Mini-Review: The Hardboiled Old Boy’s Club

Pulp Fiction: the Crimefighters is a compilation of hardboiled detective stories, overwhelmingly from the 1930s and almost all from the classic Black Mask magazine which in retrospect is considered the most important magazine in the genre, much as Weird Tales is regarded in the sword and sorcery and cosmic horror fields these days. Compiled by Otto Penzler, it’s pitched as an introduction to the genre – if not the first stop you make, perhaps the first thing you look into after you’ve covered the obvious bases (say, a Raymond Chandler collection and Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon).

The anthology leads off with One, Two, Three by Paul Cain, which showcases most of the salient features of hardboiled detective fiction – from the classic first-person narrative packed with terse witticisms to the tawdry view of human nature, in which few people are innocent and nobody is infallible. It’s the flawed fallibility of hardboiled detective fiction protagonists which in some respects have saved stories like this from aging even more poorly than they already have. Sure, the protagonist doesn’t meet a significant woman in the story who isn’t working an angle – but the same is true of the men he interacts with. Sure, he uses a now-dated racial term at one point, but it’s easier to accept this as part of the characterisation of a flawed man in a realistic depiction of the seedier side of the era. Racism lazily ported into fantasy or science fiction is galling in part because it suggests that the author cannot imagine a world without it. A contemporary depiction of the 1930s which did not include some racism or misogyny on the part of characters is engaged in whitewashing.

That said, seeing pulp-era authors calling out the era’s own racism is endearing. A collection like this wouldn’t be complete without a pinch of Dashiell Hammett, and the chosen story is The Creeping Siamese. That title might put you in mind of a racist narrative steeped in orientalist nonsense, but it isn’t – it’s a story of how someone who’s too used to clichéd crime plots of the era tries to spin such a story for the Continental Op, only for the Op to see through their shit. (As far as the other big name of the hardboiled era, Ray Chandler goes, he’s represented here by Red Wind – but that’s in The Simple Art of Murder, and if you’re exploring pulp crime fiction you’ve probably already read that.)

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Invocations Or Impertinances?

Invocations is the second in the series of short story collections in the Warhammer Horror series which were kicked off by the preceding Maledictions. As with Maledictions, what you get here is a brace of stories, some in the Age of Sigmar setting, some in the universe of Warhammer 40,000, but this time around there’s a notable attempt to include more Age of Sigmar content: whereas in Maledictions only 4 of the 11 stories were based on that setting, here 7 of the 12 stories are based on it.

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A 900 Year Old Backlash

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain was the 12th Century’s big bestselling British fantasy novel, a precursor to the likes of The Lord of the Rings in the 20th Century or Harry Potter for the 21st. This is evidenced not least from the sheer number of contemporary manuscripts of the book that survive to this day, which must after all be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of manuscripts actually produced. Monks and nuns laboured away in scriptoria to churn out these copies of the history, and the King Arthur legend as popularised in it immediately became one of the central subjects of the up and coming troubadour art form.

Almost as soon as it came into existence, other historians adapted its material, inserting their own opinions and spin on the subject matter – and for that matter, Geoffrey hardly seems to have had a neutral agenda itself. A particularly interesting study of this phenomenon from a feminist perspective is Fiona Tolhurst’s Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Transmission of Female Kingship.

Over the course of an exhaustive analysis of Monmouth’s magnum opus (concentrating on the non-Arthurian portions, which have been rather neglected over the years), Tolhurst produces a credible argument that Geoffrey’s history was a feminist work – not, perhaps, by the the standards of what we recognise as feminism today, but certainly by the standards of the period in which he was writing.

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Occult Orders, Fraternal Fun, and Masonic Malarkey

Ritual America – or, to give the book its full title, Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence On American Society – A Visual Guide – is a big, chunky, coffee table affair. Compiled by Adam Parfrey and Craig Heimbichner, it offers exactly what the title implies: an extensive visual treasurehouse showcasing the influence of Freemasonry and various other fraternal orders (the vast majority of which are rip-offs of Freemasonry) in American society and culture.

Though the book hails from Feral House, which has published its fair share of conspiracy theory on the subject of Masonry and similar secret societies (they’re the big bads in James Shelby Downard’s Carnivals of Life and Death, for instance, and regular features of Secret and Suppressed), it isn’t the wall-to-wall orgy of conspiracy theory it might be – it discusses the occasional outbreaks of anti-Masonic sentiment and some of the major scandals like the death of William Morgan and the Leo Taxil affair, but it doesn’t wallow in conspiratorialism. Nor does it obsess on the esoteric aspects of Masonry and its more occult-themed offshoots like the OTO or the various Rosicrucian-themed spinoffs from it.

Instead, the book takes a refreshingly broad approach to the subject, appropriate to the fact that Freemasonry is an awkward broad church of an institution and always has been – ever since a bunch of esotericists, toffs, and middle class intellectuals gatecrashed and hijacked some old, near-moribund stonemason’s guilds, appropriated and/or radically reworked some of their ceremonies and procedures, and made it into this weird mashup of eating-and-feasting-club, charitable association, mutual aid society, and occult talking shop.

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Seeking Goblins, They Find the Beast

My favourite televisual junk food recently has been Hellier, produced by the gang at the Planet Weird website and available on Amazon Prime, the Planet Weird YouTube channel, and the show’s dedicated website. It’s centred on Greg and Dana Newkirk, the co-founders of Planet Weird, and their team of fellow researchers as they delve into a paranormal mystery centred on the small Kentucky town of Hellier… or at least, they try to find a mystery.

The narrative begins simply enough: back in 2012, Greg had been contacted by an individual called David Christie, who e-mailed him about small alien creatures allegedly besieging his rural home. The initial e-mails sound a lot like a riff on the letters in The Whisperer In Darkness to me; to Greg, they seemed to be riffing on the decades-old case of the Kentucky Goblins. (Though the term “goblin” wasn’t used in the e-mails, the description of the creatures matched the earlier incident uncannily well.)

At around the same time Greg also got some e-mails from someone calling himself “Terry Wriste”, who seemed to know something about the situation, which made Greg think that there was probably enough to it to be worth looking into – but David didn’t respond to followup e-mails (much as you wouldn’t follow up, say, if you’d just written the original e-mail as a pisstake and were wrong-footed by being taken seriously), and Greg let the matter lie.

Years later, filmmaker Karl Pfieffer found himself drawn into the case through a series of curious synchronicities, prompting the Newkirks to take a second look at the case. Filling out the party with a few other trusted colleagues, the Newkirks would lead the group on an expedition to Hellier itself, where depending on your point of view they find absolutely nothing or absolutely everything.

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 5: Renegade Without a Cause

Here we are, bringing the story of David Icke and the development of his unique brand of Ickean Gnosticism (like regular Gnosticism mashed up with a rerun of V). We’ve learned how Icke’s embrace of New Age beliefs earned him mockery in the early 1990s, and how his ideas no longer seemed so funny once he went hardcore conspiracy theorist and started promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. We’ve seen how his extraterrestrial-themed ideas developed from wholesale ripping-off of The Gods of Eden and Bill Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse into his own distinctive Reptoid-based mythology, and how the repeated Gnostic themes in his writing eventually evolved into an overt endorsement of Gnosticism.

Along the way, we’ve also had a bumpy ride in terms of Icke’s business endeavours and personal relationships. Lovers, friends, fellow researchers and allies have come into Icke’s world and been exiled from it. Royal Adams took the US rights to his books and ran rogue with them, causing Icke a tremendous legal headache. Icke teamed up with Sean Adl-Tabatabai in the debacle of The People’s Voice, which left a lot of true believers angry and out of pocket.

Icke went a bit quiet after the collapse of The People’s Voice, at least in terms of published books – though naturally he continued his eternal lecture tours, podcasts, guest appearances on other people’s platforms, and so on. Since then, though, he’s released three books and a movie. Let’s see where the path leads us now…

(Spoiler: It leads us to overt demonisation of a minority religious sect.)

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Mini-Review: The Sabbat Worlds Crusade

The Sabbat Worlds Crusade is to the Gaunt’s Ghosts series what the Dune Encyclopedia is to the Dune series, if the Dune Encyclopedia had actually been written by Frank Herbert himself and hadn’t been rendered non-canon by later developments. Penned by Dan Abnett and gorgeously illustrated throughout, it is a history of the grand military campaign which forms the background to the Gaunt’s Ghosts books, allowing the reader to see the wider context against which the exploits of the Tanith First-and-Only and their leader, Commissar Gaunt, take place.

Written as though it were an in-character document from the universe of Warhammer 40,000, the book originally came out in 2005, after the Saint plotline had wrapped up and when Abnett was kicking off the plot arc which would become The Lost. With this new release, he’s taken the opportunity to update it with further material, bringing it all the way up to date and showing us the state of play as of the end of the latest plot arc, The Victory. (The in-character explanation for this is that the book is an unauthorised update of the previous official history of the Crusade, drawing heavily on that material but also including extensive secret data which the Inquisition and Imperial Guard aren’t entirely happy about being set down like this.)

Complete with a really gorgeous fold-out map of the Sabbat Worlds and fun details on both the Imperial and Chaos forces vying for control of it, this new edition of the book will be of interest both to fans of the series who want more deep background (and perhaps a flavourful way to get a bit of a recap of the action, if you are coming back to the books after a long break) and to those who want to mine the background for gaming purposes. For instance, if you wanted to make a Warhammer 40,000 army inspired by the Sabbat Worlds forces, you can mine this for paint schemes and iconography; likewise, if you wanted to play one of the tabletop RPGs based in the Warhammer 40,000 setting in the Sabbat Worlds, this could be a big help. (It’d be an ideal fit for Only War, for instance.)