Category Archives: Pulp Heroes

ROBERT LUDLUM EXPANDED UNIVERSE

Mascot 1Here at Balladeer’s Blog I’m about responding to you readers. Some of you responded very strongly to the way I sprinkled my reviews of Robert Ludlum’s Top Seven Novels with observations of what I would have liked to see in terms of offshoots or spin-off stories. So, since Expanded Universes are becoming all the rage in recent decades here’s an outline of my fan fiction-style view of an Expanded Robert Ludlum Universe.

Robert LudlumI. BEOWULF AGATE – Series of short stories or a made for cable series. The tales would be set from the 1950s to late 1970s, ending just before the events in The Matarese Circle. Ludlum’s fictional intelligence organization Consular Operations would take center stage.

Brandon Scofield, codename Beowulf Agate, one of the main characters of The Matarese Circle, would be shown pulling off his highest level defections from the Soviet Union in his best “Cold War version of the Scarlet Pimpernel” style. Every so often he would clash with his archenemy – KGB Agent Vasili Taleniekov. To up the suspense level sometimes Taleniekov would win their clashes. 

Bourne IdentityII. OPERATION: MEDUSA – Another series of short stories or a made for cable series. Ludlum’s Operation: Medusa was his fictional version of the Vietnam War’s real-life Phoenix Project. Operation: Medusa was the top-secret, paramilitary Black Operations outfit in which David Webb aka Jason Bourne got his first covert experience.

Officially disavowed by the U.S. government, Medusans spent the final few years of the Vietnam War pulling off assassinations, abducting and torturing information out of North Vietnamese movers and shakers, committing acts of sabotage AND facilitating escapes from POW camps. David Webb, his brother Gordon, D’Anjou (Codename: Echo), Alexander Conklin and “The Monk” himself, David Abbot would be the main characters but we would meet new Medusans, too. Continue reading

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IN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904): LIKE A FORERUNNER OF INDIANA JONES

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buckIN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904) by Robert W Chambers. Previously Balladeer’s Blog examined Chambers’ underrated horror classic The King in Yellow. The work we’re looking at this time around is a collection of short stories about Gilland the Zoologist. Gilland was a forerunner of the real-life Frank “Bring ’em Back Alive” Buck and the fictional Indiana Jones.

Our daring hero worked for the Bronx Zoological Gardens and was frequently dispatched by Professor Farrago to try to bring in dangerous crypto-zoological specimens or disprove their existence if they were hoaxes. The stories in this volume:

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buck-2I. THE HARBOR MASTER – Gilland is sent north to Hudson Bay where a Harbor Master has reported capturing a pair of Great Auks, flightless birds which went extinct in the mid-1800s. The two-fisted scholar finds the Great Auks are for real but the Harbor Master harbors (see what I did there) a sinister secret.

This story also features the Harbor Master’s beautiful secretary, who naturally catches Gilland’s eye, and a gilled merman (shades of Creature From The Black Lagoon), who wants to mate with the lovely lady himself. Gilland’s not having it, of course, and must do battle with the creature.  

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buck-3II. IN QUEST OF THE DINGUE – The Graham Glacier melts, unleashing a number of animals from species that were long thought extinct. Among the crowd of academics converging on the unexplored area are Gilland and Professor Smawl. The Professor is a sexy, strong-willed female scholar that our hero has been forced to accompany into the region.

The battle of the sexes bickering flies like shrapnel as the pair encounter Woolly Mammoths and other creatures, find a primitive bell called a dingue and run afoul of a gigantic super-powered woman who calls herself the Spirit of the North. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN ITEM: “SO HOW WOULD I HAVE HANDLED HIS CIVIL WAR ADVENTURES?”

Battle Cry of Flashman Shadow RidersI guess technically this could have been one of my Ask Balladeer segments. Some readers and fellow Harry Flashman fans reacted to my speculative look at what George MacDonald Fraser might have had in mind for Flashman’s U.S. Civil War adventures by asking me how I’d have handled it. Some were just curious, others were ticked off that I dared to criticize what I saw as Fraser forcing Harry into WAY too many Civil War incidents. So here we go with how I’d have handled it:

Last time around I said my prospective title would be The Battle Cry of Flashman as a play on The Battle Cry of Freedom.  I’d have stuck to Fraser’s original references in the first few Flashman Papers, references that limited Harry’s involvement to part of 1862 and part of 1863. I would also have avoided having Harry – a British Cavalry Officer – outrightly joining American armies.   

Selleck 2THE SET-UP: In February or March of 1862 Flashman has been back in England with his wife Elspeth since the spring of 1861, following his involvement in the Taranaki War in New Zealand.

Queen Victoria’s government is pondering whether or not to recognize the Confederate States of America, which broke away from the Union nearly a year earlier. The fate of nations hangs on this. Official recognition of the Confederacy may well enable them to win, just like the original 13 Colonies were helped against England by recognition from France. Continue reading

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THE BATTLE CRY OF FLASHMAN: LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

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

Kevin Kline Flashman-type pic bigProjected Title: THE BATTLE CRY OF FLASHMAN

Time Period: Part of the United States Civil War

NOTE: The title is a play on the famous Civil War ballad The Battle Cry of Freedom. That title was also used for one of Bruce Catton’s examinations of the conflict.

The Story: Personally I think a collection of short stories would be the only way of reconciling all the scattered and varied references made to Flashman’s Civil War adventures in other novels. From those other Fraser writings we know that Harry somehow wound up serving on both sides of the war but ultimately won a Medal of Honor for his service in the Union Army.

Further complicating things is the fact that the author mentioned how Flashman left and re-entered the U.S. multiple times during the war after his initial involvement starting at some point in 1862.  Continue reading

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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 Kings aka 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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