Saturday, July 31, 2004

Doris Piserchia

Doris Piserchia started publishing around 1972. She published 13 novels from 1973 to 1983. That was it. For some reason (from what I've found on the 'Net, a severe family illness might be the answer), she stopped writing in 1973. When she started again a few years ago, nobody would buy her stuff. She seems to have been pretty successful during her productive years, and her short fiction appeared in some prestigious publications. She was to have a story in LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS, but apparently we'll never see that one.

I got interested in Piserchia because of a review of MR. JUSTICE, which I included in an earlier post. I'd read only one book hers previously, BLOOD COUNTY, a DAW book that came out under the name "Curt Selby." (Piserchia says that the pen name was adopted because Donald Wollheim published four books by her in the year that BLOOD COUNTY appeared.) It's a very unusual vampire book in which, if I'm remembering correctly, the word "vampire" is never used.

But I wanted to talk about MR. JUSTICE. This was Piserchia's first novel, and Wollheim published it as half of an Ace Double. After reading it, I have to wonder what readers must have thought in 1973. Maybe the New Wave was in full flower (or whatever waves do) then. At any rate, it's a very strange book. I'm not sure I can describe the plot, but I'll give it a try.

Mr. Justice is a vigilante who can travel in time. He witnesses murders and other crimes, but he can't do anything to affect them. He can, however, take photos. Then he accosts the criminals in "real" time and doles out justice. Naturally something has to be done about this guy, but what can you do to stop a time traveller? The government singles out one kid and sends him to a special school. He's going to be their Mr. Justice hunter. Meanwhile the government agency that's running him is still hunting on its own.

At the same time there's another time traveller, Arthur Bingle, who's decided to use his power to take over the world. (You'd think he'd take a cool name for himself, like The Mastermind, but he doesn't.)

So far, so good, except that you don't get all this in a straightforward narrative, and there's also a lot more going on. A whole lot more, including a love story and some pretty weird family stuff, much of it undeveloped or cut short. It's almost as if Piserchia wrote 200,000 words and cut it to 60,000.

Some of the book is written in a semi-pulp style (the opening section, for example), while others are, well, less readable. It makes for an odd combination. If you go into this looking for something like an old Republic serial, you're going to be very disappointed. (But it might have worked better if it had been more like one of those serials.)

Some people think of this book as an undiscovered classic. I'm not convinced. But it's certainly different.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Jayme Lynn Blaschke's Gibberish

Jayme Lynn Blaschke's Gibberish: "Winston cover gallery
Lookie here what I found. I swear, there's something on the web devoted to everything. In this case, it's a cover gallery featuring the retro-cool illustrations from all 35 of those classic Winston Science Fiction series juveniles."

I checked this site out, and it's great. Those Schomburg endpapers (be sure to click and enlarge them) are for me the essence of SF art. Wow. Here's the link:

Donald A. Wollheim

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I actually met Donald A. Wollheim. It was at the World Fantasy Convention in 1979, the first fan convention I ever attended, and to my way of thinking one of the best. It was probably the last convention a lot of the great writers I loved when I was a kid ever attended, but there were plenty of others as well. Manley Wade Wellman was there. Frank Belknap Long. Evangeline Walton. Fritz Leiber, who gave the banquet speech (and that's another story). Lin Carter. Harlan Ellsion. Stephen King (this was just before he became so popular that he couldn't attend conventions without being mobbed; he was just another writer). Joe Lansdale was there, though I didn't actually meet him.

And of course Wollheim. He was a big influence on my life because he edited the Ace Double line, but I didn't know that when I was reading the Ace Doubles. The science fiction doubles were my favorites, and Wollheim published some interesting stuff. A lot of it was space opera, which I loved, but sometimes you'd turn the book over and there on the other side would be a novel by Philip K. Dick. Or, later on, Samuel R. Delaney or Ursula K. LeGuin. Wollheim gave them all their starts in long fiction.

I did a by-mail interview with Wollheim for Billy Lee's great little zine, PAPERBACK QUARTERLY, but I never thought to ask him how he came to be the publisher of such great works as DR. BLOODMONEY or THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION (I know, it's not part of a double), but he was friendly and happy to respond to a request for an interview for a magazine with a circulation of maybe 200 copies.

And if you're wondering why I was thinking of Wollheim, it's because I've now read MR. JUSTICE by Doris Piserchia. (See the post on her below.) When I get a chance, I'll tell you some more about my reactions to the book.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I got a swell new Dell computer for my birthday, and it took me a little while to get it all hooked up and to get on-line.

OK, to tell the truth, I still haven't hooked everything up. But I am on-line. At least I am if this post appears in my blog. I need to hook up the scanner, printer, ZIP drive, and so on. Then I'll be all set. I'm not too thrilled by the Dell mouse, but maybe I'll continue to use it. I preferred my Logitech cordless, so I may go back to that one.

This new computer plays DVDs. Maybe I'll watch a few when I should be working. Steve Stilwell sent me one called Python, starring Casper Van Dien and Robert Englund. You can tell right that that it's a classy product. Steve got it from Walter Satterthwait. These are guys with way too much time on their hands.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


OUT OF THE PAST: "Film noir is known for its wise-guy dialogue, but the screenplay for 'Out of the Past' reads like an anthology of one-liners. It was based on the 1946 novel Build My Gallows High by 'Geoffrey Homes,' a pseudonym for the blacklisted Daniel Mainwaring, and the screenplay credit goes to Mainwaring, reportedly with extra dialogue by James M. Cain.

But the critic Jeff Schwager read all versions of the screenplay for a 1990 Film Comment article, and writes me: 'Mainwaring's script was not very good, and in one draft featured awful voice-over narration by the deaf-mute. Cain's script was a total rewrite and even worse; it was totally discarded. The great dialogue was actually the work of Frank Fenton, a B-movie writer whose best known credit was John Ford's 'Wings of Eagles.''"

I always enjoy reading what Roger Ebert has to say about movies, even if I don't agree with him. In the case of OUT OF THE PAST, I do agree, and I found the information quoted above really interesting. The whole review, in fact, is great reading, and I recomend it.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke's Gibberish

Jayme Lynn Blaschke's Gibberish: "BATTLE ON MERCURY, or, Victory is mine! "

I can't blame Jayme for celebrating his purchase of BATTLE ON MERCURY. I loved those Winston SF novels when I was a kid. I had several of them, including FIND THE FEATHERED SERPENT by Evan Hunter. Somehow that one disappeared, and the ones on eBay have been too pricey to tempt me. I also had MISTS OF DAWN by Chad Olilver. It's gone, too. But I still have my copy of SONS OF THE OCEAN DEEPS by Bryce Walton. My books by Evan Hunter and Chad Oliver disappear, but I still have the one by Bryce Walton. Story of my life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Coolest Sci-Fi

The Coolest Sci-Fi: "MISTER JUSTICE-Doris Piserchia (Ace, 1974, oop). Crammed into half of an Ace double and never reprinted, Mister Justice remains in a class by itself: hardboiled America, Sci-fi-style. Here the 2030s appear as a mutated 1930's, complete with an economic catastrophe that threatens evolution itself. The Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Untouchables-they never had what Mr. Justice has going for him. Sprung from humanity's threatened altruistic genes, this masked vigilante has the ability to travel into the past, where he can witness, but not prevent, murders. He then returns to the present, where he arranges 'an eye for an eye' treatment for the slayers, including full-scale gangland rub-outs. But he can't easily dispose of one Arthur Bingle, global crime archon' who has the same powers as Mr. J. and then some. Bingle feels about the human race in general what Mr. Justice feels about criminals, and he plans to thin us out and 'empty the world.' With the help of his powers, his syndicates of henchman and corrupt cops, and his dreadful lady friend Godiva-she of the constrictor thighs-Bingle gets the drop on humanity. But justice is just a matter of time. Piserchia relates this furious folktale with Chandler soul, Hammett snap, and not a trace of camp."

I ran across this review while surfing the 'Net the other day, and naturally it made me curious about the book. There are many bad things about having a house cluttered with thousands of books, but there's at least one good thing: When you run across a review like this, you can go to the Ace Double shelf and pull down the book. I'll have to read it and find out whether it's as good as the reviewer seems to think, and I'll give you a report. It does have a nice Freas cover, as does the other side, a novel by John Philliphent.

Monday, July 26, 2004



Now this is just scary: Steven Segal is a musician? Who would've guessed? And his first single is #1 in France? Where is Jerry Lewis when you need him? - Raskin: Vanishing: 'Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us' - Raskin: Vanishing: 'Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us'

When I entered The University of Texas at Austin back in 1959, freshmen weren't allowed to have cars. I went to school in the middle of the first week of September, and I wasn't able to get a ride home until the week before Thanksgiving. Because I met a girl named Judy Stutts during the Christmas break, I decided I wanted to go home more often than every two or three months, so I occasionally hopped the bus.

Couldn't do that now. I suppose the Greyhound station is still where it used to be in downtown Austin, on Congress Avenue a few blocks from the Capitol Building, the bus hasn't stopped in Mexia in many years. Maybe it doesn't matter, but 45 years ago, it would have mattered to me. When my grandfather died later my freshman year and I had to get home in a hurry, I took the bus. I remember walking with my suitcase all the way from the dorm on the UT campus to the station.

I always bought a book to read before I left Austin. Once it was something by Jack Douglas, maybe the classic MY BROTHER WAS AN ONLY CHILD. Once it was the Fawcett edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ. A little girl saw me reading it and told her mother, who gave me a suspicous look, as if she thought I might be some kind of child molestor.

I haven't ridden a bus in years, probably not since 1960. But it was always nice to know it was there.
A few days ago Ed Gorman gave an all-out no-reservations rave review to James Siegel's Derailed.  Naturally I figured I should read it, so I went directly to my local bookseller (Wal-Mart) and bought a copy.

I can see why Ed liked the book.  It's a juiced-up version of a Gold Medal original: ordinary guy gets into deep doo-doo.  He does everything wrong, and things keep piling up until it seems they just can't get any worse.  And then they get worse.  It's the sort of thing Harry Whittington excelled at, except hyped to the tenth power.

So I sort of enjoyed it, but I had some problems.  One is that if you've ever read more than a couple of Gold Medal books, the "big surprise" is going to come as no surprise at all.  Maybe that's OK.  Maybe Siegel doesn't really expect us to be surprised.  But another problem is that Siegel uses a deus ex machina that would make Euripides blush.  It's just too much.  Or maybe I'm just being picky.  You'll have to read the book and decide for yourself.

Ed said he thinks the book might well become a classic.  I don't.  To me it's just another disposable best seller.  Well executed, but not that memorable.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Plots With Guns - Boiled Harder Than Your Mother's Corned Beef

Plots With Guns - Boiled Harder Than Your Mother's Corned Beef

The new PLOTS WITH GUNS is up, and it's a Brit noir issue. If you've never experienced Ken Bruen, now's your chance, for free. And be sure to read Sara Weinman's introductory essay.
I'm told by those in the know that next to BLACK MASK the best of the mystery and crime pulps was DIME DETECTIVE.  For years I've had on my shelves a collection of stories from that magazine.  It's HARD-BOILED DETECTIVES, edited by Stefan R. Dziemanianowicz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenberg.

The collection doesn't have a theme, but it has a plan.  The editors reprint one story from each year of the magazine's existence, from 1931 to 1953.  There are plenty of big names present, including some (C. M. Kornbluth, William Tenn, and Murray Leinster) likely to be more familiar to SF fans than to mystery readers.

I should have looked into this collection long ago, but it got stuck away on a shelf and covered with other books, and I more or less forgot about it.  I came across it yesterday while I was looking for something else.  I read a couple of stories in it last night, "The Crime Machine" by Carroll John Daly and "Ding Dong Belle" by Hugh B. Cave. 

I was interested in reading something by Cave because I'd seen James Reasoner's review of the new Cave bio (check it out at and because I hadn't read any of Cave's crime fiction.  This story features Peter Kane, a alcoholic p.i. who used to be a cop but who left the force because he couldn't control his drinking.  He's in love with a woman who also loves him but who refused to marry a drunk.  So she married his best friend, Captain of Detectives Moe Finch.  Moe's a good guy, but a little slow.  When he's faced with a tough case, his wife always calls in her old flame to solve it.  This time the case involves a woman who's shot dead while playing ping pong in a bathing suit.

"The Crime Machine," which I'd read before, is the first in Daly's series about Vee Brown, who's just as tough and ruthless as Race Williams, but not as burly.  He writes popular songs in his spare time.  Not long ago, Walter Satterthwait and I had an idea for a pulp detective who hums show tunes while he kicks the crap out of the malefactors.  I guess we were thinking of someone like Vee Brown, so we're about 70 years too late.