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Money Green and blood red, Pulp Modern remains crisp. Like a toned cougar fresh out of a spin class; as soon as you flip open that sexy faux suede jacket—before you even dig in, you can see this pulp has aged like fine wine. First let’s talk art direction—volume 2, number one features a simple but iconic cover image, but what’s so striking about it, is its rich use of vivid color. I know what you’re thinking—get to the stories, it’s all about the writing. And it is of course, but that said—presentation is everything, and thanks to Richard Krauss, it’s got a gorgeous cover. Editor Alec Cizak claims gone are the experiments—but I disagree. The new Pulp Modern hosts an arsenal of experimental innovations: images accompanying each story; a question prompt above each title, answered by the story; even the advent of cartoons, courtesy of Bob Vojtko. Maybe they’re not so experimental, since they prove to work seamlessly throughout the collection. Story-wise these 13 tales run the gambit, when it comes to genres: Horror, Sci-Fi, Crime, Westerns. This issue has it all. Standouts for me were, first up: “Maddy Lee Reviews the Movie They Made About Her and Buck”(Tim P. Walker), a darker side of a Bonnie and Clyde duo, that takes you on a wild ride at gunpoint, taking sharp turns you never saw coming. Followed up next by “Now is Not a Good Time to Die”(Mark David Adam), which heightens layers of increasing suspense up until its twist ending. A very tightly written piece with true Hitchcockian suspense. In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about this piece was the title. “La Cross” (Stephen D. Rogers), winks satirical smugness at the vampire genre, while mixing it with clever observational humor. The near-future sci-fi piece, “Death Sentence” (Marc E. Fitch) had a fantastic and engrossing narrative voice, and “All Sales Final”(Mario E. Martinez) is a tightly written future story about bioengineering with distinct echoes of Philip K Dick. This issue is a collector’s item. Get it now, or at least before A.C. retires it, and it ends up selling on ebay for $1,000 a pop.
For starters, I will say that I was a contributor to this issue of Pulp Modern. However, that doesn't discount me from reading and reviewing the other 12 stories in the publication. As a fan of many genres of strange and interesting fiction, I found this to be a unique collection. While every reader in the world has differing tastes and dislikes, I will admit that not all of these stories were my cup of tea. Some read like a workshopped version of a generic prompt that ended up decent, but still somewhat trite. Others were predictable and slow, but not the worst thing in the world. Others, though, I loved. Exciting and leaving me wanting more, I didn't move until the story was finished. Engaging plots and characters with well written prose, I felt honored to be published alongside some of these other authors. And as short as they all are, it didn't take long to get to the end. That's the thing--this isn't one of those anthologies with 100 page stories that take forever to get to the point (if there even is one). All 13 of these are stories that set a scene, tell you what they need, and end with a sense of finality that is getting harder and harder to come by anymore. What you take away from them is up to you. You can't argue about the cost or the presentation, but what's really important here is the writing. Maybe you'll love all 13 stories, maybe you'll hate them, but in the end, you won't be able to deny you've felt something, and that's what it's all about.
A belated review, updated from my initial entry. This was my first go at this anthology magazine, and I'm really, really impressed. I am definitely going to be a regular reader of this one. As I've said before, one of the aspects of anthologies of short fiction I love is the introduction to a wealth of authors new to my reading list. And I certainly was not disappointed here - I'll be searching out individual works from several of the featured writers. Of course the collection lives up to its "Pulp Modern" title - full of noir, twists and hard-boiled delights. The editor, Alec Cizak, has done a tremendous job collecting the variety of pulp here – all darkness, but with a great ride across different genres. I did enjoy the whole lot, whether crime, horror, or fantasy. Hard to pick a favourite – a common problem I have with anthologies. However, “Lady of the Mask” by L.S.Engler is up there – it’s a dance with terrible twist. “Now is Not a Good Time to Die” by Mark David Adam is great, and a salutary reminder of the perils of picking up in bars! Also really enjoyed “Housewarming” by fellow Aussie, Lucy Kiff – and it’s the neighbours from hell.
I'm sorry, but I think the best thing about this book is its cover. It looks like Nancy Reagan from some late '40's film noir, smoking a cig and holding a Webley on somebody, a particularly nasty piece of British WWI hardware.
After that, I'm genuinely sad to say, it was pretty much downhill from there. I guess my problem is I was expecting more crime fiction based on the cover and the name than what I found inside. The closest thing to it and the best story was Tim P. Walker's "Maddy Lee Reviews The Movie They Made About Her And Buck." This had the advantage of being about characters whose lives and activities seemed to bear some resemblance to real, actual people living hardscrabble lives in the backwoods who took to crime as an easy, quick way to get money. Even it didn't really generate much tension or suspense.
Other than that, none of the other stories in this collection did much for me. "The Hand We're Dealt," by Michael Wertenberg did create a macabre, Poe like atmosphere, but the climax lacked the ironic twist of poetic justice found in "A Cask Of Amontillado." Other stories I didn't care for at all and couldn't even finish. "La Cross" by Stephen D. Rogers is about vampires playing lacrosse at night with lethal consequences while a female, human journalist watches through night vision goggles. This is probably just me, but why are people so fixed on vampires and zombies and all these other stale tropes? It seems done to death to me.
Most of the other stories seemed to fit in the same round hole, tales of people being haunted, a little boy confronted by a mysterious stranger, etc. This certainly qualifies as pulp along the lines of Weird Tales I suppose. I guess most of my disappointment stems from the fact that I hoped to read something more along the lines of Black Mask, hardboiled crime fiction.
My taste doesn't fit very well with most other folks, so I leave it to you to decide, but like I said, this didn't do much for me.
It’s great to see the return of Pulp Modern! Their latest issue is a hard-hitting collection of tough tales. All of the stories are fun to read, but there are a couple of real standouts. Tim P. Walker’s “Maddy Lee Reviews the Movie They Made About Her and Buck” is a lesson in voice and has a wonderful ending. “Lady of the Mask” by L.S. Engler is the story that Poe wanted to but didn’t dare write. And Nick Manzolillo takes you on a harrowing trip to a stop on the Underground Railroad that never appeared in history books in “The Star Trail.” A bundle of tough tales, and some funny cartoons to boot, Pulp Modern 2.1 is an essential read.
I had a ringside seat in the development of this issue. Producing the layouts I read each story three times. They’re all killer. Uncle B. priced the new Pulp Modern for max affordability. Get it. Read it. Rate it. It’s the right thing to do.