by John Gregory Betancourt
I real a lot of fiction. (Most editors do.) What I read tends to be on the older side, usually from pulp magazines (circa 1915 to 1955). I select stories to be reprinted by Wildside Press in the “Wildside Pulp Fiction” line of books and anthologies (and in Adventure Tales magazine). Most of the fiction I read is your usual, standard fare. Rockets and rayguns in the science fiction pulps. Gats and gumshoes in the mystery pulps. A mix of romance and adventure and mainstream in the general-fiction pulps.
But every once in a while I run across something truly special. An author or a short story whose work transcends its humble pulp roots. I’d like to talk a little bit about one of my favorite discoveries over the last decade and, hopefully, steer you toward some great reading you might otherwise miss.
I first encountered Arthur O. Friel’s fiction in the pages of Adventure magazine. I had a vague idea he might be of interest, since his novel The Pathless Trail had been reprinted by Centaur Press in the 1960s – which meant early fantasy had enjoyed his work. (Centaur also reprinted works by Robert E. Howard, Talbot Mundy, and H. Warner Munn, among others.)
But I was completely unprepared for what I found. It was the story of two rubber-plantation workers in the Amazon jungle. And it was good. Better than good—great. So great that I had to read more. And as I searched through my archive of Adventure pulps, I discovered the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço continued in quite a few other stories (and in some with just Pedro by himself). Each story had a animal theme (with titles like “The Firefly,” “The Ant-Eater,” “The Spider”) in which Pedro compared a person to the traits of an Amazonian animal and spun a tale around it.
Most of them are action-adventure, but some (such as “The Tailed Men”) are fantasy. The writing was fresh, vivid, and modern. There wasn’t any racism, dialect, or any of the other dated elements which can detract from writing of the period. If I hadn’t seen the stories in their original context, I could easily have believed they were written today.
I quickly compiled a manuscript of 8 stories and 1 complete novel from the pages of Adventure. It would be a fairly thick (300+ page) book. And I titled is Amazon Nights: Classic Adventure Tales from the Pulps.
Beyond the stories, one pressing question remained. Who, exactly, was this Friel guy, and how could he write so brilliantly about the Amazon? Most pulp writers never left their home countries. Look at Robert E. Howard, who seldom ventured far from Texas, and yet he wrote about the Far East, Puritan England, and South Sea islands – not to mention the Hyborian Age of Conan. Could a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas and a set of travel brochures have given Friel the authentic feel of his stories?
No. Friel really was an Amazon explorer, after a career as the South American correspondent of the Associated Press. Nowadays you can go to Wikipedia to look him up, but in 2004 — when I began my project — very little info on him was available. It had to be gleaned, in bits and pieces, from the bios in pulp magazines and the notes at the end of his later novels.
Here’s the link to his entry at Wikipedia, which will provide more info:
I have continued to seek out his work, and now I am proud to have Wildside Press as one of the leading publishers of all things Friel. We have reprinted 2 collections of his Pedro and Lourenço (Amazon Nights and Black Hawk and Other Tales of the Amazon), as well as the novels King of Kearsarge, Tiger River, and Forgotten Island.
And you know what? The Friel revival seems to be spreading. I’ve been seeing other new editions of his books appearing on Amazon.com.
Next time you’re in the mood for adventure fiction set in the Amazon – sometimes tinged with fantasy, but always well written, fresh, and full of the authenticity that only first-hand experience can provide – look no farther. Arthur O. Friel is your man.
John, thanks for the fascinating look at Arthur O. Friel! What a wondrous world those old pulps contained. I hope you readers were as entertained as I was!
What kinds of adventure fiction have you all read/discovered in your lives? Comment below and one random commenter will be entered to win a free e-copy of Wildside Press reissue of Arthur O. Friel’s Amazon Nights*.
Don’t forget, if you comment on each week’s Summer of Discovery post, you’ll be entered to win the grand prize – a complete signed set of my Blood Lines books, including the upcoming book 5, Blood Sacrifice!
Join me next week as we welcome the prolific & most excellent Ms. Nancy Holder, a New York Times bestselling author and producer of many wonderful books. Her latest novel, Crusade (book 1 of the Crusade series) is now available in trade paperback.
* Selected contest winner will be sent a copy of the eBook via email.