Richard Wadholm, Inc. / 174 pages / (July 25, 2001)


Here’s a new sub-sub-genre for you: e-pulp. If it doesn’t exist yet, then Astronomy is the first of the brave new category. Everything about Wadholm’s debut novel recalls the dime novels of the early part of the 20th century. Tough and tender babes. Villainous foes. Strong, silent heroes. Pure good versus evil stuff. Now, instead of “penny dreadfuls” you can get all the action via ebook — not a bad idea, not bad at all.

The last thing intrepid and perky agent Susan Gilbert wants to do is turn around and head back into post-war Germany. Of course, that’s just where her country, and the world, needs her to be right away. So… Back she goes. Back to discover just what hell the Third Reich has called forth with their occult meddlings. What she will come face-to-face with is a horror straight from the pages of a Lovecraft tale, ancient ones and all that dark stuff.

These monsters are slipping through into our dimension and only one man can restrain them, one of the Nazis’ worst mass murderers. It will take everything Susan and her fellow agents have got to put an end to the nightmare and save all of humanity from a fate genuinely worse than mere death. If only the good guys could tell for certain who are the bad guys and who are the not-quite-as-bad guys.

Although there is plenty of humour in the novel, Wadholm resists the temptation to portray the Nazi forces as pure buffoons or otherwise play them for comic relief. These are dangerous men, made more dangerous by their own petty conflicts. Not every German soldier is Sergeant York, but don’t expect to see Sergeant Schultz or the endearingly wacky Gestapo dropping in for a cameo.

In true pulp tradition, actually, character development is of little or no concern in Astronomy. Susan, Charley, and the rest are stock characters, put in play to move the plot forward and deliver the saucy dialogue. The idea and the plot are of paramount importance in this kind of story. It’s an “idea” book, not an attempt at great literature, and as an idea story it succeeds admirably well. This is where you turn when you want adventure, action, and a visit from the ancient ones.

So, this is Wadholm’s first novel… A bang-up all-American mission in post-World War II Germany, complete with noble Allies and dastardly SS men — with a hefty helping of every unnameable and named horror in the Cthulhu vault. An old-fashioned dime novel wrapped up in the very latest technology. It’s going to be interesting to see what he brings us next. Be ready for anything.