Planet Stories – May 1951 – Books I Done Been Reading!

Among the many things I’ve done been reading lately is some scans of pulp magazines, so behold this breakdown of the stories in the May 1951 edition of Planet Stories! Thanks to the power of the Public Domain this issue is available at Pulp Magazines Project and

Captives of the Thieve-Star – James H. Schmitz
The first novelette-length story (here called novelet-length), and the one chose to lead off the issue and snagged the cover feature. Schmitz is known for strong female characters who aren’t just damsels in distress, here Peer, while the young wife of story hero Channok, often is the one coming up with the ideas of how to get out of trouble and how to deal with the trouble they get into when they stumble across a derelict ship where something sinister went down
Peer comes from a family of space-nomads and has a lot of experience being a rock hopper and doing cool stuff in space, something Channok occasionally dismisses to his peril. Channok seems like a guy who just decided to do space adventures for a few years before joining the space police, though later he finds out that the people he looked up to are corrupt and the job prospect loses its luster. Creatures of note are the ghouls who live on the planet they hide out on, basically curious goblin monsters that live underground and are usually harmless.

Blind Play – Chan Davis
Nick Pappas is a hired goon for the family that is trying to forcibly take over a mining colony on Callisto by withholding supplies, but the miners saw trouble brewing and have formed a collective and sent for help on Earth. Pappas’ job is to stop them, but he’s bad at his job and tossed into space. Thanks to the magic of his space suit never running out of air, he floats towards Earth and maybe, just maybe, can figure out a way out of his mess. After looking up Chandler Davis it made 100% sense why the story was the way it was, he was a university professor tossed out of his job for not testifying for the HUAC and even spent a few months in jail over it. It’s also the story with the grandest vision of the future, characters tell Pappas that loners like him are out and working together is the future, and there is a ship named after a Chinese person.

Out of the Dark Nebula – Milton L. Coe
This one surprised me the most as being a solid space war adventure story with grizzled commanders and a ship full of green recruits as another war breaks out. The commanders do their duty and try to help the kids while dealing with saboteurs and infiltrators (the captain shoots a crewmember dead in front of others and then reveals he was an alien spy, telepathic of course that’s why he had to kill him with no warning!) The ship (the Albion) isn’t a super star but gives as good as it gets in fights and ends up crashed and stranded as enemy ships are heading for it. What will happen to our valiant crew? The aliens are two separate species from the Dark Nebula that have teamed up to take Earth down, usually these stories only have one species as the villain. Milton L. Coe doesn’t seem to have any other writing credits (unless this is another misspelling, lol), but the story is so slick I would guess this is someone’s pen name, maybe someone who normally writes military stories or something. If I keep reading more pulp stuff maybe I’ll recognize the style!

Garrigan’s BEMs – Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown
One of several stories that seem straight out of The Twilight Zone, a cartoonist discovers one of his drawings of ugly aliens are actually real aliens and they’ve come to take him back to their planet. As Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown were both struggling writers themselves, the hero also barely skates by on the income he makes from selling his cartoons and there is a lot of real life put on the page here for this goofy little tale.

Lake of Fire – Frank Belknap Long
This one was one of the more bizarre entries, largely due to it playing straight about two prospectors who find a Martian mirror in the Martian deserts that has an image of a woman in it. One guy falls madly in love with the image while the other struggles to try to get him to snap out of it while also fighting off raiders. Then suddenly it gets weird in a cool way but also as something that seems part of a larger tale.

The Bryd – Noel Loomis
Have you hread about the bryd? A galaxy-traveling magic parasite has to take a few seconds out of its slumber to keep its current host from being a moron and starting a war. Cool little short tale. Noel Loomis wrote a lot of westerns in addition to scifi tales, even authoring a history of Wells Fargo and writing several episodes of Bonanza

Open Invitation – H.B. Fyfe
A POV story from the aliens’ perspective as human craft being sent to Jupiter and Saturn might stumble across an alien scout ship. The aliens back on their home planet spend much of their time arguing office politics instead of bothering to solve the problem. Fyfe likes to write stories about alien bureaucrats and humans outsmarting them, though it probably helped that editor John W. Campbell typically bought such stories!

Dateline: Mars – Richard Wilson
In the not so distant future, Mars is colonized but there are native Martians who used to be under the yoke of a despotic government before the Earth government tricked them into giving up power. Yet there is still shades of Earth being a colonizer and internal alien politics. The hero is a newspaper reporter who has access to information normally taken out by censors and is brought along to witness some native Martians doing their own brand of justice. This story was interesting mainly due to some throwaway scenes where protestors complain about Mars being colonized and the author admits that they are right but since they are also hippies no one wants to be told the truth by them. Richard Wilson was a newspaperman himself so once again there’s probably more truth than not buried here.

Exile From Venus – E. Hoffmann Price (misspelled in the credits!)
The second novelette-lenght story is the last, in the far future Earth is a burned out wasteland and most people life on Venus, except for the savage survivors on Earth. Craig Verrill joins one of the groups as a doctor, but secretly to steal their sacred gigantic ruby. But he finds more than he bargained for when he joins the clan, he might even find where he belongs! Was pretty good if predictable, Verrill has a rival to steal the ruby who joins up with a rival clan and that sparks some action bits. It was by far the most saucy of all the tales, Verrill openly sleeping with one of the women in the clan he lives with. Not explicit, but only Captives of the Thieve-Star comes close to even implying characters are getting it on. Price was a prolific pulp writer who was also friends with Howard, Lovecraft, and many others (he seems to have visited more of them than usual, but it was also common back then for the authors to all be pen pals with each other. He has a bunch of pulpish fantasy novels that came out in the 1970s.

Planet Stories May 1951

Devil Dog – Books I Done Been Reading!

Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America
by David Talbot, illustrations by Spain Rodriguez.
Pulp History series

Pulp History is a series of books that attempt to bring history alive by chronicling the feats of larger than life figures from American history, whose lives aren’t well known but are filled with experiences over decades that make you keep reading to find out what happened. Devil Dog follows Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in history, as he fights in wars ranging from the Boxer Rebellion to the Spanish-American War, Nicaragua, Haiti, World War I, and even the war against booze during the Prohibition period. Butler is a warrior, but not a dumb grunt following orders, Butler gets the job done, and gets the job done better. Much of his time is spent cleaning up after other idiots who couldn’t manage a Dairy Queen, preventing US troops from committing war crimes, and saving lives. Even after he retires from military service, he’s called in to be the top cop in Philadelphia during Prohibition. But Butler ruffles feathers as he doesn’t give the high society buffoons a break, and busts them just as much as the lower class folk for flaunting their alcohol use. Even after being forced out by the mayor, Butler’s reputation is not sullied. And when broke veterans march on Washington during the 1930s, Butler helps organize and keep them safe, despite Hoover sending in the army.

Butler literally saves America as he helps thwart the attempted coup against FDR cooked up by some businessmen in the 1930s/40s. The fact that most of those involved were not punished due to their social status is one of the many injustices we have had to deal with as a nation. Butler wrote War Is a Racket in 1935, which is a great booklet, with quotes such as:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

The whole booklet is available online.

The Pulp History series isn’t a comic book, but it is filled with illustrations that come straight out of underground comix art. Combined with the narrative and sidebar stories, the pictures help make the book interesting and fill in visual gaps that photos and historical artifacts of the eras don’t quite do by themselves.

Butler is a hero of the working class, a true American patriot, and not the kind of “patriot” that has become the merit badge of teabagging idiots raging against the very things that keep their lives from falling to pieces. Devil Dog tells his story well, and makes me proud that I share the same country as this man. It doesn’t glorify him, Butler wasn’t perfect and many of the campaigns he was on had problems, but a non-whitewashed history is the real history, and the history we should all know about and acknowledge.
Devil Dog David Talbot Smedley Butler
Devil Dog Smedley Butler

Books I Done Been Reading! name shamelessly stolen from Vault of Buncheness

Classified as Murder – Books I Done Been Reading!

Classified as Murder
by Miranda James
A Cat in the Stacks Mystery

We return to the world of Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat Diesel with Classified as Murder, the followup to Jame’s Murder Past Due. It’s now several months later, and Charlie’s son Sean drops by for a surprise visit. A visit that will be more permanent since he quit his job as a lawyer, though he won’t say why. Sean also has a poodle named Dante in tow. Meanwhile, Charlie is invited by the local rich eccentric James Delacorte to inventory his rare book collection for eventual inclusion in the local university library. And to find out what volumes are missing, as one of Delacorte’s relatives are stealing! That’s a secret they don’t want solved, as soon James Delacorte is dead and Charlie and Diesel are once again caught up in a murder mystery. Delacorte’s relatives are mostly a pack of angry, bitter folk all eager to get their hands on the inheritance (except for Eloise Morris, a niece-in-law who is too out of her mind to be greedy, and Stewart Delacorte, a nephew who just wants to get out of the Delacorte house.) Imagine their surprise when the butler gets everything!

Clues to the murder might be solved by what books are missing and why, so Charlie must finish his job in the house where the murder took place among the possible murderer family member. This second installment ups the ante with more death and more threats than Charlie took in his first adventure. There’s also much more character development as Charlie has to deal with Sean and their partial estrangement after Charlie’s wife died.

A good followup that paints some nice dysfunctional family get-togethers. You can practically see the old relatives half-drunk and sniping at each other, and their wailing disappointment when they’re screwed out of the will. Diesel is his usual self, except even larger, continually chirping and the center of attention from passerbys gawking at his size. Enough side and new characters are introduce that we probably have sideplots for the next dozen or so entries. Of course, if Charlie keeps finding dead bodies, he’s going to soon be known as a bad luck book guy! That’s just what he needs…

I look forward to more books in the series, and as there are plenty of other mystery books with various premises, I have plenty of options until it does.
Classified as Murder
Books I Done Been Reading! name shamelessly stolen from Vault of Buncheness

Murder Past Due – Books I Done Been Reading!

Murder Past Due
by Miranda James
A Cat in the Stacks Mystery

A famous author returning to his hometown. An illegitimate son. Family secrets. A former librarian. A cat. What’s that spell? Another mystery book I done been reading!

More mysteries, and more mysteries with animal pals. This time we have a widowed librarian and his cat. After the death of his wife, semi-retired librarian Charlie Harris moved back to his hometown of Athena, Mississippi after his aunt passed and left him a giant house and her black housekeeper, Azalea Berry, which is only slightly embarrassing due to the great pains to show that it was the housekeeper’s idea to stay on working. After stumbling across a Maine Coon kitten one day, Charlie has someone to share his life with again (his two children are grown and moved out at this point)

Diesel ends up joining Charlie everywhere. Diesel even gets walked on a leash! As Diesel is a Maine Coon, expect lots of sequences that go on with random characters remarking how big Diesel is. It sort of reminded me of the Harry Potter books where everyone keeps looking at his scar. Charlie rents out rooms in his house to boarders, and one of the current ones is Justin Wardlaw, whose mother Julia is an old friend of Charlie’s. The town is abuzz as famous author Godfrey Priest has returned. He’s just the kind of arrogant jerk you expect to show up, have a million enemies, and be mysteriously murdered. And he does!

With suspicious falling towards Justin as the prime suspect (what with Priest being his real estranged father and him finding the body!), Charlie and Diesel must put on their detective hats and get to work finding the real killer. They also must avoid the ire of Deputy Kanesha Berry, detective on the case and the daughter of Azalea, who isn’t keen on her mom being a domestic. Despite the tension, Kanesha isn’t given a generic villain role, which is good. At every turn, Charlie and Diesel find out more interesting tidbits about Godrey, and more and more people who have motive to kill him. Around the last 70 pages or so, things get more intense, and Miranda Jones has a way of making you not want to stop until you find out what happened. I don’t want to spoil things, but I like how the events unfolded, it’s nice to see the amateur sleuth not know everything when we go into endgame.

It takes about two seconds on Google to find out Miranda James is actually Dean James, who shares many traits with Charlie Harris (who I’m sure is totally not named after Charlaine Harris, even though she’s mentioned in the book as well!) Diesel has enough personality to make things interesting, without becoming the focus of the mystery. Of course, his lack of magical powers makes his understanding looks and chirps seem preternatural at times. Charlie is alive enough you feel for his character and his loss, and the mindless routine that was his life until Diesel and the murder mystery happened. This is expounded upon more in the next book in the series, but that’s a tale for the next review. And with that sentence, you’ve probably figured out I like this enough to read the sequel. A nice, cozy, regional mystery complete with believable characters and setting. You can’t ask for much more.

Murder Past Due by Miranda James
Books I Done Been Reading! name shamelessly stolen from Vault of Buncheness

Stark's War – Books I Done Been Reading!

Stark’s War
by John G. Henry

John G. Henry is better known as Jack Campbell, author of the Lost Fleet series. As a big fan of the series (one of the few military scifi series that I can read), I sought out Stark’s War once it showed up on my radar (sort of late, as I was too busy looking for Jack Campbell, not John G. Henry!) But I was not disappointed. Stark’s War is a different type of war. Instead of giant fleet battles in hostile enemy territory, we have small front line conflicts on the moon told from the perspective of Sgt. Ethan Stark. Henry takes the lessons from the past few decades and moves the timeline up a century, to where the USA dominates the world still as the lone superpower (ran by corporate interests), but the rest of the world has turned to the moon to get resources outside of US influences. Then, the US invades the moon on behave of its corporate masters, and thus Stark is on the front lines. A sort of stalemate happens after the first battle, causing things to spiral off mission an into the inevitable result.

In this Brave New World, tax rates are low low low, but the public demands the government provide for many things. To raise revenue, the army has turned to broadcasting real time video of battles. The officers for the squads are entirely political, and care little about the welfare of their unit and only about punching whatever tickets they need to get the next promotion. Stark must deal with all these problems, as well as faulty equipment and battle training on the moon’s lower gravity and Stark’s own demons from the past.

Despite the fact this is a totally different series, and written way before the Lost Fleet series, I kept thinking this was John Geary on the moon. There is even his own Tanya Desjan/Victoria Rione combo in the form of Vic Reynolds. But the tone was different, and the front line perspective gave Stark’s War a different flavor than the Lost Fleet books. As things reach to a head in the last 3rd, and the latest brilliant plan of Synergy Warfare happens, I sort of saw what Henry may be doing. In the interests of not spoiling things, I won’t say, but let’s just say there is another famous scifi book that takes place on the moon, and they might not be to happy with what goes down here. But too bad.

Stark’s War is a good piece of military scifi that is as realistic as you can get in future predicting. Some of the predictions have moved to being more accurate in the intervening ten years since it was originally published. It will probably appeal only to those who like military scifi, but as it is a quick read it could be a good jumping on point for those curious about the genre, though I’d still suggest starting with the Lost Fleet books.

Books I Done Been Reading! name shamelessly stolen from Vault of Buncheness

Starks War

The Goblin Corps – Books I Done Been Reading!

The Goblin Corps
by Ari Marmell

The Goblin Corps is something special, one of those rare breeds of books tht take place from the point of view of who would normally be considered the villains of the fantasy epic. But you will soon be cheering for the villains as they embark on their various quests to procure rare and magical items. The Demon Squad is made up of Craeosh the Orc, Katim the troll, Gork the kobold, Jhurpess the bugbear, Gimmol the gremlin, Fezeill the shapechanger, Belrotha the ogre, and Shreckt – their gargoyle drill sergeant.

The squad serves King Morthul the Charnel King, who has been recently foiled in his latest plot to take over the world. In response, his killing of the local king’s daughter has prompted the massing of a gret army to wipe the Charnel King’s empire off the map. The Demon Squad is put together to get the items needed to stop this threat, and also deal with the various problems tht arise when you live in a magical evil kingdom filled with monsters and horrors unimaginable. The characters come alive with their constant bickering, in-fighting, and sarcastic quips. The standard fantasy tropes are there for the different races, but twisted and tweaked to make them unique and familiar at the same time. Craeosh is just as likely to swear as he is to swing his big sword at whoever walks by, while Gork is the kind of character you should never turn your back on. Belrotha is dim but driven to do what is best for her people and her King. Fezeill acts prim and proper despite his constant outer appearance change. Grimmol is hiding a secret as to why he’s in the squad, which is hard to do when you talk constantly like he does. Jhurpess’s simple dialogue and goofy scenes keep him entertaining, and Katim’s motivation is different enough from the stereotypical troll behavior that even she stands out.

The various quests seem like video game levels, though the payoff happens earlier than you would expect, leaving the last third of the book to go down a completely different path. The ending was unexpected and unique, and makes me wish a sequel was here already. Don’t get too attached to the characters, as there is a body count. The heroic side has both heroes and villains as well, the lead sorceror being a particularly sharp thorne in the Charnel King’s side. And while there are a few odd threads that don’t seem to go anywhere (particular effort is spend capturing someone alive…and then she promptly is never mentioned again!), overall things go together solidly. Like I said, I wish there was a sequel already, and I meant it.
The Goblin Corps

Books I Done Been Reading! name shamelessly stolen from Vault of Buncheness