The Denbrook Bible

By Mike McGee

Originally Written August 2002

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This is the first run-through of the “city planning bible” for Frontier’s shared-world imprint. I haven’t done any editing. You’ll notice a lack of things like: “Monkey City: A place where monkeys RULE!!” I want it to come across as much like a real city as possible. As I see it, there aren’t any superheroic/supernatural/science fiction elements in this world until we introduce them in the actual series.

It’s about the size of Chicago. Like Chicago, it’s unofficially divided into halves – here, it’s a matter of the West and East sides. The Union City Bridge – a bridge not unlike the Golden Gate (albeit smaller) – connects them: The West end spills you out into a seedy little neighborhood called with apparent irony Greater Denbrook, and the East leads you to downtown.

Don’t ask me why a city called Denbrook has a bridge called Union City. It makes sense if you think about it, but only then…like a lot of things in Denbrook.

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Anyway. Before we get into that. The Union City Bridge stretches over Hopkins River…it’s a sheer hundred-foot drop into some very cold waters. Hopkins feeds into Lake Erie, accessible from Denbrook’s north shore. Cross the lake, you’re into Canada, which is useful info if you’re the kinda guy who does things like flee from the police. Business types use the lake for fishing, off-shore coal mining, things like that…there are some pretty big boats out on the water, though fewer yachts and the like. Denbrook isn’t the kind of city that attracts folks with disposable income, and that water is too frigid and choppy even in summer to be all that much fun. Still, there are sparsely populated beaches here and there – the lake is fine to swim in, though no one trusts the river. That current’s a bitch and toxic dumping made it poison for decades. It’s clean now, but…

Okay, remember the bridge? Cross it headed east, but instead of going downtown, take a left and head back the way you came…this time headed down a downward-slanted street called Hopkins Drive. This’ll lead you into the Barrens. There used to be a lot of industry here in Denbrook, and this is where most of it was located – on the banks of Hopkins River. The burned-out shells of factories, ancient rusting hulks of iron mining machinery…it’s all still here, and picturesque in an urban decay sort of way. But this isn’t why you’re here.

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See, you have to drive a mile or two before you come up on the old industrial sites. Between you and them, you have what citizens think of when they think of The Barrens – which is to say, bars, night clubs, strip joints, the whole nine yards. The river runs alongside all of it. People come here to party. During the week, it’s kinda nice; Friday through Sunday, The Barrens are flooded with weekend warriors, a lot of them kids from the suburbs. Every now and then, someone gets drunk, hits their head, and falls into the Hopkins. Sometimes they get pushed.

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Motor back up Hopkins Drive and you find yourself on Superior, a great big street that takes you straight through downtown Denbrook. I’ll point out some stuff along the way…

First, to our left, a street branches off Superior at a right angle to The Barrens, Matheson Avenue.  Matheson is the gateway to the Warehouse District, which is –you guessed it- composed of warehouses.  Most of those have been converted into apartment buildings.  This is a fairly high-income area, but the give breaks to young professionals and the like.  You find a lot of yuppies, a few bohemians and a scattering of senior citizens who are not pleased by the weekend activity in the slightest.

Head up Superior another three blocks and on your right you’ll spot Denbrook Tower.  You can’t miss it.  It’s the city’s second tallest building.  Built in 1902, it was home to several department stories in its heyday.  That heyday was back in the ‘50’s when the subway got put in…see, the Tower was conceived as Denbrook’s hub, and the crisscrossing subway trains that traverse West and East Denbrook are all accessible from a train station in the basement.  But more and more folks tended to (a) drive and (b) stick to the suburbs, so the Tower went to seed.

But in the late ’80’s, some billionaire industrialist or other bought the place, gutted it, and more or less turned it into a seven-story shopping mall. Thirty stories of offices above that mall are still mostly unoccupied, but the shopping center thrives. The train station and the two floors above it are both underground, which means the stuff on the fourth floor is actually at street-level. Anyway, you’ll find a lot of chain retail/restaurants on the lower floors, and swankier stuff the higher up you go.

Drive up Superior another block, and you’ll see the main branch of the Denbrook Public Library. I know, you’re like, what the hell? But check it out: We’re talking one gorgeous, ornate building constructed in 1905, connected to a 1999-era glass-and-steel monster by means of an underground passageway. Kinda really fucking huge for a library, don’tcha think? The ’99 leviathan was built out of necessity: Denbrook’s collection is among the largest in the country, probably on the planet. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here…friends, it don’t exist. The newer stuff you’ll find the new building. The old stuff…some of it quite old indeed…you’ll find in a variety of collections scattered throughout the other one. You want a library card.

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Six blocks up, we come to Cathedral Street, on our left. The Cathedral of Saint Paul the Apostle, built in 1855, jumps out and says hi. Look past it a block or so, and you’ll see a glass-and-street enclosure that looks a bit like a hothouse: This is City Center. Every bit as appropriate as calling a slum Greater Denbrook. Basically, City Center is yet another big shopping mall, built in 1987. But when the Tower re-opened a month later, that was effectively the end of City Center as a profit-making entity. City Center does a brisk lunch trade, but that’s about it. Its four stories contain about eight businesses, and all of them struggle. City Center cost about fifty mil to erect. This is what’s known as a white elephant.

So who goes there for lunch? Folks who don’t wanna walk all the way down to the Tower. .. i.e., folks who work here, in the business district. The side streets from E. 10th to E. 22nd are all banks, office buildings, corporate headquarters, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Scattered in there you’ll find a few pizza shops, a bar or two, but for the most part…Corporate America.

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From E. 23rd to E. 26th, we’re in the Theatre District. Like the Tower, the Theatre District is yet another tale of resurrection: Denbrook’s grand old movie palaces were the rage for decades, but fell into disrepair in the ’60’s and ’70’s. The last of them – a third-run movie house by then – closed its doors in 1983, as a result of roughly 875 fire­code violations. But in the late ’80’s, all of the old places were bought up, renovated to a state approaching their original magnificence, and were re-opened as playhouses (and one opera house) in the early ’90’s.

On E. 28th, you find Howard Phillips University. Huge. A college with a host of controversies, it’s really the only game in town for those who’d like to obtain a four-year degree. The campus occupies four blocks and has a student-operated radio station – WHPC, at 88.3 FM. Its student paper is the Vanguard.

Hop on the shoreway and let’s buzz through the East Side real quick …

Coming off E. 55th, you’ll notice a ghetto that looks a little more like Beirut.  If we were gonna slow down a minute, you’d notice that no one seems to be on the street. That’s because this whole area of town was bought out by corporate interests. Eminent domain, though I can’t imagine the residents were really all that sad to go.

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You run out of East Denbrook at E. 185th. Out past here, you’ve got Denbrook Heights, a suburban community that gets richer and more lily-white the farther you get from the city. If you’d left East Denbrook and gone northeast instead, you’d have found yourself in Ruckerville, a pretty dilapidated community that’s high-crime, low-income. Neither Ruckerville nor Denbrook Heights are part of the city proper, but a lot of Denbrook’s workers commute from these areas.

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Cross through downtown Denbrook, back over the Union City Bridge, and now here we are, back in Greater Denbrook. Denbrook’s west side is more blue-collar, homier, and (as far as its East Siders are concerned) totally devoid of culture. Greater Denbrook’s homes date back, most of them, to the early 1900’s, and this whole section of town has the Historical Preservation Society all over it like white on rice. Brave yuppies have moved here for the architecture and because Greater Denbrook is cheaper than the Warehouse District, and the neighborhood is a sometimes uneasy mix of races and incomes, of newcomers and those raised here. The wealthy tend to head to the suburbs when they have kids…but not all of them. This can be a rough place to live, but it’s more welcoming.

But let’s back up for a minute. If you leave the Union City Bridge headed west and keep driving straight down Superior, you’ll take in Greater Denbrook in its entire splendor; but instead, let’s turn left and head down W.25th. This is a long block of pawn shops, secondhand stores and mom-and-pop retail. It terminates at the W. 25th Market, a lovely old brown brick building erected in 1911. On the street, there’s an open-air fruit and vegetable market. Head inside, and you’ll find various meat-market stands. The yuppies get a real kick out of how quaint it all is; the longtime residents have shopped here for generations.

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Head past the Market, make another left, and trundle downhill over a few small, rundown bridges with no names. The main street is Violin Road; somehow that became the name of the whole place. This little community – just a few miles around, and still a part of the city – was once populated by folks who made their trades in the factories and mines. Now there’s nothing left but the bars … at least four on every block. The current population is a mix of old-timers who barely get by and young bohemian types who’ve come in from other communities. Wild dogs roam the overgrown park at night, and homeless people and runaways live under those bridges.

Turn around and head west. The neighborhoods between W. 25th and W. 117th are mostly unremarkable:  Largely poor, all pretty much the same. At W. 117th, we enter Blackwood – not quite another town, not exactly an official part of Denbrook proper. Middle-class, mostly white but increasingly integrated, Blackwood does curiously have its own police force…a police force that is notoriously unfriendly to “outsiders.” But in fairness, Blackwood is a safe place to raise families, and quiet; a slightly more urban alternative to a truly suburban community. And it doesn’t completely lack for excitement.

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Downtown Blackwood is a haven for Blackwood’s youth culture scene, mostly an odd combination of kids into hip-hop and the kind of kids who look like the ones who shot up Columbine. Both types congregate at Ground Zero, a large coffee shop. There’s also a smallish venue for (mostly local) music: The Arcade. The Arcade’s second floor is a concert hall; its ground floor (accessible through a back door) is a goth dance club called the Mausoleum. A ton of smaller clubs and bars dot the landscape, as well as an occult bookstore or two.

Head further west. The paved streets will lead you out of Blackwood, but take a right at Hiassen Road. This isn’t a shortcut – this is the scenic route. Hiassen runs downhill into the Valley: Several miles of forest. Officially, the Valley is a public park, but there’s no real question about it – you’re in the woods. By day, there are hikers and picnickers and bicyclists; by night, you can be arrested if you’re seen wandering around outside of a moving vehicle. But even in Blackwood, that’s not much of a concern … you aren’t too likely to encounter a cop down here. Your headlights are reflected back at you from animal eyes in the trees: There’s a gigantic deer population, despite the seasonal efforts to hunt them down to a more manageable level, and an unusually high number of owls make the Valley their home.

It takes about ten minutes to get from one end of the Valley to the other. The road leads uphill to Bankcreek Lane, and now you’re 1n Westfall. Like Blackwood, Westfall is a semi-urban area, but this is definitely a suburb. This part of Westfall is also youth-oriented, and not much different from the place we left previous to our journey through the woods, albeit a bit more … dirty.

Beyond Westfall, the cushier suburbs – but you don’t want to live there. Not really. Not when you’ve got the city…

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Derrick Ferguson Hunts Down The EXILES OF THE DIRE PLANET

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When last we saw Garvey Dire, he was doing pretty well for himself. Oh sure, his mission to Mars had gone wrong, leaving him near death. But then found himself miraculously transported 50,000 years into the past. And in that past, Mars is not a dying planet.  Indeed, it thrives with life including the Muvari tribe which is mostly populated by warrior women.  The males of the tribe are few and are guarded as they assure the continued survival of the tribe.

Garvey survives a number of harrowing adventures to rise to a level of prominence in the Muvari tribe as well as marrying the gorgeous and deadly Ntashia, the finest swordswoman of Mars.  Garvey even managed to prevent World War III back on Earth in his native time period and save the life of his best friend. Salt-N-Pepa could very well have been talking about Garvey in their song “Whatta Man”

When we catch up again with Garvey Dire he’s facing an army of Galbran. They’re a rival tribe of cannibals who have an old score to settle with Garvey and an older one to settle with the Muvari. And while he’s trying to hold off this army in a remote outpost with but a handful of Muvari warrior women, he’s also trying to figure out how to handle the Muvari custom of a man having more than one wife. It’s not as hard one might think since his first wife Ntashia has made the arraignments for the marriage and is actively encouraging it. It’s custom, y’know and when on Mars…hey, do as the Martians do.

It’s almost a relief for Garvey to discover that his old rival and fellow Earthman Arnold Stechter survived the events of “Dire Planet” and is alive and well. He’s lost his memory of his life on Earth and doesn’t recall that he and Garvey are bitter enemies. But Stechter hasn’t forgotten his ambition and desire for power. He has gathered together outcast warrior women from a dozen different tribes and forged them into a savage, bloodthirsty army. And with these EXILES OF THE DIRE PLANET he intends to conquer and rule Mars. But it’s a plan that has to begin with the overthrow of Ledgrim, the hidden Muvari capital city. And it’s Garvey Dire who will unwittingly help Stechter achieve that goal…

If you’ve read and enjoyed “Dire Planet” then you’ll certainly want to read the sequel. Not only does Joel continue to explore and reveal new layers of his Martian culture but he also gives us new layers of his protagonist. Garvey’s naturally hesitant about entering into another marriage when he’s already got a wife he’s perfectly happy with. Garvey Dire exhibits more maturity in this multiple marriage thing than you would expect from a hero in this genre. Garvey’s still learning his role and place in this world and he sometimes wishes things would go a little slower.

One thing he’s not slow at is facing down the hordes of enemies thirsting for his blood in this one. If this book doesn’t have the highest body count of any of Joel’s books, its right up there in the top three. Just the first fifty pages of the book has a higher death rate than most complete novels. And this is before Garvey finds out about Stechter and his army of exiles.

EXILES OF THE DIRE PLANET is an enjoyable book as well as a demanding one.  Joel seems determined to give readers more bang for their buck and while he certainly does that it also means that there’s a lot more you to pay attention to attention to and keep track of. The only complaint I have with the book is that in order to get in as much information as he can, Joel will occasionally have characters explain some aspect of Martian life and culture to Garvey, even during scenes where it seemed to me that concerning themselves with surviving whatever is trying to kill them should be of paramount importance. Also, there’s the character of Naegrik the Galbran. While he provides Garvey with a sidekick who’s just as much of an outsider as he is, Garvey’s acceptance of his conversion from full-blown cannibalism to bosom buddy and lifelong pal is a bit too quick for my taste. But I liked how the other characters kept an eye on Naegrik when he was around and constantly reminded Garvey that this guy grew up eating people.

But the main thing here is the adventure and Joel delivers it with great style and tight control over the half dozen subplots he’s got going. And EXILES OF THE DIRE PLANET ends with a cliffhanger that will demand that you get the third book in the series; “Into The Dire Planet” to find out what happens next.  And for my money that’s exactly what Pulp, whether Classic or New is supposed to do. Enjoy.

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You can find all the books in the “Dire Planet” series and many other fine books by Joel Jenkins HERE

Derrick Ferguson Takes A Trip To The DIRE PLANET

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Not being an historian I’m not sure if Edgar Rice Burroughs created the Planetary Romance genre. But I am certain that he refined it into something so unique and special that all anybody has to do is say “John Carter” “Dejah Thoris” or “Barsoom” and most everybody even remotely acquainted with Classic Pulp will know what you’re talking about. Planetary Romance or Sword and Planet as some like to call it is a wildly popular genre in its own right. Burroughs having struck great success with his Mars books pulled off the same trick with his Carson of Venus books. In the 1980’s I discovered other books/series in the genre written by Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, Alan Burke Akers and even…sigh, the “Gor” books written by John Norman.

Suffice it to say without going into detail that some of them I enjoyed and others I shook my head in downright disbelief that they ever got published.  I can happily say that DIRE PLANET by Joel Jenkins is one that I’m glad got published as it’s a wonderful example of what New Pulp is about.  Joel embraces the conventions of Burroughsian Planetary Romance but it does it with a modern-day eye. As a result, it’s a book that at once feels familiar and fresh. Just when you think you know which way the plot is going to go, Joel manages to find another fork in the road that takes you someplace else.

The Earthman taken from his native world to the planet Mars this time around is Garvey Dire and he doesn’t get there by mystical means. He gets there by spaceship, the NASA Mars Orbiter.  Garvey Dire’s mission is not just one of exploration and discovery. His mission is one of vital importance to the continued security and safety of The United States. China wants to establish their own base on Mars. And so the race is on.

It’s a race that ends in disaster when Garvey’s ship crash lands on Mars.  With his leg broken, losing air and blood, it seems as if Garvey’s story is over. But that all changes when he sees the image of a gorgeous green skinned swordswoman in armor. And it’s because of that image his life is saved as he’s transported 50,000 years back into the past and to a Mars unlike any he’s ever dreamed of.

It’s all here; flashing swords against ancient super science. Hideous beasts and their even more hideous masters. Noble warriors battling against grotesque humanoid creatures of astounding cruelty. Captures. Chases. Escapes. Fates worse than death. Romance. Garvey Dire finds it all on ancient Mars.

But what really makes DIRE PLANET a cut above other Burroughs inspired Sword and Planet stories is the political element. Once Garvey gets hurtled back to ancient Mars, Joel doesn’t forget the U.S./China conflict and indeed, the way he cuts back and forth between the two time periods is in true Burroughs tradition as he was expert at juggling two sets of characters, leaving one set in a nail-biting cliffhanger at the end of a chapter then bouncing over to the other set of characters for a chapter then leaving them in an inescapable trap then going back and-

Well, you get the idea. It’s a good technique that never failed to work for Burroughs because it’s a surefire way of keeping the story moving. Joel manages to resolve the conflicts in both time periods in a manner that while it’s clever it also involved just a little too much bouncing back and forth through time for my taste. Not that I’m opposed to time travel, mind you. But I think that Joel figured that the only way out was to pinball various characters back and forth between the two time periods. It’s a little bit dizzying but hey, if you’ve hung on with Garvey Dire all that way, you’re going to go on to the end and you won’t be disappointed.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning two of my favorite bits in the book; Number one is the revelation of who The President of The United States is. And number two is that Joel apparently is psychic because he predicted one of the most popular devices in use today way back in 2005 when this book was first published.

So should you read DIRE PLANET?  You certainly should.  If you’ve never read anything by Joel Jenkins this is the perfect place to start.  Joel has been writing what we’re now calling New Pulp as long as I’ve known him and we’re talking roughly around 20 years. And in all that time he’s built up quite the respectable amount of work. DIRE PLANET is one of his best.

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Visit Joel’s Amazon Page to pick up your copy of DIRE PLANET and check out his other books as well while you’re there

Derrick Ferguson Is Certain That THE DAME DID IT

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I know what you’re thinking; “Damn, Derrick…this thing came out back in 2015 and you’re just now getting around to reading and reviewing it?” Well, I did read it back in 2015 and fully intended to write up a review of it back then as I am an avid fan of the work of Joel Jenkins and Percival Constantine. But as so many of my editors/collaborators know, I’m so easily distracted by bright shiny objects. But thanks to Christofer Nigro (who I’ve since also become a fan of) I revisited this book and ta-da…here at last is the review. I hope it’s worth the wait.

“Black-Hearted Killers: A Monica Killingsworth Story” by Joel Jenkins. Monica Killingsworth is one of Joel’s favorite characters. I can tell because of my firm belief that if a writer is truly having fun writing a story/novel then that fun can’t help but be translated to their prose. He’s written several stories about Monica, all of which I recommend. The story itself is in Full Tilt Boogie Action Movie In Prose Mode from start to finish. The only drawback I can point to here is that for somebody like me who has read other Monica Killingsworth stories and so am familiar with the character and her background so that I was able to fill in the gaps from memory. But for somebody who is coming to the character cold they might be a bit bewildered by exactly who these people are and what’s going on. But if all you’re looking for is plenty of shootouts, wiseass dialog and eccentric characters, you should give this one a try. I especially liked how the ending turned out to be a real surprise.

“The Damsel of Disaster” by Christofer Nigro. Christofer does a good job of setting up the scene, letting us know where and when we are. I like that he sets the story in Buffalo as it’s a good reminder than organized crime was operating everywhere and not just in New York City and Chicago. But I do question as to why one mob boss would bring along his daughter and the other one would bring along his girlfriend to a sit-down where they are going to discuss things that are best not discussed with potential witnesses in the room. He’s got good characters and a solid plot but everything feels compressed and rushed and just shoved into too small a space for events to happen organically. Too many moments in the story feel like they happen just because Christofer wanted them to happen and not because they came from the interaction of the characters and the decisions that they make. But overall, it’s a well-paced story that doesn’t slow down for a bit and it does the job it’s supposed to do; tell a hard and brutal story about hard and brutal people and on that level, it succeeds.

“Tragic Like A Torch Song” by Shannon Muir. If I had to categorize the stories so far, I’d say the first one is 1980s Action Movie while the second is 1930s Warner Bros Gangster. This one is firmly in the arena of Film Noir. I could easily visualize this story in nourish black & white while reading it. Torch singer Hazel Atwood agrees to do some amateur detective work for her manager Frank who thinks his wife is cheating on him. The manager is skeptical but Hazel’s father used to be a P.I. and she persuades him that since she knows Hazel, Frank’s wife won’t be suspicious if she does her snooping around. When Frank turns up dead shortly afterwards, everybody is not only suspicious, they’re suspects as well. But Frank’s murder isn’t the only mystery to be solved. There’s also the secret of Hazel’s parentage that gets coiled up in Frank’s murder and she needs to unravel the both of them. Out of all the stories in the book, this is the one you’ve got to pay the most attention to because the solution to both mysteries is both tricky and convoluted. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to read the ending twice to make sure I understood how and why everybody and everything was connected.

“Shikata Ga Nai” by Percival Constantine. Know what I miss? Private eyes who keep a bottle of booze in their lower right-hand desk drawer, a loaded .38 revolver in the pocket of their trench coat and who solve their cases with experience and knowledge of human nature along with sheer brainpower instead of computers and DNA results. Private investigator Kyoko Nakamura is just such a private eye. In a relatively short story, Kyoko comes to life and Percival uses the location of Osaka, Japan almost as another character in the story. The missing person case Kyoko accepts at first appears to be a fairly easy one. But that’s before the Yakuza gets involved and soon Kyoko has a hired killer stalking her. This isn’t a twisty, convoluted mystery where you have to really work to make sense of what is going on but it is an excellent introduction to the character of Kyoko Nakamura and her world (Note to Christofer Nigro: go read this story for the dialog. THIS is how people in this kind of story talk)

Even though it was published in 2015, this could be the perfect time for THE DAME DID IT to be discovered and find an audience as we’re seeing strong women characters in prose, TV and movies stepping into the spotlight in all manner of fresh, new and exciting ways. A book of stories, all with female protagonists kicking ass and taking names may have been ahead of it’s time in 2015 but in 2018 it’s right on time. Enjoy.

Get your copy of THE DAME DID IT right HERE