Saturday, 29 June 2013

ePulp Review of the Week - Ten A Week Steale by Stephen Jared.

Ten A Week StealeTen A Week Steale by Stephen Jared
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*E-Pulp Warning* All my e-reading is e-pulp focused so my reviews are written with e-pulp in mind. Reader beware :) *E-Pulp Warning*

Overall: 4 stars (Recommend).

Ten A Week Steale is a great little noir story set in 1920s Hollywood, authentically capturing the mood and the city as Steale does what hard-boiled men do. Hollywood is captured brilliantly by someone who obviously loves the genre and the setting and, although it's not the fastest or pulpiest story around, it's well worth a look.

Pacing and Action: 3 stars.

To be honest, the story probably wasn't written as a pulp story. At least not dialled up to 'Full Throttle' which makes 3 stars a little awkward. By the standards of any other genre this has plenty of fisticuffs and dames, villains and other action galore. But by pulp standards there's a lot of thinking and brooding and contemplating the nature of life etc. None of this detracts from the story in any way but it does lack that pulpy extreme.

Pulp Concept: 4 stars.

Steale isn't a Private Investigator cliche and the use of 1920s Hollywood rather than the 30s are both nice touches that give Steale his own road to walk. The back story also makes all of what happens completely plausible as the hard-boiled action ensues. It's classic era setting and the easy action tropes it allows all come together for a pulp concept that, while not ground-breaking, certainly does the job.

Then there's the setting. First class. The author clearly has a love for this era and this town and it shows from the details sprinkled throughout. You don't drown in it but the sense that you're wandering through these gaudy temples to the new demi-gods of their age is palpable. Fantastic stuff that begs to be explored further.

Character Development: 4 stars.

Related to the pacing this is a book that has plenty of character development and a fair bit of introspection and self awareness. Being noir-ish tends to do that :) The characters are well rounded, have plausible motivations and personalities and they are all indelibly tied to the world in which they exist and it works very well.

Production: 5 stars.

Have you seen that cover? Wow. Gorgeous. Eye catching, era relevant and professional. And that's a sentence you could use to describe the whole package. It's been edited properly and is a quality production all round.

Series Potential: 3 stars.

This is where I'm guessing the story was not originally intended as a straight up pulp story. While there's definitely space to produce sequels and create a series - and the author's familiarity with the setting BEGS for SOMETHING set in 1920s Hollywood - the story does little to set up a serialised status quo. While this isn't an issue for people not interested in the pulpier side of life, for those of us who are it's another indicator that, while a good read, it's not straight up pulp.

Wrap Up.

A good, entertaining story that anyone with an interest in noir or hard-boiled detectives should like, with an interesting twist thanks to the setting and atypical era. Not to take from this though, it's not the pulpiest story going, even if it is of the highest quality.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 22 June 2013

ePulp Book Review - Tier Zero by Henry Brown.

Tier ZeroTier Zero by Henry Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*Pulp Warning* All of my reading and reviewing is skewed towards epulp. All reviews are therefore skewed to that end. Reader beware :) *Pulp Warning*

Overall: 4 stars (Recommended) - but drop a star if you're a pulp purist or think the politics may annoy you.

Tier Zero, though not the pulpiest read you're likely to find, is a good read in the vein of an old-school men's adventure paperback. It moves at a fast clip and has plenty of authentic military action and hardware to satisfy any enthusiast but the American politics can be a bit much if you're not that way inclined.

Pacing and Action: 3 stars.

If there's one thing this story does well it's the authentic use of military hardware and action. Clearly the author has some form of military background and the story benefits, conveying the use of hardware and what it's like to be on a battlefield, all while moving the plot at a rapid fire pace. Battle scenes are explosive, the characters know what they're doing, and what they achieve is built on a solid foundation of training, making much of what happens completely believeable. On the battlefield at least.

Where the story can bog down is with the politics. Maybe it's an American thing but, as an Australian, I found the political discussions a bit jarring. Long arguments full of assumptions I clearly wasn't privy to slowed the action down. It also sounded a bit one-sided so I can imagine that if you're American and you have a different set of political beliefs you may also be rubbed the wrong way. But, again, I'm clearly out of the loop of these discussions.

I'd also imagine pulp purists would find it a bit annoying. It does tend to suck the fun out of a story.

But this story isn't, per se pulp, more like a paperback from the 70s or 80s with a very strong retro vibe so if that's what you're after, you'll get it in spades. Less so if you're just after pulp or don't appreciate the strong political message.

Pulp Concept: 4 stars.

It's an okay concept but I think the author carries it a long way. Were it in the hands of someone who wasn't as comfortable with military characters it may have been a shallow read but the author is able to give the situation a lot of authenticity and depth. There's also plenty of material to mine from the subject matter so overall it's a fairly satisfying concept, mostly thanks to the execution.

Character Development: 4 stars.

Military stories are usually ensemble stories and the author does very well bringing together an eclectic group of people who still work together in an authentic way. There's plenty of inter group drama and very different personalities but they're handled very well, each character achieving some sort of depth. Some characters felt like they only existed to support the politics but overall it was very good.

Production: 3 stars.

Spelling and grammar were good. There were a few weird page breaks in the middle of the book and for some reason, every time I turned on my Kobo the bookmark was about 8 or 9 pages back from where I finished last. But this could be a problem with the Kobo as much as the book. Where the production is really let down is the cover which, while serviceable, does sell the story short. The content inside deserves better.

Series Potential: 3.5 stars.

There's plenty more story left in this series with ramifications for the protagonist that could be interesting to explore later. But at the same time there isn't a lot there to suggest there's more to come. The characters are likeable enough to sustain another sequel (I think this is the second in the series) but it could also finish there without too many problems.

Wrap Up.

Tier Zero is a well written men's adventure action story with an old-school vibe but there are some aspects that will mean it's not for everyone. However, if old-school men's adventure is what you're after then this is a good example.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Just when you thought the editting was just about done...

You ever tried writing? Cause this is what you can expect. You've been editting and editting and editting for months and then you realise you have to re-engineer large slabs of the story and then you re-edit and re-edit and then you walk away and think 'you know what? I think I'm close to finishing this section off'.

A month later you walk back to your manuscript to do one final pass and this happens:

And trust me, this isn't one of the bad pages.

Page after page of this stuff.


Stupid dumb compulsion to write stuff that doesn't exist anywhere except in my stupid dumb imagination... grumble grumble grumble...

Pulp Cover of the Week - Dusty Ayres and his Battle Birds.

Dieselpunk Song of the Week - High Hat by Swing Republic.

Art Deco Poster of the Week - Sinclair Oils.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Pulp Heroes FTW!


These fantastic pulp/dieselpunk/atomicpunk-era inspired figures are part of an upcoming range of figures called the 'DC Bombshells collection'. Indeed.

And to top off the 'punking awesomeness - a post apocalyptic Wonder Woman!

Methinks that those two Wonder Woman statues will be on my desk in the near future. They are way too awesome not to be.

But here's my other question - will they be releasing any blokes in all their 'punkitude glory? Am I going to be able to get a Pulp Trinity to sit next to my Post Apocalyptic Trinity?

DC Comics, make it happen!!!!

Writer's Update - Oh so many apologies.

Apologies go out to anyone who has been checking in at the Aether Age hangar the last month because the updates have been... well, they haven't been. There just hasn't been any updates.

But I have a good excuse!

You see, four weeks ago I got this thing called a 'proper job'. One that pays consistently, on time and at a level that can fund my existence with food and shelter and other good stuff. It has been a while since such a phenomena has been a regular part of my life and it's been a very welcome change of pace. Very welcome indeed.

The problem was that, unbeknownst to me, the person I was replacing - and who was in charge of training me for the position - was sort of leaving in a hurry. A three day hurry. Three days in which he was sort of more interested in planning his holidays and attending job interviews at other work places. He was a nice bloke, but his mind was very much elsewhere.

Three half days of training later I was cast adrift on a sea of confusion and 'yeah, just work it out for yourself, the best way to learn is to be thrown in the deep end, etcetera etcetera' and the last month has been one big long attempt to stop drowning in confusion and frustration.

But I survived! And here I am, ready to get back to my now long-neglected-yet-highly-involved-hobby-slash-calling, writing strange little pulp stories with funny characters and bizarre sci fi dieselpunkiness.

Big breath in, big exhale out, and a sincere 'It's good to be back.'

So again, apologies to anyone who kept coming back for more pulpy/dieselpunky related stuff but from here on in I hope that everything will be able to get back on track, including some updates on a few short story projects I'm working on, as well as the impending release of my first wave of novels. But I'll keep those details for future updates.

See you soon,

The Author of this weird little blog,


Saturday, 11 May 2013

Pulp Manifesto: Archaeology of the Masked Hero - The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Been doing some research into the early years of pulp heroes lately. And by ‘research’ I mean reading classic adventure stories and watching old movies. Why? Because if you trace back far enough, along the long line of recent superhero movies, past the martial arts stars of the 90s, beyond the gung ho gun-packing 80s action stars, all the way through the silver age of comics, past the early genre films and movie serials, back into the golden age of pulps and right to the early years of the storytelling medium… way back there in the formative years of modern hero storytelling there were older stories influencing what people wrote, why they wrote them and how. I’ve always wondered what lay at the bedrock of contemporary hero storytelling and it was about time I found out. What I found was a bloke called The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I imagine there aren’t too many my age who know much about the Scarlet Pimpernel. I certainly didn’t. I’d heard the name a few times and had an inkling that the character was ‘swashbuckling related’ but beyond that I didn’t know too much. What I did know was that if you went back far enough along the superhero genealogy tree you got to Batman. And Batman was influenced by a series of pulp ‘dark avenger vigilante’ heroes like The Shadow, The Spider, The Green Hornet and, as Batman fans will know, masked vigilantes like the Lone Ranger and Zorro. What I eventually discovered was that you go one step further to reach the hero known as The Scarlet Pimpernel.

This is an actual Scarlet Pimpernel, a common roadside flower.
The Scarlet Pimpernel was written in 1905 by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. It was a tale about a mysterious hero who did his thing all the way back in 1792. This was during the ‘Reign of Terror’ following the French Revolution, a stretch of history where the tables were turned and the arrogant aristocracy suddenly became a hunted species. It is during this Time of Infamy (you have to say that in an old-timey radio serial voice) that, according to the story, the Scarlet Pimpernel became famous for sneaking into France to rescue aristocrats headed for ‘Madame Guillotine’. However, in order to maintain his feats of liberation the Scarlet Pimpernel had to lead a double life, one in which he pretends to be an aristocratic fop by day who is at the centre of London’s elite social life, but so bone lazy and shallow he is the last person anyone would suspect of being an infamous hero. Then, when no one is looking, he sneaks into Paris in disguise and makes fools of authorities by preventing the wholesale slaughter of the upper classes.

Yeah, if you’re looking for the origin of ‘fool by day, hero by night’, the Scarlet Pimpernel is where you stop your search.

The book (which started out as a play) was an immediate success and saw the Baroness churning out dozens of sequels for decades to come. It also inspired many a movie adaptation during the early years of cinema and successfully seeded the idea of the hero with a secret identity, a trope that still dominates a huge swathe of hero writing today. But for some reason the initial popularity of the Pimpernel has been unable to sustain itself up to the present. At least not the way The Three Musketeers or even the Pimpernel’s  initial clones, Zorro and the Lone Ranger, have been able to. For some strange reason you just don’t see that many Scarlet Pimpernel movie remakes these days. (The latest was a British tv series. I’ve seen it. It was okay. But far from awesome)

But, ignoring the untapped remake potential of the story, what can we learn about hero writing from The Scarlet Pimpernel? Especially, what can we learn about secret identity heroes? Just to keep things simple I’ll keep my list of things I’ve learnt to four.( I could talk a lot more about them all but then I’d end up with another 5 article essay ala my James Bond series):

1. Elitist Fantasies.

Some of the most fascinating elements of the story are related to the author herself. Orczy was a Baroness writing at the turn of the 20th century, a time in which the European aristocracy was perhaps enjoying its last great fling before two World Wars decimated their influence across Europe. This is significant when you consider the subject motivation of the hero – he’s an aristocrat rescuing aristocrats.

I find this fascinating when put in light of some of the criticisms put forward about Batman. People who delve into the politics of Batman often claim that the character is a form of right wing, elitist power fantasy in which a rich American capitalist, sick of the way the legal system is failing to do what he thinks it should be doing, goes out on the town every night to beat on poor(er) people who he blames for everything that is wrong.

I’m not really sold on that particular interpretation. Batman doesn’t exactly have any rich friends that cast ‘his people’ in a good light, and his ‘richness’ only exists as far as it does empowering him to do all his ‘Batman stuff’, not for him to actively participate in ‘his world’ or fight ‘them’ from the poor regions of Gotham. But it is an interesting idea in light of both the source of ‘hidden identity heroes’ – The Scarlet Pimpernel – and the halfway house between them, Zorro. All three characters are wealthy, heavily into the symbolism of heroism, and always end up doing audacious things in order to save the day. None of them decided to join the police force and fight crime the old fashioned way. But how does this ‘hero must be rich in order to be empowered to fight crime’ trope effect how heroes in general are portrayed? Is this a lazy trope, and are there alternatives that haven’t been explored? Was that a significant part of the success of the rise of science fiction based super-heroes, freeing them from the need to have large bank accounts because the power was within their bodies instead of their inheritance?

I think it’s an interesting facet of the billionaire hero trope that becomes clear once you know their heritage. And once you know the rules, you can break them J

2. Ladies kicking it in pulp.

One of the most surprising things for me reading the story for the first time was that the story is actually told from the perspective of the wife of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite. This gives the story a strong sense of romance as The Scarlet Pimpernel is an unknown hero she longs for well before she learns that he is in fact her husband, a man she has quite a few problems with. The mystery of the character – and the subsequent romance and rumour projected onto him – are significant parts of both the plot and Marguerite’s motivation. In a funny way it also pre-dates the Superman/Lois Lane relationship, skipping over Batman to inspire the ultimate masked hero dilemma – the two person love triangle.

It makes me wonder why more Superman stories aren’t written from the perspective of Lois Lane. It’s a proven formula. Not only was one of the first pulp hero authors female but she probably cracked the cross-gender hero story well before superhero comics made it such a problem. Learn from your history or you will be doomed to repeat it…

(Note: not that the story is straight up fair on female characters. Some of the writing, read from a contemporary perspective, could at best be considered ‘quaint’. Other times it’s downright ridiculous concerning female gender stereotypes, a fact not helped by the thick layer of swoony romance)

3. A Status Quo of Injustice.

Another thing I noted reading the Scarlet Pimpernel was the interesting way 18th Century France becomes the perfect setting for vigilante heroism. Mostly this is because it’s so different from your typical urban hero setting where it’s all about taking on crime. In the Scarlet Pimpernel the injustice is of a political nature, existing in another country that the hero has access to. France therefore becomes the ‘generator of injustice’ which in turn provokes so many different stories of vigilante adventure. Batman has Gotham, which is so full of character and meaning in its own right that great Batman stories pretty much write themselves. But other heroes suffer under a weak ‘vigilante concept’ because they don’t have that injustice status quo to draw on. So they all end up in Gotham anyway. Maybe what these characters need is a different form of injustice to fight, another location of injustice with a different form of injustice to differentiate them from their peers. The Scarlet Pimpernel had the French Revolution, Robin Hood had the taxation of the Sheriff of Nottingham, Doctor Syn had the taxation and press gangs of the Dover region, John Carter had the political complications of Barsoom, etc etc. Maybe the problem with some characters is that they need a similarly unique location and status quo of injustice to define them better. Maybe writers need to try harder to create them.

4. No swashbuckling!

The Scarlet Pimpernel has no sword fights! I know, right? Bizarre. Here I am reading one of the original swashbucklers and there’s nary a sword in sight. Plenty of deception and espionage, but no sword fights. Which goes to prove that swashbucklers, contrary to their name, aren’t about sword fighting. A buckler maketh not the genre. Having watched a lot of swashbuckler movies while reading The Scarlet Pimpernel it’s become clear to me that the swashbuckler genre doesn’t actually depend on sword fights to make it what it is, that’s just the inevitable result of the settings in which these stories are usually told. No, the actual foundation of the swashbuckler genre is… audacity.

That’s the common theme amongst swashbucklers films, or to be more precise, swashbuckler protagonists – they’re audacious. Cocky, verbose and daring, the cavaliers at the heart of these movies aren’t just fencing their way to victory but swinging around on ropes, climbing everything in sight (Fairbanks – that man was a climber), racing horses, disguising themselves in order to sneak past their enemies, and generally pulling off outrageous gambles in order to save the day. In the end it’s not so much what they’re doing that makes a swashbuckler movie, but how they do it. They do it with elan, guile and daring. They are audacious. That’s what makes a swashbuckler.
Blokes like this were the inspiration for the genre. But that doesn't mean writers can't go beyond them for more contemporary characters.
 From this I take it that you could readily make a contemporary swashbuckler story without the need to reinvent the sword. You just need an audacious hero who embodies the elan of those earlier heroes such as the Fairbanks, Flynns and Kellys of yesteryear. Give your protagonist a sense of honour to keep their actions ‘pure’, a sense of fun so they get into the spirit of what they’re doing, then unleash them on injustice in a modern setting. Voila! You’re tapping a past genre staple in a way that will probably be fresh and new to most contemporary readers.


Reading The Scarlet Pimpernel as a research project has been really fascinating. Not only do I have a firmer grasp on the primordial underpinnings of most contemporary heroes but I also have a stack of new character and story ideas I’d like to explore. The story isn’t perfect, and there’s plenty to roll your eyes at sometimes, but seeing the hero genre taking form there on the page has made it easier to grasp what came afterwards. If you’re serious about your swashbucklers then I recommend getting a hold of the story and taking some notes. It’s a classic and free on the internet for anyone who wants it so there’s no excuses. You just need the audacity to try :)

ePulp Review of the Week - Dodge Dalton in the Shadow of Falcon's Wings by Sean Ellis.

The Adventures of Dodge Dalton in the Shadow of Falcon's WingsThe Adventures of Dodge Dalton in the Shadow of Falcon's Wings by Sean Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*Pulp Warning* All my e-reading is e-pulp related so my reviews are thus minded. Reader beware :) *Pulp Warning*

Overall: 3 stars (You might like it)

Although this story had all the classic pulp adventure elements it seemed to drag relative to other examples of the field. As a mainstream adventure story it does the job with plenty of the good stuff the genre has to offer but as e-pulp it seems to drag in an unnecessary way I found frustrating.

Pacing and Action: 3 stars.

This was a bizarre reading experience for me because while the story seemed to have everything I could want in a pulp tale it became really hard going by the halfway mark. The action was often described from a distance, the character perspectives were complicated by a timeline that would jump back and forth, even on cliffhanger chapter endings, and the characters seemed to be constantly reflecting on things and telling rather than showing. There also didn't seem to be any logical drive to the plot so things would drag out over chapters without any sense of where we were headed. The overall effect was bulky and wordy and I found it very frustrating.

If you're not especially pulp inclined then add another star as many of these things won't bother you. But I was expecting some high pulp and this wasn't really it.

Pulp Concept: 3 stars.

The pulp concepts were fairly simple with the stereotypical period setting and some whacky, fun pulp sci fi elements but the constant use of meta-style self referencing was a bit of a drag. I don't know if the writer was trying to say something or just so wrapped up in the pulps that his hero had to be a pulp writer as well but it caused some logic kinks that had me stopping to wonder if I was supposed to be reading something into this or not. Either way it slowed things down further and heaped on the frustration.

Again, if you're not pulp obsessed a lot of this won't matter but for me it was really disappointing.

Character development: 4 stars.

This wasn't too bad. The character is actually going on a journey and, while clunky at times, there ends up being a fairly solid cast of characters by the end. The story also plays some interesting kinks into the stereotype of the Doc Savage clone by making him a support character. It was an idea that had some interesting potential. But considering the protagonist's journey was the strength of the story it highlights that the style of writing was more your traditional prose writing than a more pulpy style or storytelling. Even if all the characters and setting etc were pulp sourced.

Production: 4 stars.

Good cover with its old-school adventure feel and good editting. One thing that stood out was the random use of some extraordinary words. Words like 'imprecations', 'bellicose', 'demesne', and 'coruscating' are all used and, thanks to my Kobos handy dictionary, I know they were all used in the right context. But they serve as a good illustration of how the writing style can be a bit flamboyant and dense at the expense of what is going on.

Series Potential: 3 stars.

I just don't see anything here that would warrant a series, beyond wanting more pulp to read. Although the setting and characters are certainly there and ready to go. And as there is already two stories in the series the ability to read on is available.

Wrap Up.

Certainly not my favourite reading experience of the past year but I think less fussy readers will get a lot more out of the story than I did. This story made me realise that, A, there is such thing as pulp snobbing and, B, I'm starting to do it while I read. I'm guessing this will make my reviews more discriminating but make it harder to look at myself in the mirror :(

Check this out if you need a quick Indiana Jones-style fix. But if you're a pulp afficiando there is better stuff out there.

Looking for more action-adventure e-pulp reviews? Check out my book list reviews at:

Or visit the best of New Pulp listopia listing at:

View all my reviews

Sunday, 5 May 2013

ePulp Review of the Week - The Sting of the Silver Manticore by P. J. Lozito.

The Sting of the Silver ManticoreThe Sting of the Silver Manticore by P. J. Lozito
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*Pulp Warning* All my e-reading is pulp skewed so my reviews are too. Reader beware :) *Pulp Warning*

Overall: 3 stars (You may get something out of it)

First up, I didn't finish this book. It was just too much. This is, personally, a 2 star book - one that has major problems with the basic writing craft, regardless of the story being told. But I rated it a 3 because I think that if you are a hard core retro pulp fan you may get something out of this. But for everyone else I recommend you try something else.

Pacing and Action: 2 stars.

This was a very slow story and not because of the action scenes etc. This is a slow story because there is endless exposition (at least for the first 48% I read). Six or seven of the first ten chapters are, without a word of exaggeration, exposition chapters in which two or more people sit in a room and explain things to each other. It's incredibly frustrating. Explanation after explanation after explanation. Much of it concerns character biographies, historical events and plot points that occurred before the story even starts which is bizarre as I was under the impression this was the first book in the series. It also leads to a convoluted, twisting plot with motivations I couldn't recall. It was frustrating and it was slow. And eventually I just had to put it down.

Pulp Concept: 3 stars.

This is where things get really frustrating. For all the confusion and lag in the story this appears to be one of the best researched pulp stories I've ever read. It is clear that the author is a massive pulp fan and student of the era. And this is where nostalgia-pulp fans will get a kick out of the story – the story is riddled with little anecdotes of the era, information about various experiments or scientific breakthroughs that were occurring at the time and brand names or popular culture references dropped in at every turn. It’s thick throughout the story and really does help ground the story in the era. But if you’re not a fan of the era and not playing pulp-era bingo then it slows the story down even more with obscure references to unnecessary information. Again, very frustrating.

The pulp concept is also very derivative. I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of nostalgia-pulp characters but even I know a blatant Doc Savage clone when I see one, right down to his offsiders where there is no attempt to hide the fact they’re clones. This is largely a fan fiction story about the time the Green Hornet teamed up with Doc Savage. There are few original ideas and that offsets a lot of good research.

Character Development: 2 stars.

As mentioned before, most of these characters are straight up ports of other characters so there wasn’t a lot of character development to speak of, but I will qualify that by pointing out I only got half way through the book. But with all the exposition going on there was plenty of ‘telling’ and not much ‘showing’ which, again, was very frustrating.

Another aspect that was done well was the characterization of the bad guys but it’s a complicated ‘well’. The Oriental villains are characterised well in that they really do feel like the Fu Manchu-style characters from the serials etc and as a piece of fan fiction the story reproduced them well. But those representations are fairly uncomfortable in a modern context. The characters are freed from much of the racist baggage of their peers through various stretches of exposition and some clunky dialogue sequences but it was still awkward to read. That’s not on the author so much as the lingering shadow those old characters cast but it was a little uncanny to read.

Production: 3 stars.

Again, not great. Spelling and grammar mistakes everywhere. It needed a much better edit before being published. Saving grace was the cover which I didn’t think was too bad and helped it stand out from other pulp offerings. An extra star for the cover. But that didn’t help what was past the cover.

Series Potential: ? stars.

I didn’t make it to the end of the book so I can’t say for sure but if the characters are all knock offs then I can’t imagine why you would want to read further adventures. Not when you can read the real ones. I do think that the writer has potential to do this sort of project in the future, learning from their fairly simple beginner mistakes to write another well researched, style-accurate nostalgia-pulp character series. But this character may have already done its run.

Wrap Up.

There really is some quality stuff in this story but it’s lying under a thick layer of beginner writing that really ruins the experience. If you adore the genre and the era then you will love all the references and probably get a chuckle out of the way it so clearly references the classic pulp characters. But for someone unfamiliar with the old pulps or too young to get anything out of the nostalgia aspect you are better off trying something else.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A Truly Gorgeous (Automotive) Thing...

At the moment I'm editing the second Tommy Thunder book which has one of these in it:

That there, flappers and khans, is a dual-cowl phaeton Model J Deusenberg, one of the finest four wheeled automotive machines the world has ever seen. *Big sigh of longing* The 'dual cowl phaeton' is the design of the coach with the rear seat separated from the front with it's own windscreen.

Oh so Dieselpunky gorgeous...

Pulp Cover of the Week - Flying Aces.

Dieselpunk Song of the Week - C2C's Tribute to Mr Armstrong.

Short but awesome:

Friday, 26 April 2013

Writer's Update - Death of a Writing Nook.

In terms of writing progress it wasn't a very good week and a half I'm afraid. Didn't get much writing done thanks to a whole lot of time spent training for future employment so, while productive in one way, it was completely unproductive in the other. And to make matters worse I'm in the middle of a huge edit where I have to restructure one of my stories to cut it in half, all thanks to a character who selfishly stole the spotlight and made the story all about her (you will meet her one day and see what I mean). This situation has taught me that writing is a bazillion times less satisfying when you're adding words, not just remaking words you thought you had already finished a long time ago. A bazillion times worser!

But that's not the worstest part. The worstest part is that on Friday my favourite cafe for writing shut down!!!

Now, I have to admit, the 'my favourite writing cafe' and 'shutting down' are probably connected. One of the best parts about my favourite cafe was the lack of customers. That and there was also an air-conditioner, comfy chairs, decent music that was either a) too quiet or b) not that annoying, and most importantly, there was plenty of sugar and caffeine on tap made by people who already knew what I wanted. Apparently it wasn't very good coffee but I'm coffee illiterate so as long as there was plenty of sugar and caffeine in said coffee-related beverage then it was fine by me. Which helps when you're looking for a quiet cafe with few customers.

But now it's gone. And I have lost my writer's nook.

: (

In other writing news the Dieselpunk Showcase is quickly approaching 4,000 downloads. We're getting about 80 downloads a week which is pretty awesome. Now I need to get my finger out and write something else as a follow up. Which is a good segue into...

Short stories. Last writer's update I said I'd mention the Tales of the Aether Age collection I'm putting together to release at the same time as the Tommy Thunder books I'm writing. It's going to be an eclectic mix of at least four stories that fleshes out the Aether Age world.

I'm still going to be a bit sketchy on the details but there will be some familiar espionagists, a mad scientist whose secret lair is under attack from one of those annoying cloaked vigilantes, an automobile-equipped gin runner with more than her fair share of moxie, and maybe even an origin story for a most stylish character that will become important later on. All stories laced with as much 'punk as I can possibly distill into my typewriting fingers, not to mention plenty of pulpy fun ('scientifiction' pulpy fun).

Now all I've got to do is finish writing the things...

However, it's not all about me. Often... it's about Superman. The following clip is important. If you haven't seen it yet then you should. Because it's important. And awesome. So very very awesome:

Hope you have an awesome pulpy week    : )

Grant: the guy trying to edit old stuff so he can go back to writing new stuff.

Pulp Cover of the Week - Captain Future.

I have to say - Captain Future is fighting with Planet Stories to be my favourite source of pulp covers. Fantastic stuff:

Dieselpunk Song of the Week - Zoot Suit Riot by The Cherry Poppin Daddies.

Art Deco Poster of the Week - Japanese Propaganda Poster about China.

Not sure what this poster is saying but if it's a message of impending triumph for the Japanese it can also be read as a sinister and looming threat of a possible future for the Chinese.If anyone can read it I would be interested to know what the poster says.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

ePulp Review of the Week - Spinward Fringe Boradcast 0: Origins by Randolph Lalonde

Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: OriginsSpinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins by Randolph Lalonde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*E-Pulp Warning* All my e-reading is e-pulp so I review to that standard. Reader beware :) *E-Pulp Warning*

Overall: 4 stars (Recommend)

I stumbled across a recommendation for this series and I'm really glad I did. Spinward Fringe is a fantastic example of space opera fiction with an incredibly detailed world, fantastic technology and a great concept that allows us to explore them both. While it can suffer the usual pacing problems inherent in the genre it is a quality start to an e-pulp series that shows plenty of promise.

Pacing and Action: 3 stars.

Like all the best space opera the battles in Spinward Fringe are fantastic. Epic in scope yet still allowing for the brilliance of amazing fleet tacticians, anyone who's a fan of the genre will feel well at home with SF's grasp of epic confrontation. But the action isn't limited to space as the crew finds themselves in all sorts of sticky situations from bounty hunter chases to jail breaks. The author's use of sci-fi technology definitely helps here as the characters are set up well for the sort of Star Wars-esque running and gunning that makes for great action-adventure storytelling. It's all excellent, fun stuff and the first two stories rip along.

Unfortunately the third story does fall back into the bad habits of the genre. Anyone who loves this genre tends to get used to the tendency of stories to get bogged down in the technology as the author tries to illustrate just how much thought they've put into their sci-fi tech tree (I'm looking at YOU Honor HarringtonOn Basilisk Station). As space opera that's fine but as e-pulp it can turn into a grind about rail cannons and refit schedules that will bore you to tears. There's also some structural problems with the third story where there doesn't seem to be any stakes or narrative motivation until about half way through the story. Considering this is a first novel that one mistake is not bad but it did bring a rip-roaring sci-fi romp to a bit of a crawl which was disappointing.

But if you like your action full of fleet battles and laser blasters, you'll get something out of this for sure.

Pulp Concept: 5 stars.

Brilliant. The world of Spinward Fringe is well thought out and we get a good sense of just what's happening out there in that big old universe. The technology opens all sorts of potential and the wider political machinations make you want to return to the universe to see what happens. Good stuff.

The ship and tech for the crew also helps. If you've ever dreamed of exploring the galaxy with the sort of hardware that allows you to break the Prime Directive with impunity then this is your sort of exploring. Gunboat exploration with the chance to nuke dirty corporate thugs? What could be better than that?

Perhaps the only drawback may be the stories tendency to fall into wish fulfillment - a lot of really convenient things do tend to happen for the crew to function the way they do - but that's kind of the point. If you're super-sam-serious about your sci-fi this may in fact be a turn off but if you're like me and you want to just shoot up corporate stooges with impunity then this is a story for you. And what could be more pulp than that?

Character development: 3.5 stars.

I'm not going to say the characters are brilliant, nor memorable, nor do they go through any sort of development that may merit a PhD thesis. But there definitely is character development there. Maybe it's the wish fulfillment aspect but the characters do tend to blend into the background, subsumed by the cool stuff. They do however exist and do have a story arc. But it's not why you'll be reading this.

Production: 4 stars.

Good editing make it a very readable book. I didn't notice anything that kicked me out of the story. The story was also free as the first in the series which is always big points for production.

The only real drawback would be the fairly unmemorable cover. It does clearly state which 'broadcast' in the series this is (unfortunately a nice surprise for a lot of e-pulp) but it's still fairly forgettable.

Series Potential: 4 stars.

This series is already selling like hotcakes so the concept is sound. It's also six or seven books strong already so if you enjoy this one you can keep reading safe in the knowledge that there's plenty more where that came from.

On its own merits though you can see why there's such a following. The world that has been imagined begs to be explored further and the impression that we've just started this journey is palpable. About the only thing preventing it from being 5 stars would be the characters. At no point was I desperate to see what happened to them even if I was interested in seeing what happened to their ship. But still, there's definitely gold in them thar hills and I look forward to returning to the Spinward Fringe universe.

Wrap Up.

Excellent sci-fi space opera pulp with fantastic potential for the future. If you're into space opera and into reading e-pulp then this is definitely a story for you. With plenty more where that came from...


For more e-pulp be sure to check out my other Good-Reads reviews as well.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 18 April 2013

1920s Mugshots of Batman Villains.

The Clown Prince of Crime, Dieselpunk style.

This is awesome! An artist named Jason Mark has done up a series of 1920s-style mugshots for several Batman villains post-Batman encounter. There's also an Australian connection as the original mugshots that inspired the series is from our glorious little convict country. So I have 1920s (my favoured part of the Diesel era), superheroes (as pulpy as you can get, thank you very much) and Australia (Aussie Aussie Aussie...), all in one awesome, Dieselpunky package. How do you get better than that?

Click the piccy above to see the artist's website or check out Design Taxis website for more info on the original inspiration pics. The rest follow.

Pulp Cover of the Week - Air Wonder Stories, August 1929.

Oh the humanityyyy....

Dieselpunk Song of the Week - Bad Habits by Billy Fields.

Having only my childhood memories of this song, I honestly thought this was sung by one Mister Armstrong until I went searching for it. Turns out it's an Australian song from 1981. So there you go.

Be warned though: this song has been getting stuck in the heads of Australians for several decades now. You've been warned...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Pulp Manifesto - Crimson Skies and fan fiction gone horribly wrong/right.

Thought I’d talk about one of the major inspirations for Tommy Thunder this week on Pulp Manifesto. For those with a passing knowledge of the source material you’ll have a much better understanding of the sort of world the Aether Age is, while other people might be interested in my sordid tale of fan fiction gone horribly wrong/right.

Our journey starts with a little miniatures table top wargame called… Crimson Skies.

For those not in the know, the Crimson Skies world is a setting developed for a tabletop wargame, but is probably better known as a popular computer game that launched with the first X-Box. The tabletop game revolved around air combat set in an alternate universe 1930s setting where zeppelins dominated the sky and whacky planes with strong Art Deco styling either protected or raided said airships with swashbuckling audacity. The X-Box game followed suit with caper-filled air adventures that took you from Hawaii to New York as you followed the exploits of a daring squadron intent on… doing adventurous things.

In terms of pure Dieselpunk style the game is one of the best examples of a self contained Dieselpunk world. And, while the games are no longer being made, what material was produced still serves as many an innocent’s gateway drug to the world of Dieselpunk. More than a few people who received this dose of distilled Dieslpunky goodness have been left hankering for more.

I was one of these un/fortunates. I can’t remember all the details but at some stage during my sordid wargaming past I stumbled across some images of this crazy new world and its completely different take on fantasy or sci-fi or whatever it was. I didn’t know what genre it was and I never actually got a good look at the game itself (tabletop or X-Box) but I saw two things that immediately had me hooked and fantasising about my own adventures in this crazy new world.

The first thing I saw was the retrotech planes. Have you seen them? Here are some examples:

I LOVED the whackiness of these designs. My first exposure to the world was the miniatures and although I was never able to buy any myself I immediately fell in love with the idea of retroteching past eras. And can you smell the adventure? Nothing says adventurous swashbuckling like a push prop, Art deco-styled, pre-jet fighter plane. Nothing! These things dug deep down into my psyche to where that ‘Indiana Jones’ button was and started banging away saying ‘Here! Here! We’ve found something else that’s exactly like this! But with planes!’

The second thing I found – the thing that had me hooked for life – was this image:

 That there is a beautiful thing. It’s a map. Of a balkanised America. A map that provokes adventure and imagination and possibility. And not a single dwarf or elf to be seen anywhere. The minute I saw that thing my imagination was never able to let go of that obscure little world I had glimpsed but never directly experienced myself.

So I imaginated. A lot. As I am want to do. I daydreamed about a world in which I could suit up my whacky fighter plane, deck out a zeppelin and take to the skies in a deadly dance to the death with other similar fighter pilots. A world full of jazz and that cool 1930s styling (I had no idea what Art Deco was, but I liked it). A world of Indiana Jones style hijinks but with the added awesomeness of planes. A world of distinct characters and groups clashing in a world of fun instead of the usual gritty, serious and repetitive worlds that I kept encountering elsewhere in my wargaming and reading wanderings.

Fast forward several years and my Crimson Skies imaginating had joined the catalogue of other alternate worlds sequestered away in the back of my brain archives – there but lying dormant. Every now and then I would take the world out and play around with it, maybe scratch out some ideas or pipedream about being allowed to write a novel or something set in that world, but that’s all it was – pipedreaming. I even went so far as to start writing a comic. It was more an experiment in how to convey air combat in panels (the bane of all air comics – it’s really hard to do) with a Crimson Skies background but it worked really well, giving me more heartbreaking confirmation that I was on to something, but something that breached someone elses copyright. So  I put it back in the imagination archives and got on with my first novel, a novel set in a fantasy world with no magic (yep, I’m one of those people who can never do things the ‘normal’ way).

Then two things happened. First, I ran into some problems with my novel. I hit a wall and discovered that I’m a super detailed planner when it comes to writing. I couldn’t pants a plot to save myself. And I was pantsing my way to a standstill. My solution was to break the story down into smaller sections, a technique I’d been looking at with my newfound interest in old-school pulp writing and movie serials. But then I realised that, structurally speaking, I would be changing the novel and that if I was going to continue doing so I’d need to get more practise. Probably on other stories that were pulped from the beginning. So I sat down and scribbled out ideas for three different pulpy series that I could experiment with. My Crimson Skies idea was one of these ideas and the pulpiest of the lot.

The second thing I did was have a look around for Crimson Skies stuff now that I had this thing called the internet. It had been so long since I first discovered the idea that I wondered if there had been anything else written or wether a new game was coming out etc etc. What I found was a website where they recorded people playing the game so you could watch how each of the levels played out…

You know that thing where your memories of something are cruelly and brutally shanked when you actually go back and see it again as an adult?

Yeah. That.

The Crimson Skies I imagined wasn’t the Crimson Skies that actually existed out there in the real world. It wasn’t bad (it was still a lot of fun) and, objectively speaking, on the surface it was everything I remembered. But the overall effect I had created in my mind was… completely different.

It turns out the Crimson Skies game doesn’t take itself seriously. In many ways it’s actually a parody of the era. Is that a bad thing? No. The way in which it gently parodies itself is charming in its own way. But how are you supposed to take a story seriously if the characters are just caricatures? More importantly, how are you supposed to get your ‘punk on?

And it turns out that the plane designs weren’t original either. They were all based on real World War 2 X-plane designs, experimental planes that were never put into production because they never made the grade. For some reason seeing real world photographs of these machines hoovered away a lot of the romantic awe I had built up in my mind for the world’s originality. Turns out it wasn’t as original as I thought. Turns out it was based on a whole lot of other stuf that, to be honest, I wasn’t that into.

The Henschel Hs P75.

The Curtis Wright XP-55 Ascender.

The Sacks AS-6.

It also meant that the technology of the game included all sorts of post-World War 2 tech like guided missiles, jet engines on every plane and planes loaded down with an absurd number of machine guns. I knew that this was all for the game and simplifying it for more fun but it made me brutally aware that I wanted to scale the tech backwards, not forwards into the Cold-War era. But that’s exactly where Crimson Skies technology was headed – forwards.

And, weirdest of all, I just couldn’t accept the idea that the zeppelins – the very basis of this alternate world – were able to exist the way they did. Here they were laden down with armour and machine guns and planes, all without nary an explanation as to how they achieved the extra lift required. I was watching a world in which jet-enabled push prop aircraft were launching into battle with wings full of guided rockets but I couldn’t accept the fact that they were launched from a standard sized zeppelin with a Tardis-esque cargo bay full of armoured fighters.

I know I’m weird. But it’s the sort of weird I need to harness in order to write. And my weird was just not gelling with this particular scientific leap.

This then led me on a witch hunt through the alternate history aspects of the Crimson Skies universe at which point I started finding more things I didn’t like. I was now mercilessly tearing holes in the thing that I thought I loved. I was spurned, I was hurt and I was in shock. That thing that I based my fan fiction daydreaming on was not what I thought it was at all. What I was writing was almost in another universe completely…

It was at that time that I started to wonder if I was infringing copyright after all. Maybe I was actually writing my own thing altogether.

Some soul searching and I started going over all the things that I was doing differently to Crimson Skies. I wanted biplanes and trideckers, not guided rockets and jetplanes. That meant a 1920s setting instead of 1930s. I also didn’t know enough about American history to see how that many different groups could spread across the map in a realistic manner and rejected the map as unfeasible. In fact, while I was at it, history would suggest a different fracturing and for completely different reasons. So that was different in my version. And that problem with the zeppelins… that would take a little bit of sci-fi to fix with the addition of another lifting gas, what I would call ‘aether’. And if there was one sci-fi aspect then that would mean I could go super pulpy and start adding  <…spoiler redaction…>!

In the end, while the heritage is clear to those who know where to look, the tone and focus of the Aether Age world has ended up very different to that of Crimson Skies. Most similar is the balkanisation of a post World War 1 America with obvious things like the various power centres of the dissolved United States being similar in their broad sweeps even if they’ve been simplified and changed to some degree (After all, it doesn’t matter what alternate universe you  create, Texas will always be Texas. It’s a rule of the multiverse). But the earlier setting, the presence of aether and other unique sci fi additions, the different alternate history background and the stronger focus on non-aerial material gives The Aether Age a very different destination to all this 1920s American balkanisation.

Thus, thanks to Crimson Skies, Tommy Thunder has been born. And with him a world of aeronautical swashbuckling and pulpy madness, set in a balkanised America where anything pulpy is possible. It started with a Crimson Skies obsession built upon insufficient information. It has become a series of books I hope I can write for many decades to come. And I hope you can all come along for the ride with me.

In the future I’ll reveal some more of the inspirations behind Tommy Thunder and the world of The Aether Age but in the meantime, if you were one of those un/fortunates  to get hooked on Dieselpunk or pulp via Crimson Skies I’d love to hear from you. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment below :)

Happy flying,