Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dead on the Bones: Pulp on Fire, by Joe R. Lansdale, with illustrations by Timothy Truman

 Return to those thrilling pulp adventures of yesteryear, with champion mojo storyteller Joe Lansdale....

 With DEAD ON THE BONES: PULP ON FIRE, Lansdale and publisher Subterranean Press have created a perfect pulp fiction pastiche, expertly capturing the feel of the old stories that Lansdale is paying tribute to. This is a double-edged sword, though...

 The collection features eight stories that hit upon a variety of genres: Detective, horror, jungle adventure, noir, and space adventure. When Lansdale is firing on all cylinders, as he does with most of the stories, it's smooth sailing. There were a few personal rough patches, but they might be related to personal genre issues.

 I'll get the good out of the way first:

 The collection starts off with THE GRUESOME AFFAIR OF THE ELECTRIC BLUE LIGHTNING, which features Poe's Detective Dupin in a macabre mystery that echoes Poe, Shelley, and Lovecraft run through a blender and spiked with hallucinogenics.

  NAKED ANGEL is a straightforward detective story involving a cop who finds a dead woman encased in a block of ice.

 DEAD ON THE BONES is probably the most "Lansdale"  story in the collection. A grim, multifaceted tale of sex, voodoo, and vengeance from beyond the grave, this tale fairly drips with Texas atmosphere. The collection is worth picking up just for this story.

 TARZAN AND THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT is exactly what the title implies. I've never read a Burroughs Tarzan novel, so I can't say how well Lansdale replicates the flavor, but I had a good time with this story.

 The mediocre and the not-so-good, you ask....?

 There are four stories that I didn't care for at all, three of which have science fiction trappings.

 First off, there's KING OF THE CHEAP ROMANCE, which finds an amazonian woman battling an ice shark on another planet. Not a terrible story, but one that goes on waaaaay too long, and wears out its welcome quickly.

 THE REDHEADED DEAD is a standard weird western, without a surprise in sight.

 The final two stories in the collection suffer from guilt-by-association. They are essentially the same story with very slight variations, and are grouped together in the back of the book. UNDER THE WARRIOR STAR is a spin on the venerable pulp trope of "Earthman transported to alien planet", and it reminded me of why my own fascination with the pulps didn't last long. Most of those old stories were written for a penny a word, so they had a LOT of words. Some of them seemed to go on and on and on and on and....kind of like that. This story started out strong, and maintained my interest until about halfway through, when you could almost feel Lansdale decide to replicate that "Paid by the word" feeling by padding the story with details about every aspect of the alien planet and its lifeforms. I didn't bail on the story, but I was sorely tempted to.

 Enter the final story of the collection, THE WIZARD OF THE TREES, which, while thankfully briefer, follows almost the exact same story template: Earth man mysteriously transported to alien planet meets a brother and sister and joins them in their quest. Shorter and easier to digest, but grouping these two together at the end of the book was a huge mistake.

 Overall, DEAD ON THE BONES: PULP ON FIRE is a fun collection, and showcases Lansdale's ability to write in a variety of styles. It nets a solid seven out of ten devil heads:

 Subterranean Press provided a review copy.

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