Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Real Pulp Fiction: an omen for the future

From the seat behind me a man taps my shoulder and asks: "Is that the Bible?" For a moment I wonder why he would ask that. Then it becomes obvious. The only double-column book most people today have seen is the Bible. From over my shoulder, the man saw two dense blocks of text like twin towers of type on the screen of my e-reader, with a minimal heading on top. Apart from appearances, however, the only thing this text has in common with the Bible is that it is old -- not quite so old, but effectively as antique for most folks -- and somewhat fantastical.

It was not the Bible, of course, but a page scanned from the March 25, 1939 issue of Argosy. The cover might have made things clearer.

For the past year my interest in pulp fiction has been growing rapidly. It started with discovering the different places online where people have scanned and uploaded complete stories and complete issues of the old fiction magazines. There's a lot out there that I'll tell you about eventually, but it only whetted my appetite until I was ready to start my own collection of original magazines. For some time now I've wanted to share my interest in pulps with an audience, and like an old Roman I took today's incident on the bus as an omen indicating that it was time to get started. Over the next little while my movie reviews will share space here with posts about real pulp fiction from a golden age of storytelling. If I can keep up my enthusiasm, or if I see proof of yours, I intend to start a blog dedicated to the pulps later this year. Before this month is out I hope to post an introductory article and a story-by-story review of the Argosy issue shown above to mark its 75th anniversary. There are a lot more where that came from, and more are coming in steadily now. I'll tell you where you can find a lot of them, and I'll show you some of mine. This will be the story of a doomed medium that shared many of the virtues and flaws of cult cinema, and as you may have noticed already, some cinema finds its roots in pulp. It's the story of a heroic age when people could write their way out of the Great Depression by satisfying a hunger for narrative in some ways less and in some ways more demanding than our own. My survey will range beyond the fiction mags into other contemporary media (radio, early comics, etc.) and listen for the echoes of pulp in today's popular narratives. I want to save the whole declaration of principles for later, but I hope this is ballyhoo enough to get you interested. The simplest way to put it is that if you like the movie reviews, I think you'll like the pulp reviews too.


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