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“I have not given this book a rating because I think it is one you really need to decide for yourself about.
This is one of those books where the author uses favorite writers as the characters, a kind of book I generally detest. It always feels to me like the people writing these books either don’t have the imagination to think up their own characters, or that they just want a free ride to the bestseller list on a superior author’s coattails.
I didn’t feel that way with this book at all; partly because the pulp writers aren’t so popular right now (hence, no free rides), but mostly because the author’s love for this time and for his characters shows through on every page.
If you love the pulp era you should find this book fascinating (if not completely accurate).
The story rambles a bit, taking a long while to get moving, but all this time we are meeting pulp legends, hearing about odd pulp trivia (like how the magazines were arranged on the shelf), and getting to know our heroes.
The two main characters of the book are William Gibson (writer of The Shadow) and Lester Dent (writer of Doc Savage). I really like how Lester is portrayed, I could have done without Gibson (all he seems to do is wander around feeling guilty, writing subpar stories, and getting drunk). Of course if you are a big Shadow fan, you may love to read about Gibson no matter what he’s up to, but then again, if you are a Shadow fan you may not like having Gibson shown as a bit of a creep who writes subpar stories.
One thing to consider before reading this, do you like H. P. Lovecraft? He features in this book, but in a rather uncomplimentary way. I’ve not read very much by Lovecraft, but I haven’t liked any of it yet. I could tell from his stories that the poor man had problems, so his characterization didn’t really bug me… though I feel that a certain one of his actions seemed rather unrealistic (and not the one you’d think). If you’re a fan of Lovecraft, though, you’ll probably be less than amused by his portrayal.
Another thing to consider before reading this, do you like zombies? Technically the creatures in this story are not zombies exactly (but a zombie by any other name still smells as fowl). I don’t like zombies, never have and never will, so this element did not endear the book to me. If you happen to like zombies, you’ll probably be tickled pink by all the gory goings on.
[SPOILERS!] From here on are serious spoilers, proceed with caution.
A few final thoughts and quibbles: I thought the ending was rather anticlimactic, everything revolves around the villain opening a barrel of poisonous gas that supposedly will devastate Chinatown and other parts of the city---but an identical barrel was already used in a robbery, in the heart of the city, and it caused no such catastrophe. It just killed the people inside the lobby and below it, and then dissipated in the air! This makes the final scene with all its desperation and fear quite ridiculous. And as if it wasn’t already bad enough, the good guys have an antidote to the gas! So unless you breathed deeply enough to die instantly you could easily be saved before the poison took effect. It sure doesn’t sound like the “facing the end of the world” the book’s flap promises.
Another part that bugged me, after the villain does release it he turns good all of a sudden! Then the story ends with this ridiculous business of whether or not the “former” villain is still alive wandering around in the sewer-like tunnels underneath Chinatown. But he was exposed to the gas more than most anyone else, so if he decided to spend the rest of his life wandering around in the sewers (instead of taking the antidote), let’s just say he wouldn’t have a particularly long life to spend.
[End of Spoilers]
But with all its faults and foibles this book has some very likable characters, some thrilling situations, and some genuine charm.
Bio-Spark wrote this review Sunday, May 12, 2013.