In today’s Pulp Appeal, I talk briefly about Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason.
You can’t read pulp fiction, particularly gumshoe detective stories, without stumbling across Erle Stanley Gardner. The guy was such a prolific writer that the eighty, yes EIGHTY, novels he wrote featuring his most famous character, Perry Mason, don’t even account for half of his total bibliography. Holy crap.
Perry Mason is one of the most iconic lawyers in American pop culture. Fun fact: Ozzy Osbourne has a heavy metal song about the character. Before the original tv series run in the 1950s–60s, there were no filmed legal dramas. Of course, you say, because it was the 1950s and there were few tv shows. Yes, but nearly every trope of every legal drama that has come since was copied from the show and the novels upon which it was based. Perry Mason wasn’t just an iconic television legal drama; it was THE archetype for everything from Columbo to Law & Order
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In today’s Pulp Appeal, I briefly cover Zorro.
Millionaire playboy whose identity is known to only a few puts on a black costume and mask to parade around at night, ensuring that justice and peace is maintained as well as possible in the face of corruption, political meddling, and law enforcement incompetence.
No, not Batman. This is the story of Zorro, the fox, a thorn in the side of the early 19th Century Mexican government of California. But despite the parallels to the caped crusader, the story of Zorro more closely parallels that of the English hero Robin Hood and, more directly, that of Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel, created by Baroness Orczy about 15 years before the first Zorro story was written. Because of the existence of Robin Hood, you can’t really say that Johnston McCulley, creator of Zorro, stole the idea of the masked hero with the noble alibi from Orczy, but the parallels are…
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In today’s Pulp Appeal, I discuss Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft is a polarizing figure.1 His fiction lives on for us mainly because of the anthologizing and reprinting of his stories that was done mostly by August Derleth in the years after Lovecraft’s untimely death at the age of 46. While no contemporary can touch Robert Howard in the realm of prolific, Lovecraft was nearly his equal, publishing not just scores of horror2 stories but also nonfiction, poetry, and even some science, mostly astronomy. Because of his prolific and varying works, we’ve chosen to do as we did with Howard and Burroughs, and focus in on characters and arcs rather than try to nail a whole author in one swoop.
Which brings us to today’s topic: Randolph Carter. Carter is the eponymous main character of an early Lovecraft work titled “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and followed up with “The Unnameable,” The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,
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The Continental Op from Cameron’s library
Dashiell Hammett lived the life of a hard-boiled detective before he created one of his own. His Continental Op character was one of the most popular detectives of the 1920s pulp fiction era. Hammett’s work with the Op and other characters appeared alongside such notable writers and characters as Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, among scores of others.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, or even many of the people who came after, Hammett has the distinction of having been a private detective, which lends his stories even more gravitas than his stripped down fiction and inclusion of grime and grit do alone. The Continental Op, the character he spent the most time writing about, is loosely based on his own experiences working for the Pinkerton Agency before and after the First World War. The Op is never named, nor…
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I was very much a latecomer to Clark Ashton Smith. Of course I’d read some of his stories and poems in collections of Weird Tales and other horror anthologies, but I’d never sat down to read his work in earnest until a few years ago.
Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-colored sun
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment when I soar,
Throned on the mounting zenith, and illume
The spaceward-flown horizons infinite.
-The Hashish Eater – or- The Apocalypse of Evil
No discussion of classic pulp would be complete without mentioning Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961), one of the leaders of the Weird Tales school, along with his contemporaries H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and arguably the one whose legacy hasn’t lasted to the extent of either of the other two.
Though the three never met, they all maintained correspondence with each other during the pulp golden age of the 1930s, and Smith helped contribute to what would later be called the Cthulhu mythos. In fact, Smith would go so far as to create a family tree of sorts, where Hastur is…
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My newest Pulp Appeal column for Broadswords and Blasters.
“Hahahahahahaha. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Ahahahahaha. The Shadow knows.” This is how the radio play always starts before the narrator introduces the episode. “The Shadow,” the narrator says, is “a man of mystery who strikes terror in the very souls of sharpsters, lawbreakers, and criminals.”
For people of now advancing age, The Shadow had a regular appointment with their much younger selves as their families sat in the living room on Sunday evenings and tuned in to the weekly radio serial. As a character for radio, The Shadow was given the mysterious power to cloud men’s’ minds so he could appear to be invisible, a trick he learned from Far Eastern hypnotists. The time when radio was dominant is a fascinating era of human history, in that audio productions were the shared experience for families of the day and the actual imagery was left…
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The Pulp Appeal of John Carter, Warlord of Mars
I don’t remember how I got hooked on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter stories, but it was long before the 2012 movie. The basic plot was interesting–a man “dies” on Earth and awakens on Mars, locally called Barsoom, in the distant past when the planet was still populated by various Martian races1 –but that wasn’t the draw for me. At the time, I wasn’t even the biggest ERB fan, having felt like Tarzan was a bit of a let-down. If I had to pin down why John Carter resonated with me, it’s because I’m a fan of stories that examine the gradual decay of once mighty civilizations, the slow fall back into barbarism. This sort of story beat is common to much of pulp fiction–from detectives in the big city to nameless horrors waiting to awaken and destroy everything–where the interplay between civilization and barbarism frequently occurs.
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