Pulp and Dagger


Today's question -- Is Pulp dead?

First off, what do we mean by "Pulp"? Well, we here at PDF choose to define "Pulp" as adventure for the sake of adventure -- full stop. That might sound obvious, given this is an "entertainment" industry, but it's not. Obvious, I mean. We live in a puritanical age. Entertainment (and adventure), without any sort of redeeming educational value, is verboten. It is "brain candy", and thus of no value to society. Of course, one might point out, that the same applies to amusement park fun rides. They have no redeeming educational value, either. But then, we don't expect them to. For some reason, where literature is concerned, we do. Since Pulp doesn't meet that criterium, it is seen as "juvenile".

At the same time, on the scope of the popular radar, Pulp appears as a strangely ambiguous bogey. Even as it gets no respect, it manages to evoke feelings of fond nostaliga in just about everybody. Everyone has a pretty good idea of what it means (think "Indiana Jones", for example), and everyone feels a certain affection for it -- but most people wouldn't be caught dead reading any...nor writing any! Modern SF and Fantasy magazines, especially, take an oddly toffee-nosed stance (I say "odd" because their roots are in Pulp). Modern Pulp is fine, they say, so long as it is presented with "ironic detachment", a postmodern understanding that it is, after all, inherently "juvenile".

And there is that word again -- "juvenile". Say it softly and you squash debate like a bug. Childish. Something one grows out of. You might suppose that SF and Fantasy writers, being looked down upon by mainstream society, would have nothing to lose, and so would be sympathetic to the common plight of fellow travellers...ie. pulp writers. Not so. The thicker the arrows, the tighter they circle the wagons. The "embarrassment factor" is forever at work. (A recent example of modern Pulp is furnished by Simon R. Green's Deathstalker books. But, as pulpy as these are, they could only be published because they are written almost as "anti-pulp", with unlikeable, unheroic heroes, the whole thing presented as a fairly bitter joke on the genre itself.)

Now, the question we have to ask is this -- if pulp is so unpopular, should we just accept that pulp is dead and admit defeat? And so we might be tempted to believe...were it not for one thing. Pulp is not dead!

Pulp in literature, yes. But what pulp's detractors fail to understand is that pulp merely shifted media some time in the early fifties. Pulp went Hollywood! Every year, Hollywood cleans up with big, bold, shameless blockbusters having no other purpose than to entertain, to give us a ride for our money. And, yes, society at large mocks those movies for precisely the same reason they mocked pulp in literature -- for being mindless, loud, juvenile -- but the theatres are packed just the same. Pulp also lives on in TV, in everything from the various Star Trek series, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, the sad truth is this -- the death of Pulp literature is owing to its own phenomenal success in other media.

The argument runs thus:

Detractor (slobbering): "If Pulp was so entertaining, why doesn't anyone publish it anymore? Because no one wants to read it, that's why. Face it, society has grown up."

Pulp reader (calmly): "No, you're dead wrong, you lunatic. The reason nobody wants to read Pulp is because they get all the Pulp they need from the movies and TV. Pulp is a victim of society's inherent illiteracy. Who's going to read a book if they can get the same thing in a two hour movie?"

Detractor (kneeling): Good point.

Here is my humble advice to would-be modern Pulpsters. Take your lead from Hollywood. Pulp in whatever form will never get respect, just as Hollywood blockbusters rarely get respect. But Hollywood doesn't care. They just go on making their loud, brash, "juvenile" movies, and they're laughing all the way to the bank.

Don't let anyone tell you Pulp is dead, because it ain't. Just go for it, and damn the torpedoes.

Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate

Got a response? Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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