The second offering in the April 1938 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine is a short revenge story by Julius Long called Express to Hell!. On a foggy night, four railroad executives are summoned to a meeting on the railroad owner’s yacht. The meeting is certain to be a discussion of the events leading up to a train collision that cost the lives of nineteen passengers. Inside the yacht, the eccentric millionaire (it’s the late 1930’s remember, the dollar hadn’t been devalued to the point that a billionaire was necessary for this important plot point) meets with the four inside a specially constructed railcar. The rail car has been mounted on rollers, and the use of phonograph sound effects and special lighting – the windows are frosted, not transparent – provides the illusion that the car is in motion in a sort of low-tech virtual reality.
One of my personal goals in re-reading old pulp adventure magazines is to study the way writers of the first half of the 20th century described high-adrenaline moments. One of the most frequent high-adrenaline incidents being the classic fist fight. Let’s take a look at a fight written by James Francis in the story Arms of the Flame Goddess, which was published in the April 1938 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine
Our hero and his allies, a stolid Dutch lawyer and the town sheriff, confront the towering and burly old leader of a sect of flagellants inside an isolated farmhouse. When they accuse him of being a cult leader engaged in demonic practice, he attacks them
“For a long moment the man stared at me in such frozen silence that I thought he had not understood what I said. Then suddenly he leaped at me, clubbed fists beating like pile drivers. The came down on my shoulders and one smash of them beat me to my knees. I tried to jump backward, but they found me again. They pounded on my head and back of my neck. Their blows rang my cranium till they filled it with shooting starts.
Paave and the sheriff weer after him now. He drove his great knotted hands into their faces like rocks at the end of piston rods. They staggered back, gasping through spurting blood. They rallied and charged him again and he beat them like puppets.
They were gone now, taken to flight, and he whirled to where I was just staggering up to my feet. He blasted me down again. His fists were hammers of Thor beating the life out of a squirming pygmy of mortal man who twisted and groveled this way and that to escape from their punishment.
Finally he paused to get breath. Like a mouse fleeing a torturing cat, I dragged myself, half crawling, half running, into some bushes. He didn’t follow me.”
As a longtime fan of Louis Lamour, my fight scenes have always followed in his example. They are blow by blow accounts filled with the technical aspects of boxing: footwork, defensive stance, balance, which hands do what, and what effect they have on the fighters. It’s a literal account meant to convey the mechanics of the fight. We describe what the fighters do and what happens to the fighters. One of the few things I have in common with Louis Lamour is that we have both spent time in the boxing ring. No doubt my boxing skills pale in comparison to his as much as my writing skills do – the larger point here is that we both understand the intricacies of the fight, and as such write as fighters for fighters.
Francis James on the other hand writes to describe the fight itself. Although written in the first person, it manages to convey the overall sense of what the fight would look like to a bystander. That’s a neat trick. Notice how he conveys a sense of the heavy and indomitable destructive force of a big man’s fists with phrases such as, “like rocks at the end of piston rods,” and, “hammers of Thor”. That’s some evocative language that really drives home the weight of impact.
That’s a valuable lesson –spend as much time describing the fight as you do describing what happens to the fighters.
The February 1911 issue of Adventure magazine was grounded in the real world. It featured the real world exploits of a real-life adventurer-pirate and the inventor of the machine gun. Even the fiction stories took place on a contemporary earth within the realm of the natural world.
Fast forward to 1938, on the eve of the Second World War, and now commercial flights are available. Hitler’s Luftwaffe and the Jap Zeros are fearsome flying machines the likes of which the world had never seen. They cooperate with ground forces to alarming effect. The men of the Allied forces are engaged in a furious technological race that forces their whole society to start looking further and further down the road in a desperate attempt to get there first. Science fiction enters the scene, and suddenly the average Joe doesn’t see ‘fairy tales’ as something for the kids, but something for all of us. Somewhere in there, a shift occurs, and magazines start incorporating more and more elements of the fantastic.
Enter the April 1938 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, and it’s lead story, Arms of the Flame Goddessby Francis James.
Three married couples, having invested a few years back in a large patch of undeveloped land out in the rural countryside, embark on a scouting trip. A logging company wants to clear cut the land, and they want to be sure that they don’t underbid the contract. While hiking they encounter a near naked flagellant, a strange Christian cultist who whips himself bloody in a savage mockery of Christ’s suffering on the cross. When he flees, they pursue, only to find him charred to a crisp amid unburnt grass. The lone clue, a ring of paper dolls linking hands accordion style. They immediately leave the area only to discover a second ring of the paper dolls on the windshield of their car. Then things get really weird.
The town isn’t home to a cult of flagellants, it’s held hostage to a cult of flagellants with the power to make you spontaneously combust. They also command pale dancing girls wreathed in fire who entice men Siren-like into the woods where the cult sacrifices their victims to the flame goddess.
In the end our hero rescues his wife, and the mysterious events turn out to have a perfectly rational explanation. The cult leaders are only out for the money and power. They only targetted the protagonists and their party to stop the land deal that would upset their little con job.
The story itself, is unsettling and creepy in a very Lovecraftian sort of way. The final confrontation involves human sacrifice and graphic violence around a forest bonfire that is a bit surprising to a 21st century reader expecting more Victorian fare.
This is a Detective magazine, though, not Weird Tales, so mundane explanations are the order of the day. Things are changing, but men are still rational creatures, and everybody knows that there aren’t really such things as flame goddesses and hexes. It might be nice to pretend once in a while, but at the end of the day, fairy tales are for kids.
Is it any good?
Yeah, it’s pretty good. It sticks pretty close to a pattern that modern day slasher movie fans would recognize with a band of six couples slowly whittled down over the course of events. It isn’t particularly earth-shaking, but as far as light entertainment goes, I’ve read a lot worse.
Congratulations to the good people of Great Britain for pulling off a neat trick that we Yanks couldn’t – you’ve regained your independence without firing a shot and without bloodshed. Must have picked that up from a few of your other colonies. From this side of the pond, we watched you stand tall the last time somebody tried to unite Europe under a single government, and now you’ve done it again.
Jolly good show.
A quick spin around the Twitsphere revealed three primary reactions among the Britishers who favor foreign rule. Let’s take a look:
1. Brexit voters are racist.
Psh. Whatever. Not an argument. Next!
2. Brexit voters are old.
Those with more experience, the wise and crafty, did reject foreign rule. Bear in mind that they recognize all the cool countries are doing it these days. They know that it’s a lot more fun in the short term. They also recognize the long term costs, and while eating your Brexit vegetables might not be a whole lot of fun now, someday you’ll thank them for being grownups and expecting you to act like grown-ups, too. Now run along and play, Junior – the grown-ups have a nation to run.
3. The markets hate that Brexit won!
About that. You know those global multi-national corporations that it’s trendy to hate? They are the ones shaken to the core by Brexit. They want one market because it is good for their bottom line, not because it is good for the average Briton. That they are rattled is a good thing. Britain has sent a warning shot across their prow that the path forward for the multi-nats is not going to be as easy as they thought it would be yesterday. The people are waking up and looking out for their own interests – not for the interests of the global crony capitalists. That’s got them shook. Good.
The huge plunge in Britains index that “wiped out 140 billion” (or whatever the number is up to) was a very useful correction. That money wasn’t real money – it was bubble money waiting to burst. Whatever short term pain Britain experiences will more than be offset when that bubble bursts in a big way on the Continent, and the island economy is relatively shielded from the shock by taking their medicine early. You should be celebrating that dip because it is a sign of return to normalcy.
We now return to a slow progression through the February 1911 edition of Adventure magazine, available online for download in a variety of formats. This time, we look to the very non-fictional Captain George B. Boynton, a globe trotting sea captain who served under eighteen different flags, writing about his exploits as a gun runner, field marshall, prisoner, and all around adventurer in the 1870s.
Run the numbers. In 1911 he would have been 40 years older, perhaps in his seventies or eighties, making these the first hand tales of a pirate on the high seas under full cloth sail. Perhaps one of the last. Further evidence of the veracity of these tales is available through the magic of the internet, as the full length biography of Captain Boynton, published in 1923, is available online at Archive.org.
According to the preface of that biography the rascal died in bed on January 18, 1911, just a month before these particular tales were published. If the author is to be believed, these stories were something of a death-bed confession told by a man in the waning months of his life. As first person tales spun decades later, some embellishment is to be expected, but to readers looking for high adventure, betrayal, daring escapes, and quick witted thinking in the face of death? Embellish away.
The timing of his death is also interesting. As the stories in this February issue represent the first time his tales had appeared in print – his biography wouldn’t appear until twelve years later – and his death occurred in January of that year, he would not have lived to have seen them published.
The Captain’s storytelling is pretty much the opposite of Ian Fleming’s. He wastes very few words on unimportant things like setting, environment, and the five senses, instead preferring to get down to brass tacks as fast as possible. His rapid fire list of exactly what happened, where, and when, is refreshing to read as a break from a steady diet of inner monologues, character growth, and rambling descriptions of elements that have no impact on the story itself.
Instead, what you get is a bare-bones adventure on and around the high seas very much in the spirit of a Jack Aubrey – it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a few of Aubrey’s adventures are based on those of Captain Boynton – the sort of adventure that sees a simple arms delivery turn into a robbery and impressment in an army fighting against the general who had ordered the guns in the first place. The stories include big battles, assassination attempts, and fist fights.
Everyone should have at least one grandfather like Captain Boynton.
Continuing to read random selections from the February 1911 edition of Adventure magazine provides a couple of gems.
First up, “Dixie Pasha” by Thmas P. Byron, in which 400 French Zouaves come face to face with a new enemy – native troops well drilled by their leader, Sam Ames. The titular character is an American ex-pat, black man from south of the Mason-Dixon line, who leads a small 80 man force of Arabs through colonial Liberia. Viewed as raiders by the French Foreign Legion, they fight to secure safe passage for a Muslim holy man preaching ‘jehad’ to the local Liberians.
The holy man they escort is little more than a MacGuffin created as an excuse for adventure. The Dixie Pasha engages in daring escapes and leads his men in pitched battles in fine tradition. That the erstwhile protagonists are Arabs led by a black man is irrelevant – aside from a few fun vignettes such as one featuring head-scarf wearing Arabs singing a mangled version of “Dixie”. Those coming to this story with a It’s-The-Current-Year view of the early twentieth century may be surprised that the story features heroic black men leading an Arab force against evil white colonials. As is so often the case, the truth (that in many ways our modern attitudes on race are less progressive than those of our forebears) is stranger than fiction (that a former slave could be a noble and heroic figure in his own right).
Dixie Pasha is a throwback story in the best sense. What is missing from the story is as striking as what is in the story. Unlike so much of what is written today, this story doesn’t serve a purpose beyond adventure. Sam Ames is a melancholy figure, and a tragic hero, whose fight isn’t one against the powers that be. No one learns a very special lesson about tolerance and diversity. It’s just a bunch of guys doing their best to make their way in a dangerous world. It’s a refreshing change to read a story about adventure for its own sake.
The second story of the day is actually a collection of short stories told by Hudson Maxim. Yes, that Hudson Maxim.
For those who don’t recognize the name, he was the inventor of the modern day machine gun which bore his name. (In an odd bit synchronicity, the modern day mens’ magazine, Maxim, was named after the very same machine gun.)
Most of the stories involve near misses of one sort or another. Running from a dynamite building shortly before it detonates, a wayward rocket narrowly missing a nearby train, and the like. One story that seems like it must be apocryphal details a Chinese servant to a Russian nobleman who tells a friend of the nobleman’s penchant for dismissing the servant with a kick in the pants. The friend, who was actually a Japanese spy, creates a special padding for the Chinese fellows pants. Unbeknownst to the servant, the padding consists of a hot water bottle filled with nitroglycerin and a couple of blasting caps, which has the desired effect when next the servant is dismissed. In fact, most of the stories detail the practical application of Maxim’s deadly machines in the Russo-Japanese war.
The striking thing about this story is not the wild-west pre-OSHA tales of reckless industry, but what the use of an author like Maxim reveals about the cachet of mens’ adventure magazines. Our modern world looks back at these things as low-brow entertainment for the masses, as though that were an insult. If this is what the average man read back then…do we really want to compare this to the sort of average fare is presented today?
Because we won’t come out ahead in that game.
Thank you everyone who purchased my first independently published short story, Hot Sun, Cold Fury. The second title in the series is available…now.
Pennies on a Scale follows Karl Barber on a planned expedition to a remote corner of Cambodia where he finds himself outnumbered, outgunned, and almost out of time.
This time Karl has more time to prepare, more time for romance, and more time to get himself into trouble. The world may be too big for one man to save, but Karl knows that small actions can have big consequences, and so he sets out through the remote jungles of Cambodia to tip the scales back towards the side of the good guys.
It’s been available for pre-order for a while, but now you can purchase it here today, and look for the third title in the series, Bring Back Our Girls, coming in the next week or two.
My page view recently experienced a significant spike, due mainly to my review of a little thing called Cirsova. Driven mainly by links from the Lead Editor, and Hugo Nominated author Jeffro Johnson*, it may be time for a quick, but more detailed introduction to Seagull Rising.
Men’s adventure magazines have a bad reputation in today’s world, but it is possible that the same sort of dry-erase version of history applied to sci-fi has also been applied to men’s adventure magazines. The only way to be sure is to read some of them for myself. It’s a journey I’ve only just begun – I haven’t even figured out the traditional place to put the apostrophe in the phrase “Men’s Magazine” – so definitive answers are still a ways off. Despite that, reading these old tales is shaping up to be a fun adventure in its own right. You’re welcome to join me.
Eventually, I’ll have a library of my own titles, but as a guy just starting out, you can count on my early work being a bit rough around the edges. This is a marathon, it’ll get better over time, but you have to start somewhere.
Consider yourself warned.
In an effort to get a better handle on what people think of the old Mens Adventure Magazines (not sure if capitalized), I’ve been poking around the social media scene and running the pulp searches on the search engines. There are ple
nty of resources out there, the aforementioned Pulp.org being the best I’ve found so far, but not nearly as much discussion as there is on the pulp sci-fi and fantasy front.
One thing I did find is a fairly recent article at Splice.com, and it comes so close. It almost commits to the genre before pulling back at the last minute and throwing a number of sops to the feminine imperative.
The title, Hard Case Crime: the Beauty of Male Passion, is a complete tease. It extolls the virtues of male passion and sneers at the sensibilities of modern SJWs, but as is typical, feels the need to reassure ‘my lady’ that his fedora doth tip for thee.
Let’s back up a step. The story is actually about a modern publisher, Hard Case Crimes, which is now on the official watch list for this blog. Hard Case Crimes publishes new works written in the old post-war style, complete with tawdry titles and lurid full color cover art (see every picture in this post.) The publisher has been successful enough to land a TV series, and even published novels by Mickey Spillane (The Consumata), Gore Vidal (Thieves Fall Out) and Steven King (Joyland).
The analysis starts out great:
The simplest explanation for the popularity of Hard Case Crime is that the books, like most pulp fiction and the film noir movies it inspired, are about animus—the Jungian term for male passion. Like a Scorsese film, they depict men on the edge when the world is increasingly hostile to dangerous and flamboyant men. In the 1950s, writers like Jim Thompson and Dashiell Hammett brought readers into a world where carefully manicured lawns, Jell-O and white picket fences hadn’t taken hold.
Explains why these works are popular and compares them to the modern media’s favorite punching-bag version of men:
Hollywood films, from American Beauty to Foxcatcher, neuter men who are passionate leaders in fields of the military or sports. Every sitcom dad seems to be an ineffectual schlub.
Then devolves into standard apologies for non-apologetic men with this:
They aren’t liberals, but they also aren’t lad culture conservatives—juveniles like Gavin McInnes, always dropping his pants to get a reaction from the feminists.
Of course, a man must be able to read a woman’s signals, and it’s a good thing that feminism is teaching young men that no means no and yes means yes.
There’s absolutely no need for that sort of, “an’ it please the missus,” forelock tugging, cringe. If you’re going to celebrate a more masculine form of literature, then be a man and celebrate it already.
Still and all, you have to give credit where credit is due. Mark Judge may be a bit too obsequious to be an fully effective apologist for that old time religion, but at least he’s trying. And it’s hard to come down too hard on a guy who ends his analysis with this sort of conclusion.
Hard Case Crime, and pulp fiction in general, is…an expression of authentic male passion, of sweaty sexiness, in a world of pajama boys, government-mandated health food, and reactionary conservaive blowhards.
Speaking as a conservative blowhard: Brother, you’re half right and half go-kill-yourself, ya coward.
Roosh V’s Free Speech Isn’t Free, an autobiographic account of the author’s attempt to host an independent book and speech tour in the face of overwhelming opposition by hordes of outraged feminists (are there any other kind), their brave Sir Mangina lackeys, and the political apparatus of two large North American cities.
For those who aren’t familiar, Roosh V is an American born Persian who made a name for himself in the pick-up artist community, raised a few shekels writing guidebooks for travelling men interested in pick-up artistry, and raised a few hackles with provocative internet articles encouraging fat shaming and discouraging rape. In the latter case he made the mistake of overestimating the intelligence and honesty of the fragile feminists by writing an article satirically suggesting that legalizing rape on private property would reduce the incidence rate of rape by forcing women to take extra precaution to protect themselves from being raped. A slight clue to the underlying meaning of the article lay in its blunt title, “How To Stop Rape“.
Free Speech Isn’t Free is Roosh’s first-hand account of his experience at the center of a modern day witch hunt. In it, he recounts the low lead in, the cloak and dagger lengths required to give a simple speech to a handful of men, and the effects the event has had on his worldview. The tale starts with his first few uneventful talks, held in Berlin, London, Washington D.C., and New York City.
|If you’ve read the ‘legal rape’ blog post linked above, you
know this headline was written by a liar or an idiot.
When his tour arrived in Montreal, all hell broke loose. A left-wing mob, whipped up by the dishonest Canadian media and unscrupulous local politicians, mobilized social media and hordes of angry mobs to stop him from saying things that might hurt their feelings. Despite the lies, threats, and physical attacks, Roosh persevered and hosted the two talks, only to have the process repeat itself on a global scale a few months later when he had the audacity to suggest that groups of like minded men, fans of his writing, might want to get together and talk with each other sometime.
National governments mobilized resources to stop his book club. Media worldwide published hundreds of suspiciously identical articles condemning him for writing a pro-rape article that never quite found the space to mention its title. Which you will remember was, “How To Stop Rape”. Although the global panic managed to forestall most of the meetings, enough slipped through the cracks to count the fight for and against men getting together a decided draw.
Full disclosure: Following the Canadian debacle in real-time, and seeing first hand the way the media spun lies out of whole cloth, I attempted to join the local meetup as a show of support for freedom of speech. Unfortunately, a heavy security presence at the scheduled meetup had spooked whatever local guys might otherwise have shown. Score one for censorship.
The story reads like a spy-thriller – one man and his ragtag bunch of misfits against the combined might of a totalitarian regime – let down by a storyteller in desperate need of an editor. Roosh has a strong conversational voice that often drifts too far into the informal. At times this book reads as though it was dictated live, and that he skipped a second pass to clean up the language. In a way, that adds to the immediacy of the story, but more often than not it distracts the reader’s attention away from the tale.
That complaint aside, the book is a fascinating read for its inside look at what it’s like to be the victim of a media firestorm. Roosh is a very candid author, revealing more vulnerability and self-doubt than one would expect from a man capable of staring down the political machine of an entire Western nation. Although he has many strong opinions, the book is littered with admissions that he does not have all of the answers. He is clearly a man trying to find himself, and trying to figure out the sort of world for which he wants to strive. His tour may have been dedicated to offering advice to men around the world, but this book suggests that Roosh may have learned more from the men who risked their jobs and reputations to listen to ideas their fellow countrymen believed to gorgon like – too dangerous to even glimpse lest their turn you to stone.
Here is one of those dangerous bolts of insight that should resonate with anyone who has wondered why the inmates appear to be running the asylum these days:
When more pictures of [the protest in Queen’s Park] came in I thought, “I’ve been hiding from these people?” They were a collection of overweight feminists and limp-wristed men who have never been in a fight in their lives. I couldn’t believe that because the received the support of media and government, I had to use guerilla tactics with multiple operations on several fronts to evade their efforts to cancel the event.
Why are the West’s institutions elevating the weakest citizens while attempting to silence the strongest who are most free-thinking, independent, and self-reliant? The answer becomes easy when you ask yourself which group of people is more likely to resist unjust state authority. It’s not the man holding a sign that says “Consent” or “no means no”, but the one who works out, takes care of himself…owns a gun, and is not deceived by invented hysterias. The class of losers being elevated in Western society is specifically the class that poses absolutely no threat to state power.”
And it’s that reason right there that I find Roosh such a fascinating author. Where I would reject outright the sleazy provocateur training men how best to seduce young women of his past, I’m taken in by the aging lothario looking for ways to add real meaning to his life of his present. His ongoing search, much of it laid out in detail in this book, touches on everything from free speech to gender roles to self improvement. At this point, he seems to be on the right path towards a healthier lifestyle filled with the love of a good woman, a crowd of little Rooshes tearing around his ankles, and a strengthened commitment to help other men find a better path through life than the one peddled by the mainstream media. Only time will tell, and I hope to follow his journey as it progresses.
Regardless of how you feel about Roosh’s past writing or about his heel-face turn, if you love liberty, and support man’s Creator-endowed rights to free expression and free association, buy this book. Like the author, it’s not the perfect book to read, but it may just be the book you need to read.