Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pulp Fiction

When you mention the term "pulp fiction" everyone acknowledges it these days. Of course most folk tie it directly and exclusively tot he title of the film written and directed by Quentin Tarrantino. In fact, though, it originally referenced the kind of stories and novels published in the popular newsstand magazines of a period generally agreed upon as between the 1920s and the 1950s. This was when "the pulps" dominated those same newsstands. These were magazines published for the common man who was--in those days--inclined to be an avid reader in times when the most economical form of entertainment was...well...reading.

These magazines were called "pulps" because they were mainly printed on the cheapest paper stock the publishers could buy. It was highly acidic stuff that tended to quickly deteriorate in conditions that were in any way warm and moist. Thus, they soon faded into brittle pulp at the first opportunity the elements found. Too, they were not highly regarded in literary circles, despite the fact that they spawned great creations by authors who would later come to be regarded as very talented folk indeed.

The pay rate was generally low in the pulps, but in those days there were so many magazines on the stands that a relatively talented and eager writer could actually make a decent living exclusively writing short stories. Even into the late 1950s this was still a viable way to earn good money. And then, of course, television became cheap and widespread and thus the pulp markets completely collapsed as watching TV became the most common form of entertainment for the kinds of people who once paid 25cents for a couple of hundred thousand words of pulp fiction. The markets faded and faded. Some guys like Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Elmore Leonard, John D. McDonald (and others) made the transition from the pulps to either the best seller lists or TV and movie scripts (or both). The rest...well, they went back to digging ditches or working as clerks and secretaries or fell by the way.

Currently, some publishers are reprinting some of the classic pulps. One such is Titan Books who, under the direction of editor Steve Saffel, have just revived the highly imitated villain FU MANCHU by Sax Rohmer. It's time to rediscover one of the reasons pulp fiction was as popular as it was in its day. May that old popularity be revived by such efforts.

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