The Alchemy Press Book Of Pulp Heroes edited by Mike Chinn. Book review


Alchemy Press, p/b, £10.00/Kindle, £3.28, Alchemy Press

Reviewed by David Brzeski

Pulp is not a genre! Pulp is a style. The word was coined to describe the format in which it was originally published—that being thick magazines, printed on really cheap (wood pulp) paper. Pretty much every/any genre can be pulp. Pulp stories are fast-paced, thrilling, action orientated, and for the most part, not at all concerned with subtexts, or examining the human condition. If any of that occurred, it was accidental.

One might expect a book of “Pulp Heroes” to be primarily concerned with the superhero-like characters of the Hero Pulps (The Shadow, The Spider, Doc Savage etc.)

This collection certainly does contain such elements, but it covers a wider range of pulp fiction and often strays into stories that are more about pulps than actual pulp.

Mike Resnick’s ‘Origins’ is an interesting way to open a book dedicated to classic pulp heroes. It doesn’t feature a hero as such, not in the normal sense of the word. Instead, we have a story which tells us how a cartoonist might have been inspired to create one of the most famous comic-strip detectives of all time. Pedants may gripe that it’s not even a pulp character, but I doubt you’d find a more pulpy detective in the funny papers than this guy.

‘House Name’ by Robert William Iveniuk is another story about a writer. Kent Rockland is the creator of ‘Titan Bradshaw’, a hero in the Doc Savage mould. Kent is planning on ending the series, and his character, with one final story. His editor, however, has other plans. The character is popular. The fans love him, although they haven’t been so keen on Kent’s last few efforts. Plans are afoot to bring in new writers to take over. Things do not go well.

‘Eyes of Day, Eyes of Night’ by Anne Nicholls has all the classic hallmarks of a pulp jungle adventure. Fiesty heroine, greedy villains, ancient tribal magic. Much as I hate being overly negative in reviews, I have to admit that I simply didn’t like it much. It’s not badly written, or even a bad idea for a story. It just failed to appeal to me.

I knew I was in safe hands with William Meikle. His contribution, ‘Ripples in the Ether’, is one of his new Professor Challenger stories, building on the original canon of Arthur Conan Doyle. In this story, the experiments of a well-known Scottish inventor attract the attention of something from outside our dimension. It’s very much science fiction/horror in the vein of Quatermass.

The Perfect Murder by Chris Iovenko takes us firmly into noir territory. The unnamed protagonist is a best-selling, if not financially secure, author, and Marion White would like to hire him to actually commit the perfect murder—that of her abusive husband.

In a world where super-heroes and villains exist, they are so busy dealing with the bigger issues (and each other) that they have no time for the ordinary people. In ‘Ivy’s Secret Origin’, Bracken N. McLeod shows us that ordinary people can sometimes take care of themselves.

Pirates meet monsters, meet steampunk in Josh Wolf’s ‘Crossing the Line’. It doesn’t get much more pulp than this! It’s a tale of greed, betrayal and poetic justice, with a neat twist at the end.

‘Jean Marie’ by James Hartley tells us of a young woman, with superhuman abilities. She doesn’t put on a mask and become a vigilante, though. Instead, she disappears, only to reappear once the NATO planetary missions were declassified.

Next, Ian Gregory gives us an absolute geek-fest of a story. Jim Harris is a staff-writer at Riverside publishing. Those British readers old enough to have been brought up on the weekly comics of the 60s and 70s will be able to spot the real-world basis for the publisher and many of their creations. There’s a major difference here though. In this world, the stories are all based on the adventures of heroes who actually exist. In ‘Currier Dread and the Hair of Destruction’, Jim is in a bind. The latest Currier Dread story is due and the hero hasn’t shown up yet with the details. When the subject of his work does finally show, Jim discovers some major differences between his work and its real-life basis.

Bjorn Entgam doesn’t have much of worth in his life. He owns a little newspaper stand, from which he runs an illegal bookmaking operation. The highlight of his week is a visit from one of his regulars, Lydea Fairchild. In the chilling tale, ‘The Going Rate’ by Amberle L. Husbands, we learn just how important she is to him.

Michael Haynes manages to combine two classic pulp genres in ‘No Way But the Hard way’. There were many pulp magazines dedicated to sports stories, but ‘Fight Stories’ was the first to be dedicated to a single sport, that being boxing. This is very much a fight story, but in a science fiction setting.

In ‘The Vogue Prince’, Adrian Cole introduces us to an occult detective. There have been many of them over the decades, going back to Carnacki and before, and the sub-genre seems to be particularly popular now. Nick Nightmare is different from most, in that he’s a classic hard-boiled P.I. Type, who just happens to deal with occult threats. Think of a Raymond Chandler story that might have been published in Weird Tales, and you’ll get the idea. I sincerely hope it’s the first of a series.

Joel Lane’s excellent ‘Upon a Granite Wind’ is dedicated to Robert E. Howard, and is very much a tribute to that master’s horror tales. The idea of dreaming of past heroic lives is one that Howard employed in some of his own stories.

I was pleased to see a western in this collection, but ‘The Last Laugh’, by Milo James Fowler, is written in a knowing, “look we’re in a pulp story” style, which I found a little annoying. I’m sure it was intended as an affectionate tribute, but for me it came over with an air of, “OK, this pulp stuff is pretty rubbish really, but we can have a little fun at its expense (wink,wink).” Sometimes tongue in cheek works, but for me, this time it didn’t.

It took me a little while to cotton on to what was going on in Allen Ashley’s strange little story, ‘In the Margins’. I don’t want to give too much away, so all I’ll say is this… All the stories feature fictional characters, but not quite in the same manner as this clever tale.

My favourite story in the book is ‘Heroes and Villains’ by Peter Crowther. Like a couple of the others, it’s more influenced by the superhero comics boom of the 60s than the actual pulps. It plays on the oft-stated theory that the heroes couldn’t exist without the villains and vice versa.

The hero of Peter Atkins’ ‘The Return of Boy Justice’ is not a pulp hero. He’s an elderly has-been actor who played a pulp hero’s sidekick on TV—a sidekick who didn’t even appear in the original pulps, none-the-less! Old, bitter and miserable, his life is changed by a young boy who believes Boy Justice can save him.

It’s a mixed bunch. There seem to be more stories influenced by pulp fiction than there are actual pulp stories, although a couple manage to be both. While there were a couple of stories I didn’t like as much as the others, this was down to personal tastes, rather than bad writing. I’m sure many will disagree with me. I’ve read a lot in the genre that has come to be known as “New Pulp” recently. About half of this collection seems more of an outsider’s view of pulp than new pulp, but it’s no less interesting for that.

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