Caviat: This truncated edition of Bits & Pieces is brought to you by my back, which I threw out this week, placing both my concentration and my ability to sit at a computer under considerable restraint.
Openers: The big seaplane, like a wounded bird, was shooting earthward to its destruction. The three persons taking that whizzing plunge to death -- the pilot, who sat in his cockpit ahead, frozen to his controls, and the man and girl strapped side by side in the seat behind -- were white-faced, tense, yet it may have been the terrific downward rush through the air that drew the blood from their cheeks, rather than that they were blanched with fear. They gripped the edge of the fuselage, while eternity seemed to fling itself at them.
Scarcely a minute before the heavy machine, cumbersome with its weighty pontoons, had lifted above the fog-bank which lay like a thick-piled rug above the northern wilderness of mountaain peaks, gigantic chasms, vast stands of spruce, and booming rivers of white water. Then, with its motor roaring wide open, it had pointed its up-rounded nose at the gunsight notch of a mountain-pass sharply outlined against the horizon.
Through that break in the serrated skyline, a "williwaw," fierce northern gale, was pouring its whirling air currents like water escaping from the lifted gates of a great adam; a torrent of cyclonic force. It smote the seaplane suddenly, literally stopping the machine in mid-air, so that the craft hung motionless, poised there like a huge bird, a mile high. So steady was the wind pressure and so heavy the machine that it held its position, doggedly fighting against the invisible stream, while its smoking engine thundered in defiant anger at the unseen obstacle. For ten seconds the struggle lasted. Then the "williwaw" demon, riding on the wings of his howling, shrieking courses, played a trump card. He sent along a vast air-pocket!
-- "The Menace of Mastodon Valley" by Kenneth Gilbert (from Action Stories, September 1926)
From darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org, November 12, 2020: "...one of the strangest northernsI have ever read. Gilbert is best remembered as a writer of adventure and dog stories for children. Before this he wrote dozens of pieces for the Pulps, primarily for Street and Smith's Western Stories. Many of his works were westerns and northerns. With 'The Menace of Masterson Valley' [...] he slipped a little closer toward the Science Fiction magazines, at least the Edgar Rice Burroughs variety..."
It takes another seven purple prose-laden paragraphs for pilot Tom Franklin to land the plane safely to the shore of what Tom thought was a lake, albeit with a lot of damage to the machine. Tom's two passengers are an engaged couple, Edith Gresham and Lanning Bearslee, who are searching for Edith's missing uncle, an archaeologist who vanished while searching for a supposed "lost valley" in British Columbia. Safely on the ground, they are attacked by a native with a gun. Tom subdues the man. Beardslee does nothing to help. Tom wonders why a spunky girl like Edith would want to marry such a drip like Beardslee, who happens to be a decade older than Edith. (Hark! Do I suspect a potential romance is lurking?) With their captive tied up in the plane, Tom pushes it into the lake as an Indian shoots at them from the shore. But -- SPOILER ALERT! -- the lake is not a lake. It's a river. A fast moving river that takes the plane and its (now four) passengers go speeding down the river and into a mountain.
The plane gets stuck on a edge, allowing the four to get out and explore. Edith knows a little bit of the Indian's native tongue and questions him. His name is Anak and he warns that they have entered a sacred place -- a volcanic valley. And what a valley! They see a sabre-tooth tiger attack a deer; Anak is attacked by a mastodon; an ape-like figure is spotted in the distance.
Tom and Edith find her uncle and he introduces him to the ruler of the lost valley, the ape-like Indian Akut. Akut, who has befriended the deadly mastodon, had been banished from Anak's tribe and now is waging was on them. Edith's uncle tells he that she should not marry Beardslee but refuses to tell her why.
Tom kills a sabre-tooth tiger, Edith hurts her ankle and has to be carried by Tom (there's nothing like a well-turned swollen ankle to excite Tom's passion), Anak and Akut battle it out, and everyone decides to walk out of the valley. Along the way, they discover a mastodon "graveyard" that Edith's uncle has been searching for. Tom rescues Beardslee from the killer mastodon. Once out of the valley they are captured by Indians, who release them once Tom proves he has slain the big bad mastodon. They make it safely home. Beardslee admits that he is a crook and was trying to get rich by finding mastodon ivory; he heads off to somewhere, never to be heard from again. Tom and Edith get together and snuggle, happy that all is well in the world.
There's a lot to unpack there but "The Menace of Mastodon Valley" is an interesting read. It's not literature but it sure is a wild ride of pulp.
The idea that some part of this world houses prehistoric animals was a common motif in fiction up to the middle of the twentieth century. After that point it became fairly evident that there were no hidden corners of the world where such beasts might lurk. From Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth to Conan Doyle's The Lost World to the many lost kingdoms of Tarzan's Africa (including Pal-Ul-Don, first seen in Tarzan the Terrible) and far, far beyond, this theme may appear to be overworked to those who do not have a thirteen-year-old emotional mentality, but as one who does have a thirteen-year-old emotinal mentality, I say, "Fie on you!"
Action Stories, by the way, did not publish many stories of this type. Running from 1921 to 1950, with a total of 224 issues, it usually published "real-World" adventure tales -- westerns, sports, sea stories, war stories, and tales of exotic adventure. It was one of the more reliable magazines for good pulp fiction.
- Reed Farrel Coleman, Walking the Perfect Square. Mystery novel, the first in the Moe
Prager series. "Recently retired due to a freal accident, NYPD officer Moe Prager is lost. In pain and without the job he loves, Moe reluctantly settles on the notion of going into the wine business with his brother. When a suburban college student vanishes off the streets of Manhattan, Prager's universe is turned upside down and his life changed forever. Hired by the student's desperate family, Moe plunges deep into the world of New York's punk inderground, sex clubs, and biker bars. Politicians, journalists, and crooked cops seem hell-bent on stopping him in his tracks. Set on the gritty city streets of the late seventies and the present day, Walking the Perfect Square is a unique mystery that delivers a compelling look at a person's efforts to find a man who was never really there and to protect his family from an unnbearable truth." Coleman is a master of his art and the third book ib this series, The James Deans won the Anthony, Barry, and Shamus Awards and was nominated for the Edgar, Gunshoe, and Macavity Awards. The Busted Flush edition I have has an introduction by Megan Abbott.
- George Harmon Coxe, Death at the Isthmus. Mystery novel. "Jim Russell had always known that some day he would have to pay off the debt he owed Max Darrow. That this obligation, incurred on the island of Luzon in 1945, should take him to Panama City nine years later didn't seem particularly strange. Yet once there, Darrow seemed relunctant to talk, and by the time he changed his mind, things had broken wide open. First there was the slim girl with the high-cheekboned face and the sun-tanned legs. Then the man with the tinted glasses and his friend with the gun. Finally there was the indestructable Max Darrow, indestructable no longer, sprawled on the floor of his apartment in front of the rifled safe. Jim's promise to Darrow was hard to explain to the police, but he was most concerned about the girl. Emeralds, gun-running and jealousy mixed together make a dangerous brew, and too many people seemed to have sampled it." Coxe was the creator of "Flashgun" Casey. He wrote 63 novels over a career lasting 38 years. In 1964 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. His quick, facile style made him popular among mystery readers but he's on the verge of being a forgotten writer today.
- "Michael Delving" (Jay Williams), Die Like a Man. A Dave Cannon mystery. "Dave Cannon, rare book dealer and amateur sleuth, skeptically agreed to buy an ancient wooden cup claimed to be the Holy Grail. Cannon had no idea that he would be betrayed, attacked, victimized before he could get the Grail out of Wales. It took a bizarre medieval ceremony to unravel the modern, explosive issue underlying the mystery of the Holy Grail." Williams wrote five books about Cannon, but is better remembered for the fifteen-book young adult Danny Dunn series written with Raymond Abrashkin (the final ten books were written after Abrashkin's death but Williams insisted he continue to listed as a co-author).
- Paul Dini, with art by Bruce Timm, Batman: Mad Love. Graphic novel, but with a difference. This is the popular graphic novel, but in black and white, allowing the reader to color the story himself. "a comic's coloring is a lot like the soundtrack of a movie: it's something that's subtle yet always present. It's best when it doesn't draw attention to itself, yet on occasion it can be quite powerful and memorable. Now you can be your own composer and colorist! Add your own mood, dimension and depth to this Eisner Award-winning story." A "Coloring DC" edition of Harley Quinn's origin. I'm not really going to color the danged thing, but for half a buck I couldn't resist buying it.
- Peter Haining, editor, True Hauntings. Assemblage of various articles and newspaper clippings covering over a hundred accounts of ghostly sightings, mostly from the twentieth century. Contents include a Chronology of Hauntings, Fampus Ghost Hunters, Sexual Encounters with Ghosts, Show Business and the Supernatural, Theories about Ghosts, and an A-Z Glossary of Ghosts. It's all bushwah, of course, but it can make for interesting reading.
- Jussi Adler-Olsen (translated by Lisa Hartford), The Keeper of Lost Causes. The first (of eight, thus far) mystery featuring Carl Morck. "Carl Morck used to be one of Copenhagen's best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl -- who didn't draw his weapon -- blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl's got a stack of Copenhagen's coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politican vanished five year earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn't dead...yet." This one won the 2012 Bary Award for best novel.
- John Shirley, Everything Is Broken. Thriller. "Twenty-year-old Russ arrives in the northern California town of Freedom to visit his dad. Freedom has peculiarities other than its odd name: the local mayor's ideas of 'decentralization' have left it without normal connections to state or federal government and minimal public services. Russ meets an interesting young woman, Pendra, but before he can get to know much about Freedom or its people, a savage tsunami strikes the West Coast. The wave of human brutality that soon hits the isolated town proves more dangerous to the survivors than the natural disaster. Russ, his father, Pendra, and the other townsfolk must tap all their courage and ingenuity -- and find strength they never knew they had -- if they have any hope of living to find real freedom." Shirley is an award-winning writer of science fiction, horror, and suspense.
- Andy Weir, The Martian. Best-selling science fiction novel about survival and potatoes. "When a dust storm forces his crew to abandon the planet while thinking him dead, Astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars's surface, completely alone. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills -- and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength -- Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible adds against him?" Matt Damon played him in the 2015 film. The book has been translated into 46 languages and translations in Japanese. Hebrew, and Spanish have won major science fiction awards. A species of Australian bush tomato, Solanum Watneyi, was named after the book's protagonist -- it is a member of the same genus as the potato.