Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pulp ‘Em!

     Have you heard about the Pulp Revolution? It’s an exciting new development in speculative fiction. Hearken to Christian Toto’s description of it:

     The Pulp Revolution is not a genre or subgenre. It has no leader. And it is not a revival nor an imitation of the older sci-fi and fantasy authors in what is known as the pulp era. In the words of P. Alexander, publisher of Cirsova Magazine,
     “We are not hell bent on re-inhabiting the past; we are using it as a launching point to go off in new directions. We do not ignore nor do we deny the influence of writers who are not from the pulp eras.”

     I’d call PulpRev a conscious decision to reject labels and pre-defined genres in order to tell the most thought-provoking, and action-packed stories possible without getting bogged down in what is “real science” or “hard sci-fi” or “deconstructing fantasy” or whatever. And especially without using the story as nothing more than a piece of political propaganda, even for the politics that the writer agrees with.

     Stories might have a message, but they don’t need to be message fiction.

     If you’re within a decade or two of my advanced age – I’m 65, for those of you keeping score at home – you might remember when magazine racks featured a good many magazines of a squarish shape, printed on coarse-grained paper. Most of those periodicals were in the genres popular in those days: westerns, mysteries, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror. Many a writer who later rose to prominence got his start in the pulps. I remember reading an early edition of Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero in a pulp magazine, Galaxy Science Fiction, under its original title: To Outlive Eternity. (I would guess that Anderson changed it because the original title was something of a giveaway.)

     The pulps offered entertainment: nothing else, but nothing less. The stories they published were guaranteed to divert you. They might offer no compelling message. They might not be linked to some au courant Cause. But if you were there to be entertained, diverted from Earthbound concerns for an hour or two, they were a solid bet.

     The genres were a lot more fun back then.

     Several fresh publications – some on paper, some Web-only – have reintroduced the idea of genre fiction that’s fun. A writer can come at that concept from a lot of directions. He can write stuff that serves up a generous helping of WHAM-BANG-POW-KRAKK-ZOOM! Artie Simek, call your office – and essentially nothing else, or he can wrap such a story around important human motivations – “to illuminate eternal verities,” as Tom Kratman has put it – or he can hare off in some other direction guaranteed to blow your mind, just as long as his first priority, not to be compromised for any other consideration, is entertainment.

     Sounds like a positive development to me! What about you, Gentle Reader?

     I encountered writer Jon Mollison only yesterday, through his smashing novel Space Princess. (Read my review if you want my working definition of “smashing.”) Its story is well off the beaten track for contemporary fiction. It could conceivably if ungenerously be taken as a “tract” by a reader hostile to the Catholic Church. Yet it offers a vibrantly colored setting, a unique cast of characters, and nonstop say nothing of the opening bit of wisdom:

     Never start a small project on a Sunday night. They always take more time and cause more hassle than expected.

     How indisputable! How could anyone not read onward after so pithy a confirmation of an important eternal verity?

     Mollison identifies himself with the Pulp Revolution. If Space Princess is any indication, he’s true to the core concept: he strives to entertain. I’m about to start one of his other books. If you’re a reader who deplores “message fiction” and yearns for the good ol’ days when writers understood the primacy of reader entertainment, you might want to give him a look too.

     But that’s to the side. Here are Mollison’s recommendations for those who approve of the idea of fiction as Entertainment Uber Alles and want to see the Pulp Revolution pick up steam:

  • Back the Alt*Hero comic book line by Castalia House. Even a couple of bucks adds numbers to the “Backers” count and strengthens the argument that an audience for such works exists.
  • Subscribe to YouTube cultural critics such as Diversity and Comics, Capn Cummings, and Nerkish. You don’t have to watch every video. Just lending your name helps demonstrate the something rotten in the Kingdom of Marvel.
  • Reject the big boys in the tabletop RPG industry and support independent designers like Autarch of Adventurer Conqueror King fame. Impervious to rot that pervades the larger corporate designers, their works have all the quality of his larger competitors and twice the energy.
  • Back the small press short fiction market. Cirsova, Storyhack, and Tales from the Magician’s Skull all offer the same excitement and adventure as the staid old relics of a by gone era, without the downside of sending your money to people who hate you.
  • Stop watching the NFL. Scale back your movie-going. Cancel Netflix. You don’t have to quit cold turkey. You can’t kill that giant, but you can make it bleed. Just think hard about every dollar you send to the people who supported Harvey Weinstein. If everyone cut their spending on Hollywood by half, it would crash within six months.

     I plan to do all that myself...well, except for canceling Netflix. I can’t do that, as I never subscribed.

     My crap doesn’t seem – to me, at least – to fit the Pulp Revolution’s parameters. It’s a bit too cerebral. It only entertains those who like stories wrapped around an intriguing moral or ethical conception. But I heartily approve of the Revolution’s aims. I plan to delve deeply into it. And as usual for your humble Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, I’ll be keeping you posted.

     After all, who doesn’t want to be entertained? Isn’t that what we hope for with every book we buy? And wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a source of such fiction? Perhaps published behind a cover emblazoned with a guarantee:

We, The Publishers, Guarantee,
Under Penalty Of Extreme Embarrassment,
That The Story Or Stories In this Publication
Will Entertain You.
There Are No Other Warranties,
Express Or Implied.

     I can’t wait. As for the vendors of "message fiction" and the dreary publications they lay before us...pulp 'em!


vanderleun said...

Back when I was a book editor with Houghton Mifflin (Lord of the Rings doncha know) I would attend various SF cons in the northeast.

At one of these I was in a suite with David Hartwell (piece of shit) and Ellen Datlow (much BIGGER piece of shit) when the long time SF editors, drunk, sang a capella the following ditty:

"Give us DAW book!
They're not so bad.
We want the future
That we've always had!"

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) Drunken SF editors? I suppose the world has known worse calamities. But DAW books? Hm. They did publish a few of Jack Vance's "Demon Princes" novels, among other things.

I had no idea your history had any connection to the science fiction world, Gerard. A pity you can't come East, because I can no longer fly for medical reasons.