by Harding McFadden
Exclusive to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Over the past few years I’ve become obsessed with a publishing phenomenon known as New Pulp. Admittedly, I’m far from an expert on it, and I’m sure that there are lots of folks out there who might read these humble words and scoff at my unintentional ignorance, this is meant to be not a cause of scorn, but rather a love letter to a kind of story that makes me look forward to reading again.
Now what exactly is New Pulp, and why should you care? In short, it’s modern writers, some of whom have been around for a dog’s age, writing stories and novels in the tradition of the classic pulps. There ya go, simple enough, right?
Now, for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the classic pulps. Weird Tales and Black Mask and Lord knows how many others gave the start to some of the best writers that I’ve ever read in my life. Lovecraft cut his teeth there, and even though he never made enough cash to make it worth his effort, still he did it, and the cosmic horror sub-genre was born and continues to influence everyone that came after. Robert E. Howard, the world’s great fantasy writer, hands down, bar none, period, came from the pulps, and before him punching his own ticket, he created some of the most memorable tall tales and epic characters ever put on paper. Robert A. Heinlein, for me the reason that the english language was invented, started out there, and changed the lives of many times many people, your humble ranter among them. And these are just three of the many, lest we forget Clark Ashton Smith, Dashiell Hammett, Edmond Hamilton, Isaac Asimov, Ted Sturgeon, Roger Zelazny, and on and on and on…
The problem (at least to those overly-sensitive, sputum-secreting brick writers who hold all the power but none of the talent) is that those old pulp writers were guilty of the most severe of crimes: writing to entertain. Yes, they were creations of their time, and who the hell isn’t, and their vocabulary or personal beliefs are problematic today to those who judge history by their own ridiculous revisionism that says that everyone other than them is evil. And yes, given another sixty-one hundred years even those snowflakes causing all the stir with modern writing, removing those far more talented and dropping them down the memory hole, will be seen as guilty of some other imagined sin. But I’m whining, so I’ll move on…
So, anyway and at long last to the point, in the midst of the endless barrage of thousand page pieces of contemporary garbage with so much fluffing out that you could use then for pillows if they weren’t so stiff with pretentiousness, comes New Pulp. Stories written in the classic mould, by writers that would have been perfectly at home in the classic pulps if only they’d been born in another When. Writing about understandable characters and wretched villain. Focussing on entertainment and fun. And, God bless ‘em, they know when to shut up.
As examples of just what I’m talking about I’m going to do a quick review of the two most recent books that I’ve read. We’ll start with always dependable Max Allan Collins.
As no doubt a lot of you will already know, Collins has been writing solid crime fiction for just about as long as I’ve been alive. He’s the writer of Road to Perdition, which was made into the last solid Noir flick that I can recall, but his chops don’t stop there. He’s got dozens of first rate books under his belt, as well as movie credits and some time spent on the Batman comic. Though for me, when I hear his name, I’ll always associate him with his years-long run on Dick Tracy, the greatest fictional detective, whose adventures Collins was writing while I was growing up.
So a little while ago, Mr. Collins published Fancy Anders For the Boys, the second in a series of WWII mysteries that take place just at the outset of the US involvement in the conflict. Centered around the titular character of Fancy Anders in California, getting involved in murder mysteries involving Rosie the Riveter, and various Hollywood personalities, these books are just fun. Is there social commentary? Sure, you bet, but it’s all period specific, and never drops into the preaching waste of words that many (myself included, I say apologetically) modern writers do. The characters are all likable, the stories are entertaining, the endings satisfactory, and all in just 118 pages. I managed to read both books in about three days, and when I realized that book 3 isn’t due out yet, I felt bummed, because I wanted more.
Next up is the great J Walt Layne, and his book Russian Roulette. The fourth book set in his Champion City series, the book in distinctly separated into two parts, the first taking up the first two thirds of the book and revolving around an extraction of Soviet defectors in 1970’s Germany, the last third taking place in the writer’s City, wherein his series characters have to deal with the fallout of these defectors not being able to stay away from their old habits. It’s another quick hit that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the potentially tragic cliffhanger. Seriously, I got to the last page, saw that it was set up to leave the reader breathless, waiting for more, and I cussed out loud, not because I was pissed at Layne for ending it right there, but because I knew, much like the Collins book, that now I had to wait to find out what happens next.
It’s a nice thing to have books to look forward to, from writers who are prolific enough to keep churning out the entertainment once or twice or more a year, rather than waiting years between episodes on narratives that I’m enjoying. For the longest time I’ve been a griper, complaining about how most of the people worth reading were either dead or dying, and that the ones left were no spring chickens. I think I’m past that now. Yes, many of my favorite living writers are in the twilight of their time, but y’know what? They’re still creating, giving us words worth reading, and characters worth following. And It’s nice to know that they’re not alone. There’s a whole new generation coming up, apart from the mainstream mess that is modern publishing, to drag us old geezers along. It is because of writers like Collins and Layne, Nash and Dixon, and publishers like Airship 27 and others that I can look forward to reading solid stuff, written for no less noble purpose than to entertain. And that’s a purpose that’s been missing for a good long while.
Thank God it’s back.
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