Tagged: small

JOHN OSTRANDER: Ch-ch-choices

“To be or not to be, that is the question.” So goes one of the most quoted lines in Shakespeare, probably in all of literature. It’s so well known that it’s become a cliché; people who know almost nothing of Shakespeare know that phrase. Most of the times when I’ve seen it acted, the actor playing the character who speaks it, Hamlet, makes it an intellectual question, maybe something for philosophy.

Except that it isn’t.

In context of the play, Prince Hamlet is contemplating suicide and every moment of that speech should be about whether or not Hamlet will choose to end his life – right then and there. If I was staging it, I’d have Hamlet with a sharp knife, playing with his wrist, maybe cutting himself, while he debates his choice.

It is the choices made and not made that drive the play – or should. And they drive story in general as well. How will a character act in a given situation? Even to choose not to act, not to make a decision, is in itself a choice.

In one of my favorite films, Casablanca, the female lead (Ingrid Bergman at her loveliest) confronts ex-lover Rick (Humphrey Bogart at his manliest) over letters-of-transit that will enable her and her heroic husband, Victor (Paul Heinreid at his Paul Heinreidiest), escape from Nazi-controlled Casablanca. Rick has refused so far to surrender the letters-of-transit because of lingering resentment at having been ditched by Ilsa. Problem is, she still loves Rick so she won’t shoot him to get the documents. She falls into his arms and tells him that she can’t choose, that he will have to choose for her, for all of them.

Rick holds her and then simply says, “All right. I will.” From that point, the movie rockets towards its fabled conclusion. Rick has been essentially choosing not to act up until this point. He now makes choices that will resolve all their fates.

Every story is full of choices that the characters make. They’re not always good choices; in fact, it’s often bad choices that make for a more interesting story. There are big choices, there are small choices, there are choices made for all kinds of reasons – and all that reveals character.

Think of your own life. What is more important? What a person says or what a person does? It’s what they do and that reflects choice and that reveals character. What a person says is also a choice and an act – they defend, they deny, they explain, they confront, they rationalize and so on. We all like to think we would know how we would react in a crisis situation but the truth is we don’t. We only know how we think we would act. You don’t know until you’re actually in the moment. That’s when you learn who you really are. That’s when we learn who a character really is. That’s the story.

This is a big year for story. The national political scene is one huge story. Choices are made constantly. Who do you choose to trust, who do you choose to believe, who will you choose to elect? Each choice is an act and each act tells us something about the character/person making that choice – in this case, ourselves and our country.

Each choice has consequences for the character or the person – good, bad, or indifferent. They link together, these choices made or not made, and they determine how the story comes out, what the destiny is. It’s true in fiction because it’s true in real life.

Choice defines our humanity and our freedom. Where there is no choice, there is no freedom. It doesn’t make it easy but it sure makes for a better story – whether we read it or live it.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


ALL PULP REVIEWS- Reviews by Ron Fortier
By Bonnie Kozek
A while back I read a book called THRESHOLD that impressed me greatly.  It was modern day, grunge thriller written by a truly fearless writer.  Kozek’s prose, like her protagonist, Honey McGuiness, is not for the faint of heart.  Honey is a broken soul, abused constantly by her father as a child, tossed from one foster home to another; her life has been nothing but a constant swim through the sewers of society.  In that first outing, Honey, with the help of a selfless, naïve police officer, helped topple a corrupt administration and almost got both of them killed in the process.  By the book’s end, she was packing it up for parts unknown.
Which, as it turned out, became an out of the way burg called Pie Town.  As this sequel opens, Honey is working in a restaurant/bar in the small hamlet and slowly getting accustomed to the eccentricities of the colorful locals.  Still there is a recurring oddity about Pie Town, all its young people run off the second they finish high school, leaving the town to children and seniors.  But Honey isn’t a private eye and solving mysteries really isn’t her thing.  Getting by is and as a expert survivor who has taken the worst this world can dish out, she’s lulled herself into thinking Pie Town is a safe, boring corner into which she can crawl and disappear.
Sadly that assumption is the furthest from the truth.  Pie Town harbors a dark and unholy secret and when Honey is kidnapped by a psycho killer operating a sex cult in the nearby woods, she begins a descent into a drug induced hell that is both horrifying and mind-numbing.  Kozek doesn’t spare any of the details of Honey’s sexual degradation and continues to explore her twisted, wounded psyche every painful step of the way.  This book is one woman’s personal journey to that hell and the writing is as sharp and brutal as a razor blade.  It cuts…often.  Still, it is never sensationalized and believe me, that is incredible.  Oh, I am positive there will be readers and critics who will decry it as such, calling the shock-value a gimmick.  They’re wrong.  Like any exploration of the human condition, one has to peel away the layers to find then gristle and bone beneath.  That process is never pretty.  It is real.
And despite its in-your-face portrayal of abject cruelty, JUST BEFORE THE DAWN manages to find a glimmer of hope and salvation at its conclusion.  It may be fragile at best, but then again, in the real world, there are no guarantees.  Each of us gets by, if we’re lucky, with a little help from our friends.  Honey McGuinness is one of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter, if you’ve got the fortitude to take the trip.
Good luck.



The tragic passing of pulp writer and editor Howard Hopkins at the age of 50:http://moonstonebooks.blogspot.com/2012/01/howard-hopkins-services-and.html, has been made even worse by the further misfortune of an insurance screw up.
Please forward the following as you see fit; it is copied from a post on the Yahoo “Flearun” and “Golden Perils” groups:
… Chuck  Juzek contacted me and asked me to pass the following info along to the pulp fan community. Due to a mistake by their insurance agent 6 months ago that Dominique only became aware of after Howard’s death, Howard’s life insurance had lapsed at the time of his death. As a result, in addition to everything else that his passing means to her, she’s now scrambling in order to find the funds to pay for his funeral expenses. If you have the ability— to help pay for those expenses; …, I’m giving her address for anyone that wishes to contribute.
Dominique Hopkins
2 McKee Drive
Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064
So here’s the deal
Give to a good cause and get something for yourself.  The first $100 worth of orders that come in between now and midnight January 20, 2012, you get the books, and Dominique Hopkins gets the money.
For those of you who have a copy of The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensionsbut have not yet ordered your matching numbered copy of  The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 2: Of Dust and Soul, there’s no time like the present. And if you haven’t yet bought either book, make sure you take advantage of our Combo Deal that will save you at least $10 off your order.
Some of us at Meteor House have worked with Howard and learned a lot from him. He cared about the craft of writing and was generous with his time, he will be sorely missed. Therefore we’d like to do this little thing for Howard’s family. The rest is up to you. Of course you don’t have to buy our books, especially if you already have them. If you already have both, you can just drop a little check in the mail to the address above, or paypal a small amount to sales@meteorhousepress.com (by midnight January 20th) and we’ll add it to the total we’re sending.

Visit Meteor House at http://meteorhousepress.com/

Ailing Colorist Tom Ziuko Needs Some Help

Long-time DC Comics and Marvel colorist Tom Ziuko (The History of the DC Universe, Superman, Batman, The Shadow, Hellblazer, Looney Tunes, Spider-Man, Captain America, Tomb of Dracula, etc.) has been facing some difficult medical issues over the last two years, including kidney failure, neuropathy, and, most recently, emergency surgery to repair a strangulated colon.

According to the Facebook page started by Gary Mann for Tom, “Tom is a freelance artist, unable to afford health insurance, and the last year has been brutal for him…. Tom is currently recuperating at home, although still unable to return to work full-time. Early last year, Tom’s friend and fellow freelance artist Alan Kupperberg mounted an effort to help raise some funds for him; and a great non-profit organization, The Hero Initiative, has played a major role in helping Tom to survive during this last year, keeping him afloat and literally saving him from becoming homeless. But Tom continues to face a mountain of medical bills, personal expenses and debt.

“And so I appeal to those of you who may have been touched by Tom’s work over the last three decades; in that you might be able to contribute to assisting him financially while he continues his recovery. I know that times are tight right now for everyone, but any contribution you might be able to make, no matter how small, would be both beneficial and greatly appreciated by Tom.

“If you want to contribute directly to Tom’s assistance fund, you can do so at Paypal — the account name is — chroma999@aol.com.

“And whether you’re able to contribute funds or not, you can write to Tom directly on Facebook, or at his email address (atomica999@aol.com) in order to send him get-well wishes, to say hello and wish him a speedy recovery, or just to let him know if you’ve enjoyed his work over the years.”



JOHN OSTRANDER: Seeing Movies As Movies

I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the collective failure of the Christmas movie season overall. Some, like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, did well and some, such as The Adventures of Tintin, did much better overseas (where Tintin is a better known commodity) than domestically. EW opined a variety of possible reasons, including the economy and the concept that there wasn’t a real “tent-pole” movie. However, there were some really good films out – Hugo (which I loved), for one, and The Muppets. I have a thought on another possible contributing factor.

I know a number of people who will wait for the DVD of a movie or to see it on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. It seems to me a whole generation would almost prefer to see it that way now. And I can’t help thinking that’s a mistake.

Mind you, I’ve seen many movies that I missed in the theater via DVD, Sometimes, it doesn’t matter. A smaller intimate film can work just as well on a small screen. I probably won’t get to see Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy until it gets to my TV screen and I think that will be alright. However, I know other films suffer.

For example, I’d seen John Ford’s The Searchers for years on the small screen and loved it. One of John Wayne’s best performances (and, yes, folks, the man could act). Several years ago, I got a chance to see it in a movie theater in a restored print. The impact was startling. Yes, I knew about John Wayne’s charisma but you don’t really feel it until you’ve seen a close up of Wayne in this movie and the image is the size of a house. And the final shot – Wayne with his back to us, framed by a door that slowly shuts – well, until you’ve seen it on the big screen, you haven’t really experienced it.

Seeing the climax of Casablanca, with those big head shots of Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, and Paul Heinreid cross cut from one to the other, has far greater emotional impact on the big screen.

It’s not just the images, either. With the surround sound you get in the theaters today, you’re really enveloped in the movie. Think of the opening of Star Wars, the original one (a.k.a. Episode IV, a.k.a. A New Hope) – the blast of the initial theme, the crawl that recedes into infinite horizon, and then the first space ship darting out and it seems forever only to be followed with an even bigger space ship, and the sound and the music and all sucking you in. Magic. The first time I experienced that, I was hooked.

I don’t see how you can get that on a smaller screen. When I watch movies on DVD that I’ve seen in the theaters, I bring with me the memories of what that theater experience was and it enriches the viewing that I’m having with on the smaller screen. If it comes to a choice to seeing a movie only on DVD or a movie channel or not to see it at all, I’ll take the small screen experience and do it happily. It gives me an experience of the movie – but I know that it’s not the same as seeing it in the movie theater where it was intended to be seen in the first place.

There’s one final aspect of the theater experience for movies and I’ll be the first to say it’s not always positive – it’s a communal experience. It’s a shared experience with others. Yes, some of those others can be boorish morons. I’ve had the people near me who continue to chat through the film, having a running commentary about the film or about some imbecilic portion of their daily life that could just as easily wait until they were outside. It’s become a good reason why I should never be allowed to carry a gun. Yes, I’ve had people who forget or refuse to turn off their cel phones and who chat or text through the film, oblivious and/or indifferent to the fact there are other people in the theater. Maybe if they could pull their heads out of their digital asses, we’d all be happier.

But I’ve also been with audiences that add immeasurably to the experience. We laugh, gasp, cry, cheer and so on together. The film finds bonds in common between us and that is something devoutly to be wished in this day and age when so many things around us keep tearing us apart, putting up walls, and suggesting we are all enemies.

The people making the movies meant for us to see it in a theater. That’s where its truest experience lies. I’ve heard of so many people today who simply shrug that off and all I’m saying is that I think that’s a mistake and they’re shortchanging themselves.

Treat yourself if you can. Go out to the movies.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

DENNIS O’NEIL: ‘Tis The season, continued…

According to some recent news, the sun seems to be bouncing stuff off an invisible, planet-sized object near Mercury. Of course, the smarty-ass scientists have an explanation – don’t they always? – something about how the pictures are processed. Other, more sensible, people have speculated that the invisible thing is a spaceship hidden by a cloaking device, maybe spying on us from two planets away. (Really big binoculars?) I’m afraid that misses the mark, too. The obvious answer is…Santa’s sleigh! Think about it – a cloaking device. Of course. That explains why we’ve never seen it. And the size of a small planet (which is still pretty big)? Well, it can’t exactly be tiny, not when it carries all those toys for good girls and boys.

Now, it’s true that as I look about me I don’t see many good girls and boys. None, in fact.  So maybe the invisible sleigh is full of lumps of coal to be put in the stockings hung by the chimney with care, assuming anyone hangs stockings anymore.  This could be glad tidings. If the coal comes from Mercury – and surely it might – why, we might just have ourselves a source of clean energy.

Isn’t it grand when truth meets science?


About 15 years ago, give or take, a movie-involved bearer of my DNA put a video cassette into our VCR and showed us a short cartoon that was going around titled, just a bit sacrilegiously, Jesus vs Santa. The plot was simple: the Jolly Old Elf and Our Lord and Savior duke it out to determine who’s the king of the holiday. I forget who won and that isn’t really important (and herewith I resist the impulse to launch into a diatribe). What is important, or at least interesting, is that the two young guys who perpetrated the cartoon were (and are) named Trey Parker and Matt Stone and what played in our living room was the predecessor of Comedy Central’s champion half-hour, South Park.

The story probably doesn’t have a moral, or even a point, but if you really need one, you could try, You just never know, do you?


Jerry Robinson, a man I was proud to know, is gone. Others have celebrated his achievements and accomplishments, his generous spirit, his activism, and his art. I have nothing to add.

But, thinking of Jerry, I remembered a quotation from Raymond Chandler’s Simple Art of Murder: “He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world”

That was Jerry.

RECOMMENDED READING: Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics. By N. Christopher Couch.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

Review: “Spaceman” #1

Review: “Spaceman” #1

We all know Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso work well together. Uttering the duo’s name automatically triggers thoughts of quality. I know for me, the pair rests near the top of creative teams of the last decade. Sometimes, though, I believe we forget how truly great these guys are together. We acknowledge their high esteem in the medium, but after a while we get into the habit of just accepting without truly seeing. We lack the sort of realization you can only experience when you’re sitting down with one of their comics–the sensation that as you turn the page, you know you’re reading something special because your mind is being blown.

Azzarello and Risso do comics how they should be done. These men, along with colorist Patricia Mulvihill, construct sophisticated worlds and atmospheres and then tell you all about in just as sophisticated a fashion. The approach is reserved and cool. The necessary hints are subtly placed, and the reader’s own effort tells the tale. Azzarello/Risso books are, simply said, confident, independent and sexy.

And Spaceman #1 held the crown as the single best comic book of October. Easily.

With Spaceman, we’re told the story of a genetically engineered man who’s life-long purpose was to go to Mars. In reality, his goal was never reached, and when we meet him he’s simply a junkie trapped in a world of decay.


Review: “Reed Gunther” Issues 1-5

Review: “Reed Gunther” Issues 1-5

by Brandon Beck

Before you open the first issue of Shane and Chris Houghton’s Reed Gunther, ask yourself the following question: “How awesome is a cowboy riding a bear and fighting monsters?” If your answer was “The most awesome” then you’re going to love this book. Even if that wasn’t your answer, you’re still going to love this book.

Reed Gunther focuses on the titular cowboy, his smarter-than-average bear Sterling and their adventures through an Old West filled with giant snakes, shark monsters and ancient totems. The central man/bear duo is incredibly charming, akin to a Wild West Wallace & Gromit. Reed’s overconfident, super-manly nature contrasts nicely with Sterling’s silent but expressive puppy-dog nature. Granted, Reed is also a bit of a coward and Sterling can be an absolute badass, which provides for some great character moments. There’s an hysterical joke about their somewhat one-sided communication in issue 4, which I won’t ruin, but was easily the biggest laugh in this first story arc, which is saying a lot as this book is often laugh out loud funny.



The Fantastic Adventures of HARDLUCK HANNIGAN-The Golden Scorpion
By Bill Craig
Cover by Laura Givens
Ever since starting this column, I’ve reviewed many small independent books but all of them were in one fashion or another associated with either a publishing group or writers’ organization. They all had ISBN numbers, a website or link as to where their books could be purchased. Bill Craig’s offering here has neither, no ISBN, no website address and no page numbering. I can’t even tell you how many pages there are in this great little book.  This book exemplifies self-publishing to the maximum understanding of that process.  This book was written, assembled and printed by Bill Craig. Happily, I’m informed that all of Craig’s books are available at Amazon.
Despite the book’s amateurish production values, Craig is really a very competent writer who excels at fast paced action.  He is most assuredly a new pulp writer worthy of your attention and one of the most prolific working today.  The Hardluck Hannigan series is only one of several he has invented and continues to pump out at a rather remarkable rate.  Understand, Craig’s purple prose is masculine and he wastes no time jumping into each book’s plot with little fanfare as to who these characters are or where they’ve been up to this point in their lives.
The Golden Scorpion opens with Michael Hardluck Hannigan in Cairo having just completed an adventure in Africa.  At the bequest of his Russian buddy, Gregor Shotsky, they go to meet an unscrupulous dealer in antiquities who has information on the whereabouts of an ancient mystical artifact known as the Golden Scorpion.  The Golden Scorpion supposedly is a powerful arcane weapon of some kind said to be buried deep in the sands of the Sahara.  Within minutes of meeting this fellow, Hannigan and Gregor are attacked by Tureg warriors, the merchant is killed and they escape with their lives and a new ally, a lovely American secret agent named Chas Ridings.
As I said before, the action never lets up and all too quickly we learn Hannigan is being pursued by a secret cult of dessert warriors, a Chinese master criminal and members of the Illuminati based in England.  A great deal of Craig’s writing is reminiscent of Lester Dent’s classic Doc Savage stories in that Hannigan seems to be always accompanied by an eclectic group of aides made up of assassins, soldiers of fortune and brilliant scientists answering the siren song of adventure.  Throughout their madcap race across the burning sands, battling both human and inhuman foes, Hannigan and company press on while Craig occasionally drops information concerning their previous exploits that led to their current predicament.  It is both frustrating and intriguing at the same time.
The Golden Scorpion is a quick read that left me wanting a whole lot more.  If you haven’t heard of Bill Craig before, then you need to remedy that. He’s a damn awesome pulp writer who knows how to spin a yarn.
REVIEW: Americus

REVIEW: Americus

by Sam Kusek

Neil Barton is your quintessential bookworm. Happiest when his nose is buried in the middle of his favorite young adult fantasy series, Apathea Ravenchilde, Neil is not looking forward to his transition into high school. Like many of us at that tender age of 13, Neil doesn’t exactly know who he is yet, having little means of self-expression in his quiet and very religious town of Americus. It isn’t until a local church activist group deems Apathea Ravenchilde “unfit for souls of our youth,” and his best friend is sent off to military school, that Neil has to take a stand and find out exactly what he’s made of.

What I enjoyed most about this book was Neil’s journey from young, unsure child to young adult. His experience is like so many of our own, making it extremely relatable. Throughout the book, Neil is influenced by a number of older men and women, from vegan librarians to punk music enthusiasts and begins to see a world outside of the scope the dreary small town he and his single mother live in. To further emphasize the point, the book is interspliced with scenes from the young adult novel (Apathea Ravenchilde), which features a big reveal about Apathea’s origin and family relations and the rising tension between the library committee and the activist group, providing a wonderfully complex sense of balance and allows the book to touch upon a number of the issues of young adulthood, such as relationships with lovers and parents and often feeling trapped by the society around us.