Thursday, December 22, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Book: John Dinan: Sports in the Pulp Magazines

As I wrote in my earlier post, I have a new book out. It's a collection of articles and essays on different kinds of genre and pulp fiction, and there's also one on sports fiction. This essay I wrote specifically for the book, since I ordered John Dinan's book on the subject years ago, called Sports in the Pulp Magazines, thinking I could compile a small fictionmag around some pulp short stories, but to this day I haven't been able to come up with anything. I read the book and wrote the article, and now it's in the book. Since the book is in Finnish, here are some words on it in English. I'll try to keep this short, but we'll see how that comes about.

The first pulp magazines were of the general variety, but in the 1920's they started to specialize in certain genres. Sports were also beginning to get more professional at the same time, and the first sports celebrities, such as Jack Johnson, emerged. So some pulp magazine publishers started to publish magazines publishing only sports material, not only fiction, but also columns, interviews, biographies, stuff that resembles more sports journalism than what we usually associate with pulp magazines. The first sports pulp magazine was Sport Story Magazine, published by Street & Smith, one of the biggest pulp publishers. The first issue came out in 1923. The second sports pulp was Fight Stories, that started appearing in 1928. It specialized in boxing stories.

In the 1930's and especially after the Berlin Olympics there started to be more sports pulps, as the American readers were enthusiastic about the American athletes winning the games. In 1936 three more magazines were born: Ace Sports, Thrilling Sports, and Star Sports Magazine, and the next year saw eleven more. Some more came later in 1938 and 1939. The Second World War caused difficulties for the pulp mags and their publishers, but after the war there were more new magazines, but not so many as before the war. John Dinan points out interestingly that some of the pulp publishers also had a hand in organizing the sports leagues, such as Gerald Smith of Street & Smith. He was one of the founders of the All-American Football Conference that was supposed to compete with NFL.

Some of the sports pulps survived till the fifties, and the last ones were published as late as 1957. Some of the later mags include Ten Story Sports and Super Sports.

John Dinan has counted the number of different sports in Street & Smith's Sport Story Magazine. The results are not very surprising: the most popular sports were football, fighting and baseball, with basketball probably the fourth. Tennis, golf, track & field and ice hockey were also popular, but none of them had their own titles like the more popular disciplines, though the basketball titles weren't successful.

Dinan lists some of the better known sports authors, such as Robert Sidney Bowen and William Campbell Gault.  He lists also some authors known for their work in other genres who also dabbled in sports fiction, such as Max Brand, Johnston McCulley and Stephen Marlowe. He also writes quite widely about Robert E. Howard's Dennis Dorgan stories. There were also sports writers who wrote non-fiction for the pulps, such as Jack Kofoed. Dinan seems to have read some of the stories of these writers, but on some others he relies on other sources.

Dinan's book on the subject has lots of fascinating information, but it's not organized very well. I don't know why Dinan has decided to list some of the best known sports novels that have nothing to do with the pulp magazines, and he also claims Paul Gallico was a pulp writer, though most of his stuff came out in the slicks, such as Saturday Evening Post. Dinan's earlier work on the history of the pulp magazines, The Pulp Western, was riddled with errors and an assumption that the pulp mags were aimed for young readers, but Sports in the Pulp Magazines seems more solid in that regard. I didn't check all the details, but you can check some of the facts yourself here at the sports pulp magazine section of the Galactic Central/Fictionmags Index site.

I said at the beginning of this post that I've been thinking about compiling and publishing a sports fiction mag myself. I once had a permission to use one of Stephen Marlowe's sports stories (there weren't many to begin with), but I couldn't get my hand on them. (And then Marlowe died.) Now I have a permission to use a Robert Silverberg story (he wrote a handful in the late fifties, mainly on baseball), but I don't have any! If someone sees this and can send me a xerox or a scan or even a digital photo of a Silverbob sport story, I'd be a happy man! Interim, I've decided to compile an anthology of old Finnish sports stories, as I've come across quite a many while doing some other research on Finnish fictionmags.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here. Happy Holidays to each and everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2016

New books from my publishing house

As you may well remember, I founded a publishing house a couple months ago. A new batch of books just arrived, alas
somewhat too late for the Yuletide.

The three books are a mixed bunch, as befits me and my eclectic tastes. The first one was a reprint of the first tragedy ever wrote in Finnish language, namely Ruunulinna by J. F. Lagervall (1834). It's a free translation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, situated in Karelia (a region in Eastern Finland) and told in trochaic tetrameter, the same meter as Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. It really doesn't work as literature and it's a curio at best, but I noticed it's never been reprinted as a book, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The play is accompanied by a 100-year old treatise on Lagervall, the author.

I also published a vintage Christmas book my wife Elina Teerijoki wrote - she couldn't find a publisher for the book, which baffled the both of us, and I said "okay, I'll publish it". It's been a small hit and could've been bigger if it had been published by a bigger publisher. The book is filled with beautiful photos our mutual friend took, and there are also lots of old ads and other vintage stuff. Elina maintains her vintage blog here.

My own book is called Kovaa kyytiä ja kaunokaisia ("Rough Ride and Beauties"), which is the original Finnish title of the Buster Keaton film, Sherlock Jr. It's a collection of my writings on pulp and other genre literature, compiled from prefaces, essays and articles on crime, western, horror, fantasy and erotic writing, with some stuff on science fiction (a genre I've never written much about), sports fiction, aviation pulps, and movie and comic/graphic novel novelizations. There's also a section on Edgar Rice Burroughs, and also some profiles of authors, i.e. Harry Whittington, Carroll John Daly and others.

I'm sure my book would be of interest to many Pulpetti followers, but it's only in Finnish. I'm open to negotiations, though...

Huge thanks to J.T. Lindroos who did the covers for my book and Ruunulinna! He also helped me out with other technical problems.

Helmivyö's books are solely print-on-demand (though we took a small print run of my wife's Christmas book to sell from hand to hand), and it seems the cheapest place to get them is via the bookstore.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Jim Hosking: The Greasy Strangler

The Greasy Strangler, the first feature film by Jim Hosking, is something else entirely: it's a horror-comedy about a serial killer, but the serial killer is an old man living with his nerdy son, not some mastermind criminal. The old man also has a huge cock and he dresses up in grease. In one scene he dives into a barrel full of axle grease or some such goo, and in his outfit he looks absoteluly disgusting. The nerdy son starts to suspect something fishy is going on, but the story has some surprising twists, some of them being really surprising. The film is accompanied by a really irritating synthesizer soundtrack, which adds to the overall feeling.

Disgust is the film's main feeling, or repulsion. The film is yucky all the way. Still it's very funny throughout. There are lots of details I just can't explain in writing, as you wouldn't believe them. I don't know how easily this independent film can be seen, but I recommend you try. This is a film you really can call unpredictable.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Starcrash

You've seen Plan 9 from Outer Space? You thought it was the worst movie of all time? You ain't seen half of it, there are films that are infinitely worse than Ed Wood's turkey.

The worst part of Plan 9 is that is so slow and boring, mainly just dead people staring at something and walking all too slowly. Where's the action, where's the goofiness? Both are found in large quantities in the Italian space opera Starcrash (1978), directed with hysterical gusto by Luigi Cozzi, using the American-sounding pseudonym Lewis Coates. You want action? Here's action for you. Lots of babes in scantily-clad suits? Check. Uninterested extras parading around? Check. Badly-made spaceships? Check. Red, orange, blue and green planets filling the space? Check. Flat-out weird psychedelic monsters? Check. Stupid one liners? Check. Robot talking with Southern accent? Check. Incomprehensible space battle scenes? Check. Totally goofy last-minute savings by far-out machinery? Check. David Hasselhoff in an early role? Check. Christopher Plummer looking dazed out and giving bad monologues eyes half-closed? Check. Joe Spinell raving about being the emperor of the universe? Check.

This film has got it all. It's entertaining all the way, everything goes ahead with full speed, and the dialogue just keeps giving you shiny examples of humane wit. Most highly recommended.

I don't know if anyone's collecting these posts nowadays, but I thought I'd use the moniker nevertheless. Do check out Todd Mason's blog, he used to collect them earlier.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Donald Trump

I haven't been blogging and I realized why that was. Even though Pulpetti has for years mainly focused on crime fiction in its many forms, I realized I can't go on pretending nothing happened.

You know, I've been devastated. I know now that there were many flaws with Hillary Clinton's campaign, and I hoped Bernie Sanders would've been the Democrat candidate. I don't know whether he'd been able to defeat Trump, but it still would've been the same, right? And maybe Sanders could've set something else entirely in motion. (There's still that Clinton got more votes than Trump. She was more popular. Maybe the Americans should do something about how the votes are counted.)

But Trump? I can't begin to understand what went on here. You would've thought his story would've ended during many points of his career, like when he made condescending remarks about a journalist with a handicap. C'mon, you let this guy run your country?! Okay, I've read lots and lots of reports and articles about how bad things are for the American middleman, but this is still no excuse to vote someone who runs on racism, hatred and bigotry. (Not to mention the notion that also the rich voted for Trump. They are the real ones who benefit from Trump and his politics.) Lots of people have been trying to be moderate and saying that maybe Trump will not go with what he said during his campaign, but however his campaign and his victory made hate speech and vitriolic racism more acceptable.

And it made it more acceptable not only in the US, but all over the world. There's been a lot of racist backlash in Europe and Russia, and I'm beginning to fear we are not seeing the end of it. Talks about building a wall on the Mexican border (which sounded only absurd at first) don't much differ from talks about building camps for special people.

"It couldn't happen here." That was the title of Sinclair Lewis's novel of the rise of the American fascist. That's what they said about Hitler as well.

PS. I don't even want to think what this might mean for Putin's Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe and Middle-Asia. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Dennis Hauck: Too Late (2016)

Dennis Hauck's first feature-length film is Too Late that premiered earlier this year. It's an exceptional film, filmed on 35 mm film and shown only on film. I don't know if there will be a DVD or Blu-Ray later on or if the film will be available on streaming sites, but I guess not. (Oh, it's available on iTunes.)

I was lucky to have the opportunity to see the film last week. While Too Late is not a masterpiece, it's an interesting film in its own right, while it's also an interesting experiment, as it consists only of five shots, each 20 minute long. (The length of a film reel.) This is not done actually very consistently, as there are some scenes with split screens, and there are some edits in the end, but all in all Too Late is a marvelous technical experiment.

Too Late is also a crime film, a neo-noir, if you will. John Hawkes is very good playing a private detective getting caught up in his own past, and there are some other known actors in small roles, like Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey (whom I didn't recognize), Joanna Cassidy and some others. The story is about a stripper working at a seedy club and getting to know some intimate secrets of the owner - or is it...? It's a bit like David Lynch and also a bit like Quentin Tarantino and his Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs: the story moves back and forth in time and you have to be careful to really understand what's going on.

The major problem with the film is that it's too talkative. The 20-minute shots get caught up in people talking, and nothing much happens on screen. There's also the familiar problem with many experimental movies: you don't really invest much interest in these people. It's more a like game, though the surprise twist in end feels more touching than anything else in the film.

Still, Too Late is a very worthwhile film and if you have the opportunity, check it out.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog. (I hope there will be more Films.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: LBJ: The Early Years (1987)

I can't resist buying stuff like this I find on thrift stores and other places: cheap VHS cassettes with movies that probably have never been released on DVD or don't show up on TV. LBJ: The Early Years cost me 20 cents a year ago, and I finally watched it. As it's pretty long (almost 3 hours) it took me many days to watch. The series was published on video cassette in Finnish in 1989 with the title Vallan huipulla ("Top of the Power" or some such).

LBJ: The Early Years is a solid work from director Peter Werner who's had a pretty long career on TV. For some reason, the screen writer of the mini-series isn't said anywhere, not in the credits nor in IMDb. I don't know why, certainly there's no reason for anyone to hide. LBJ: The Early Years starts from the fifties, with Johnson working in the senate, but not yet being a senator. The series follows his career in politics from running for senate and later for vice-presidency. The climax is of course the assassination of John F. Kennedy on which no time is wasted. The murder is not shown, the series focuses on the aftermath of the assassination. The series doesn't go into LBJ's actual presidency. 

I'm no expert on the US history, but the mini-series seems trustworthy on many themes, like the relationship between the Kennedys and Johnson. As the series is not about LBJ's presidency, it doesn't deal with the war in Vietnam, so it can dust off the more difficult issues. 

The best thing about LBJ: The Early Years is the lead actor. Randy Quaid makes a believable and likable Johnson, with all his quirks, Texas drawl and sudden changes in mood. Quaid is full of energy, when need be, but he's very good also portraying Johnson's depression. There are many good actors in the small roles: Kevin McCarthy, Pat Hingle, R. G. Armstrong, Barry Corbin, Royal Dano, Frances Conroy... In the narration are included several newsreels, which are used to a good effect. 

I don't know if this is regularly shown on American TV, but it could very well be. 

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here (when they show up). 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ed Gorman

Just noticed that Ed Gorman passed away. It's a damn shame, I'm sure there were more books in him. His work as a novelist, short story writer and anthologist has been great and revered by many.

As far as I know, I'm responsible for the only two Finnish translations of Gorman's work. I published two of his short stories, both of which were excellent. The first one to come out was "Layover", a thoughtful and melancholy look at people who got tangled up in crime. It was first published in my fanzine, Isku, and then it came out in Kaikki valehtelevat/Everybody Lies, the anthology of short stories that were published in my crime fiction fanzines. Then came "Scream Queen", another melancholy story, this time about some nerdy guys working in a video store and meeting the idol of their teenage years, the actor of many slasher films. It was published as a small pamphlet, with a limited print run and with Aapo Kukko's great cover illustration.

May Ed Gorman rest in peace. I know there are many people who miss him - my condolences to them. I never met him, but would've sure liked to.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Dylan

As everyone by now knows, Bob Dylan got the Nobel prize for literature earlier today. Now, I've never really understood why people like him and his music so much. To me his music always been a bit boring and at times obnoxious, and it's not just about his singing voice. I have a strong taste for more rhythm and more vigorous beats, and you have to admit there's not much of those in Dylan's music. I have found his orchestrations noisy and incoherent, and it's something I don't like in Bruce Springsteen either. The Big Sound just escapes me. I like it when The Byrds made "Mr. Tambourine Man" into a jingly-jangly pop song.

My ex-girlfriend and the mother of my first child is a great Dylan fan. She had to have everything Dylan ever did. You can easily see this caused some difficulties between her and me - our tastes in music were too different. This wasn't the cause for us breaking up apart, but it had something to do with it. It has also cast a shadow over me and my relationship with Dylan's music. Still, whatever I do, I just can't get the taste of it.

Of course, Dylan got his Nobel prize for his lyrics, not his music. In rock music, though, they are inseparable, but as for me, I've never really cared for listening to the lyrics. I don't really know why this is - maybe it's because it reminds me of my work, reading and writing, and I want music to be something else entirely.

There are some exceptions to my views of Dylan. I like Dylan without a noisy band, like for example here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Roman Polanski: Knife in the Water

The renowned Polish director's first feature-length film was this small-scale film - only three actors - that reflects his familiar themes of humiliation and its bond with erotics, sex and love.

Knife in the Water tells about a well-to-do couple (in communist Poland, no less) that picks up a hitcher, a young innocent guy who's got nothing to do with his life. They ask him to accompany them in a boat. The result is - almost - deadly, as tensions rise between the two men and the young woman. This is an intense little film, with a noirish jazz soundtrack by Krzysztof Komeda, well worth seeing and hearing. There are some breath-taking scenes throughout, as Polanski and his photographer Jerzy Lipman move the camera around the small sailing boat.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I just founded a publishing company

Well, not exactly. I just didn't do it, just like that, it was a long and at times frustrating process. But now it's up, after planning it and thinking about it for many, many years.

The publishing company is called Helmivyö in Finnish. I'm not really sure what it should be called in English - literally it's a bit like "a string of pearls", but the word "helmivyö" is an old word originally meant to be the Finnish translation of "anthology". It's probably translated from the Italian "collana", which means both "collection" and "jewel". And so my publishing company does a lot of anthologies.

The first of which is Ajokortti helvettiin ("License to Hell", according to the short story the title was taken from), a collection of flash fiction stories I published in my short-lived Ässä magazine (plus three new stories from Rob Hart, Stephen D. Rogers and Anthony Neil Smith).

There is also a collection of my reviews, articles and what not about American hardboiled crime novel, called Epämiellyttäviä päähenkilöitä ("Unpleasant Protagonists"). It turned out to be almost 300 pages! There's stuff ranging from John K. Butler and old true crime mags to James Ellroy and Gillian Flynn. (Okay, I'm cheating a bit, since Flynn isn't hardboiled, but she's noir, and that's close enough.)

The third book is Kalmankylväjä ("Deathbringer" or something like that) by Petri Hirvonen, a very short and tense action novel taking place somewhere in South America.

Two of the books, my collection and Petri's novel, were designed by J.T. Lindroos, the mastermind originally hailing from Finland. The cover for the flash fiction anthology was done by Jenni Jokiniemi.

The books are available only in print-on-demand. They are not available as e-books, since there are no markets for them in Finland. (It's a long and boring story.) I have plans for future books (actually I have four almost ready), and this might be something, well, not big, but biggish. We'll see. I'm not one to boast about my possible successes. You can see more here (it's obviously in Finnish).

PS. There might be some translations in the future, as I've accumulated lots of connections through years. I'll contact you.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Joe R. Lansdale binge

I've been reading lots of Joe Lansdale lately, since I wrote an article on him and his works for the magazine of the Finnish Whodunit Society. Here's a lowdown and some mini-reviews:

The Thicket: amazing Western novel that approaches horror literature without using any topics of the horror genre.

Paradise Sky: great epic Western with a very sympathetic African-American lead, some very violent scenes throughout.

Cold in July: great film, but even a better book, one of Lansdale's best. Lansdale himself dubbed this as his Gold Medal paperback. Lots of twists and turns, but I thought each and every one of them was logical.

The Bottoms: great mix of Mark Twain and more gory horror, though I saw quite early who the killer was. (It's never any reason for me to read a crime novel, to keep guessing who the killer is.) Great characters, people you wanted to know about and care for them.

Sunset and Sawdust: maybe a bit too reminiscent of The Bottoms, but still a very good crime novel, with a plausible and likable female lead and his two not-so-likable helpers. Lansdale does the epoque very well without emphasizing it too much. I like that.

Leather Maiden: possibly Lansdale's most conventional crime novel, but thoughtful and gripping nevertheless.

The Nightrunners: some terrific scenes and great characters, but there seemed to be a subtext of warning about teenage criminals, which felt odd.

I'd read almost all of the Hap and Leonard books earlier, so I read now only Mucho Mojo (great) and Vanilla Ride (a bit too straight-forward, but entertaining nevertheless). I didn't have time to read Devil Red nor Honky Tonk Samurai (nor the novellas that were published interim), a short mention based on what I could find had to suffice.

Lansdale doesn't have a Finnish publisher now. He hasn't had one since 2003. That's a crime. Someone should do something about it, what with the Hap and Leonard show on HBO and the graphic novel series coming out.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Donald Westlake's James Bond treatment surfaces as a novel

Hard Case Crime has dug up a James Bond novel Donald Westlake wrote as a treatment several years ago. It looks great. I'm not interested in the Bonds in the least, but this might be worth a look.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The bibliography of science fiction pornography released

The title says it all. This is done very well and exhaustively, it seems, by Kenneth R. Johnson, published via Phil Stephensen-Payne's website. Merits a look, I'm sure.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Paul DiFilippo on the VanderMeers' new massive anthology

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have compiled a massive anthology The Big Book of Science Fiction, which indeed looks big. Paul DiFilippo dissects it here and gives it a highest praise. The intro on the anthologist's work resonates with me, as there's been some discussion on the new curator culture. I've been drawn into that discussion (over here in Finland, that is), but I merely think of myself as an anthologist, nothing more (and nothing less!).

(I'll promise to get back to blogging once the vacations end!)

Friday, June 03, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Book: It Rhymes with Lust

Possibly a first edition,
based on the defects on the cover.
One of the stablemates in any genre is to discuss what was the first artifact produced in the particular genre. Hence there are many first graphic novels. I don't know what the first graphic novel really is, but I do know that there were many before It Rhymes with Lust was published in 1950 by a small outfit called Picture Novels, a subsidiary of St. John Publications.

It Rhymes with Lust was written by Leslie Waller and Arnold Drake and illustrated by Matt Baker. Drake and Baker had been doing regular comics for some time, mainly for DC, Waller had published a crime novel or two. Later on he did lots of movie novelizations. There have been two reprints, one in Comics Journal ten years ago and one by Dark Horse in 2007. It's been sold out for some time now, but I managed to pick up a copy.

It Rhymes with Lust (a great title, by the way!) is a slightly noirish exposé story of a cynical journalist who's called to a town called Copper City to run a newspaper published by the big man of Copper City, Buck Masson. Masson has passed away just before the story starts, but our man doesn't know it entering Copper City. It's soon revealed to him that Copper City is a corrupt place and eventually he has to stop the corruption. He has to face some thugs run by the deceased Buck Masson's lusty widow, Rust ("it rhymes with lust"), but he also falls in love with Buck Masson's daughter.

It Rhymes with Lust wouldn't be great literature if if were a prose novel, but now it's interesting, at least as a curiosity. It might work also as a movie, but even then it would be cliched. The active woman, Rust, is a bad femme fatale, and the passive one, Buck Masson's daughter, is a good girl. You've seen this a thousand times. Matt Baker draws well (beautiful women especially), his line is fluid, and the continuity is pretty good - this stuff reads fluently -, but as a story this would require some extra twists.

Picture Novels published another graphic novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha, by pulp novelist Manning Lee Stokes and illustrator Charles Raab -, but that's never been reprinted, so I'm not very likely to be able to read it. It has a great cover, though. Stokes wrote some crime novels from the thirties on and later he did a dozen Nick Carter paperbacks.

I noticed while reading this that a new small publisher Automat.Press has just launched a new Kindle edition of another early graphic novel, also in paperback format, i.e. Joseph Millard's Mansion of Evil. It was originally published by no less than Fawcett Gold Medal! Millard was an interesting character in his own right, making comics in the 1940's and 1950's and then moving to paperback originals. He wrote as Joe Millard some The Man With No Name westerns in the early seventies (though everyone knows Clint Eastwood has a name in all the Sergio Leone movies he's in). There are some free pages of Mansion of Evil in Amazon, and from those it seems that Mansion of Evil is purer noir, with its doppelgangers and all that stuff. Graphicwise, it doesn't seem as solid as It Rhymes with Lust.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Arthur Lyons: The Dead Are Discreet

Arthur Lyons is one of those now forgotten private eye writers who brought some seriousness to the genre, following in the footsteps of Chandler's later novels and Ross Macdonald, shying away from Mickey Spillane's evangelist violence and Brett Halliday's light-heartedness. I don't think many read Lyons now, and there are no Finnish translations.

I'd read earlier one of Lyons's Jacob Asch novels and liked it a bit, so I decided I'd try another one. I'd found a used copy of a No Exit Press reprint of Lyons's first novel, The Dead Are Discreet (originally from 1974), and started to read it while we were at the summer cottage. I had to bring the book to town, since I didn't have time to finish it at the cabin. Jacob Asch is a grumpy and lonely man, in the normal tradition of the hardboiled private eye literature. In this book, his first outing, he tackles the early seventies' Californian milieu of Satan worshippers and other firm believers of the occult.

The premise is intriguing, but The Dead Are Discreet was a disconcerting experience for me. I like Asch's character and Lyons keeps the story moving, but the image of homosexuals as sick perverts was disgusting - and, mind you, also clichéd. It's very much of its time, and I don't think Lyons would make this kind of book any more (he's not writing, though, he died some years back).

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Some books I read: Michael Connelly, Mack Bolan, David Markson, Patrick Modiano, Lee Goldberg et al.

After completing my book on Finnish Westerns, I decided to take a little break and read anything I just wanted to read, not anything I had to read. I'd been quite worn out by the Finnish Westerns many of which were not very good and I wanted something that could grip me and entertain the hell out of me. Usually this happens in a vertical position - I read on a sofa. I once thought I'd read in a chair, but doesn't seem to be the case.

I often find comfort in the work of Michael Connelly, and The Drop proved no exception (Luottamuksen hinta in Finnish). Harry Bosch is a very likable character in his grumpiness and Connelly plots like a master - I still find it very distracting that he said he doesn't plot beforehand, he just makes it up as he writes and corrects afterwards. But The Drop was too long, only because Connelly decides to explain some of the things that are taking place or Bosch or the other cops are doing, I don't know if this has something to do with the American readers - do publishers think they are stupid and make their authors put all these explanations in their books? I mean I can do fine with less facts, less explaining. Still, The Drop was entertaining. Should reread some of Connelly's earlier novels, stuff like Trunk Music and City of Bones is cracking good.

I also read some e-books on my Kindle. I don't have a credit card and I have to rely on books that can be loaded free from Amazon. Luckily I have quite a few Facebook friends who like to post about such things, and I have a pretty good collection of newish indie noir and western stuff, with a bit of new pulp thrown in. I read one short story by Lawrence Block ("Like a Thief in the Night", supposed to be published in Playboy, but never came out, exquisite story telling) and two novels and one novella of which short reviews have to suffice:

Lee Goldberg: My Gun Has Bullets (originally published as by Ian Ludlow): hilarious, occasionally too hilarious Hollywood-cum-crime romp. Westlake on speed, one might say.

Jake Bible: Z-Burbia: mediocre zombie novel that's too reminiscent on The Walking Dead, but some nice touches here and there and a likable narrator, also with some seriously nasty characters some of whom turn out to be so nasty after all. The book starts well, but starts to lag soon. Finished it nevertheless, the climax was better.

Rob Hart: The Last Safe Place: another zombie story, in novella length, but actually quite atmospheric and with a clever twist. Hart seems to come highly recommended by the noir gang.

The third novel I read on my Kindle is worth more wordage. I've never cared much for the Mack Bolan series. I found Don Pendleton's original novels lacking plot and character, just endless killings after endless killings. I'd never read any of the new ones written by other writers and when I was suffering a fit of gastroentritis, I thought I'd give it a try. I had a book called Arctic Kill on my Kindle, and it was written by one Joshua Reynolds - of course not the painter, but a new writer mostly concentrating on neo-pulp and pastiches of Conan Doyle and other Victorian and pulp writers. This shows in Arctic Kill, and I think Reynolds uses here the same neo-Nazi conspiracy he has created for his more pulp-related writing. This is by no means great literature, but I found Arctic Kill quite enjoyable on its own terms. Reynolds keeps the story racing along, though he's a bit wordy. There's certainly no character development in Arctic Kill, but there's a solid plot, which was missing from the Pendleton Bolans I'd read previously. Might even read another Mack Bolan by Reynolds. I hear Harlequin killed recently its Gold Eagle line that focused mainly on the Bolans, which is a pity.

I also read the latest Finnish translation by the 2014 Nobel prize winner Patrick Modiano (So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood in Enligsh). If you're in the mood for some melancholic mystery, Modiano is your man, though he's no crime writer. There's still not much differentiating him from the likes of Sebastian Japrisot or other French crime novelists of the 1950's and 1960's. Should be reading more of that stuff. I realized reading this that Modiano possibly affected my short novel on Lovecraft in Hollywood, called Haamu ("Ghost"). The same short sentences, the same melancholy feel are there.

Ernesto Sábato's The Tunnel also belongs to the same category: a literary novel that could be seen as a crime novel. Originating from 1948, this novel by the Argentine writer is dark psychological suspense about a sociopathic artist who torments a young lady, whom he sees as his lover. It's not surprising this has been compared to Camus's The Outsider.

More on the artsy side was also David Markson's Reader's Block (1996) that was recently translated in Finnish for the first time, as Lukijan luomislukko. Markson had another foot in the world of pulp, as he wrote three beatnik private eye paperbacks in the early sixties and also a Western novel called The Ballad of Dingus Magee (later turned into a film, which I haven't seen). Reader's Block is no pulp, though, it's a collection of fragments snatched from other books, including trivia on how famous and not so famous writers have died. It's a fascinating read, though not for everyone obviously. It's quite light, though, and I found it pretty hypnotizing. There's also a quote in which Markson (or his narrator or narratee) says that John D. MacDonald was a better writer than Saul Bellow! I've never really liked MacDonald, so I don't know, but the quote cracked me up nevertheless.

After Markson and Modiano I thought I should get back to work and work-related reading. I decided still to dip into Bill Pronzini's Games of which I'd heard good things. And it proved to be a pretty good and suspenseful thriller, though the ending was a bit of a let-down and misogynistic at that. But then again, noir and hardboiled are full of misogyny. Still glad I finally read the book.

Now I'm reading a Zane Grey and thinking I really should get back to work. It's just that after a large body of work it's hard to concentrate on other books, not really knowing what to focus on. I have some news coming up, so stay tuned!

PS. I realize after posting this that all the authors I read were male. Oh well, have to remedy that.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Swedish paperback cover for Edward Aarons

I found this book in a trash bin and decided I should at least salvage its illustrated cover.

The book, originally Assignment - Treason is the second one to come out in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment series that took its protagonist, Sam Durell all over the world. The books are at least serviceable, if nothing great to my mind. The Swedish edition came out in 1959 from Wennerbergs Förlag, translated into Swedish by Margareta Sahlström. The illustration is by Mitchell Hooks. It wasn't originally meant for this book. "Förräderi" means "treason" in English.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Battle Beyond the Stars

Science fiction can be pretty stupid at times, especially olded science fiction, the stuff with zap guns and space ships. But it can also be pretty entertaining, as proves the Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) that I saw last night on a 35 mm film. I'd seen it before on television, but never on big screen.

At core, the film is indeed stupid: John Saxon plays a maniacal tyrant, who wants to destroy or enslave whole planets. One of the planets, Akir, wants to fight, and a young man is sent to find some hired guns to help them. Battle Beyond the Stars is a riff on The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven (with even one of the actors of the latter film, Robert Vaughn recreating his role as a lone gunman), but more essentially it's a Star Wars copy, with lesser space fights and less fictional mythology. The film races along fast, but the scenes are loosely jointed. The battle scenes are clumsy and a bit confusing at times.

But on the good side are many things: John Sayles' funny and clever script with lots of sexual innuendo that's largely missing from George Lucas' Star Wars, many nice actors in bit parts (Sam Jaffe, George Peppard, Vaughn), Sybil Danning in a goofy role as a female warrior, and good music from Howard Shore. Sayles' script shows his feminism also in the female computer of the hero's space ship, she's clearly an grumpy older lady who takes no shit from no one. Too bad she doesn't make it in the final battle.

Though nothing great, Battle Beyond the Stars was a good-humored film and I left the cinema grinning to myself. And oh, by the way, I thought I spotted Sayles playing one of the doll-like androids in Sam Jaffe's space station, but IMDb doesn't mention him.

Huge amount of links to other reviews on Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sarah Weinman on Benjamin Black, Chandler and other literary brands

Just a sidenote: this article by Sarah Weinman is already two years old, but it caught my attention only just now, when I noticed Weinman post it on her Facebook page. It's a very intriguing piece, you should check it out. Lots of stuff I didn't know and also lots of stuff that piques my interest and fascination.

Friday, April 22, 2016

My book on Finnish Westerns

Sorry for the absence, folks. I've been working my ass off and writing my book on Finnish Westerns, but it's finally ready and being sent off to the printers. The book turned out pretty huge, clocking at 370 pages in its final version. You can see why I haven't been blogging - and not doing pretty much anything else either. This took me at least ten years from the first idea, and the actual writing took at least four years - but of course I did some other books in the interim.

I'm too tired at the moment to write more fully about the book and its contents, for now it's enough that I post the great cover by Timo Numminen. The book is out in May.

The book will be accompanied by an anthology I also compiled, with twenty or so Finnish Western short stories from the 1820s on up to this day. I'll post about it as well later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Mikey and Nicky (1976)

I'd read of this little gem of a crime film a long time ago, but always failed to see it. I once had the Finnish VHS published in 1989, but I couldn't watch it, since the picture ratio was so wrong, my eyes started to bleed. Now I finally had a chance to see it on screen, and boy, was it good! Mikey and Nicky was ahead of its time as a crime film and hasn't aged as some other crime films of its era have.

John Cassavetes and Peter Falk play minor gangsters in the movie. In the beginning we see the freaked-out Cassavetes in a sleazy hotel room, seemingly afraid of everything. He thinks other gangsters are trying to kill him, and Falk offers to help him. It becomes a bit of an odyssey through night-time streets, dirty joints and movie theaters. Ned Beatty plays the hired killer who doesn't seem to get anywhere on time. There's a bit of a surprise twist near the end, but more essential is the actual ending of the film, very poignant and touching, with a nice touch in the dialogue.

The writer and director Elaine May let Cassavetes and Falk improvise their scenes (at least partly), and this brings life to the characters that otherwise might be stock. There's warmth, energy, fear, abruptness, violence and jerkiness to these guys, and while they are not very likable, they feel very real.

The improvisation led to film being burned, which made the studio angry, and then Elaine May sat on the results for three years and trying to bring the thing together, but then the studio decided otherwise, and the end result isn't what May had in mind. I don't know whether we'll ever see May's version of Mikey and Nicky. (The Finnish version, seen here after a five-year break in 1981, is slightly shorter than the original American print.)

Someone has said this is the best film ever produced in Hollywood directed by a woman. I don't know if this is the case anymore, but it may have been. At least Mikey and Nicky is different and interesting. Here's Jonathan Rosenbaum on the film.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog. (Hopefully.)

PS. Oh, I'd written about this and the goddamn Finnish VHS earlier.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Jesuit Joe (1991)

I'd seen this ultra-rare French northern film back in the day, in 1992 actually, and I saw it twice, even though it made only a short round in Finnish cinemas. I'd never seen it again, but for some reason or another it had stuck to my mind and having an opportunity to see it again on 35mm film (okay, I had a hand in organizing the screening) I jumped the wagon.

Saying "ultra-rare" means that Jesuit Joe has only been released on VHS in French with no subtitles and on DVD in French with no subtitles. It's never been shown in Finnish television and before this it was never shown on the Finnish Film Archive screenings. It seems from IMDb that Finland was the only country where the film was shown originally beside France. So not many have seen it. It's available on YouTube, but they have only the cropped VHS copy without any subtitles.

The copy on YouTube is in French, but the copy I just saw was dubbed in English, so the producers at least tried to make this international. The film is based on Hugo Pratt's 1980 graphic novel with the same title and Pratt also was writing the screenplay, but they did some extra and not so necessary changes here and there. The original graphic novel, for example, has no vulture buzzard giving a voice-over narration, as in the film. It works at times, at times it doesn't.

The whole film suffers from the same problem: at times it works, at times it doesn't. The aerial scenes of the wintery Canadian landscape (the film was shot in Canada) are breath-taking, but the actors are pretty bad almost throughout. The screenplay has some dubious explanatory scenes or dialogue, which are not necessary. The director, Olivier Austen, has done only some unit managing in some other films beside this, and it shows. There are some very clumsy scenes here and there. Even the soundtrack shows the same undecisiveness, with hard-rock themes suddenly bursting out.

Yet there's something intriguing about the unrelenting story about the half-Indian Jesuit Joe killing mercilessly those he doesn't like or approve - or not killing. Take a look if you have the chance - or can speak French and can suffer through the bad VHS copy of YouTube.

Todd Mason doesn't seem to be gathering any links to other Overlooked Film posts, but here's his blog anyway.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Possibly British comic needs ID

Friend was asking whether anyone knows the artist behind this possibly British series of comics. It was published in Finnish in the 1950s as Esa and Eenokki, so possibly it was something like Eazy and Enoch (but most possibly not). Can anyone help my friend here?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

I just saw this little thriller - if that's what you could call it - the other day and decided to blog about it. The film received with good reviews here in Finland and, I believe, elsewhere in Europe as well, but I don't know how largely it was seen in the US. (Wikipedia says it had a limited release, but it's out on DVD and possibly available on Netflix and other venues.)

The film has a quirky title, but you shouldn't worry about that, since it's a pretty well done drama of a young woman, Martha (played by Elizabeth Olsen), who's gotten herself mixed up with a sect leading a reclusive life somewhere in the mountains. John Hawkes plays the leader of the sect with charisma. He's not given any background, so the viewer will have to fill up the blank spaces him/herself. The leader looks and feels interesting, yet he's there only to satisfy his own sexual needs: he gets to have sex with all the newcomers. He tells the women the act of sex starts the purifying process. The young woman can't take the abuse anymore and takes a hike. She hides herself in her sister's house, but she can't leave the past behind her. The sister and her husband seem helpless and don't really know what to do, and Martha won't tell them what has really happened in the two years she was away.

Directed by debutante Sean Durkin, this is a quietly disturbing thriller with almost no scary moments. The ending is very disturbing. Highly recommended, though not for those who seek fast action and thrills.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Luis Buñuel: The Young One

(I'm blogging again! I really don't have time for this, but I just can't let this one go.)

Surrealist film-maker Luis Buñuel has for long been one of my favourite directors, but in the recent years his stature in my eyes has even grown. I've really liked, even loved, some of his films I've seen recently, even though I'd've seen them before. One example is one of his Mexican melodramas, Èl, of which I wrote here. A more recent example is The Young One (1960), made in Mexico in English, with American actors. It was called La Joven in Mexico, which I believe means "the virgin", and it's only fitting the film's Finnish title is Neitsytsaari, meaning "The Island of Virgins" or "The Virgin Island". I won't go into the plot and its details, the Wikipedia entry will suffice. I just saw this film on screen on 35 mm film, and though I'd seen it earlier, I hadn't really realized what a magnificent little film it is.

It's a very current film tackling issues of racism and sexual abuse. You know, we also have this thing called hate speech in Finland, and it's getting very tiresome and worrisome at the same time. In swift dialogue, Buñuel reveals the speech patterns the racist uses: if the rapist is a white man, the woman is to blame, if the rapist is a black man, kill him. There's wonderful irony in the end: everything seems to be well, but the black man is still running from his hunters and the white man still can carry on raping the 12-year old girl. The priest, who at first seems to fight against abuse and racism, has to make a deal with the white man in order to get the black man to escape. This is no casual irony, it's a strike in the white heart of bourgeoisie.

Yet The Young One is also fluent entertainment. There's not much violent action, but Buñuel knows how to keep the story racing along. This is something many of his experimental colleagues don't know. The noir and western stalwart Zachary Scott is mighty unlikable, yet weirdly human as the white man in the lead. Key Meersman is captivatingly innocent in her almost only role. The film was written by Buñuel and Hugo Butler, who had earlier been blacklisted because of his communist sympathies. The film could indeed be too much for people like Donald Trump.

More Overlooked Films here, when they show up. (Edit: I guess Todd has had something else going on, since nothing has shown up.)