Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Pulp is No Excuse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2017

Critics tend to use “pulp” as a qualitative descriptor. I think I’ve made my case enough times in the past that this simply isn’t true, unless you are one of those people who insists that newer is better, or that certain modern popular affectations are objectively superior to those of the past. For many decades, pulp was simply the genre market. Story quality ran the spectrum.

Editor P. Alexander of Cirsova implies the average story quality of the pulp SFF magazines of the era were superior to today’s average… and he may be right, depending on what you sample. There’s a lot of crap on Amazon. I’ve personally found a wider mix with my random sampling of the old pulps taken from original issues. But correcting for stylistic trends of the past and present, I don’t know that he’s too far off in his estimation. Pulp-era magazines competed for real money back then.

As far as taste is concerned… well, there are some pro-rate modern SFF magazines that I’m a lot more hesitant to dive into than an old pulp PDF. We’re not talking a “best of” collection, either. I won’t suggest that this is because of pure qualitative differences. Beyond a minimum quality level, my preference for style and storytelling outweighs other factors. Mastery of language is wonderful, but for me, it’s simply the medium. I’m in it for the stories.

Most modern pulp-style stories don’t usually advertise themselves as such. That’s changing a little bit with the pulp revolution / revival thing, but until the term loses its negative connotation with the common reader, it’s only useful for a niche audience. But while I cheer the return of the pulp style, the stories still have to be good. We need solid stories and skilled storytelling. Poorly written stories wouldn’t sell in the pulp era, and they usually won’t sell today.

I’m tempted to say something along the lines of, “Modern pulp stories need to be doing it better than everyone else,” but then the question is, “Why? Who are you trying to impress?” Critics who dismiss old pulp stories aren’t going to be impressed by the new stuff with that label no matter how good it is. The readers care. We want readers to think pulp is awesome because… it is. It’s not a marketing campaign. It’s not counter-culture. Although… yes, it is a little bit of both of these things. But to me, the point is that “pulp” should be a beacon, not a shield.

Naturally, there are few barriers to entry nowadays, and no Pulp Police to prevent anyone from slapping the label on their crap story. But pulp should never be an excuse. Digital distribution is no excuse. We (authors / editors / reviewers) need to do what we can to make sure we’re putting out quality stuff, because it does matter. Not in the struggling artiste sense where every single word and syllable must be agonized over until it’s perfect, because (A) nothing is perfect, (B) quantity matters too, and (C) story is paramount. I’m talking about the kind of quality where the words become invisible and the reader is simply transported on an adventure.

That’s IMHO what pulp is supposed to be.

Filed Under: Pulp, Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • deuce said,

    Another fine PulpRev post, Jay. Hold that flame high, brother!