Friend Friday: Ben Wheeler On His Pulp Influences

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Ben Wheeler stopped by the blog today to talk about his pulp influences in his new novel, Sheikh Of Mars.

This is a unique piece of literature, unpretentious and very awesome. A jewel I have offered to the crown of the literary West. My muse whispered the finest and highest secrets of heaven into my ear. I couched myself in the traditions of the dead and the masters such that it was not I who raised my pen to write, but their ghosts.

But which ghosts inspired me and then haunted me? Which ghosts were particularly vindictive towards the exorcists and pastors I brought forth to expel them from my home? Scheherazade, C.S. Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs and John C Wright from 100 years in the future. The time traveling ghost surprised me too but after he explained that he really was a dead cyborg simulacra from the Mandarins of the Forbidden Library. I asked him to stop because it’s ALMOST too much for me and I was OK with the time traveling ghost after a minute to adjust.

So, at some point of time around the turn of the century, adventure stories were associated with Penny Dreadfuls, Pulps and the low-brow masses. Yet, these stories were full of life, surprises and awesomeness as cannot be described in mere sentences and many paragraphs. Yet, literary overlords attempted to destroy Sci-fi adventure over time, by making boring, philosophically untenable and sexually indecent books the norm. I.e. Asimov at anything less than his best, Arthur C. Clark in Childhood’s End and Robert A. Heinlein by Stranger in a Strange Land. Conan and Tarzan were put down while a medley of unrememberable and unique only if you haven’t read ANY of their other works were promoted. Pulp became a bad word. Only now do we understand how much has nearly been buried and burnt. Yet, I cherish the works of the dead almost as much as I cherish the living. Let me talk about them.

Scheherazade sashays and is their progenitor. In 1001 Nights the west was introduced to Muslim story telling, certain word and thoughts, and the drama and emotion of the Middle East and the further Asiatic lands. Cleverly keeping her neck, she told story after story of fighting, strange happenings and Djinn. I read this in the fifth grade. I sighed in wonder at the beautiful illustrations in both book and word. I drank in the fights, the clever words and the strange deeds these foreigners from a millennia ago. Those stories have never left me. How can they? When you visit Baghdad, the city of Peace, and sail and shipwreck with Sinbad the Sailor, you cannot go back without a sense of their language, beats and wordplay. Even now, a decade and a half later I have thought patterns and vocal cues from those wondrous stories. I would be a far different writer without her. I would like to think she, not Calliope, is my real muse.

C.S. Lewis holds her arm. Of the Chronicles of Narnia series, my favorite is the Magician’s Nephew, but I love A Horse and His Boy nearly as fiercely. Set in the same sort of world, a fantasy Arabia far from Narnia, with all the cruelty, murder and plotting one would expect, A Horse and His Boy is drenched in consequence, luxury and blood. The Calormenes slave and plot the capture of Susan Pevensie. Radagast rides with a small army to invade Arkenland. Aslan wounds a girl for having her maidservant nearly whipped to death and it is called good, and is so. Yet, all of it flows within the tale as smooth as silk and as rich as cream. Ah! That I could fold meaning and depth into my own tales as C. S. Lewis! A story without deeper meaning is a story only of its time. The best may be remembered, only, but that which lies beneath its surface grants immortality.

Edgar Rice Burroughs brings pleasant memories. My father gave me his old, battered copy of Tarzan when I was a teenager. There, I learned how write adventure and the battle of wills. This is one of the secret techniques of the best pulp tales. The real challenge in Tarzan is not the physical differences between Tarzan and his savage jungle, but his will and cleverness. Even as he is scarred by fights with a gorilla and leopards, it is cleverness that wins him the fights, and his will to live and succeed that keeps him going. I learned that fighting is not merely the flourishing of swords, but the eye-to-eye and the will-to-will. Righteousness is a great cause, but if the man you fight is as dedicated, as skilled, as clever, then prepare yourself! In Sheik of Mars, I write many fight scenes, but more important is the protagonist powering through despair, death and the machinations of fate. Haroun’s will cannot falter, no matter what madness or confidence his enemies depend on!

A man must wrestle the ape and gather more of that human soul than the ape can gather animalistic fury. These lessons apply to real life, after all. So Tarzan is the gentleman barbarian of the jungle, and John Carter the Warlord of Mars, so too must I gather my will and aim to be nothing less than the Sci-fi grandmaster of the Millennial generation. With these heights to fight for, how can I fail? I have prepared every clever word and turn of phrase. I am a prince of the Baptists and trained from a child to know good art from bad art, and to know why things are good or bad. As Tarzan’s noble blood and hard jungle living gave him that vital force to overcome Kerchak, my own mind, training and life must seek God’s will and wrestle the demons until they are cast out of their literary fastnesses. This is an easy lesson for me, but a hard lesson for others and it costs more dear than any dream. For, when you admit the spiritual war exists, and you are a soldier on God’s side of it, where can you retreat but the self-reflective throne-room of God Most High? You can see yourself within the sea of glass…

John C. Wright is the most recent of the inspirations. The man is a treasure, and I’ll be damned before his torch fades, sputters and falls without someone to inherit it. For, each torch we carry is not just our own soulfire, but the fire of those who came before. The Iron Chamber of Memory is a great work, and inspired immense spiritual revival in me. I wept at passages. I understood the loneliness and despair within its characters at times. What am I, but a poor fellow soldier like the characters within? Burdened by knowledge and ideas I cannot communicate through voice as I can with writing and dedicated to the eradication of evil, in self and beyond? My soul grew bright and hot at the reading of that book, and I can only hope I put a bit of that spiritual fire into Sheik of Mars. I can only pray that those who pick up that book are similarly inspired to not give in and fight on, just a little more.

My inspirations may seem esoteric to you, beloved reader. Indeed, I was asked about pulp but I only barely mentioned them. Sheik of Mars is in the spirit of Pulp Revival, but I say that I am more a child of the Western Tradition, and that my life has been guided by God’s invisible hand to write what I do, think as I do and dream as I do. I endured madness, loneliness and hate, reading more and more. Even at times I wished God would just let me die, and I sought anything but God’s love, I was still being guided and trained to be able to write Sheik of Mars, and every book after that, from Seven Siblings (I SWEAR I’ll find another name for it) to Jasper Silver: Escape from Earth to Cybergothic to everything beyond. I have a thousand stories to tell, and I will tell them.

Sheik of Mars is not just a part of a Pulp Revival and Superversive, it is my blowing of the horn and declaring to the literary overlords that I defy them, their works and their master. Ah! Lord knows I am weak and can be sifted like wheat, yet I will stand Sheik of Mars against anything by Scalzi, Jemison and the perverted pedophile masters from whom they took their torches. I will stand Sheik of Mars as part of the revival of the Western Literary Tradition. This is a book to read if you love good books!

Sheik of Mars is a story of faith, fighting and fate. Sheik of Mars is a story of inventive characters, dramatic surprises and deadly circumstances. Sheik of Mars has deeper meaning like the old stories. Sheik of Mars has awesome fights like the best pulps of old. Sheik of Mars does not shy away from blood, death or evil. For, it must be defied so that goodness, love and faith win in the end. God wills it.

Check out Sheik of Mars. Rebuke me where I am wrong, or lavish it with praise. Wrestle with me in the arena of words. I am not a coward or thin skinned, and can tell good criticism from bad. Come, read it, grow inspired. Become my rival. Ask me for advice, if you can find me. But check it out. It is not enough we read for pleasure (and Sheik of Mars is a pleasurable read!) but also to gain that Vital Force that once was so powerful it defined the Pulp era and took the Enemy 60 or more years to bring so low as in our generation. For 3.99 and, in some states, tax, you can read it for yourselves and support me as I write another book, with different characters, settings and goals, but still the same spirit of adventure, swashbuckling and righteousness!

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