Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Back to the pulps

Dead on the Bones: Pulp on Fire

By Joe R. Lansdale


 Publisher: Subterranean Press

Pub Date: November 30, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Joe R. Lansdale is one of the American authors where the influence from the pulp magazines and novels remains so well pronounced. Even in his most famous novels like The Bottoms, there is a grittiness that thinly disguises the pulp world. It can be easily argued that his mystery novel duo, Hap and Leonard, would have been very happy in the pages of a hard-boiled detective fiction magazine. Dead on the Bones; Pulp on Fire starts with an introduction where the author discusses his love for the old pulp writers. But he makes clear another influence to emerge in his childhood of the 50s, television, is what really ignited his love for the pulps. I never thought of it before but programs like Flash Gordon and all those westerns were visual pulp. I do not think it is coincidence that the pulp influence for Lansdale is most pronounced in his mystery/crime noir works and his western novels.

Dead on the Bones; Pulp on Fire is all pulp though. It is best to think of this as a tribute. The twelve works of fiction included in the collection, with one exception which we will get to later, breathes more pulp than Lansdale. Three stories are heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, an author that Lansdale singles out in the introduction. One of the works, "Tarzan and the Land That Time Forgot" is a pastiche blending together the Tarzan tales , Pellucidar, and another Burroughs creation mentioned in the title."Under the Warrior Star" and "The Wizard of Trees" are more original but are definitely in the style of Burroughs and other writers of early pulp fiction. The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lighting" blends Edgar Allen Poe's amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin with a hint of Lovecraft. "The Redheaded Dead" and "King of the Cheap Romance" are dedicated to Robert E. Howard and Ardath Mayhar respectively. "Naked Angel" would fit well in any horror or suspense pulp magazine. In the later years, I would like to believe Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine would have picked it up despite its supernatural tones..

Which leaves the title story, "Dead on the Bones". This story of conjured fighting matches feels the most like Lansdale. Its setting and imagine plot fits well with anything he writes thus it is all Lansdale. It is my pick for best fiction in the collection.

Not that the other stories aren't good . They are quite good. And I especially liked "Under the Warrior Star" which, again from the introduction, seems to be a very early story by the author recently revamped. If you are a fan of Burroughs or the Weird Tales roster of writers you will really enjoy this. While it may not be what some would call typical Lansdale, I still recommend it for the nostalgic feel and the imaginative storytelling.

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