Anti-Pulp Snobbery

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 and was rather enjoying it right up until he wrote this:

None, however [of the forgotten writers of the time period] could begin to compare with the success of two other American authors whose books sold and sold for decades.  They were Zane Gray and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and they were almost certainly the two most popular authors on the planet in the twentieth century.

They had a good deal in common … and both were by almost any measure pretty terrible writers.  The wonder is not that they are no longer widely read, but that they ever were.

Bryson is kind enough to say ERB is “no hack” but then says idiotically, “He used pulp fiction plots but wrote with a certain panache, as if he didn’t quite understand the genre.”  Somebody doesn’t understand the “genre” but it sure wasn’t ERB.

He goes on to attack ERB for supporting eugenics, being repetitive and “slapdash,” and sometimes descending into “drivel.”  The funny thing is the passage that he uses to illustrate driveliness happens to be from the very first page of Thuvia, Maid of Mars and he states the speaker is a “warrior named Jeddak.”  Ah, so he just flipped open the book and skimmed the first couple paragraphs while clearly having never read any of the Barsoom books at all because he thinks Jeddak is a name.  Clearly Mr. Bryson is an authority we can trust on the merits of pulp fiction.  (I haven’t even read Thuvia and I knew instantly that he hadn’t either.  That kind of a mistake actually makes me doubt Bryson’s accuracy in anything else he’s written in the book.)

It would be one thing if Bryson had read the work he’s trashing instead of simply following along with a snotty, narrow minded ignorance.  If you wonder that anyone ever read such garbage, then the question isn’t when did they wise up and stop but why the hell are stacks of ERB books still on main aisle tables in chain bookstores in towns that aren’t full of huge populations of people obsessed with old, dead, obscure writers?

This wasn’t the only Tarzan book on the table. Nor was it the only bookstore in town with nice, pretty looking editions of Tarzan.

Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs book

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Red Ribbon

I bought Chicago Typewriter: the Red Ribbon for two reasons: a) it sounded neat and b) there was something in the blurb that got under my skin and I wanted to see how bad it really was. As to the latter, I’ll have a pedantic fit about something nobody else is going to care about at the end.

CT:RR is, in fact, neat. 1920s gangster action with the supernatural.  Emilio Enzo’s dealings with the underworld in some unknown previous adventure come back to haunt him when a demon thing comes and steals the soul of his girlfriend.  A magical typewriter ribbon provides a clue on how to get her back and Emilio heads off to the underworld with iron–instead of brass–knuckles and a Thompson to show the demons what’s what.

I quite like the art.  You might think that something set in the Twenties might be best as black and white but it’s got a very good use of color.

My biggest complaint is that it’s not long enough. The reader is tossed into a situation with only hints at explanation or backstory for characters. It’s not long enough to develop either those characters or the world fully. Which won’t be so much a problem if there’s more to come.  Still this story by itself could have stood for being fleshed out a bit more.

Some of the details make the lack of world building a little jarring. I did not like the flying car. Why is there a flying car? Is Emilio the only one with a flying car or is this normal? If the former, how come he has it; if the latter, what does that say about the technology level of this society? What else is different? If there’s flying cars, we’ve probably progressed well beyond electric typewriters (especially since the first fully electric one was actually made in 1902).

Which is where I’m going to have my fit. With typewriters I mean.

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Unreasonable Discourse

Richard Paolinelli has what I think is a very bad characterization of the current spat going on about ComicsGate and of the Sad vs Rabid Puppies divide of the past.  There’s no point in picking it apart but in it he says this:

There will be no discussion, just doubling and tripling down on positions. Vox, no doubt, may see this as a way to cripple Marvel and DC like he did the Hugos. He may even think this is the way to have the indie books take over dominance in the field.

Personally, I think it was a dumb thing to do. And now, instead of trying to change the hearts and minds of those on the fence with reasoned debate, this will just devolve into the same kind of name-calling and virtue signaling we saw the SJW-crowd pull in the Hugos.

There is no such thing as “reasoned debate” on the internet.  Oh, sure, we can have a little bit here and there, by accident or between friends.  You can’t expect anything reasonable from an SJW. You can’t even be sure that someone who appears to be on a similar ideological plain won’t freak out and attack you because you used the wrong idiom.

Part of the reason reasoned isn’t possible is that even people who might marginally agree don’t necessarily have the same perception of the same events.  When I read Paolinelli’s description of the Sad Puppies, my first thought was “is he smoking Mad Genius Club crack?”  Because his version doesn’t fit the version of what I saw happen at all.  Even if he isn’t in the MGC crowd, clearly, wherever he was on the ride offered a very different vantage point from where I was watching.  I could easily see someone reading his post and jumping to the conclusion that he’s being a dishonest cuck. Then again I also see the possibility of Paolinelli reading this post, assuming that I was attacking him, and flipping out as if I’d called his mother a Shanghai whore.  I mean, other people have at less.

Perceptions aside, people are simply not reasonable.  Even if Paolinelli’s version of the events is correct, and VD is a money-grubbing bandwagon-jumper leaving a trail of wrecked movements in his wake, the ComicsGate response to the ComicsGate Comics announcement was hysterical.  It was ridiculous.  But they don’t think they were being ridiculous, they were reasonable and justified.  If you were to go to them and try to explain that VD is not a Nazi and maybe this is all a little silly, you would get screeched at and called a Nazi.

Moderates go about insisting that if we could all just be reasonable we could fix it all, we could show people that they are wrong, and then they’ll stop being wrong.  But in their very insistence on reasonableness, they are being unreasonable.  If facts and recent history are all pointing towards the conclusion that attempts at being reasonable lead only to failure then it doesn’t make much sense to keep insisting on doing something that doesn’t work and then getting mad when someone else doesn’t keep doing something that doesn’t work.

Edit: Oddly enough the post is now gone and I was dumb and forgot to archive it.

He Walked by Night

Richard Basehart He Walked By Night 1948Fans of Razorfist might recognize He Walked by Night (1948) as having been mentioned in a couple episodes of his Film Noirchives series.  He Walked by Night, however, seems to be mostly known for its inspiration of Dragnet. The story goes that Jack Webb, who had a small part as a forensics specialist, got to talking to the police consultant on set. As He Walked by Night was loosely inspired by the crimes of Erwin Walker, Webb hit upon the idea of doing a series based on true stories.

The film opens with a patrolman stopping a man on dark street.  His suspicions prove correct–the man is a burglar–but only leads to the policeman’s death. The man escapes.  A manhunt ensues but their quarry manages to stay a couple steps head of the police.

Richard Basehart shines as the villainous Roy Morgan.  He has a far more powerful and memorable presence than the detectives on his trail.  Morgan baffles the police with his repeated escapes, and he changes his MO to further throw them off his sent.

Police in the tunnels He Walked by Night 1948The film focuses on police procedure and how the detectives finally crack the mystery of Morgan’s whereabouts.  The climatic confrontation in the drainage tunnels beneath LA is what Razor highlighted for its close similarity to The Third Man.  (Incidentally, monster movies buffs will recognize the location as the same tunnels full of giant, mutant, killer ants in Them!)

He Walked by Night might not be as good or as polished a film as The Third Man but Basehart’s performance and the ever present chiaroscuro lighting elevates it a higher position than it might have had otherwise.  It’s a good film and nice police procedural which deserved to be recognized for more than what it inspired.

He Walked by Night is public domain.

The Badge

You can almost hear it… that familiar voice: “It was Wednesday, April 17.  It was warm in Los Angeles.  We were working the night watch out of homicide detail… My name’s Friday…” And that is the biggest complaint I could have about The Badge by Jack Webb is that it isn’t an audiobook read by Jack Webb.

Jack WebbI would have got the book anyway but what really sold it for me was a negative review complaining that it was too boring and too focused on technical aspects of police work.  Part of the problem stems from the way the book is marketed (similar to the problem of the last “true crime” book I read).  “True and terrifying crime stories that could not be present on TV, from the creator and star of Dragnet” proclaims the cover. Eh, not so much.  This isn’t a gruesome, exciting tale of murder and mayhem.  The Badge is instead a love letter to the Los Angeles Police Department. And what else would you expect from someone who devoted his life to telling its stories?

Some of the crimes he mentions in the course of the book couldn’t have made it to TV at the time, but Webb goes everywhere from the Black Dahlia to the moral degradation of bingo.  His focus is the police department and each chapter steps up the ladder from police patrolman all the way to the commission.  Each chapter has numerous short accounts of various crimes and cases facing the men at that level.  But equally important are statistical, historical facts about the department and, wonderfully, tales of great scientific innovations like the Intoximeter!  (A precursor to the breathalyzer.)  If you’re interested in what police work was like in the Fifties, this is the book for you.

It’s ironic, however, that the introduction is written by James Ellroy.  L.A. Confidential is set during the same time period that this book covers, but it shows a very, very different version of the LAPD.  L.A Confidential shows a vicious, corrupt, racist bunch of cops.  The Badge even touches on a couple of the real events that were mentioned in the novel.  But the perspective from which it is written is worlds apart.  Webb focuses on the innovations, the reforms.  Chief Parker sounds awesome.  LAPD had cleaned up its act and was leading the country as one of the most modern, scientific police departments–according to this book anyway.  Webb’s got rose colored glasses on but even if he has, the book is a refection of the attitudes of the time.  Hopefulness and progress.  Back when people thought they were solving the problems of the past and moving on to a better world.  (This makes his talk about progress in the realm of race relations rather depressing.)  Any kind of contemporary historical source is bound to be colored by current attitudes like that.

The Badge is a great book.  Definitely anyone who likes Dragnet will want to read it.  But don’t go in thinking this will be some kind of action packed, blood soaked, sexed up true crime tale.

 

Who needs a swimming pool when you have a car full of water?

It rained a lot yesterday.

Now I noticed a couple car floor mats on the porch rail yesterday but didn’t think anything of it until as we were leaving for Mass this morning and the Wizard said, “Whose car are those out of?”

Isambard said, “Nixon’s.”

I had a “wait, what?” moment before it occurred to me what he was talking about.  “You mean the old car?”  My laziness in disposing of my old car has been a great advantage given the amount of car trouble that’s going around the past couple months.  Isambard’s been driving it pretty regularly.

“I took them out to dry off because I spilled half a gallon of water in it the other day.”  His eyes widened suddenly in horror.  “Oh, no, I forgot and left the window down.”

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m not likely to get any money for that hunk of junk, I’d kill him because… It rained a lot yesterday.

 

Authors and Interactions

Word of mouth sells books. And what better mouth to sell them than the author himself?

Over the many years I’ve spent on the internet, I’ve seen a lot of author blogs and interacted with a few. The vast majority of the time I’ve been sorry I did.

Author blogs fall into two general categories: ones where they talk incessantly about writing advice and ones where they talk about everything else, frequently politics or the like. The former we can ignore because the reader is uninterested; the audience is other authors or wannabes.

The more general content type of blog often gives you a lot of information about the type of person the author is. Some of them are really good at going in political directions. They’ll attract an audience of like minded readers. Nothing wrong with this at all. No matter what someone writes their opinions are going to tick someone off so there’s really no point in hiding what they think. And there have been a number of authors whose blogs I perused enough to see that they weren’t worth the time. World view is going to affect your writing and sometimes your world view is so obnoxious I’m not likely to enjoy fiction steeped in it.

One thing’s for sure, however. Direct, personal interaction with an author has a much great effect on your ability to enjoy their work more than some random thing they wrote on in a blog post. Authors might like to proclaim that they’ll never treat a reader badly but they never bother to ask who is a reader or not* before they ban hammer or cuss at an obnoxious commenter or before they overreact to some perceived slight or criticism.

(*To be fair, if they were to ask, there’s no proving the “reader” is telling the truth or not and “I’m not going to buy your books/read your stuff/watch your videos anymore wah!” is a common concern troll tactic.)

Years ago there was an author whose works I rather liked. I made the mistake of disagreeing with him on a subject that nothing to do with books. It did not end well. After that, I’ve tried to avoid communicating with authors in any way shape or form especially not if I like their books.

The problem is if you’re on any social media or have a blog and hang out on the fringes of certain types of groups, in may be very hard to avoid interacting with authors. Either they have an interesting blog and the temptation to comment gets too strong or–heaven forbid–they read your blog. Never mind the fact that the self censorship necessary to avoid ever commenting or mentioning something an author said is stupid.

With any ol’ random person you strike up an acquaintance with you run the risk that they might turn out to be a terrible jerk or will go psycho on you at some further date. That’s humanity for you. Authors being asses, however, adds another dimension. Unlike most normal people, the author expects/hopes that you will spend both money and time on him. As my free time has dwindled precipitously over the past couple years and alternative entertainment sources grown exponentially, an author behaving like a retard becomes all the more reason to kick him off the to-be-read/bought list. I could be reading the novel of a guy who publicly cussed me out on his blog or I could be playing Deus Ex, watching Korean TV, reading The Shadow, listening to OTR… I mean, I’ve got a couple hundred years worth of entertainment for free off the internet not even counting new stuff. So even the guy who doesn’t attack me personally but is simply acting idiotic has a lot of competition. Everybody’s got a finite amount of free time and an enormous choice of things to fill it with.

In a way, authors behaving badly or spouting politics is a boon for readers trying to filter out what they don’t want to waste their time on. Author blogs do double duty because you can both see their stupid behavior and get a taste of writing style.

This all ended up being very negative but what actually got me thinking about it was the fact that I went and bought a couple ebooks last week which I wouldn’t have bought otherwise if it hadn’t been for the fact that I’ve talked to the author a couple times and he’s cool.  In fact, aside from the one recent obvious and ugly example, all the authors (this is a very small number) I’ve talked to on social media in the past year or so have been cool.  Maybe later some of them will turn out of the jerks.  Maybe not.  It’s a double edge sword for both authors and readers.  Authors are bound to lose readers but also find new ones, and readers will lose authors they might have otherwise read but find replacements.