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Retro Pulp Tales
edited by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press, 235 pages

Retro Pulp Tales
Joe R. Lansdale
Joe R. Lansdale has been a student of the martial arts for more than thirty years. In fact, his standard day is six hours at the typewriter, three hours at Lansdale's Self Defense Systems, the martial-arts studio which he owns and at which he teaches. His recent books include Zeppelins West and Flaming London. He lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, with his wife, Karen, writer and editor.

Joe R. Lansdale Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

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A bit of imagination, a lot of action and a gripping narrative style: those were the ingredients of the so-called pulp fiction which has filled the pages of many old magazines, delighting more than one generation of avid readers and shaping up the creative minds of many future writers.

The joined efforts of editor Joe R. Lansdale and Subterranean Press bring back to life that beloved, although often underestimated genre, challenging a group of distinguished authors to produce new material using the atmospheres, the themes and the time-frame of the old pulp tales.

The result, Retro Pulp Tales, is a fully enjoyable volume featuring twelve stories, most of which are quite compelling.

James Reasoner sets the ball rolling with "Dead Wings Over France," a weird air-war story overdoing a tad the book's scope by blending in the same brew rabid bats used by the Germans as unconventional weapons, the deeds of an intrepid pilot and the fate of a vampire mechanic.

In Chet Williamson's ingenuous "From the Back Pages" fragments from pulp magazines design the pattern of a grim horror story while in the engrossing "Zekiel Saw the Wheel" by Bill Crider a group of fugitive slaves obtain freedom and get a new hope in life thanks to the encounter with wise aliens intent on watching our planet.

With his story of "yellow peril" ("Sex Slaves of the Dragon Thong") F.Paul Wilson provides pure, great entertainment. Set in the Chinatown of the 30s, the tale features an evil and powerful Mandarin, his mysterious opponent, an inexperienced detective and some abducted girls.

Alex Irvine's "New Game In Town" is a magnificent gangster story where a man's life depends on the result of a long pool game. The great characterization, the deep feeling of suspense and the unexpected final twist make this piece probably the best in the book.

Some stories, by contrast, do not really hit the target. "Alien Love At Zero Break" by Melissa Mia Hall is an insipid hodgepodge of teenage dreams, surfing mania and space monsters, rather out of tune with the rest of the anthology; Kim Newman's "Clubland Heroes" simply recycles some of the writer's typical situations and characters; in Tim Lebbon's "The Body Lies" the narrative keeps revolving around the starting idea of a giant buried under the basement floor without managing to develop into a true story.

Fortunately, much better stuff is in store. Al Sarrantonio's "Summer," skilfully depicting an endless, unbearably hot summer, is a vivid piece intended as a "warm" tribute to Ray Bradbury.

The always excellent Stephen Gallagher contributes "The Box," an offbeat ghost story set in the macho world of flight training schools. In "Incident On Hill 19" a tense, cross-genre piece by Gary Phillips taking place during the Korean war, an army patrol clashing with the "commies" meets a friendly alien landed with his spaceship.

Norman Partridge's "Carrion" is a brilliant, powerful tale of action where, in the desert by the Mexican border, two ex-soldiers and a frightened girl face Evil in the shape of a derelict house -- actually a gateway to Hell -- and a flock of malevolent buzzards.

A fine example of entertaining and adventurous fiction, the anthology is by no means an assemblage of shallow, easy reading stuff . On the contrary, due to the high quality of the storytellers involved, Retro Pulp Tales has the dignity of a successful, commendable literary product.

I'm already looking forward to a second volume.

Copyright © 2006 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.


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