Vintage Pulp May 31 2022
ONCE IN A LIFETIME CHANCE
Some people wait for success to come. Some people go out and grab it.


Lou Marchetti painted this cover for Chance Elson by W.T. Ballard, and as always does a good job. This came in 1958, and by then Ballard, who had been publishing since the days of Black Mask magazine, was an extremely experienced author. All that practice shows as he weaves the Depression-era tale of a Cleveland nightclub owner who's driven out of business and town by the mafia and crooked cops, fetches up way out west in a wasteland city called Las Vegas, and tries to build a hotel/casino empire. His rival in this endeavor turns out to be the same mafia thug who precipitated his departure from Cleveland.

There's an interesting subplot here involving Elson taking in an orphaned girl of fourteen named Judy, who grows into a beautiful woman and the main love interest. Because she had escaped from a reform school, he at first passes her off as his younger sister, but as she nears adulthood it's pretty clear to most that Woody and Soon-Yi—oops, we mean Chance and Judy—have something more than guardian/ward feelings for each other. As you might suspect, in the deadly game of dueling casinos that develops between Elson and the mafia, she becomes the pawn.

Chance Elson has a timeline that runs for over a decade, so the book moves beyond the boundaries of most crime thrillers into life story territory, and a major theme concerns whether Elson, who's trying to keep a growing Las Vegas from being overrun by organized crime, can win that battle without becoming as bad as those he seeks to thwart. Or more to the point, his business dealings hinge upon ruthlessness, but his personal dealings and opportunity for true love hinge upon becoming a better human being. Are there flaws in the book? Well, we weren't happy with certain aspects of the woman-in-danger subplot. But like we said, Ballard was experienced. His fictional retelling of the rise of Sin City is expert work.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 25 2022
A MEASURABLE IMPROVEMENT
This little baby is going to revolutionize the sex toy industry. And the best part is I can fly it directly to buyers.


We can send billionaires into orbit but we can't invent self-delivering sex toys? Seriously? We don't think it's a lack of brainpower so much as a case of backward priorities. All those scientists need to think less about outer space, and more about inner space. There's still so much to be discovered there. 1956 copyright on this, with James Meese cover art.

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Vintage Pulp May 21 2021
SOMEDAY ISLE
Errol Flynn takes readers back to the romantic South Seas of his youth.


Above you see a cover for Showdown, which is a terrible name for this novel. It's evocative of nothing, a failing that's particularly egregious considering the story is set in the exotic South Seas. You may not have known that Errol Flynn was a novelist, but indeed he was, writing this and Beam Ends, plus his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, which you can consider fiction due to all the sticky episodes from his life it omits. Flynn was the equal of most popular fiction authors of his era, possibly even better than most, however Showdown, besides a better title, could have used an edit for conciseness in the first half. He goes into what we feel is unneeded detail into secondary characters, but even so, everything he writes is confident and steeped in tropical atmosphere.

In the tale, a British boat captain named Shamus O'Thames plies the waters around New Guinea, falls in love with a nun named Granice, and eventually takes on a charter of Hollywood types shooting second unit footage for a movie. It's an ill-advised trip, but he agrees to it mainly because it will take him near his nun's isolated jungle mission. Of course the voyage aboard his boat Maski does not go as planned, as the group end up stranded in headhunter territory. We could offer more details, but we don't want to spoil it for interested readers. We'll just say that it's a fantastic tale with unexpected turns, some of them hard to believe, but with the whole lent credibility by the fact that Flynn, who was from Tasmania, had numerous real life adventures in New Guinea before he became a star.

Showdown probably couldn't be published today due to its casting of native New Guinean people, known as Papuans or sometimes Melanesians, as either loyal servants or depraved villains. The book was originally published in 1946, a time when most white men didn't think of native peoples as owners of their own land, nor deserving of self determination. It's difficult to know exactly how Flynn himself felt about colonialism. We suspect, based on the narrative, that he might not have been entirely on the side of the forces of so-called civilization, but we'd have to re-read his autobiography to know for sure, and that book, sadly, vanished somewhere into the heart of darkness during one of our international moves. Flynn's adventurer O'Thames is certainly kinder than most, but can't be called enlightened by any stretch.

Anyway, Showdown is worth reading, bad title and all (by the way, we totally get the inference of a showdown not only between characters, but between cultures—it's still a bad title). Flynn covers land and sea, love and hate, race and racism (however inadequately), and ultimately, like other authors in this sub-genre (see here and here), asks whether white men should be in the tropics at all. He doesn't have any new answers, but he certainly says what he wants to with some style and an abundance of conviction. He was open about the fact that he preferred being a novelist over being an actor. His personal foibles and failings aside, it's too bad he didn't write more. 

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Vintage Pulp Jul 5 2020
A BIG IDEA
Everyone said we were crazy to breed bite-sized cattle, but wait'll they taste how juicy and tender they grill up.


Edna Ferber is one of the more significant figures in American literature, a unique, sometimes political author who won a Pulitzer Prize for her groundbreaking 1926 novel So Big. We did one of those Facebook favorite book lists during the lockdown and So Big landed in our top twenty. Ferber wrote other notable books, including Showboat (yes, that one), Cimarron (ditto), and Giant, the 1952 Fawcett Cardinal edition of which you see above with Stanley Borack cover art. Rock Hudson and James Dean would of course make the film version an all-time classic. Ferber occasionally had doubts she'd be a success, but became one of the most popular and respected authors of her era, which just goes to show, whether it's books or bite sized cows, good ideas often win in the end, even if you have to hire a tiny cowboy to do the hands-on work.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 28 2016
PAST IMPERFECT
Phillip Marlowe gets involved in shady business.

Above, a very nice piece of William Rose cover art incorporating a window shade for Raymond Chandler's Playback, from Cardinal Books, 1960. This is the last Phillip Marlowe novel Chandler wrote. It first appeared in Britain in 1958 as a hardback. Basically, it's a missing persons case set in California in which Marlowe is put on the trail of a woman being pursued by various shady figures from her past. Many critics consider it lesser Chandler, but it has its plusses. The mystery blog Bloody Murder agrees, and you can read a detailed positive review there by following this link.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 15
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
August 14
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
August 13
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
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