Archive for September, 2010

The Box by Mel Johnson (Barry Malzberg), Oracle Books, 1969

Posted in Barry N. Malzberg, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , on September 14, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Stylistically, The Box is the same as the other Oracle title,  A Way with All Maidens: no chapters, just one long narrative with a few scene breaks.  Thematically, however — except for being marketed as a “sex book” — this is 180 degrees different than Maidens, yet it is also similar: it is set in the past, the 1900s this time, narrated by William Jenniungs, a solider in some sort of military unit that is in conflict with “the Indians.”  At first we think this might be the calvalry vs. the American Indians, but a few pages further in, we realize the action takes place in India, and this is a British military unit enforcing colonial rule, fighting against rebels who want to oust Her Majesty’s reign.

So this is a historical “sex” novel, with hints of political commentary, such as discussions about British culture vs. Indian culture and worldviews:

The “colonel” is a bombastic leader who, like many Malzbergian men-in-charge, is quite possibly on the brink of insanity.  The narrator is screwing his wife without the colonel’s knowledge; she seems to be cheating on him as revenge for pulling her away from civilized London and forcing her to spend time in the barbaric India.

The sex is plenty and graphic and like Maidens and Southern Comfort, doesn’t ring true to the historical dialect. Does it matter for these kinds of books? In Malzberg’s case, it winds up being funny and you wonder if he meant it that way, as if making fun of the whole form of “historical erotica’ like the many faux Victorians published…

The Box is a rare and pricey book to find, one of the many must have Mel Johnsons for Malzberg fans out there.

The Many Worlds of Barry Malzberg (Popular Library, 1975)

Posted in Barry N. Malzberg, pulp fiction with tags , , on September 12, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

in 1975, Barry Malzberg published two collections, this 160 page little book and the massive, SF classic, The Best of Barry Malzberg (Pocket Books). By 1975, however, Malzberg had pretty much stopped writing SF novels and was collaborating on mysteries with Bill Pronzini and writing the Lone Wolff series as Mike Berry. But he was still chrurning out stories; his trademark was the 1500 word quickie tale of strange virtual reality or time travel schizoanalysis.

This one opens with a preface from Roger Elwood, the prolific editor who published many Malzberg stories in his dozens of theme anthologies and commissioning novels for various paperback houses, like Tactics of Conquest for Pyramid, that Malzberg wrote in four days and broke some ground in SF with an explicit gay rape scene. (The story, “Closed Sicilian,” that the novel expands is also in this collection — a short of SF take on Nabokov.)

Malzberg broke many taboos and crossed many lines in SF, including incest and matricide in his work.

Many Worlds collects several much reprinted works, like the novella “Final War,” a Nebula nominated work that I have always been convinced was ripped off by Oliver Stone for Platoon, since it’s about solidiers who turn against and kill a sadistic officer. Malzberg wrote “:Final War” in the late 60s as a Vietnam cautionary tale but was unable to sell it to literary markets, so revised the first page to make it SF and immediately placed it with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Two other widely reprinted stories are also included: “In the Cup” and “Death to the Keeper.”

“Here they are, what Nabokov calls the sins of youth,” Mazlberg starts the introduction, and notes that he is now thirty and feels old. Ha! I bet he looks back on that statement now and guffaws — the folly of youth! For instance, why did Malzberg include the sub-par story, “Initiation,” as the first story? It’s a weird tale about the narrator and his “Pop” kidnapping a 19 year old girl, and telling her they wish to form a cult of worshippers to usher in a speedy Armageddon event, for they are Satan and the Anti-Christ and demand that she bow down to their power, only in the end she has more power in a twist in semantics. Sounds cool but it falls flat.

Malzberg was writing about the ill effects of virtual realities used for simulations and therapy in the 70s, long before anyone else. One such tale is “The Union Forever,” that starts off with a presidential aide plotting to assassinate the President, and the the President desires to kill the aide, or they kill each other — we find out it is all computer simulations working on a variety of scenarios, and then the President and his aide, mere analogue computer tape constructs, turning against the computer and destroying what gives them reality.

But is Malzberg ever acknowledged for this pioneering vision?

Too Hot to Handle by Orrie Hitt (Beacon, 1959)

Posted in Beacon Books, noir fiction, Orrie Hitt, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , on September 12, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

This may be one of Hitt’s darkest novels. The keyhole peeper cover suggests this might be a peeping tom book but it’s not. Too Hot to Handle focuses on one of Hitt’s pet themes: young women in the 1950s who, out of bad circumstance, need, and blackmail, wind up as call girls, street hookers, or nude models.

Kay comes from the wrong side of town, Orchard Street, the red light district of sin and booze and crime. At fourteen, she is seduced by a friend of her father’s named Lucky. After teaching her all about sex, he tries to enlist her as a call girl for his operation. She had no idea he was a two-but pimp. She refuses.

At nineteen, she gets a job in a law office and winds up marrying the boss’ son, Burt, much to the boss’ chagrin — Kay is from Orchard Street, she’s not Ivy League class as he had hoped for his son, who just finished law school.

Burt tries opening his own office and they are poor, struggling, unable to meet rent on their West End Avenue apartment. To make matters worse, Kay’;s mother gets stomach cancer and the hospital wants to be paid or else no care and surgery (perhaps a political statement on Hitt’s part about the lack of universal health care).

Kay meets a married woman named Iris who seems to have a lot of money; she tells Kay she secretly works as a call girl for this “rich” old woman, Mrs. Gordon, who only deals with high-end executive businessmen who pay top dollar for the best girls — $100 an hour, when most hookers can only get $10-15 (and 100 is like $1500 in 1959 money).

Kay is facing too mnay bills — rent, groceries, her mother…so she does it, and finds she likes it after a few drinks until later when the guilt sets in. The men give her high marks — she’s so on sexual fire that she’s, yes, too hot to handle; when she tries to quit, Mrs. Gordon threatens to tell Burt what Kay is doing, so Kay is blackmailed into staying a call girl, although she does like the money. She also has a lesbian fling with Iris, after a bad drunk night when she has sex with five businessmen and passes out and they leave her alone in the room, and she didn’t get paid.

She felt the pain and she knew that he was taking her. She moaned, crying for herself and what she was, and she felt his lips on her mouth, lips that were filled with the wildness of passion, lips that became more furious…

She remembered little after that, except that men came to her, and went away.

“Wonderful,” she heard one of them say.

She didn’t know who said it and she didn’t care. She was earning money, earning it the way some girls did on Orchard Street, and that’s all she knew. (pp. 86-87)

Iris dies in a botched abortion (a common occurrence in Hitt’s and other sleaze books) and Kay has to hire a young girl, Debbie, to take care of her mom, only Debbie seduces Kay’s drunk father and blackmails Kay – the dad either goes to jail for rape or pays $2500 to settle.

The atmosphere of this novel is bleak and depressing, more than the other books Hitt did with this theme. Kay is faced with no-way-out situations.

When she wasn’t working or with Iris she would drink alone and it was then that a wave of disgust and self-pity needled her. She was married to a man that didn’t give a damn  about her. She was a call girl. And, if that wasn’t enough, she was a lesbian. (p. 100)

This is true “sleaze” because none of the sex is exactly sensual but acts of drunken desperation and sad loneliness. Sex becomes nothing more than a business transaction for Kay, and soon she’s working sidelines at bars, having men every hour, her husband finds out and leaves her, and Kay keeps drinking more and more until she’s a complete lush and gets arrested by the vice cops…

After reading a slew of Hitt duds (to be expected from any prolific writer) this one was a vibrant read and enforces our contention that Orrie Hitt is a long lost pulp master who needs to be revived…and soon will be from Stark House which will issue an omnibus edition next year (with an introduction from Michael Hemmingson).

The Farmer’s Other Daughter by George H. Smith (Novel Books, 1963)

Posted in pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , on September 9, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

A quick and goofy read, one of George H. Smith’s many southern/swamp girl type books he did for Novel Books.  Certanly no serious work, the title page claims Smith is the author of The Farmer’s Daughter.

The farmer is Berle Gates, and he has a mail order bride from Germany, a bug healthy blonde gal that everyone is the town lusts for, even the Sheriff.

An okay read.

Hell Cat by Arnold Marmor (Merit Books, 1961)

Posted in crime noir, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , on September 7, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

As noted before, Arnold Marmor — not a pen name — was a regular guy in the detective, crime, and SF pulps in the 40s and 50s, then turned to, as many hacks did, the sleaze houses that marketed fine genre literature as smut.

Hell Cat opens in a strip club with a new dancer on stage — she calls herself El Gato, wears a cat suit she strips off, keeps a cat mask on the whole time. The men go wild for her.  But it seems she may be a jewel thief.

The book is narrated by a guy whose a friend of the club photographer that El Gato punches backstage, in a hurry.  He wants to know what happened, which leads him to an insurance investigator looking into the theft of a pretty pricey necklace made of rare South African diamonds (there’s a chapter set in South Africa about the origins of those diamonds).  Seems a security guard was punched out by a woman similar to the El Gato incident. The neclace heist happened an hour after El Gato’s set — two and two: El Gato is the culprit.

Marmor didn’t write the best of these kind of books, but he was a competent professional genre author and we’ve found his work so far, like Hell Cat, entertaining reads.

Cindy by Orrie Hitt (Softcover Library UK, 1969)

Posted in Orrie Hitt, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , on September 2, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Cindy is the UK arm of Softcover Library’s edition of The Sex Pros, published back-to-back with Barry Malzberg’s (as Mel Johnson) Love Doll. It is the second-to-last book Hitt published at the end of his writing career, Naked Model (McFadden, 1970) being the last.

As we have noted over at the Orrie Hitt blog, the work ol’ Orrie did after 1964 isn’t his best, when his output was low and his health bad.  Did he burn himself out? Probably. Was his heath issues causing his writer’s mind to wander? Most likely.  Much of his latter work is either slow and boring, or scattered.

That’s the case with Cindy, alas.  It’s a carnival stripper novel and very similar to his other carney books; in fact, it takes a storyline B from the little Vest-Pocket Carnival Sin: Cindy is in the stripper show and her ex-boyfriend, Eddie, has followed her, becoming the boxer guy that on-lookers pay to fight in the ring.  Eddie hadbeen drafted, and that ended their love affair, marriage plans and hopes, and Cindy took off with a carney as a way out of small time life; when Eddie comes hom and finds out, he goes searching for her.

Like Carnival Girl, another female character has inherited the carney business from her dead father.

Like all of them, the carney is having money issues and must beef up the stripper act to bring in men and money.

The problem with Cindy is that it’s just dull, with a lot of banter, and the sex scenes are explicit and obviously not Hitt writing them (in fact, read similar to the sweaty flesh slapping scenes in Love Doll).

We will soon look at Hitt’s last book, Naked Model, and compare it to one of his early ones, She Got What She Wanted (1954) or maybe Too Hot to Handle (1958), and compare the differences.

Of all his carney books, Carnival Girl is the best of the lot.