“‘PC Load Letter’? What the **** does that mean?”

Cult Classic (noun): A movie liked only by a tiny group of unhealthily obsessed fans. Probably garbage, possibly repellent, the reason it failed commercially is usually immediately obvious to anybody who isn’t one of the unhealthily obsessed fans. See The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

To be fair, cult classics are not always totally terrible. In fact, many of them are quite good. That said, all of them appeal to a narrow slice of the audience and it’s usually pretty easy to see why.

Office Space is a cult classic. Quite funny, and eminently quotable… in fact, let’s do a little bit of that.

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I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about the movie Dunkirk.  Usually, my taste in movies does not align with the critics but, despite that, I decided to make a rare visit to the theater and suggest you do the same.

Dunkirk follows three story lines. The first concerns two soldiers doing their best to escape the beaches. After the introductory scenes a title appears: “The Mole, one week”. I was confused as usually a reference would give the exact date or begin a count down such as “Day 1”.  The next storyline begins on a warf in England and follows a man, his son and his son’s friend as they sail their small craft across the Channel towards Dunkirk.  This scene is introduced as “one day”.  Finally, a squadron of Spitfires flying across the channel to provide air cover is introduced and tagged as  “one hour”.  Now it made sense. All three storylines are interrelated though the movie goes back and forth in time as we follow the soldiers through a week long ordeal on the beaches, the sailors on a perilous journey and the pilots through a very eventful hour.

No compliants with this movie.  Despite a scene in which the boat captain explains why he will continue to sail into danger the film is refreshingly absent of the insuffereably bad heroic speeches which infest Hollywood’s attempts at history.  If you want good speeches then the previews revealed a movie release this this October about Churchill at the beginning of World War II,  so hold tight.

During an opening scene on the beach I noticed what looked to be a couple of modern apartment buildings in the distance. I believe a lot of filming was done at Dunkirk so there must have been a lot of effort to avoid filming modern buildings or cover hide them using special effects. Only a minor quibble but the Mole was not a pier but was actually a mole, i.e., a breakwater. The piers and quays at Dunkirk were already rendered unusuable by bombing. The importance of the mole and the small boats was that the shore at Dunkirk shelved only gradually, so larger ships could not get in close for embarkation.

Some small details that I enjoyed:   a rifle jamming in the opening scene and the Spitfire pilots discussing the amount of time they will have providing aircover over the beaches depending on the altitude they fly en route. When one of the plane’s fuel gauges fails the pilot radios his comrade asking how many gallons the other plane has left.  When told the other plane has fifty gallons left the pilot does some mental math and uses chalk to mark his dashboard with the time he had left to return home safely. I bet a few CH Blog readers can relate but may have used a grease pencil on glass instead.  Finally, some Dutch schuyts helped with the evacuation and I think I saw one in the movie.

The Spitfires were beautiful to see but I am upset that they didn’t put in a disclaimer stating that “No Spitfires were hurt in the making of this movie”.

For those interested in reseraching the evacuation look up “Operation Dynamo”.

Instead of using a point or star system to grade this movie I’ll use a binary grading system: is this movie worth enduring the standard the crappy movie house commercials and previews, all in high volume?  Yes.

 

 

Pulp Revolution (Kairos) PulpFail — “There are people whose lives have no other meaning than Star Wars. They are legion. And now their last common cultural touchstone is being strip-mined of all value. It’s like some kind of memetic disease. They pay people who hate them to be insulted. Delude themselves into thinking they enjoyed the experience. Realize they’ve been had on the second viewing. But selective amnesia sets in by the time the next round of postmodern hazing begins. I don’t know if these inmates of pop culture purgatory can be saved. I have to try.”

Appendix N (Pits Perilous) The Methodological OSR? — “Things were approached from the perspective(s) of those living at the time. Believe me, four decades of role-playing has given rise to many abiding conventions; among them, the idea that dwarves are miniature Vikings with a Scottish accent. But back then, dwarves were more often based on the stuff of 19th century fairy tales. You know, impish little people with colorful cloaks. Look at the elf on page 32 of OD&D’s Men & Magic booklet or the various depictions in TSR’s Swords & Spells. It was all tasseled hats and curly-toed shoes because back then, that’s the antiquated lens we saw demi-humans through.”

From the Comments (Pulprev.com) Getting Started: Stuff You Can Show Your Friends — “I highly recommend reading The Three Musketeers, fantastic adventure story with even better sequels. Dumas reads almost contemporary. But, a huge sticking point that has to be mentioned. You have to make sure to get the superior Richard Pavear translation. The cheap stuff is based on dry and censored Victorian era translations. It’s night and day in quality.”

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Astounding Frontiers is a brand new magazine that embraces the pulp brand– one that promises to “evoke wonder in the way the golden age of science fiction did.” This is absolutely a step in the right direction and I have no doubts that if there had been magazines on the newsstands during the nineties even remotely like this that there would be more people reading and writing science fiction today and the short science fiction scene we have inherited today would be that much less of a wasteland.

Everything you’ve heard the leading lights of the various puppy movements denounce as garbage? It’s basically not here. These are straight ahead stories devoid of naked attempts to be taken seriously by the sort of people that reflexively hate normal people, Western Civilization, rationality, and common sense. Even better, the stories here are short, they don’t waste your time, and deliver their payload with very little in the way of preamble and cruft. Yes, heavy hitters like John C. Wright and Nick Cole are here with with serials that are by themselves worth the price of admission. But there’s some new faces as well, as well as authors that you might not know well enough yet to take a chance on with a full length novel.

I’ve heard so much frustration from authors that want to be part of the short fiction scene but which are arbitrarily excluded for the flimsiest of ideological reasons. I’m not talking about the hard core people, either. I’m talking about extremely inoffensive moderates whose only crime is that their fail to join into the current “Two Minutes Hate” aggressively enough for the gatekeepers. And then there’s the guy that submitted to a Weird Tales revival that got a rejection note that stated that his story had too much wonder. (?!)

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One of the stranger entries in the franchise, Lupin III’s 40th anniversary special, the 2008 Green vs. Red, took a risk by not featuring its namesake character at all. Instead, it pitted two of the most iconic versions of Lupin against each other in a fight for the Lupin name, the Green Jacket against the Red, each worn by an impostor to the name. Through non-sequential story-telling, the audience learns about the man who would wear the Green and why he would become the world’s greatest thief.

Yasuo, a down on his luck ramen cook, comes across a green jacket and a Walther P38 by accident. Mistaken by the police for Lupin III, Yasuo decides to become yet another of a long line of impersonators trying to take the place of the missing master thief. As he studies the skills of the master, Yasuo starts picking pockets, first to buy presents for his reporter girlfriend Yukiko, and then to help pay for her family’s medical bills. As his dissatisfaction with his life grows, Yasuo retreats into the persona of the Green Jacket Lupin until he decides to prove himself as the real Lupin. When another impersonator gets arrested for mere shoplifting, a legion of Lupin look-alikes descend upon the town, each wanting to prove themselves the real deal. But Yasuo proves himself better than the rest, and to crown himself as Lupin, he sets his eyes on the Ice Cube diamond, setting out on a heist with Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko. He is stopped, however by a Lupin in a Red Jacket. Claiming  to be an impostor as well, he challenges Yasuo to a duel for the Lupin name. As Green and Red square off, other impostors swarm, Zenigata chases, and Yukiko learns the truth behind Yasuo’s new hobby. And when things can’t get any worse, the Red Jacket Lupin might be the real one… Read More

Carl Lundgren (born 1947) is an artist who you probably have seen but did not realize who he is. He started out in the mid 1970s with a post-Frazetta style for the first printings of the first two Horseclans books by Robert Adams.

These covers in my opinion are superior to the later Ken Kelly covers with their Mr. Universe posing. Lungren illustrates dynamic action going on.

Lundgren also did some covers for the cheesy “Richard Blade” series. He also produced a cover for Pinnacle’s reprints of the Harold Lamb histories in the late 1970s.

Suleiman the Magnificent

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My own column from two weeks ago got me thinking recently.  Has there ever been a good, nevermind great science fiction novel that did not feature a strong, unique hero?  We’re not considering short stories or novellas, as some don’t even have significant protagonists, but full-length works.

At first, my mind couldn’t come up with an example.  Even books famed for other qualities had excellent heroes.  Dune has the best world-building I’ve come across, but Paul Atreides is a tremendous protagonist.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a phenomenal story of revolt, conspiracy, politics, and freedom, but it has no fewer than four memorable, outstanding main heroes, including the computer, Mike.  In fact, none of the Heinlein books I read qualify. A common theme of many of his works, especially the juveniles, was the transformation of the main character into a hero.

Philip K Dick may be known for his brilliant, insane works, but damn if Rick Deckard or Jason Tarverner aren’t resourceful, intellectually deep, original protagonists.

Finally, I came up with two books, and it will be interesting to see whether their more generic, weaker protagonists added to the story or hindered it.

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John Carter of Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a giant of the sci-fi genre, popularizing many of the tropes we associate with it, from humanlike aliens and post-apocalyptic settings to lightsaber battles and proud warrior races, among other things. But even though most of the attention goes to Tarzan, John Carter had a far bigger impact than anyone realized.

In short, one can draw a direct line from John Carter, clean-limbed fighting man of Virginia, to Son Goku, the Super Saiyan God.

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Another day another nontroversy, with the usual crowd this week cheering the announcement that the next Doctor Who protagonist will be a woman and simultaneously gnashing their teeth at the mouth-breathers who aren’t ready for a Strong Woman Doctor! Meanwhile the rest of us carry on not watching Doctor Who and not caring much either way.

Continuing on with my series on awesome women in scifi/fantasy (Brackett, Bradamante), I’d like to highlight a well-done female character from a much better scifi series – Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. That’s right – for all the talk of women breaking new ground in film and TV in recent years, 22 years ago we were introduced to a badass female commanding officer from one of the most popular scifi franchises in the world.

Now I know I’m probably in the minority in my love of Voyager, but I’m going to put a pin in that for now and focus on why Janeway was such a great character and my favorite Star Trek captain.

Somewhat reminiscent of the Iowan Captain Kirk, Janeway was raised on the plains of Indiana, spending much of her childhood years on her grandfather’s farm. She was both curious and outdoorsy, and would later muse that there were no anomalies more frightening than a thunderstorm on the plains. Much like Kirk, Janeway’s diligent, defiant, and pioneering American spirit would serve her well in the captain’s chair.

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A. Merritt’s Burn, Witch, Burn is structured almost like a song. Each of the first three chapters ends with its half cadence consisting of either a grisly death or else a stunning revelation. But how exactly do you get to those thrilling crescendos…? There’s the interplay between the tough but superstitious mob boss, the speculations of the insightful doctor, and then the careful skepticism and professionalism of his colleague. Together they harmonize together, explaining and developing the mystery while grounding the horror in real human reactions. It’s masterfully done. And the fact that the vast majority of films and television today lack this sort of cogency only makes it better.

Just as striking is the sort of cultural furniture these themes are thread between. Not that it’s a surprise that the protagonist invokes Sherlock Holmes when another character makes an unsupported intuitive leap that’s too much for him. It gets better, though:

“There are three ways a person can be killed by poison or by infection: through the nose—and this includes by gases—through the mouth and through the skin. There are two or three other avenues. Hamlet’s father, for example, was poisoned, we read, through the ears, although I’ve always had my doubts about that. I think, pursuing the hypothesis of murder, we can bar out all approaches except mouth, nose, skin—and, by the last, entrance to the blood can be accomplished by absorption as well as by penetration. Was there any evidence whatever on the skin, in the membranes of the respiratory channels, in the throat, in the viscera, stomach, blood, nerves, brain—of anything of the sort?”

Not floored, yet? I didn’t expect so. You and I both are familiar with the famous scene from Hamlet, the play within a play where Hamlet carefully watched his uncle’s reaction. But here’s the thing. How often do you allude to such things in order to illustrate a point? It’s not reflexive to me. And how often do you see such allusions in fantasy and science fiction today…? The most recent example of that I can think of that’s even close would be the Dickens bits from Star Trek II.

So no, that’s not that out there. I do think it odd given the number of people that have insistent to me that pulp stories were kids literature. And I know kids in those days were pretty smart and all. But am I really supposed to believe that this sort of thing is pitched to them?!

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Pre-order part two of the best selling LawDog Files here.

LawDog had the honor of representing law and order in the Texas town of Bugscuffle as a Sheriff’s Deputy, where he became notorious for, among other things, the famous Case of the Pink Gorilla Suit. But long before he put on the deputy’s star, he grew up in Nigeria, where his experiences were equally unforgettable, and in most cases, every bit as funny. In THE LAWDOG FILES: AFRICAN ADVENTURES, LawDog chronicles his encounters with everything from bush pilots, 15-foot pythons, pygmy mongooses, brigadier-captains, and Peace Corp hippies to the Nigerian space program.

THE LAWDOG FILES: AFRICAN ADVENTURES are every bit as funny as the previous volume, as LawDog relates his unforgettable experiences in a laconic, self-deprecating manner that is funny in its own right. Africa wins again, and again, and again, but, so too does the reader in this sobering, but hilarious collection of true tales from the Dark Continent.

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Reader Praise for the LawDog files:

“I have been reading these shorts since the early 2000s on TFL, and it’s great to see them finally collected in a single place. By turns hilarious, poignant, and thought provoking they show the life of a deputy sheriff in small town West Texas, and the miscreants one encounters in the course of duty. It’s a de facto tribute to all those who wear the badge, day in and day out, and the things and people they have to put up with. Highly recommended!”

“Terrific American humor. LawDog leads the reader on a fantastic and hilarious journey through human psychology, the realities of rural Texas, and the ups and downs of LEO life. Going into the book I was uncertain what to expect. He’s much more than a Sheriff’s Deputy – a humorist of great eloquence and adroitness.”

“LawDog is one of the best writers I have ever encountered. I feel like I am sitting around a fire, hearing stories from a favorite uncle. His descriptions are hilarious and his “translations” of colloquialisms are incredibly creative and spot on.”

“About the time I was reading about the “Serving Platter of Doom +3”, I was laughing hard enough that I couldn’t see the page. If your eyes are dry after reading about Mr. Johnson, you have no soul. I recognized the “two beers” from my own time in law enforcement. All in all, I enjoyed this book far more than I should have, and I suspect you will too. It gives you a mostly unvarnished look at a few moments in the life of a law enforcement officer.”

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Don’t miss out on the LawDog’s adventures in Bugscuffle, Texas:

The Stratosphere Menace by Ralph Milne Farley appeared in the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales. A scanned pdf of this issue can be found here at Luminist.org.

This story presented a bit of a quandary for me. Though I’m building my familiarity with the pulps slowly but surely, I’m still sometimes caught out by a story like this where I’m unsure as to which degree of self-awareness the piece was written.

In the case of The Stratosphere Menace, we have either an incredibly mediocre science fiction story, the kind of which the pulps are “known for”, or a brilliant and biting satire of the stodgier sort of scientifiction with a mad scientist and a barely competent military that stops him by merest accident. I choose to approach this piece as the latter, and I think there are just enough cues in the text to justify my reading of it as such.

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