Category Archives: Pulp Heroes

FLASHMAN AND THE KINGS: LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

For Flashman Down Under and Flashman in the Opium War click HERE  Balladeer’s Blog moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death.

Flashman for Flashman and the KingsProjected Title: FLASHMAN AND THE KINGS 

Time Period: The Taranaki War (1860-1861)

NOTE: The title refers to the Maori King Movement, which began during this period and whose descending line of a designated “King of Kings” has survived to this very day with the current Maori King in New Zealand.

From 1860-1861 the Maori King Movement proved to be the most battle-savvy and politically shrewd opponents the British would face until the First Boer War of 1880-1881. If the native inhabitants of other regions around the world had been this proficient and coordinated, the Colonial Powers of the European and Muslim Empires might have been dealt such massive setbacks that the course of history would be fascinatingly different.    

The Set-Up: As of the finale of Fraser’s Flashman and the Dragon we readers were left guessing exactly what Harry was being dragged into by blonde, luscious Phoebe Carpenter and her husband.

New ZealandIn Flashman and the Dragon the Carpenters were shown to be smuggling guns to the Taipingi rebels in China, so my speculation would be that they were also involved in smuggling guns to the Maori forces in New Zealand. The Taranaki War had been raging between the Maori and British colonial troops since March of 1860.

The Carpenters had been posing as Christian Missionaries as cover for their smuggling operation in FATD so they might well have been using that same cover for their dealings with the Maori King Movement. Flashman’s standing as a storied, active duty British Colonel could be exploited to their advantage through their extortionate hold on our antihero.

FATD ended in October of 1860. The Taranaki War lasted until March 18th of 1861 so Harry could be on hand for the last several months of the conflict. As usual he might well end up with undeserved military honors from his misadventures, caught up in the martial action while striving to free himself from his entanglement with Phoebe and her husband.   

The Story:   Continue reading

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FLASHMAN IN THE OPIUM WAR: LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

Flashman cutFor Flashman Down Under click HERE  Balladeer’s Blog moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death.

Projected Title: FLASHMAN IN THE OPIUM WAR

Time Period: Late in the Second Opium War in China (1859- 1860)

The Setup: In Flashman and the Dragon (1985) readers learned that our antihero Colonel Harry Paget Flashman had been serving in Hong Kong and mainland China long enough to become fluent in the language. Flashman in the Opium War would detail Harry’s adventures in the closing period of the Second Opium War up until the start of the Anglo-French military expedition to Peking.

The Second Opium War is still an incredibly controversial conflict from Queen Victoria’s reign. Even at the time passions ran very much against the war AND against the fact that HMG was seen as accommodating the opium trade in Chinese ports.

Hong KongTo the most critical eyes – then and now – the Empire seemed to be facilitating the market in opium so that certain British businessmen could get rich and if the drug’s use had a very negative, epidemic downside for the Far Eastern customers, that was callously perceived to be a fringe benefit.

As I say, that is the most critical view. More sympathetic figures point out that in the 1800s the world did not have the same derogatory view of the drug trade as now and the drug trade was LEGAL in the Far East. If it hadn’t been British merchants making money off the opium trade then any gaps would have been filled by the Chinese merchants who had been dealing in drugs for centuries.

The Story: Continue reading

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FLASHMAN: THE LOST ADVENTURES

Alan Bates -better Flashman than MalcolmBalladeer’s Blog’s reviews of my picks for The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels are still getting more than their share of attention. (Click HERE )

Before I move on to review the other Flashman novels I decided to instead speculate – in total fanboy mode – on what we readers missed out on with those Harry Flashman adventures referred to but not completed before author George MacDonald Fraser passed away in 2008.

Australian gold fieldsProjected Title: FLASHMAN DOWN UNDER

Time Period: The early period of the Australian Gold Rush (1851-1852)

The Set-Up: The “Forty-Niner” section of Flashman and the Redskins ended in the Spring of 1850 with Harry and Kit Carson riding off into the sunset. Our antihero planned on at last completing his journey toward the California gold fields after all his misadventures along the way.

The Potential Story: Some members of the Australian outlaw gangs who would achieve large-scale fame during the Aussie Gold Rush got their start as failed prospectors turned criminals during the California Gold Rush. Once word got around about the Victoria finds many of the Australians abandoned California and sailed home hoping to strike it rich there.

After the thrilling Jornada del Muerto Desert finale to Flashman and the Redskins Harry was already in New Mexico so presumably he would have made it to California with at least half of 1850 still to go. Our protagonist’s usual boozing, gambling and whoring could easily have gotten him entangled in some way with a few of the shadier Aussies in the Golden State at the time.

Australian gold fields 2Once word reached California about Australia’s very own Gold Rush, Harry could have boarded a ship for Down Under either along with some of the Cali Aussies OR trying to slip away from them for his usual reasons – having slept with some of their women, conning them out of money, etc.    

Arriving in Australia, it’s safe to assume Flashman would still disdain the thought of actually working to strike it rich and would have settled in at first trying to con money from successful prospectors or winning it from them at the card-table. Continue reading

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HAMMETT (1982)

HammettHAMMETT (1982) – Directed by Wim Wenders and produced by Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, Hammett is a criminally neglected valentine to Hard-Boiled Detective Stories and Film Noir. The flick is based on the novel by Joe Gores. 

The stories about the behind the scenes chaos and conflicts surrounding the production of this movie are legion. Pre-production work began in 1975 and by the time it was released in 1982 multiple cast and story changes had taken place and Coppola himself re-shot more than a third of the film.

In the way that Time After Time presented a whimsical “what if” adventure featuring H.G. Wells having a real time machine, Hammett serves up iconic detective novelist Dashiell Hammett getting caught up in solving a real-life mystery.

The timing is excellent, with the story being set in the late 1920s, after Hammett was no longer working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency but before he became a successful author. The tale begins with our hero – played by Frederic Forrest – typing out one of his penny-a-word Pulp stories for Black Mask Magazine, which was to detective fiction what Weird Tales was to horror and sci-fi.

hammett 2Booze and coughing fits figure prominently in the movie, as you would expect given a protagonist who was an alcoholic with tuberculosis. For the sake of convenience the story that Hammett just finished before blacking out was one featuring his character the Continental Op (as in an operative for the fictional Continental Detective Agency).  

Hammett awakens to find his most recent work being read by Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle), his old mentor from his Pinkerton days. Ryan jokes with “Sam” (Samuel Dashiell Hammett was his full name if you’re new to all things Hammett) that the “man with no name” in the story seems to be based on him (Ryan) and the way he operates.

Eventually Jimmy gets to the point: he saved Hammett’s life when our hero was new at detective work, and Ryan is finally calling in the debt that Sam owes him for that. The former colleague thus lures Hammett back into detective work for one last case. Continue reading

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THE HAN SOLO OF THE 1930s: NORTHWEST SMITH

Northwest Smith

Northwest Smith

With the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters now what better time for my profile of the Han Solo of the 1930s. Female author C.L. Moore wrote a series of pulp adventures about her often neglected science fiction figure Northwest Smith.

THE HERO: Space traveling anti-hero Smith was created by the female writer C.L. Moore in the 1930s. Four decades before Han Solo, Northwest Smith was a ruthless swashbuckling smuggler, thief and all-around mercenary. Smith’s less than sterling character made him a refreshing change from the usually wholesome pulp heroes of the time.

THE STORIES: Northwest Smith’s adventures take place in the far future, when regular trade exists between Earth and the native inhabitants of Mars and Venus. The other planets in the solar system have been colonized by those Big Three worlds, providing a backdrop that combines elements of westerns, seagoing adventures and colonial-era war stories.

Wielding a blaster like a six-gun and piloting his deceptively fast and maneuverable spaceship The Maid Smith and his Venusian partner Yarol roam the solar system making a living by plying various illegal trades. Though Northwest and Yarol are career criminals they often find themselves forced by circumstances into taking actions similar to those of traditional heroes. Their motive is usually their own survival rather than altruism. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN NOVELS: SIXTH PLACE

Alan Bates -better Flashman than MalcolmFor Balladeer’s Blog’s Number One Harry Flashman Novel click HERE  . For background info on George MacDonald Fraser’s infamous anti-hero Harry Paget Flashman you can also click that link.

Reaction to my list of The Top Five Harry Flashman Novels continues to come in, with readers wanting more Flashman reviews. Here’s my take on the novel which would have been in sixth place if I had done a list of my Top Six Harry Flashman Novels.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light6. FLASHMAN AND THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT (1990)

Time Period: The First Sikh War (1845-1846)

The Flashman Papers jump around to different periods of Harry Flashman’s life and this novel details our main character’s adventures following the events in Flashman’s Lady, published in 1977. Flashman’s Lady came in 3rd place in my rankings.

NOTE: The Mountain of Light of the novel’s title refers to the Koh-I-Noor (“Mountain of Light”) Diamond, which at the time belonged to the rulers of the Punjab in India and which features prominently in the story.  

Synopsis: Queen Victoria’s least trustworthy Cavalry Officer, Harry Paget Flashman, is once again in the thick of things. A series of false starts to an all-out war have set things dangerously on edge in the Punjab, with a potential bloodbath in the offing if one false move is made.

Flashman and the Mountain of Light 2Harry being Harry, he STILL manages to find time for a brief fling with the wife of a fellow British Officer before getting thrust into the line of fire. And into the schemes and political machinations of the real-life Maharani Jeendan, her brother Jawaheer, the British East India Company and a fanatical military sect called the Khalsa.

At the center of this tangled web, lurking like a thing alive, is the Koh-I-Noor Diamond, the Mountain of Light itself, passing from hand to hand – and in some cases navel to navel – while being coveted by nearly every figure in our story. Figures which include two American mercenaries who partially inspired Kipling’s tale of The Man Who Would Be King.   

The title and savage action of this Flashman novel certainly put one in mind of H. Rider Haggard’s writings but the story’s account of hedonism and political intrigues at the Punjab royal court in Lahore is more along the lines of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius.

The deliciously decadent Maharani Jeendan is our protagonist’s main bedmate in his latest sword and sex adventure, followed closely by Mangla, the Maharani’s beautiful, calculating slave who had – as history confirms – engineered events to secretly become one of the wealthiest women of the Punjab despite her condition of servitude.     Continue reading

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REMEMBERING THE MOON MAN

The Moon Man

The Moon Man

THE MOON MAN – Created by Frederick C Davis, the Moon Man is, to me, the epitome of the campy but fascinating heroes the old 1930s pulp publications used to treat readers to, issue after issue. Operating in fictional Great City, the Moon Man not only waged war on the ruthless representatives of the criminal element, he also plundered their ill-gotten wealth from them and distributed it to the Great Depression-ravaged poor of the 1930s.

This not only made the hero a combination of the best elements of the Shadow and Robin Hood, but it also gave him a healthy dose of “Green Hornet appeal”, too, because, like the Hornet, the Moon Man was hunted by both the crooks AND the cops, doubling the danger for the  daring and resourceful figure every time he donned his costume and stalked the night-darkened streets.

That costume, by the way, is beloved by some fans for its hammy, campy, “pulpish” quality, but is just barely tolerated by others for the same reason. The Moon Man was armed with an automatic and dressed all in black, usually including a black cloak, and hid his face behind a round glass globe that covered his entire head.

The globe was made of one-way Argus glass, the glass Speakeasies used to use for their windows during Prohibition, so the customers inside could see anyone approaching the illegal boozery but cops approaching it would see only their reflection in the glass. Similarly the Moon Man could see out of the globe but people looking at him would see just the mirrored surface of the globe. The globe-headed aspect of the Moon Man’s outfit often annoys people who take pulps a little too seriously, but to me it adds to the old-fashioned fun. Continue reading

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