I’m going to be straight up and honest here. Whenever I hear about a movie or a book being described as “Pulp” or “Grindhouse” or being in the tradition of those genres, I kinda tend to roll my eyes and give out with a little groan. Because usually they end up being a disappointment. They do. Most people who think they know what Grindhouse is actually have no idea. They think it’s just a lot of crazy shit happening and a bunch of wacky characters that it’s happening to. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez understand Grindhouse. Joe R. Lansdale understands Grindhouse. Robert R. McCammon understands Grindhouse. Mike Baron understands Grindhouse. They speak the language and understand the elements that go into Grindhouse backwards and forwards. And so does Derek Slaton.
SMOOTHEN SILKY: DEMON FIGHTING PIMP is such an entertaining piece of Grindhouse/Pulp Fiction that I hardly know where to being to describe it. First of all, if the title doesn’t grab you then go on back to your Jane Austin and leave this one alone. But if you’re a fan of 1970s/1980s Grindhouse Movies then you’re definitely the audience for this one. You’ll know exactly where Mr. Mason draws his influences from and you’ll go along for the ride.
Smoothen Silky is not just a Pimp. He is The Pimp of All Pimps. And he’s got a holy mission to protect humanity from the demon hordes that would conquer mankind. In Derek Slaton’s universe, demons don’t want to destroy humanity. If they did that then who would they have to torment and exploit? The ambitions of the demons in this universe are much more base and carnal. And then who better to combat them than The Pimp of All Pimps and his A-Team of Ho’s? Most of them have the benefits of higher education since Silky insists on it. He not only has the finest ho’s in the world, they’re also the smartest, easily equal in brain power and skills to Doc Savage’s Iron Crew or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. But with way more to offer in other areas. If you know what I mean (nudge nudge wink wink)
Silky works for The Agency, an organization devoted to battling demon incursions and along with veteran agent Rose and rookie agent Kerr he and his A-Team of Ho’s find themselves up against their greatest challenge; to prevent The Princess, a demon Beauty Queen from performing a mystical ritual that will bring back to our dimension The King of The Beach, a Demon King who will plunge the Earth into an unending and eternal Summer Break.
Yes. You read that right. And if after reading that you don’t want to read this book then there’s nothing else I can say.
Well, in fact there is a few more things I can say. Derek Slaton understands that if you want to write a Grindhouse novel then you have to write it in a visual, cinematic style and he certainly does so. It took me a while to get through certain scenes because while I visualized Silky as looking like 1970s Isaac Hayes I kept hearing his dialog in the voice of Katt Williams. I was laughing so hard I kept losing my place and had to go back a page or two to resume reading. That’s how good he is with dialog. Silky, Rose and Kerr all have their own distinctive speech patterns that are easy to follow and never once was I confused as to was talking to whom. Derek Slaton even makes sure that he gives each one of Silky’s Ho’s their moment to shine so that they’re an integral element of the story and not just there for the sexual innuendo (although that certainly don’t hurt.)
He also understands action scenes. I despair at the number of writers who desperately want to write action but have no idea of how to do so. They have to be put together so that a reader can cleanly visualize what is going on and who is hitting/shooting/punching/kicking/whooping ass on or taking it from. Again, Derek Slaton knows how to do this.
Me going on any further would entail me having to describe more about the plot and characters and a lot of the fun of reading SMOOTHEN SILKY: DEMON FIGHTING PIMP derives from you finding it out for yourself who these characters are and how they relate to each other and how they join together to save the world. Reading SMOOTHEN SILKY: DEMON FIGHTING PIMP gave me the same feeling I get when I watch a really good B-Movie and that’s probably the best recommendation I can give it: it’s the best B-Movie I’ve read in quite a while. Enjoy.
If you’re among those who saw BLACK PANTHER and loved it…
…and if you didn’t love it I’m not sure we can still be friends. But I digress…
…you’re probably salivating and looking forward to more adventures of King T’Challa and wondering how you’re going to fill your entertainment hours with more of the same. You desperately crave for more fantastic tales of black heroes and heroines to feed your stimulated imagination now that your creative juices are flowing and your soul seeks to enrich itself with legends and stories of heroes and heroines who can stand shoulder to shoulder with T’Challa, Princess Shuri, Nakia, Okoye and M’Baku.
Look no more.
There’s a legion of staggeringly creative black writers and artists that have been working like gubmint mules for years producing just those kinds of stories. Some of their names you know. Charles Saunders. Milton Davis. Balogun Ojetade. Gerald L. Coleman. Valjeanne Jeffers. Jeff Carroll. Nicole Givens Kurtz. Toi Thomas. Alicia MCalla. Thaddeus Howze. Brian W. Parker. Ronald T. Jones. Mshindo Kuumba. Jarvis Sheffield.
Some names you don’t. But that’s okay. There’s two places you should start to learn the names you’re not familiar with.
One is here: Black Science Fiction Society
And the other is here: The State Of Black Science Fiction
So now you don’t have to wait. Because there is more wonder and adventure out there than I think you didn’t know existed. And I envy you the discovery. Wakanda is not just a country. It is not just a warrior spirit and code. It is not just a technology. Although it embraces and celebrates all of these.
Wakanda is also a family of imagination. Because we can dream our future into reality.
And in this…we are all this day and forevermore citizens of Wakanda.
“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
-King T’Challa, Sovereign of Wakanda
I’m gonna start this off with trying to explain to you the main problem us New Pulp writers have when we’re trying to explain New Pulp to folks who have no idea what Pulp is. Much less New Pulp. See, we go on and on with our explanations of Pulp and what it means to us as writers and what it is as a genre and as a style of writing…
…and then we’ll get the Classic Pulp crowd chiming in with; “Pulp isn’t a genre! It’s the paper the original magazines were printed on!”
Well, you Classic Pulp guys just hold on. I’ll get to you another time. Believe me. But right now, I’ve got more interesting fish to sauté.
Anyway, we try to explain to The Average Reader Who Is Just Looking For Something Good To Read what New Pulp is. And they will listen most earnestly and patiently and attentively and they will then say; “Okay, I get what you’re saying…but why and how is New Pulp different from just plain ol’ Action Adventure? Or Horror? Or Science Fiction? Why can’t you guys just label what you do as that and get it over with?”
And The Average Reader Who Is Just Looking For Something Good To Read does have a valid point. And before you start with that tired old felgercarb about how you don’t like labels and you don’t see why anything has to be labeled…tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re going to take all the labels off the canned foods in your local supermarket and let you guess what’s inside those cans the next time you go shopping.
Because much as you would like to think otherwise, labelling does have its place. And my feeling is that one reason why it’s so hard to label New Pulp is because over the years there have been so many TV shows, comic books and movies that have adopted the tropes of Classic Pulp that it’s become so ingrained in Pop Culture that most folks don’t even realize they’re watching Pulp. Still don’t believe me? Sit back while I hit you with three examples of New Pulp you watched and enjoyed and didn’t even know was New Pulp. Ready? Okay:
24 (2001-2010): For 8 Seasons we watched Counter Terrorist Unit Special Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) defend Our Country against supervillains, terrorist attacks and shadow government conspiracies. Each season followed Jack Bauer on a Really Bad Day, each episode taking place in Real Time over the course of one hour. Before each commercial break, a clock would appear on screen to show us how much time had passed and each episode would end with Jack Bauer or another member of the cast in dire peril. You had to come back next week to find out how Jack or whoever got out of whatever death trap they had gotten into.
24 is one of the primary examples of New Pulp I love to hold up as it’s the Ultimate Saturday Morning Serial. A Serial was an extended movie broken up into chapter plays which enjoyed their major popularity during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The chapters were shown in movie theaters in 10 or 15 minutes segments before the main double feature. They ended with a Cliffhanger in which the hero or another member of the cast found themselves in dire peril. Sound familiar? 24 quite successfully adapted the Saturday Morning Serial in an innovative way. Sure, the episodes were now an hour long instead of 15 minutes but thanks to terrific writing and acting, they kept us on the end of our seats. And as a character, Jack Bauer has a whole lot in common with both Jimmy Christopher aka Operator #5 and The Spider.
Hudson Hawk: Is the most blatantly Pulp of my three examples and maybe that’s why it was the least successful. I dunno. All I know is that the very first time I saw it in the theater, I think I knew what director Michael Lehmann and screenplay writers Steven E. de Souza and Daniel Waters (based on a story by Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft) were going for. Eddie Hawkins is a master thief known professionally as Hudson Hawk. Upon being released from prison he attempts to go straight but is blackmailed by the CIA, The Mafia, the psychotic Mayflower twins (Richard E. Grant, Sandra Bernhard) and even his own partner-in-crime Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello) into a complicated series of heists to steal the components of the La Machinnia dell’Oro, the greatest invention of Leonardo da Vinci, a machine that can convert lead into gold. The scene where Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello pull off a heist that is perfectly timed to their singing “Swinging on A Star” is one of my favorites in the movie. You can read my review of Hudson Hawk here at The Ferguson Theater.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004): Wes Anderson is not a director that anybody by any stretch of the imagination would associate with Pulp New or Classic. But I’ve watched The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou four times now and the more I see it, the more I’m convinced it’s a New Pulp Adventure. Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, an oceanographer/adventurer who sees his best friend and partner eater by a Jaguar Shark, a species of shark that had been previously considered to be mythical. Steve Zissou vows to hunt down and destroy the shark.
Aboard his massive research vessel/home, The Belafonte, Zissou and his eccentric crew, which includes a Brazilian musician who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese, Anne-Marie Sakowitz who insists on walking around topless and a bunch of college interns from the University of North Alaska he sets out on what may be his last and greatest adventure. The adventure is flavored by Steve having to deal with Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who just may be his illegitimate son and the tagalong reporter Jane-Winslette Richardson (Cate Blanchett) who is attracted to both Steve and Ned.
It’s a movie that I consider New Pulp because of Steve Zissou, an aging adventurer who is trying to hold onto his life of adventure even though everybody and everything is telling him he has to conform to the modern world. But Steve believes in a different world. Halfway through the movie it turns into an almost straight out action adventure where Steve and his crew have to dig back into the day when they were badasses in order to track down and take out a band of pirates that have attacked The Belafonte and taken some of the interns hostages.
Steve Zissou’s crew are just as talented, skilled and eccentric as Doc Savage’s Iron Crew or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. And if you have any more doubts about the intention of this movie, check out the end credit scene where Steve Zissou and his crew march to their boat. Wes Anderson himself has said that is a deliberate homage to the Banzai Strut done during the closing credits of “Buckaroo Banzai”
The thing all these movies (and TV show) have in common is that there are various elements of Classic Pulp that the creators adapted successfully for modern audiences. Matter of fact, they did them so well that modern audiences have no idea that they’re watching Pulp.
And don’t get me started on how Scandal is a modern-day version of The Avenger and Justice, Inc or how Person of Interest is in a lot of ways like The Shadow…we’ll leave that for next time…
There’s a wonderful story told about the filming of the classic 1946 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall murder mystery “The Big Sleep.” The plot of the book was so convoluted that in translating it from print to screen, director Howard Hawks and his screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman discovered that not only were they not entirely clear as to who the killer of Sean Reagan was, they also had a dead chauffeur on their hands and they couldn’t figure out who killed him. In desperation they contacted the writer of the book, Raymond Chandler to ask him who killed Sean Regan and the chauffeur and Chandler had to admit that he himself didn’t know.
Indeed, there’s a terrific bit of business right in the middle of “The Big Sleep” where Bogart’s Philip Marlowe is called into the Los Angeles D.A.’s office to explain the case to him and by extension to the us, the audience. Because by the time we’ve reached that point of the movie the filmmakers felt that there needed to be some kind of summary of what happened so that audiences back then could take a breath and feel they were up to speed on what the hell this movie was all about.
I feel kinda the same way about Raymond Embrack’s impressively deranged BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. Halfway through it needs somebody to hold up both hands, yell “Hold everything, please!” and summarize the plot. And trust me, I mean that in a good way. Because in the same way that “The Big Sleep” is now regarded as a classic of the private eye genre, I think that BARRACUDA in its own way is going to become a classic. And Raymond Embrack is a writer to watch.
Peter Surf is a private eye living and working in Blonde City, a California city that seems to be entirely made up of linked beaches each with their own distinctive personality. Blonde City itself is one of the best characters in the story, inhabited by gangs such as The Schoolgirl Mafia who commit thrill killings while hopped up on Hentai-14 and The Beach Mafia whose members worship The Beach Boys to the extent that all of them have the last name of “Smile” in honor of Brian Wilson’s epic project. It’s a city that seems made up out of equal parts of 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s pop culture with a healthy heaping dose of whatever the hell Raymond Embrack felt like throwing in and believe me, he makes it works. And for me watching him make it work was one of the fun things about reading this story.
Peter Surf himself is…well, the best way to describe him is if you imagined Mike Hammer created by Quentin Tarantino instead of Mickey Spillane. He lives and works out of a converted, arsenal filled service station and he doesn’t so much as do straight up detective work as wreak havoc among his enemies until somebody yells “uncle” and tells him what he wants to know.
And the havoc is profane, sexy and violent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The story begins with Surf investigating a terrorist group called T-Unit. They’re terrorizing the private eyes of Blonde City. They’re running some out of town and outright killing others. They make the mistake of terrorizing Surf instead of killing him. From then on, Peter Surf becomes a one man wrecking crew on the warpath of T-Unit.
How this is all tied with the DEA, a particularly dangerous man named Gronsky and Blue Mermaid, a type of maryjane so mythical it’s supposed to be able to heal people I would not dream of telling you. Just be advised that by the time you reach the halfway point of BARRACUDA you may be tempted to say, “Hold everything, please!” go back to the beginning and start reading all over again just to make sure you know exactly what is going on.
That’s because Mr. Embrack writes like this was the only book he was ever going to write in his life. There’s an astounding amount of vibrantly alive characters, situations and concepts that other writers would have spread out over a trilogy. BARRACUDA is never boring and never lags due to the constant and unending stream of sheer delightfully WTF plot twists Mr. Embrack throws at us with glee.
The dialog is pure classic P.I. genre porn where everybody talks like a dame or a smartass or a tough guy. And Mr. Embrack allows himself to have fun with his concepts, his prose and the dialog. I like to think that I can tell when a writer had fun writing a story because that fun can’t help but translate into the prose. And if Raymond Embrack has half as much fun writing BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA as I did reading it then he had a big ol’ barrel of fun indeed. Highly recommended reading.
I do gotta point out that this is not for those of you who are PC minded or who object to graphic language, violence and/or sex. But if you want to read a really good crime/P.I. story that reminded me a lot of “Sin City” on crack you can’t do better than BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA.
Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts. Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times. But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.
It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.
Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.
One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.
What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.
What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.
#1: “Those motherfuckers had a Gatling gun and more bullets than China had rice.”
#2: “Peace! Freedom! And a few less fat bastards eating all the pie!”
#3: “Would it be all right if I show the children the whoring bed?”
#4: “Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We’re going to teach you soldiering. The world’s noblest profession. When we’re done with you, you’ll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.”
#5: “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to die on some God-forsaken rock, but for some reason, you can’t slap them. Now apologize to that boy immediately.”
#6: “She wasn’t just tall. She was great big. She was honey blonde with the mark of The Valkyrie and her mouth was curved in a moist, lush grin because my eyes swept over her so fast. Her body seemed to want to explode and only the tailored suit kept it confined.”
#7: “You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life even if you had an electrified fooling machine.”
#8: “You’re a funny guy Sully, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”
#9: “I don’t think I’d like to be God. Not that I’m turning down any offers, mind you. But there are six billion people on this planet and I still feel alone. Imagine being One God.”
#10: “Even if he does have a little bacon on the side, that doesn’t make him Eggs Benedict Arnold.”
#11: “You can blow the seminal prisoner class infrastructure out your ass! I’m not knockin’ down my goddamn distribution charges!”
#12: “Ackroyd had the look of a man hang-gliding over Hell.”
#13: “A good love scene should be about something else besides love. For instance, this one. Me fixing grapefruit. You sitting over there, dopey, half-asleep. Anyone looking at us could tell we’re in love.”
#14: “JASMINE! FIX MY JAMMIES! FIX. MY. JAMMIES!”
#15: “My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words ‘All men are created equal’, words he clearly didn’t believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He’s a rich white snob who’s sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So, yeah, he writes some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went and died for those words while he sat back and drank his wine and fucked his slave girl. This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”
#16: “Less noise, you daft bitch! And that goes for you as well, dog!”
#17: “How’s your mother?”
“Oh…I’m afraid she’s on her way out”
“We all are. Act accordingly.”
#18: “Back then Times Square was part of the real NYC. Musk remembered peep shows and porno theatres, the rotting orifice of a decaying city. NYC had never been more NYC than in the ’70s when the sunlight was a category of polymers, when the snow fell on the Crown Vics staking out Italian social clubs, when 39th Street teemed with garment districts trucks, the sidewalks with rack pushers back when America made garments, when the city was a playground for lowlifes in Pierre Cardin suits.”
#19: “First thing we’re going to do is we’re gonna acknowledge that this guy’s awesome. I mean, he shoots Theo Tonin, fakes his own death in a spectacular fashion, pushes a guy out of an airplane while he’s flying it, parachutes into Harlan County with enough coke and cash to jump-start the economy of a small country, and then he has the balls to get a job in law enforcement, not once but two times! He spends a couple of days riding around with you while you’re looking for him, and now he’s run off with a hooker that’s half his age. That’s some bad-ass shit.”
#20: “When you raid a cathouse, you take the piano player too.”
#21: “What always gets me in trouble,” Mr. Monster says, keeping his eyes forward, “is that I go and say something like that, and there’s a part of me that just has to know if it’s possible to literally knock someone’s nose down through their asshole.”
#22: “We live in a terrible place and time. Everything that’s not you wants to kill you.”
#23: “In all wars, whether marked by luck or by The Lord there were the saved and the unsaved and nothing else.”
#24: “Well, we hit a little snag when the universe sort of collapsed on itself. But Dad seemed cautiously optimistic.”
#25: “What is the face of a coward? The back of his head as he runs from the battle.”
#26: “Imagination is its own form of courage.”
#27: “A million bucks has changed stupider minds than yours.”
#28: “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”
#29: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
#30: “As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.”