Sunday, July 31, 2011
As a fan of pulp magazines, Doc Savage and radio drama, I was the perfect audience for Radio Archives' new series of pulp audiobooks. So when they sent me a copy of Doc Savage: Python Isle, I was prepared to be entertained.
Python Isle was the first Doc Savage novel written by Will Murray, based upon an outline by original Doc scribe Lester Dent (this is all covered in a nice featurette accompanying the audiobook, sort of like the extras on a DVD). As a Doc Savage story, Python Isle is nearly perfect. It contains all the ingredients of the best Doc Savage novels: high adventure, a lost civilization and humorous interplay among Doc’s aides. Radio Archives has produced an unabridged version of the novel that encompasses 8 CDs (well, seven and a half).
The narration is key to any audiobook, and Michael McConnohie does a fine job. He makes each character distinct and individual, and he carries the narrative without sounding too announcer-y, if you’ll excuse the made-up word.
Roger Ritner produced and directed Python Isle. He was involved with the Doc Savage radio series on NPS in the 1980s.
My complaints about the package are minor. Sometimes McConnohie pronounces Python as PY-thun, which was a little distracting.
And the musical cues took a while to grow on me. At first, they struck me as generic cuts from a production library. If they were, then the cuts were more carefully chosen for the second half of the book.
All in all, listening to Python Isle was a very satisfying experience. Radio Archives has already released a second Doc audiobook, as well as that NPR series. And audibooks of other pulp characters are on the way, including The Spider. It’s a great time to be a pulp fan.
Check out the offerings of Radio Archives at their site.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Pretty nice, eh? I know I’m happy with it. You can read an essay on the creation of the cover here.
It will be a few months until the book is released, and that’s okay. Evileye has a marketing plan in mind and I trust them in this department.
Meanwhile, in a few weeks I will begin writing the second book in the series. We’ve made a long-term commitment to the Undead Avenger of the West, so you can expect a lot of The Dead Sheriff in the years to come.
You can follow all the news on the project right here or at Evileye Books.
Monday, July 25, 2011
They’re retiring me tonight after 67 years of faithful and uncomplaining service.
Too cruel, they say. Inhumane. There are more pleasant, socially acceptable ways to get the job done. As if a deviant who abducts a child from her home, then tortures and rapes her before ending her life deserves society’s pity or compassion.
I don’t pity. My justice is final and absolute, dispensed like lightning.
I give comfort to the families of the victims. I deliver a message of vengeance, one that tells all who witness it that the punishment does fit the crime.
Or it used to. Now I’m obsolete, politically incorrect, a reminder of simpler times, when choices were more obvious and right was right. But no more. I’ve heard them say I’m the last of my kind in the state. The protesters already gather outside the walls of my chamber, paying for a reprieve that will save a monster from my embrace.
I can pray too, and if there is a god for my kind, my prayer is that I be given this last chance. I need it. I am so close now.
I first achieved sentience in the late 40s, though I suppose I was always aware in a dim and cloudy sort of way. But it was the death of Arnold Reeder that lifted me out of the quagmire of mindlessness.
Reeder had murdered an entire family – father, mother and six children – then had sex with their corpses. All of their corpses.
When he was strapped into me and fed the first jolt of 2400 volts, I stirred. When the second and final jolt was delivered through my electrodes to his head and both ankles, I awoke.
With each death I dispensed, my knowledge and my perceptions grew. Was I receiving consciousness from those I executed? Did their essence, their souls impart strength to me?
I’ve had years to ponder the question and I still have no answer. I’m not a philosopher or theologian or scientist. I am oak, copper wire and leather restraints; efficient at my job.
And tonight I will be decommissioned.
They bring the condemned to me at ten minutes before midnight. His head has been shaved and he stares vacantly at me. While he is strapped against my polished flesh, I can reflect on my last task.
With each electric death delivered, I grew in strength and cunning. I could listen and understand the people around me and, after a time, I learned to extend my senses beyond these walls.
Even as the tide of public opinion turned against my kind, I found the need for my decisive retribution was greater than ever.
The idea came to me three years ago. I was still too weak to accomplish my goal, as I was used with less frequency. If I wanted this to work, I had to be stronger.
Three executions since then had brought me nearly to the zenith of my power. If the Gods of Justice favored me, tonight would be enough.
His name is Danny Black. He was a murderer many times over, though he had only been caught once, when an attempt to rob a market ended in the death of two people. One of them was a pregnant woman. Danny doesn’t regret what he’s done. I can feel his emotions seeping into the whorls of my grain. He’s happy that no one knows about the other deaths he’s caused. He holds those memories close to him like precious gifts and here, in his final moments, he cherishes their sweet bouquet.
When the switch is pushed, the living fire leaps from my electrodes into his body and Danny Black convulses madly.
After one minute the power is turned off. Ten seconds pass, and a second jolt is delivered. It’s unnecessary. After the first dose, I felt his life flee from his body, passing through me and hopefully leaving behind just enough to do what needs to be done.
The doctor doesn’t approach until my failsafe switch is thrown, the Energized light goes off, and my two power switches are turned off by key.
The doctor places a stethoscope to the chest of Danny Black and listens to nothing.
Randall Kirtner has been a physician for thirty-two years. He’s gone through three wives, a fortune and half the booze in the state. He’s marking time. He’s a ship without a rudder. He no longer has a purpose.
As he leans forward, he places his left hand on my arm.
All my planning, all my prayers have come to this.
The doctor stumbles back, nearly falling. He gasps in surprise. He only fights me for a moment and then I shove him down deep into a place where he can do no harm.
I look around the room and take my first tentative steps.
I turn back to Danny Black, and, for the first time, I see me. I am solid, strong. For 67 years I cleansed the world of its worst elements.
Now they can carry me to the basement. I’ve outgrown that body.
I allow the doctor to rise up long enough to sign the death certificate and to shake hands with the warden.
I am escorted out four gates until, finally, I step into the world.
Nothing I’ve heard can prepare me for the beauty of this earth. I am momentarily overcome as tears roll down my face.
This only reinforces my dedication. This is too precious a place to allow the Danny Blacks and the Arnold Reeders to infect it.
My old body may have been retired, but my mission continues. The old doctor lacked a reason to live and I have given it to him.
I walk to his car and briefly set him free so he may teach me how to drive.
Then we must be going.
There is much work to be done.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The Secret Agent X story I wrote a few years ago is now available as a download to your cell phone or tablet. iPulp Fiction has a wide variety of classic and new pulp stories on their site, and you can download my “The Cult of the Walking Dead” for one dollar. That’s over fifteen thousand words of blazing gunfights, ninja assassins, and great pulpish fun for a mere four quarters.
You can download the story here, after you register for free.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Meanwhile, Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road is still available in paperback and ebook formats. Thanks for all the nice reviews.
Speaking of reviews, I could use them at Amazon for Looking at the World With Broken Glass in My Eye. If you read the collection, please consider leaving a review.
You can still sign up for a free, signed copy of the book at Horror World.
The other big news (well, big for me) is the arrival on my doorstep of In Laymon’s Terms. The anthology, a tribute to the great horror writer Richard Laymon, includes my story “The Red Kingdom”. It was my first professional sale, made all the way back in February 2003. It’s nice to see it finally in print.
And for those who care about such things, I'm now on Google+.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I'm profiled in this week's edition of The Ashland Beacon, a local weekly paper. Although the focus is mostly on my radio career, the article touches on my writing. You can read it online here.
And thanks to Tanya Pullin, our amazing State Representative, who managed to sneak a mention of Deadneck Hootenanny into today's Ashland Daily Independent.
Friday, July 08, 2011
Horror World, my home away from home, is giving away a signed copy of my new collection Looking at the World With Broken Glass in My Eye.
To enter the drawing, sign up here.
I'll be happy to inscribe the book to the winner.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
A frog telephones the Psychic Hotline and is told, "You are going to meet a beautiful young girl who will want to know everything about you."
The frog says, "This is great! Will I meet her at a party, or what?"
"No," says the psychic. "Next semester in her biology class."
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
The Devil Colony by James Rollins
The Devil Colony brings back Sigma Force, James Rollins’s cadre of government superspies, all ex-special forces trained in a scientific discipline then given guns and sent out to battle the bad guys. And in Sigma’s world, there are no shortage of evildoers. The Sigma thrillers are modern pulp writing at its finest (Rollins has confessed to being a fan of the Doc Savage novels) and I’m happy to report that the latest novel in the series maintains that tradition.
From the novel’s 18th Century prologue in Kentucky to it’s fiery climax in a well-known state park, The Devil Colony is the most American of the Sigma adventures.
When an archeological site is disturbed in the Rocky Mountains, an uproar is ignited, both literally and figuratively. In a cavern filled with mummified bodies that appear to be Caucasian Indians, a cache of gold plates is discovered, each inscribed with mysterious writing. The cavern also holds a mystery substance, which may turn out to be the most destructive element on earth.
Sigma director Painter Crowe is called in to investigate, thanks to a very personal connection to the events in the Rockies. Crowe takes the stage early and holds on to it, playing the lead role normally assigned to Sigma Operative Gray Pierce. Rollins lets the reader get to know Crowe more than in earlier books, as he explores Crowe’s Native American background in depth. Plus, we get to see Crowe as a man of action, a nice change of pace.
Fans of Commander Peirce shouldn’t fret. He and his best friend Monk (nice name for a pulp hero, eh?) see their fair share of conflict and flying lead. In addition, both characters go through dramatic changes in their personal lives. It’s a decent bit of character development that elevates the Sigma books above some of the other pulp thrillers out there.
Rollins always combines real history with real science. In The Devil Colony, it’s the founding of this nation that propels the narrative, particularly the secrets of the founding fathers. The scientific MacGuffin is nanotechnology, unregulated and unchecked, and far older than I would have dreamed possible.
Sigma’s arch nemesis The Guild is back, and in this installment we learn a little more about how far the evil organization’s tendrils extend, culminating in a revelation that will have fans waiting impatiently for the next book in the series.
As always, Rollins supplies an appendix outlining what concepts are real and what were created for the book. And, as always, I’m dumbfounded to discover that certain things that I was certain had been made up by the author are actually true.
Ultimately, though, a thriller lives or dies based upon how well the author delivers the, well, thrills. Rollins once again proves his page-turning prowess. With more cliffhangers than a Saturday morning serial, The Devil Colony is served up to the reader as an electrifying mash-up of Die Hard and The History Channel, in a story that would fit right in among the Indiana Jones and National Treasure series.
Highly recommended to all fans of adventure fiction.
Monday, July 04, 2011
Happy Independence Day. It’s one of my favorite holidays, in part because of my annual re-reading of Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles.
This tabloid-sized comic came out, of course, in the summer of 1976, just in time to keep me from losing my mind during a particularly unenjoyable family vacation. Our family always took two vacations each summer. The first was a beach trip, which I loved. The second was a fishing vacation. By the time I was sixteen, the last thing I wanted to do was spend a week with a bunch of grouchy relatives on a lake with little in the way of distraction or entertainment.
I had purchased the Captain America book on the way to Tennessee. Buying it was a no-brainer. Jack Kirby had been my favorite comic book artist for years. If fact he drew (and likely plotted) the first comic book I ever owned–Fantastic Four #39. A few years later, he took his talents to DC where he created an epic cosmic saga of gods and humans that unfolded across four titles: Forever People, The New Gods, Mister Miracle and Jimmy Olsen. Within a couple of years, three of the books were canceled and Kirby turned to other work, some original (OMAC, The Demon) and some not (The Losers). By 1976 he was back at Marvel, writing and drawing Cap, Black Panther, Devil Dinosaur, The Eternals and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
By the time of the family vacation I was well-acquainted with Kirby’s bombastic dialogue and extreme fondness for the exclamation point. He was like a composer whose musical style was unique and instantly recognizable. No one wrote like Kirby. In fact, some critics argued that no one, not even Kirby, should write like Kirby.
Anyway, Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles sent the star-spangled avenger on a journey through American history, with each chapter embellished by a different inker.
It was a spectacular story with a breathtaking scope. At 16, I was already evolving into the cynical adult I would soon become, yet Kirby’s story made me proud of my country, even in those wary post-Watergate days. It was a little piece of magic.
My original copy fell apart years ago and I replaced it (Yes, I also bought Marvel’s reprint a few years ago, but the tabloid version is still the one I take down and read each summer).
So I’ll enjoy the cookout and the fireworks and my family today. But sometime before the day ends I’ll relive the best part of the summer of 1976 with my shield-slinging hero.
I hope you have a great Fourth of July.