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A few posts back, I wrote that the closest antecedent to the classic western pulp market is East Asian “light novels”, not western e-publishing. Translations of these books are becoming more frequent, but there’s still a huge amount that’s yet to be licensed or officially translated and probably never will be. The insanely short release schedules and sheer volume of work, coupled with the general disinterest of western readers and publishers in tackling translations in the first place, dictates against us getting more than a small window into grab-and-go novels geared towards teenagers and people who want a quick read on their commute. Yet unlike other languages, Japanese, and to a lesser extent Chinese and Korean, has a dedicated and active fan translation community that brings out work we otherwise would never see. The legality of these projects is dicey, but oftentimes its the only way to read these works if you’re not fluent in the language of origin and the only way they’d ever come to the attention of English-language publishers in the first place.

What I found was that some forms of storytelling from older English pulp that has largely died out on this side of the ocean is alive and well in Japan, as well as a certain young adult ethos that characterized older middle-grade fiction but not the current predominate mode of YA. These features were especially noticeable in two series that I breezed through this year (both not officially translated, alas). (more…)

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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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