Long-Lost Paperbacks, No. 1

Hard as it is to believe, the mass-market paperback book is on its way out. Of course, the rapidly evolving publishing industry is changing so fast that it’s risky trying to make predictions, but the short-term outlook for books seems to be narrowing down to three categories: ebooks; high-end hardcovers; and larger-format trade paperbacks. We’ll still see traditional mass-market paperbacks for a while yet, but the economics of the new publishing era work against them.

Speaking as someone who has embraced the ebook revolution whole-heartedly, it will still be hard watching cheap and portable paperbacks disappear from book shelves. For millions of readers, the mass-market paperback was the primary vehicle for recreational reading. In the hope that these artifacts of 20th Century popular literature aren’t forgotten, this is the first in an occasional series remembering some of the more obscure and forgotten titles. Although printed in the hundreds of millions, paperbacks weren’t usually intended for the long haul. The pages yellowed quickly, the spines developed creases after even careful reading, and the glue released its grip on the pages with frustrating frequency. They didn’t share display space on the living-room bookshelf with the famous-author hardcovers and the family bible. They were typically stuffed in backpacks or jacket pockets and casually traded among friends. For a bookmark, you folded a corner of the page. Most of them haven’t survived to the present day.

Almuric, 1964 Ace edition

With all that in mind, first up is a 1964 Ace edition of Almuric by Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan the Barbarian is justly famous now, of course, but between his prolific pulp magazine career in the 1930s and, oh, about the early 1970s, Howard fell into relative obscurity. Much of his work was not in print. I vividly remember haunting used bookstores in the early 1970s trying to dig up old Howard paperbacks and it was no easy task. Later in the decade, thanks in no small part to the success of the Conan the Barbarian Marvel comic books, Howard’s work enjoyed a second round of fame, and everything he wrote was released in a dizzying array of paperbacks (most of which I still have).

But this 40-cent, 160-page Almuric title predates that revival. It is one of the smallest and cheapest paperback formats, intended for those crowded spinning book racks like you’d find at the drugstore. In later years Howard’s books were paired with amazing Frank Frazetta covers, but this edition’s simple illustration didn’t even earn a cover credit for the artist.

The Almuric story was originally serialized in Weird Tales magazine in the 1930s. It is reportedly Howard’s only “interplanetary” tale, with the hero, Esau Cairn, blasted across space to the demon-haunted planet Almuric. If you’ve ever read Howard, you can imagine what comes next. Robert E. Howard’s legacy is now secure, but it was cheap and accessible paperbacks like this that kept the flame burning in those long years before he was rediscovered.


Levers of Power debut

Hey, thanks to everyone who purchased Levers of Power, the second book in the Connor Rix series, during its debut week. It jumped up into the top 100 in the Amazon Kindle SF Series category on the first day, reaching as high as No. 35. It has remained in the top 100 all week. Levers of Power is also available in ebook format over at Barnes & Noble, and the print version is just days away from release. Thanks!

Levers of Power, book 2 of the Connor Rix Chronicles

Geek Hero

The Incredible Hulk No. 3

Reaching deep into the archives in our continuing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the introduction of The Incredible Hulk, I came across issue No. 3 from September 1962. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were still getting a feel for the character, and this battered comic contains three Hulk stories that are kind of all over the map: One where the army gets rid of its Hulk problem by shooting him into outer space (Whoops! Better re-think that), one where they re-tell the Hulk’s origin, and one where he fights the Ringmaster, an actual circus ringmaster with a spinning hypno-wheel on his hat. I kid you not.

But! The issue is noteworthy for another reason, a true milestone in comic geek history. In the Let’s Talk About The Hulk letters section, Bob Barron from Schenectady, New York, wrote:

The Hulk is just as great or even greater than the Fantastic Four! (Both are my favorites!) The Hulk reminds me of the now-deceased Heap from an old series, as well as an old Frankenstein feature. He also reminds me of the Thing from your own FF mag. In the future, why not have a book-length issue titled The Hulk vs. The Thing?

Before the ink was even dry on the first issue, 10,000 young boys thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool if the Hulk fought the Thing?” But, so far as I can tell, it was Bob Barron, geek hero, who first got the idea into print. Bob, we humbly offer a Hulk 50th Anniversary salute!

Everybody Has To Start Somewhere

I’ve been a science-fiction fan for as long as I’ve been able to read, but didn’t start writing in that direction until I was well in my 20s. I started by scribbling short stories — very short stories, usually about four panels or less. While in college I still had aspirations to be a cartoonist, and one day walked into the editor’s office at The University Star, the student newspaper for Southwest Texas State University, and convinced him to carry my comic strip Space Tales. I think I was paid $5 or $10 apiece for the strips, so these comics from 1988 and 1989 were technically my first professional fiction sales. (The pay rate has remained constant). The one reproduced below was probably the high point, or at least the one that people most mentioned if they knew about the strip. Hey, it was college, cut me some slack, ok?

Yes, it's a joke about farting in a space suit, but at least it wasn't some tedious left-wing rant about The Big Important Issue of the moment. It's ok to laugh.


Author Interview: Rob Reaser

Fellow comrade-in-words Rob Reaser has released a new book, Southern Strange, available in e-book format at amazon.com. I’ve followed Rob’s career since we both broke into the car magazine field together over twenty years ago. The man can write. so I checked in with Rob to get the story behind his latest work of fiction.

Give us the low-down on your new book. What’s it about?

Southern Strange is a collection of short stories I wrote over the last couple of years, in-between writing my speculative fiction novel Age of Giants – awakening. As you can tell from the anthology’s title, the collection is made up of stories that take place in the southeastern U.S., and there’s a dark, sometimes supernatural vein running through all of them. Nearly all of the stories loosely adhere to the conventions of Southern Gothic literature.

How would you define the Southern Gothic Genre? How does it differ from traditional horror stories?

Most critics consider Southern Gothic works to be those that are set in the south, in some way touch on cultural or sociological aspects that are identifiably southern, usually contain a supernatural element, and often include the macabre or grotesque. As such, Southern Gothic stories tend to be significantly more subtle in their approach to the horror or terror components of fiction than do traditional or contemporary horror stories. Traditional horror or, more accurately, contemporary horror, usually include more outrageous situations, heavy-duty supernatural conditions and characters, and often a good smattering of blood-and-guts.

Southern Strange is written in more of a literary style when compared to conventional horror, and is more aligned with the Southern Gothic genre. With most of the stories in this collection, you’re not even aware of the supernatural element until it creeps up on you.

You’ve spent most of your life in the South. What is it about the region that lends itself to this branch of literature?

I think readers and critics have been trying to figure that out for decades! I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, other than to say that the South developed a culture unlike that of the northeastern states due to diverse Spanish, French and African influences that combined with the uniquely American spirit of pioneering and enterprise. Add in the stark environmental differences between this region and the rest of the country, and it’s easy to understand that the South is different. As to why…well, that is the question that has intrigued so many, and I think that it’s different for everyone.

For myself, the South is a mysterious place—from the Florida swamps to the highest peaks of the Smokey Mountains—the land itself seems to have been imbued with an almost supernatural charm. That it would help form a distinctive culture and inspire its own literary flavor comes as no surprise to me.

You’ve written a novel (Age of Giants — awakening) and now have written a short story anthology. How does the writing process compare?

To be honest, I’ve never written short stores before this because I never really gave them much credence. I’ve often enjoyed reading short pieces by some of the masters (Poe, Hawthorne, et al), but never considered writing them myself because I never saw the point. I suppose that was the business side of me talking. In my mind, short stories were for budding authors looking to enter a contest or to be paid a ridiculously low sum of money for the opportunity to be published in a magazine or anthology. It just didn’t make sense to me from a time vs. return perspective.

Well, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a try, and cranked out four shorts last winter. To my surprise, I enjoyed the process. Unlike novel-length works, I found that short stories demand a truly austere approach to writing because of their brevity—assuming that you are trying to pack a complete story arc into one and, hopefully, deliver a resolution that has a measurable impact. It turned out to be an extremely satisfying effort for me because the short stories allowed me to write and explore topics in a quick and concise manner. Also, short stories provide quicker gratification because you’re in and out in a few days to a week, depending on the length of the piece. In other words, you enjoy a change of scenery more quickly than when you’re working on a full-length novel. Writing a novel, as you know from your work on the Connor Rix Chronicles, demands total immersion in that particular world—often without coming up for air—until it is completed. You have to maintain that focus and momentum for a solid two or three months. With short stories, it’s kind of like going to a new theme park every week. Another great thing about short stories, from an author’s perspective, is that it can allow you to develop characters, situations or themes that could potentially plant the seeds for full-length novels.

What’s next on your plate? Tell us about your next book:

I’m currently working on the second volume in the Age of Giants series. Age of Giants follows the journey of a young woman in the post-apocalyptic American southwest as she leads her tribe in guerilla conflict against the Nephilim overlords who have returned from our ancient past and taken over the earth, enslaving humanity in the process. The first book of the series, Age of Giants – awakening, introduces us to Nora and her fellow raiders, and establishes the ongoing conflict between the various human tribes who have managed to remain free of the Nephilim slave camps, and the brutal and technologically advanced giants. In it, Nora discovers that she, among all free humans, may be the key to defeating the Nephilim and returning mankind to its rightful place on the earth.

While a complete novel, Age of Giants – awakening posed numerous questions, not the least of which is what will be the ultimate outcome of the struggle between the remnant bands of free humans and the Nephilim. The second volume, which I’m working on now, picks up three years after the first book, when the conflict between the raiders and the Nephilim is about to reach epic proportions.

Currently, I’m about a quarter of the way through the book. My goal is to have it completed and ready for publication by the end of June.

Corn Madness Grips Iowa

The corn. Tall it grows. Sometimes it reaches so high it can get disorienting. In those years, it’s been known to drive the residents of Iowa mad, or dumb, or sometimes both.  A man can’t think straight when corn madness is whispering in his ear.

Once, a man with a corn-shattered brain tried to build a campfire between the ethanol and diesel pumps at a Shell station. “I just want to make some popcorn,” he was heard to say, seconds before his death. “Can you help move that field over yonder a little closer to my fire?”

Another time, the Athletic Director at the University of Iowa hired Greg Davis to be offensive coordinator of the football team. “The magnetic field of the Earth is going to reverse its polarity any day now,” he said. “A forward-looking university must be able to switch directions on a moment’s notice. North-south is dead. All bow down to east-west.”

The corn is high this year. The corn is high.

Swamp Creatures Always Make Hulk Angry

As we excavated deeper into the stacks as part of our continuing celebration of The Incredible Hulk’s 50th anniversary, we came across this gem from 1970. Meet The Glob. Oh, sure, swamp creatures are everywhere now, but back then it was a novel idea for a villain. (Well, as novel as any other Marvel bad guy.)

Here’s your dose of Hulk trivia for the day: Marvel’s most famous swamp creature, the Man-Thing, first appeared in 1971. That makes The Glob the beta test version of the Man-Thing. Or maybe the true king of the swamp. I dunno. Let them fight it out.

What I do know, however, is that Marvel’s licensing arm needs to get busy turning this cover into one of those hipster retro/ironic T-shirts.

Incredible Hulk’s Talk Radio Program, Episode 2

(As we continue to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the Incredible Hulk, we bring you more excerpts from the jolly green giant’s satellite radio program. What follows is the opening monologue from the February 10 broadcast.)

Hulk: Ok, stupid producer, cut the intro music before Hulk smashes something. Who picked Hulk’s intro theme song, anyway? Sounds like it was recorded by Stan Lee’s secretary in a closet. And what does “ever lovin’ Hulk” mean? Bah. Hulk loves no one.

But that not what Hulk want to tell audience today. Hulk wants to talk about stupid Avengers movie coming out this spring. Hulk needs to get many things off chest. Puny humans come up to Hulk a lot lately, slap Hulk on back, and then say, ‘Hi Hulk. Glad to see you’ll be back on the big screen in the new Avengers movie! Good luck on your comeback.”

It takes all Hulk’s strength not to SMASH these people. Do you want to hear the real story about the stupid Avengers movie? Fine, Hulk tells you.

Hulk gets call from former agent about six months ago. “Let’s do a meeting,” he says. Hulk knows what it is about. Hulk reads internet, and knows big Avengers movie is coming. And how can you do an Avengers movie without Hulk? So Hulk agrees to meet agent at the Gilded Avocado restaurant in Hollywood.

Hulk arrives at restaurant and everyone gets up and runs away, screaming, as usual. Puny humans. Afraid to see Hulk in person for free, but will pay 10 bucks to see him in movie. So Hulk not waste time on talking. Hulk sits down across from agent and says, “Yes, Hulk agrees to appear in stupid Avengers movie. Make sure check goes to Hulk’s Cayman Islands account. But also this: Hulk wants his own trailer and masseuse. And definitely, Hulk not share a bathroom anymore. In Hulk’s last movie, the Abomination clogged the toilet so bad the producers had to call in Haz-Mat team. And then Hulk gets blame.”

Agent looks at Hulk with embarrassed expression on face and says, “Um, sorry Hulk if there’s been some misunderstanding. But they already cast the role of the Hulk. They gave it to Shia LaBeouf. His Transformers movies made over a billion dollars you know, and they wanted someone who can really open big. They’ll use state-of-the-art CGI to make him look just like you. You should be honored, really.”


Hulk is too stupefied by this news to smash puny agent, so agent keeps talking. “But I called you here because I’ve secured a spot for you as a stunt double.”

Stunt double. Un. Be. Lievable. Real Hulk is stunt double for fake Hulk. Why does the world hate Hulk?

But Hulk has no choice. Hulk not like to admit this, but Hulk could use the money. Hulk’s Cayman Islands account has something like 12 dollars in it. Hulk’s financial advisor stole Hulk blind in the ’90s, so all hulk has is paycheck from this radio show, and a few bucks from appearance fees at comic book conventions, which is the worst way to make money in all the universe.

So Hulk is screwed again. Captain America gets a million dollars. Thor gets a million, even though he says he’s a GOD, and what do gods need with money? Greedy Iron Man probably got a million and a piece of the back end. Even weakling Hawkeye got a half-million. And what does Hulk get? Union Scale!

At first Hulk thinks he should tell everyone not to see stupid Avengers movie, but then again, Hulk did have some good scenes as stunt double. Once, Hulk was supposed to throw a fake punch at Thor, but whoops! Hulk slipped and hit Thor in mouth, sending him cart-wheeling over into the next block. Heh.

But Hulk swears, if his awesome scenes end up on cutting room floor, Hulk will smash every movie theatre in the country. And then he will smash Shia LaBeouf’s new Ferrari.

Blog outpost for writer Steve Statham