Return of the pulp heroes

In the 1930s, the heyday of the pulp era, magazines like “Thrilling Detective,” “Amazing Stories” and the like kicked ass, took names, and shaped the morals of millions of American readers. The writers who created the heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow worked under impossible deadlines for pennies a word to give us tales of the fantastic, of Oriental criminal gangs, dens of vice and iniquity, weird villains, two-fisted heroes and dames to be ornamental and rescued.

chinatown-death-cloud-peril-coverAt its height, as a pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard reminds us in “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril,” 30,000,000 pulps were bought every month. It took the paper shortages of World War II to knock them down, and they were finished off by television in the ‘50s, but they left us a legacy of heroes that include Conan and Tarzan, cult favorite H.P. Lovecraft, and provided the seed that spawned science-fiction and fantasy.

Return with me, now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, with the help of Paul Malmont, who, according to his bio, works in advertising and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two kids.

I’m firmly convinced that, at night, he slips out of his brownstone in Park Slope and roams the wilds of Manhattan, battling the forces of evil with mad crimefighting skillz he learned in the mountain fastnesses of Bhutan.

Either that, or he’s a pulp fiction fan who did a wonderful job of researching the era, and clever enough to cast as his heroes the writers Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Hubbard (known as “The Flash” because he was quick at the typewriter), with guest appearances by Lovecraft (oh, how I want to tell you how he appears. It’s so appropriate!), E.E. “Doc” Smith and Orson Welles.

As for the story, well, the title gives it away, and I’m not going to say more. If you’re going to read this, it would just spoil the fun. But if you’re still on the bubble, I’ll say this:

  • Malmont writes about the pulp fiction world, but the story is told straight. Neat. No purple prose.
  • The plot makes sense. It’s creepy and scary, but doesn’t rely on the supernatural.
  • The writers may have created two-fisted heroes, but they aren’t. That’s part of the fun.
  • Malmont plays fair with Hubbard. I’m no fan of Scientology, but I was glad that Hubbard is presented just as you would expect him to be at the beginning of his career. He’s ambitious, proud, something of a blowhard, but great sidekick material.

To say more would give away the fun, so let me just say that, if you have any affection for the pulp era, if you smile at the thought of a “GalaxyQuest”-type story set in New York of the Depression-era, or just want a rousing tale without the literary baggage, check out “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.”

UPDATE: Thanks to Kaja Foglio, the co-creator of the fabulous “Girl Genius” comic, I found out that Lester Dent’s Zeppelin tales are being republished.