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Friday Five: 5 Pakistani Action Heroes

What does it mean to be an action hero? Is it not just saving the world via a great many well-choreographed fight scenes? Or is it enough that you’ve changed the course of history, silently, sneakily? What about if you’ve spent your time making sure kids don’t get typhoid? Does that count? And what if you’ve been an actual action hero - a stuntman? Because Pakistan has had each of these, each celebrated locally and, for some, internationally too. And no, they’re not all men. They are, however, exceedingly camp. Because you wouldn’t want them any other way. 

Sultan GoldenSultan Muhammed Khan Golden

A true action hero. And by "true action", I mean In Real Life. Like Evil Knieval, only third world and so probably facing more danger with every stunt. Sultan Golden was Pakistan’s premier stuntman, known for his elaborate and death defying stunts involving a variety of automobiles, motorbikes, fire and a curly mullet. A CURLY MULLET. In Pakistan. The man  defied reason in every way.

Sultan Golden, dressed in a snazzy gold jumpsuit would ‘jump’ a golden Datsun (that’s right - a Datsun. Pakistan’s been big on Japanese cars for decades) over a string of a dozen parked cars. He’d ‘fly’ a motorbike through a ring of fire. He’d drive through three burning wooden walls. He’d speed through a sixty foot tunnel of flames. As if this wasn’t enough, in 1984, he broke world records by ‘jumping’ his motorbike over 22 cars. In 1990 he performed a reverse motorbike jump over 15 cars. It wasn’t enough to jump over cars and risk death facing the front - he had to do it backwards. All of this with only home-made ramps, a leather jumpsuit, and a helmet to protect his fantastic hair. I mean head.

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4 Less Well-Known Detectives

Lee Goldberg is an author, TV producer and co-founder of the new Brash Books imprint - focused on bringing the best of crime and thriller writing to new readers.

We all know Mike Hammer, V.I. Warshawsky and the Continental Op, so I asked Lee if he'd like to shed some light on a few lesser-known (but no less good) private investigators.


The Dead Never ForgetThe hero of eight private eye novels set in San Francisco by Jack Lynch. Bragg is an ex-reporter and ex-bartender who is equal parts Lew Archer and Mike Hammer. He can be tough, but he's not always the toughest guy in the room, or even necessarily the smartest, but he gets the job done, though not without suffering some emotional and psychological pain along the way. He's more human than most PIs... and his cases will stick with you.


Great, obscure series set in Atlanta by Ralph Dennis, published in the 1970s. Jim Hardman is a disgraced ex-cop who teams up with his African-American buddy Hump, a former pro-football player sidelined by a knee injury, as quasi-PIs in Atlanta... and who aren't above breaking the law to make a buck. Hardman is Spenser without the self-confidence or moral superiority, and Hump is Hawk, only not so fearsome and homicidal. I love these books but they can be hard to find.


The LA PI hero of three novels by Timothy Harris. Kyd is damaged goods, barely scraping by, who inevitably gets involved in psychologically wrenching cases, often involving duplicitous women and seriously messed up kids, almost always caught in the grip of Hollywood-industry madness and avarice. Very dark, very hardboiled, very good.


Real-life PI Michael Stone's bounty-hunter hero, based in Denver. Streeter's very tough-guy exterior hides a soft heart. He's a string of ex’s… ex-linebacker, ex-accountant, ex-bouncer, and a four-time ex-husband … who excels at exacting justice… with explosive results.

What other private investigators should be made public? What authors and detectives would you recommend?

XIII by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance


A man washes up on a beach. He’s suffering from amnesia with no indication as to who he is or where he’s come from except for a strange ‘XIII’ tattoo on his clavicle and a photograph of a woman in his pocket. This guy is rescued and nurtured back to health but is soon tracked down by assassins who try to kill him. Our amnesiac hero escapes and quickly realises that he’s a highly trained operative with James Bond skills, a past unknowingly filled with a kaiju-esque wake of destruction and shady government assassins hunting him down.

Sounds familiar right? That’s because this is The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum a Franco-Belgian comic book series called XIII (Thirteen). Which despite having spawned a movie, a TV show and even a video game voiced by Mr "X-Files" Duchovny himself, chances are that you’ve never even heard of it.

XIII is effectively a best-selling thriller in the form of a graphic novel and, as you might expect from any thriller featuring a highly trained amnesiac, there’s a conspiracy and it goes all the way to the top. Which means high profile enemies and enough lies to let Pinocchio sniff the moon. Add in a cacophony of henchmen, exotic backdrops and a bunch of grey suits in grey rooms discussing moral grey areas and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re getting yourself into here.

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The Avengers: Tea, Cake and Diabolical Masterminds


A huge amount has been written about The Avengers TV series in the fifty-plus years since it debuted, though as it’s not been in production for decades there are many people to whom it’s an unknown quantity. Which is to say that in terms of historical facts, if you know your Avengers, those I’m about to include will not come as a surprise. But I feel it’s worth restating where the series came from and how it was made to give context to an analysis and background for the unaware.

In simple terms, The Avengers was a British drama series broadly in the thriller/espionage school. “Broadly”, because where it started and where it went are by no means the same thing.

Steed-keelThe history:  First broadcast in January 1961, The Avengers initially starred Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel, and Patrick Macnee as John Steed in the roles of ‘civilian suddenly entangled in stuff he shouldn’t be’ and ‘shady security service operative who uses him to defeat the bad guys’. Hendry, fresh from starring in Police Surgeon, was initially the series’ focal point - it was he who had something to avenge in the murder of his fiancée, though as he did that in the second episode it’s frequently been noted that the rest of the series was really pretty seriously misnamed.

Through season one, the situations in which they found themselves involved ranged from the relatively mundane (theft and murder) to those playing off concerns of the time - the theft of radioactive material for example - and some that hinged on conspiracies and plots. Most of the first season’s episodes are now lost from the archives, meaning it’s hard to gauge to what extent these early outings feel like the series as it developed, (though audio drama company Big Finish are in the process of releasing new audio versions which do a great job of conveying the atmosphere and ‘feel’ of the episodes). The development of Keel from incidental player to active protagonist is essentially a given; he is as likely to bring a situation to Steed as vice versa from very early on.

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Fiction: 'Susceptibility' by John D. MacDonald

GrouseMountainBC by Chris Stubbs

Sean Mallow stood unnoticed at the edge of the clearing and frowned as he watched the girl work. Exposure to the rays of the yellow-white sun, half again the size of Sol, had turned her to copper bronze, against which the mane of yellow hair was quite startling. He found that he was taking pleasure in watching the smooth play of muscles in her naked back as she swung the instrument against the tree. Each stroke bit out a chunk of the soft yellowish wood, veined with green. Exertion had put a sheen of perspiration on her shoulders.

The proper paleolingual word eluded him. Suddenly he remembered. Of course - it was an ax.

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Underground Reading: John D. MacDonald's "Susceptibility"

SusceptibilityThe email edition of our weekly fiction comes with the added bonus of wibbly editorial notes. As "Susceptibility" is tied in to this week's topic, I've repeated them here. (Read the full story here.)

In the words of the fine litigators at The Good Wife's Lockhart/Gardner, let's stipulate that John D. MacDonald's "Susceptibility" is a deeply problematic work. The planet of the pioneer vixens is a weirdly troublesome image, even before we get to the fact that the entire story is predicated on Deen's lack of agency. All things considered, "Susceptibility" hasn't been collected or reprinted since 1978, and that feels about right.

However, "Susceptibility" does tackle several of the themes relevant to this week's "action hero" focus. (And, to be fairn, the book's terrible sexual politics are pretty on-theme as well.) These include the action hero both as a 'lifestyle choice' and as a means of guilt-free rebellion.

Sean Mallow lives in a delightfully Utopian future with everything free and comfortable and filled with joy. Yet still he is driven to live on the fringe of that society. As a Praecursor, he is someone that goes into  relative (but not absolute) danger. Sean's clearly flung himself into his Praecursor task,  he's even got the manual memorised.  But, as Deen demonstrates, even that isn't enough for him. Ultimately, he chooses more - more danger, more risk, more work and more adventure. "Susceptibility" is set up as not as a conclusion, but as an origin story. His final decision is the moment where Sean Mallow decides to step outside the rules of society and devote himself to a more adventurous path.

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The Metallurgy of Action Heroes

Bond James BondThis week(ish), the articles and stories on Pornokitsch are all focused around a particular theme: the action hero. The men and women of big guns, cunning stratagems and intense stares. The men and women, they say, of iron.

But are they?

In my compulsive need to generate pithy diagrams, I wanted to tackle the classification of action heroes. Be they cowboys, sleuths, spies or superhumans, what sort of consistent spectrum could we generate for these characters?

Before I get into the classification process, it is important to note the base assumption for all these action heroes: they need to be characters with agency. Fundamentally, what makes an action hero isn't what they can do, but what they choose to do. These are people that have extraordinary lives and adventures, because, above and beyond their capabilities, they have a mission. They have chosen to prioritise that 'thing they do' (revenge, vigilantism, assassination, general world-saving) over the other aspects of their lives; over normalcy; over fitting in. Action heroes have escapist appeal because they've made the conscious choice to follow a higher (or lower) calling, and disobey the strictures that confine the rest of us.

When it comes to classifying the results of their agency, I've selected two axes.

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New Releases: Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

9780751557978Created, The Destroyer was originally published in 1971, the first in a macho men's action-thriller series that ran for well over a hundred volumes. And that's not counting a movie, TV pilot and several comic book adaptations. Sphere, bless 'em, are bringing the Destroyer back in style - part of an interesting recent trend that's seen some of the top-selling pulp series of the last century resurrected by major imprints. (See also: Titan with Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and Helen MacInnes' thrillers, Mulholland with The Saint and Hard Case Crime's very existence.) 

(As an aside: I love this trend, as I always feel weirdly sorry for forgotten bestsellers and, better yet, I really enjoy these books. But I'm curious why this is happening now. Structurally, there's presumably something about the aging of the rights and the perpetual quest for 'long tail' ebook content. But is there something socially as well? Are we looking to the 20th century for escapism? A simpler time where men where manly-men and women were womenly-women and the forces of evil were all clearly identified? To be discussed throughout this week.)

The titular Destroyer is Remo Williams - a Newark cop and ex-Marine who begins the book counting down the minutes until his execution. He's sitting on Death Row, convicted of killing a drug dealer and sentenced with undue speed and (seemingly) cruelty. As the dread hour approaches, Remo thinks back on his life and... wait, what's this?

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Friday Five: 5 Positive Representations of Disability in SF

This week's Friday Five guest is Kathryn Allan, scholar, blogger and co-editor of the upcoming Accessing the Future (more on that below - or just click here and get to supportin'). As Accessing the Future is a new anthology themed around disability in SF/F, we asked Kathryn if she could provide any existing reading recommendations.

Salt Fish GirlIt is really easy to find examples of disability done poorly in SF: people with disabilities are constantly being “cured,” modified to be either “normal” or “superhuman” (see cyborgs), or erased from future worlds through genetic engineering (a.k.a., eugenics). It is much more difficult to find good examples of disability representation in SF, but there are notable stories out there and it’s important that we acknowledge them. Instead of playing “spot the disabled person”—which is often the starting point for people just beginning to think about disability in science fiction (or in any genre for that matter)—I want to highlight five stories that present atypical and non-normative experiences of embodiment in creative, engaging, and thought-provoking ways. Technology is not always wanted or accessible as a “cure all.” People with disabilities can be three-dimensional characters! Each of the five stories on my list of “good disability in SF examples” examines the complex diversity of human bodies and minds.

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai (2002)

Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl is a beautifully written exploration of difference, vulnerability, community, and biotechnology (cloning). The book starts with the snake-bodied Nu Wa (the creator goddess in ancient Chinese mythology) desiring to leave her underwater existence and walk amongst the people she created. Her transformation to a two-legged being is agonizing, and she navigates the human world in pain but with a curiosity to know the entire human experience (and so falls in love with a fisherman’s daughter). Nu Wa’s story intersects with that of Miranda in 2044 Canadian Pacific Northwest, who also is marked by difference: Miranda stinks like durian fruit. Her durian-odor seeps into all aspects of her family’s life, who love her but repeatedly try to rid her of her pungent smell. Miranda finds belonging (and love) among a group of cloned factory workers, who are themselves unusual bodies deemed (and ruthlessly exploited) as something other than human. Throughout Salt Fish Girl, Lai challenges the medicalization (and resulting dehumanization) of bodies that do not conform to idealized standards, and offers a vision of community that purposefully replicates difference.

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'On execution and criticism' by James Berry (1892)

James BerryAs is always the case when a man attains any prominence or notoriety, a number of utterly groundless stories have got afloat about my doings and adventures. Others, which were originally founded on fact, have been so modified and altered that I do not recognise them when they come back to me again. Altogether I have been credited with being the hero of so many surprising adventures that I am afraid the few little incidents which have really occurred to me will seem tame by the side of the fictions....

I always try to remain unknown while travelling, but there is a certain class of people who will always crowd round as if an executioner were a peep-show. On the journey above mentioned, after changing at York, I got into a carriage with a benevolent-looking old gentleman. A little crowd collected round the door, and just as we were starting a porter stuck his head into the window, pointed to my fellow-passenger, and with a silly attempt at jocularity said: “I hope you’ll give him the right tightener.”

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