Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Adventure Tales #1 by Hugh B. Cave, et al.

Classic pulp-fiction tales for the 21st-century reader
Adventure Tales is an infrequent periodical published by Wildside Press that reprints forgotten fiction from classic pulp magazines of the early twentieth century. This first issue of the series collects eight short stories and one novella. The subject matter is divided fairly evenly between mystery/crime stories and tales of adventure in exotic locales, from the South Pacific to India to Africa and ocean-going vessels in between. Sprinkled amongst the stories are several poems also taken from the pulps, penned by authors as diverse as Robert E. Howard (of Conan fame) and George Sterling.

In addition to the fiction and poetry, editor John Gregory Betancourt contributes an introduction. This is followed by an essay on Edgar Rice Burroughs by Mike Resnick, and there is even a letters column. This issue also contains an enlightening interview with Hugh B. Cave, author of more than a thousand stories, which provides a really interesting glimpse into the life of a pulp-fiction writer. These nonfiction components are valuable in that they provide today’s reader with a helpful education in the history and lore of the pulp magazines.

Cave is the “featured author” of this first issue, and his pieces are clearly the best. In “The Man Who Couldn't Die,” a luckless drifter, sick with fever, is left for dead on a barren rock called Fortune Island. There he encounters four treasure hunters, who abuse him as if he were a common slave, yet fail to break him. It’s an excellent story, and Cave’s writing calls to mind some of Jack London’s best tales. One more offering from Cave, also set in the South Pacific, is “Island Feud,” which details the confrontation between a young, idealistic doctor and an unethical boat captain. Another fine selection, “Rats Ashore” by James C. Young, may best be described as nautical horror. The captain and first mate of a ship departing South America begin to wonder where all the customary rats have gone. Although the story gives the answer away a little too quickly, once it gets rolling it offers all the suspense and fun of a classic B movie. Renowned pulp veterans H. Bedford-Jones, Harold Lamb, and Henry de Vere Stacpoole are also represented by good contributions.

The weakest stories in the book are two mysteries, “The Evil Eye” by Vincent Starrett, featuring his Chicago detective Jimmie Lavender, and “‘Watson!’” by Captain A.E. Dingle. The latter tells of two yachting playboys who fancy themselves sleuths along the lines of Holmes and Watson, but the storytelling in no way compares to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Faring better in the crime category is the novella “The Spider Strain” by Johnston McCulley, which takes up over a quarter of the volume. Though McCulley is best known as the creator of Zorro, this story features one of his other popular recurring characters, The Spider, a criminal supergenius who, despite being confined to a wheelchair, oversees a complex network of organized crime.

With the exception of “The Man Who Couldn't Die,” I wouldn’t say I was blown away by any of these stories, but they are almost all good solid examples of pulp storytelling. These well-selected pieces, coupled with the editorial content, really give the reader of today a chance to experience what it must have felt like to browse a newsstand during the golden age of the pulps. As of the time of posting this review, Wildside Press has published six installments of Adventure Tales. After enjoying issue one, I am looking forward to exploring this series further.

Stories in this collection:
Skulls by H. Bedford-Jones
Under the Flame Trees by Henry de Vere Stacpoole
Rats Ashore by Charles C. Young
The Evil Eye by Vincent Starrett
“Watson!” by Captain A. E. Dingle
The Make-Weight by Harold Lamb
Island Feud by Hugh B. Cave
The Man Who Couldn’t Die by Hugh B. Cave
The Spider Strain by Johnston McCulley

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