East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Last book of the year: Jess Nevins’ The Pulps

51frd3a577l-_ac_ul320_sr214320_One last purchase before the festivities, The Pulps by Jess Nevins has been an impulse buy – I was looking for something completely different, and Amazon’s evilothers also bought function revealed to me the existence of a Nevins book I knew nothing about.

The Pulps is a brief history of the pulps, written by a man that can be only described as a research powerhouse. Yes, I’m a fan: I have a few of his titles here on the shelf, and they are part of my go-to reference library on genre fiction, and quite a lot of fun to read (being informative AND fun is not a given, in many essays). Continue reading


Other People’s Pulps – Two by Jess Nevins

strange_tales_of_the_centuryOne of the best catches in my Lucca expedition was Strange Tales of the Century, by Jess Nevins.
This massive 500+ pages trade paperback is two things into one – and both are just great.

Strange Tales of the Century is a supplement for the Spirit of the Century roleplaying game of pulp action and adventure.
As such, it offers the reader a wide selection of characters, options, new stunts and perks and what not.
It also details the world between 1935 and 1951 from a pulp-fictional point of view.

I personally do not play the FATE System or Spirit of the Century, but the sourcebook is flexible enough to act as a much needed supplement for the old Aeonverse game Adventure! (that’s how I’m going to use it), or as a sourcebook for any other pulp/adventure game. Continue reading


Back from Lucca

10540909_635917346522604_2164219406474007097_nI just got back from Lucca, a nice Renaissance town in central Italy where I attended the first two days of Lucca Comics & Games, Europe’s largest comics and games convention/fair (and the second largest in the world, or so they told me).

I was there to present my own work – I did a Savage Worlds/Deadlands campaign book called Messico e Nuvole. A little book that allows SW and Deadlands players add some more spaghetti to their western.
And just as Italian directors took a skewed perspective on traditional westerns, I did take a skewed perspective on traditional Deadlands (a game I love).
The end result will not be, probably, everybody’s cup of tea – but it’s all right like that.
Anyway, the first two reviews have been spectacular, so maybe there’s more estimators of old Italian Westerns out there playing Deadlands than I thought. Continue reading


The Pulp Baker Street Detective

Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We talked about Biggles, last week, and the little spotlight the British pulp heroes are getting these days.
And yet, they were (and are) an interesting bunch.
The only one, apparently, that still gets around a lot is Sexton Blake.
Hard putting to sleep a character which appeared in over 4000 stories, penned by no less than 200 different authors.

And I’m particularly fond of Blake because he might well be the first true pulp hero I ever met.
It was in Baker Street, a long time ago…

Sexton Blake goes a long way back – he first appeared in the wonderfully titled Halfpenny Marvel, in December 1893.
One hundred and twenty years ago, actually.
And yes, the same year in which Conan Doyle decided to off his increasingly overwhelming character, the Baker Street Detective.

Part of a number of investigators which flooded the popular magazines with their adventures to fill the gap left by Holmes’ fall down Reichenbach Falls, Blake played the role of Holmes clone for about twenty years, being so cheeky he actually moved to Baker Street, and rented an apartment in front of the one occupied by his more famous counterpart.

blakeThen, in 1919, something changed, and Blake – while keeping his Holmes-like looks and manners – shifted to far more outrageous pulp territories.
Outrageous as in killer carnivore plants and zombie cannibal pigmies stalking the streets of London.
That sort of stuff.
Also, Blake showed a penchant for muscular action and a passion for innovation and technology that put him in the same league of, say, Doc Savage.
And did he travel!
There’s quite a bit of globetrotting in Blake’s stories.
And women – Blake had quite a number of ladies involved in his adventures.

And finally, the bad guys, first and foremost Zenith the Albino, but go on, check the excellent page Jess Nevins set up for Blake, and read the bad guys entries.

The character starred in stories, comics, movies, radio dramas and a TV series.

The Casebook of Sexton Blake

I chanced upon a Sexton Blake omnibus, called Sexton Blake Wins, in the late ’80s.
And I was blown away*.
Blake’s stories were hard to get by, but today something is moving.
There’s a few very good collections, available relatively on the cheap (the David Stuart Davies-edited selection published by Wordsworth goes for less than a fiver), and the character deserves a read, in my opinion.
He’s not the Poor Man’s Sherlock Holmes, as some say.
He’s a quite different sort of character – at least in his “golden age”, between the wars.
He’s a pulp hero**.


* Being still a teenager I actually wrote a pastiche, in which Blake is hired by Count Dracula – who is stalked by a Dutch weirdo called Van Helsing who’s convinced the Rumanian nobleman is a vampire. Turns out Dracula was actually looking for Holmes, but he got the wrong address.

** And come to think about it, the quite fun movies starring Robert Downey Jr actually feel a lot like good old Sexton Blake fare.