The Shadow Magazine #157 – The Golden Dog Murders

shadow_magazine_vol_1_157What even is with this story? I mean, besides the fact that it features a guy who keeps a debarked bulldog in his wall safe, there’s a Moslem Maharajah who somehow also worships a nude golden dog-headed goddess, Harry Vincent doesn’t even get slugged over the head once and lose consciousness, there’s a mysterious gray man who makes his entrance into the fortress via parachute, not to mention there’s a nude golden dog-headed goddess in this book? What I mean is: why does the weasely chemist guy keep getting tied up, being rescued, only to turn turn on his rescuers and scurry off–only to reappear in the next scene tied up and gagged again? Why does the skimpily-clad damsel get dragged out of the closet, questioned futilely….and then shoved back into it with no further comment, in the space of like two paragraphs? And if the circus actually did move out and relocate all their animals, where did the animals come from? In fact, if it’s a dedicated animal care facility, why is the snake pit in the middle of the cellar hallway and why does it come equipped with a zipline?

So, this novel was written by Theodore Tinsley, which….not to say that it’s a bad one, or that he’s a bad author. In fact, rather like The Pooltex Tangle, this is one of his better outings in the driver’s seat for The Shadow pulps. But….sheesh, seriously, at least Gibson would have come up with plausible explanations for all of the above. Tinsley, one senses, simply giggled and kept on typing. (I mean, a parachute? Really?)

Tinsley’s Shadow is infinitely less infallible and far more emotional than Gibson’s, but admittedly part of that is due to (I understand) the editorial dictat that slowly reshaped the character into a more conventional one. This Shadow gasps, stares, hopes desperately, grimaces in annoyance, and also struggles in a one-on-one battle with the book’s main heavy; but he does also never get taken completely by surprise, even by random puffs of sinister sapphire nerve-gas in the inky tunnels, etc. (Given how often he runs into this menace, you’d think The Shadow’s kit would include a gas mask, but no such luck.) He laughs with sibilantly grim mirth, looms excellently, and also exposes the true villain with an unerring and merciless eye. Which…you can’t really ask for more than that.

Harry Vincent makes an incredible showing: actually managing to thwart a kidnapping, managing to stay useful even after exposure to the aforementioned gas, and showing excellent marksmanship when it matters most. Cliff Marsland is present, too, and does rather less well, failing to gull his criminal compatriot and succumbing to torture rather more quickly than expected for a tough guy who has withstood epic tortures on-page before. Joe Cardona…is completely mishandled, I’m sorry. He should have been replaced with Clyde Burke or another agent, because he’s devoid of personality. There’s also two lovely blondes (Tinsley seemed to like them, because that’s the only hair color he wrote about. Gibson at least occasionally brought in redheads.)

What’s the plot? If you need the plot explained to you after reading the opening paragraph, then you, friend, are not destined for the pulps. The Shadow In Review marked this book down as a four-star, which….I definitely wouldn’t. But I did enjoy it, even if I was giggling almost as much as Tinsley at points.

Rated: so, if you had ten fake but indistinguishable gemstones and ten real, priceless ones, why is murder the obvious solution?

Grueling Readlist

vacation

Readlist:

– The Hero and the Crown – Robin McKinley

– The Star King, The Killing Machine, The Palace of Love – Jack Vance (Demon Princes #1, 2, 3.)

– The Old Gods Waken – Manly Wade Wellman (mostly finished: I got stuck near the end because the Raven Mockers were just. that. creepy.)

– Dead Men Live – Maxwell Grant

Sidenote: my cats got their first formal checkup in around, uh, ten years. They all have a clean bill of health and we discovered that the Big Boy weighs close to fourteen pounds (Good Boy was eleven and Pretty Girl was eight.) Big Boy also escaped from his carrier during the 20-minute drive to the vet’s office, which apart from the fact that he was clawing my brand-new car’s upholstery would have been okay, since he’s also the most level-headed…but then he decided to crawl underneath the driver’s seat and slither out between my feet. That was fun.

The Shadow Magazine #171 – Death Ship

shadow_magazine_vol_1_171The difference between The Shadow and many another hero is that, even when he does trip over his cloak hem and, for instance, end up getting his ass handed to him by a group of unexpected Japanese jujutsu masters, he recovers, lays plans, takes precautions, and is completely in control whenever Round Two starts–and thereafter.

The Shadow is a proactive and dominant hero. He doesn’t take orders, he gives orders, and expects them to be obeyed; he does not seek advice; he gives it. And if he’s never, ever, the underdog.

So! As can be inferred, The Shadow starts this book decidedly off on the wrong foot: sneaking up on the site of an experimental speedboat (the Barracuda), a brunette gets the drop on him, as do several thugs with rifles; then the jujutsu masters burst in from the rear and (what makes it funny is that he’s noted to be definitely smarting about this later) beat the crap out of the guy who is extremely used to diving into the midst of a clump of thugs, “arms sledging.” Adding still further insult to injury, brunette, boat, and disreputable soldier of fortune disappear into the Pacific waves; and adding further injury the boathouse explodes, trapping The Shadow in its depths as it collapses. This all happens by chapter two, by the way.

And here’s another difference between The Shadow and other heroes. The Shadow doesn’t ever get rescued. Now, of course, there have been times when he has been content to stay put and wait for his agents to come haul him out of the spike pit; but those are times decided by policy and/or crippling injury. The Shadow is never outmatched by the villains, and when circumstance places him at a disadvantage, he uses his keen wit and untiring brawn to mitigate that disadvantage, and then reverse it. The Shadow usually firmly has the upper hand in conflicts, a status most heroes aren’t allowed to have in the first place. He does lose that upper hand periodically, but when he does, he gains it back through his own effort rather than authorial fiat.

In this case, this involves just barely dragging himself out of the rubble ahead of the rising tide and crawling back to shore under cover of darkness. It’s some time later before Lamont Cranston, somehow looking none the worse for wear, returns to his hotel and consults the newspapers to find out what has been going on.

The Barracuda has taken to piracy. The prime suspect is its inventor, a Commander Prew, who resigned from the Navy to escape a court-martial and whose intentions in marketing the boat are considered suspect. Among the suspects: the Japanese not-at-all-official envoy, Ishi Sotoyo, to whom The Shadow pays a discrete visit….only to find that his Cranston guise has been made and, worse, that he’s been expected. (Sidenote: there is not one, not one singular instance in the 171 books so far in which The Shadow, making an entrance with an ominous loom, a .45, and a cackle, does not immediately have the tables turned on him by someone approaching from the rear. You’d think the man would learn to keep his back against a wall, or something.)

Still, the Japs being a civilized people, a civilized and mutually informative discussion is had with Sotoyo, after which he intends to betray The Shadow, and also after which The Shadow leaves him tied up with his own belt. The result is that the Japanse are highly interested in the boat and its soldier-of-fortune ersatz captain (Felix Sergon) but definitely not to the extent of causing open trouble with the American government. The Shadow also gains a lead on Commander Prew’s financial backer, who has been in hiding. He’s already dead; but we get, in payment for some of the humiliations already dealt him by the totally-not-ninja squad, The Shadow materializing out of the darkness in their very midst as they creep through the apartment, delivering an awesome whispered warning, and then fading back into the black without a sound.

The next step is locating Commander Prew himself. It turns out there are two Z-boats: the Barracuda and the smaller, lighter, Lamprey. Although helped by covert signals from the brunette (bet you forgot about her) being held captive on the Barracuda, the Lamprey is unable to make contact with the Barracuda after an initial search, but The Shadow susses out that the now-completely piratical Sergon will likely be going after a Japanese ship hauling five million dollars in gold bullion. He joins this ship as a passenger, and pays a visit to Ishi Sotoyo, purely and solely for the opportunity to revengefully return the indignity paid to him at their first meeting:

Across the cabin, a man was seated by a desk. His back was turned and his huddled
position made it difficult to judge his height. The Shadow quietly closed the door, then took a chair of his own. From beneath his cloak, he drew an automatic; with the same move, he let his cloak slide from his shoulders. Peeling off his gloves, he removed his hat.
As Lamont Cranston, he sat with his .45 leveled right between the shoulder blades of the
man by the desk.
The hardest part of The Shadow’s whole endeavor was to attract the man’s attention. He
wanted to do it to a degree of nicety; to excite curiosity, rather than alarm. Slight scuffles,
shifting of the chair— neither seemed to work. It was not until the tone of seven bells came
vaguely to the cabin that The Shadow had the perfect opportunity.
The man in the chair looked up from his book. Momentarily diverted from his reading, he
heard the slight stir that The Shadow made. The man looked about, came halfway from his
chair in his surprise. He froze in that position when he saw the automatic.
A whispered laugh came from The Shadow’s fixed lips. He relished this situation. It was a
complete reversal of one that had been engineered at his own expense. He had not
forgotten a certain night in San Francisco. Nor had the man from the chair.
That man was Ishi Soyoto.

Dude, you petty.

Anyhow, the Barracuda located, the Lamprey takes up the chase. There are hostages–not to mention a brave and loyal brunette–to be rescued…

Rated: Hot sub-on-sub action, woah.

Read/Watchlist

spy-x-family-768x662-1Mostly, it’s been The Shadow novels. However, there are others.

– The Continental Op – Dashiell Hammett

– Star Man’s Son – Andre Norton, which is a post-apocalyptic scifi-adventure

– Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett

Watchlist:

– Spy x Family is incredibly cute, wholesome, funny, exciting, well-paced, well-written, well-characterized, well-plotted, and overall just awesome. One of the reasons I never could get into American comics in a big way is that the art style is always uneven or just plain ugly. Manga-style art just looks so much better to my eye!

– Diablo (2015) – a nu-Western starring Scott Eastwood, who really should have asked his pops for some help. It’s one of those “I have one clever idea, one idea should be enough to swing a movie on,” and “I want it to be dramatic and meaningful,” type movies that only has a budget of around five dollars (4.95$ of which went to Scott’s hairdresser), and which desperately needed someone who knew what they were actually doing to write the script (to make it meaningful) and direct it (to make it dramatic.) It’s basically unwatchable, and I only skipped to the end because the synopsis spoiled the twist and I was curious to see how it ended. Shame, that.

Review – Silver Skull – (The Shadow Magazine No. 165)

shadow_magazine_vol_1_165So, Silver Skull is the 165th The Shadow Magazine story, published January of 1939. Rather odd that the cover artist didn’t go with the scene where The Shadow confronts a ghastly talking silver skull in a gaseous death pit trap. The novel does, however, prominently figure The Shadow in all three of his most-used personalities: the leisurely and laconic Lamont Cranston, globe-trotting millionaire (who also invests heavily in the tech sector and flies planes); stoic and sober Kent Allard, the celebrated aviator; and The Shadow (who flies an autogiro and is heavily interested in crime.)

Planes, as you may infer, are heavily used in the fairly basic plot, which involves a set of rich men, who have recently made wealth transfers of some sort, and then embarked on long-distance flights which promptly crash. Man, you can talk smack about the FAA regulating our flying cars out of existence but maybe it has a point….

Anyhow, The Shadow investigates, both in his own identity as celebrated aviator, Kent Allard (who, we are reminded, survived a crash landing in the Guatemalan jungle and became the white god of a primitive tribe….a detail that frankly never grows old. Man, I love old pulps and their complete determination to make their protagonists awesome by whatever means necessary) and Lamont Cranston. Both have legitimate reasons for their interest; Allard in particular is appealed to by the niece of one such victim, Mildred Wilbin. Despite having the sense to call for help in investigating, and, of freaking course despite the protective overwatch of one Harry Vincent (Most Competent Agent of The Shadow, TM), Mildred promptly also gets kidnapped while playing amateur detective. We are introduced to our villain (Silver Skull), and to a couple of quite bright and therefore not-entirely loyal minions, the crooked Dr. Sleed and his squeeze / nurse, Thelma.

Sleed and Thelma actually give The Shadow a run for his money in this book more than anyone else, leaving him in a room filled with poison gas, or drugging him after he crawls, concussed and battered out of the aforementioned death trap pit–and, correctly assuming that they are slated to be disposed of by Silver Skull for knowing too much, arrange for him (in the guise of Lamont Cranston, who overplayed his hand) to take a one-way ride instead. Later on, of course, the tables turn and they–but, well, let’s not spoil it all completely here.

Burbank gets a great moment, albeit in his own low-key way, insisting the delirious Shadow give him his location and dispatching agents to get him to an actual doctor. Gibson gets the urgency  of the situation across with remarkably few words; and shows how valuable an operative Burbank is by the simple, swift, and competent way he handles it. Take notes, Vincent.

But anyhow, there’s yet another beautiful, game, and gutsy damsel: Geraldine Murton, stewardess of the plane that supposedly crashed with Cranston aboard it. Geraldine is quite taken with Cranston and then also with Allard after meeting him, although she can’t really make her mind up who she prefers. It appears to be mutual, too, because The Shadow takes her along, suitably armed, on the search for Silver Skull’s western base.

So, I’ve gone on at length about the fact that pulp damsels in distress generally are solid characters in their own right who only lack the opportunity to get themselves out of distress and cut loose. This book is a perfect example. At one point, Mildred keeps a set of crooks covered–guarding The Shadow’s back as he takes on a horde of minions–and does so with, well, about as much success as Cliff Marsland  would and definitely more than Harry Vincent. She does falter after actually shooting–killing–a man, but that’s only to be expected, and come the second time around, doesn’t so much as hesitate. Geraldine and her automatic provide a crucial aid to The Shadow in the climactic fight and wow what a perfect setup and payoff it was, too.

Anyhow, I really liked this one, and my only complaint is that it was maybe a chapter or two too short. I would have liked to see Miles Crofton, or even more of Burbank. (Also, this is the second time, after Quetzal, that The Shadow has survived a plane crash, not to mention that the real Lamont Cranston has also lived through one with minor injuries, per The Shadow Unmasks. Live adventurous lives, I suppose…) Although the pacing carries the plot nicely, it’s still a bit thin on the finer details and the reveal is rather obvious once we know that the crashed planes are actually being shot down by a fast fighter plane. Gibson is usually too good to let rather simple reveals stand by themselves without a further twist or elaboration, but the overall strength of the writing carries it through anyhow.

Also the aerial dogfighting. Did we mention that?

Rated: Dat last fade to black, tho, yooooo.

PSA: Dresden Files Short Story out

heroic-hearts“Little Things” is Jim Butcher’s contribution to the Heroic Hearts anthology, released, uh, a couple days ago.

Protip: If you do not want to sign up for your free Audible download and/or fork over money for this, your free Overdrive library account has a “read an excerpt” option, which apparently includes the full length of the story.

It stars, as the cover denotes, Major General Toot-Toot Minimus and his not-girlfriend, Lacuna. Also appearing are the Za Lord, Dresden; his castellan, Sir William; the guardian spirit Bob, and the dread beast Mister of the fell paws and stubby tail.

The plot?

The conomee is bad. The Lord Dresden is in mourning. The troops are worried and restless. And there is a sudden, present threat to the pizza!

I have no further comments to add except that the Little Folk thinking that the tarp dropcloths all over the castle are tacky, poorly-made tapestries = magnifique.

Nope! (book tag)

So these are kind of fun, especially when you haven’t got any reviews coming down the pipeline currently and need content for your bots devoted readers.

NOPE! Trope: a trope that makes you go NOPE.

Hm. This is going to be either, “Fantasy novel that is entirely a travelogue of named characters going from Point A to Point B, where at Point B they will prevent and/or cause the end of the world.” See: Abhorsen and Black Sun Rising. See this viciously mocked in: A Tough Guide to Fantasyland and Dark Lord of Derkholm.

Or, “If you kill the alien queen, all of the worker/fighter bugs just stop moving/fighting you and die.” Dude….no. Just No. Everyone likes to point at Starship Troopers for inventing the “worker bugs fight, queen bug rules” concept, but they’re also ignoring one of the most badass scenes in the novel, which is that Sergeant Zim takes a queen hostage and then blows up the underground nest as he escapes–which, while it forms a climactic scene, still isn’t the end of the war. The war never ends until all the troops come home, after all….

But that would require them to read a book printed before the Current Day, so.

NOPE! Recommendation: a book recommendation that is constantly pushed at you, that you simply refuse to read.

Eh. I don’t waste brain space on stuff I haven’t read and don’t intend to.

The Three-Body Problem, I guess. It just looks boring.

NOPE! Cliche: a cliche or writing pet peeve that always makes you roll your eyes.

– The big guy is slow and dumb, and also aggressive, which justifies the hero picking a fight with him, and then winning because heroes win fights, right? Right? Right?

– Evil Christians go out of their way to be intolerant and evil to the poor magical heroine (it’s generally always a heroine), sometimes to the point of leaguing up with the *actual* forces of evil, Just Because They’re Evil Christians Who Are Intolerant. Dude, your imagination. Use it. Creativity. Use it. Originality: it’s a good thing. Use it. (See: The Bear and the Nightengale.)

NOPE! Love interest: the love interest that’s not worthy of being one.

Much as I love Gordon Dickson’s old-school mil-scifi, he did have some slight difficulties in writing heroines to match his larger than life heroes, and by the time he gets around to writing an out-and-out superhuman, Donal Graeme….poor Donal ends up matched with the dumbest blonde in the solar system. Anea of Kultis is so incredibly dense and utterly useless it’s apparent that the only way anyone would want her is if she was genetically designed specifically for them….which Anea was–but not for Donal. So….?

Oh! And any version of Dresden Files shipping that isn’t Harry/Murphy.

(sobs)

NOPE! Villain: a villain you would hate to cross.

Since we’re on the subject of the Dresden Files: Gentleman John Marcone, of course. Marcone is a scary bad guy, because he knows exactly what he wants to do, knows how far he will have to go to get it done, and in full knowledge of these things and their consequences, commits to going the distance. Sometimes this aim isn’t all bad–sometimes it means making sure that prostitution is safe, victimless, and takes places with all parties of legal age. Sometimes, it means shooting two men in the head and shipping them and the third man across the continent in a sealed cattle car to send a message.

Darth Vader! You do not want to cross Vader, either, unless you happen to be able to breathe through your gills.

NOPE! Author: an author you had a bad experience reading for and have decided to quit.

Genevieve Cogman. She writes really good fanfiction! She has a way with dry, droll, British-auntie humor. She had a bright idea for an amazing adventure fantasy series. She’s terrible at writing adventure fantasy.

Michael Moorcock. He had a bright idea, once upon a time, and promising talent. Unfortunately, he combined it with a sordid mind and a lack of respect for his audiences and genre. Respect  goes two ways; liking goes two ways. If you neither respect a genre enough to play by its conventions and rules, nor like it enough to pay it homage as you subvert and play with its conventions, the genre and it’s audience aren’t going to like you.

what I did on my holidays

So the Gigantic Semi-Annual Booksale is on, and I had comp leave today (HR is apparently trying to decide whether or how much OT I get for last month’s patroling of the chicken-haunted wastelands.) God being merciful, I walked away with only ten dollars spent (the scifi/fantasy book section is downright skeletal these days.) But they were dollars well spent:

  • Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle & Tarzan & the Lost Empire – Edgar Rice Burroughs – I am slowly but surely compiling the Tarzan series in print.
  • First Aid for Horses – Eleanor Kellon, VMD (My childhood steed died of old age about two years ago, but….)
    • I almost got Marguerite Henry’s Stormy, Misty’s Foal for some of the schoolkids I know…but then decided that the brats wouldn’t appreciate it, anyhow.
  • A Stainless Steel Trio – Harry Harrison (A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted, and The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues)
  • Son of the Black Sword – Larry Correia and yes, I do have it as an ebook; I just wanted a hardback copy. SotBS edged out Terry Pratchett’s Nation on account of costing a dollar less.

Down in the paperback section, I grabbed:

  • The Magician’s Nephew – C. S. Lewis
  • The Song of Roland – Translated by Robert Harrison and also with Guy Gavriel Kay’s name slapped on the cover for some reason.
  • Measure for Measure – Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare, also.

The Shadow Magazine #156 – The Green Hoods

shadow_magazine_vol_1_156So, much has happened in the realm of the gangland-haunted, crime boss-infested, mad genius-harboring and only moderately competently policed 1930s New York. Some of it has to do with the remarkable return of the World War 1 hero aviator and explorer, Kent Allard, who after crash-landing in Guatemala spent twelve years ruling as the white god of a remote Indian tribe and now enjoys a similar celebrity status in modern civilization.

But, mostly, there’s crime.

So our tale begins with Kent Allard receiving an invitation, if he so wishes and is interested in matters of crime, to join The Green Hoods secret society as No. 13, RSVP. Hoods being expected makes it a little bit more believable that no one is going to ask pointed questions when Lamont Cranston (in full Shadow regalia) glides in to scope out the situation instead.

The Green Hoods are interested in crime–to prevent it. They are, it transpires, a group of talented or educated men who gather to share advances in crime detection or prevention….all, it transpires, save one of them, who produces a flashbang, blinds the group–and the spying Shadow–murders and steals the Truth Inducer from the group’s own founder. He gets away with it, too, leaving The Shadow to follow the clues he finds on the dead man’s body and the circumstantial evidence of the attractive but very worried brunette in the alleyway outside. The trail winds mysteriously, but which of the leads is true and which false? The Shadow knows, or at least figures it out well ahead of everybody else.

Mind you, this becomes less impressive when you realize “everybody else” consists of Commissioner Weston (who keeps being rather miffed that he never has the chance to introduce his friend Lamont Cranston to his other friend Kent Allard), and also the poker-faced ace of the New York detective squad, Joe Cardona (whom The Shadow proceeds to use as actual bait for the Green Hood, heh.)

So, the usual suspects periodically get their undergarments in a twist over the idea of non-Present Day fiction a) existing before the Present Day, b) featuring featuring damsels who c) may during the course of the story find themselves in distress. Entirely setting aside the fact that in the Shadowverse this role is in fact routinely reserved for Harry Vincent, it’s also a load of bunk as far as the actual damsels go. Gibson’s dames, whether they be socialites or secretaries, tend to be intelligent, plucky, and good shots with, at the very least, a .22. (Evelyn Rayle, the aforementioned brunette, uses a .32, and on at least one occasion a damsel has borrowed Cardona’s .38 to plug a gorilla.) Evelyn, the dead inventor’s secretary, not only wields her .32 with aplomb, she gets the drop on The Shadow twice, aids him as a temporary agent and reveals vital information to him and to the law in the process.

As mentioned before, one of the ways Gibson kept The Shadow stories always fresh and distinct was to vary the genre and formula as well as the characters. This one is rather light on The Shadow’s agents, as Evelyn Rayle helps out when needed; but it features a larger than usual dose of Weston and Cardona. Although there is a Sekret Society Of Geniuses angle, the plot is mostly a straightforward whodunnit mystery, albeit one complicated by the presence of a distinctive .28 caliber Baby Paterson revolver, an Italian stiletto, a Malaysian “creese,” a French medallion, an intialed watch-chain charm, a distinctive cigar band, and a typewriter that misaligns its and . ‘s.

Like I said, only The Shadow is equipped to see through it all.

Oh, and there’s also a rather cunning death trap, but it’s the kind of death trap that makes the reader start scratching their head and asking questions like, “if this was only set up less than forty-eight hours ago, where are the signs of obvious new construction and remodeling on the roof trapdoor?” “How come the floor was strategically weakened juuuust enough for someone to crash through, three separate times, but yet was able to support the people who worked on it to, y’know, strategically weaken it?” “Why didn’t The Shadow just try the back door, since that’s how the thugs and then also the damsel got in, anyhow?” It is, nevertheless, a cool scene and it’s one of the showcase reasons as to why The Shadow manages to be a consistently terrifying and eternally-dreaded foe to men of evil: because no matter what you do to this guy, there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will work and that he will stay down and even if you do plug him it was probably actually Mike and oh God he’s laughing now….!

Rated: Muahahahahahaha

QuikReview: The Star Kings – Edmund Hamilton

This book is Space Opera–as written by one of the Old Masters, first of the breed, foremost among those that led the way and titan to those that followed–at its finest. I mean, his nickname was “World Wrecker,” you can’t get better than that. There’s a different adventure every 1.5 chapters, a space princess, a scantily-clad space-concubine, grizzled space-captains, battleships, cruisers, phantoms, cunning or treacherous advisors, quarrelsome barons, and grim and gallant fighting men. There’s the lurking menace of the Clouded Worlds’ rebel fanatics and the legendary, unknowable, unutterably fearsome threat of The Disruptor that keeps even their cynical leader in line. There’s also, to make sense of it all, a present-day (1949) protagonist who has had his consciousness transferred into the body of a star-Prince–and thence suddenly into the teeth of the action itself. But what can a man of Earth–our Earth–do when the stars themselves are at stake?

Aaaaand that’s basically it. If you feel you need to somehow know more about this book, then you ought to read it.

It’s a book that reads incredibly quickly and hits every single pulp fiction trope that it possibly can without changing genres (and that even includes the crashed ship being attacked by hostile natives….if there had been space for even a single chapter more there would have been some sort of sword-against-sword action going on.) –but yet there’s a consummate level of skill involved that carries it all off.

Partly, it’s the prose, which sells the sensawunda that can only be achieved by an active imagination, a yearning for stars yet-unreached, deep knowledge of the past that informs the actual doings and behaviors of mankind; and a nimble pen that doesn’t flinch from a little bit of mauve from time to time (see: scantily-clad space concubine.) The other part is that Hamilton actually did know his business, and, preposterous though the plot is, makes it proceed logically from the actions of intelligent and motivated actors, one of which is often–but not always–our hero.

A third and crucial part is that our hero is a hero. Starting out from an ex-soldier with a yearning for more than his old accounting job will offer him, and thrust abruptly into the whirl of galactic politics and treachery, he accounts himself well, never forgetting that he owes a debt to the true Zarth Arn, whose face he wears and whose place he has taken. Also, another tribute to Hamilton’s prowess, although John Gordon is an outsider with only a cursory knowledge of the situation, never once does anyone to sit down and explain things to him (us) in simple language. While he’s no moron, he’s always scrambling to achieve an in-scene, in-person goal–to keep his cover, to bluff the enemy, to not break his morganatic wife’s heart–and he’s doing it with limited resources and high stakes.

The other characters suffer from the fact that this is a pulp novel at heart. They’re colorful, they’re placed to provide maximum interest, and they all give the impression that, given more time to navel-gaze, they could be turned into interesting persons indeed, rather than what is simply given them by their descriptors–space-princess, stalwart captain, sneaky advisor, cynical tyrant.

The one character who does do particularly well in this is, oddly enough, the cynical space-tyrant who leads the fanatics of the (?) Clouded Worlds. Shorr Kan is an odd duck of an antagonist, professing a fanatical hatred against the Empire that he in no ways feels; his own desire is for naked power alone. He’s cunning enough to seed the elitest ranks of the Empire with his own men, assassinate the Emperor and frame his own son for it, cold-blooded enough to use a brain scan device that, on uncovering neural connections, breaks them irreparably….and yet human enough to immediately switch the device off when it reveals that he’s got the wrong man. Mind you, he’s also dumb enough to let his suddenly-ultracooperative prisoner take his girlfriend along on a harebrained scheme that couldn’t possibly go wrong, so…perhaps his defeat was more inevitable than it seemed. Apparently he gets brought back for the sequel, so.

Rated: man once dreamed of the stars!