YesterYear – A Tale of the Past and Present

In Derrick Ferguson’s introduction, he says that Tommy Hancock knows of Harlan Ellison’s mythical idea factory. And as someone who knows Tommy personally, I can definitely attest to that—the man’s got a million and one ideas, and that’s a low-ball number. Anyone who knows anything at all about the New Pulp Movement knows the name Tommy Hancock. I don’t know if he’s the originator of New Pulp, but to my knowledge he coined the term and I don’t think there’s a person alive who will argue with me when I say no one has done more for the movement than him. Whether it’s his work as the editor in chief of Pro Se Productions, running the All Pulp and New Pulp websites, his great promotional work, or his willingness (and eagerness) to talk to anyone who might have a question about pulp.

Other than hearing his ideas, YesterYear is the first time I’ve actually had a chance to experience Tommy’s writing. As I said before, Tommy’s got a million and one ideas, and they’re all winners. So the expectation I had going into this book was that Tommy’s writing ability would match the high quality of his ideas. Such an expectation started to worry me, because I was afraid that there was no way Tommy could possibly have lived up to the standard I set up in my mind.

I’m happy to admit my fears were unjustified.

Tommy constantly talks about one of the facets of New Pulp being plot-oriented. Some might cringe at this—I know I did at first—thinking it might imply sacrificing character development for plot development. But that’s not what happens in YesterYear. In fact, the characters are probably the best thing about this novel.

YesterYear takes place in the present when J.C. Smithenson, himself a former boy detective, is now a writer and publisher. One day, he finds a mysterious package on his doorstep, a package that holds a leather-bound book. This book contains personal journal entries and newspaper clippings of reporter Ramsey Long, who reported on the heroes of the 30s and 40s. The book details the personal histories (and thus, identities) of a number of heroes from back then. Smithenson wants to publish the journal, but there are other forces who want to see it suppressed.

The book is intercut with excerpts from the journal, showing articles and personal stories of the various heroes. Some of them are pastiches of familiar comic book and pulp characters. Others are 100% original. Each one is extremely interesting and could easily headline a novel of their own (my personal favorites being the Night, G.I. and Mind’s Eye).

Now, with all that being said, I do have a few criticisms. World-building is an important aspect of creating fiction and Tommy definitely does build his world very effectively. But sometimes, this world-building comes at the expense of the story. Some characters who appear one way in the excerpts from Ramsey’s journal later show up in the main story completely different from how they were introduced, with little to no explanation as to how they got that way. I think a few less excerpts and a few more chapters focused on the main story would definitely have helped this. As it is, some of the excerpts, although very entertaining, seem to have very little connection to the main story.

A few people have criticized the use of different fonts to differentiate between journal entries. Personally, I thought this was an effective choice and it reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. But that praise comes with a caveat. While I applaud Tommy’s decision to vary things up, I feel some of the font choices weren’t as strong and provided more of a distraction. I think some more careful selection would have helped this a lot more. There were also some inconsistencies with typography—one example that popped up a lot was how often quotation marks interchanged between curved and straight. Granted I’m a letterer so I’m more sensitive to typography than most, but it was a distraction for me. Another stylistic choice was the constant capitalization of the words Heroes and Villains. I understand why this was done, but it caused some confusion as one of the characters is called Hero. So every time the word Hero popped up, it caused a bit of confusion whether they were talking about the character or using it as a generic descriptor.

Another distraction was the illustrations. No offense intended to the artist, I’m certainly not capable of drawing anything close to that, but I felt they could have used a bit more detail in terms of rendering and shading. As it is, they appear very flat on the page.

These criticisms are of course minor in the larger scheme and more of a technical nature than anything else. The writing is of high quality and I’m looking forward to more stories featuring the YesterYear characters.

YesterYear can be purchased for $12.00 from my Amazon store.

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