Looking for lurid tales? Dark stories calculated to disturb your sleep with nightmares? Grisy yarns in which bad things happen democratically – to good people and bad people as well?
Check the links above, then. You won’t regret it.
Each leads to the latest edition of a magazine that is the product of what I call the “New Pulp” or “cyber-pulp” movement: namely, the kind of genre fiction that used to appear in magazines like Black Mask, Argosy and Saga.
The three publications described below are anthology style collections that are designed to give you hours of reading pleasure. All were released this month, and all are very much available for purchase through the links above.
These are not literary magazines, mind you. You’ll not find any stories here that leave you scratching your head and wondering exactly what the writer was getting at. The pieces in these mags are as blunt as a sap to the skull, as gritty as the little white chunks you find in your mouth after somebody smashes your teeth with a savage uppercut.
All three are full-featured genre platforms – a mix of non-fiction articles (reviews, essays, interviews) and fiction that ranges from the shortest of short stories all the way up to mini-novels that are being serialized over a period of months.
I’ve mentioned these three specific titles before, mainly to point out – with justifiable pride – that each contains a story I wrote. After nearly forty years as a professional journalist I am now producing fiction and these three publications feature some of the first stories I’ve had published in my secondary career as a novelist and short-story writer.
But there is much more to all of them than the three stories I wrote. They feature gritty crime narratives, the darkest of noir and a variety of “speculative” fiction – horror yarns, fantasy tales, stories of terror and the paranormal, and adventures on strange worlds unlike our own. All are aimed at tickling the reader’s imagination and firing what sci-fi pioneer Hugo Gernsback termed our “sense of wonder.”
Take Joseph Myers’ excellent speculative story set in a world of the not-to-distant future, “A Shot in the Dark” in Crime Factory # 16, an Australian publication edited by Cameron Ashley. The story concerns the misadventures of a woman “mechanic” (unlicensed doctor) who makes her living selling coffee – or the artificial gunk that passes for it in this dystopian world of the future.
She is awakened in the middle of the night by a smuggler chum and two college students who ask her to medically assist a critically injured man found in the alley behind her shop.
It turns out the man is beyond treatment, but is holding enough high-grade real coffee beans to bring a King’s ransom on the black market. The woman and the smuggler scam their way into the dead man’s apartment looking for the rest of his stash. They run into resistance and hijinks ensue, leading to a conclusion with a satisfying twist.
This, like most of the pieces in Crime Factory # 16, is terrific stuff: terse, tough and funny without being farcical. Myers’ dystopic world is well thought through and neatly delivered, complete with a credible vocabulary that helps to sell the futuristic setting in which the action unfolds. For example, the two teens who find the dead man in the alley are described as “jugsoaked and covered in filth,” and lower-class people live in the “wards” but dream of moving up to “the district.”
There’s even a believable explanation for the exorbitant cost of actual food – the kind millionaires savor, not the garbage eaten by the hoi polloi: “Finding anything to eat or drink these days that isn’t some sort of synthetic substitute or a soy knockoff is damn near impossible,” Myers writes. “There’s just too many people for that to be an option.”
This is good writing. There’s a lot of it in Crime Factory # 16. In “Dog City” by Michael Asprey, a driver picks up a young Thai woman hitchhiking alongside a highway through the Australian outback: “The Datsun was puttering fine, traffic was light, the freeway stretched ahead, a white line between dynamited sandstone.”
A lot of the stories have that razor-edged brightness that is honed by telling a story in as few words as possible. Check this marvelous beginning of “I Just Want to Love You” by E.A. Aymar:
“‘It’s time to tell your wife about us,’ Rebecca said. My mind worked slowly and deliberately, like a fat man wading through a pool as I tried to accept that, after a few months of sleeping together, Rebecca had lost her shit. I needed to get her off my couch and out of my house before Emily came home with our kids.”
It’s hard to imagine anybody summarizing a bad situation any more clearly or economically: you’ve got your adulterer, your illicit romance, your needy and self-absorbed lover, jealous spouse, dependent children and desperation, all wrapped up in an introductory three-sentence paragraph that is only 62 words long.
There’s more: stories by Ly de Angeles, Christopher Long, J.M. Taylor, Andrew Rhodes and Deborah Sheldon, and articles by Ashley, Harvill Secker, Addam Duke, Benjamin Welton, Liam Jose and John Harrison.
Check it out; it’s chock full of damned nice writing.
The same is true of the latest issue of All Due Respect, the tough, no-nonsense magazine edited by Michael Monson and Chris Rhatigan. The latest issue leads off with a story by Hilary Davidson, a wonderful author who tells us about Sarah, a woman who is dying of a terminal disease and is contemplating suicide when she meets a female police officer who literally changes her life.
The story is a stunner, with a surprise at its end that I honestly did not see coming. Actually, the climax is a pair of surprises that leaves the reader with a wry smile on his or her face. Sometimes there is justice in this dark and dreary world.
Then there’s “Tote the Note” by Michael Pool, a story about Karl, a businessman for whom life has become the kind of burden he can only ease with drugs and booze. A grifter who has been stealing from his car dealership for years, he is on the cusp of discovery by a tax auditor:
“Karl thought about all the cash payments he’d erased from the dealership’s system and pocketed, what must have been tens of thousands of dollars,” Pool writes. “He felt sure he hadn’t spent all of it on booze, cocaine and pills, that at least some of it must have been used for the good of his family. But somehow it had been spent.”
The tale is set on a night when he gets drunk, smokes crack, argues with his wife and exchanges blows with his older son. Sheer mayhem results and Karl is left staring at the ashes of a life he has burned through like an arsonist armed with a barrel of gasoline.
Or consider CT McNeely’s excellent “Up Cripple Creek,” a tale about Chuck, a handicapped rural gangster whose attempt to protect his turf from outsiders ends in a savage brawl that pits him against the two able-bodied thugs who are trying to push him aside. The melee has a jaw-dropping conclusion:
“Chuck closed his eyes,” McNeely writes. “He was so fucking tired. He imagined Georgia-Lynn, all bloody and scared. He thought of his brother Johnny, hooked up to all those wires and shit, not even looking like hisself anymore. Chuck stood up. He had to put every bit of his weight on the crutches to keep from busting his ass on the floor. Every part of him hurt more than it had in years.”
By the end of the tale, Chuck is up the creek, armed with a paddle that’s intended for skull-crushing, not canoe wrangling.
Other fiction contributors to All Due Respect include Christopher Irvin, Stephen D. Rogers, Michael Cebula, Travis Richardson. Non-fiction articles – among which is a first rate interview with Davidson – are provided by Benoît Lelièvre, Rhatigan, Monson, Vince Darcangelo, Rory Costello, Louis Bravo, Shaun Avery, Bruce Harris, Steven Belanger and Lawrence Maddox.
Be sure to take a look at that story by McNeely – his guy, Chuck, offers a completely different take on someone who is physically disabled from Dean Drayhart, the protagonist in Anonymous-9’s novels Hard Bite and Bite Harder. I could get used to seeing stories about ol’ Chuck; McNeely’s handicapped anti-hero is unquestionably one cold-blooded badass.
Speaking of McNeely, he and his wife Emily are the masterminds of Dark Corners Pulp, the third of these cyber-pulp publications worthy of a look.
Dark Corners, which launched as a quarterly this month, is definitely no-holds-barred pulp: it has lurid crime yarns like “Off, Park and Up” by Martin Zeigler, in which a man obsessed by movies and all the little rituals he associates with them allows himself to forget the one thing he should have remembered: the highly incriminating evidence he has stashed inside his car’s trunk.
It also has western tales, including “Pups and Hounds” by Chris Leek, a story of revenge set in the post-Civil War West. Leek’s fine yarn pits a priest living in a rat’s nest village in the wasteland of America’s Southwestern desert against a man who could easily be a stand-in for the Prince of Darkness. The story is sharp, well-written and ends on a horrific note that will stick with the reader for days.
There is also an interview with Leek, an article about his publishing outfit, Zelmer Pulp, and a review of his novella, The Gospel of the Bullet.
In addition to mash-ups like the two stories mentioned above, Dark Corners also features straightforward fantasy narratives, including McNeely’s own “The Burning Lungs of Avalloch.” In it Logan Pike, a tough guy from our own era, finds himself transported to . . . well, I’ll let Logan explain it in his own words:
“It was oppressively cold and damp wherever he was. Wherever he was, he was sure that he was not in California anymore. Logan had never seen a place like this before.”
There’s lots more, including tales by Alec Cizak, Angel Luis Colon, Joseph Goodrich, Scott Grand, Andrew Hilbert, Gary Robbe, Chuck Turpentine, Ryan Sayles, Mark Rapacz and Bruce Harris, and non-fiction pieces by Greg Barth, Chris Rhatigan, Dyer Wilk, McNeely and others.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a trailer full of lurid novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road, oaters like Robber’s Roost by Zane Gray, and pulp magazines like Argosy, True and Saga.
My personal taste ran to horror, science fiction and fantasy, and I exhausted those sections of public libraries in Pollock Pines, Placerville and Vacaville. I mined for gaudy, gory jewels like William Gaines and Al Feldstein’s great EC titles, Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt, Robert Howard’s King Kull, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan and The Weapon Shops of Isher and just about anything Andre Norton put on a sheet of paper.
It was a silver age of pulp fiction (the Golden Age had been in the 1920s and 1930s when writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett dominated newsstands all over the country and the cheap binding and paper of mass-produced magazines featuring mystery, fantasy, cowboy and romance tales first gave the genre the title, “pulp.”)
For 35 cents you could buy an Ace Double that contained two complete novels, printed literally back to back. Publishers put out cheap science-fiction paperbacks that contained gripping tales by C.S. Lewis, Poul Anderson, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Lieber, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.
By the time I got out of the Navy in 1971, the pulps were on the way out. Mass circulation magazines were in trouble, their readers siphoned off by series television programs that features the same sorts of heros and villains. The price of ink and paper rose steadily. By the end of the 1980s, only a handful were still being produced.
Around the same time, however, something new had emerged: the personal computer, which was quickly becoming as ubiquitous as television or radio. And, like most forms of mass communications, the device was quickly adapted as a mechanism for telling stories.
The personal computer led to the portable, and the portable to the laptop. Eventually computer notebooks emerged – and soon afterward, electronic readers like the Nook and Kindle.
If the high cost of paper, ink and gasoline killed the pulp fiction industry for pulp magazine and paperback publishers, small computers and e-readers has resurrected it. Hundreds of thousands of electronic copies of books, short stories and novellas can be produced for the cost of a very small paper press run. It no longer requires a massive staff or a sizeable fortune to publish a magazine: electronic editions allow them to be produced by a skeleton crew for a minimal cost and make a profit even if they fail to gain real mass popularity.
I, for one, am grateful. I missed my pulps for a period there in the mid to late 1980s, but electronic publishing has brought them back. These three magazines are ample proof of that.