Pulp Fiction


CALL ME ISHMAEL!
Windy City Pulp Convention Report, 2015
by Walker Martin

   MOBY DICK is one on my favorite novels and it’s fitting that I start off my report concerning my bizarre and insane adventures by quoting the beginning of this adventurous novel. Takes a lot of nerve but nobody ever said that collectors lack nerve, that’s for sure! As I’ve mentioned in the past reports, a gang of the usual collectors always rent a large van for the convention. Five of us went this time and the cargo space was filled going out and coming back. One of these days there will not be room for someone on the return trip.

   I’ve known these fellow collectors for many years and between us, we have over 250 years of collecting experience. We call the big white van, “The Great White Whale”, but I also think we are searching for the white whale or that Holy Grail of pulp collecting. I’ve been attending these pulp shows for over 40 years and I hope to make it to the 50 year mark. I really believe the pulp conventions are the reason I have accumulated thousands of books and pulps.

   I get excited each year and despite being a collector for 60 years, I’m always looking for new things to add to my book, pulp, and art collection. This year I had 6 goals:

1–Upgrade my 99 issue set of STARTLING STORIES. I’ve had a complete set since the 1950’s, but I decided to try for fine condition.

2–Get an issue of HUTCHINSON’S ADVENTURE STORY MAGAZINE. This British pulp is so rare that I’ve never had an issue.

3–Finally obtain a nice piece of art by Richard Powers. I’ve been looking for decades but I’ve never found the right piece.

4–Get an Emsh cover. Again, I’ve been looking for long time. (I did. Look to the right: ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, December 1958)

5–Lee Brown Coye has been a long time favorite but I’ve never found one of his better pieces of art.

6-And finally, trade off a DANGER TRAILS illustration by John Fleming Gould for some other pulp art. His son says it’s the first of the 15,000 illustrations that Gould did.

   I consider the above to be an ambitious set of goals but I managed to complete all six at Windy City. This is proof, once again, of just how important it is to attend the pulp conventions. If I hadn’t gone to Chicago, I’d still be sitting here thinking about completing these six projects. There was a massive amount of material available at the convention. 150 dealer’s tables and around 500 attendees, all in a large room. Many of the tables had boxes and smaller tables set up filled full of additional books and pulps. For a book and fiction magazine collector, an amazing sight to see.

   In fact, many collectors eat a large breakfast because they know they will not be able to leave the dealer’s room for lunch. I mean, who can think of eating in a big room full of books and magazines? Forget sex, drinking, dope, gambling, and all the other vices! We are collectors with a capital C and this is Windy City! All that other stuff can wait until the convention is finished.

   In addition to books and pulps, there also is an emphasis on artwork from the pulps, slicks, digests, men’s adventure magazines, and paperbacks. I counted several dealers with art and I managed to buy quite a few pieces for my collection. In addition to the Emsh, Powers, and Coye pieces mentioned above, I also obtained three by Edd Cartier, a DIME MYSTERY double page spread, a WESTERN STORY illustration, and other items.

   The theme of the show was H.P. Lovecraft’s 125th birthday and the art exhibit had several stunning pieces showing Lovecraft themed art. In addition the film festival showed nine films chosen by Ed Hulse that were based on Lovecraft’s fiction. I’ve seen most of them and besides, I couldn’t drag myself away from the dealer’s room. But I did see CALL OF CTHULHU the night before leaving for the convention and it was excellent. The Old Gentleman would have been proud to see such tributes. And The Great God Cthulhu must of been proud also, since he didn’t show up and destroy his worshipers.

   I’ve been lucky on the art described above, but I did make two stupid mistakes, which enabled other collectors to swoop in and steal art from me. Of course both times I was spending too much time gawking at the great art, so I have no one to blame but myself. One showed a cover from SEA STORIES depicting a scene from a slave ship and the other was a nice painting by Beresford Egan. Since I managed to buy four other pieces by Egan, I doubt anyone will have any sympathy for my tale of woe. But as all collectors know, we always cry and whine about the one that got away.

   What else did I buy? I’ve been a long time admirer of MANHUNT, the best of the hardboiled crime fiction digests and I saw one table with over a hundred of the MANHUNT copy cats that sprung up like weeds in the 1950’s. Titles like TWO-FISTED, OFF BEAT, TWISTED, KILLERS, SURE FIRE, and WEB TERROR. The stories can’t compare to MANHUNT but the covers are unbelievable. They are so risqué and objectionable, that many collectors refuse to collect them. I, of course, love them.

   I was there for all four days and had a great time. Here are some glimpses of what I did:

   I met Sai, who runs one of the very best pulp blogs at http://pulpflakes.blogspot.com. He took many photos, some of which are shown in this report. Talked to Rich Oberg and his wife about men’s adventure magazine art. Met Pete Poplaski, artist and expert on Zorro; saw a complete set of DOC SAVAGE; looked at the complete set of WEIRD TALES on view at John Gunnison’s table; talked with Bob Weinberg who I’ve known since the late 1960’s; obtained the new BLOOD ‘n’ THUNDER, another record breaking triple issue; and talked to Michelle Nolan about her forthcoming book on the sport pulps.

   The two auctions were well attended, and most of the pulps were from the Jerry Weist estate. There were many lots of dime novels, western, romance, and sport pulps. But also many lots offering such rare titles as early issues of ALL STORY and ARGOSY. By early, I mean over 100 years old! There also was a complete set of STARTLING STORIES in several lots. I had bought a set in the dealer’s room but that didn’t stop me from bidding on another set. Lucky I didn’t win because then I would have three sets. Two sets should keep me busy comparing issues in order to pick the better condition. But you can never have too many pulps…

   The Windy City program book was another enormous collection edited by Tom Roberts. Over 200 pages celebrating Lovecraft! Next year will celebrate science fiction, so I have to start saving so I can buy more duplicate sets of STARTLING, etc.

   Fellow collectors, start preparing for the next pulp convention. Pulpfest will be held August 13-16. 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. The website is pulpfest.com and believe me it’s a convention that is a must. I ought to know. I’ve been attending them since 1972!


   Nick Certo and me. I’m the one on the left. (Thanks to Phyllis Weinberg, who took the photo.)

MAX BRAND – The Trail to San Triste. Warner Books; 1st paperback edition, February 1985. Chelsea House, hardcover, 1927. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1983. First serialized in six parts (8 March through 12 April 1924) in Western Story Magazine as “Four without Fear,” as by John Frederick.

   As it so happened I was halfway through this book when the a brief discussion came up in the comments following Dan Stumpf’s review of Milton Lott’s Backtrack; to wit: there is a big difference between Westerns in the traditional and romantic sense and novels about the West.

   You can put Max Brand firmly in the first category, and The Trail to San Triste is a fine example. It’s the story of a young dashing cowboy, nearly a legendary outlaw, who is recruited to go into Mexico and pose as the missing son of the now deceased beloved patron of San Triste. Object: a fortune in gold, silver and rare gems.

   Of course there are complications. First John Jones must convince the townspeople that he is the true heir, then the servants of the family, still living, contend with man (a cousin) running the estate now but not loved, and (without giving too much away) is he, by chance, the real heir and does not know it, or is the real heir still alive? And of course, there is a girl. The girl. The girl of John Jones’ dreams.

   All told with a flair for the romantic, with plenty of gallantry, bravery, and a sense of justice and what’s right in the world and what makes life worth living. Cowboys and Mexican peasants had a tough life, but you wouldn’t know it from reading this book. Even the deaths that occur toward the end of the book have some meaning, redemption being a solid part of it.

   A world such as this never existed, but I enjoyed every minute that I spent visiting it.

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 12 :
Rereading UNKNOWN and UNKNOWN WORLDS
by Walker Martin


   Why reread? I’ve known several readers and collectors who bluntly state that they seldom or never reread stories or books. They argue that there are too many new books waiting to be read, sort of the like the old saying, “So many books, so little time.”

   I love to reread but only my favorite books and stories. And only the ones that I consider to be outstanding or great. There is nothing more exasperating than to reread a book and realize that it was not even worth reading the first time. Not to mention the waste of time. That’s why I’ve always noted on a slip of paper the date read, my grade, and comments about the book. Then, decades later, I can tell at a glance what I thought of the book and whether it is worth a second reading or not.

   So aside from the enjoyment of rereading an outstanding book, why read it again? Some books demand a second (and a third and a fourth) reading because they have several layers and levels of complex meaning that you might want to explore and investigate. Also a book read in your twenties may reveal additional meanings when you reread it many years later. There have been books that I read as a young man that I didn’t have the proper maturity to truly understand but as an older reader, I now find them to be indispensable.

   Every reader has their favorite books that they have reread. Some of mine are:

         War and Peace — 3 times.

         Moby Dick — 3 times.

         The Sun Also Rises — 5 times.

         Under the Volcano — 5 times.

   In the different genres I’ve several books that I’ve reread:

   In science fiction: Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and Stars My Destination. Also the novels of Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg; the short stories of J.G. Ballard and Theodore Sturgeon.

   In the detective and crime genre: the novels of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard, and Ross Macdonald.

   In the western field: the novels of Luke Short, Elmore Leonard, Elmer Kelton. Lonesome Dove is maybe the best western I’ve ever reread.

   I also have reread stories in the pulp magazines. Many literary critics make the mistake of lumping all the pulps into one sub-literary category. They think all the pulps published mediocre and poor action fiction of very little redeeming literary value. They are wrong. There is such a thing as excellent pulp fiction, and I’ve tried to point out some examples in this series on collecting pulps.

   Of course, I absolutely agree with Sturgeon’s Law which in simple terms may be explained as “90% of everything is crap.” This is a good thing to say to anyone who criticizes your tastes in reading matter. For instance if they sneer at your love for detective, SF, or western fiction, then you can state Sturgeon’s Law, which I’ve found to roughly apply to just about all forms of literary endeavor.

   In other words, I’m always looking for that less than 10% that I hope will be worth reading and rereading. As I reread my notes spread throughout thousands of books and fiction magazines, I see I’m now at a good point in my life where I’m reading mainly the good 10%. Sure, every now and then I make a mistake or blunder and find myself reading the 90% crap, but after so many years of reading, I’m getting pretty good at avoiding the stuff that is not worth reading.

   A couple months before the August Pulpfest convention, one of the committee members, knowing my love for the magazine Unknown, asked me if I would participate on a panel discussing the title. This made me think about Unknown and how I had started collecting and reading it so many years ago.

   When I first started to think about collecting it, I was just a teenager and had very little money. I had enough to buy the SF digests and paperbacks but a set of Unknown back in the 1950’s cost around $50, a sum that I never had until years later. Back then, just about all pulps were a dollar or less, a fact that is hard to believe now.

   Finally in 1963, while attending college, I managed to put aside $50 and I started scouting around for a set of the 39 issues. All I could pay was $50 but everyone I contacted wanted more. I even contacted the Werewolf Bookshop in Verona, Pennsylvania (this bookstore advertised in many of the digest SF magazines) and I still have the letter dated September 3, 1963. I stapled it into my Unknown book where I noted my thoughts and comments on the magazine. The owner stated that he had contacted three fans and only one was willing to sell and he wanted $200 for his set.

   Back in 1963 this was an outrageous sum, and it’s lucky I did not send money to the Werewolf Bookshop. It seems the owner was in the habit of sending you anything he had if he did not have the books that you ordered. Then when you complained about receiving books that you didn’t want, he would ignore your letters and keep your money. If I had sent him $200, there is no telling what he would have shipped me. Except that it would not have been a set of Unknown. I have read about and even met fellow collectors who fell victim to this scam.

   Fortunately, I eventually bought a set from Gerry de la Ree, a SF collector and dealer who lived in New Jersey. For decades in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, Gerry mailed out monthly sale lists listing SF pulps, digests, books, and artwork. He wanted only $50 and I now had the complete set. I read several stories in scattered issues, but college and then being drafted into the army delayed my project of reading the complete set.

   However, by 1969 I was discharged and I spent six months of doing nothing but reading. I didn’t even look for a job, and I loved living in my mother’s house drinking beer and reading all day. She must of thought she raised a bum, but she was wrong. She raised a book collector and reader.

   I started reading from the first issue, March 1939 and I read each issue, every story, every word, until the end in October 1943. That’s 4 1/2 years and 39 issues. Over 250 stories ranging from novel length to short story. John W. Campbell, the editor of both Unknown and Astounding, estimated that the 7 by 10 inch pulp size issues contained 70,000 words of fiction and the 8 1/2 by 11 inch format contained 110,000 words.

   That means I read over 3 million words of fiction in 1969 when I started my project of reading the entire set. I forget how long it took me but since I was not wasting any time working, I probably read close to an issue every day or two. I then recorded my thoughts in a standard English composition notebook. I think they still make these things, black with white speckles and it says “Composition” on the front cover. With over 100 pages I could devote two pages to each issue, listing each story and author along with a grade and my comments. At the end of each year, I did a summary listing my favorites.

   During the Pulpfest panel, I read some of my comments from this notebook and a couple collectors asked me if I had such books for each magazine that I collected. I used to but I eventually switched to the system of putting a slip of paper in each magazine or book with my comments, grade, and date read. I have thousands of books and magazines with these annotations tucked inside each copy. I still have a few of the notebooks, with the Unknown comments being the most extensive. I see I have one on Weird Tales where I read and noted my reactions to reading three years of issues, 1933-1935.

   So to prepare for the panel, I reread only the stories that received an outstanding rating back in 1969. We often think that we were a different person 45 years ago and for the most part we probably were. I was in my twenties back then and ahead of me were all the usual things like getting married, raising a family, starting a career, buying houses, etc. Of course this series of essays deal with my collecting experiences. So what did I think at the age of 72 looking back on my younger self praising and exclaiming over the stories in Unknown?

   As I reread story after story, I was impressed again at the literary quality of the magazine. I guess that’s why I’m writing about the magazine again in 2014, only instead of just comments meant for my older self, I’m now writing for other collectors and readers and encouraging them to read and reread Unknown.

   What were the outstanding novels? Lest Darkness Fall and The Wheels of If by L. Sprague de Camp, who also wrote the superior Harold Shea novels with Fletcher Pratt. Death’s Deputy and Fear by L. Ron Hubbard; Hell Is Forever by Alfred Bester; Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber; None But Lucifer by H. L .Gold and de Camp.

   Among the shorter fiction, we have several novelettes by Henry Kuttner. I believe these stories represent the first quality fiction by Kuttner. Jane Rice also had several stories and when the magazine died in 1943, she almost stopped writing because Unknown was her favorite market. One of the sad things about Unknown ceasing publication was the fact the Jane Rice had a 33,000 word short novel that was scheduled for a future issue. But the manuscript has been lost by Street & Smith and Rice did not keep a copy. Anthony Boucher, Fritz Leiber, and Theodore Sturgeon also had many shorts.

   But despite all the excellent fiction in Unknown, the magazine can best be described and explained by simply looking at the art of Edd Cartier. He is Unknownwith its gnomes, demons, and fantasy figures that defy description. I once had a chance to buy an original Unknown cover painting by Cartier. In the 1980’s, someone was walking around one of the Pulpcon conventions with the painting but he wanted $2,000 for it. At the time I had bought many cover paintings but the highest price I ever had to pay was $400. One of my collector mistakes. I should have dug up the money somehow because it’s worth a fortune now.

   Cartier dropped out of fantasy and SF illustration sometime in the early fifties but I did manage to meet him around 1990 at Pulpcon in Wayne, NJ. Rusty Hevelin was running Pulpcon and he said Edd Cartier would be available to talk to one night. But it would be for only a special group of pulp collectors who Rusty would choose. Fortunately, I was one of them and it remains a Pulpcon highlight that I still remember all these years later.

   Speaking of Cartier brings up what I think of as one of John W. Campbell’s mistakes. With the July 1940 issue the cover art was discontinued. Campbell must have looking to attract more readers with a literary style cover showing a more bland, sedate listing of stories. Maybe he thought the illustrations too garish on the covers. But the lack of any cover art at all just made the magazine seem a puzzle to many newsstand browsers. One of the big reasons for cover art is to grab your attention while you are looking at scores of magazines. Without cover illustrations the magazine just was lost on the stands. Where do you put it? This experiment was tried by previous pulps like Adventure and The Popular Magazine, and it was never successful.

   I’ve owned several sets of Unknown during the last 50 years and it is still possible to pick up issues. After the panel a couple collectors told me they wanted to start collecting it and I told them to keep looking through the dealer’s room at Pulpfest because I saw several issues for sale. Usually the price is around $20 but I’ve seen higher and lower prices. Ebay also has issues.

   At present I own two sets, one is the usual individual 39 issues and one is a bound set in 14 hardcover volumes. There is an interesting story about this bound set. I only paid $400 for it at Pulpcon a few years ago and neither the dealer or me noticed that it had a signature in the first volume. When I got home I was amazed to realize that I had John W. Campbell’s personal bound set of the magazine. It was inscribed as follows, “To George Scithers, who worked hard for this set”. Signed John W. Campbell. I’ve worked hard for certain sets of magazines, so I know what he means.

   The magazine is not really rare because so many SF and fantasy collectors loved the magazine and saved their copies. It is probably the most missed of all the pulp titles. In the letter columns of old SF magazines, it is often referred to as “the late, lamented Unknown.” For several years after it ceased publication due to the war time paper restrictions, letters in Astounding kept asking when the title would be revived. Evidently Campbell intended to start it up again when paper was available. But that was not until 1948 and then Street & Smith killed off all their pulps except for Astounding in 1949.

   So Unknown remained dead but several magazines were influenced in the 1950’s. Fantasy Fiction lasted four issues in 1953; Beyond Fantasy Fiction lasted ten issues in 1953-1955; and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is still being published, has often printed Unknown type fiction.

   If you are not a collector but you still want to read some of the best fiction, there are several collections available:

UNKNOWN WORLDS: Tales From Beyond, edited by Stanley Schmidt and Martin H. Greenberg (Garland Books, 1988) This is the biggest and best collection. 25 stories and 517 pages.

RIVALS OF WEIRD TALES, edited by Weinberg, Dziemianowicz, and Greenberg. (Bonanza Books, 1990) Among stories from other magazines, there is a section of 11 stories from Unknown, amounting to 200 pages.

THE UNKNOWN, edited by D. R. Bensen (Pyramid, 1963) This paperback has 11 stories and story notes.

THE UNKNOWN FIVE, edited by D.R. Bensen (Pyramid, 1964) Another collection from Bensen.

UNKNOWN, edited by Stanley Schmidt (Baen Books, 1988) Nine of the longer stories and 304 pages. Paperback.

HELL HATH FURY, edited by George Hay (Neville Spearman Ltd., 1963) Seven stories in hardback.

OUT OF THE UNKNOWN, by A.E. Van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull (Powell Publications, 1969) This paperback has seven Unknown stories by Van Vogt and wife.

   And finally there are two full-length studies of the magazine:

THE ANNOTATED GUIDE TO UNKNOWN AND UNKNOWN WORLDS, by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz (Starmont House, 1991) This is an excellent study of all aspects of the great magazine. A total of 212 pages with a long essay about the magazine, followed with detailed story annotations on every story, a story index, an author index and much more! Highly Recommended.

ONCE THERE WAS A MAGAZINE, by Fred Smith (Beccon Publications, 2002). Each issue is discussed plus author and title index.

   So ends my rereading of Unknown and I hope to return someday. I guess we shall never see a revival of the magazine. I noted over a dozen pleas from readers in Astounding, all asking when Unknown would be revived, but the October 1943 issue was the last one. A digest issue was planned and discussed in the October issue but an order for additional paper reduction came and Unknown was a victim of WW II.

REST IN PEACE: Unknown and Unknown Worlds.

NOTE:   To access earlier installments of Walker’s memoirs about his life as a pup collector, go first to this blog’s home page (link at the far upper left), then use the search box found somewhere down the right side. Use either “Walker Martin” or “Collecting Pulps” in quotes, and that should do it.

L. P. HOLMES – Destiny Range. Leisure, paperback, March 2009. First book publication: Greenberg, hardcover, 1936. First appeared in Five-Novels Monthly, May 1932; reprinted in Popular Western, October 1951.

   Dex Sublette, foreman of the Pinon Ranch, and all of the cowhands working for him are surprised to learn that the retired owner has sold the spread to a woman — and a Russian princess, to boot. They do not take the news with delight:

    “I thought I had hard luck when a bronc kicked in two ribs for me,” Shorty groaned. “But I didn’t know what hard luck was. A Russian Princess for a boss! Holy cow! If that ain’t awful! I’ll bet she’ll be a string-necked old battle-axe, soured on the world — and the male sex in particular. I’ll bet she’ll take an unholy delight in raw-hiding us to a fare-ye-well. I’ll bet–“

   Shorty couldn’t be more wrong. The young lady is Sonia Stephanovich, or at least it used to be. She now wishes to be called Sonia Stephens. Having fled the Russian Revolution with only a maid and a few belongings, she now hopes to build a new life in this section of the American West she once visited as a child.

   As for being a string-necked old battle-axe:

    Her face was a delicate oval, slightly high of cheekbone. Her skin was a dusky, smooth ivory. Her lips were bewitching. The lower one was particularly full and rich and crimson, and it gave to her expression an elfin impudence which was a delight. Here and there, from beneath the edges of her hat, a few threads of black, silken haur showed. She made an absorbing, stirring picture as she stood there, half defiantly, half appealingly.

   And of course all of the men on the ranch who now call her boss are smitten, but no more than Dex Sublette himself. The story that follows is as much a romance as it is a western novel, with all of the ups and downs and pitfalls that are bound to arise when two human beings of opposite sexes and opposite ways of life meet and are attracted to each other.

   Until, that is, page 150 or so, of a 240 page story, when Dex learns that Sonia has been kidnapped and all hell breaks loose. Not everyone survives the battle between good guys and bad, but does true love prevail? I’ll bet you already know the answer to that.

   To be honest, though, in spite of all the heroics, flying bullets and tragic deaths that occur in the last third of the book, I enjoyed the on again, off again romance in the first part of the book quite a lot more, as contrived and as (dare I say it?) corny as it reads to a modern reader today.

CONVENTION REPORT: PulpFest 2014
by Walker Martin

   I’m just back from PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio. Out of the six annual conventions which began in 2009, this one was the best. They seem to be improving each year and I’m compelled to file my convention report right away even though I’m exhausted from lack of sleep and the 10 hour ride.

   Once again, four of us rented a van because we needed a bigger vehicle to carry all our books, pulps, and artwork. Coming back, we were worried about fitting everything in and a couple big boxes had to be mailed back by UPS. One of these days we might have to take a vote and leave one of our group of biblio maniacs behind due to lack of space!

   Why do I consider this one to be the best of the six PulpFests? I never thought I would be praising the evening programming instead of just talking about the dealer’s room but this year set a standard for programming that will be hard to break in the future. During the three evenings we had over a dozen panels, tributes, and discussions:

   Laurie Powers lecture at Ohio State about her grandfather Paul Powers

   Frank Robinson Tribute

   Nathan Madison and Ed Hulse discussing FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, one of the great pulps.

   The Avenger’s Diamond Jubilee

   FarmerCon panel on Philip Jose Farmer

      And that was just Thursday night. Friday we enjoyed:

   1939: Science Fiction’s Boom Year

   STARTLING STORIES: An overview(Another great pulp)

   Philip Jose Farmer’s Early Science Fiction

   Pulp Premiums and Promotions by Chris Kalb

   Eighty Years of Terror: The Weird Menace Pulps

   1939: The Golden Year of ASTOUNDING STORIES

      And then Saturday evening we had the auction plus:

   UNKNOWN: The Best in Fantasy Fiction

   John Newton Howitt: a discussion about the artist by David Saunders

      Each night ended with a four chapter Buck Rogers serial.

   I’ve spent some time listing the above in detail because the former Pulpcon conventions of 1972-2008 never really had such a great number of interesting and valuable programming. I attended almost all the conventions and each Pulpcon had evening events like the Guest of Honor speech, the banquet, an auction, a radio play, and at the most, a couple of panels.

   But this year’s PulpFest had over a dozen programs on the schedule, including much needed discussions of such interesting and influential magazines as FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, STARTLING STORIES, TERROR TALES, ASTOUNDING, and UNKNOWN.

   We need even more such panels and tributes because they are the real reason that we continue to meet at these conventions. We read these great pulps because they are filled with excellent fiction; we collect them because they are beautiful artifacts and we are obsessed by them; we talk and discuss and argue about them because they are important subjects in magazine history and popular culture.

   I’ve spent my adult life reading, collecting, and discussing these magazines. When I think back over my life, I don’t think of myself as someone who worked as a supervisor and manager in business. No, I was, and I still am, a book, magazine and art collector who arises each day thinking of such subjects as listed above. We should all be proud to be called readers and collectors, especially in this busy modern world where we are constantly bombarded with electronic distractions.

   Another great thing about this convention involved the awarding of the Munsey Award to Randy Cox, who has written several books about the pulps and dime novels plus being the editor of THE DIME NOVEL ROUND UP for around 20 years. He has long deserved this award and recognition.

   Another pulp enthusiast and worker won the Rusty Hevelin award for service. Congratulations Barry Traylor, a long time committee member of both Pulpcon and PulpFest.

   It’s always enjoyable seeing and speaking to such interesting collectors. I also was glad to speak with Mike Nevins, who showed me a proof copy of an upcoming book, and Gordon Huber, who is the only collector to attend every Pulpcon and PulpFest since the beginning in 1972. I was also glad to see Tom Krabacher who was wearing a great UNKNOWN T-shirt one day and an ADVENTURE related shirt the next. I asked if he could make me copies of these shirts and he agreed to try. I’ll be glad to add them to my collection of shirts I wear celebrating various pulp magazines.

   In addition to this being the best PulpFest, issue number 23 of THE PULPSTER was the best of the Pulpcon and PulpFest convention magazines. The front cover shows a great Edd Cartier cover from UNKNOWN. Mike Chomko has a long article on the SF pulps, Don Hutchison discusses the weird menace magazines, Garyn Roberts talks about Ray Bradbury’s fanzine and other articles cover Argentine SF, horror pulps, Hannes Bok, Fritz Leiber, and Frank Robinson. Editor William Lampkin deserves our thanks for this excellent issue.

   The auction was the best PulpFest auction also. For the first time all items had to have minimum bid of $20 and this kept out most of the trivial and less interesting items. A nice variety of magazines were auctioned but the most interesting items were several lots from the estate of an author by the name of Everil Worrell, who appeared in several issues of WEIRD TALES during the twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. In addition to manuscripts there were several letters from editor Dorothy McIlwraith discussing such interesting subjects as WEIRD TALES art, problems with payments, and the changeover to the smaller digest format.

   As usual I had a table in the dealer’s room and I sold several cancelled checks paying for stories in ADVENTURE MAGAZINE. I also sold DVDs, pulp related books, and magazines. But my main interest was in buying pulps and I found one of my major wants, the July 7, 1917 issue of ALL STORY. Not that it has much of interest but I’m close to completing my set of ALL STORY and now only need 3 issues of the over 400 published during 1905-1920. Frankly, when I started collecting the magazine decades ago, I never thought I’d come so close to completion simply because so many issues contain Edgar Rice Burroughs. A great magazine full of so many early science fiction classics.

   Since the 1960’s, I’ve had all the ASTOUNDING back issues but I noticed a run of the years when John Campbell worked for the magazine in 1937-1943. 72 issues, most in fine condition, which is better than my set. Naturally I had to buy it and I now have two sets of the individual issues plus a bound set. You can never have too many sets of your favorite magazines! You know it’s true love when you buy duplicate sets, which I’ve done with such titles as ASTOUNDING, PLANET STORIES, UNKNOWN, and FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES. My wife says it’s hoarding but we all know it’s collecting.

   There were over 100 tables in a large room and attendance was between 450 and 500. This also makes it not only the best Pulpcon/PulpFest, but also the largest. The committee has already booked the Hyatt for 2015 and 2016, so we are set for the next two years. Speaking of the committee, I must thank them by name. Jack Cullers and his army of family volunteers, Mike Chomko, Barry Traylor, Ed Hulse, and Chuck Welch. Thank you fellow readers and collectors, for all your work done on this convention. I hope we all can continue to attend many more PulpFests!

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


CLARENCE H. NEW – The Unseen Hand: An Adventure of the Freelancers of Diplomacy. Doubleday Page & Co., hardcover, 1918. Wildside Press, softcover reprint. Illustrated by Clinton Pettee. Available in ebook form online here.

   The following appeared in the January 15. 1933, issue of the New York Times:

C.H. NEW, NOVELIST, ASKED THEM IN HIS WILL NOT TO “SCATTER” HIS EFFECTS

   The heirs of Clarence H. New, Brooklyn novelist, whose serial, the Freelancers of Diplomacy, ran for twenty three years in Blue Book, are enjoined in his will from “scattering about” his personal effects in foreign countries.

   The will goes on to explain his son and grandson were travelers and prone to leave items behind them, and concludes with a quote from the will:

   “As I do not believe anyone regains consciousness after death,” the will says. “I wish it distinctly understood there shall be no church or funeral ceremony.”

   That explains a bit about New, but not the Freelancers of Diplomacy, whose adventures ran in Blue Book for twenty three years with out a break, a saga Robert Sampson describes in Yesterday’s Heroes as unparalleled in American pulp history.

   Despite a history of adventure covering a few thousand pages and by my guesstimate at least one million words, there remains only one novel recounting the adventures of the Freelancers of Diplomacy, The Unseen Hand, what in science fiction used to be called a ‘fixup,’ a bit of new material tying together several shorter adventures from the magazine.

   We are given a brief history of said Freelancers from the point of view of the Germans who have recently learned the identity of the group and its leader from an American magazine — a surprisingly modern touch considering recent events in the real world of espionage and diplomacy.

   Cassells monthlies … devotes quite a lengthy article to the ‘Diplomatic Free Lance’ and his associates. This man will be remembered — by the most contemptible betrayal of confidence reposed in him by his former German hosts, who had entertained him and the woman masquerading as his wife, upon the supposition that they were people of breeding who belonged to the aristocracy — has been the solitary exception among the English to be really dangerous to us, and a rope is waiting for him as soon as he is caught. Various conjectures have been made by Wilhelmstrase as to his identity — but the truth is now kindly offered to us by the fools across the channel. It seems that he is — as we have been morally certain for sometime — a certain sports crazed English peer who has never been credited with the least political ability, Lord Trevor, of Dartmoor. In his nefarious and unprincipled schemes against us he has been assisted by the woman posing as his wife, Lady Nan Trevor; by a Sir Edward Lammerford, who was once dismissed by the English Foreign office for conduct unbecoming a diplomat and a gentleman; by a blackamoor servant calling himself an Afghan prince; by Sir Edward Wray, whose thinly veiled name is easily recognizable by every German who recalls the black treachery of August 1914; by an attache of the American Embassy in Paris; and by the old reprobate Cavaliere Scarpa, in Italy.

   Giving us our introduction to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel — oh, sorry wrong century, the Freelancers of Diplomacy.

   Of course we know quite a bit more, for instance that Lord Trevor, the idle sportsman who is mastermind behind this group, is really American Cyrus K, Grisscome, alias Commander Cresspinge, who operated for President Roosevelt (Teddy) using his fast yacht as a mobile base.

   Of course the resemblance is only one of those coincidences of fiction … because there are no such people as Viscount Trevor of Dartmoor or Sir Edward Wray (hint, he may be the Prime Minister) in DeBrett’s. “It’s a legend, a joke, Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes combined, gossip, hearsay, pure fiction …”

   If you think this is all terribly old-fashioned and out of date I refer you to bestselling writer Ted Bell’s half-American peer Alexander Hawke, Lord Hawke, who ‘freelances’ a bit himself from his heavily armed super fast yacht the Hawke. What goes around as they say.

   And it is only a coincidence that the Condessa de Montessa, her moorish servants, her titled Afghan friend, Baron W, and her husband the Earl occupy apartments so like those described in the stories published about the Diplomatic Freelance in Cassells.

   In short order we are filled in on the adventures of Cyrus Grisscome and how he ‘might’ have become Viscount Trevor, and how perhaps the Diplomatic Free Lance is something like the Mission Impossible team undertaking missions that the government can deny should they fail or be captured. About the only thing missing is the theme music and the self destructive instructions.

   Noticeably there is a good deal of back story to fill in for a series that runs twenty three years, but by chapter two we are off on the adventure, and chapter one has at least been intriguing. The ten chapters that follow are loosely connected adventures from Blue Book such as “The Aldershot Affair,” “Touching on the Honor of Islam,” “The Neutrality of Holland,” “A Machiavellian Coup in Roumania,” “The Mysterious Camp in the Pyrenees” … and the plot and action are almost non-stop and well told. For instance in that last one, Trevor and company have to foil a plot to invade France with sixty thousand men hidden in the Pyrenees wearing stolen American uniforms.

   Fantastic? Perhaps, but in WWI the Germans actually tried to smuggle anthrax-infected mules into France through the Pyrenees and in WW II specially trained SS donned American uniforms and penetrated the American lines at the Battle of the Bulge.

   Bulldog Drummond fans may appreciate a certain Madame Irma and her ‘supposed husband’ whose allegiances are in question. The Freelancers also barely avert a plot to kill Kitchener with the fleet at Skager Rock — not unlike his real death organized by the real German spy known as Fraulien Doktor. New at least knew how to read the newspapers and extrapolate.

   As with Oppenheim, Le Queux, and even Buchan and Sapper, at least some of the appeal of these was the feeling of being in on the back rooms of intrigue and espionage. Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, and John le Carre would all mine the same territory one way or another. Whenever Bell’s Lord Hawke is in conference with the President of PM and the various Secretaries and Ministers he routinely rubs noses with it is a nod to the past and the beginnings of the genre.

   Treachery waits at every crossroads. Are there those in Spain who would aid the Kaiser to gain greater favor, can the Bulgarians be trusted (if you read Ian Fleming the answer is no but then the Bulgarians did most of the Soviet’s dirty work in the Cold War), will Holland’s neutrality be violated?

   Are people friend or foe, agents of the Boche or agents of the Entente Cordiale, fair or fowl, operating at cross purposes or for the same goal? Who can be trusted, and who should be silenced? Spy fiction hasn’t changed a lot in the century or so since its beginnings. (*)

   The Diplomatic Freelancers fall somewhere between E. Phillips Oppenheim and William LeQueux, a bit more active than the former, better written and less melodramatic than the latter. No one reading this is going to discover an early version of James Bond, the real world of Eric Ambler, or even the cut throat back alley secret wars of Peter Cheyney.

      Everyone has a title, everyone is a cliche, we are never all that far from the Scarlet Pimpernel; even the relative modernity of John Buchan, Sapper, Dornford Yates and the Clubland Heroes is some time ahead.

   But these adventures were written with conviction. As late as the pre-war years Max Brand’s Anthony Hamilton spy stories were still on this mode with spies in white tails and slinky women in black velvet, as, in many ways, were the adventures of Operator #5, and even the more realistic adventures of John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto. And not unlike the heroes those, British agent he may be, Cyrus Grisscome is still an American and knows his own countries neutrality won’t stand against German aggression.

   “There are still a few of the old breed living in America, your Highness — And they’ll wipe the stains from our good old flag in a way that will mean annihilation to everything that Germany stands for, today!”

   Duck, you Huns, Uncle Sam wants you! And admit it, even today it’s effective.

   Like Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent — which it resembles in no other way — it ends with the Russian Revolution and hints of a new secret war to come in which the Diplomatic Freelancers will be needed once again. Already in 1918 the writing on the wall was clear, and this time in bright red.

   These tales and the twenty-three years worth of saga from Blue Book are worth reading today for more than nostalgia. We may be as much in Ruritania or Graustark as the real Europe, and there may be a few deadly electronic eyes (even Oppenheim used that one in The Wrath to Come), exploding cigars and poisoned needles (Le Queux’s Duckworth Drew), femme fatales poured into elegant black satin and opera gloves (everyone save Buchan), untrustworthy ‘fureigners’, loyal Afghan princes and moorish servants, and all the trappings of an earlier age, but the writing is good, the stories are fun, and the musty scent of crumbling pulp paper intoxicating, even in electronic form.

   If Clarence New and the Diplomatic Freelancers are only a name faintly redolent of black velvet cloaks lined in red satin and crossed daggers, or even if they are completely unknown to you, they are worth the effort to become acquainted with.

   There are touches of modernity, good old fashioned swashbuckling, intrigue, adventure, and entertainment to be had, and the dust you have to blow away to get to it is nowhere near as deep as you might expect. Blue Book was one of the Cadillacs of the pulps, in a rank with Adventure, Top Notch, and the various incarnations of Argosy. Names like John Buchan and Agatha Christie graced Blue Book‘s pages, so New is in heady company.

   You won’t have to lower your standards to enjoy this book, and you may wish you knew someone with a complete collection of Blue Book so you could read more. That’s a high recommendation for any series out of the pulps, though managing twenty three years of consecutive issues may be a bit ambitious for most collectors. From this example it might well be worth the effort though aside from the countless other examples of well written fiction gracing those pages.

(*)   The first modern spy novel, by all critical opinion, is John Buchan’s The Power House from 1910, however Le Queux, Oppenheim, Fred White, the adventures of Norroy and others at least reach back to the late 1880‘s early 1890‘s into the turn of the century, and it could be argued as far back as the Trojan Horse and the two Israelite spies who enter Jericho.

   Sherlock Holmes and Martin Hewitt render services to England in the area of espionage and counter-espionage, and Sexton Blake was always encountering foreign agents. Certainly the doings at Zenda in Ruritania are secret service work, and as far back as Stevenson’s ‘Pavillion on the Links’ there is international skullduggery taking place in placid old England.

   For that matter Dumas Musketeers and Monte Cristo are the very definition of ‘cloak and dagger.’ The spies may change from the Tsar’s Secret Police to the lads at Wilhelmstrasse, to Reds under the covers, and back to the Gestapo, the Japanese, the Soviets, the Chinese, Islamic terrorists, all the way to Putin’s Russia to day, but the odds and the heroes are remarkably consistent interspersed of course with an overlay of Carl Petersons, Fu Manchus, and Blofields when ever international politics got a bit dull.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


The Thriller Library #538: Rough House: A Norman Conquest Story, by Berkeley Gray. 27 May 1939.

Dixon Hawke Library #549: The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz, [Anonymous]. 14 December 1940.

The Sexton Blake Library S3 234: The Green Caravan, by Rex Hardinge. February 1951.

   The British pulps came out of a similar tradition as those in America, and like the American brand walked a schizophrenic tightrope between adult and juvenile fiction. Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee, Dixon Hawke, all came from the boys’ papers popular at the turn of the century and well beyond.

   Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Creasey, Berkeley Gray all came from a slightly more sophisticated branch, though Creasey and Gray (Edwy Sealey Brooks) both wrote adventures of Sexton Blake.

   Brooks wrote well over six million words of Blake material, creating Waldo the Wonder Man, who threatened to overwhelm Blake in his own book, before he was forced out because of age, at which point he created Norman Conquest and Inspector Ironside and became even more popular, writing well into the nineteen sixties, at least one Conquest adventure completed by his wife and son.

   The British pulp The Thriller, edited by Monty Haydon, who discovered Charteris and Creasey, featured not only the more adult writers, but serials from the American pulp The Shadow, Sax Rohmer, and the dean of the British pulp creations Sexton Blake. Peter Cheyney came out of The Thriller, and a long list of familiar names with him, some of who saw their careers fade and returned in the 1950‘s to penning Sexton Blake adventures like Rex Hardinge and Hugh Clevely (Maxwell Archer, who got one film outing, and the Gang Smasher, who was unique because his assistant was a Jewish pawnshop owner).

   It seems as if you can’t elude Sexton Blake in fiction or fact.

   All of these short tales run some sixty or so pages, coming in around thirty five thousand words. All appeared in inexpensive paper editions, either in The Thriller, or digest size paperbacks.

   They are reviewed in order of publication from the 1930‘s to the 1950‘s.

   Norman Conquest, 1066, the Gay Desperado (before the word Gay was made impossible to use in any but a sexual sense) at one time ran with a fast crowd, the Saint, Blackshirt, the Toff, and the Baron, and in the United Kingdom he ran very close though he never quite made it to American shores.

   In The Durable Desperadoes William Butler Vivian wrote fondly of Conquest, and I have to agree. His adventures have energy, speed, violence, a hint of sex in perpetual virtual live in girlfriend Joy ‘Pixie’ Everard (think Simon Templar’s Patricia Holm but Norman eventually marries his).

   Gangsters, mad scientists, master criminals, spies, fifth columnists, just about all fell to Conquest’s outlaw ways. He even made it to the screen in the person of Tom Conway for one late but half decent film outing.

   In Rough House Conquest is at his toughest, in a Saintly mode with more than a hint of Bulldog Drummond at the edges.

   “Conquest? Did you say Conquest? Norman Conquest? Good heavens, I wonder if he’s the impudent rascal I believe he is? What would a man of his stamp would want in this house?”

   What Conquest wants is to warn Lord Chalston that a criminal in a rubber mask one Toowoomobo Dick wants Lord Chalston dead, and Conquest suspects it’s because Toowoomobo Dick under that rubber mask is:

   “See my friend, I am the true Lord Chalston,” said Dick deliberately. “An aristocratic English peer with the face and skin of a black savage!”

   To be fair to Gray, he does at least make a case that Dick might have some reason to feel cheated out of what is rightfully his just because his mother had a distant grandfather with black skin and it showed up on her baby, but that doesn’t excuse murder or the wax effigies he makes of his victims. Dick is more than a little insane.

   Racial stereotypes hung on in British popular fiction much longer and were much more of an issue than in American popular fiction, largely because the English were much less homogenous than their American cousins and foreign much more noticeable. Being a class based society didn’t help. As late as the 1950‘s a character in a Sexton Blake adventure (The Voyage of Fear by Rex Hardinge) is an Italian described as “touched by a tar brush.”

   Norman naturally goes a little ballistic when Joy/Pixie is kidnapped right under his nose and as usual charges right in, with less than spectacular results. In fact Joy has to rescue him:

   Drawn as if by irresistible magnetism she turned again to the effigy of Norman. She could not keep her eyes off of it. She went closer, fighting an urge to turn on her heels and run. It was something about the figures eyes — she caught her breath painfully. These eyes were not glass. They were not the dead eyes of a waxwork. They were alive. They looked at her with intelligence and urgency.

   “Norman,” cried Joy chokingly.

   Even Norvell Page never entombed Richard Wentworth in wax. Of course she saves Norman, and he does for Lord Chalston in his own inimitable 1066 (get it, the Norman conquest) Gay Desperado way no doubt putting yet another gray hair in the head of Sweet William, his long suffering friend and adversary at Scotland Yard.

   World War II posed a problem for rogues and gentleman adventurers. It wasn’t all that glamorous flitting about England in the blitz. Peter Cheyney managed all right with Slim Callaghan and Ettienne McGregor and turned to his best work in spy novels, but the Saint had to sail for the states to fight saboteurs (can you imagine the Saint in uniform?).

   The Toff served in intelligence but all his adventures were home based affairs battling things like black marketeers, Norman Conquest fought Nazis at home when not ignoring the war completely, and the Baron was a sergeant manning a telephone for the RAF in a note typical for that grounded series. But Sexton Blake was in it tooth and nail, and where Blake went Dixon Hawke was sure to follow.

   The most important thing to note about Dixon Hawke is that young Kenneth Millar, Ross Macdonald, was a fan, and the Hawke books are fun, but they are much closer to the comics than even the hero pulps.

   The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz has Hawke penetrating the Nazi high command as said Doctor Krantz. The opening sets the tone.

   “Donner and blitzen,” he cursed. What a night and what a country. Only the pig dog British would build a prison in such a place.

   By which remark Herr Gustav Stonberg revealed his utter lack of a sense of humour, for, as one of the leading members of the German Secret Police, the dreaded Gestapo, he had been responsible for building some of the worst concentration camps in Germany.

   At least you know where you are. This is wartime England and subtle was not needed in the pulps. Never fear though, Dixon Hawke outwits Himmler himself, makes a daring escape with his friend Clavering, and gets shot down in a German plane by the RAF before he is rescued with the goods. “Good old Dixon Hawke …” as his boy pal Tommy (since Sexton Blake’s Tinker every hero needed a youthful assistant) says.

   The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz reads the way a good B wartime programmer plays, it even resembles the Raoul Walsh Errol Flynn flag waver Desperate Journey a bit with a touch of John Buchan’s Greenmantle thrown in (the bit where Hannay is in WWI Germany in disguise), as well as Manning Coles’ Tommy Hambledon in A Toast to Tomorrow and Drink To Yesterday. It’s closer to a Big Little Book or a juvenile than the pulps, but it is still fun, if not for the same reasons as slightly more mature fare.

   Who doesn’t like to figuratively flip the bird to Hitler and Himmler?

   The Green Caravan by Rex Hardinge is a Sexton Blake post-war adventure, and it is not for little boys. Philip Neal wants to marry beautiful English rose Mary Young, but the tormented Neal, who had a bad war in a ‘Nazi horror camp,’ was drawn to the gypsy woman Belle Hampton, she of the bulging bosom and flashing eyes, for darker needs. Now he can’t get rid of her, and the best solution seems to be murder.

   The perfect murder! He realised that many men have tried to achieve it. Many have paid for their failure the full penalty demanded by the law. But what of those who succeeded? Nobody knows how many of them there have been. And if others succeeded why shouldn’t he?

   Not the sanest of people this Philip Neal, and the bodies start falling like flies, random victims killed by three bullets from three guns without warning. Mary Young is scared and turns to Neal’s rival Ben Rorke. Ben survives a trap, and now Neal must be rid of him before he figures out who the killer is. So why not blow up the entire end of the hospital Ben is in?

   …pack the dynamite — light it with a short fuse — then with the crossbow, from some convenient spot, fling the arrow with the dynamite into the room where Ben lay.

   He misses Ben again, but suspecting the second attack on Ben was not coincidence Sexton Blake, called in on the case with Inspector Coutts of the Yard, has the word spread that Ben is dead and moves him to London. Blake is convinced the murders are not the work of ‘what the Americans call a psycho.” He sees a ‘deliberate plan” behind the crimes.

   Ben leads to Mary who leads to Belle with whom she had a violent confrontation, which leads to Philip Neal who has the means and the brains to rig the clever traps the killer uses, but there has to be a motive. Even with evidence and motive they couldn’t charge Neal or convince a jury (unusual for the detective to bother with details like juries in any mystery), and the obvious victim, Belle Hampton, is as yet untouched.

   If you don’t smell a trap coming, you haven’t been paying attention reading these and watching television and movies all these years.

   “He is caught in his own trap,” he (Blake) snapped, “which is fitting considering the death he gave to innocent people — but he isn’t dead. He is not escaping the hangman that way.”

   Though one would imagine John Mortimer’s Rumpole, John Dickson Carr’s Patrick Butler, or Sara Woods’ Antony Maitland could get him off on an insanity plea pretty easy with say the help of solicitor Arthur Crook or Joshua Clunk. He’s obviously loony.

   The Blake books from this era and into the sixties are often very good with writers like W.A. Ballinger, Rex Hardinge, Hugh Clevely, Jack Trevor Story (The Trouble with Harry), and other relatively familiar names penning them.

   They are still pulp, still series pulp at that, and hardly up to the level of most American paperback and digest fiction of the era, but they follow a long tradition and there is nothing to be ashamed of here. They have colorful covers, they are well plotted, there is variety, and they are well written.

   No wonder they were still doing Sexton Blake movies and television series well into the 1960‘s.

   So, three British pulps from three different eras, all fun to read, all fluff, but good fluff, and all uniquely British in style and outlook. Fans won’t let Sexton Blake die and there are sites devoted to him. You can find actual e-books of Thriller, Blake, and a few Dixon Hawke books on line along with Nelson Lee, Falcon Swift, and Waldo the Wonderman, and the covers are still attractive to look at and worth collecting. (Steve Holland at Bear Alley has done a couple of handsome Blake anthologies.)

   The past never really dies, somebody just collects it.

Note:   All three of these stories (and many others) can be downloaded and read online at Comic Book Plus.

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