Friday, August 13, 2010

Forgotten Books: ACTION STORIES by Dent, Nebel & others

Long before our current wave of fine pulp reprint publishers (Black Dog Books, Altus Press, Adventure House, Nostalgia Ventures and others) arrived on the scene, a number of bold pioneers blazed the trail. One of those pioneer outfits was Odyssey Publications, who did most other work in the late 70s and early 80s.

I don't know who exactly was behind Odyssey Publications, or how many books they published, but I know they put out at least 11 "uniform editions" (Action Stories was number 11), along with Duende magazine and a couple of booklets about Doc Savage. And I know that Will Murray was a major player, writing articles for and introductions to the books. Each of the "uniform editions" I've seen is a perfect-bound trade paperback with bright white paper and crisp reproduction. The stories are in facsimile, so you get all the original titles and artwork. Very cool.

Action Stories is one of several volumes intended as a "best of" collection (others featured stories from Oriental Tales, Golden Fleece and Strange Tales. Action Stories (the magazine) was a Fiction House pulp published from 1923 to 1950 as sort of a wannabe Argosy. As such, their stories ran the gamut of adventure-related genres. You Robert E. Howard fans will no doubt recognize it as the newsstand home of Breckenridge Elkins, the pride of Bear Creek.

This collection is a good representation."Exiles of the Dawn World" by Nelson Bond (the cover story), is "The truly startling story of a Twentieth Century Adam and Eve hurtled back through the ages of Time to the noisome, steaming birth of the world." And that's just the beginning. There's a tale of pirates in the China seas, a story of the foreign legion, a western, a visit to a lost city in Africa and an adventure in the Afghan hills.

For me, the headline stories are those by Lester Dent and Frederick Nebel. "The Devil's Derelict," Will Murray tells us, was Dent's fourth published story, from 1930. Nebel's "The Coast of Hate" likely appeared a bit earlier, because by 1930 he was a regular in Black Mask, and most of his adventure writing was behind him. Predictably, both tales are crackling good yarns, and worth the price of admission on their own.

For those of you keeping score, the Action Stories not named above are:
"Captain Cut-Throat" by Albert Richard Wetjen
"Murder Sands" by John Starr (possibly Dan Cushman)
"The Lion Goddess" by John Wiggin
"Hermit House" by Theodore A. Tinsley
"Emperor of the Three" by Jack Smalley

Persons seeking this volume are advised to employ the Advanced Search function on Amazon or Abe. Along with the title, enter Odyssey Publications as the publisher, and up it comes. Though prices have gone up a bit since 1981, they're still about the same as comparable pulp reprints published today.

Visit pattinase for more of this week's Forgotten Books!


Deka Black said...

I love anthologies, and this seems one of the godd type.

Anonymous said...

This is a fine collection.

Although I read it many years ago, I still recall a particular sentence from the Nebel story. The hero is about to come to blows with a gang of thugs, and when he tears into them the author doesn't bother with a blow-by-blow description of the fisticuffs. The hero is just too badass for that.
Instead, Nebel drops the line: "He was brimstone- rough on rats".

That's one of those pulp lines that you can wait years to use in casual conversation. But when you find a way to drop it in, it's worth it.

The world needs a set of Nebel anthologies. A big one.

John Hocking

Evan Lewis said...

I agree, John!

Ron Scheer said...

As a former copy writer, I notice the words that go with the illustrations for the stories, and I have to think of the guy/gal at the typewriter writing those purple-prose descriptions. When they are done with the right level of hyper ventilation they are little gems.

Evan Lewis said...

I can relate, Ron. I was a copy writer too.

Todd Mason said...

Next to complete-issue facsimilies, these are among the most intrinsically/hitorically valuable (leaving aside collector's bidding) kind of antho, particularly for those titles Very hard to put hands on...I should probably go take a look for this...

George said...

Like you, I'm addicted to the BLACK DOG reprints. But these look awfully good, too!

Evan Lewis said...

Aside of from these "best of" collections, Odyssey also did complete reprints of single issues of Secret Agent "X", Spicy Adventure, O'Leary's War Birds, Ka-Zar, Spicy Mystery and Mystery Adventure. Wish I had them all!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I still am very negligent in this genre.