Tuesday, July 11, 2017

recent read; Amazon Nights


Amazon Nights by Arthur O. Friel

Ever since I read THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I've wanted to read some of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço, who made a cameo in that novel.

All the stories in this collection appeared in Adventure magazine in the early 1920s. They sweat with the steam of the South American jungle, full of intrigue, menace, jungle danger, south of the border hot-bloods, passion, murder, revenge, savages & cannibals, and betrayal.

Pedro and Lourenço are seringueiros - workers on a rubber plantation. Most of their adventures are set off the plantation during the rainy season. When there is no work and the waters flood to make passage through the jungle, the duo yield to wanderlust and find themselves in various scrapes. Lourenço narrates all the stories from first person p.o.v.

One story does dip a little into fantasy when the duo discovers a lost race of monkey men. All the other stories, though, play it straight though there are some humans who act like animals (but aren't) or are named after animals.

Friel spent time in the jungles of South America and the veracity bleeds through the atmosphere of these stories.

The standout stories for me were; "The Peccaries" "The Jararaca" "The Firefly" "The Bouto" and "The Trumpeter."

Darrel Schweitzer provides an informative, though brief, introduction to this collection.

Robert E. Howard read Friel and named him a favorite author. "The Peccaries" features someone being crucified on a tree. "The Jararaca" contains this wonderful bit, which could come right from the mouth of Solomon Kane;
"I am not one of those who think there is no God. And I do believe that whenever Deus Padre allows an evil thing to come into the world He also creates a good thing to destroy it. And whether this be so or not, I know that as our jungle harbors the venomous jararaca, so also it protests the good mussurana, which slays the jararaca."
Like THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories. AMAZON NIGHTS is a great encapsulation of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço - and I still might seek out more of their tales.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Valley Forge National Historical Park

George Washington awaits.
 My nephew got married this weekend. The wedding was in Pennsylvania and we had time to kill, so my wife & I visited Valley Forge National Historical Park.

George and me.
SPOILER ALERT - (There was no battle at Valley Forge, it was a temporary winter encampment.)

Valley Forge was set on high ground in the rolling farm country of southeastern PA. It's a lovely spot. From there, Washington could monitor British movements around Philadelphia, which the British had captured and occupied.

Beautiful rolling farm country.
Although there was no battle at the site, no cease-fire had been declared and the Continental Army had to drill, picket, and perform all the myriad soldiering duties throughout the winter, remaining vigilant. (There were a few skirmishes in the countryside - usually as the Americans were foraging wider and wider for supplies and food.)

We watched the introductory movie at the visitor center. It was a hot day and we opted for the trolley tour. Highly recommended. It was a wise move to let someone else do the driving and the narrating. Our guide really knew her stuff. Not just about the encampment but all kinds of history leading up to and after the encampment of winter 1777-78.

Costumed Park Ranger and replica huts.
The huts and redoubts are all recreations. The originals fell to rot, or more likely, were knocked down by the farmers who owned the land, once the the army had marched on.

Washington's headquarters was a proper house and that still stands today with recreated kitchen, office, and bedrooms.
Washington's headquarters
The theme driven home more than once is that Valley Forge is unique in being a monument not to soldiers in battle but a monument to the rest of a soldier's life - the 90% of time they are not on the battlefield. The 90% of time surviving, dying of diseases and dearth, drilling, and keeping busy to stay sane.

Absolutely worth your time to visit if you are in the area.

I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book.

Ya, I know  - I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book. "Fixed that for ya."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

recent read; Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

I wanted to read some pulp outside the usual zone. I went for jungles stories. Ki-Gor is a Tarzan pastiche written under a house name. I checked with Charles Rutledge who advised me of some of the better stories. "The Silver Witch" was the only recommendation  available in ebook (at present.)

"The Silver Witch" surprised me. Not only is it a good tale, but the juju sorcery is real in the story. I would have expected a Scooby-Doo unveiling. An immortal sorceress, her silver ghostly army, a lost city in the swamp. An atmosphere of horror, too. "The Silver Witch" isn't far removed from a decent Conan pastiche. As such, it could be cross-classified as sword-&-sorcery (spear-&-sorcery) as well as a jungle story.

Four other tales round out this issue.

"Ndembo!" relates a somewhat humorous tale of a 'dead' tribesman who must endure 'death' to gain fortune among his tribe. Trickery meets trickery.

"Gorilla! Gorilla!" is a story of the leader of a troop of gorillas, under challenge from a young bull, and trying to protect his group from men. It is told from the point-of-view of the gorilla.

"Angel in the Jungle" isn't the best title for the tale it relates. The story involves the usual conflict of two colonials infighting as they deal with closing a pass with dynamite while dealing with a local tribe of elephant hunters.

"Spears of Fire" rounds out the issue. Again the setup is two white men in conflict against the backdrop of wild Africa. This story involves harvesting mahogany wood and floating it down river before the flood season leaves the wood high and dry. A few good twists in this one. I think it could use a better title, too, though. Not really many "spears." I thought this was the best story besides "The Silver Witch."

For $4 on Kindle, this issue contains a surprisingly enjoyable set of stories. Worth the read if you're interested in this sort of thing.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

recent read; Vampires Overhead

Vampires Overhead by Alan Hyder

In 1983, Karl Edward Wagner created three lists of what he considered to be the best horror novels. The lists - Supernatural Horror, SciFi Horror, and Non-supernatural Horror - appeared in Twilight Zone magazine.

Vampires Overhead is an apocalyptic scifi horror novel. Set in post-World-War-I London and the English countryside, it relates the story of "Garry" Garrington. Garrington and his wartime soldier pal, Bingen, are spared the initial horrors after they pass out in the safety of a tunnel under a brewery. They awaken to find a world burning, stalked by strange vampiric alien creatures.

They fight and flee from the vampires through London, and find only one other survivor - a young woman named Janet. The trio then set off for the countryside in search of supplies, a safe base, and other survivors.

As with many apocalypse stories, as the vampires dwindle, the monstrous nature of mankind comes to the surface.

Written in 1935, some of the descriptions of London ablaze eerily foreshadow the incendiary bombs of the Blitz only five years later. I don't know how widely known the novel was in later years. But I bet in had an influence on any number of British apocalypse tales. The Doctor Who serial, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," came to my mind more than once while listening.

Vampires Overhead is a cracking tale; tense and fast-moving. If you've not read it, put it on your shortlist.

A note on the audio book;

I listened to the audiobook from Radio Archives. It was a serviceable reading and I would give it higher regards except - the reader is American. The novel is British. It would not be much of an issue except the point-of-view is first person. Again, not an issue if it were read straight through. But, the American narrator slips into British accents for the dialog. The in-&-out accenting is a distraction - especially when he holds over some British pronunciations in the narration, or when he occasionally slips accent into Irish or Australian accents.

Friday, June 2, 2017

recent read; Nifft the Lean


Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

I'd been wanting to read this sword-&-sorcery classic for a long time. All the Nifft books are out-of-print. I finally procured a copy last year.

I recently discovered Audible has made them available as audiobooks. So, I finally listened to NIFFT THE LEAN.

Amazing stuff. Every sword-&-sorcery fan should read. Or, as in my case, listen to the excellent audiobook.

Four tales of Nifft's thieving exploits are told. A story of traversing the underworld - sort of an ode to Dante's INFERNO, a tale of larceny involving black pearls and a vampire queen, the longest of the tales is another journey/quest through the sub-world of the demon seas and finally an odd tale of a kingdom that once was visited by aliens.

My only slight dissatisfaction is with the final story, because Nifft really isn't the protagonist - he is just a witness to events.

I could see where these stories had a large influence on Dungeons & Dragons and the "thief" character class.

Stellar storytelling.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lovecraftian Tales, Volume One

Lovecraftian Tales, Volume One

A while ago, I submitted a story to Lovecraft eZine. It was accepted but reserved for a future issue. Since that time, Mike Davis (editor and creator of Lovecraft eZine) decided to place the story in a new project/title, Lovecraftian Tales.

I am not sure of Mike's plans on this new title versus the Lovecraft eZine. I'm just happy the story has come out.

My story is "The Innsmouth Run," where a pair of bootleggers take refuge from the law in the ruins of Innsmouth. The story is set a few months after the events of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."

It is available via Amazon for Kindle or also in a print edition.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

recent read; StoryHack Issue #0

StoryHack Issue #0

Bryce Beattie is launching a new "pulp" magazine, StoryHack, joining a growing field of magazines/eZines returning to pulp storytelling.

Issue #1 is Kickstarting now. As a proof of concept, Issue #0 was produced and is available for free (follow the link above.)

So, what do you get with StoryHack, issue #0?

A mystery adventure in a gunpowder fantasy setting, a werewolf private eye, a bounty hunter in a lost city adventure, a sword-&-sorcery tale of Biblical times, a world-traveling vigilante, a sword-& sorcery tale from a prince's bodyguard, a Victorian spy team, cosmic horror on a galactic, apocalyptic scale, and an urban fantasy with gun-play, zombies, and magical artifacts.

As with any anthology (be it magazine or book,) not everything is probably going to jive with personal tastes - especially when StoryHack is welcoming all genres so long as the story focuses on action & adventure. This held true for me but the quality throughout the magazine was fine, even when a story wasn't appealing to me.

I enjoyed this issue. There are fun tales in here.

If your reading tastes align with mine - you know who you are - then you want to add StoryHack to your reading pile, for certain. I'm looking forward to issue #1!