic subjects, the best SF still has ties to the here and now

The very best science fiction, whether it be literature or in the movies or on television, the kinds of science fiction that resonates most strongly with the readers and viewers, is not the science fiction that merely shows us the wonders of the world of tomorrow, but the science fiction that comments on the world of today.

Despite a recent loud and disruptive movement within science fiction fan circles that proclaimed that science fiction should only focus on rocketships and rayguns, robots and whiz-bang action and decried any other type as propaganda from rabid leftist social justice warriors, science fiction and social commentary go hand in hand. It has done from the very beginning.

From the fantastic adventures of Lemuel Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in 1735 to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to today’s fiction in print and on movie screens and television, science fiction that reflects and comments on current events usually has a more profound impact. Indeed, some will argue that is the very purpose of science fiction, to illuminate aspects of our world and our lives today. Science fiction holds it up to a funhouse mirror, distorts it, stretches it, and then examines it in ways that cannot be done without current cultural biases interfering. By couching a subject in the language of the rockets, rayguns and whiz-bang action, greater insights can be wrung from certain subjects and issues that are too “hot button” to talk about directly.

But how much of this is deliberate? As the aforementioned loud and noisy movement has accused the establishment of science fiction of doing so, how much of this “message” is deliberately inserted into modern science fiction as a form of “propaganda” and how much of it occurs naturally, an unavoidable by-product of writers who are keenly aware of our contemporary society’s ills and wish to provide commentary on such, if not prescribing their so-called SJW remedies?

This, it turns out, is not a new discussion. Nor is science fiction’s penchant for presenting social commentary disguised as fantastical adventures.

SOCIAL COMMENTARY

I mentioned Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels earlier. Anyone who has taken a literature course in high school or college knows that Swift’s fanciful adventure was not merely a rousing tale of a hapless traveler in far flung lands. Swift constructed his fantasy world of Lilliputians, Brobdingnagans and Houyhnhnms not as a mere distraction, but to make pointed observations about contemporary European society. He did this deliberately. Indeed, Swift himself is quoted as saying that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels “to vex the world rather than divert it”.

His criticisms of contemporary society did not impinge upon the book’s sales, fortunately. Indeed, the book became popular as soon as it was published. John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery.”

Mary Shelley’s debut novel, Frankenstein, is considered to be one of the first science fiction stories. The English science fiction writer Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story because, in contrast to previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character “makes a deliberate decision” and “turns to modern experiments in the laboratory” to achieve fantastic results.

But what does Frankenstein say about society? Shelley says that the world is cruel and monsters will not be tolerated but shhe also asks how will technology change us? The character of Victor Frankenstein is modern man, poised on the cusp of great discoveries that will challenge God, but also poised at the point at which we become the monsters. Victor rejects his creation, goes back to a world that does not embrace change. But change, in the form of Adam, has other ideas.

This battle with change will define the next two giants of Science Fiction: Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Verne portrays scientific change as a wondrous process that will bring adventure. He often does not show how this will affect human lives. (Captain Nemo is perhaps the closest he comes to it.) Wells rejects Verne’s naiveté and returns to Shelley’s grim view. Change will be painful. Traveling in time, becoming invisible, alien invasion, giant monsters, all will be terrible. Wells is not afraid to make social commentary, in fact, did nothing else at the same time that he predicted tank warfare, aerial bombing and other future realities. His novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, for instance, was written as a fundraiser to stop animal vivisection. Wells moved away from narrative as he progressed, abandoning the Science Fiction adventure for proselytizing novels and non-fiction.

In the wake of World War I, society as a whole began to change in earnest. Mechanical inventions had been seen on the battlefields of Europe and now, in peacetime, they were making their way into people’s homes. Certainly the early twentieth century was not devoid of social criticism, but in the aftermath of the Great War, it was mostly in the purview of art and culture movements. The surrealists, the Dada-ists, the Bauhous movement. These were, for the most part, intellectuals talking to other intellectuals, and not making many inroads into popular culture. Indeed, that these movements set themselves aside from and opposed to popular culture was a point of pride.

But in 1920 a unique stage production in Russia was about to change all that.

ROSSUM’S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS

R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). It premiered on January 25, 1921 and introduced the word “robot” to the language and to science fiction as a whole.

The word “robot”, which displaced older words such as “automaton” or “android” in languages around the world would itself become a trope that would offer science fiction writers copious opportunities to play, poke fun at, or otherwise satirize a host of society’s foibles, not the least of which, mankind’s desire for institutionalized slavery. Indeed, in Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters’ lands and is derived from the word rab, meaning “slave”.

The name Rossum is an allusion to the Czech word rozum, meaning “reason”, “wisdom”, “intellect” or “common-sense”. It has been suggested that the allusion might be preserved by translating “Rossum” as “Reason” but only the Majer/Porter version translates the word as “Reason”. R.U.R becomes one of the first examples of science fiction using a new technology and a fantastical future world to say something profound about the contemporary society from which it sprang.

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), from synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term: they are living flesh and blood creatures rather than machinery and are closer to the modern idea of clones. They may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but a robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race.

Again, the social commentary does not hurt R.U.R.‘s public reception. The play was successful in its day in both Europe and North America. R.U.R. quickly became famous and was influential early in the history of its publication. By 1923, it had been translated into thirty languages.

Perhaps by today’s standards using a play about mechanical creations to send the message that slavery is bad may not seem like a very controversial move. It’s pretty well de rigueur today. If you have robots or artificial people in your story, at some point you’re going to have to talk about slavery and how it is bad and how all sentient beings should be free to make their own choices, etc., etc. That message can be found in at least one episode of any of the various Star Trek iterations.

But, of course, the using of science fiction to comment on society would not end with R.U.R.

THOUGHT PROVOKING

There is a phrase that always seems to accompany science fiction of this type. “Thought provoking”. That was always kind of a code phrase that the science fiction you are about to read or see, which may have all the cool, whiz-bang trappings of science fiction that fans love, will also have a “message”

Science fiction that was described as “though provoking” could also be synonymous with “heavy handed” or worse, “boring”.

As L. W. Michaelson observed in his article for The Antioch Review in 1954, “Social Criticism in Science Fiction”: “What better way to reach the adolescent mind than with a glorious action story filled with blasters and super-rockets and energizers and what not and then carefully sandwiched in between the action, some little gems of information that will impart a perspective on our society as a whole?”

There are obvious works that can be described as “message” fiction. Orwell’s 1984 is an obvious warning against totalitarianism. Huxley’s Brave New World is a warning about the dangers of utopia.

This is in contrast to the science fiction published in popular magazines. From Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine and to the many others that popped up in its wake, science fiction was a venue for telling fantastic stories of brave industrialists who overcame society’s indifference or disbelief, and built powerful rocket ships to travel into the far reaches of space. Early science fiction tales were rightfully disregarded as little more than chewing gum for juvenile imaginations.

THE POST WAR ERA

But that began to change. In the post war era of the 1950’s, science fiction writers had transformed from happy-go-lucky champions of technology to gloomy prophets of doom. Indeed, in the nuclear era the “Frankenstein’s Monster” of the day was the atom bomb. It was a powerful and terrible weapon with devastating consequences that raised moral concerns among even the most hawkish of writers.

In this post-war era many science fiction writers felt compelled to include a healthy serving of social commentary along with the aliens, robots and ray-guns. Indeed, it was argued that science fiction was one of the few genres that could do this without too much fear of public censure.

L. W. Michaelson in his essay for “Social Criticism in Science Fiction”, makes plain that the use of science fiction as a cloak or a disguise in order to more freely speak about subjects which were not generally brought up in polite society is a deliberate and an inherent feature of the genre:

“The channeling of man’s critical sense, via science fiction, from the currently inhospitable field of the present to a more secure area of the distant future or past, is due in part to the increasing sensitivity of Americans to criticism of any kind. Al Capp, the cartoonist, noted this in his article in Life (March 31, 1952) and concluded that his comic strip, Lil’ Abner, would have to eliminate social satire entirely and concentrate upon “trivialities” and/or the matrimonial difficulties of his hero.

In regard to this sensitivity, perhaps we feel our way of life is engaged in some ceaseless competition, or is continually on trial before the eyes of an indifferent or hostile world. Thus, if the science-fiction Gulliver mentions the year 2186, or better still 3547, this sensitivity is correspondingly dulled. In other words, there is an inverse ratio to our dislike of criticism; the farther away in time and space the criticism seems to lodge, the less the irritation or concern.”

In the 1950’s science fiction had become so caught up in moralizing and philosophizing about society, that in 1951, editor Raymond J. Healy felt compelled to publish a collection of science fiction tales, New Tales of Time and Space, that were deliberately more positive and light-hearted than the majority of what had become the “message” fiction of the day. In the introduction to the book, magazine editor Anthony Boucher noted about the stories in the collection: “For all their positiveness you’ll find many of these stories markedly critical of the present state of man’s world – many of the authors markedly unconvinced that contemporary American culture is the ultimate and unchangeable Way of Life.”

The criticism of society as a whole from science fiction writers was so obvious that in 1953 conservative editor, Thomas. P. McDonnel, wrote an article for Catholic World Magazine on “The Cult of Science Fiction”. In that essay, he complains that “liberals in general are now using science fiction as a kind of intellectual underground communication system or as a semi-secret club lecture platform.”

And you thought that loud and disruptive movement was a new thing.


This is actually only about half of the article that I wrote. You can read the entire thing and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the image below!

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I Like it “Spicy”!

“Spicy” Pulp covers from back in the day are sexist, misogynistic, lurid and violent, and yet at the same time, kind of goofy. This handful of examples is pretty tame in comparison to a lot of others, but it does give you the general idea.

Is it wrong that I love them so much?

1937-02-saucy-movie-tales-by-norman-saunders1937_03_spicymys1938_06_spicymys003570d791fb2bd51321e501238497fd19287836-15_ward_dturner_sept3429021223-lf8710233923_d8d25be3bb_ospicy-detective-june-1938spicy-detective-may-1936spicy-detective-stories-june-1934spicy-mystery-august-1938