Intro – a good friend of mine just published his first book, and it is my pleasure to review it for him and you of course. I actually helped him quite a bit with the writing of these stories, I had read and notated earlier drafts of most of the stories here, with a few acceptations. Josh is a writer who is highly influenced by and attempting to recapture the spirit of fiction steeped in the golden era of pulp. A lot of the stories here were writing as though they were to be submitted to pulp magazines that haven’t existed for 70-80 years. Even though all the stories are self-contained, and you can pick any of them up and read them without being too lost, they are (for the most part) parts of different series, and personally, I am looking forward to reading the next adventure in just about all of them. Here’s a brief take away from each story.
Hungry Like the Wolf – well I love the title, it’s my favorite Duran Duran song, and I like that Josh named one of the characters in the story Duran. The story, however, is not heavily based on the song, but rather the story of Little Red Riding Hood. This is a series he is calling “Spicy Fairytales” spicy being an old pulp term for “mildly erotic.” These are revisionist fairy tales, and this particular story is still available in full on the website last time I checked, and I would recommend reading it, whether or not you pick up the book. Though I do recommend picking up the book of course.
The Great Stall – the first of two Dustin Powerman stories in this collection. These stories take place in an alternative 1960s in which America has lost all its power, electricity, fossil fuel, etc. Even horses won’t carry people anymore, and the only form of transportation available needs to be powered by humans. This story does an admirable job setting up the world, while the main character goes around slaying monsters that are causing the power outage. Josh refers to this genre as “Manpunk.” Kind of the way Dieselpunk and Steampunk use diesel and steam engines respectively. It also fits snugly into the categories of Alternate History and Weird Western. Not my absolute favorite story or series of his, but not my least favorite by any means (not that I have a least favorite in this collection).
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Melting Fjord – this is the first of what I hope are many Jan Trollhammer stories, a pagan barbarian fighting against Christians in Scandinavia and Finland Circa 1000 ad. The oldest of the stories in the collection (w/r/t plot) not counting the timeless fairytales. A story like this would have been geared toward Weird Tales, I would assume. Being a lover of the snow and the north and the taiga, this is probably my favorite in the collection, though that’s not to say there aren’t other great stories or close contenders for the accolade of best in the book.
The Whip of Abdul-Zajai – this one is kind of the opposite of the previous story. Instead of taking place in the frozen north it takes place in the scorched desert. The story features Oran Teal, a white desert traveler on a fantastic adventure with a flying carpet. It has sort of an Aladdin/Indiana Jones feel to it, though spicier (see my review of the first story), and clearly written for the magazine Oriental Stories. I know a fair amount about pulp as well, and Oriental Stories had the best covers. I am looking forward to more Oran Teal adventures for sure.
Holy Water – and we get to the title story, and the first of 6 stories (I think, I may be wrong) to be published in this collection for the first time, the others were published on Josh’s website, or in our anthologies over the last 2 years. What could it be? Spicy fairytale? Barbarian adventure? No… but it is something Pulpy. This is a hard-boiled mystery, a la Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade et. Al. It is noir to the bone. The story is about the body of a priest turning up in a flooded quarry and trying to find who dun it. Aside from all the hard-boiled terms, the story uses a fair amount of Yiddish slang as well. The story might have benefited from a glossary of terms at the end, but I knew most of them anyway. Can’t wait to see more adventures from Morton McKnight, the narrator of this story.
Enjoran of Many Names and Many More to Come – this is an interesting story which builds the world of Avalay. However this story, more so then the others in this collection, is atypical of a pulp story. It’s one part Sword and Sorcery and another part epistolary war story. The narrator of the opening and closing segments (Henry Olivander) is writing letters to someone back home (in England) named “Dearheart” from the trenches of World War I. The old pulp stories never used devices like flashbacks and metafiction in their stories. I’m not knocking the story though, it’s good, in my opinion, it’s two for the price of one, and I can’t wait to see more from this world… and I don’t have to wait too long because there are three and a half more to come in the collection, we’ll get into the half in a minute.
The Seven Deadly Dwarfs – the second of the two Spicy Fairytales in this collection, and it’s really good: fun, entertaining and spicy; covering the stories of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and a dash of Rumplestiltskin, and includes an epic tower fight. It’s long too, either the longest or second-longest in the collection… I don’t have the book in front of me to verify at the moment.
The Lineage – this story is going to be hard to read for a lot of people, it’s not so much written as a story as it is a speech. The idea here is this fantasy world called “The Thirteen Kingdoms” which is a high fantasy revision of American history, in which the presidents are all knights and the elections are replaced with tourneys. This is also the “half Avalay” story. It is not introduced by Henry Olivander the WWI soldier, like the other Avalay stories, are, and it does not take place on the continent of Avalay, but rather another continent. In this story, Avalay is a stand-in for the Afroeurasian landmass. Some may see this one as the worst in the collection, but I would recommend just reading it slowly and absorbing it.
Yukon Gold – This is yet another example of a different pulp genre, this time more on the obscure side. This is a Northern or a northwestern, which are like westerns but take place in the far north replacing cowboys and Sharifs with Mounties. This story and the planned series to follow is about a smuggler in the Canadian territories. Had Josh been around 75 years ago, these stories would have been submitted to North-Western Romances (this is a very different use of the word “romance” w/r/t the title of that periodical).
Gorgrynd if the Hellscape – Here we have another barbarian, and he has quite the barbarian name, Gorgrynd (pronounced “Gore Grind”). Gore Grind is a subgenre of Death Metal, and this story is based on a song by a metal band, though the particular song is far removed from the Gore Grind genre (and the metal genre itself really). Part of me wants to say what the song is, the other part doesn’t want to spoil the surprise, so I’ll just leave it at that. Unlike Enjoran, the barbarian of the fantasy world of Avalay, or Jan Trollhammer of the ancient frozen north, Gorgrynd exists in a post-apocalyptic distant future. Which might seem like an original idea, but there was a TV show from the ’80s called “Thundaar the Barbarian” which was also about a barbarian in a dystopian future. Still a good set up, and this story and what I’ve heard about the future stories in the series are quite different from Thundaar.
Catcher in the Sky – this is an odd little story about a Hobo, who jumps aboard a train only to learn after he wakes up that this particular train can fly. This story fits in what could be argued the Dieselpunk category, which is kind of interesting because Dieselpunk is a retrofuturist genre that dates to the golden era of pulp, the era that Josh is so firmly trying to capture in this collection… however Dieselpunk is not a pulp genre. I don’t know what else will come from this series, but honestly, it’s not my favorite in the collection… you can’t win them all.
Chi-Chi’s is Closed Forever – and here, well past the halfway point of this collection, we have the first of Josh’s “Standalone Stories” this is a time travel story, and it was published in our anthology, shortly after Josh had gotten back into writing. This one is a time travel story about a traveler taking his friend back in time to have dinner at a Chi-Chi’s. I know exactly which Chi-Chi’s this is in the story since I took him there for my birthday when we were much much younger. Had this story been written earlier I may have suggested he send it to “Fast-Forward Festival” which was a magazine I had 3 stories published in before it went defunct, unfortunately for both of us the website doesn’t even exist anymore. This is my favorite of the stand-alone stories, and close to my favorite in the book.
How About Them Apples – remember that for the most part, the stories in this collection are each part of a series, each series focuses on a main character and although it may have an end, it’s probably not coming any time soon. The Spicy Fairytales don’t really count since they are not continuations of something Mavis had previously started. Deep into the book, we have the second story in one of these series, the Weird Western Dustin Powerman stories. In this story Dustin finds himself in a large apple orchard, being sexually persuaded by the very attractive farmer’s daughter. It’s a good one, and one of the few in this collection that is published here for the first time.
The Black Tourney – here we have another story published here for the first time, and another Avalay story, this one does not have Enjoran as the main character. The story is about a jousting tournament held between Knights and Pale Knights (medieval biker gangs basically) its a fun story if you like jousting, heraldry and Biker Gang Patches, it’s also one of the longest in the collection.
Tendrils of Empire – this is another stand-alone, and the oldest story in the collection. And unlike any other story in the collection, it was published in an online magazine. It tells the story of an alien from a neutron star who joins the military and goes on his first adventure. Unfortunately, the website that published this story went defunct, so if you want to read it… you have to get the book.
Haber’s Anxiethrax – this was a story in our anthology last year and a good one too include. It’s another Henry Olivander/Avalay/Manorland story, like “The Black Tourney.” This one starts out with Henry discussing the gas attacks in the trenches and going into a story about a mysterious plague and the princesses’ efforts to help her kingdom. The theme of last year’s anthology was “Paint by Letter” And the “painting” (actually a sketch) that inspired this story was Theadore Kittlesen’s “The Pauper.”
Broken Dreams BLVD – another story from the same anthology. This is a Morton McKnight Hard-Boiled Mystery, like the title story. Someone’s been passing around counterfeit money at the local diner, and Morton is hired to investigate. Again the theme of last year’s anthology was stories based on paintings, and the painting for this story is the very very famous “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper… you know the painting if not by the name, trust me.
Melting the Stone Cheese – another Avalay story, opened and closed by Henry Olivander, however this is not an Enjoran story or a Manorlands Story, this is another sub-series known as the “Great Cheese War” which is a retelling of the Hundred Year’s War, as though it were fought by Tyromancers (wizards who use cheese to cast there spells). It kind of feels Similar to the Mistborn series, not sure if this was Josh’s intent or not. Also not one of my favorites in the collection, it’s fine, but I’m not nearly as looking forward to reading more of the Great Cheese War stories as I am with other series that Josh has set up here.
Ragout Fin – Josh’s real debut into the writing scene was this story, included in our 2017 anthology “Fun in the Sun and the Madness of the Moon” a sun and moon themed anthology. This is a post-global warming dystopian story, not sure how many works there are of this sub-genre, this is the only one that I know of, but I’m sure there are more. I liked this story a lot too, and with the word “Fin” being French for “End” it has a good place as the last story in the collection.
In conclusion, I’m going to make this easy… get the book. If the 15$ price tag on it is a bit steep, I hear there is a Kindle edition coming soon, that will be a lot cheaper. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when that hits.