Monday, September 21, 2009

Pulp of the Week - Thunderstruck


Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, 2006

Guglielmo Marconi

Dr. Hawley Crippen

Erik Larson seems to find himself drawn to the period of history when the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth. He writes well researched non-fiction that reads like a thriller. Previously he has written about a hurricane that leveled Galveston in 1900, killing more than 6,000 people and about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair that was terrorized by a serial killer.

In Thunderstruck he weaves together the story of Guglielmo Marconi's obsession to achieve transatlantic radio with the story of Hawley Crippen, a mousey man whose domineering wife has disappeared. Once again, Larson has spun gold.

Much of Thunderstruck takes place in turn of the century London and the city and its people are beautifully drawn, rich and poor alike. Hawley Crippen is an American living in London and working for a company that sells ailment cures. He makes a good living and is married to an aspiring actress/singer that is short on talent and long on ambition. She treats herself to material excess and scrimps on affection for Hawley. She threatens to leave him often. She is jealous if he talks to any other woman, but goes out often herself. Hawley must have been miserable at home, but puts on a good face.

Blue eyed Guglielmo Marconi grew up in Italy and was schooled at home until the age of 12 by his mother, Anne Jameson Marconi (daughter of the Jameson whisky family), and the tutors she brought in. Being Protestant, she didn't want him educated by the Catholic schools that dominated the Italian towns. The Marconis were well off and young Marconi learned English a bit better than Italian. He is obsessed with electricity.

After hearing about about a lecture where electromagnetic waves travelled across a room and rang bells, Marconi realizes that the era of the traditional telegraph is about to end and that wireless telegraphy is the future. He studies and experiments and keeps at it until he achieves great distances with his wireless. Patents are disputed and the public and scientific communities are dubious of the practicality and use of the wireless. Marconi can't understand why it seems no one else can see what he sees - a global wireless network.

Marconi is ruthless and driven to achieve his goals. He requires in the contracts for his equipment that it will only be used to communicate with other Marconi wireless sets, assuring a virtual wireless monopoly. Marconi tries for years to transmit across the Atlantic.

In the meantime, Hawley's wife has gone missing. She returned to American, he tells her friends. Later he says that she died of pneumonia. Mrs. Crippen's friends are suspicious and call for a Scotland Yard investigation.

How the two stories ultimately tie together is fascinating and inevitable.

Larson is a terrific writer and his research is outstanding. I would recommend Thunderstruck to any fans of history or mystery. It is a pulp crime thriller that I give a 9 out of 10.

For this review I read the Three Rivers Press trade paperback, 2nd printing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Art of Mike Fyles

The Green Lama Volume One is graced with cover art by Mike Fyles. But he has created a few alternate Green Lama covers and ad art just for fun. I thought I would share those with you as well as a few other images from this awesome artist.

An "aged" version of the original.

The final approved pencil sketch.

Mike's alternate cover.

An ad concept.

Finally, another Green Lama pic just for fun!

Here are a few other incredible images from Mike. I love the Chesley Bonestell influence.

You can look at more Mike Fyles art at his website and Renderosity page.

You can buy The Green Lama Volume One at Amazon or Lulu.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage #8


October, 1933 - The Sargasso Ogre

Sequels. The Doc Savage Novels have sequels. This is the second direct sequel out of 7 chances. This adventure follows up on what happens with Doc and the fabulous five after their trip to the Lost Oasis and the discovery of the diamond mine in the middle of the Sahara.

The Sargasso Ogre opens up in Alexandria with Long Tom getting himself into trouble with some thieves that are after the diamonds rumored to have been brought out of the desert by Doc and his associates.

Soon after, Doc and his men board a liner headed for New York with 6 cases of diamonds in the ship's safe. It takes 3 days to cruise from Alexandria to the Straits of Gibralter. It soon becomes obvious that all is not well. All communication and navigation gear are smashed by the men of a vicious thug, Jacob Black Bruze. The ship travels for days on end, to who knows where. Well, Bruze know where, and Doc and his men find out soon enough.

This middle of the novel drags a bit as the days go by, with Doc and Company hunting Bruze and the ship sailing travelling under cloudy skies to parts unknown. But once the journey ends, the action picks up and this novel becomes another great Doc Savage story.

I try to not give away too much in these reviews, but on the other hand I have to say something. So if you don't want to know any of the story details I suggest that you don't read reviews!

Lester Dent has created two really good characters in this book. One is the brute, Jacob Bruze, the toughest man Doc and fought to date. Mean, cruel, and just nasty, Bruze lives up to his name, giving Doc a beating. He is known as the "Sargasso Ogre" by the other denizens living on the massive floating "small continent" of wrecks caught up in the swirl of currents in the Atlantic known as the Sargasso Sea.

A group of women, some of them born in the Sargasso, and some survivors of ships caught in the weedy clog of wrecks, have managed to make their home in a stranded battleship. These Sargasso Amazons are lead by the second great new character in this book, a fabulous Dent creation, Kina la Forge. Dent describes her deliciously.

She was a redhead... she would have topped Doc's shoulder. Her eyes were a dreamy South Seas blue... her lips were an inviting bow... her features could hardly have been improved upon...

She wore an amazing costume -- a loose, brocaded, Russian style blouse, drawn at the waist with a belt fashioned of parallel lines of gold coins. From this dangled a slender, jeweled sword which Doc was certain dated back at least four centuries.

There was also an efficient, spike-nosed, very modern automatic pistol.
Her small feet were shod in strange boots of soft leather, which extended several inches above her ankles. She wore trousers of some silken fabric which terminated shortly above her knees. She was an exotic - and attractive - figure, this queen of the Amazons.

A Pirate Queen that carries a trained monkey on her shoulder. Count me in. She is the best of the strong women that fall for Doc so far. Her appearance here raises the level of this tale by throwing a whole new dynamic into the story, and messing with Dent's formula. She was born in the Sargasso, her parents came from ships forced there by storms. She has known no other life but the flotilla of wrecks. I am curious to find out if she leaves with Doc or stays behind, living in the Sargasso.

I give this superior yarn an 8.5 out of 10 - this is a great read.

For this review I read my copy of the Bantam Paperback #18, 4th Printing.

The Bantam cover is by James Bama. The Pulp cover is by Walter Baumhofer. There is also a hardback Golden Book with a cover by Ben Otero.

You can buy both The Lost Oasis and the Sargasso Ogre in one volume from Anthony Tollin's Sanctum Books.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pulp of the Week - The Invisible Man


The Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells, 1897

This is a fascinating book, a riveting read, and a hell of a story. Wells has thought through the ramifications and consequences of being an invisible man brilliantly.

The story follows Griffin, a former medical student who switched to physics and became obsessed with optics and reflection and refraction. What lesses them and what would happen if they were eliminated altogether. He worked and suffered years of poverty and solitude in his pursuit of achieving invisibility.

He finally came upon the process after many years. There is no magic potion, no elixer or shot, it was a process, a series of drugs and therapies and treatments to finally achieve transparency and the elimination of refraction and reflection.

The tale follows Griffins path of destruction as he checks into an out of the way inn on a dreary February day. He is short-tempered and tired. A few days pass and the questions and suspicions escalate and Griffin panics and the story enters its middle section where the English countryside is terrorize by a maniacal invisible man.

The finale is terrifying and sad. Wells writes in such a manner of fact and solid way, as if this is a recounting of the events of the time that has just passed. While he does not employ the use of first person, he does use accounts of events in a reporter like fashion to good effect. After all the invisible man movies that I have seen it was a pleasure to read the real thing. Apart from a bit of a dated style, The Invisible Man holds up really well.

I give the Invisible Man by H. G. Wells a 9 out of 10. I can't wait to read War of the Worlds and many of his other books.

For this review I read the Project Gutenberg ebook. Project Gutenberg is a free ebook collection of public domain works.