Black Hand Gang (book, Pat Kelleher, 2010)
From SFX 199.
Pat Kelleher/ Abaddon Books / 336 pages / £7.99
WWI Tommies versus alien termite-men in neo-planetary romance.
Launched with a statement from Clive Barker that didn’t accord with the books at all, we reckon it’s fair to say Abaddon had a bit of a wobbly start. Promising pulp adventure, some of its earlier stories were just a bit, well, too treacly to deliver. But it’s been getting increasingly sure of itself of late, and the Black Hand Gang is among the imprint’s best yet. This, ladies and gentlemen, is top notch pulp, with added vim.
A battalion of Great War Tommies, along with a chunk of the Somme, a tank and an aeroplane, find themselves abruptly transported to an alien world. The wildlife’s bad enough, but our brave, well-researched lads soon become embroiled in a war with sentient insects (these ride enormous caterpillars, worship a spider and keep scent libraries. Mmm, pulpy). Throw in a guilt-stricken hero, the missing Roanoke Colony, a murderous diabolist, noble savages and man-eating trees and you’ve got a book that could oh-so-easily be translated into an awesome film starring Doug McClure. If that’s not a workable definition of good pulp, we give up.
It’s hard to write pulp, despite its oft-mocked conventions, and you can see that right across those modern presses who’ve taken up its cause. We reckon the difference between success and failure is down to the employment of pulp archetypes rather than cliché, and a resistance on the part of the author to try and subvert them. Kelleher manages both, giving his hero Tommy Atkins (yes, really) enough angst to make him accessible to modern readers without undermining him. So the beginning labours under a creeping barrage of historical info-dumping, the natives speak modern English, the mores of the times aren’t always convincingly evoked and those dreaded adjectives tint the writing purple (it is possible to embrace the good in pulp, without emulating the bad). But, minor gripes all. This is rip-roaring fun from beginning to end.
Did you know?
Black Hand Gang is the first ‘No Man’s World’ novel, one of two new Abaddon lines. The other newbie is ‘The Infernal Game’, bringing the total to eight.