Sneak Peek at the upcoming deluxe short story featuring Rickie Talos

R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon are putting the finishing touches on a special short story/mini graphic novel featuring the incomparable Rickie Talos (pastiche of Pat Savage). It’s a wild tale of 90-year old pulp colliding with modern virtual reality, for an intense story-and-art experience. Here’s the Foreword for the upcoming special book release of “The Hills of the Unconsoled Dead”.


Rickie Talos and Pat Savage share the same birthday, naturally enough: August 13, 1915. When thinking about her teenage years for the anthology book Rickie, I wondered what might have been her preferred reading material…her favorite authors? Given her wayward and headstrong nature and her intense love of adventure, the answer about her absolute favorite author seemed obvious: Robert E. Howard. So for the opening story of the anthology, set in 1930 when she was fifteen, I had her reading (and fantasizing fiercely about) a Howard tale of Solomon Kane, The Moon of Skulls.

A year later, Doc Talos co-creator and illustrator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon and I were having one of our always-wild brainstorming sessions about all things Talos, and he came up with the idea of resurrecting a character from our novel Savages – Miles Harmon. Miles was a pastiche of Philip José Farmer’s Tchaka Wilfred, described thus in Chapter 14 of A Feast Unknown:

Tchaka Wilfred was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He had been a professional football player until he had been caught after holding up a bank to finance a militant black organization. He escaped from prison and joined another organization in Harlem. There he had run afoul of Doctor Caliban, who had taken Wilfred prisoner but had not turned him over to the police. Instead he had sent Wilfred to the private sanitorium, where Caliban rehabilitated his criminals. By surgery.

Wilfred has a relatively small but memorable part…his personal history, behavior and speech pattern were a bit stereotyped in the mold of late Sixties “blaxploitation” books and films, but that was a quantum leap from the blatantly racist stereotypes of the 1930’s pulps. Wilfred dies fairly early in Feast, and that is mirrored by Harmon in Savages. So he was certainly a character left largely undeveloped.

The idea at first was to have Doc Talos use a serum similar to that which Doc Savage developed in the pulp story Resurrection Day to bring Harmon back, so he could have an African adventure alongside Rickie. Incredibly tantalizing notion…but as I tried to work it out plot-wise, I kept running into continuity issues with the timing and methods used by Talos in the later novel Madonnas, which also carries a resurrection theme.

But the answer was straightforward. Rickie has been shown in many later Talos tales to be enthralled by Virtual Reality tech – and given her literary love of Robert E. Howard, it would be perfectly natural for one of her earliest forays into VR play to have a Howardian theme. She would be a little embarrassed at playing out her pulp-style fantasies with Doc (who, throughout the Talos saga, has often expressed exasperation with the pulp stories of his literary doppelganger, Doc Savage). She had liked Miles – a rough-edged, tough-talking individual not unlike herself – so why not choose to include him in her VR fantasy?

Iason, with a burst of his characteristic artistry, had created a number of AI images of pulp-feverish scenes featuring Rickie and Miles, which were both thrilling and inspiring. In some of them, menacing figures with an undead-like aspect could be seen lurking in the background. Lights of course, went off in my head at the sight of these, when considering the Rickie/Robert E. Howard connection. Another Solomon Kane story, 1930’s The Hills of the Dead, would certainly also have been devoured in that year by pulp adventure enthusiast Rickie.

Young Rickie, I imagine, would have happily cast herself in the role of Kane (as I did myself when first reading the story in the 1968 Donald Grant hardcover collection Red Shadows – cover art by Jeffrey Catherine Jones; and a little later in a splendid Marvel Comics adaptation by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams). So the pieces were suddenly in place for a rousing tale of violence and passion. Just the way Rickie likes it.

But as is often the case with Talos tales, a layer of very sophisticated 20th Century literature has worked its way into the narrative…in the form of Kazuo Ishiguro’s deeply bemusing, strangely moving book The Unconsoled. I consider it one of the most difficult books to follow that I’ve ever encountered (almost on a par with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake), as it takes the form of scenes that change and shift with a sense of being unmoored from reality, while simultaneously being deeply immersed in it. At times you have to look very hard…to focus, in order to not become cut adrift. At other times, if you let yourself go, anything feels possible.

Pulp fiction can feel that way too, taking us to places where the dead can walk side by side with the living, where bodies can be interchanged…where souls are lost but can, almost beyond hope, be regained.

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