Sunday, March 20, 2011

Electronic Pulp

A couple of decades ago, if you strolled by the little wire-rack shelves of paperbacks in the local drug store or supermarket, you'd probably see garishly-painted covers depicting grim-faced muscular men, blazing guns, exploding helicopters, and general mayhem, along with trade dress along the top that identified the book as number # in the adventures of Mack Bolan, The Executioner or Nick Carter, Killmaster or Remo Williams, The Destroyer or one of the other Man of Action series that proliferated from the '60s through the '80s.

Those books, along with the Harlequin Romances flanking them, were the paperback junk food of that time. In many ways, they were the evolution of the bloody-pulp heroes of the '30's. (Not surprisingly, reprints of those same pulp heroes' adventures, repackaged with spiffy cover art, were being sold alongside them.) Moreover, they were artifacts of an era in which far more people read novels. Along with the mystery lovers, and the science fiction fans, and the folks who read literature and bestsellers, there were ordinary guys, men who frequented bars and drove trucks and watched pro wrestling, who read books. For entertainment. And these were some of the books they read. Evidently in great quantities, because they were all over the place, clogging used book stores and book exchanges as readers tore through them and discarded them.

My cousin Lee Goldberg got his literary start in the 1980s writing one of those series, under the pseudonym Ian Ludlow. And now he has returned to his roots, as he and his TV writing partner Bill Rabkin have started THE DEAD MAN, a series of sinewy novellas starring brawny sawyer Matthew Cahill, written primarily for the ebook market that is supplanting mass-market paperbacks.

The first book, which I finished yesterday, is a traditional superhero origin story for Cahill, who dies in an avalanche and is resurrected by supernatural means. He picks up an infernal nemesis (who likely had a hand in his resurrection), the ability to determine who is about to commit evil, and a compulsion to do something about it with his trusty axe. The series features the dense boluses of sex and gory violence endemic to the genre. And just to show that the authors don't take this stuff too seriously, there's a running gag: The narrator takes random incidental characters, folks who will never appear again, and tells us the sordid details of their lives. (After illuminating one young woman's perversion, the narrator comments, "But you'd never know any of that looking at her and are probably sorry that you know it now.")

Some of the subsequent books will be written by Lee and Bill; others will be written by guest authors, including Lee's uncle Burl Barer.

I'm not sure if the return of the Man of Action genre will encourage the working-man audience of those books to return. More likely the audience will be fans of pulps, tough-guy literature, supernatural thrillers, and the nostalgic.

As for me, well, the authors decided to name Cahill's former employer after our former family business, B. Barer & Sons. So the word "Barer" appears about 10 times in the first book. One way to get me to read a book is to repeatedly mention my name.

1 comment:

Lee Goldberg said...

Thanks for the great review...even if you are far from impartial :-)