Action & Adventure / Reviews

Book Review: The Big Book of Adventure Stories by Otto Penzler

the big book of adventure stories otto penzlerOtto Penzler has proved his worth as an editor with acclaimed works like The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, The Vampire Achieves, and The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. His latest editorial venture — The Big Book of Adventure Stories — does not disappoint us either. It’s a mammoth collection of highly entertaining tales, which takes the readers around the world and through time.

If you have a taste for pulp fiction, then you can’t get a better deal.  This 900 page book has stories from the masters of the genre as well as from writers like H. C. McNeile who are not familiar names to the average Joe. The stories are neatly categorized under different sections like “Island Paradise”, “Sand and Sun”, “Future Shock”, “In Darkest Africa”, etc. This book is stuffed with adventure, escapism, romance, seductive blondes, mystery, fantastic voyages, combat, conspiracy, and exotic places. Once again you are with daring heroes like Tarzan, Cisco kid, and Conan and a sense of peril fills you.

Apart from famous adventure tales like Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game and Robert E. Howard’s The Devil in Iron and some rare gems such as P.F Nolan’s Armageddon – 24519 A.D., you’ll find a complete Tarzan novel (Tarzan the Terrible) in this book.

Most of the stories are from early 20th century — the golden age of classic pulp. Penzler says in the introduction that it would be wrong to judge the stories with a modern perspective. These classics are neither realistic nor liberal in terms of gender and race. Ironically, 46 out of the 47 stories are written by men. Does Penzler himself show gender bias? Doesn’t it sound unbelievable that the editor has named a section as “Yellow Peril”? And racial discrimination is not restricted to this section alone. In “Armageddon 2419 A.D” (Future Shock section) Philip Francis Nowlan states that the U.S will “blast the Yellow Blight (China)” one day.    (Mention section)

People have forgotten H.G Well’s serious fiction. But his scientific romances like War of the Worlds and The Time Machine are still widely read. No one remembers Conan Doyle’s historical fiction. But the popularity of his Sherlock Holmes stories shows no sign of waning. The Big Book of Adventure is true pulp and chances are that we won’t forget it easily. This book also gives you a reason to read the works of writers like Robert E. Howard and Philip Jose Farmer once again. Not a bad thing, huh?

You should be aware of the fact that a few stories like To Serve by Damon knight, though pretty good, cannot be called adventure.  Purists may also argue that classic tales like The Fantastic Voyage and The Gaslight Romance are missing. Finally, some of the stories are quite average (As is the case with almost all anthologies). Nonetheless, these flaws cannot hide the fact that this book is our passport to a lost world of high adventure, which is so alien to us now. The Big Book of Adventure Stories offers you an opportunity to return to your childhood once again. Honestly, nostalgia was never more fun. You got to thank Mr. Penzler for that. Continue reading