Monday, May 17, 2004

I would imagine most people have something in their collection of interests that they have a perverse fondness for, that they like in spite of its badness. One of mine is the late Joseph Rosenberger's Death Merchant series of pulp novels from the '70s and '80s. The title character is Richard Camellion, a lethal master of disguise who was originally introduced as a killer for the Chicago Mob, but within a couple of books mutated into a mercenary troubleshooter for the CIA. Pinnacle, the folks who brought us Don Pendleton's original Executioner novels and a bunch of other pulps, published most of these, with Dell publishing the last few before Rosenberger gave up on the series, or Dell dropped it, or whatever caused it to end. I suspect something happened to him healthwise, as he didn't seem to write anything past about '89 or 90, and reportedly died in '93.

The books themselves aren't particularly great, especially since as the series went on Camellion began to kill anyone who got in his way, guilty or innocent. In one of the later titles, Flight of the Phoenix, I think Camellion and co. end up killing more innocents than the terrorists they're trying to stop. The right wing politics also got increasingly heavyhanded as the series progressed. On the other hand Rosenberger's use of sci fi elements in his stories could be quite fun even if lots of it is pure '70s pseudoscience like the Bermuda Triangle. After all James Bond has never had to stop Chinese troops from seizing an alien base hidden under the moutains of Nepal, as in The Shamballa Strike. This may have come from him apparently being a writer for Fate Magazine, if the footnotes(yes, for much of the run the books had footnotes of various sorts)are anything to go by. Continuity? Not something that Rosenberger was big on, as the Death Merchant starts out as a publically known figure, yet eventually only a handful of people know he's Richard Camellion. Then there's the goofy "connection with the Cosmic Lord of Death" stuff that begins to appear in the books. And if you're a military or aviation buff you'll get a laugh at Rosenberger's habit of the characters using equipment that never actually saw service. In other words much of the appeal for me is the over the top character of the books.

But what I find amusing is the prices some folks online seem to be trying to get for these books. I saw some book shop tonight that wanted 17 bucks for one. For a cheesy pulp paperback! Come on. These aren't high art, nor are they the kind of thing that actual collector types would be out there looking for, like they might for early editions of James Bond novels. Buying them again in recent years I've felt kind of silly buying certain ones for 3 bucks a piece. I can't imagine mail ordering one for 5 bucks plus shipping. I suppose there is someone someplace who will sell a kidney to buy these things, but it sure wouldn't be me.

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