Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sky Birds Dare! by L. Ron Hubbard (aviator pulp adventure audio)

I am continually impressed at the breadth of material produced by author L. Ron Hubbard during the second half of the 1930s. He wrote everything from Westerns and suspense to adventures of the air, sea, and foreign lands. First published in the September 1936 issue of Five Novels Monthly, Sky Birds Dare!, as its title suggests, centers around aviation.

Breeze Callahan is one of the best glider pilots around. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much in the age of motors. Though Breeze's gliders would keep a plane in the air after its motor failed — and would be able to soar into enemy territory without a sound — the Navy is more interested in the training ships of Breeze's rival, Badger O'Dowell, for the war effort.

Breeze has to prove that his gliders are good enough, and that he is good enough for the hand of Patty Donegan (his designer's daughter) — who has recently taken a shine to sailors — even if he has to crash and burn to do it.

As is fairly common in Hubbard's fiction, narration carries the day over dialogue in Sky Birds Dare!, allowing the author to display the extensive knowledge he seems to have gleaned from his time as president of the George Washington University Glider Club. (The promotional materials from Galaxy Audio often emphasize how much of Hubbard's verisimilitude came from personal experience.)

Regular narrator R.F. Daley once again puts his all into delivering the power of the words. And some of Hubbard's most effective prose is in Sky Birds Dare! — during the soar in chapter 3. Every detail is painted from the POV of the cockpit, first the exhilaration of flying, then when things start to go wrong, the fear and rush of thoughts. I felt like I was in the glider with Breeze, and that's precisely what I want from escapist fiction.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Re-Kindling Interest: The Boar by Joe R. Lansdale (young adult novella)

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

Author Joe R. Lansdale's March 2012 novel Edge of Dark Water is his latest venture into the young-adult field. But those readers who can't wait to see what he does with this type of material can check out this one in the meantime.

Inspired by the more adult subject matter covered in the young-adult novels by authors like Gary Paulsen and Robert Cormier, a young Joe R. Lansdale set out to write his own YA entry, using his particular style while telling a simple, straightforward story. The Boar was the result.

Unfortunately, it proved to be impossible to sell until a limited Subterranean Press edition. Night Shade Books released it in an affordable trade hardcover a few years ago, and now it's finally available as an e-book, hopefully allowing even more people to read this terrific little novella.

The story follows the coming of age during the summer of 1933 of 15-year-old Richard Harold Dale ("Ricky" to his friend Abraham, who shares this adventure). When Ricky's father goes off to make money for the family the only way he can — by wrestling at fairs, just like Lansdale's own father — Ricky is left man of the house. Out hunting, he runs across the legendary boar that terrorizes the Sabine River Bottoms: Old Satan, the Devil Boar with a hoofprint the size of a man's hand.

After the boar kills Ricky's dog and attacks his family — including his pregnant mother — he vows to take his family's protection into his own hands and kill Old Satan once and for all — even though local sage Uncle Pharaoh says he's crazy to try. But first, he'll need some training and something larger than a .22....

The American South — as depicted in The Boar, at least — is a place where stubbornness doesn't get you smacked, and where adults respect the ambitions of teenagers. (When Ricky tells his father he wants to be a writer, nothing whatsoever is said about "something to fall back on." But then again, this isn't your typical Lansdale novel; he is best known for portraying the much darker side of humanity in his extreme horror stories (see The Drive-In and High Cotton for examples).

You'll find no such over-the-top evil characters here (unless you count a boar called Old Satan, that is), only a young boy on a quest to call himself a man and kill himself a boar. Lansdale makes the characters individuals and, although the plot definitely rides the line of believability, I never doubted it for a moment.

The Boar also has that unmistakable Lansdale voice coming through the page, that down-home delivery that makes his skill with dialect effortlessly ring true and has made his public readings so popular. This is an ideal choice for readers wanting an exciting nostalgic experience — or wanting to introduce the new generation to the terrific storytelling of Joe R. Lansdale.

This review is an updated and revised version of the one that originally appeared in The Green Man Review in 2005. Reprinted with permission.
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