Monday, December 6, 2010

Tales of the Shadowmen: The Modern Babylon

This is another case of "Great cover!"

The first in a series of anthologies from the good folks of Black Coat Press, these are different because they feature primarily characters from French pulp fiction, mingling with some other creations.  For instance, the cover depicts a confrontation between Feuillade's Judex and Mary Shelley's Creature.

The stories are not merely "new adventures" of popular characters, but crossovers.  Unfortunately, there's a few stories in here that function only as opportunities for characters to meet; however, at their best, the stories have a narrative that brings them together organically.

The cover illustrates "The Mask of the Monster" by Matthew Baugh, a decent story about the Creature surviving into early 20th-century France (and it's not bad for being his first work of fiction).  Bill Cunningham's "Cadavre Exquis" suffers not only from trying to cram too much into a short story, but also from a bleak outlook as the heroic Fascinax's efforts turn out to be futile.  And veteran TV writer, producer, and novelist Terrance Dicks of Dr. Who fame, gives one of the most unsatisfactory stories in the bunch, "When Lemmy Met Jules", which basically is only a meeting between Lemmy Caution and Jules Maigret, with minimal plot.  Yawn.

Up next was Winn Scott Eckert's "The Vanishing Devil," which featured Doc Ardan, Jules Maigret, and Sherlock Holmes, and was pleasant enough but not overly memorable.  Viviane Etrivert's "The Three Jewish Horsemen" is a delightful romp with Arsene Lupin and the Phantom of the Opera.  And I really liked G. L. Gick's "The Werewolf of Rutherford Grange," largely because it's being serialized and can afford to take its time.  It had good atmosphere and was more focused on story rather than throwing together as many characters as possible...which is a problem with Rick Lai's story "The Last Vendetta," which I felt was simply overpopulated with various characters and the dialogue existed mainly so people could drop pop-culture references.

Belgian author Alain le Bussy contributed the brief but very fun "The Sainte-Genevieve Caper" that has a meeting between Arsene Lupin and Sherlock Holmes (who crossed swords several times in Maurice Leblanc's original Lupin novels).  Jean-Marc and Randy L'Officier (who edited this collection, by the way) contribute the amusingly Lovecraftian "Journey to the Centre of Chaos."  "Lacunal Visions" by Samuel T. Payne is an adventure of Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, against a villain who seems to be a distant relative of Dr. Who.  And Dupin shows up again in John Peel's "The Kind-Hearted Torturer," only this time having him connect with the Count of Monte Cristo.

"Penumbra," by Chris Roberson, was a lot of fun for me to read, as it not only crosses Louis Feuillade's two creations, Judex and Les Vampires, but also throws in Kent Allard, aka "The Shadow" of pulp classics, for good measure.  "The Paris-Ganymede Clock" was an interesting bit of steampunk from veteran sci-fi scribe Robert Sheckley.  And the collection is rounded up by Brian Stableford's mini-epic "The Titan Unwrecked; or Futility Revisited," which mixes fictional characters with real-life writers and millionaires on a luxury ship cruising across the Atlantic.

Is it worth reading?  Oh hell yeah.  Despite a few missteps, it's still a fun way of introducing yourself to some lesser-known characters, and there's fun and adventure to spare.  The best pieces are actual STORIES, not merely literary contrivances, and for savvy readers, there's often a smile or a chuckle to be had.

This is the first in a series from Black Coat, and while there's room for improvement, the level of quality is still very high.  Not quite required reading, but damn close.

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