Sunday, July 09, 2023

Spectros #1: Silverado, by Logan Winters

Spectros #1: Silverado, by Logan Winters. Tower Books, 1981. 159 pages.

Logan Winters was one of several pseudonyms used by writer Paul Joseph Lederer (July 2, 1944 – January 30, 2016). Some others were Owen G. Irons, C. J. Sommers, Warren T. Longtree, and Paul Ledd. He also wrote books under his own name, particularly a series called the “Indian Heritage” series. I haven’t read anything other than Spectros #1 so far but I will likely pick up some of his other works.

So, to the review. The book was billed as a kind of weird western. I agree it fits that mold, although the primary influence here would be the pulps such as Doc Savage. Doctor Spectros, a master magician of unknown age, has a crew that work with him in the same vein as Doc Savage. These include gunslinger Ray Featherskill, brute/mute Montak, and an inscrutable foreign fighter named Inkada.

The gist of the story is that another sorcerer, Blackschuster, has kidnapped Spectros’ love, Kirstina, and has been keeping her alive through magical means. Alive but unconscious. Spectros is after him with his crew.

What I liked: The prose here is very good. Crisp, vivid, clean. There’s quite a lot of poetry in it, which always sets my little heart a flutter. This is the main reason why I’d read more by this writer. In addition, the characters are broadly drawn but interesting, and I liked the crew much better than Doc Savage’s crew. They weren’t played for laughs—for the most part—and given serious roles to fulfill.

What I didn’t like: Though this is the “first” in a series of four books, it seems clear the reader is expected to know a lot of backstory already. The characters aren’t really introduced. They are sprinkled in like a cook adding ingredients to a stew. Now, I’m a fan of action up front, but I also expect that characters with a long and complicated history get introduced fairly early in a book so the reader has some orientation to their story and why it is meaningful. There was almost none here. I got more orientation from the back cover blurb than the book itself.

In addition, the story jumps around between the characters somewhat willy-nilly, without much of a common thread to connect them. As I was reading about Lederer’s work, he made a comment in an interview that made me think this was his general approach to writing. I’m a pantser mostly myself but I work very hard to make the multiple characters and plotlines connect.

Another issue, which may not be Lederer’s fault, is that characters and scenes sometimes changed in the middle of a page without any break or asterisks, or anything to indicate said break. That makes for some difficult reading. And add to that quite a few typos and you’ve got some confusion.

Overall, I can only give this book two stars. The prose deserves four or five but all the other things dragged the work down to the point that I was glad to finish so I could move on to a better story. The story is the thing.

As for Lederer, he was born in California and died in his early seventies from a brain aneurysm. He served a term in the Air Force, in the Intelligence Arm, and was widely travelled in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He wrote over 100 novels, most of them westerns or with western connections. Sounds like he would have been an interesting fellow to meet.  

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Alvin Burstein (1931 – 2023)


A few days ago (on Tuesday, June 27th), I lost a friend—Alvin Burstein, who most people called “Al.” By the time I met Al, he was already retired from a long career as a clinical psychologist and educator. I met him in a different capacity when I joined a small, newly begun writing group on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, across the lake from New Orleans. Al and his wife Sandra were early members of that group, which underwent quite a few changes before a hardcore cadre of stalwarts coalesced. Al, who was very much a man of literature, suggested we call our group Louisiana Inklings, after a much more famous group of writers, most notably including C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Inklings met for many years, initially at a local library or occasionally a restaurant, and finally at Al and Sandra’s elegant home on the Northshore. (It continued in somewhat truncated form even after Covid hit.)

Al was a fan of sushi as well as literature, and he and I and Sandra met sometimes outside the group for raw fish, rice, and conversation. Al had written many academic and scholarly articles in his career (here is a link to his vita), but at this time in his life he’d stoked his fire for fiction. And he was a talented and precise wordsmith, but often a playful one, as witnessed by a story of his that I republished in an anthology I edited of the Inkling crew’s work—“The Crawfish Boil.”

Al was also astute at the critique work of the group. Although his often-blunt commentary occasionally left some hard feelings early on, his intent was never to cut but to clarify. His deeply analytical and probing mind, having been honed by years working as a clinical psychologist, sliced through the BS and centered on the heart of the matter—what was the story trying to say and was it successful at it.

Although Al and my writing styles could scarcely have been more different, we both appreciated and respected the other’s work. Al understood what I was trying to accomplish and why my characters were described as they were, and he often made inciteful comments that helped me clarify my thoughts. (He was also great at catching typos.)

Al had quite a long life. His energy seldom faltered; his commitment to quality in his own work and in that of others never did. Al was also a Francophile and the picture above, taken by Sandra, shows him at the Academie Francaise in Paris. Perhaps the best sample of his literary style can be found in "The Owl," which was published in 2012. A delightful novella.  

Al Burstein was a fine man, a fine writer, and a wonderful friend. I’ll miss him.