Friday, September 16, 2011
Double-Ought Pulp: Pulp 2.0 Press Climbs Back in the Saddle
Reviews & Rants by Henry Brown
Some of us look back on the glory days of the pulps (the Depression through the early Postwar era) with a nostalgic warmth in our chest. The pulps are just one stream of pop-culture that endears that era to me, though.
Contemporary were the Golden Ages of radio and comic books, as well as the heyday of cliffhanger serials. When we think of those mediums and their Golden Age, many of us picture masked vigilantes, barnstorming pilots or hardboiled detectives, ignoring possibly the most popular genre for at least half of the 20th Century: the western.
Pulp 2.0 Press has put together a retro-styled pulp novella that plugs us back into those golden days of yesteryear: Radio Western Adventures.
RWA features a never-before-published western tale by none other than Lester Dent, of Doc Savage fame. His “Snare Savvy” pits slick, quick-thinking Haw Kain against a viper den of con-men and bushwhackers, with an uppity damsel-in-distress in the mix for good measure.
Haw Kain might be a little different from the pulp heroes we normally read about—the masked rifleman on the cover may very well be the droopy-eyed, “cherubic” drifter in the story--though Haw never dons a mask during the narrative. (Nobody has ever satisfactorily explained to me how a life on the trail with a diet of bacon, beans, coffee and rutgut whiskey results in the physique of a Marvel superhero and blindingly perfect teeth. And don’t get me started on those tailored western outfits with mint condition crease-crown Stetsons.)
The plot of "Snare Savvy" pivots around what strikes me as a rather ornate plan by Haw Kain to snare the sidewinders, reminiscent of some of those overly-complex sitcom-style sting operations brainstormed by the Dynamic Duo back during the days of Batwoman, Batgirl and Ace, the Bat-Hound.
The feature of this issue, however, is “Who Really Was that Masked Man?” by Donald F. Glut. The cast in this short tale reads like a Who’s Who of Golden Age radio western stars. Some of them you may recognize include Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke), Hopalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid, Paladin (Have Gun Will Travel), and, of course, the Lone Ranger.
I say “may recognize” because Glut is careful not to mention most of them by name, content to drop clues and in-jokes for the reader to figure it out on his own. A few of them (like the Ranger and Tonto) are so obvious, one wonders why the secrecy. But then there is a brief reference to the Ranger’s ancestor, who secretly carries on that family tradition as a masked rider for justice as the Green Hornet—and you have to savvy a little bit beyond household knowledge of these characters to understand the reference. If the reader catches it, then he truly is “in the know,” and feels rewarded for his grasp of the subject matter.
“Who Really Was that Masked Man” is a clever, fun experiment for fans of Golden Age radio, but not without its flaws. For me, the weakest point was when the Lone Ranger and Tonto are attacked at their camp site. They run out of ammo during the shootout, and so decide to surrender. Not that I’m an expert on the masked rider of the plains, but it seems to me he gave up too easy, and might well have been murdered for his passivity were his attackers not who they were (the Cisco Kid and sidekick, though Tonto and his kemo sabe didn’t know this). The Ranger I know would improvise something to turn the tables, or at least try.
Unfortunately, there were as many typos in this novella as you might expect in an unedited indie e-book. Including in the Lester Dent story! That’s really a shame, since there are readers who would stop reading because of that, no matter how entertaining it might be otherwise.
Having said all that, this e-book is more than worth the 99 cents it sells for. On a lazy afternoon it will probably cause a few grins, and maybe a chuckle or three.
Henry Brown is the author of Virtual Pulp: Tales of High Adventure, Low Adventure, and Misadventure, as well as the military thriller Hell and Gone. He is the columns editor at New Pulp Fiction, and does some blogging of his own at the Two-Fisted Blogger.