The pulp era began around the turn of the 20th century, in the days before radio and television. Magazines on all sorts of diverting topics were found on the newstands, printed on cheap, pulpy paper, hence the term “pulps.” There was something aimed at almost every reader, rather like all the television shows on cable channels today. And like television today, at least 90% of it was bad. That’s why “pulp fiction” has certain connotations-—cheap, sensationalist, and over-the-top being among them — not to mention “dated” and frequently sexist and politically incorrect. But fiction from this time period should not be dismissed casually — there are treasures there, hidden among all those decades of magazines. The trick is knowing how to find the good stuff, and where to look, and today I thought I’d do my best to guide you to some of the best historical fiction of the pulps.
Only a few generations ago planetary adventure fiction had a few givens. First, it usually took place in our own solar system. Second, our own solar system was stuffed with inhabitable planets. Everyone knew that Mercury baked on one side and froze on the other, but a narrow twilight band existed between the two extremes where life might thrive. Venus was hot and swampy and crawling with dinosaurs, like prehistoric Earth had been, and Mars was a faded and dying world kept alive by the extensive canals that brought water down from the ice caps.
To enjoy Leigh Brackett, you have to get over the fact that none of this is true — which really shouldn’t be hard if you enjoy reading about vampires, telepaths, and dragons, but hey, there you go. Yeah, Mars doesn’t have a breathable atmosphere, or canals, or ancient races. If you don’t read Brackett because you can’t get past that, you’re a fuddy duddy and probably don’t like ice cream.
A few of Brackett’s finest stories were set on Venus, but it was Mars that she made her own, with vivid, crackling prose.
Here. Try this, the opening of one of her best, “The Last Days of Shandakor.” You can find it in two of the three books featured as illustrations in this article, Shannach — the Last: Farwell to Mars, and Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories.
Anyway. On to Brackett.
He came alone into the wineshop, wrapped in a dark red cloak, with the cowl drawn over his head. He stood for a moment by the doorway and one of the slim dark predatory women who live in those places went to him, with a silvery chiming from the little bells that were almost all she wore.
I used to write occasional reviews for Tangent Online, and once I wrote one that I still regret. I’ve rarely found a slice-of-life story or flash fiction that I enjoyed, so I probably had no business evaluating a piece of short fiction that was both. Yet I read it and I slammed it. Not because it was bad flash fiction, or because it was a bad slice-of-life story (I had no kind of qualifications for adequately judging either) but because I didn’t like flash fiction or slice-of-life stories. It was the epitome of ill-informed reviewing, where the writer is arrogant enough to know better than fans of an entire genre. Or two.
I didn’t understand my mistake for a while and when I met the author of the story at a convention years later he was kind enough not to mention my idiocy, or, more likely, hadn’t remembered the name of the idiot who’d written the review.
You’d think that my epiphany about having written such a bad review would have arrived when I started to get my own fiction published more regularly, but it actually hit me faster, probably because it took a loooong time for my fiction to get published regularly.
Regular visitors might notice a slightly changed look to the site. I recently updated the Menu bar so that it’s easier to get around.
For instance, all of my most useful essays on writing techniques are now grouped under the Writing Techniques header, with a drop-down list that leads to ALL the articles that discuss writing (technique or otherwise).
I also finalized all the information about my Appearance at GenCon on my Appearances page, so you can now see what the topics of the panels I’m going to be on are really about, as well as the names of my fellow panelists. In another week or so I should be able to provide information about when I’ll be at the Paizo booth during GenCon.
First, I just learned that the audio sample from Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is from my Dabir and Asim story collected in that anthology (“The Serpent’s Heart”), so if you want to hear a sample of what my favorite characters have been up to lately follow the link and listen to the snippet. And if you haven’t purchased the book yet, now’s your chance! There’s scads more stories in the anthology, some of them by friends whose work I know and love. (Here’s the part where I shamefacedly admit I haven’t yet read the other stories, for I don’t own a Kindle or Nook and am waiting for my hardcopy.)
The talented Suzanne Church asked me some insightful questions about writing the other day, and I did my best to provide insightful answers. You can find the interview, along with a whole bunch of other cool stuff (including links to other writing tips) right here.
I finally remembered to set up a new Welcome page, available on my main menu, or by clicking here.
Lastly, I’ll be updating my convention appearances soon. GenCon is just around the corner, and I’ll be on many panels again this year. PLUS I’ll be in Chicago this fall as part of a reading festival.
Other than that, I’ll be writing, or fixing horse fencing.
Summer sure has been busy here at Jones central, but it’s been pleasant. My second Paizo Pathfinder novel (second of the summer, I mean, because it’s fourth overall) is rolling along very smoothly (knock on wood), and I’m getting lots of time to spend with my kids.
In the evening when I often draft my blog updates we’ve been re-watching the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series, which is part of the reason there haven’t been as many posts. I’ll share some thoughts on the series soon. I remembered it was good, but I should have remembered it is downright excellent most of the time. (Azula, pictured here, is one of the finest villains in animated history. Honestly, she’s one of the finest villains in ANY adventure story, in any medium.)
The other reason is that I’ve just been plain busy. I’m either writing or doing house stuff. But I’m not going to give you a summer update today. I’m going to share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over about outlining.
Over the last few weeks I’ve turned up a score of interesting links, and I thought it high time to share. So, Link Man returns to provide safe, interesting and unbroken links.
Exhausted by boring links and in need of a savior? Have no fear– Link Man is here!
First, I’m not usually amused by these, but I thought the photoshopping this time was pretty good, especially up near the top of the document. Enjoy.
Second, a lot of these odd products are just plain cool. I think I might want some of them. I’m not sure I need them, but I want them.
Third, I must have this. A bit pricey for a tee-shirt, but it IS my birthday month.