Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tale...

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (March 1938, vol. 31, no. 3) featuring Incense of Abomination by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disclosure: As you might guess from the last name, J. David Spurlock is my uncle. While I love him dearly, we try to maintain a family value of honesty and we all share a respect for literature and art, so read this review with no worries: I’m being honest, honest!

She was something special, something different. In the early days of Weird Tales magazine, the art featured was often lush, lurid, and deliciously effective, and none more so than that of Margaret Brundage. In an era when women were often forced into restrictive social roles, she defied expectations on multiple levels.

Her work was frankly sexual and sensational, with most covers featuring deep colors and sharply outlined figures of naked–or mostly naked–women, usually in danger and–perhaps counter-intuitively–posing sexily while coping with that danger.

Weird Tales, May 1934

Weird Tales, May 1934; Cover by Margaret Brundage.

Sometimes there were also scantily-clad men, though it was sometimes unclear who was supposed to be protecting whom.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art
functions as a combination of biographical essays and art collection, combining notes, bits of detail, full essays, and gorgeous, full-color illustrations of all of her Weird Tales covers, along with various other, lesser known, pieces.

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tale...

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (November 1936, vol. 28, no. 4) featuring Witch-House by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite section, “The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage”, gives us a snapshot of early 20th Century politics and what it was like for Margaret and her husband, Slim (who shared her political and social interests). Here you can find details on their involvement with labor activism and the Wobblies (The Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), the Chicago activist scene, the Free Speech movement, and the civil rights movement. Some of the issues and views detailed show that while, in many ways, the issues remain the same, the movements themselves have changed a great deal, with the IWW all but extinct and the labor movement demonized by many.

While I don’t want to recount too many details (yes, even historical books can have spoilers!), I do want to say that as an author who owes a great deal to Weird Tales AND as a person who has spent a good part of his own life devoted to progressive and labor activism, the book taught me a lot, as well as collecting some truly beautiful and historically important works of art.

Highly recommended.

Review: Too Late To Call Texas by Trent Zelazny (No Spoilers)

If only he hadn’t found the hat. Or the dead guy. Or the steamer trunk. Or the rag doll. If only he hadn’t found any of these things, everything might have been okay. But he had found them. All of them. Now Carson Halliday is on the run, trying his damnedest to keep one step ahead of a dangerous gang of outlaws and mad men. A run leading him from town to town in the dry wasteland of the southern New Mexico desert, over dark hills and dangerous plains, through shantytowns and city streets, and, most frightening of all, into the mysterious depths of the human heart.

Trent Zelazny, author and son of famous author of the Amber series (and many other fine novels) Roger Zelazny, has been on a prolific streak lately. His work differs from his father’s, of course, so those looking for the continued adventures of the Logrus and the Unicorn in the Shadow may be disappointed, but that is the only disappointment to be found in Trent’s writing. His stark, yet emotional and introspective, crossover noir is his own, in both style and content, and it works.

Followers of both my blog and published work, under both names, know that I’m not a big fan of crime novels. Oh, I had my hard-boiled period where I enjoyed the exploits of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, but overall I am a lover and author of speculative fiction in all three major branches: horror, science fiction, and fantasy. But Trent’s work is like a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with homages and tropes so thick it’s become hard to tell the difference between authors or novels.

“Too Late To Call Texas” is one of those breaths of fresh air. I want to avoid spoilers in any sense, so I don’t want to go beyond what the book advertises, itself. The tale begins with a man, Carson–not exactly a role-model, but what hard-boiled anti-hero is?–and his discovery of a hat on the side of a desert road…a hat with a bullet-hole through it. From that moment forward, Carson’s problems increase exponentially with each scene, leaving him stranded in the desert, guilty of multiple murders–all in self-defense, of course–and desperately trying to evade both the police and the criminals searching for what else he found near the hat. Over time, the real story behind what has been happening is revealed, and its narrow-minded path of destruction is contrasted heavily with Carson’s entire mode of existence. He is constantly dealing with several different factors at once, from his own safety to that of his wife and the larger elements at work around him that, for a good chunk of the novel, he can only vaguely sense or see. Those hunting him, and the very important items which he has found, however, are myopic to the level of stupidity.

This is one of the themes that I feel I can address without producing spoilers. One of the reasons I’ve never been a huge fan of noir was the rather unrealistic ways the characters act and think…the utter simplicity of their internal states seemed downright robotic to me. But Trent’s work and “Too Late To Call Texas” go another way entirely, whether it’s in Carson’s thoughts as he walks through his various trials and battles or in his interactions with his wife. And the realities of human existence aren’t limited to our hero, either…his wife, key victims of the larger forces arrayed against them, and even the descriptive language of scenes and action show a depth of concern with the realities of the human condition. None of these people are shining beacons of goodness and morality, but neither are the rest of us; humanity is a nuanced, mixed bag, and Trent does not shy away from showing us just how varied the hearts and minds of humans in peril can be.

The style is a gorgeous combination of the lushness his father’s fantasy work is famous for, while still hitting the staccato beats and fast-paced feel which is the calling card of noir and hard-boiled crime fiction. One sentence stands out perfectly as an example of what I mean:

There was nothing but the country and there was nothing in the country.

There is a sentence that punches you in the gut while still putting you into a dreamy reverie. There have been very few authors capable of hitting both notes in their work at all, much less hitting them both in the same sentence. Trent Zelazny is one of those authors, and I highly recommend “Too Late To Call Texas” and his other works, which I’m slowly devouring myself.

“Too Late To Call Texas” will be released October 31, 2012…so click the image below to get over to Amazon and make an investment in one of the best up-and-coming authors of the 21st century. You won’t regret it.

Too Late To Call Texas