Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Real Pulp Fiction: ARGOSY, April 15, 1939

Arthur Leo Zagat's "Seven Out of Time" wraps up this week while Norbert Davis's mystery "Sand in the Snow" plods along. As if you couldn't guess, Zagat's time-lost heroes manage to save the Earth, albeit with a little help from one of their doctil oppressors. Turns out that he'd succeeded in his mission to learn the meaning of love, and out of love for the lady in the group he sacrifices himself so she can return to her own time. The rest of his kind are annihilated by hostile life forms, but they had it coming. In the Davis that woman Jim Daniels's wife was fighting last week turns out to be an aviatrix who'd flown Euro-gigolo Dak Hassan into the resort community where the story plays out. The flier is chasing Hassan while he chases Mrs. Daniels, which certainly complicates the character comedy but does little for the murder plot.

The new serial gets this week's cover, and if George Rozen's art doesn't exactly make Bennett Foster's "Rider of the Rifle Rock" look action-packed, at least it's accurate. I'd say it looks like a Ranch Romances cover, but Ranch Romances usually at least has someone, and often the woman, carrying a gun. Actually, though, it's a fairly well-written set up of a redemption story for an injured cowboy who lost his girl to a rival during his recuperation. No one wants to hire him because he may be a permanent cripple, and he doesn't help matters by going on a bender to drown his frustrations. Finally a rancher gives him a chance, but as a homesteader so that the rancher can retain his right to the land against the encroachment of the dreaded "nesters" -- farmers to the rest of us. Foster's more impressive writing at novel length, albeit in serial form, than he was in "Two Tall Men" from two weeks ago, and with a slow burn to a range war starting this should get more interesting as it goes along. I think anyone who likes westerns would like this one.

Our name-above-the-title authors this week are Donald Barr Chidsey and Phillip Ketchum. Chidsey was prolific, versatile, and entertaining. He could do exotic adventure, period pieces, and urban crime, with "All Good Embezzlers" a sample of the latter. It's a stand-alone story (no series characters) in which a con man who rents out a recently shuttered bank for a grift eventually crosses paths with a teller who'd been framed for the embezzlement that led to the bank's failure, but escapes in order to clear his name. It's all pretty improbable but Chidsey has the pulp knack for keeping things moving, though I did wonder why this ran in Argosy rather than its companion mag, Detective Fiction Weekly. Phillip Ketchum may be known as a western specialist, but "A Sword for Leif the Lucky" is obviously something else. Pulp authors could sometimes put over a thematic series of stories without relying on a continuing character; H. Bedford-Jones specialized in this sort of gimmick. Ketchum's series focuses on a continuing weapon. This is the third in a series he started earlier in the year about the "magic axe" Bretwalda, which conveys great power on its wielders but also promises both great joy and great sorrow. In this one the latest wielder aids Leif Ericson in thwarting a plot to kill the king of Norway, not realizing until late in the story that his father had been killed by Leif's father, Eric the Red. If Robert E. Howard defines pulp action for you, Ketchum's Bretwalda stories should satisfy. They're not quite so grim but they deliver the blood and thunder quite nicely.

The best of this week's short stories is Maurice Beam's "The Wind Won't Tell," a nice piece of unreliable narrating about a gold theft and subsequent murders in the modern west. Creighton Peet's "Just a Dreamer" is a comical fantastic about a man who has prophetic dreams and ends up getting exploited by the media. The twist ending is that he makes up a fake prophecy about a terrorist attack on himself in order to get people to leave him alone, but returns to the prophecy business after running out of money only to have the fake prophecy come true. Robert E. Pinkerton's "A Pretty Country" is like something for the slicks. A demoralized pioneer wife nearly drives her husband from her after a tough winter of hard luck until she discovers the beauties of the great outdoors in springtime. Richard Sale, usually a cover-featured writer when he has a novelette or serial going, contributes "Down At Sea -- No Position," a print-the-legend tale of a wealthy and vainglorious celebrity flier and his working-class co-pilot, who have to survive on a raft and reach an island after crashing at sea. The playboy cracks but ends up dying a hero as the co-pilot's eventual rescuers assume he was trying to get help for his friend when his raft sank, while the co-pilot, laid up with a broken leg, suspects that the so-called hero had really left him to die -- but he can't really know for sure.

Next week brings a new fantastic serial, a comedy this time, as well as a story by one of my favorite pulp writers, Robert Carse, and the return of Arden X. Pangborn's Wong Sun. And the cover has a dude fighting a dragon. That, at least, is an improvement.


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