Monday, March 24, 2008


The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage, 2007)

One of the first things you learn as a writer is to write for your intended audience, especially if you're getting paid for it. Thus, when I reviewed The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps here a few months ago, I felt the need to assume I was advising naifs for whom John Travolta epitomizes pulp fiction.

Now I don't.

The Big Book is not a great anthology--it's a great package. It's so god damned big (1,100+ pages), authentic (the stories, cover art, and interior illustrations all from real pulps!) and, like the pulps themselves, cheap (only $25!), it's hard not to get your money's worth.

But I do need to bitch about the editing. Otto Penzler may be Mr. Mysterious Press, but he's pretty far down on my list of potential pulp anthology editors. (I bet he doesn't even trail bits of pulp paper behind him when he walks.) Despite the 1,100 pages, there a surprising lack of variety on the contributor's list. While plenty of big names are missing, several authors are represented by two stories, and Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, and Erle Stanley Gardner have three each! And not one by Robert Leslie Bellem? It's just not right.

My biggest gripe, however, is the inclusion of an entire damned novel by Carroll John Daly. As Penzler points out, you can't not include Daly in this sort of anthology. He literally wrote the first hardboiled detective story, and was as big as Hammett back in the day. But the years have not been kind to him. His stuff is virtually unreadable today. (Not surprisingly, his biggest fan was the equally talented Mickey Spillane.) A short story (and yes, he wrote many) would have been painful enough. A full novel is not only sadistic, it takes up space that could have been enjoyably devoted to any one of a dozen writers.

But even after you skip the Chandler stories you already read, skim the second-rate Hammett stuff, and carefully avoid soiling yourself with the Daly novel, you're still left with more than 700 pages of some pretty good pulp fiction. If my copy hadn't been free, I would have bought one.

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