In its new summer/fall issue, the Oregon Literary Review is featuring a new column on genre fiction and has fittingly chosen to showcase the career and work of pulp author, Manly Wade Wellman. The column, edited and introduced by Jeremiah Rickert, contains a biography, a brief story about how Wellman managed to win the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine award over William Faulkner, some interviews and an essay, and finally two of Wellman’s stories. One of the stories is from a series of space operas set in the 30th century. It’s quite good, but it’s the other story I would particularly recommend: “Oh Ugly Bird”, the first of the John the Balladeer tales.
The story, which first appeared in the Dec. 1951 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, introduces a character who is, to the best of my knowledge, utterly unique in the history of pulp fiction (or any type of fiction, for that matter) in a series that blends elements of fantasy, horror, science fiction, and folk songs. John, who Wellman said looks like a young Johnny Cash, roams the hills of North Carolina with little more than his silver-stringed guitar, encountering a variety of witches, monsters, and hoodoo men. While this brief description makes the stories sound a little absurd, Wellman, by drawing on his immense knowledge of folklore and music, manages to do nothing less than craft an entirely new brand of American folk tale out of genre fiction conventions.
I cannot recommend these stories enough, and Baen Books has graciously made their collection of them available as a free ebook. And, while I’m mentioning online resources, I don’t want to forget to mention Daniel Alan Ross’ brilliant Wellman site, The Voice of the Mountains.