As an avid reader I consume everything from fiction to non, fantasy to scientific dissertations. But since I was very young I have had a deep love for one very specific group of the literary world. To many it is the low brow writing of the mid century , to others it is known simply by the cheap paper it was printed on. I am speaking of course of Pulps.
I of course came to the pulp scene long after its well documented lifespan, as many of the major publications dissolved before I was even born. Pulp magazines were inexpensive publications of short stories, known as pulps because of the cheap woodpulp newsprint they were printed on. These magazines would go on to define much of genre fiction in the twentieth century. Not only setting up much of each genre’s conventions, but also introducing the world to its most notorious authors.
And while I never picked up a copy of Weird Tales or Western Story Magazine, I cut my teeth on the stories originally printed there. In fact most of my all time favorite authors in genre fiction came from the pulp world. Though many consider the works “low brow”, and let’s be honest many of them are, their age and influence on writing and pop culture has still made them into classics of literature. But this isn’t the literature of old. You wouldn’t find the equivalent of Dickens in Amazing Stories or Dostoevsky writing short prose in the pages of Marvel Tales, but these works do have their merit.
Without the pulp we wouldn’t have authors like H.G. Wells, Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammet, and my personal favorite H.P. Lovecraft. All of whom not only wrote for pulp magazines, but defined what pulp fiction was. As years went by and the 1950s began to wane, the pulp magazines slowly lost their readership and closed up shop. But the pulps never truly died. Slipping more and more underground over the next twenty years, magazines gave way to full novel publications, though the magazine format held on til at least the mid-80s.
More importantly than all of this, as I said I wasn’t around for any of that part, is the influence that the pulps had on writing. Though hardly mainstream, pulps have made bit of a reemergence in recent years. Whether they be reprints of the classics, or new works done in the style of old.
Since I was young falling in love with every Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure, the bloody travels of Howard’s Conan, or the smooth talking detectives of Hammet or Chandler, I have been a huge fan of pulp fiction. This has continued well into my adulthood as much as it did in my earlier years. And while I read much deeper literary works, and explore the full reaches of human thought and writing, there will always be a place for those simply written stories.
Publication companies like Hard Case Crime, Gold Eagle Publishing and many other imprints have brought new authors into the mix, letting them tell their own tales in the same tradition. Often playing up to male fantasies, cliché plots and simplistic characters, these rapidly churned out volumes are often still as fun as the originals that started it all. And when the creative well runs dry, as long as other publishers ensure a steady stream of reprints of the works of L’amour, Chandler, Gardner and Asimov, an avid reader with the insatiable reading appetite of a young boy, will never have to worry.
For more on pulp fiction, check out The VintageLibrary