Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Real Pulp Fiction: ARGOSY, August 5, 1939

Having hit big by importing British author C. S. Forester and Horatio Hornblower to the U.S., Argosy gives its cover to another British author. At least it may be the first American publication of this author under this particular pseudonym. E. C. Vivian was a veteran author under several names; under the name Jack Mann he began publishing the occult adventures of one Gregory George Gordon Green -- nicknamed "Gees" and presumably pronounced "jeez," -- in 1936. The Ninth Life is the sixth Gees adventure but the first for Argosy. In it, Gees deals with a vamp (in the Theda Bara, not Bela Lugosi sense) who may well be an immortal priestess of Ancient Egypt. The new serial gets the royal treatment of a full-page illustration by someone other than the regular Argosy artist, and the editorial pitch makes it all sound enticingly exotic, but I confess to finding Mann's story and writing pretty dull.


Charles Rice McDonnell's The Ringer and Theodore Roscoe's Mother Damnation continue this week, but I found the stand-alone stories more entertaining. Best of the lot is the latest No-Shirt McGee story from Frank Richardson Pierce. In "McGee on Horseback" No-Shirt and his sidekick Bulldozer Craig capture a wild horse and our sourdough hero gets the wild idea of taking the animal down to California to run in big-money stakes races. The fun thing about the story is how it turns on a dime, No-Shirt and Bulldozer abandoning the racing idea to sell a herd of horses to stampeders rushing to the latest gold strike, yet ultimately racing their top animals against some hustlers working the gold camps with a ringer horse. As an added complication one of No-Shirt's cousins, a professional jockey, turns up but is working for the hustlers. Pierce's colloquial present-tense narrative style adds to a sense of spontaneity not often seen in the pulps.

Effective as an action story and interesting as a cultural artifact is E. Hoffman Price's "One Step From Hell." It's set in the American-ruled Philippines, where two years before the Japanese invasion and forty years after the U.S. takeover, American troops still have to deal with hostile Moro bandits (or insurgents) in the back country. The soldier protagonist reluctantly takes a mission to rescue a renegade American "sunshiner" from being tortured to death by the tribesmen. Gin Mike deserves whatever the Moros want to dish out, the soldiers understand, but they can't allow a white man to be killed by the natives, or else the Americans as a whole will lose face.

"Lieutenant, it is prestige, and nothing else, that makes it possible for a handful of white men to keep a semblance of order in the Islands. [a commander explains] Once we lose face, we're finished out here. You're not going out to save Gin Mike.You're going out to maintain a tradition."

Gin Mike "used to be white" in the hero's opinion, and he recovers some of his "whiteness" as he and the hero make their break. The grim irony of the story is that, as Mike seems to redeem himself, he's killed in cold blood by another white man with whom he'd been feuding. "I guess everybody's face is saved," the hero concludes cynically to close this tale from a forgotten period of American colonialism.

Robert Cochran's "Tonight We March" is more like what we'd expect from pulp a few years later, during World War II. A downed American mercenary flier in China is escorted to safety by a brave band of guerrilla fighters, whom he mistakes for bandits, led by a woman nicknamed "White Dove." There's a faint hint of interracial romance as she and he pretend to be husband and wife (he pays alimony to an ex in the States) to trick the Japanese. But the main point is that "China will never die," even though a little American help certainly won't hurt, either. Finally, Richard Sale contributes "Hear Them Whistles Blowing!" a throwaway weird tale of the railroad in which the protagonist, stuck on an out-of-control train with a dead conductor and a broken ankle, seems to see the ghost of Casey Jones coming to his rescue. Next week the serials continue and a crew of sailors battle seal poachers and a submarine in the Arctic Ocean.


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