An assorted selection that’s neither assorted nor selective enough
Wildside Press is a publisher that resurrects and reprints vintage genre fiction from the classic pulp magazines. They publish a wide variety of “Megapacks”—inexpensive omnibus collections of stories and novellas, each united under a common theme or author. The Adventure Megapack was published in 2012. “Adventure” is a pretty broad category, essentially covering anything that’s not a western, science fiction, mystery, or horror story. Yet somehow, even with such wide latitude, this collection manages to feel homogenous and monotonous.
I understand that once you disqualify every story with a trace of space travel, cowboys, detectives, or ghosts in it, the pool of available pulp fiction has dwindled quite a bit. Yet still the definition of “adventure” feels pretty narrow here. The vast majority of these stories are tales of 20th-century white guys punching and shooting their way through exotic locales. Some good examples of this are Robert E. Howard’s “Son of the White Wolf,” which features his character El Borak battling renegade Turks; “Stories of the Legion: Choc,” by H. De Vere Stacpoole, a tale of the French Foreign Legion in Algeria; and “The Spirit of France” by S. B. H. Furst, in which British and French characters face a Muslim rebellion in Burma. Too many of these two-fisted tales, however, are predictable, politically incorrect, and just plain dull. The absolute nadir of this tough-guy category is “The Fighting Fool,” by Perley Poore Sheehan, in which the lead character is an obnoxious jerk who all-too easily assumes the leadership of a submissive Tibetan tribe.
To give credit for diversity where it’s due, there are a handful of stories set in Asia, with Asian protagonists. Harold Lamb was famous for such stories, though his entry here, “Said Afzel’s Elephant,” is mediocre at best. Dorothy Quick’s “The Black Adder,” a romantic tale of India, and “The Mindoon Maneater” by C. M. Cross, about a tiger hunt in Burma, are two of the better selections. In his central Asian tale “Every Man a King,” on the other hand, author E. Hoffmann Price clumsily tries to out-Kipling Rudyard Kipling in the local color department, and ends up delivering a story so crammed with proper nouns that it’s about as much fun and intelligible as reading the Kandahari phone book.
One story about auto racing (“Checkered Flag” by Cliff Farrell) was a nice surprise and a pleasant relief from the relentless fisticuffs. Another welcome departure was “Another Pawn of Fate,” by F. St. Mars, a hunting story told from the point of view of a jaguar.
My biggest complaint about this Megapack is that it’s almost totally devoid of historical adventure. There were entire pulp periodicals devoted to such tales, yet this collection barely even dips its toe into the late 19th century, with the exception of one story of pirates in the Caribbean (J. Allan Dunn’s “The Screaming Skull”). What happened to all the knights in shining armor, the swashbuckling Three Musketeers knockoffs, or the Roman centurions? If Wildside is saving up their historical adventure for some other Megapack I’m not aware of it. They haven’t produced one yet, while they’ve already put out The Eighth Science Fiction Megapack.
Obviously, you can’t go wrong with the price of these Megapacks, but you don’t just spend your money on books, you also spend your time. There are moments while reading The Adventure Megapack that you feel like your effort is well spent, but by the time you reach the end of the 25th yarn, you may find yourself wishing for a few hours of your life back.
The Kindle file has a lot of typographical errors; not enough to hinder understanding, but enough to annoy. One of the shortest stories was pasted twice, so it appears duplicated in its entirety. The copy I downloaded even had the wrong cover image. Wildside publishes good stuff, but they should pay more attention to quality control.
Stories in this collection
(Some novella-length works have been reviewed individually. Click on titles below.)
Son of the White Wolf by Robert E. Howard
Every Man a King by E. Hoffmann Price
Pearl Hunger by Albert Richard Wetjen
The Black Adder by Dorothy Quick
A Meal for the Devil by K. Christopher Barr
Jack Grey, Second Mate by William Hope Hodgson
Said Afzel’s Elephant by Harold Lamb
Adventure’s Heart by Albert Dorrington
Another Pawn of Fate by F. St. Mars
Mystery on Dead Man Reef by George Armin Shaftel
Hag Gold by James Francis Dwyer
Maori Justice by Bob du Soe
Javelin of Death by Captain A.E. Dingle
The Screaming Skull by J. Allan Dunn
Six Shells Left by Allan R. Bosworth
Gods of Bastol by H.P. Holt
The Mindoon Maneater by C. M. Cross
The Spirit of France by S. B. H. Hurst
The Box of the Ivory Dragon by James L. Aton
Checkered Flag by Cliff Farrell
The Fighting Fool by Perley Poore Sheehan
Ghost Lanterns by Alan B. LeMay
Stories of the Legion: Choc by H. De Vere Stacpoole
The Whispering Corpse by Richard B. Sale
The Monkey God by Jacland Marmur