Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Old Pulp, New Pulp, and Judging a Book by its Cover

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 1, 2017

I unwittingly became hooked on pulp stories goes when I was a kid, even before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. I read stories in anthologies and magazines that I had no idea were reprints of stories from the old pulp magazines. After getting hooked on D&D, I read tons of fantasy. While others really got into Lord of the Rings (and I loved it, too), I delved more into things like stories of Conan of Cimmeria… a product of the old pulps.

Since I wasn’t reading the original versions, I wasn’t acquainted with the covers. The covers … well… as much as I love them now, they aren’t great representations of the stories themselves. The Weird Tales cover here, for example… if you’ve actually read “Queen of the Black Coast,” the only thing about this image that resembles the story is the monster. Kind of, but it’s supposed to be more ape-like. The dude is not Conan, and the girl isn’t acting (or dressed like) like Bêlit. In the story… well, Conan pretty much meets his match in Bêlit. She is a bloodthirsty, avaricious, fearless pirate. She commands some men and slaughters others, and her name strikes fear in the heart of captain . As I recall, she’s the one who does the rescuing (if posthumously… it’s complicated. They borrowed that idea for the 1982 movie. Read the story, it’s awesome!)

(Incidentally, I just checked EBay, and copies of this $0.25 issue of Weird Tales in very fine condition can be had for only $900 – $1700! *Cough choke wheeze*)

Like they say, don’t judge a book by the cover. For a lot of folks, though, the idea of “pulp fiction” is probably based more on magazine covers (conflated with 1950s B-movie posters) than the actual stories themselves. It’s more like the idea of pulp. Granted… there was a lot of stuff printed in the old pulps that was never reprinted, and as amusing as they might be to read now, they weren’t great stories then, and they haven’t improved with age. Pulp is not a stamp of quality (or the lack thereof).

There has been talk about a “pulp revival” of some kind since at least the early 90s. I’ve seen efforts to “bring it back” in some form or another with the indie / digital age, but few last very long. The big questions are, “What are you reviving? What are you bringing back?”

I didn’t really realize this until just a few weeks ago, but one of the problems is that there isn’t any one true definition. For some, it’s about the idea and feel based on those magazine covers… a belief of what pulp was that doesn’t jive well with what the stories really were on the inside. This is especially true in some recent efforts I’ve seen to deconstruct / subvert older stories in order to make them more politically correct. I have no problem with that idea on the surface. I enjoyed Jane Carver of Waar, which is both tribute and parody of the John Carter / “Barsoom” stories. But really… folks should know what they are trying to build on. If you are writing a “pulp-style” story and you think you are being bold and original because it’s about a female warrior / pirate who totally has to rescue a Conan-analog character… it’s been done. Magazine covers notwithstanding, Howard has already been there. Lots of the pulps have. They may not be what you think they are.

P. Alexander, editor of Cirsova Magazine, talks about this a recent interview:

‘Here is the biggest difference in my mind: a lot of what is “Pulp Revival” and “New Pulp” seems to focus largely on the campy aesthetic aspects of pulps, almost as though playing off the assumptions one would have from merely seeing a catalog of magazine covers rather than from actually reading the stories within. It’s cheesy and fun, I suppose, but the best way I can describe it is that it’s like the little kid who puts on dad’s shoes and suit from the closet to play businessman…

…What we’re doing with Cirsova is not about being part of “Pulp Revival” or being part of a “retro” movement. We don’t want to confine ourselves to that niche. What we really want to do is bring the kind of story that was being told in the pulps, not the aesthetic, into the mainstream conversation about SFF fiction.’

He goes further and suggests (my interpretation, anyway) that he’s looking for the kinds of stories the pulp greats would be writing today if they were still around: modern stories in the subgenres popular in the pulp era. That’s kind of where I’m at. I love these stories written in the early-to-mid 20th century, but I don’t see the point of new story trying to sound like it was written in the 1940s.

For me, a lot of what was “pulp” just evolved into modern genre fiction. Now, I do feel we’ve maybe lost a few things, perhaps in a quest for validation as art (a warning to video games!!!), and that has actually hurt some genres’ popularity over the years. We have to consider escapism a virtue. Embrace some of the aesthetics that have been lost over the years not because we’re retro or hoping to start a trend, but because it’s just plan fun.

You may note that I have a similar attitude towards computer RPGs… the idea of taking a couple of steps backward to move forward again. That’s probably a theme for me. We have a tendency to over-optimize our entertainment to the point where we’re hidebound.


BTW, the “mini-subscription” for Cirsova #5 and #6 is going really well, and looks like it should clear its goal with no problem. However, the editor-in-chief really wants to expand readership. He would like to see a lot more people getting the magazine, even if it’s at the $1 level for the PDFs. That’s a steal.

Now, this isn’t of direct benefit to me at all… he paid me for my story in #5 a long time ago. But I really do like the magazine, and the effort to bring about this new identity for pulp. Even if they never buy another of my stories, I’d like to see it continue. So there’s my secret agenda out in the open for all to see. 🙂

Cirsova Issues 5 and 6 Kickstarter

Filed Under: Books - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Corwin said,

    You may, or may not realise that a great deal of the pulp fiction is available very cheaply on Amazon for Kindle. You can buy megapacks for under a dollar. Some of it is extremely dated though, but still fun.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yep, I have a couple of those. They *usually* have the better stories in those, but it really depends.

    I also have a bunch of PDFs of originals. You can find a ton at https://archive.org/details/pulpmagazinearchive

    I also have two physical copies of Planet Stories, from 1949 and 1952.