Tag Archives: book reviews

REMARKABLE EXPERIENCES IN ANOTHER WORLD (1899): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

pharaoh's brokerPHARAOH’S BROKER: BEING THE VERY REMARKABLE EXPERIENCES IN ANOTHER WORLD OF ISIDOR WERNER WRITTEN BY HIMSELF (1899) – Written by Elmer Dwiggins under the name Ellsworth Douglass. For obvious reasons I shortened the title for the blog post headline.

Isidor Werner is a successful wheeling and dealing speculator on the grain market in Chicago. His old teacher from Heidelberg, Professor Anderwelt, comes to him seeking financial backing for an antigravity device he is working on. In exchange for 90% of the profits from the device (seems reasonable), Werner agrees.

Anderwelt uses the funding not only on the antigravity technology but for the construction of a spaceship. The professor convinces his former student Isidor to ride along with him on a trip to Mars. Continue reading

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THE SCARLET PLAGUE (1912): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

scarlet plagueTHE SCARLET PLAGUE (1912) – Written by THE Jack London. Years ago Balladeer’s Blog reviewed London’s mad scientist horror tale A Thousand Deaths, now I’ll examine The Scarlet Plague, London’s post-apocalypse plague story set in the year 2073.

              Jack London opens up this novella with a grim look at what life is like in the aftermath of the Scarlet Plague which swept the planet in the year 2013. Many recent reviews of this book focus purely on the disease angle because of the world’s ongoing Covid experience, but I think they overlook a lot of London’s political and class commentary. 

I’ll take a look at the way in which London presented the pre-plague America of 2013 as a dystopia even before the first victim of the Scarlet Plague passed away. The elderly survivor recounting the tale to his grandchildren in 2073 doesn’t describe it that way because he was in a privileged class as an “educator”.

scarlet plague 2James Howard Smith is that elderly survivor in a world returned largely to hunting and gathering. He is cared for by his three grandsons, Edwin and two others whose absurd names probably contribute to keeping The Scarlet Plague so underappreciated – Hoo-Hoo and Harelip. (?) They get by as well as they can in northern California, raising dogs to help them herd the goats that they raise for meat and milk, and relying on the ocean for much of the rest of their food supply. Primitive weapons like bows and arrows are all they have on hand to use against wild bears and other menaces. Continue reading

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THE SHIELD: HIS FIRST TWENTY STORIES

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers have made it clear they love these light-hearted superhero posts on weekends, so here we go with the first twenty stories of the MLJ character the Shield. 

ShieldTHE SHIELD

Secret Identity: Doctor Joe Higgins, a chemist.

Origin: On his deathbed Joe’s father Tom revealed to him the secret of a chemical formula he had been working on. That formula could bestow superpowers on a normal human being. As Joe grew older he got his PhD in chemistry, finished his father’s formula and used it on himself, gaining superpowers. He devised a special costume and fought the forces of evil as the Shield, a super-powered operative of the FBI. 

First Appearance: Pep Comics #1 (January 1940). His final Golden Age appearance came in late 1945. 

shield picPowers: The chemical formula that the Shield rubbed onto his skin followed by bombardment with flouroscopic rays endowed him with massive super-strength plus invulnerability and the ability to leap enormous distances. His name came from an acronym for the areas of the human anatomy affected by his chemical formula: S – Sacrum H – Heart I – Innervation E – Eyes L – Lungs D – Derma. The Shield also wore an indestructible costume which encased his torso like a shield.

Comment: The Shield was America’s first star-spangled superhero, beating Captain America into print by more than a year. He eventually had a youthful sidekick called Dusty and a private detective sweetheart named Betty Warren. His archenemy was the Vulture. His adventures continued until December of 1945. Only J Edgar Hoover knew the Shield’s secret identity. Yes, J Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI, proving that even back then the FBI was a crooked and politically corrupt organization.

pep 1PEP COMICS #1 (January 1940)

Title: The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary

Villains: A Stokian spy ring

Synopsis: The Shield is given his first assignment. He must destroy a spy ring from the fictional nation of Stokia after the ring blows up a munitions factory, sabotages commercial shipping and assassinates U.S. military personnel. Our hero defeats all of the villains and survives their explosion of the Hotel Braganza. 

NOTE: This is the first time readers see the Shield attach wires from his earpieces to telephone wires so that his enhanced hearing can “bug” the room of his targets. Continue reading

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THE CAVERN OF FIRE (1888): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

boys of new yorkTHE CAVERN OF FIRE (1888) – Written by Francis W Doughty. This novel was originally serialized in The Boys of New York from September 15th to November 3rd of 1888. The main character is Professor Hardcastle, head of Merton College in Illinois. Hardcastle’s pet theory over the years has been that America’s mound builders were really from ancient Greece.

At long last he gets some proof of his belief when a tornado not only slams Merton College but also tears open one of the aged mounds in question. Hardcastle, his student Jack Merton and their Chinese aide John Foo discover an iron chest in the opened mound. The chest contains leather pages which, when translated by the professor, are revealed to feature the account of an ancient Greek adventurer named Polyxaphanes.

Polyxaphanes explored far northern caverns leading deep into the Earth, past the realm of the Hyperboreans and ultimately surfacing amid the Toltecs of what is now Mexico. From there the resourceful Greek eventually found his way to America. Hardcastle, Merton and Foo set off in a lighter than air balloon to search for the Mexican end of the vast subterranean cavern system described by Polyxaphanes. Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER FIFTY-FIVE: APRIL 1912

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT IN THE 1850s, CLICK HERE  

Fool Killer with staff and Bowie knifePART FIFTY-FIVE – Here is a look at some of the Fool Killer’s targets in the April of 1912 edition of James Larkin Pearson’s version of the character:

*** The Steel Trust – Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller and other “Big Ikes of the Steel Trust”, as Pearson and his Fool Killer called them. The bloated rich pigs were in the news again because – just like today’s corporate rich pigs at Google, Facebook, Twitter and others they were being called out on their prejudiced behavior and their contempt for the notion that Congress or the Stanley Committee or anyone else could hold them accountable.

              They had recently boasted that they were above nations because without their steel the U.S. and some other countries could not wage war or engage in engineering & construction projects or build cargo ships, railroads, etc. Whistleblowers at the steel companies had recently made public statements about the ways the Steel Trust collaborated to control steel prices, EXCLUDE COMPETITION and undertake other acts in violation of Anti-Trust laws at what they called “Gary Dinners.” Testimony from 55 figures had already been heard.

              Another way they were just as disgusting as today’s Big Tech/ Technofascists was the way that untold numbers of SUBPOENAED DOCUMENTS HAD BEEN DESTROYED BY THE CORPORATIONS INVOLVED (like privileged white one-percenter Hillary Clinton flagrantly destroyed so much of the evidence against her). Those documents allegedly contained proof that Steel Trust figures had not only violated the law but had committed perjury in their courtroom testimony. Corporate fascists like Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and others seem to slither the same way no matter the time period.

Fool Killer Red*** Judges and other high officials who betrayed their public trusts. He favored the recall process for judges as well as others. 

*** Tobacco companies plus tobacco users like smokers and snuff-chewers. Continue reading

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THE CLOCK: THE FIRST TWENTY STORIES FROM THE 1930s

Clock chaseBefore Batman, before Captain America and even before Superman himself, came the Clock, written and drawn by George E Brenner. The Clock was the first masked crimefighter in comic books, debuting in 1936, while the much more popular Batman didn’t come along until 1939. I’m not pointing that out to diss Batman, but to point out what a shame it is that the Clock seems to have been forgotten by most of the world. The figure is pretty much the middle character between Pulp heroes like the Shadow and the Moon Man and comic book superheroes. The Clock’s influence on Will Eisner’s iconic character the Spirit is obvious.

clock and pugTHE CLOCK

Secret Identity: Brian O’Brien

First Appearance: Funny Pages Vol 1 #6 (November 1936) His final Golden Age appearance came in 1944.

Origin: Brian O’Brien was born into the wealthy O’Brien family of New York City. The adventurous youth loved flying in early biplanes and served in World War One as a fighter pilot. After the war he went to college where he became an All-American Fullback, then moved on to Law School. Following graduation he was a fixture on the High Society polo scene while eventually becoming a District Attorney.

O’Brien gained a reputation as a crusading anti-crime figure but ultimately the extensive corruption in New York City politics and law enforcement frustrated any true attempts at reform. He retired from his D.A. career and, while seemingly returning to his carefree socialite life, secretly adopted the masked identity of the Clock to fight crime through bypassing the city’s systemic corruption. At first only his father knew about his dual identity.

clock fightPowers: The Clock was the prototype for the countless non-powered costumed crimefighters to come. He was in peak physical condition and was a master of unarmed combat. He possessed the agility of an Olympic gymnast and was a marksman with the handgun he carried into action with him. In addition he was a master detective and investigator whose knowledge of the law helped him compile evidence against his foes. 

              This hero’s mask had white eyeholes which allowed him to see in the dark and its fabric would filter out the effects of the knockout gas and teargas his tie-pin could shoot at opponents. The Clock’s cane was a durable weapon in combat plus it featured a few gadgets, like being able to fire its round top at opponents with the force of a bullet. His hat sported a metal lining to help minimize damage from blows to the head and he sometimes wore body armor under his suit and tie. Clock time-bombs which filled entire rooms with knockout gas or tear gas were on occasion employed by this figure.

              O’Brien called himself the Clock just to fit his Pulp-style calling cards which said “The CLOCK has struck” and similar phrases. In later years he would have sidekicks like Pug, an ex-boxer and Butch, a tomboyish teenage girl.        

clock pics1. FUNNY PAGES Vol 1 #6 (November 1936) – #9 (March 1937)

Title: The Clock Strikes

Villains: The Slick Martin Gang 

Synopsis: The Clock handles his first case, tracking down a gang of three bank robbers, outfighting and capturing them all and leaving his calling card identifying himself as the Clock. He also phones Police Captain Kane and tells him where to find the bound and unconscious Slick Martin and Butch.

              In the edgy ending, our hero turns Killer Katz, the gang member who shot a man dead during the gang’s most recent robbery, over to a vengeful mob led by the brother of the slain man. They beat him to death and the newspapers are all speculating on who the Clock may be. We get our first glimpse of our hero’s fairly plush secret office as he writes down the details of this case.    Continue reading

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ARE THE PLANETS INHABITED? (1913): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

are the planets inhabitedARE THE PLANETS INHABITED? (1913) – Written by Edward Walter Maunder, this book began with ridicule of the outdated belief that the sun and moon might be inhabited, but it doesn’t exactly embody scientific accuracy itself. Therefore I’m classifying it as science fiction even though in 1913 it was considered to be a series of observations adhering to rigid scientific principles.

MARS – Maunder hilariously refers over and over again to “independent confirmations” that Mars had canals. It was believed that these canals provided water from the planet’s polar ice caps to the rest of the desert planet. The author proceeds to cite observations from no less an authority than Percival Lowell, who in 1894 added “oases” at the “junctions” of Schiaparelli’s Martian canals.

              The supposed regularity and precision of those oases (reservoirs might have been a better term, even though it, too, would be in error) “proved” to scientists of the time that they could NOT be mere natural formations. This book explains that the Martians are apparently mounting a monumental engineering project in a losing battle to keep their population alive. Continue reading

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QUALITY COMICS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

mascot sword and gun pic

BALLADEER’S BLOG

Okay, regular readers definitely let me hear it over the way I skipped doing a light-hearted superhero post last weekend. I’m taking a look at the Quality Comics characters as they were in the Golden Age before they got absorbed by the black hole of DC Comics, into which the IPs of other publishers have been mangled to fit their latest “Crisis” nonsense. The days when they had the heroes of each newly acquired company set on an alternate Earth sound much more fun, but I’m not a comic book expert.

the rayTHE RAY

Secret Identity: Happy Terrill

First Appearance: Smash Comics #14 (September 1940) His final Golden Age appearance came in 1943.

Origin: While covering a scientist named Dr Styne as he tested his experimental lighter than air craft, New York Star reporter Happy Terrill rode along but got exposed to solar radiation and struck by lightning. (I hate when that happens!) This freak accident gave him superpowers with which he fought crime as the Ray.

Powers: The Ray could fly, shoot solar energy and electricity from his hands and turn his entire body into energy if needed. He drew power from light so extended periods shut off from all light sources would leave him powerless.

Comment: Like so many other Golden Age superheroes, the Ray was co-created by Will Eisner.   

lady luckLADY LUCK

Secret Identity: Brenda Banks

First Appearance: The Spirit Section (June 1940). Her final Golden Age appearance came in 1950.

Origin: Brenda Banks was the daughter of wealthy mine owner Bickford Banks. Growing bored with her luxurious life as a socialite, she secretly studied all manner of unarmed combat and donned a costume to fight the forces of evil as Lady Luck, in honor of her Irish heritage. Continue reading

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RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: LINKS

rivals of sherlockThank you to those Balladeer’s Blog readers who reminded me that I hadn’t provided a post with the links to ALL my reviews of the episodes of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. That was a 1971-1973 British television series which adapted Victorian Age and Edwardian Age stories about detectives other than Sherlock Holmes.

1971 SEASON

masc graveyard smallerA MESSAGE FROM THE DEEP SEA – R Austin Freeman’s police surgeon detective Doctor John Evelyn Thorndyke (created in 1907) uses his unique talents to investigate the murder of a London prostitute. Click HERE.

THE WOMAN IN THE BIG HAT – Molly Robertson-Kirk aka Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, was created by THE Baroness Orczy in 1910. In this mystery she solves the murder of a man left poisoned in a public eatery by the title suspect. Click HERE

THE AFFAIR OF THE AVALANCHE BICYCLE & TYRE CO. LTD – Arthur Morrison’s 1897 creation Horace Dorrington, a roguish and frequently dishonest private investigator, gets to the bottom of the public stock offering from a mysterious new corporation which may be running a scam. Click HERE.

THE RIPENING RUBIES – Bernard Sutton, a jeweler who solves mysteries, was created by Max Pemberton in 1894. In this case he solves a series of spectacular jewel thefts in London high society. Click HERE.

MADAME SARA – In 1902 L.T. Meade (Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith) and Robert Eustace published this first of six mysteries pitting their detective Dixon Druce against Madame Sara, a female combination of Professor Moriarty and Dr Fu Manchu. Click HERE. Continue reading

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THE STEAM MAN OF THE PRAIRIES (1868): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Steam Man of the PrairiesTHE STEAM MAN OF THE PRAIRIES (1868) – Written by Edward Sylvester Ellis. Before the Frank Reade stories came this work that is often hailed as the first Dime Novel with a science fiction theme.

Ellis seems to have been inspired by the REAL and well-known Newark Steam Man built by Zadoc P Dederick in January of 1868. That Steam Man was built strictly to pull carts and wagonloads up and down the street. Its human appearance was just a novelty.

Back to Ellis’ novel: In Saint Louis lives Johnny Brainerd, a 15 year old dwarf with a hunchback, who has a brilliant mind in his misshapen body. After a long line of somewhat modest inventions Johnny constructs a human-shaped Steam Man that stands 9 feet tall. It has long legs with spiked feet, has the boilers in its chest, the firepot in its stomach and lets excess steam vent from its hat. (Dederick’s Newark Steam Man also wore a top hat.) The creation’s nose serves as its whistle, like on a tea kettle.      Continue reading

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