Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Falcon Killer by L. Ron Hubbard (3/5)

Remember L. Ron Hubbard?  Yeah, the guy who invented Scientology.  That's him.  Well, before he decided to become the prophet for his very own religion, he was actually an acclaimed science fiction writer.  And before that he was a pulp fiction writer in the league of Lester Dent and Walter Gibson.  Me personally, I choose to remember the man for his earlier accomplishments rather than the later, which is why I was stoked to get this copy of The Falcon Killer, one of Hubbard's earlier pulp offerings.

The Falcon Killer tells the story of an American fighter pilot flying for the Chinese Air Corps against the Japanese invaders during the late 1930s. He is shot down over Manchuria but is rescued by an American businessman and his family who happen to still live in the area. The family then sneaks off with the pilot to the Ruhr oil fields (where said businessman made a lot of his money and still has interests) in order to defend it against the approaching Japanese army.  This story has all the tropes and clichés you would come to expect from a pulpy tale. The hero is stalwart, handsome, and dripping with machismo. If someone doesn't absolutely love and adore him, it's because he's a bad guy. There's a love interest, a rival, treachery, feats of derring-do, and a huge finale in which the hero pulls victory from the jaws of defeat using his own wit and skill and brawn. In short, it's yumminess on a stick.

This literary time capsule is brought to us by the Stories From the Golden Age series, line of reprints featuring the stories and novelas Hubbard penned in during his days as an up and coming writer on the pulp scene.  And boy, there's a crap-ton of them.  The pamphlet the publisher sent me lists a total of eighty-something titles, which may seem like a lot until you realize that each one is really only a long-ish short story.  Then you can see why they threw in some illustrations (though quite good in their own right), an introduction by Kevin J. Anderson (a favorite author from my mispent youth reading Star Wars novels), and some shameless self-advertising (I should expect no less) to pad the page count a little.  And while that might not be so bad in and of itself, the spendthrift inside of me cringed to see that each of the books retails for $9.99 USD.  Of course, I didn't have to pay for my copy, but the thought alone of shelling out that price for a short story makes me queezy.  It would be more worth the consumer's dime if they'd created some sort of omnibus volume of Hubbard's stories.  Alas, that was not to be.

All that taken into account, it's still a pretty nice little package they've put together here.  The Introduction from Kevin J. Anderson is good, being both informative and brief while building up the main work and exciting the reader with a taste of what is to come.  That's generally what you want in an introduction--kind of like a Hype Man at a rap show.  And the artwork is stellar.  The cover art is beautifully pulpy, alive with color and drawn with the flair and attention to detail of someone who truly understands the artwork of the era. The text is dotted with a few illustrations as well, pin and ink drawings that aptly capture the pulp spirit. As for the writing... it's pulp, what do you expect?  If you like over the top action, typecast characters, and the certainty that good will triumph over evil, then this will be right up your alley.

As you probably have deduced by now, I'm a fan of the pulp genre.  Even with the price tag taken into consideration, I still liked The Falcon Killer, as I'm sure I would like any of the books in the Stories from the Golden Age series.  However, for those who either aren't fond of the genre or who are expecting a little something else, the enjoyment factor might not be quite so high. I gave this one three stars, but please keep in mind that your mileage may vary according to tastes.


  1. "It's pulp. What do you expect?"

    What should we expect from pulp? What makes a written work 'pulp fiction'?