Welcome to a brief set of book reviews covering a relatively new publishing imprint, Pilum Press. Pilum is a venture started by Neal Durando who has experience in the old world of Big
Six Five Four “Lumber Mill” publishing. He clearly wanted to bring back Adventure to the world of books. His observed solution: re-ignite the themed short story anthology and highlight worthy authors in their own short story collections and novels. Pilum has four releases at the time of this review. Two are themed anthologies, one is a short story collection, and the fourth is a novel. All can be purchased on Pilum’s website and via other book sellers, such as Amazon.
Some may regard it as old fashioned, but Pilum Press is focused on the PRINTED word. These works are available in paperback format, with selected works also offered in hardcover. While this is not as convenient for those accustomed to digital reading, I found the experience quite refreshing to hold the text I’m reading in pulp wood format. (And the Pilum site does offer some ebook options.)
The books reviewed here include:
- The Penultimate Men, featuring Neal Durando, Jeffro Johnson, Sky Hernstrom, and Jon Mollison, with an introduction by Misha Burnett (themed short story anthology)
- The Wells of Ur, featuring Norberto Argentavis, J.B. Jackson, Jon Mollison, and Brian Renninger, with an introduction by Nick Cole (themed short story anthology)
- Thune’s Vision by Sky Hernstrom (short story collection)
- Shagduk by J. B. Jackson (novel)
NOTE: I backed both book fundraisers for Sky Hernstrom and J.B. Jackson. No compensation of any kind was offered to me to create and post these reviews.
The Penultimate Men (2020)
The theme for Volume 1 of Pilum’s anthology series might be called “Post Apocalyptic Tales”. These are stories of people who have fallen from the heights of our modern world and are championing Civilization, waging war on the ever-present Barbarism that is just outside their gates or stalking them as they travel within their broken worlds. These are tales that involve physical conflict and are also unashamed to highlight both the mental and spiritual nature of that conflict.
Misha Burnett leads off with a short introduction and the power of the cooperative or shared setting for Adventure Fiction. It’s a proper lead-in for these stories of worlds that could have many authors tell tales within their borders.
Jon Mollison brings two stories to the collection. The first entry tells the tale of transition from boyhood to manhood in a city built among the bones of our modern world. The fire around which the story takes place hearkens to both the distant past and the community’s recent history. The story is as old as Humanity, but flecked with elements of today which will be familiar to the reader. Mollison conveys a scope and grandeur of Human striving within a simple setting which delivers a strong payoff to the reader. The second is a tale of a Gamma World game come to life in a future Wisconsin wilderness, as tribes of humans strive to ward off the attack of an ironclad raiding vessel crewed by mutant beastmen.
Neal Durando’s tale features one of the most unique protagonists I’ve seen in quite some time, and he is especially unique as the narrator of this post-apocalyptic tale. It is a gritty yet thoughtful story of hardship and perseverance while living a life on a very broken world.
Schuyler (Sky) Hernstrom brings his second ‘Mortu and Kyrus’ story to the table as the unlikely pair find themselves seeking repair of Mortu’s motorcycle in the shadow of a scorpion god’s arena. Sky’s story is filled with action, adventure, and wry humor, recalling the original Weird Tales magazine offerings. As with his first foray into this world, this story left me wanting more of Mortu and Kyrus.
Jeffro Johnsons two articles on gaming include discussions of Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha, and how these games were influenced by the Adventure stories of the pre-1980 Thor Power Tool Apocalypse. Jeffro highlights, as he did in his book “Appendix N”, that the TSR family of games were influenced more by Pulp magazine stories than by J.R.R. Tolkien. Excellent reads both.
The Wells of Ur (2022)
Where Volume 1 of Pilum’s anthology series concerned the challenges of striving and surviving in a post-holocaust world, Volume 2 takes the reader back to near-Antediluvian times and into potential futures to look at Men and Their Cities.
Nick Cole provides an introduction to the anthology with a few thoughts on the life of cities.
Jon Mollison provides a tale of the distant past when warring tribes fought for land, power, and glory. He tells the story of two tribes that meet at the point of weapons and come to an unexpected resolution that forever changes the lives of both tribes. Mollison again weaves a compelling tale of a fantastic encounter that feels like it is actually part of our history.
J. B. Jackson’s story is an excerpt from his novel “Shagduk”. Presented as narrative entries in the protagonist’s diary, the reader is taken along what appears to be a simple trip to a library convention in the City of Brotherly Love just after the US Bicentennial. But the undertones of something disturbing are scattered in the entries, and it becomes clear that Dewey Decimal system lectures are not the only thing facing the main character. This story was a solid hook for me to back Jackson’s complete novel that released in 2022.
Brian Renniger offers a tale out of time — quite literally. Two antagonistic peoples are on the verge of agreeing to an uneasy peace when a moment’s hasty action sets them to war with one another. In the midst of this event, a Crusader appears out of time to join with one of the bands and chooses to aid them. The action in Renniger’s story is almost non-stop and solidly Pulp in nature.
Norberto Argentavis provides a tale of the possible future when a young rural girl is selected to journey to a great City of what appears to be a crumbling civilization of which she knows almost nothing. She begins her long journey by train with preceptors who gradually teach her of the City and its Laws and what her place might be in that City. While a train journey is not usually thought of as exciting, Argentavis crafts a most entertaining and engaging story that holds the reader.
Thune’s Vision (2022)
Hernstrom’s book collects both new and previously published short stories into a single volume. Sky’s stories are reminiscent of Howard, Merritt, and Lovecraft. No hewing to strict genre and rote formula should be expected here, just as in the Pulps in the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s. Blood, violence, adventure, horror, philosophy, and humor are all melded deftly into his tales. The final treat of the book is the debut of the third tale of ‘Mortu and Kyrus’ with our heroes facing a threat linked to the old alien masters of their world. Block some time for leisurely reading, as you likely won’t want to put this book down once you begin it.
J.B. Jackson’s novel of the ordinary that somehow isn’t ordinary builds slowly and rewards the careful reader. The time is just after the US Bicentennial. The protagonist works in a Texas library. The researcher who has been delving in to strange books has gone missing. Normalcy never leaves the story, but it becomes tainted with Strangeness as it progresses. Jackson introduces the reader to his Fort Worth setting, tagging historical events, places, and people. Unlike Ernest Cline in ‘Ready Player One’, Jackson knows how to use such references to immerse his reader in the setting, providing a sense of place and time, not merely nostalgia cues that become quickly worn. His story is an entrancing blend of the normal with the certainty that something is watching you from the ceiling door to the attic. I found it very entertaining. This is also a book that doesn’t suffer from being read in smaller bites, allowing the narrative to settle and sink in between sessions.
I hope these short reviews have been helpful and encourage you to read these excellent Pilum Press offerings.