Hey, my friends. I started the first Retro-Scans (which is still up) in April 2008. Even before that, I had been writing hundreds of pulp reviews on Usenet (remember Usenet?). When all the space allotted by LiveJournal was filled, this More Retro-Scans took over to carry on. It has been a huge amount of fun but, you know, when a hobby starts to become a chore, it's time to give it a rest. Retro-Scans has thousands of reviews and commentaries and annotations and what not archived here already. There are other activities I want to try while I still can.

Thanks again for all the comments and conversation. I will always be touched and grateful by all the support I received from you guys a few years ago when I spent a week in ICU and couldn't go online for a month after that. Your concern meant a lot to me then and I will always remember it.

Retro-Scans will stay up forever as far as I have anything to say about it. And, inevitably, I will start getting ideas for new topics and reviews and general tomfoolery, and the whole thing will start up again. So I will then send out messages to you all and hope you come back.

As our Lajka reminds us each year, yell out "Merry Christmas" loud and clear to those you love. Give them big hard hugs and tell them how much they mean to you. None of us have forever and we have to be good to each other while we can.

UPDATE DECEMBER 10Just popped by and I am so touched by all your comments. Honestly, I'm all mushy and sentimental reading them. Thanks again, be back soon!


ASSAULT ON MING (Alan Caillou's Cabot Cain)

From August, 1969, this is one of the five Cabot Cain books written by Alan Caillou. Taking a tip from Bantam Books, Avon re-issued them all in 1972 with uniform covers that showed a large pose of Cain in action-- while below was a smaller rendition of the same figure in a scene from
the book. A nice touch is that Cain was shown as towering over the other men on those covers, something that wasn't done often on the Doc Savage covers.

In fact, these books read very much like a Doc Savage book from, say, 1947, told in the first person. Cain is a physical giant, six feet seven inches tall and weighing over two hundred pounds (although that weight would make him pretty gaunt; three hundred would be more
realistic). He is also a multi-talented literal genius, dropping references here and there to the classes he's taught at Stanford and the Sorbonne, and the advanced degrees he has in a wide range of fields. Cain casually seems to be an expert on everything, but he doesn't boast
or make a production of it, which is how Doc would treat his own knowledge.

Also, Cain is independently wealthy and will sometimes accept freelance assignments from Interpol-- unofficially and with no fee-- if he thinks the situation justifies his intervening. He doesn't carry a gun, although in dire emergencies, he may use one. The Cabot Cain books could be easily re-written into Doc Savage adventures with only a few details altered, and they would be pretty good ones at that.

As far as I've been able to find, there were five of the books, each with a title beginning ASSAULT ON. These were MING, AGATHON, FELLAWI, KOLCHAK, and LOVELESS. In 1975, ASSAULT ON AGATHON was made into a film, directedby Laszlo Benedek and starring Nico Minardos as Cain. From all accounts, it was a rather pedestrian spy thriller, with its Greek locations its
main point of interest.

Caillou was a fine writer of adventure stories, having a list of television and film credits that most relevantly includes his work on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (he was the writer who developed Ilya Kuryakin into the personality fans know) and he also had a similar number of
acting credits. If you remember the bizarre and short-lived spoof QUARK, Caillou played the administrator with the giant head.

ASSAULT ON MING is told in a clear, expressive style that works in huge amounts of background on Macao painlessly. In this book, Cain agrees to find an ex-gangster's daughter who has gone off on a suicide mission against the rival warlord, Alexander Ming, who got her hooked on heroin. The plot is solid and reminiscent of Ian Fleming (particularly in the constant mention of specific brand names), but worked out a bit more carefully and revealing just enough twists and surprises to keep those pages turning. Caillou builds the action up to a final sea battle between an old junk and a helicopter, a scene that would work very well on film.

There is a wonderfully evocative character who meets and works with Cain, a tiny Chinese woman named Mai Cho-Sing. She works as a bodyguard for a Macao madam, and despite her demure, fragile appearance, was raised on martial arts. Every time she goes into action, there is a bit
of mayhem that startle even the hardened thugs they're dealing with. (She smiles at Cain after a burst of violent action and says,"Impressed?") For once, the semi-romance that develops between the hero and the adventuress he meets is believable and understated, and gives
the final few paragraphs real poignancy. And thank you, Alan Caillou, for not gratuitously killing Mai off, just so Cain has a reason to go for revenge. I am SO sick of girlfriends being slaughtered to justify a fight scene that would have happened anyway.

As a final nod to Doc, Cain has to climb a thin nylon cord barehanded, and he remarks how difficult it is. His hands are "a bloody mess" when he's done. He would probably like to know how the Man of Bronze managed to hustle up and down that silk cord so easily.

Here's an apple I've been keeping in my armpit for you


Yikes. Customs change over time, but still... I've read about this interesting practice a few times (Desmond Morris mentions it in one of his books), but never more thanjust the passing reference. Evidently, Elizabethan ladies would carry a peeled apple tucked up there during the day and bestow it upon their suitor as a treat. He would show his love by eating it.

I don't know. Certainly, it's possible those guys had a sort of fetish for the taste and odor. Look at all the guys who lose their cool over feet. But I have to wonder if this was a sort of prank that caught on and the women were chuckling to themselves, "Oh, he's hooked. I've not only got him under my thumb, he's up in my armpit."

Customs Not Likely To Make a Big Comeback Department!

"Black God's Kiss" (CL Moore's Jirel of Joiry, at it again)

From the October 1934 issue of WEIRD TALES, this was the first of the five Jirel stories by C.L. Moore to appear there*. It's pretty intense and harrowing stuff to read. Like the other stories in the series, its heroine is forced to deal with black magic in order to fight her real world enemies and, although she sorta wins in the end, the price demanded is always steep.

Jirel is in a slightly hopeless situation in life to begin with. At some point not long after after the Romans had left but before medieval France coalesced into a nation, she is commander of the fortress of Joiry and as much of the surrounding countryside as her army can defend. It's a time of pocket kingdoms trying to swallow each other up in continual skirmishing. Jirel is ferociously proud of her little piece of turf and defends it in one battle after another. As "Black God's Kiss" opens, though, a conqueror named Guillame has won the latest massacre and is occupying the castle of Joiry, still piled with fresh corpses of the soldiers of both sides.

Guillame has the captured commander of Joiry brought before him, struggling and cursing, and (when the prisoner's helmet is removed) is understandably startled to find he is not confronting another scarred hooligan like himself. "He was still staring, as most men stared when they first set eyes upon Jirel of Joiry. She was tall as most men, and the fall of Joiry was bitter enough to break her heart as she stood snarling curses up at her tall conqueror. The face above her mail might not have been fair in a woman's head-dress, but in the steel setting of her armor it had a biting, sword-edge beauty as keen as the flash of blades. The red hair was short upon her high, defiant head, and the yellow blaze of her eyes held fury as a crucible holds fire."

Pleasantly surprised, Guillame takes a hot kiss from Jirel (her response is to bite him in the throat as close to the jugular as she can manage), then smacks her down with a backhand and orders her taken away for later. Jirel is enraged enough that she's ready to spray blood from her ears. She is so strongly offended by Guillame's presumption and the descriptions of the man are so grudgingly admiring (we get a lot of the ".... she saw Guillame's scornful, laughing face again, the little beard dark along the line of his jaw, the strong teeth white with his laughter...") that a perceptive reader might think at first this is going to be one of those overheated historical romance novels like LOVE'S SAVAGE ITCH or BRIDE OF THE BUCCANEER.

With a bit too much ease, Jirel breaks loose, arms herself and seeks out her confessor, Father Gervaise. She has decided not to try to flee the castle and raise an army outside, but to seek revenge by unholy means. As it happens, the fortress is built over a trapdoor leading down a long smooth tunnel to a strange version of Hell. (You know, this could be why Joiry has so many disasters, having its capital built over a Hellmouth.) Jirel knows she's guaranteeing her eternal damnation by doing this, but she nevertheless dares to go down that that chute and enter the underworld in search of a weapon she might bring back to use against Guillame... the weapon which turns out to be "the Black God's Kiss" of the title. But as folkore wisdom tells us, deals with Hell always go sour somehow. Even when you get what you asked for, there's a bitter twist in the outcome somewhere.

"Black God's Kiss" is an outstanding story, with no real missteps or weak points. Jirel, of course, makes quite an impression. Strong female characters in pulps were never as rare as some modern commentators seem to think, but Joiry's commander with her amber eyes and bloody sword must have been a sensation in 1934. For the past twenty years, we've had an ongoing barrage of aggressive heroines smashing opponents down, everyone from Xena to Buffy to Lara Croft, and I think audiences have come to take it for granted that a woman can be just as violent as any male hero. But Jirel has a bit more to her than being just a fighting machine in a female body. She makes hard decisions and accepts the consequences, never getting off as lightly as most sword and sorcery heroes. And she never realizes until it's too late what those consequences are (kind of like my own life, come to think of it).

Moore's concept of the netherworld is nicely unsettling. For one thing, it's completely dark until Jirel tugs off the small crucifix she wears and a nightime landscape under strange constellations is revealed, "this land so unholy that one who bore a cross might not even see it." Small grotesque goblins swarm up that she has to slaughter, but there are more disturbing things in Hell - like a herd of blind horses galloping in panic, foaming at the mouth and stumbling in exhaustion; one cries out "Julienne!" That image of the damned will haunt me for some time.

Jirel also encounters a spirit or demon in her own exact likeness, who first tries to lure her to destruction and then gives her directions to what she seeks. The image of Jirel mocks our heroine's oath that she seeks revenge against a man she hates with all her heart. Its voice has "an undernote of laughter in it that she did not understand... Jirel felt her cheeks burn against some implication in the derision which she could not put a name to." But the Lady of Joiry presses on to confront the cold stone statue of the Black God, its one eye closed and its mouth pursed for a kiss....

At this early point, C.L. Moore was writing on her own; after her partnership and marriage with Henry Kuttner began, it's pretty much guesswork as to which author contributed what in their stories, even when the byline went to one of them. Moore's Jirel and Northwest Smith stories (like "Shambleau" -*ack!*) are disturbing partly because they have such potent sexual tension just under the surface. This wasn't unusual for pulp adventures. (Remember Robert E. Howard's Bran Mak Morn story where his Pictish king was compelled to have sex with a hideous witch and then had to crawl down a long tight slimy tunnel to reach an underground lake.... geez, Bob, it can't be THAT bad.) Moore handles the undertones with more deftness and discernment, but there's still a powerful mixture of attraction and repulsion in her early writing. Seventy years later, when I thought I'd be utterly jaded from the avalanche of internet porn, the Jirel stories still have an quirky erotic punch that makes me sit up and take notice.

*"Quest of the Star Stone" was a later story in November 1937 where Jirel and Northwest Smith actually met through magical time travel. Reportedly, it doesn't show Moore and Kuttner's new collaboration or her characters at their best. Although it's not in the collections I have, I still think I need to track this yarn down someday just because I'm a sucker for crossovers.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ellen Aim and the Attackers! (crowd goes wild!)

"There's nothing wrong with going nowhere, baby, but we should be going nowhere fast!")

STREETS OF FIRE was a 1984 movie that sort of vanished somehow. It not only didn't make money, it lost lots and has hardly been seen since. I haven't watched it myself in lo, these many years and remember it as basically a real long MTV music video. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. The soundtrack was decent, with Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf BAT OUT OF HELL fame) giving the music a theatrical quality that was almost operatic. There was one hit song by Dan Hartman, "I Can Dream About You", and for years I didn't know who he was... I thought the song was really by the guys in the movie.

Anyway, here's Ellen Aim going full blast, played by a 19 year old Diane Lane (not too hard to take in any way).

Oh, that's not enough. "Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young" http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x31ctvg_tonight-is-what-it-means-to-be-young-streets-of-fire_music

Okay, to be honest, the vocals were provided by Holly Sherwood. So you can think of Ellen Aim as a team-created character, like a Muppet.

Things you don't hardly see no more Department



Ah, the clatter of that thing. I worked one summer in the newsroom at WNEW radio in NYC, and once or twice a story came through that the manager immediately confiscated and never revealed. I figured it was the mayor's son caught with hookers or some embarrassing minor scandal like that. We also got a lot of odd little tidbits for some reason. A pet monkey loose in the Public Library or someone using watercolors on the windshields of parked cars, never anything really shocking. I kept hoping to be there when history was made so I could tear the sheets off and make a dramatic announcement but no such luck.