Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aiden5-Pulp Web and Noir Goodness


In my small little world of compartmentalized definitions I consider Noir a genre by itself but also a sub-genre of pulp. Noir: crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings. This according to Merriam Webster, but my definition evokes images rather than words: grainy black and white settings, shadowed alleys with Bogart as Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, painted women with knuckles pressed to their parted lips in a silent scream, and there is always a body.

Aiden5 by Room 101 Productions is what I call pulp/noir. A web series created by Tim Baldwin and John Jackson, written by the same along with Ben Bays; directed by John Jackson. Aiden5 stars Bryan Michael Block as Aiden a detective who must solve his own murder….repeatedly. Aiden was cloned as part of his job with his other selves working in the department as detectives and analysts. Now some one is killing him off, leaving taunting messages with the corpse. The first webisode ends with the classic cliffhanger.

Aiden5 premiered at Gencon this year to a great reception and with good reason. This serial has the classic elements with the protagonist doing his voice over (which I thought was AWESOME, by the way, in the original Blade Runner), the black and white old school feel, and the hero's world weary persona. But what this series lacks to its betterment is a budget. All volunteers and the sets are a green screen. The entire background and objects in the movie from the rooftop to the desks is pen and ink sketch art. I love this! It gives it a surreal, gritty feel to the whole production, but within moments you are not seeing the art but the story. Great stuff.

Obviously this is far from the first pulp/scifi production to do this and I could do a whole run down from Spider-Man on The Electric Company (yeah all you people my age know what I am talking about) to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. But it shows innovation in its own right because it fits the story so well.

The acting is fun, because you have Block playing Aiden in several different personas with exchanges with himself. Block and the others that appear in the first episode are great because they are playing true make-believe with the sets drawn in later.
The series has only posted one episode in the fifteen episode arc. I am anxiously waiting for the next. I want to see if I am as clever as I think I am…..
Go check it out:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

James Rollins: Science Pulp at its best!

Photo by David Sylvian

James Rollins, is a veterinarian turned adventure/pulp novelist. He has, along with guys like Dan Brown and Clive Cussler, helped usher in a new era of pulp adventure. James Rollins is an adventure himself, enjoying outdoor pursuits like spelunking and scuba diving. He brings those adventures and their visceral reality to his writing. It's not surprising that Rollins (real name James Czajkowski) cites influences such as Doc Savage stories and the author Edgar Rice Burroughs on his web site:

Rollins has written novels that take place from deep in the Amazon to Antarctica. His recent series has focused on a scientific investigative branch of the United States government called SIGMA. Think commandos with PhD's. These guys and gals are the best of the best and will beat you at Jeopardy to boot!

The stories start with a bit of history, much like Clive Cussler's novels. A historical prologue is often presented to give context and clues throughout the rest of a Rollin's novel. Then a dash of science, all of it wrapped up in a whole lot of action and suspense.

Science is the underlying theme of Rollins' adventure novels. He takes current scientific issues and applications and questions where they could go, and should science even go where it is. This is far from dry stuff; rather, the story is wrapped and woven so skillfully that it makes sense and in some cases frighteningly plausible. Some examples in these novels range from evolution, red tides, and genetic modification of both animals (including humans) and plants.

The stories that Rollins writes (including his fantasy under James Clemens) grab the reader and like any good pulp serial keep you coming back for more. My advice to anyone sitting down to start a James Rollins novel is to make sure you have the time to kill, because you will not want to put this guy down once you start. I've done many a short night's sleep because I was staying up too late to finish "one more chapter".

Rollins presents well fleshed out heroes and villains with real world issues and agendas. Of course many of the villains, like any good pulp bad guy, are twisted and often die because of their nefarious pursuits.

James Rollins is also on the short list of writers along with a couple of my other favorite authors R.A. Salvatore and Terry Brooks that have written novelizations of screen plays by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. In Rollins's case: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; a novel that was better than the film.

Here is a list of the adventures that have been penned by James Rollins: Subterranean, Excavation, Deep Fathom, Amazonia, Ice Hunt, Sandstorm, Map of Bones, Black Order, The Judas Strain, The Last Oracle, and The Doomsday Key.

I have enjoyed them all immensely, I almost like the stand alone novels more than the SIGMA Force novels because they seem just a little more fantastic in a Journey to the Center of the Earth/Lost World kind of way, a little less grounded and more pulpy.

So if you enjoy fast paced novels that read like a mega-budget summer block buster, or you're like me and enjoy all things Indiana Jones and Saturday Serial, then pick up any of the James Rollins novels, they all can be read as a stand alone adventure without any other back ground. Or for the younger reader there is a young adult series that he has just started: Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gabriel Hunt: The New Pulp Star

A new book series cropped up recently and with a little help from my friends: okay, they showed me the cover…. I bought what appears to be the first book. Hunt: Through the Cradle of Fear by Gabriel Hunt, which is to say Charles Ardai wrote it. But the idea is that the authors are ghost writing for the adventurer.

Readers can check out all the action so to speak at .

Here is the rundown: Gabriel Hunt is a latter day Indiana Jones, who, along with his brother Michael head up the Hunt Foundation, part philanthropic group part adventure club. Gabriel spends his time slashing his way through steaming jungles and crawling through ancient tombs while his brother provides support back in Manhattan. The series is being written by numerous authors through out the rest of this year and into next.

Through the Cradle of Fear pits Gabriel Hunt against an evil Hungarian sword master named DeGroet, you can almost see the guy without any descriptors, bald, hawkish features with a thin villain's mustache and a monocle. There is a hidden chamber within the Sphinx of Giza (see my previous O'Connell post) which leads Hunt and DeGroet to Greece and Sri Lanka in pursuit of an ultimate weapon.

Through the Cradle of Fear offers some wonderful pulpy daring do, beautiful women that fall all over our hero, and villains that you want to hiss at. The book offers some light escapism without too much science or explanation to get in the way. The characters don't have the answers so there is no need to explain it to the reader. What you do get is plenty of action; bare knuckle, bullets blazing kind of action that rolls through your mind's eye like a rocketing Saturday Matinee.

The characters are broadly drawn, but enjoyable, none are plagued with heavy emotional baggage, and their motivations are straight forward. It was nice to sit down and polish off a novel in an afternoon, instead of working through a 600 page thriller which is a great read, (As I recommend James Rollins for scientific pulp action) but takes two weeks of hour lunch breaks to read. This first book seems to be appropriate for twelve and up readers. The language is tame, the sex off screen as it were, and the prose light. So I hope this will turn younger readers towards the fun of pulp fiction as Harry Potter and Eldest did for fantasy.

My complaints of the book are minimal at best and picky at worst. I was actually hoping that the series was set in the nebulous golden era of Rick O'Connell and Indiana Jones, between 1920 and 1945, but is set in the modern era, without any harm to the story. I also wonder how the series will look and move forward with numerous authors penning them. I hope they all can keep the same voice and tone of Cradle of Fear.

The best thing I can say about this Gabriel Hunt series is that I am looking forward to picking up the next one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rick O'Connell: Underused Pulp Hero?

Rick (Ricochet) O'Connell, played by Brendan Fraser in three films: The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), is, in my humble opinion, one of the most underused pulp heroes since Indiana Jones. At least Indiana had different adventures…..

Rick O'Connell was underused because of the potential stories that were not told. Let's look at a quick recap of the three films, and I will further explain what I mean. In the Mummy, (one of my favorite pulp movies) Rick and crew fight a mummy. Plenty of daring do, with a smart female lead Rachel Wiesz as Evelyn Carnahan, and awesome sidekick Jonathan Carnahan played by John Hannah. The trio reappear in the second movie, taking place ten years later, adding a lil' O'Connell to complicate the adventure. But the film was nearly as bad a frame by frame remake akin to the Star Wars Prequels…. But still fun filled daring do. The third deals with a Chinese mummy, and the now grown son of Rick and Evelyn; more original than the second film but some sameness. The disconnect here for me is Rick and Evelyn looking a little too fresh for folks pushing into their fifties (O'Connell would have been 48 in the film against Fraser's young 39), Maria Bello was a poor choice to replace the soft sexy of Rachel Wiesz, and the tired father/son rivalry that at least seemed less forced with other films; though all in all enjoyable as popcorn pulp.

As this is not a review of the movies but of O'Connell, we won't need to go any deeper than that for this article. As I stated Rick O'Connell is underused. This is a character, played with wonderful charisma by Fraser that could have been so much more than a mummy chaser. I feel the focus on the mummy aspect of sequels took away from what they could have done with the character. A soldier of fortune in the era that was the golden age of pulp is something that is almost too good to waste. I think the writers and Universal may have limited them selves on the potential. They stayed with a formula instead of using it as a spring board for further adventures.

The potential for plots were endless, without EVER touching on Jones territory. The films could have led to all the pulp destinations: Atlantis, Hollow Earth, the Orient, not just to fight Jet Li. With a two fisted adventurer like O'Connell, he could have fought the Tongs in Chinatown San Francisco and Nazi agents on the Empire State Building. With the movie time line roughly 1923 to 1947, there was a lot that could have been explored.

The Mummy even set O'Connell up for future plot devices and contacts. If he and Evelyn had fallen out, there is the reconciliation because he needs her expertise for a particular adventure. Jonathan, as he was in the Dragon Emperor, could be running a night club and Rick needed his help. Then there is the vast array of characters that Rick O'Connell could know from his past. With Rick being an orphan, his very parentage could have been a movie spring board (as it was retroactively shoehorned into the second Mummy film, but better).

Staying with the Egyptian archeological theme would have worked as well, as the second movie's opening demonstrated. Other legends of the vast ancient kingdom could have been explored without Imhotep ever coming back on the scene. The hollow Sphinx theory, the lost library of Alexandria, Troy, or ancient technologies that must be kept from Das Fuhrer would have been within the sphere of influence established in the first film.
The pyramids could have held even more secrets. Contact with other cultures like the Phoenicians could have seen a chase for treasures and glory all the way back to America, north and south.
With the void left by the inaction of Spielberg to capitalize on the popularity of Indiana Jones for nearly twenty years, I think Universal could have had a solid run at the box office for more than three films if they had not tried to make a trilogy of films based on the mummy premise. Not that the three movies did not make their money back and then some! In my opinion I think they, like most franchise style movies, got lazy, and went with what worked before.

The character of Rick O'Connell was one of the best pulp heroes of any age, ranking up there with Allan Quatermain , and almost every guy Humphrey Bogart played from Sam Spade on. Locking O'Connell into the mummy killing role took a huge potential away from the character. Rick O'Connell was the character that could have stereotyped Brenden Fraser. I mean that in a completely good, pulpy kinda way!