Tag Archives: book reviews

PULP HERO G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES: STORIES THIRTY-FOUR THROUGH THIRTY-SIX

Curse of the Sky WolvesBalladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the neglected Pulp Hero G-8. This continues a story-by- story look at the adventures of this World War One American fighter pilot who – along with his two wingmen the Battle Aces – took on various supernatural and super- scientific menaces thrown at the Allied Powers by the Central Powers of Germany, Austria- Hungary and the Ottoman Muslim Turks.

G-8 was created by Robert J Hogan in 1933 when World War One was still being called simply the World War or the Great War. Over the next eleven years Hogan wrote 110 stories featuring the adventures of G-8, the street-smart pug Nippy Weston and the brawny giant Bull Martin. The regular cast was rounded out by our hero’s archenemy Doktor Krueger, by Battle, G-8’s British manservant and by our hero’s girlfriend R-1: an American nurse/ spy whose real name, like G-8’s was never revealed.

Curse of the Sky Wolves34. CURSE OF THE SKY WOLVES (July 1936) – As we all know if there’s one thing more dangerous than wolf-men it’s wolf-men involved in aerial combat. This exciting adventure introduces a new villain – Amed Ghezi, an Ottoman Muslim Turk who wields the secret of turning men into deadly, relentless werewolves.

Since G-8 and his Battle Aces have proven to be the most dangerous opponents of the Central Powers Amed Ghezi and his lycanthropic shock troops are called to the Western Front to eliminate our heroes once and for all. G-8, Bull Martin and Nippy Weston have survived mummies, walking skeletons, headless zombies and intelligent gorillas but will these supernatural foes be their downfall? Find out amid dogfights, gunfights, fist-fights and desperate battles with savage wolf-men on land and in the skies over No Man’s Land!   Continue reading

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MALDOROR 3:5 – THE RED LANTERN AT TWILIGHT

Maldoror 3 5 red lantern

Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror. This is one of the most twisted sections of a book loaded with them. And be forewarned … when I say this is twisted I mean TWISTED. You’ve been warned.

THE RED LANTERN AT TWILIGHT

All of the action in this stanza takes place at twilight and the first moments of darkness. The supernatural being Maldoror comes upon a French brothel that used to be a convent centuries before. A rough wooden bridge leads across a stream of filth to the establishment. Customers take their leave by crawling out through a grate into a courtyard littered with chickens and chicken filth.

Continue reading

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FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH: 1907 NOVEL

friday-the-thirteenth-novelFRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH (1907) – Written by Thomas William Lawson, a writer and stock manipulator who made a fortune from shady stock deals … in between advocating for cleaning up Wall Street to shut down those fleece jobs. The reforms Lawson campaigned for were taken up decades later when Franklin Roosevelt appointed future Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas to head the Securities Exchange Commission.

Coincidentally enough the overall feel of Friday the Thirteenth put me in mind of FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. The novel did that with its New York setting, with the way the story takes place late in T.R.’s presidency and most especially with the way it dealt with ethics in the marketplace.  

lawson-cartoon-betterJim Randolph, one of the novel’s main characters, is in the T.R. mold: he may be a bloated rich pig but at least he’s a bloated rich pig with a sense of noblesse oblige. Jim shares Teddy Roosevelt’s disdain for the Trusts and for con men who use the stock market to rip off their clients.

It’s not as if Jim Randolph is as fiery as Teddy Forstmann was in his opposition to Leveraged Buy Outs during the 1980s, but like Forstmann he has a sense of what makes for a healthy economy and frowns upon the fly-by-night operators who thrive on irresponsible “frenzied finance” as Randolph calls it.   Continue reading

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REVIEW OF GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905): PART TWO

GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold. In Part One of this review I explored this novel’s alternate titles and its cult reputation, plus the controversy which used to rage over whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs may have read this work and gained inspiration for certain elements of his John Carter of Mars series. I also dealt with the end of that controversy when it became better known that BOTH Arnold and Burroughs may have been inspired by Gustavus Pope’s 1894 novel Journey to Mars.

Here in Part Two is the review proper, including revisions I would have made to Edwin Arnold’s incredibly flawed story. 

Gullivar and woman he with back to usGullivar Jones on Mars starts out in the late 1860s or early 1870s with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Gullivar Jones, a veteran of the Union forces in the Civil War, in New York City on shore leave. He comes into possession of a Turkish rug with unexplained mystical powers. While standing on the unrolled rug he wishes he was on Mars and the flying carpet transports him there. (?)

REVISION: I would keep all of Gullivar Jones’ background info the same, but instead of the Turkish rug I would have him be one of many New Yorkers drawn to a strange spacecraft which lands near the docks. The daring Jones would climb into the remote-controlled vessel, which would trap him inside, sedate him with gas and then fly off back to Mars. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN DOWN UNDER: LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

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 )

That being the case, here’s another of my speculations 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.

(For Flashman in the Opium War & Flashman and the Kings click HERE   For Flashman on the Gold Coast click HERE  For Flashman of Arabia click HERE For Flashman’s Guiana click HERE   and for The Battle Cry of Flashman click HERE)

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. (In Flash for Freedom Harry mentioned playing cards in Australia with bags of gold dust as the stakes.)  Continue reading

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GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Gulliver Jones on MarsGULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold, this novel was originally published under the title Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation. Years later, with the spelling of the lead character’s first name altered, it was published as Gulliver of Mars. Over the years it was revived under a variety of titles. I’m using the title that I prefer – Gullivar Jones On Mars.   

This will be a simultaneous review and a running tally of the revisions I would have made to the story. This very oddly written novel BEGS to be rewritten because of the long line of self-defeating creative choices that Edwin L Arnold made throughout the tale.

Gullivar Jones black and whiteIf Arnold had written this story decades later it could have been said that he was intentionally subverting the tropes of heroic sword & science epics. Unfortunately, this novel instead seems to be the victim of ineptitude on the author’s part.

Like when you’re watching a bad movie, a reader’s jaw drops at the way Arnold never failed to let a brilliant concept die on the vine, or the way he repeatedly sets up potentially action-packed or highly dramatic story developments only to let them culminate in unsatisfying cul de sacs or peter out into lame anticlimax. There’s almost a perverse genius to the way that the narrative constantly works against itself. Continue reading

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THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (1908): HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Happy Halloween 2020 from Balladeer’s Blog!

House on the BorderlandTHE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (1908) – Written by William Hope Hodgson. This tale is a terrific but often overlooked forerunner of Lovecraftian horror blended with traditional haunted house elements. Throw in material that puts the reader in mind of Madame Blavatsky’s and Aleister Crowley’s horror fiction and it’s a magnificent story for Halloween. 

Our tale is set in and around an isolated house in a desolate, eerie location in West Ireland. The main character is an elderly man who lives there with his sister. His sleep is tainted with disturbing dreams that become more like occult visions of barren but impossible landscapes. (Think “If M.C. Esher did landscaping.”)

In those visions his and his sister’s house is always in the middle of the terrifying geography. After these unsettling experiences on the astral plane the material version of those forces are unleashed in the real world by a minor earthquake near our main character’s house.

Swinish humanoids that resemble the illusory pig-faced monster in the movie Boardinghouse emerge from the new fissure and besiege the two terrified humans, Night of the Living Dead style. Continue reading

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SON OF SATAN: MOST HALLOWEENISH COVERS

masc graveyard smallerBalladeer’s Blog’s Month-long celebration of Halloween nears its end for 2020 as I take a look at the most seasonal covers of the 1970s Marvel Comics series Son of Satan. The latest Marvel television show, Helstrom, is a very watered-down and weak version of their horror character Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan and a mortal woman. (They didn’t even use both “L’s” in the name Hellstrom for the series title, as if h-e-l-l is too shocking for public use.)

Marvel later renamed Daimon from Son of Satan to the catchier “Hellstorm” – a play on his last name. From what I’ve read the tv show doesn’t even commit to him being Satan’s son. Wimps. He FIGHTS Satan, for crying out loud, so where’s the harm!

Son of satan 1MARVEL SPOTLIGHT Vol 1 #12 (October 1973)

Title: The Son of Satan

Villain: Satan

Comment: Daimon Hellstrom and his half-sister Satana (click HERE) were both born of human mothers but with Satan as their father. Satana followed their father’s evil path but Daimon rebelled, fighting against their father and his minions and even trying to become a priest at one time.

In his secret identity Daimon was a professor of parapsychology and religion plus he served as an exorcist. When he held up both hands with three fingers up on each hand (the sign of the trident) he mystically transformed into his Son of Satan regalia complete with a pitchfork.

That pitchfork was made of nether-metal and through it the Son of Satan generated Hellfire (like Ghost Rider wielded) and used it to fly (like Hot Stuff – rimshot). This foe of demonic forces also had an infernal chariot pulled through the sky by three Satanic horses named Amon, Hecate and Set. Continue reading

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THE MAGICIAN (1908) – HALLOWEEN READING

magician-by-somerset-maughamTHE MAGICIAN – During Halloween Season a few years back Balladeer’s Blog reviewed the 1926 silent movie adaptation of The Magician. This time around I’ll review the original Somerset Maugham novel from 1908. It’s no secret at this late date that the malevolent sorceror of the title, Oliver Haddo, was based on the real-life Aleister Crowley. In fact, Crowley would accuse Maugham of plagiarism when he reviewed The Magician under the name Oliver Haddo, his fictional counterpart.

At any rate the 1926 film is an under-appreciated classic of the Silent Era and the novel is of an even higher quality. In Paris – where Maugham first met Crowley in real life – Dr Arthur Burdon, a prominent young British surgeon, has come to visit his fiancee, artist Margaret Dauncey.

Burdon also visits his elderly former mentor, Dr Porhoet, who has turned from medicine to the study of Magick and the occult arts. It is through Porhoet that Dr Burdon and Margaret – plus Margaret’s friend Susie Boyd – first encounter the elegant yet repellant Oliver Haddo. The cadre of friends make the mistake of ridiculing the boastful Haddo’s claims of being a sorceror in the young 20th Century. Continue reading

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GHOST RIDER: THE MOST HALLOWEENISH COVERS

Halloween Month hurls toward its conclusion with another seasonal post. The Marvel Comics juggernaut is THE power in pop culture these days so here is another look at one of their horror characters from their 1970s heyday.

spotlight 5MARVEL SPOTLIGHT Vol 1 #5 (August 1972)

Title: Ghost Rider

Villain: Satan

Comment: Ah, the sweet simplicity of the original Ghost Rider stories! Daredevil biker Johnny Blaze makes a deal with the devil: Johnny’s soul in exchange for Satan curing the cancer in the body of Blaze’s mentor “Crash” Simpson.

We all know how deals with the devil go, and Satan cures Simpson’s cancer but the aging daredevil motorcyclist dies in an accident during his next show. When Satan comes to claim Johnny’s soul, Blaze’s true love Roxanne Simpson (Crash’s daughter) interferes and negates the infernal contract.

The stymied devil can’t take Johnny to Hell but can inflict a kind of “Hell in nightly installments” on him by cursing him to become a monstrous fiery-skulled figure every night from then on.

NOTE: Convoluted additions about soul-reaping or about Johnny’s Ghost Rider form really being a specific demon named Zarathos, or past Ghost Riders did not come along til years later. The first Ghost Rider movie should have kept it simple like this and started adding the complications beginning with the second film. Continue reading

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