Monday, March 12, 2012

Derrick Ferguson Has THE CUTMAN In His Corner!



Back during the heyday of the Classic Pulp era there were magazines devoted to just about every type of genre you could think of or that publishers thought they could sell to the entertainment hungry public.  Most of us are familiar with the hero pulps, the western pulps, the science fiction pulps, the horror pulps.  But there were far more than that.  You had your spicy pulps which was the safe name for what was pretty much soft core porn.  There were gangster pulps, railroad pulps and sports pulp.  And a sub-genre of the sports pulp was boxing pulp stories.

If you’re at all familiar with the boxing pulp genre it’s probably because of Robert E. Howard and his champion boxer character Sailor Steve Costigan.  Even though Howard is best known as the creator of Conan, King Kull and Solomon Kane he wrote more stories about Sailor Steve Costigan. 

It’s probably inevitable that in the New Pulp Renaissance we’re enjoying right now that the pulp boxing genre should also enjoy a revived popularity and it’s a genre that’s well represented by the the Fight Card series of books in general and THE CUTMAN in particular.  It’s the second book in the series but you don’t have to have read the first one in order to enjoy it.  The books are credited as being written by Jack Tunney but that’s a “house name”.  The first book “Felony Fists” was written by Paul Bishop and THE CUTMAN was written by Mel Odom and it’s a terrific read.

First off, it’s set in Havana, Cuba during a period of history that fascinates me; the period when American organized crime worked hand-in-hand with the Batista regime, turning Cuba into a playground of illegal activity.  It’s here that the cargo ship Wide Bertha docks and it isn’t long until one of its crewmen, the two-fisted Irishman Mickey Flynn runs afoul of the henchmen working for small-time gangster Victor Falcone.  And this in turn leads to Mickey having a beef with Falcone himself who has aspirations of moving into the big time by currying favor with Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

The boxing angle comes into the story due to Falcone’s sponsorship of savagely brutal  backroom boxing matches which is dominated by his fighter, the human buzzsaw “Hammer” Simbari.  Simbari is a bloodthirsty sadist who derives extreme satisfaction from beating men half to death in the ring and the inevitable battle between Mickey and Simbari is written with a great deal of tension and suspense as we’ve seen what Simbari can do and so has Mickey.  And he’s not all that sure he can take Simbari.

Not that he has any choice.  In a series of plot twists I wouldn’t dare reveal here, the fate of Wide Bertha and her crew rests on Mickey’s exceptional boxing skills, skills learned from the legendary Father Tim of St. Vincent’s Asylum For Boys in Chicago.  Mickey’s got no choice but to climb into the ring with this near unstoppable fighting machine. 

THE CUTMAN has got a lot going on besides the boxing.  There’s a whole host of supporting characters that added greatly to the flavor and atmosphere of the story.  Colorful, delightful characters that reminded me of those great supporting actors in those classic black-and-white Warner Brothers crime/gangster movies of the 30’s and 40’s.  In fact, that’s exactly how THE CUTMAN reads, like an old fashioned Warner Brothers movie.  The crime elements are interwoven with the well written fight scenes and there’s even a romantic subplot with Mickey and a lusty gorgeous Cuban barmaid which doesn’t go the way romances in this type of story usually go.

So should you read THE CUTMAN? I certainly would recommend it.  It’s a solid page turner that does exactly what I think a pulp story should do; keep you asking; “what’s going to happen next?”  It’s very well written with snappy, slangy dialog and good descriptions of the fight scenes.  At all times we know exactly what’s happening and why.  I’m most certainly going to be keeping my eye out for future volumes in the Fight Card series which are available as e-books only and you should too.



Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 299 KB
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Fight Card Productions (November 11, 2011)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
Language: English
ASIN: B0066E93MK


Monday, March 5, 2012

Derrick Ferguson Travels To The City of Bathos THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH




THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH: A TALE FROM THE CITY OF BATHOS
By Joel Jenkins
Pulpwork Press
ISBN-10: 1450505112
ISBN-13: 978-1450505116

I suspect a lot of you reading this that were around in the 70’s got turned onto the sub-genre of heroic fantasy called sword and sorcery the same way I did: The re-discovery of Robert E. Howard thanks to the Lancer Conan paperbacks with the exquisite Frank Frazetta covers. I devoured all the Howard I could get and once I was through gobbling all of his stories I quickly moved onto Charles R. Saunders, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance and Lin Carter. Carter was a little bit too slavish in his homage to Howard with his Thongor series, though. But still, at that age I didn’t care. If it was sword and sorcery, I wanted it.

Never got into J.R.R.Tolkien, though. To me, Tolkien was all about the world building and creating a mythology and he’s certainly done that as “The Lord of The Rings” is still going strong to this day. Not that I have anything against that kind of fantasy. I would just rather read about working class barbarians and warriors who hack and slash their way through the day and spend their nights wenching and partying.

Which is probably why my interest in sword and sorcery dropped severely once the popularity of Tolkien style heroic fantasy seemed to me to have taken over. Nobody really was writing meat and potatoes sword and sorcery and the trend appeared to have swung over to what I call, for lack of a better way to put it; more ‘literate’ high fantasy. None of which appealed to me as I simply can’t slog through 1,000 page books that really have just enough story and plot for 150/200 pages.

Knowing Joel Jenkins as I do I think he misses that kind of straightforward, testosterone laden sword swinging tale. And Joel’s the kind of guy who doesn’t lay back and wish somebody would write the kind of story he wants to read. He goes ahead and writes it himself. And in his two books set in the legendary City of Bathos that’s exactly what he’s done: write about blue collar, working class barbarians and warriors in “Escape From Devil’s Head” and THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH.

Both books, but especially THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH aren’t ‘novel’ novels. Instead, they’re like a sword and sorcery version of that old television series “Naked City” that always started off with the narrator saying that “there are eight million stories in the naked city”. I don’t know how many inhabitants of Bathos there are but they include courtesans, thieves, disgruntled godlings, out-of-work mercenaries, farmers, innkeepers, outlaws, priests, schemers, cowards, cutthroats and they all have their own stories to tell.

And by this method of telling various stories set within this city, with some characters occasionally crossing over from one story to another, Bathos itself becomes a character in its own right. A marvelously decadent city that at once and the same time is wonderfully sleazy as well as gorgeously thrilling.

A large part of adding to the City of Bathos taking on a life of its own and becoming a character is Joel’s lush descriptions and dialog. One thing that turns me off from a lot of modern day fantasy is that the writers will have the most amazing characters populating their stories but those characters talk as if they’ve been watching MTV and CNN for the past 10 years or so. Joel’s characters have a richness to how they speak and how they phrase their sentences that immediately let you know that you’re reading about people who live in a mythical place and time.

And these are people, no doubt about it. Nobody’s going on some impossible quest to save the world from an all-powerful wizard or to save the world from an ancient evil. Bathos isn’t that type of city and the people who inhabit Joel’s story are just trying to get through another day without getting killed. For the most part, a lot of the characters in THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH are minding their own business when they get caught up almost without knowing it into a wild adventure. And they rise to the challenge with an enormous amount of well written fight scenes in which Joel runs riot with the description. I strongly suspect Joel has just as much fun writing those scenes of carnage as I did reading them.

And Joel does go in for world building just as much as Tolkien or Stephen R. Donaldson or Robert Jordan. But he doesn’t give you these honkin’ huge pages and pages of back history or have characters relate what you need to know through info dumps. Joel weaves and integrates the geography, history and political dynamics of Bathos into the story and into the dialog of his characters. It’s an effective technique that I really like to see writers use.  All too often with a lot of fantasy writers the story itself is put on hold while the writer attempts to impress with how much effort he’s put into thinking out this imaginary world. And in fact, I’m of the school of thought that says if you’ve put enough into this imaginary world then the information can’t help but find its way into the mouths of the characters. Which is where it should be in the first place.

So should you read THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH? I don’t see why you shouldn’t. If you like Old School sword and sorcery like Robert E. Howard used to make then I heartily recommend this book as well as “Escape From Devil’s Head”. Joel has a sincere love and respect for this genre and if you’ve read Joel’s other books set in the modern day then here’s an excellent chance for you to experience another aspect of the marvelous talent of Joel Jenkins.

THROUGH THE GROANING EARTH is available from Amazon.com as a paperback or ebook for your Kindle or through Pulpwork Press http://www.freewebs.com/pulpworkpress/

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