Thursday, March 9, 2017

What the Heck Does 'Pulp' Even Mean?

Inspired by (yet another) killer G+ thread kicked off by Kevyn Winkless:

If you're new to the Pulp Revolution, you'd do yourself right to follow Kevyn's G+ feed.  He asks cutting questions that push everyone to start rubbing their brain cells together.  In the ugly link above, he once again raises the issue of the other (lesser) Pulp movements.

The heart of the issue is that "pulp" is a really, really broad term when used in the vernacular.  If you follow the Pulp Librarian (as I do) on Twitter, you'll see all kinds of wonky stuff like mod-scene Romance comics, 1960 international nudist mags, and women with great hair fleeing gothic houses. None of that really resonates as pulp to me, but it all does fall within the broadest context of the term.

So why do I consider the Pulp Revolution a separate and distinct thing?  Because I use the term 'pulp' in the literal sense.  That is to say, in the sense of stories as told in the '30s and '40s magazines printed on no-fooling pulp paper.  Others use the term 'pulp' to mean stories that are lurid, low rent, and rely on shocking content of the sexual or violent nature to sell copies.  The current narrative holds (falsely) that the genre fiction produced during the Golden Age of Science Fiction was also lurid, low rent, and relied on shocking content to sell copies.  This has the unfortunate result of stuffing authors like Moore or St. Clair or Haggard into the same pigeon hole as "Mod Romance".

As mentioned elsewhere, most of those trading on the term 'pulp', hold to the common false narrative about what pulp means.  They get the aesthetics right, but like a Hollywood backlot set, there's nothing backing it up - they completely miss the heart and soul of the pulps.  Or they use the term 'pulp' when perhaps 'grindhouse' or 'deliberately hacky because I'm too ironic and insecure to ever admit that the writers of yesterday might have been better than the writers of today'.

Remember that the Pulp Revolution isn't just interested in selling copy - it's interested in reclaiming what was lost to the liars and cheats that buried the works that built SF/F.  You're not going to do that unless and until the culture at large understands that not all pulp is created equal, and that many of the people who claim to be 'pulp' are little better than the Talcum X's and Fauxcahontases of the SF/F genre. 

That then raises the question of whether or not using the term 'pulp' is good marketing.  We risk being pigeonholed as just another cheap attempt to cash in on the term.  Especially given that the Pulp Revolution is so keep on knocking down walls erected in the post-pulp era. 

To that I say, it's too early to tell, but you can't argue with results.

The Pulp Revolution is in its infancy.  Regardless of numbers, at this point, we've only been at this as anything other than five guys nudging each other, passing around scans of old copies, and saying, "You gotta read this, this is incredible!" for a year or so.  It's possible that the Pulp Revolution never achieves any sort of wider literary market penetration.  If we truly are full of ourselves and our writing is terrible, then we'll sputter and limp along and eventually fade away like every other attempt to reclaim the term 'pulp'.

But I don't think that's going to happen.

The Pulp Revolution is different from every other movement I've seen (and I've seen a few), specifically because of those twin towers:
  1. We don't use the term as a marketing buzzword, but in its historically accurate and descriptive sense.
  2. We read the old pulps, learn from them, and emulate what they WERE, not what we've been told they were by those who didn't understand them and had a vested interest in writing them out of the history of sci-fi. 
Because I've read a lot of the Pulp Revolution, and it's fantastic!  Even those authors who don't blow your doors off show a tremendous amount of promise.

The more people read the old pulps, the more they love them.  The more people read the Pulp Revolution, the more they love it.  This movement is only going to grow and get bigger until it gets too big and creators working within the Pulp Revolution are going to run out of space.  Creators are going to need to take the Pulp Revolution in new directions that we can't even imagine at this early stage.  They will have to because the movement will be so big, they'll need to separate themselves by experimenting in new and different ways.

And that itself is in keeping with the pulp (in the specific sense) mindset!  The pulp era was wild and wooly and full of experimentation.  And that freedom to create, that knocking down of walls, isn't just a way to provide interesting stories to readers - it's a way to keep the Pulp Revolution fresh where most faux-pulp movements wither on the vine.  So long as creators are hewing to the heart and soul of pulps, they'll keep pushing the boundaries and bringing more people into the fold.

How can a movement like that fail?

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