Pulp Empire Vol. 1: Aliens Among Us edited by Nicholas Ahlhelm. Book review

PULP EMPIRE VOL. 1: ALIENS AMONG US edited by Nicholas Ahlhelm, Metahuman Press, p/b, $12.00/ebook, $2.99, http://tinyurl.com/cfbnh3c

Reviewed by David Brzeski

Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Firstly, I really hate the cover. Secondly, there’s a glitch in the electronic edition that causes a few random bits of text to appear in a much larger font on my Kindle. I’ve reported this to the publisher, so hopefully, it will eventually be fixed. Thirdly, it appears that the editing is pretty much left to the individual authors, because some stories have way too many typos, whereas others have none.

A case in point is ‘Blackout ’77′, by Melvin L. Hadley. It’s a very good story. It could have been a better one, with a little judicious editing. Betsy Rowangartner, unwisely decides to go outside with a guy she just met at a club. She quickly finds herself involved in a secret war between “The Man” and a teenage superheroine. It’s Hippie paranoia meets anime. It’s well-written for the most part, but the editor should have caught the incorrect use of the word “untrustworthiness” and the absurdly pretentious description of the lighting of a cigarette.

‘Text 666 for Mom’, by David Boop is an amusing, if slightly silly tale of a more than usually dysfunctional family. Mary and Teri are sisters in the ultimate mixed marriage family. It had a strange ‘Married with Children’ meets ‘The Twilight Zone’ feel. It wasn’t bad, by any means, but it didn’t really appeal to me.

One of the high points of this collection, for me, was the brilliantly observed, ‘I’ll be Leaving’, by Margaret Karmazin, in which a long-term alien observer of humanity, soon to face leaving our world after fifty years, muses over the fact that he’s actually going to miss his unsuspecting human wife and the ways of Earth people in general. Coincidentally, this is one of the ones that had no errors that I could see.

‘Illegal Aliens’, by G. Lloyd Helm was a fun story, involving “G” (the lead character is actually the author) and Dave, two pals who tend to get themselves into trouble a lot. This is to the chagrin of G’s wife, Master Sergeant Michelle Helm, who has threatened that he can find someone else to stand his bail next time he finds himself locked up for his trouble. Michelle is away for a few days and Dave suggests a road trip to Area 51, ostensibly to take some location photographs for some film-maker friends of his. They get into trouble…

I liked ‘A Martian Warrior on Earth’, by Chris Nigro, despite a fair few typos having slipped through. The story itself is great fun and will appeal to any fans of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton concept. Cy Tharrn is a red Martian warrior sent through space and a dimensional rift (his version of Mars is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom, which exists in an alternate universe) to Earth to track down a Sarmak (one of H.G. Wells’ Martian invaders from ‘War of the Worlds’).

‘Between the Bronze Mirrors’, by Robert J. Sullivan is somewhat reminiscent of those classic sci-fi/horror comic strips that were so prevalent in anthology titles in the 50s. A railroad company is beset by attacks from demons. The rival railroad magnate also happens to be a mad scientist (as they so often do) and has created a device which pulls Venusians through some sort of dimensional rift to Earth. Silly, but amusing.

If the previous story reminded me of classic old comic strips, Arthur Doweyko’s ‘P’sall Senji’ is more like a classic ‘Twilight Zone’ TV episode from the early 60s. Sergeant Henry Willoughby is present at the first contact between the human race and a flying saucer, complete with little green men. These ambassadors from another world come in peace, but are things really what they seem? It’s not particularly original. The ending twists pretty much where one would expect it to, but, for all that, it’s an enjoyable tale.

I really liked ‘Debt of Honour’, by Vincent Morgan. Aliens stranded on Earth and becoming superheroes is a common enough concept in comic books, but this is a pulpier variant. Bobby doesn’t wear a costume (at least not one people can actually see.) He wears an old monk’s habit. He owes the sheriff of Jefferson County a debt of honour. A debt which is called in when a renegade right-wing militia needs to be prevented from crossing the county border. By the time I’d finished the story, I was hoping there will be more stories to come of Jefferson County’s mysterious hero.

‘The Man in the Alley’, by Graham Phelps is, for me, the best story in the book. It’s a very different take on the stranded alien to the previous story. The unnamed stranger encounters every facet of human nature, yet he just wants to help. It’s a nicely written piece, with a bit of a ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ vibe to the ending.

The book is rounded off with ‘Have I got a Deal for You’, by Anton Cancre, a story that can only be described with a question: What do you get when you cross Lovecraftian concepts with Douglas Adams-like humour? The result is the ‘Argesis Extrapolation Intergalactic Corporation’. I feel sure there must be an entry for them in a certain Galactic guidebook. Mr. Cancre is a very silly man indeed, and I hope to see more of his silliness in the future.

As I made notes for this review, I confidently described three different stories as the best in the book, only to find an even better one along the way.

As I stated earlier, the book is not without problems. Some stories could have used a little more editing. Some have far too many typos. There are formatting glitches in the Kindle edition that need to be addressed. I really, really hate the cover!

Despite all that, there is much to enjoy here and I will look forward to seeing this publisher improve as they iron out the bugs..