A New Pulp Adventure

People seem to lack a sense of history. Entering a field or profession, I strongly feel they should have some understanding of how things got to be the way they are. We should understand the pioneers of our field and those who shaped the business we choose to be in.

Baseball players, for example, need to know about Babe Ruth and perhaps more importantly guys like Curt Flood who challenged the owners. Any minority player should understand what the Negro League players endured in the days of segregation.

The same can be said for any field.

Me, I’m fascinated by pop culture and read up on the way it has developed. As a writer and comic book professional, I devour histories such as Gerard Jones’ wonderful Men of Tomorrow and eagerly await the interviews with surviving Golden Age talents in Roy Thomas’s Alter Ego.

As a result of having a good solid working knowledge of the past, I could fully appreciate Paul Malmont’s exciting debut novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. Set in 1937, it chronicles an adventure that cleverly uses the pulp writers of the day as his protagonists. The pulps, after all, were where so many features and writers that make up today’s pop culture got their start. It’s where Tarzan first swung on a vine and where a Cimmerian named Conan crossed the arid steppe.

At the time of the story, the best selling pulp of all was The Shadow, followed closely by Doc Savage. Street & Smith, now known best for their sports magazines, were the kings of pulp magazine publishing and seemed to rarely fail. Writing those prestigious titles under house names, were Walter Gibson and Lester Dent. They make for very unlikely heroes in a story ripped from the very pulps that gave them careers.

But it’s not only about them as they are aided and abetted by a young upstart named L. Ron Hubbard and a guy going by the name Otis B. Driftwood (which made me laugh out loud when I first saw the name). The book is filled with cameos from the likes of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel and even Michael Chabon’s Joe Kavalier has a walk on.

The story in many ways starts with the unnatural passing of little known pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft and involves the political machinations of China as Japan attempts to control the mainland and Hitler’s troops gather force in Europe.

Malmont’s plotting is a delight, his real-life heroes feel like people and his attention to period detail, especially Chinatown, keeps the book engaging.

If you know the era, the book has an extra punch but as a rollicking adventure from a by-gone time, it’s a good, solid read.

4 comments

  • Paul Balze

    So, how does Malmont do at capturing “Mr. Driftwood’s” distinctive speech pattern?

  • Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds very interesting.

    -Andy Holman

  • Bill Leisner

    I read this myself in the past month, and I agree 100%. I particularly appreciated how Malmont kept balance as he straddled the line between “real” and “pulp”. Great recommendation.

  • Just finished reading this yesterday. A great book . . . and an intriguing look at the old pulp industry. (Who knew the authors used to hang out at the White Horse Tavern?)