Rediscovered: Another Hannes Bok

Let’s conjure up another Autograph Hound Super-Sunday, since Tom Krabacher was poking around in the archives and stumbled across the post where Kevin Cook trotted out a couple of Hannes Bok letters, with distinctive doodling. One of those What the Hell moments.

What the Hell, thought Tom, I’ve got a Bok! Here’s the back story:

I never mentioned that I have a Bok signature doodle on a letter, too.

In this case one to Bea Mahaffey. A life-long Cincinnati-an, she got involved in SF fandom as a teenager in the 1940s and was a long-standing member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group. I met her when I hooked up with the CFG around 1970, at which point she was in her mid-40s. She became a long-time friend.

But to get to the point. . . . When she was in her mid-20s she was hired by Ray Palmer to work as a  co-editor of his SF magazines (Other Worlds, Imagination). One of the few women SF fans, she got to know the various writers and artists of the day. 

Hence, the letter from Bok. The letter came to me via her sister, upon Bea’s death in 1987. While there is no date on it, the references to Philcon and Bea’s editorial work on the Palmer zines clearly place it in summer, 1953. 

Plus a photo of Bea, fandom’s darling, circa age 22, taken at that year’s Midwestcon (Cincinnati).

And for additional context, the Other Worlds “Poochie” cover, by Bok, which he references.

Posted in Lit | Tagged , , , , , |

Two-Gun Bob: Year 115

Birthday 115 today for Robert E. Howard, the Texan who wrought his influences into the genre of headlong adventure known as Sword-and-Sorcery. A pulp writer in his lifetime, his works now tread the world stage under sandaled feet.

Leading up to this moment I punched up a couple of online S&S tales from the most recent practitioners of the form. Mostly to nudge me one way or the other into accepting — or rejecting — a request to write a survey of S&S by this summer. Over the years I’ve written and edited fat books on the topic — written as much as I’ve edited. I’ve done encyclopedia entries.

I’m still mulling the idea over, but if it means complete coverage up to the moment, naw, not worth the time it would take. I managed to skim the two recent S&S “stories” while wondering, Do these guys perceive the same words and ideas as I do when they read REH?

Maybe they just don’t know how to write. . . .

But I guess in a survey one could just dismiss all the junk with a quick aside.

The disappointment was washed away by a celebratory reread of REH’s “The Tower of the Elephant” and “Rogues in the House” — I’m halfway through “Beyond the Black River.” Howard and his genre at their best.

And if you want to check out a somewhat more formal essay marking this day, Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes offers some thoughts on the DMR blog. In his files and in his brain Morgan has the makings of the most complete history of S&S that will ever be done, if he can wrestle it into print. He’s read it all, Howard and Leiber, Jakes and Moorcock, de Camp and Carter, even the terrible PBOs that came out during the boom of the 1970s.

I think he’s even reading the newest attempts by the writers I wouldn’t call writers. That’s dedication — dedication to the ghost of Robert E. Howard.

Posted in REH | Tagged , |

Hammett: Further Farewells

Following up on his track down of a newspaper reprint for “The Farewell Murder” the other day, Evan Lewis rounds up a few more! Surf over and give it a look.

Obviously Hammett saw more action in newspapers than he did in the pulps, and any future bibliographies will have a lot of stuff to add in.

I’m not saying that means the pulps diminish in importance — they were the first appearances, and any book collector can tell you the first trumps any reprint.

But the papers — my pal the late John D. Squires was talking this angle up years ago, and if you remember Terry Zobeck did some newsprint hunting on this blog before John’s early tips. I know JDS spotted “The Tenth Clew” and “Dead Yellow Women” — so I guess the main question now is whether or not all the Op shorts went into the rotation.

Or maybe only the stories Hammett possibly considered the best, worthy of reprint. And if so, those scholars who enjoy setting up rankings of the top material, seeking clews to establish a bulletproof quality canon, have another major factor to consider.

Posted in Dash | Tagged , , , , |

Frisco Beat: A Slice of Life 1979-90

Our man on the street, Nathan Ward — keeping his eye on the New York scene — sends along his latest find:

“I liked this evocation of San Francisco from 79-90 by the novelist Rachel Kushner in the current New Yorker (‘The Hard Crowd,’ Jan 18.). I didn’t see a lot of these old bars, but I imagine they might strike a chord with you. A nice appreciation of the old Greyhound station and proper dislike of hippies.”

Covers some of the same Tenderloin turf gumshoed by the Hammett Tour during those years, if you want to take Nathan’s word for it and browse through. Kushner is kind of interesting, since she had a Willeford cameo in her novel The Mars Room.

(And Nathan, if you don’t know, authored The Lost Detective, a biography of Hammett.)

Posted in Frisco, Tour, Willeford | Tagged , , , |

Rediscovered: 100 Years Ago

Recently noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook mentioned one of the features he does for his zine in the amateur press association devoted to pulps:

I probably told you about it before, but every PEAPS mailing I do a little bit with a pulp quote included that I title simply “100 Years Ago.”

Right now in early 1921 I find myself in a bit of a lull for material.

The Munsey scientific romance movement died in July 1920 when All-Story and Argosy combined.

Weird Tales and Black Mask still awaited birth, so the available market consisted of Argosy All-Story Weekly, Adventure, Blue Book and People’s.

The best magazine in 1921, and I am positive that a young Bob Howard would agree with me here, was Adventure. The end of 1920 included Harold Lamb’s finest Khlit story, “The Curved Sword” — foreshadowing Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key as an overpowering army is defeated “not by the strength of warriors. . . but by the fellowship of two men” — those two men being Khlit the Cossack and the Moslem swordsman Abdul Dost. Arthur O. Friel really hit his stride in 1921. Rafael Sabatini’s earliest Captain Blood stories were reprinted from the Premiere Magazine in the UK. Henry S. Whitehead’s first weird fiction saw print. There was a lot to recommend in Adventure in 1921.

An interesting additional bit with Lamb concerns a couple of those continuity “errors” we have been discussing that authors make.

At the end of “The Curved Sword” Khlit is “holding a broken sword clasped in his hand” — that being the sword of Genghis Khan. This immediate classic was supposed to be the last Khlit story.

Five years later when Lamb changed his mind and brought Khlit back in “White Falcon” he once again carries the sword of Genghis Khan.

Worse, in Adventure’s letter column Lamb stated that “The Curved Sword” takes place in “the early seventeenth century.” Fine as it stands. We leave Khlit unmarried and childless at the end of “The Curved Sword.” However, by 1611 in “White Falcon” he has an adult grandson.

Neat trick if you can do it! 

Again, the story was what was important, and if “The Curved Sword” is — as I believe — the best Khlit story, then “White Falcon” runs a close second, errors notwithstanding.

(Also in the dating of “White Falcon,” Lamb committed one of his rare historical errors, getting the date of death of Boris Godunov wrong. Lamb has his Cossacks meet Godunov in 1611. Unfortunately, Godunov died in 1605. Author Rule #1: Don’t let historical facts interfere with a great story!)

Posted in Dash, Lit, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Does Continuity Matter?

For those who enjoy chewing the fat about books and writers, in email the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook and I recently got off on another little thread that might interest some of you:

Kevin: Of course the greatest story about an author forgetting his novel is when Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner, writing the movie script, called up Raymond Chandler to ask him who murdered the chauffer in The Big Sleep.

Chandler couldn’t answer. A reread of the novel shows that he never explained in the book who committed the murder!

That has to be the all-time classic, and it happened to one of the greats.

Almost as famously, Edgar Rice Burroughs has Tarzan’s son Jack “Korak” Clayton, who was an infant in 1914, show up as a World War I veteran in Tarzan the Terrible. That error has bothered Burroughs fans for a century now.

H. Bedford-Jones stopped writing John Solomon stories for three to four years in the early 1920s. When he resumed he dumped about ten novels worth of continuity.

Did those two authors simply forget? Or more likely were they just trying to write and sell another interesting story and did not care if the new one contradicted one from a few years back?

Don: The Chandler slip-up is famous, but only proves that Chandler was right. In “The Simple Art of Murder,” The Atlantic, December 1944, he wrote about the Black Mask style. If in doubt about plot movement, have someone come into a room with gun drawn. Didn’t matter if it really made sense, just mattered if it kept the pages turning. THAT was the style.

When they shot the flick afterwards in 1945 — a revamped version became the one released theatrically in 1946 — right there was proof that Chandler had not been bullshitting about How To Do It.

Who cared who killed the chauffeur? No one, really, until the film crew tried to piece together continuity.

I think most pulpsters (and most writers in general, until recent years) didn’t worry about character continuity at all.

If they got the name spelled right, they were doing pretty good (and some, like Louis L’Amour, didn’t bother with that angle too much). Jeez, Conan Doyle couldn’t remember where Watson caught a slug or got married.

Kevin: You are correct about Chandler: who cares who killed the chauffeur? The Big Sleep is a classic anyway, and that blip in the continuity does not change it one bit.

My whole point was that authors who were great story-tellers did not let the continuity details get in the way of a great story. Watson’s wounds and wives or Korak’s age don’t really matter when you are actually reading the story; it’s only afterward with too much time on your hands that you start to worry about that sort of thing.

Creative minds putting down on paper the words that will lead to the best possible story (and who cares what I wrote last year that may contradict it!).

Posted in Film, Lit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Excerpts of Nostalgic Book Talk

Kicking the can around in email with noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook, we hit a thread of wishing we’d been alive back when, getting new stories by favorite writers hot off the press. It began as Kevin was doing a big reread of Arthur Machen, about to go to The Terror next — and I mentioned that for Machen, it was only so-so.

For those who enjoy such chatter:

Kevin: Just to note the difference, I can still distinctly remember my first readings of stories like “Queen of the Black Coast” and “Beyond the Black River.” The Wow factor was very much in evidence. It’s the same stuff we were just writing about with the initial what-happens-next reading of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” 

I will also note at this point that you were correct about The Terror, which hardly held the same sense of mystery upon rereading, when you already know what happens. It was also from Machen’s later period.

I feel a lot about him much as I do with Conan Doyle in that they both hit the high points in their careers in the 1890s. The same could, of course, also be said of Wells. What a great decade, though!

Even among forgotten authors, my favorite books by Frank Aubrey, Alfred Clark, Anthony Wall and Eugene Shade Bisbee all appeared in that decade.

Don: Yeah, The Terror — by no means peak Machen. If you love Machen, everything’s worth at least a slog thru (even Dreads & Drolls, tho it is brutal), but if you’re just hitting the high points. . . .

Can you imagine being a reader in the 1890s when all that ground-breaking stuff was popping? Or buying Weird Tales off the stands for the new HPL and CAS and REH stuff, or Black Mask for Hammett? Man.

Kevin: Think of the five-year period roughly 1924-1928 when Hammett was writing one red-hot story after another. Lovecraft published his two greatest stories, “The Colour out of Space” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” Burroughs published his last major work, the Moon series consisting of “The Moon Maid,” “The Moon Men” and “The Red Hawk.” Merritt published his masterpiece The Ship of Ishtar. Harold Lamb published the Sir Hugh stories, and major figures like Robert E. Howard got their start.

All you had to do was basically read four pulps: Argosy All-Story Weekly, Weird Tales, Adventure and Black Mask.

And I wasn’t even considering stuff published originally in book form like The Purple Sapphire by John Taine.

In the next decade you would have Howard, Chandler and Woolrich at their pulp peak. Even earlier in the US you had the peak of the Munsey scientific romances from roughly 1916-1920 with Burroughs, George Allan England and Perley Poore Sheehan leading the way for the newcomers like Merritt, Francis Stevens, Charles B. Stilson, Homer Eon Flint and Austin Hall to get started.

Still, that 1890s in the UK, hard to beat: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Time Machine and The Three Imposters alone would be hard to surpass, not even to take into consideration the cultural significance of Holmes and the whole time travel motif. 

Naturally, The Strand would be the leading magazine, but Pearson’s would not be far behind. Incredible beautiful illustrations for works like The Lost Continent  by Cutcliffe Hyne, “The Spell of the Sword” by Frank Aubrey and The War of the Worlds would mark Pearson’s late in that decade.

The other cool thing was that those British authors knew each other — along with Robert Louis Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard and Bram Stoker. Their presentation copies of books inscribed to each other are very, very expensive collectors’ items today.

All those great eras: Sword-and-Sorcery was new, supernatural horror was new, the hard-boiled detective story was new, Sword-and-Planet was new.

Everything fresh and unspoiled compared to what we have today with Cthulhu Mythos pastiches, Conan pastiches, Holmes pastiches and — best of all — new Elak and Thongor pastiche stories.

Don: Back to me — Kevin mocks with black irony any new Thongor or Elak yarns being “best of all.” Don’t think he suddenly lost his mind. Only the most bottom-feeder fanboys get aroused by that sort of thing.

Posted in Dash, Lit, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Hammett: Another Farewell Murder

Evan Lewis keeps at his exploration of digital newspaper morgues, finding the Op yarn “The Farewell Murder” (1930) reprinted in December 1939 in the Detroit Free Press. How many Op reprints? How many times? How many papers? Maybe someday Evan will have manhunted them all down for our delectation. . . .

In his little blurb Evan mentions the idea that “The Farewell Murder” probably was the last Op yarn written for Black Mask, as Hammett headed off to Hollywood — but then “Death and Company” appeared a few months later, and that title was the last gasp of Hammett’s short fat detective in those pulp pages.

If you want a deep dive into Op vs. Op, return to my ruminations of yesteryear where I pit the final two published tales against each other in a battle to see who finished last.

Posted in Dash | Tagged , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Padgett Powell Book Posts Willeford

Aha. Another guy has just discovered the late great Charles Willeford and covers the waterfront on the direct-to-your-inbox service Book Post. If interested, hop to the link fast — I have no idea what the archiving is like.

My book on Willeford, Willeford, gets a passing mention. Says it “sounds like a good book.” Well, yeah. (Ethan Iverson, also mentioned in the article, once hired me to give him a special Master Class in Willeford, a one-on-one tutorial — Ethan is smarter than most people you meet.)

One tidbit I found interesting is that Saul Bellow found Willeford to be “flat.” The blurb says “nicely ‘flat,'” but flat doesn’t sound flattering, does it?

(And if this marks some sort of tenuous literary dustup between the ghosts of Willeford and Bellow, remember that another of my favorite writers in The Immobilized Man genre, Floyd Salas, once had some kind of little screaming match with Bellow. Reports on that encounter vary.)

“Book Post,” they say, “is a bite-sized newsletter-based book review delivery service, 
sending well-made book reviews, by distinguished and engaging writers, direct to your inbox.” You can subscribe through Twitter, Facebook and the like.

Posted in News, Willeford | Tagged , , , , |

Rediscovered: The Unclaimed Remains of Charles Saunders

Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes pops along a news article — startling enough it provokes my jaded sensibilities.

Turns out the Sword-and-Sorcery — later Sword-and-Soul — author Charles Saunders died at some undetermined point in May of 2020, but when his body was found there was no contact info for friends or relatives.

His corpse was labeled as “unclaimed remains” and buried in an unmarked grave.

If interested in the saga of Saunders, make sure to check it out. One way or the other, it looks as if his greater or lasting rep will play out posthumously — as it did for the founder of S&S, Robert E. Howard.

Posted in Lit, News, REH | Tagged , , |