Thursday, December 26, 2019

Licensed to Thrill: A Pulp History (Part III: The Odds & The End)


Welcome to our final installment of this short series on Ron Goulart's Cheap Thrills history of pulp book. Even though it has only been three entries, we have been through much. But now it is time cover what I believe the majority of the readers of this blog have the most interest in.

In this last entry we will cover the concluding three chapters of the work, hopefully leaving us with one last impression of what the pulps were truly about. In the previous post I discussed the majority of the book to show just how many similarities there were between the old and the new, and how heroes and hope were the mainstays of the form. As a result that entry was more of a summary than anything else, though still important in the long run. Heroes and adventures were the bread and butter of the pulps.

Now we are going to talk about how weird fiction gets into all of this. Even though much of what we have already discussed has weird elements, it hasn't been explained just what they are or why they are so necessary in pulp fiction. There isn't really much in the way of "normal" when it comes to the pulps. Aside from pastiche and parody, it is all pretty bizarre material.

Before we get to that I need to rewind a bit back to my previous series on this sort of topic. That's right, it's back to my posts on Fandom.

One thing we learned from Sam Lundwell's book is that not only were the pulps absolutely wretched without any sort of redeeming quality and read by the illiterate, they were also an aberration on what came before. Note that he said this despite showing their clear connection to Marchen stories of romance, fairy tales, and the Gothic. He destroyed his own premise in his own book. He did this because he had a party line to follow. 

The pulps were, however, also aligned with the moral tradition of storytelling showing good as good and evil and as evil without intentionally muddying the water to propagandize the reader into some new view of the universe. The pulps were no deviation from what came before, in fact it is this "pure" science fiction he championed that was. His movement was even advertised as doing such at the time!

To this day, wonks still celebrate the mutation of science fiction into some grand thing bigger than its past that allowed "respectability" for the genre by people who don't care about science fiction and who, at this point, don't even exist anymore. If they ever did. The fact is that genre fiction used to just be lumped in with everything else until those who found it a useful weapon to warp the modern world seized control of it and began teaching you it in classrooms and fanclubs. And now the loser-led style of message fiction is the lowest selling of all. Despite this failure, there has been no move to correct course.

Still we cling to this outdated definition of genre fiction that has only been successful in shrinking audiences while we have an ongoing reading crisis in the western world. At the same time adventure stories are the only successful ones in the mainstream, adventure has been barred from the literary world. There has been no course correction despite this obvious knowledge. Appeal to the clique, ignore than common man. At this point, we can surmise the suppression of that better tradition is being done out of spite since no one with an honest compulsion to tell stories would go out of their way to ignore the majority.

This is a loser mentality by those in the industry, and it ties in to why the genre has become such a failure since the back half of the 20th century. It continues its decline to this very day.

All this started from lying about the pulps, lying about the past, and continuing on this sham new tradition that is currently eating itself and purging unwanted parts like a leper rotting in real-time. At the expense of adventure and weird fiction, sf fans began to believe they were special and above others, and set about putting their genre above others as something unique--something better than adventure. If you don't believe it then you just haven't been paying attention.


An artistic rendition of what fandom actually believes John W. Campbell did to science fiction.

But we now know better after learning about the pulps era of fiction. Science fiction is just another form of weird and adventure fiction. The tools used to make it do not change what the core purpose of the strange adventures are meant to invoke in the reader. Sf was later spit off for the same reason Unknown magazine was created: to strip the weird and the wonder from the fantastical. If readers are being awed they won't pay attention to the very important messages they need in order to become a Good Citizen. It is a very important Bezmenovian tool for social engineering, and it is more important than being entertained.

I'm not speaking out of turn. These people admit it. Sam Lundwell outright said so in his book, and he still has ties with fandom to this day. All you need to do is chase out any semblance of normality, and fetishize one aspect of the genre above all others, and you too can destroy your link to the wider world while leading the field into self-destruction and irrelevancy. Its a purity spiral of the worst sort.

But it wasn't always this way. There was a time when we didn't hate each other. It was a time you have been trained to blindly hate without giving a first glance to. If you get anything from this series it is that the pulps were made for normal people, written by normal people, and sole by normal people. That's such a strange concept to swallow, but it's true. Genre fiction was normal.

As Mr. Goulart begins his chapter on Super Science:

"The pulp magazines were selling science fiction years before they knew what to call it. Back in the first decades of the century, the Munsey pulpwood magazines were printing stories like "Under the Moons of Mars" and "Beyond the Great Oblivion" and labeling them "different stories."

These were not, in fact, much different from weird fiction or general adventure except with a world more wondrous than one might expect. It was editor Hugo Gernsback who first used the term "science fiction" in 1929 in Amazing Stories, but today no one would call what he ran by that title. That would be admitting a dirty truth about their perfect "genre" fandom does not want to admit about it.

But why did this definition change? Why can no one to this day agree on what it is? Why is there such undeserved arrogance in certain circles of fandom for writing to smaller audiences? We know why. It is because the original definition is not what it is today. Fandom's sleight of hand changed it long ago.

Now we come to the real definition of what "science fiction" is, and a lot of people aren't going to like it. Keep in mind this book was written before the late '70s and a certain movie came along to make fandom's concocted definitions fall apart. Even back then definitions still weren't defined.

And they never will be.

"The term science fiction came to serve as an umbrella under which were gathered the many types of imaginative and speculative stories that had been appearing in the general adventure pulps, both scientific romance and scientific speculation."

You can just imagine the bow-tie tugging generated from that quote in your mind. "Speculation" is but one aspect, not the whole of the genre. So what happened to the other half? Why are stories in the second half of that definition now the only ones labeled as science fiction? There is, after all, nothing particularly "scientific" about adventuring.

Perhaps that was the problem.

Mr. Goulart continues:

"Science fiction could accommodate planet-hopping adventure, satiric thoughts about the future, trips through time to the past. Spacemen and monstrous aliens, fragile princesses, mad scientists, absent-minded professors and dedicated researchers. Hymns in praise of technology and dire warnings about the perils of the machine. Utopia and anti-Utopia."

Wow, all this before the magical year of 1937. This sounds like a genre with a lot of elbow room and potential. What a trip!

But here's the killshot. He continues:

"Hard science, pseudo science and crackpot science. All in all the science fiction pulp was potentially more catholic in scope than most other genre pulps. In the first decade of so of science fiction magazines this wide potential was overlooked more often than it was taken advantage of. The emphasis tended to be, particularly in the 1930's, on action and heroes."

Oh boy, this is not a definition we could use today in our world of mundane hard science fiction or bust. "Hard" science is not required to be science fiction. Uh oh! So this means someone changed the definition to be more restricting, and no one is allowed to question it to this day. New Wave itself went through this purity testing.

But you can't blame them for their rebellion. After all, someone without any authority to do so tinkered with this genre definition, and now we must comply with it for no discernible reason. We must, after all, bow to the purveyors of the lowest selling genre--the ones who changed this successful formula into a sales loser to begin with. 

We have to do this because for some reason science fiction authors are easily penned up and more obedient than others. At least, this is the way they come off. How else would you explain this mess we are currently in?

As if it isn't clear by now, the terms made up in the 1940s and later are bogus. There is no such thing as science fantasy, for instance. It was invented by puritans so their precious social fiction genre wouldn't be infected by the adventure virus. They needed to get rid of heroes, and get rid of them they eventually did. No one had any right to do this, but they did it nonetheless. And no one said anything against this madness.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Please let us begin where the pulps did.

"Before there were science fiction pulps, the Munsey magazines--Argosy, All-Story and Cavalier--ran a sizeable amount of science fiction material, due in good part to the editorial philosophy of senior editor Robert H. Davis. The favored type came to be the scientific romance, the story mixing action with a little technology and a little love interest. The star performer here, from 1912 onward, was Edgar Rice Burroughs."

Burroughs has always been the elephant in the room for those who discuss what "real" science fiction has to be. It does feature a plot point in its setup that contains magic, after all. That's against the rules! The truth of the matter is that actual science has no bearing on what makes a science fiction story. It didn't back then. The Burroughs tradition meant adventure and romance mattered more, and general audiences agreed. At one time the majority of readers mattered. What a time that must have been.

But Burroughs wasn't writing in a vacuum. There were others in the adventure tradition.

"During the ascendancy of Burroughs, several other authors mined similar ground for Munsey. George Allan England, Charles B. Stilson, J.U. Giesy, A. Merritt and Otis Adelbert Kline all wrote scientific romances, using remote places and planets and a smattering of science."

All authors ignored by Sam Lundwell's book. Isn't that strange. So why was this very popular aspect of science fiction ignored years later when readers of the pulps were still very much alive?

Who knows, but according to Mr. Goulart, it wasn't Hugo Gernsback who did the damage in this aspect. He apparently didn't have much in the way of preference when to came to scientific romances.

"Hugo Gernsback was much too eclectic in mind to stick to any limiting definition of what a science fiction pulp had to be."

Mr. Gernsback loved science as we all know, so stories that just featured it in some aspect would be enough for him. And it appeared to be enough for readers. Amazing Stories was, after all, the most popular magazine of the fantastical throughout its entire run. It didn't get there by ignoring what the readers wanted.

The prime pulp example

But there was another aspect of science fiction adventure we must talk about, and it is one that came about not that long into the life of the pulps. Spaceships, cadets, kingdoms, and aliens abound!

You see, big is big, and size was an important part of the pulps. A very crucial aspect of wonder is how large things can potentially get. Not just in ideas, but in action and concept. Scale was king in the pulps.

This led to a very important segment of the science fiction pulps that were disparagingly called space opera. This is a subgenre that took the adventure part to even great heights. Things could always get bigger. The pioneer of this new subgenre? That would be E.E. "Doc" Smith.

"Edward E. Smith was one of the major engineers of the space opera. Smith was born in 1890 and grew up in the Northwest. He majored in chemical engineering and in 1919, with the help of money from relatives and spare time jobs, he got his Ph.D. This hard-earned degree impressed him and when he began appearing in the pulp magazines he used it the way Adventure contributors used their military rank, always signing himself, Edward E. Smith, Ph.D."

Yes, there were writers who cared about science before John W. Campbell came around, and they were writing adventure stories on a scale like the Lensmen. This is not the story that gets passed around these days.

Smith finished his first novel, The Skylark of Space, in 1920, but it took him over seven years trying to sell it before Amazing Stories picked it up. The world just wasn't ready for adventure of this size! He would write for the pulps well into the '30s, and even running in a pre-Campbell Astounding Stories. Until recently he was looked at as one of the most important writers of the genre.

Speaking of Astounding, it came out not long after Skylark itself began serialization.

As Mr. Goulart puts it:

"This new science fiction pulp was "unabashedly an action adventure magazine.""

Running through F. Orlin Tremaine's tenure, and even at the beginning of Campbell's run, Astounding never lost sight of its original aim. Many different adventure stories were told throughout the first decade of Astounding's existence which quickly allowed it to gain a foothold. This focus on wonder is what made it big.

In the '40s, gimmicks began to take hold as the magazines spiraled in popularity, first pushed by John W. Campbell and his new purity testing. Eventually the magazine would change titles, as it was no longer astounding or very wondrous at all. This change allowed the popularity of the pulps to decline further among the masses.

One of the few successful gimmicks of the 1940s was the Shaver Mystery, spearheaded by Raymond A. Palmer. This was a story style by Richard S. Shaver who created a sort of story about secret races living under the earth and such mystery stories. What secrets did science hold to its breast? This led to the rising scientism of the era that would peak with Scientology.

Although it should be said that this era also hammered in how it wasn't the audience anymore that decided the direction of their magazines, but a small clique of editors who did what they wanted instead. After Raymond A. Palmer left his magazine, the following editor, Howard Browne, stopped running Shaver Mysteries. Why? Well, it wasn't due to declining sales.

"I thought it was about the sickest crap I'd run into. Palmer ran it and doubled the circulation of Amazing within four months. When I took over from Palmer, in 1949, I put an abrupt end to the "Mystery"--writing off over $7000 worth of scripts."

It goes without saying that this tactic did not help Amazing Stories. But at some point the audience began to come last, and when that happens a decline is not too far away.

As for the pulps themselves, it was clear by the '40s that they were on the way out. Times were changing, and far more competitors began to emerge for cheap bucks. Though some revisionism from the time period still remains, even in Mr. Goulart's book.

"Fortunately for science fiction, not all editors courted the lunatic fringe and the youth market. Or at least not the early teen age side of the youth market. After some changes in title, format and editorship, Astounding came under the control of John W. Campbell in 1937."

The irony overload is poisoning this reader. Campbell is the one that closed ranks, changed the magazine, and chased off adventure fans. He was simultaneously worshiped for changing the field and hated for not warping it in the correct direction. The one thing he didn't do was make it more open. He courted a lunatic fringe of his own, one that no longer has any use for him.

This is how John W. Campbell's legacy has ended up:

Tarred and feathered forever

Not bad for closing the definition of what a genre could be, and creating a legacy that no longer exists and will be purged from the genre within the next decade.

But at least we got rid of those pesky adventure stories.

Mr. Goulart couldn't have known this at the time of writing his book, but the common reader must have sensed it, at the time. Astounding Stories never recovered from Campbell, and (literally) became a very different magazine under his guidance far from where it started. Those who like what came before? No one ever thought twice about shoving them out of the place they created. They were in the way of progress.

Unfortunately, the chapter on Super Science ends with a final paragraph on John W. Campbell's warping of the action adventure genre to his tastes and, once again, frames it as more or less a good thing.

This obsession with science above heroism and wonder diluted what was once a place where a writer could steer between tropes and ideas effortlessly now had a straitjacket on their creativity. This is what led to the death of science fiction, and why it has never, and will never, recover the popularity it once had outside of elitist and ever-shrinking nerd circles.

It is odd that after the first World War audiences wanted adventure and heroes, and they got it. But when the second rolled around the new authors decided to spit in their faces instead. Something isn't right here.

As he ends this chapter:

"The new trends in science fiction spread in the 1940's. In 1945 there was Hiroshima, that terrible monument to the best and worst of science. It was difficult for science fiction writers to be satisfied after that with simply making the technological predictions that might come true--and impossible to write about galactic heroics with atomic ray guns. Even the Thrilling Wonder Stories grew up and readers found Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer, John D. Macdonald and Henry Kuttner, to name a few, thinking about the future of people. Heroics seemed less of a necessity."

And in 1977 we learned with the success of one movie that this was obviously not the case with readers. They wanted heroics and adventure, and got nothing in return for their pleas. So who orchestrated the change and what gave them the right?

Aside from Planet Stories, a magazine that was hounded by the clique from its creation to its death by those who hated adventure, the field abandoned these readers. And no one asked their opinion on this.

The editors could have turned this around at any time, but as we learned with the Shaver Mystery the editors no longer cared what readers wanted. Those dumb customers needed their mandatory gruel servings instead. By the 1940s this was what the super science pulps had become. This is no Golden Age.

This is one of the reasons the audience of the pulps began to scatter during the 40s, even before economics from the war shut them down. The content that made them what they were: the content that made them popular was no longer being made. They wanted that "Buck Rogers stuff," and were being given dry lectures instead.

"Heroics seemed less of a necessity" in a genre that was built on heroics.

At some point, you get what you deserve.




On other side of the coin were the "horror" magazines, as Mr. Goulart calls them. At the same time super science was on the rise, so were fantastical chillers of faraway, and close by, lands. This is the story of the weird tale.

It should be mentioned here that there were no "Fantasy" magazines, because there was no "Fantasy" genre. It was a made up phrase to bin all the J.R.R. Tolkien clones that spun off in his wake. It is a concocted genre meant to strip the weird from the fantastical, and put a formula and an otherwise out there style of fiction.

Before Tolkien clones, the Weird Tale was the fantastical: a strange beast that combined aspects of horror, super science, and fantastical legends and lands. It is a very catholic genre that could do anything. This is the tradition that went back into Poe and Fairy Tales and as far back as we can track, and it was the pulps that kept this tradition alive where the mainstream industry was attempting to strip the mystery and wonder from it. As can be told from one trip to a bookstore today, this segment no longer exists.

"The pioneer here was Weird Tales, a perennially tottering Chicago-based pulp. The first issue appeared in 1923 with a cover illustrating that month's featured story, Ooze. A rallying point for every sort of monster, ghost and fiend, Weird Tales was edited in the '20's and '30's by Farnsworth Wright . . . Weird Tales was always in financial trouble and never made anybody, even its publishers, rich. . . The pulp, in its nearly (I believe he means "over") thirty years years, offered readers a smorgasbord of horrors . . ."

It was at this point reading that it became clear to me that Mr. Goulart was not much of a fan of these sorts of stories. That is fine, we all have our tastes, and I do enjoy that unlike Mr. Lundwall, that he even mentioned them at all, but he does not spend much of any time on these stories nor does he mention their clear Gothic influence, which is a bit more than the hokey horror cliché that era is painted as with silly skeletons and sheet-wearing spooky ghosts.

The lack of focus on this segment of the genre is the first real strike against the book. Mr. Goulart's disinterest shows, and it is a shame. There is much here that could have been expanded upon.

Weird Tales contained mysteries, adventures, poetry, tales of super science, action, and horror stories, and sometimes even combined each of these into one piece. The reason it retained a loyal fanbase unlike the science fiction magazines is because they never strayed from their premise until their closing days in the mid-'50s long after those other magazines had disappeared. It remained true to what it was for over thirty years, and it is still remembered as one of the best pulp magazines.

It even established its link to the past right out of the gate:

"There were contributions from a profusion of authors, both living and dead. Early issues contained reprints of Daniel Defoe, Bulwer-Lytton, Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe along with new material by Otis Adelbert Kline, the Burroughs-doppelganger, as well as Austin Hall, E. Hoffman Price, Vincent Starrett, Frank Owen and C.M. Eddy, Jr."

I will admit to being puzzled that I have yet to read any history of pulp that covers this specific corner of the era, which has done much to influence the culture around us. This link is not an insignificant one, but it is one that has been deliberately buried by many genre "scholars" and "historians" who wish to downplay the Gothic edge that links all genre fiction together under one banner. It all links.

I am aware this refusal to discuss it is intentional, though Mr. Goulart does not appear to indulge in this tactic, but it would be informative to hear more about it.

However, even he is also prone to misunderstand Lovecraft, in certain ways.

"Though much of Lovecraft's work is spoiled now by an unwitting silliness, some few of his stories--"Cool Air," "The Rats in the Walls"--still have the effect intended."

This is one of the few times Mr. Goulart interjects his opinion into the proceedings, and just as Mr. Lundwell did in his book, shows he does not quite understand this author's appeal whatsoever. Again, this is fine for taste, but it adds nothing to the work. It merely makes it clear that he does not like weird tales.

Just as he says Clark Ashton Smith was "straining to be pretty" (he clearly was not), this is what leads me to believe Mr. Goulart's disinterest with weird fiction is what led to this section being as dry as it is.

It is a disappointment.

"In its three decades Weird Tales also gave room to such writers such as Seabury Quinn, C.L. Moore, Henry Kutter (I believe he means "Kuttner"), Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury, who, like Lovecraft, used the horror story to exorcise his childhood traumas."

That is quite the lineup of authors. Though, again, there was more to Weird Tales than just the horror aspect. He did not touch on Robert E. Howard, for instance, or those like Edmund Hamilton or Donald Wandrei that wrote for the magazine and others. Most writers went between the magazines effortlessly as if a scientific romance came as easy as a dark horror tale did.

There were other weird magazines, but most just dove straight into the horror, missing the Gothic edge that made Weird Tales so very good. They became focused on baser elements. None of them ever reached the level of Weird Tales, as a result. And none are really talked about today, either.

Some of those include Dime Mystery, Dime Terror, and Dime Horror. Others are Uncanny Tales and Mystery Tales, and Strange Detective Stories. They began to focus more on more on the explicit elements, cranking up the sex and violence at the expense of the wonder and awe, eventually becoming what we know of as Weird Menace.

Weird Menace was the equivalent of the most base slasher movies. All flash, no substance. A focus on lurid covers, explicit sexuality, and gore, replaced the terror of the mystical and the alien. They always explained away the supernatural elements as some convoluted trick. Everything that made a weird tale what it was became stripped away. Horror had lost its purpose.

It was no longer about the loss of the soul, but about the fear of being murdered in a gruesome fashion. This gave it a more limited shelf life. The issue is that the former is always going to be more terrifying that the latter. That's just the way it is, but at some point the industry lost sight of that.

But audiences understood this rather quickly. If being killed is all you are scared of then your horror output suffers tremendously. These magazines simply never stacked up.

"There is considerable torture carried on in the latter day horror pulps and a great deal of fascination with pain. Deformities, maimings, disembowelings are all present in explicit, often loving detail. You'll have to take my word for this, since this is the one genre I am refraining from quoting. Various civic pressures, and the real horrors of the new World War put an end to most of the horror pulps by the early '40's. Fortunately, unlike what has happened in the case of the relatively literate Weird Tales, none of the material from any of the weird menace pulps has been preserved in books or elsewhere, and the gruesome stuff is now as defunct as a mad doctor at the end of a Dime Mystery novelet."

If anything tainted the reputation of the weird tale, it is weird menace and its baser obsessions. To this day the weird tale is still thought of as explicit horror stories when they are meant to be more than that. This is the opposite of what they are.

But straying from defined roots is a common problem the pulps suffered from by this time. The weird magazines were no exception.




However, there were other genres of pulps not yet covered. Sports pulps and romance stories were also big. In fact, Love Story, was Street & Smith's biggest selling pulp of the 1930s. Even back then romance was big, and women were a large chunk of the reading demographic. The pulps spread the seed of what would be the romance novel industry not long later they died.

So much came from the pulps that we have today. There is even more that we have completely forgotten over the decades that hasn't been covered in this book. It is a shame that we take them for granted, because they offer much more than our modern industry of entertainment does. We owe them everything.

As Mr. Goulart says when he finishes off the chapter:

"Before the pulp magazines declined and fell, some editor or publisher had put forth a title devoted to almost anything you can think of. There were Oriental Stories, Dr. Death, Railroad Magazine, a pulp called The Wizard that starred a financial manipulator, Foreign Legion Adventures, a pulp called Big Chief Western with nothing but Indian stories, Fifth Column Stories and even Zeppelin Stories. Then, abruptly, there weren't any pulps at all."

It is amazing how much this simple, cheap form that last for a bit over half a century managed so much with so few limits with an influence that still lives to this day. Those that sprang from the ruins of the pulps never had half the freedom they did, and the constricting nature of later efforts is what led to their eventual death before the 20th century even closed. Nothing had quite the impact pulp fiction had.

Though it would be easy to talk down about cheap stories made for the common Joe Sixpack's beer money, the fact of the matter is they enjoyed a greater variety of fiction than the current corporate paperback industry of Oldpub does, and with much better prices. You got far more bang for your buck back then, and there was something for just about everyone.

Now, however, if you want pulp-inspired fiction you have to scrounge around online and hope for the best, or dig around used book stores. The death of the pulps is a tragedy that we will never fully adapt to since that is where much of what we enjoy today originated from. As a result we are floundering and wondering where to go next with out silly stories of saucers, sorcerers, and silent assassins. To go forward we need to go back.

Mr. Goulart ends his book with a series of interview notes he accumulated from many of those who were around during the pulp days, but we will not be looking into those here. The re-release from over a decade ago apparently has expanded interviews, which means you would be better served reading those instead. The common refrain is that the pulp days weren't magical, they took much hard luck, much work, and a lot of weird happenings to get going. It wasn't as simple as many today think of it as being.

As for the end of Cheap Thrills, I will close it out with this paragraph from Mr. Goulart:

"Nobody noticed it at the time, but the pulp magazine was one of the casualties of the second World War. The mystery men chuckling in their capes and the bronze geniuses leaping out of penthouses didn't fit very well in the world as it was after Hitler and Hiroshima. By 1946, though there was still a large public for cheap thrills, they were beginning to want them in new shapes and new formats. "The paper back book had offered itself as an alternative," explains a history of popular magazines. "The comic book, and later television, provided the same sort of romantic and adventurous escape . . . Then, too, during and immediately after World War II, publishers of pulps were hit especially hard by swiftly rising production costs, which increased 72 percent between the end of 1944 and mid-1947. Their revenue was no longer enough to support them." So a combination of economic factors, a restless and, to some extent, more sophisticated public and new competition combined to do in the pulps. Some of the publishers folded up completely, others switched to slick paper magazines. A few found out how, as Kellogg's has always been able to do, to package corn in new ways. By the early 1950's, as the Eisenhower years dawned, the pulps were gone."

It was more or less just the pulp magazine's time to end. Most of what it inspired did move on to television and comics, and eventually video games, while other countries which imported pulps began having the same transformation. The main difference is they didn't have a Campbell to gate-keep the prose segment of their cultures and purge the old ways from their ranks. As a example, this is why manga and light novels still sell so well in Japan, just as France still has a booming industry.

The pulp influence still exists, and it probably always will as long as the modern world exists. Fast-paced adventures focused on wonder and awe will always have their place, and it will always be what audiences want in their hearts, even if they are taught to hate it. The day we lose that is the day to give up all hope.

So here we are over half a century removed from the end of the pulps, and we're still talking about them. They've never died, despite so many attempts to do them in. The ideas they propagated and the techniques they taught us still exist, and their influence remains.

While Mr. Goulart's book is more focused on archiving the events of the era, he did show us just how little things have changed when it comes to the human heart, and what they love. This is a book worth reading and, even with some warts of its own, is still the best book on the pulp age I have come across. Definitely seek out Cheap Thrills if you want to read more about the pulps. You can do much worse. I have.

Though the fandom obsessives have been trying hard to dilute and destroy adventure since the pulps first reared their head in Munsey's Argosy so very long ago, they have failed. They can usurp IPs and clog the airwaves with their subversive ant anti-heroic pap, but it will never be enough to change what we all want deep down inside. It's never going to go away.

While the self-appointed genre guardians are telling you the true definitions of things they have no right to define, you can remain safe in the knowledge that they will eventually eat themselves into irrelevancy as is currently happening right now. At the end of the day, the pulp spirit of action, adventure, and wonder, will remain.

This is a revolution that will never die, and we are glad to have it.








My book Gemini Warrior is a pulp-inspired romp through a distant planet with heroes, lizard men, magic! It is my proof that the pulp spirit will never truly die.

Find it Here!

4 comments:

  1. 1) The Shaver Mysteries were one of science fiction's earliest attempts at cancel culture. Thank Harlan Ellison for that.

    2) I still say pulp was murdered by a new class of editors, who in their embarrassment to be publishing pulp, ran off the pulp audience and blamed it on changing tastes by the public.

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    1. The Shaver Mysteries were unquestionably killed by editors at the expense of the audience.

      Which goes with the bigger theme here. It's editors that became the true gatekeepers. When the pulps started they were curated less on taste and more on quality. As they went on the editors' quirks and peculiarities became the focus.

      This is why I give Dorothy McIlwraith more credit than she is usually given. She kept Weird Tales going an additional 14 years after Farnsworth, and introduced authors such as Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury to the mix. Her tastes existed, but it didn't come at the expense of the magazine.

      But most editors weren't her. By the end of the pulps I would guess only Planet Stories of all the others had kept the faith.

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  2. Obviously the market for such things is still there (the success of pulp action movies proves that), but the technology has finally passed the magazine idea by. Long after the editors had committed commercial suicide, the taste for pulp was still there. In the 50's and 60's it was Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming. In the 70's it was the so-called "men's fiction" (The Executioner and his imitators) market. The publishers made a truck load of money selling to people that the magazine folks claimed didn't exist. So the market is there, but you can't serve it these days with a magazine.

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    1. Precisely. This is where the idea of a pulp revolution comes from. We need to take those ideals and move with new tech. The future meets the past.

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