Vintage Pulp Aug 27 2023
QUARTER OF A BILLION
You can't build an empire without breaking a few civilizations.


The Empty Quarter from 1962 is Lou Cameron's second novel, after his scintillating music and radio business drama Angel's Flight. Surprisingly, he leaves Southern California in the dust for the southern Arabian peninsula and the mid-century oil business, and the result is an excellent adventure dealing with a seismic surveyor who uses dynamite and aerial reconnaissance to pinpoint oil deposits. He's sent into Saudi Arabia's empty quarter to find what his backers hope is the motherlode of all gushers. Once out in the desert he deals with tough conditions and interpersonal conflict, while simmering in the background are religious zealotry, Sunni versus Shia rivalry, a race against looming war in the region, and much more. The scene of an oil worker running across the desert aflame stuck with us. Cameron can really weave a tale.

This is also a book with racial content that will make some readers cringe, with offensive slurs used possibly a hundred times by protagonists and antagonists alike. Of course, the attitudes reflected are certainly accurate for the time, but it's still hard to read these privileged characters viciously denigrating Arabs and Africans while hailing from countries that shattered the world as a result of unconscionable greed and disregard for human life. As fans of vintage literature you can guess where we stand on censorship. However, we also don't dismiss offended groups as simply thin-skinned. The language contained here, while giving the characters verisimilitude, also echoes centuries-old myths that were foundational to the genocides and slavery that killed hundreds of millions of human beings and led to the looting of entire lands.

So that's the elephant in the room concerning The Empty Quarter, and we wanted to address that. The killing and theft that fueled Western empires are hard for some to face, but it happened, and since this isn't Florida the facts can't be hidden or made illegal. We buy books with no detailed knowledge of what's in them. That would definitely spoil the fun. We don't even read the rear teaser text, for the most part. We buy books—only if the price is right—when we like the cover art, when the general opinion in the vintage book community is that it's a mandatory read, or when we've enjoyed previous efforts by the same author. We loved Angel's Flight, so another go-round with Cameron was on the cards. But because Angel's Flight was a bit saucy along racial lines, we weren't terribly surprised what was in The Empty Quarter. All in all, it's quite a book—for better and worse.
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Vintage Pulp Jul 19 2023
IRAQ OF AGES
Ancient city makes modern problems for Christie heroine.

They Came to Baghdad was Agatha Christie's forty-sixth novel, originally appearing in 1951, with this Cardinal paperback coming in 1960 with an uncredited cover. It's less one of Christie's mysteries than a straight adventure tale, and a pretty good one, hewing to the classic blueprint of a novice thrown into deep and dangerous water. The novice is London typist Victoria Jones, whose dreams of romance and travel prompt her to finagle free passage to Baghdad, where she lands in the middle of a political murder plot. She's a winning character, all the more so for the major flaw Christie gives her—she can't stop telling extravagant lies. Predictably, this weakness serves her well during her wild exploits. In addition to the fascinating Jones you get plenty of exotic color and a dose of capitalist v. commie intrigue. Recommended.

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Intl. Notebook Dec 22 2008
LORD OF WAR
He inspired a movie and a book—now he faces life in prison.

Today in Thailand, Viktor Bout took the stand in his trial to fight extradition to the United States for conspiring to provide weaponry to Colombian FARC rebels. Bout, who is a Russian national, allegedly made an arms deal with men he thought were potential customers, but who were in reality American undercover agents. If Thai authorities decide to turn Bout over, he faces charges in America of conspiring to kill U.S. officers, employees and citizens, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

Bout said in court, when asked his profession, that he is a businessman involved in aviation and construction. However U.S. authorities, as well as the United Nations, claim he is an international arms dealer known as The Merchant of Death who has provided weaponry to warlords and dictators in Afghanistan and Africa, and is so well known that he was the subject of a book, and provided inspiration for Nicholas Cage’s character in the film Lord of War.

Among Bout’s alleged exploits are the hijacking of 200,000 assault rifles en route from Bosnia to Iraq, and the breaking of an arms embargo to Liberia. Bout said he traveled to Bangkok to relax and to meet with a Thai businessman about an airplane deal, and claimed he was arrested because he is a pawn in an American plot. He denied any wrongdoing, saying, “I did not commit any terrorist acts. The US is trying to use this to cover up its internal problems and prevent good relations between Thailand and Russia.” Bout faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 25
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
May 24
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
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