Scratching the Pulps’ Surface A review of The Adventure Of The Naked Guide by Cynthia Ward [ Guest Post, J. Comer]

[Editor’s note: Cynthia Ward has a short story out in the Spring issue of Cirsova, which can be acquired here! We’ve also reviewed her novella, Adventure of the Incognita Countess here. The Adventure of the Naked Guide is available on Amazon.]

First: I know Cynthia Ward personally and discussed these works with her before publication.

Vinyl records can scratch.

Those of us old enough to remember the 1980s might remember what it felt like to hear scratching being deliberately used as a musical effect by DJs.  It was a remarkable instance of a bug becoming a feature.  Nevertheless, hip-hop wasn’t merely made up of sound effects or sampled records; it was something new.

When looking at Cynthia Ward’s Bloody-Thirsty Agent series, a mashup featuring Dracula’s daughter, we have the same issue. The pulps originated in the 1890s, and declined after WWII.  But a century after Edgar Rice Burroughs published “Under the Moons of Mars” and Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, the pulp genre remains. Philip José Farmer, author of the Riverworld series, often paid homage to the genre.  His “Wold-Newton” mashup is outstanding in its field.

Cynthis Ward’s Bloody-Thirsty Agent stories recall Farmer at his best.  The arc of her narrator, Lucy Harker, begins with her mother (Mina)’s rape by Dracula.  As in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mina gained vampiric powers, as did Lucy, a so-called dhampir.  Mina married Mycroft Holmes, who as in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, heads the British secret service.

Thus begins a planned story arc. In “The Adventure of the Incognita Countess” and “The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum”, Lucy travels on the RMS Titanic with Tarzan, meets Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, and becomes her lover, then saves Winston Churchill while battling pterosaurs from the Hollow Earth.  Exciting, but there’s more!

Naked Guide begins in the Lutha of Burroughs’ lesser-known The Mad King, then takes Lucy into the Hollow Earth’s “Pellicidar” to rescue Mina from Hitler/Mengele stand-in Dr Krüger. Clarimal joins them in an oddly-written scene. Meanwhile free-spirited An the Mezop chats with Lucy about spirituality, sex and the soul.  Lucy finds Mina and a terrible revelation about Mycroft Holmes and the British Empire.  What will Clarimal and Lucy do?    The daring duo continue their derring-do in “The Adventure of the Golden Woman.”

So what to make of this pulp-hop mashup?  Well, it resembles Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Farmer’s ‘Wold-Newton’ crossovers.  But neither Moore nor Farmer, despite writing Image of the Beast  and Lost Girls, wrestles with social injustice and LGBT issues as closely as Ward. Unlike them, she refuses to write erotica or pornography.  Her Lucy is not ‘modern’ in her attitudes, nor is Clarimal/Carmilla.  A trained fencer and experienced hiker, Ward writes action well, and pays attention to historical and linguistic research. Her stories, though fantasy, are realistic, and not about the experience of reading (the so-called ‘second-artist effect’).  This reviewer cannot claim to be unprejudiced, but Cynthia Ward does more than scratch the surface of the vast legacy of pulp. Recommended.

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