(Grace Ximenez hosted a noir/story/roleplay/film site for almost a decade, and headlined three pulp-peril short-story collections called The Grace X Anthologies. She is the author of the Doc Talos fan fiction story “Esperanza”, and was the primary inspiration for the character “Grace X” in The Talos Chronicle.)
Rickie, by R. Paul Sardanas, Atom Mudman Bezecny, D.B. Brodie, Joe S. Stuart and André Vathier
— review by Grace Ximenez
I was hooked, I confess, from the moment I saw the gorgeous cover painting of Rickie Talos by R. Paul Sardanas. From her penetrating — and slightly mischievous — gaze, to the little upward curl of her lips into a beguiling smile, this was a woman I could not wait to have adventures with. Of course she is an avatar of the classic pulp character Pat Savage, which made the prospect all the more exciting.
Though I enjoyed the Doc Savage series of pulp novels — and my favorites were always the ones with Pat — I was more a casual follower of the series rather than a devoted one. They were fun, and wild, and I admired the positive ideals the stories embodied…but it was an era of somewhat wooden and stereotyped characterization. They were also quite chaste, and I enjoyed a little spice in my pulp reading. From that time period I was more of a fan of the works of Robert E. Howard…particularly his Conan and Solomon Kane tales. I’ll return to that shortly.
The book begins with a Foreword taking a fascinating look back through pulp literature at Pat, and the pastiches and later incarnations either re-embodying her character or exploring her near-if-not-direct descendants. Beyond Pat herself, the ones I was most into were Trish Wilde (the sexy, intense, and violently capable pastiche of Pat from Philip José Farmer’s A Feast Unknown and The Mad Goblin)…and Farmer and Win Scott Eckert’s Pat Wildman from The Evil in Pemberley House and The Scarlet Jaguar. Of those, The Evil in Pemberley House had me most riveted, with its fascinating depiction of Pat’s psyche, including intriguing insights into her sex life. For a book written by two men, I found it had an astute (if pulp-extreme) portrayal of how a woman could headline a strong adventure narrative without simply becoming an appendage of a male hero. Well done by Phil and Win!
The character of Rickie Talos (and I have to say, I love her name) takes that approach even further…going very deeply indeed into her thoughts and feelings as well as depicting a fierce, tough woman in a world of pulp-style conflict. One of the most engaging aspects of that relationship between pulp and the real world, is the way the Talos stories blend and balance both.
This is evident right from the first tale. Titled The Moon of Skulls, it has a teenage Rickie, in 1930, reading that exact story in Weird Tales. Good Lord, Rickie loves Robert E. Howard too!
Rickie is unabashedly turned on by the character of Nakari (a savage African queen)…which, if one is familiar at all with the broad landscape of The Talos Chronicle, cleverly echoes her relationship to come with the Archon Archdemoness, Ruha. But in this story it is — quite realistically, as that teenage pulp story reader could have been me — a girl caught up in the sexy excitement of a savage erotic fantasy.
Many of the stories in this collection are vignettes, and most are written by Doc Talos creator Sardanas. The other contributors, Brodie, Bezecny, Stuart, each wrote one tale, and Vathier, a two-parter. Sardanas uses the medium of the vignette very skillfully (not a surprise, as he is a celebrated speculative poet, and the poem and vignette forms lean strongly on the creation of powerful or subtle word-pictures delivered to the emotions), using many of the scenes as bridges to a much larger overall tapestry.
The opening Weird Tales homage leads into Rickie’s earliest days in New York, where she (irrepressible as always) bluntly propositions Doc about becoming his girlfriend. This, naturally, leaves him tongue-tied and emotionally paralyzed. Wisely, she doesn’t push, but you know she isn’t going to give up, either.
There is then a string of charming interludes, including a scene where Rickie and the Talos pastiches of Monk and Ham celebrate together as she learns to fly in one of Doc’s old biplanes…a sleepover with her older girlfriend — Rickie is an enthusiastically passionate bisexual — where they talk about life and love…a pulp tribute to Lester Dent, with a scene from his Death in Silver lifted almost verbatim from the novel, but with some noticeable — and very amusing — differences…and my favorite, where Rickie ducks out on a date with the perpetually on-the-make Monk and Ham characters in favor of a night out with the Johnny pastiche (named Bill Johnson). Thinking she’s going to get a staid museum-visit or something similar, he takes her to a Harlem nightclub, where they listen to jazz and Rickie gets stoned for the first time in her life. Stoned, as she puts it, on “Mary Jane and Kong brain”…yes, you heard that right.
The non-Sardanas tales are all excellent. Bronze Knockout, by Brodie, takes us along with Rickie on another date, this time to a clandestine New York fight club, where she — hilariously — ends up decking the winning pugilist when he comes on to her despite her saying “no” in no uncertain terms. 1950, by Stuart, is a tip of the fedora to the end of the pulp era, in which Rickie bulldozes Doc into buying her a bundle of ten-for-a-dollar (oh, I wish!) pulps including some Doc Savages, and they chat about whether or not he really hated the things. Dawn of the Abaddon, by Bezecny, is one of the more intense stories of the collection, one of the few that really digs into the hero/villain dynamics that power so much of pulp fiction, with a dark, very adult tone. I was breathless while reading it. My favorite, by just a little bit, of the contributions from the “4 Archon Agents”, is the Vathier two-parter, Bright Forever and Each Day of Summer, which explore Rickie’s friendship with pioneering transwoman Suzie. Their characters are beautifully realized, and the ending is genuinely moving.
The latter part of the book, beginning with Rickie and Her Mate — a momentous lunch date shared by Rickie and her sometime-lover, the Talos pastiche of Lord Greystoke — shifts into a very compelling stampede across the landscape of her passionate obsessions. These are quite explicit (and very kinky, spotlighting eros/thanatos eroticism), but as always in his writing, Sardanas is not presenting these as titillation. Rickie’s thoughts and emotions are powerfully explored in every story.
Toward the end of the book (as Rickie’s passion-binge hits its peak) is the hammering pinnacle of the collection, a story called Smiling, to the Death. Holy shit this tale redefines intense. In it Rickie takes part in the tournament-style ritual that the modern secret society of Archons has morphed from the intentionally primitive “feast unknown” style conflicts. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it is an eye-popping, adrenaline-inducing, utterly visceral experience.
The book then winds down with some very thoughtful, introspective tales. Rickie discusses her fierce obsessions with a very unexpected therapist…finds intriguing insights through a unique friendship with one of the elite Archons…separates from Doc in a very touching scene…and in the final story, Icarus be Damned (a title that marvelously captures Rickie’s penchant for soaring into the hottest metaphorical situations possible), she looks back at her life and literally flies forward — with her aviator’s soul — into the future.
The collection is illustrated by almost 90 black and white drawings (some of which decorate this review), which were a real treat. The model for Rickie is actress Sienna Day, who worked with Sardanas for some years, and she is a splendid avatar of pulp-goddess Patricia.
Rickie can be read on its own, but is deeply connected to events in the novels of The Talos Chronicle, with its stories woven around many major events in Rickie’s life that take place in those books. At the very end of the collection is a brief “Significant Events in the Life of Rickie Talos” timeline that helps keep all of that in perspective.
This is a wonderful book. I began it already enamored of Pat Savage, and came to the end flat-out in love with Rickie Talos.
Rickie is available in paperback or PDF download from the Doc Talos Bookstore.