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Posts Tagged ‘pulp fiction’

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Back in 2013 I wrote about new digital distribution models being ideal for a return of old-style pulp literature, because those “new” models looked a lot like experiments from the early days of mass print. The small presses I hoped would specialize pulp have largely failed to materialize, though in a large part that “lack” links directly to my own narrow definition of “pulp.” The media filling the void left by pulp magazines and dime novels doesn’t often look much like the stuff I seek out from the heyday of the pulp era, but the audience is the same class demographic and that’s what drives the content, after all. (more…)

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The Return of Pulp

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The rise of digital publishing has unexpectedly also seen the return of older distribution models for fiction. Serials are viable again, novellas as well. And most importantly for me, the pulps have returned in the form of the cheap e-book.

If you correct for inflation, today’s $2-3 pulp volume costs about the same as a dime novel from the early twentieth century. The format is, of course, different. But the style and reasoning aren’t. There are practically no distribution costs in releasing an e-book because digital content doesn’t require printing and binding volumes from a press. Even the yellowed paper of old required some up-front costs to get books to readers; even on the print side, now, digital printing means the reader, not the author or the publishers, pays to get a physical copy produced if he or she wants one.

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I once took a course in Popular Fiction at university, and it was inevitable that we were eventually going to hit the pulp era at some point. I’ve always had a soft spot for pulp era fantasy (the “weird tale”), especially the Big Three: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft. As you might expect, we did talk about Lovecraft in relation to the birth of popular Horror, but didn’t talk at all about Howard and Smith–for me, Lovecraft comes in a distant third in terms of writing quality, but his influence has been without a doubt the greatest among them. I struggled to really explain my love for the old pulp beyond “adventure and excitement” until I took a good look at the pulp phenomenon. A lot of the material found in Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines by Erin A. Smith applies just as well to Weird Tales and Argosy as to Black Mask. The pulps exploited low production costs thanks to industrialization and rising literacy rates among the urban working class to create literature for the marginalized. There was no top-down structure in pulps for feeding lower classes middle-class values—the audience dictated content. And who was the audience? “[T]heir readers were widely held to be socially and economically marginal…[t]hey were working-class, young, and poorly-educated, many were immigrants” (Smith 23) Well gosh, that actually sounds like my background and the situation of those around me as a young immigrant in Canada!

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