Monday, June 28, 2010

Defining The Post-Modern Pulp

So when I created the original PMP website, the term "post-modern pulp" was just sort of rattling around in my head as a catch-all phrase that helped me classify this massive swath of fiction that I had come to find myself dipping into time and time again, from adolescence through adulthood. Eventually, when the website went up, I decided I needed to define just what it was I was talking about.

So, Here is the text from the original PMP page...

Most people out there have heard the term "pulp fiction" at one time or another, and at least a modest number associate the term with something other than Tarantino's film. While it's a tradition that goes back a long while, and various experts will date the emergence of "pulp literature" to various points in time, the most common benchmark is the booming explosion of rowdy, violent, sexy, and above all adventuresome short fiction in the 1920's that lasted up until around WW 2.

This is not to say that pulp died out in the 40's, but it is mostly considered a hallmark of the period between the two world wars. After the war its notoriety waned a little, and with the expansion of television and the growth of the comics industry, the pulp era for the most part found itself lingering on quietly in the background, far less popular than the comic books that supplanted it as the primary form of written "cheap thrills" entertainment.

Thus remained the status quo for a couple of decades. However, starting around the mid- to late-60's, and really taking off in the 1970's, there was a "renaissance" (if you will) of pulp fiction writing that lasted up into the mid- (and possibly late-) 80's. This movement had, I feel, two main foci; the re-birth of interest in the heroic fantasy (also called "Sword & Sorcery") genre, and the reinvention of "men's adventure fiction" as it was often called at the time. This is the era of what I like to call the "post-modern pulps".

Defining just why this resurgence came about is a slippery slope of conjecture and generalization, but I'd like to offer up a couple of theories. The first is that a lot of the people who grew up around the end of the first pulp era, those who were born in the mid-20's and were perhaps too young to go off to WW2, found themselves waxing sentimental in their comfortable adulthood and decided to try their hands at writing the sort of wild, adventurous pulp that they loved so much in their youth. certainly during the 60's and 70's a lot of the pulp Sword & Sorcery fiction was re-printed, and while I'm sure the "discovery" of Tolkien during that period had great effect, many of the fantasy authors who wrote during this new pulp era openly admired and wished to emulate authors like Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and the like.

On top of this, however, and perhaps the more defining characteristic, was the social unrest of the times. Vietnam, race riots, the women's liberation movement, the gas crisis, and the general feelings of uncertainty and chaos did a lot to crack open the deeper parts of our collective human psyche, and a much darker, more violent, more ruthless part of human nature bubbled up to the surface. As can be seen in the film industry of the period, things became a lot more gritty, a lot more vivid, and a lot less optimistic. Horror films like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, vigilante crime movies like Death Wish and Dirty Harry, and orgiastic indulgences like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls displayed a social consciousness filled with sex, drugs, death, and an eerie sense of nihilism. Oh yeah, it also didn't help that a million megatons of atomic destruction was sitting under the trigger fingers of the two world superpowers, and no one knew if at any moment someone would call the cards and light up the world like a nuclear Christmas tree.

Under this cloud of turmoil and unrest, the post-modern pulp movement was born. Cheap little paperback novels, most falling into the 150-250 page range (thin enough to actually be "pocket paperbacks" as opposed to the 500 to 900-page behemoths found these days), published with garish, almost offensive cover art and bearing absolutely ridiculous, almost laughable series and issue titles. Most of these fell in the $1.50 to $4.50 price range, and were published by companies that specialized in churning out this sort of cheap, livid entertainment on a very regular basis; some of these authors would release several volumes a year, and some of the titles would have more than one author working under a single series pseudonym, meaning the titles could sometimes be published as often as bi-monthly.

As I pick up and read more and more of these books, either through the 'Net or by digging through used book stores, I have quickly found that not too many of these series have any serious internet presence. No one reviews them or talks about reading them - most of the references to a lot of these books come from bare-bones listings of certain writer's published works. Therefore, I decided to put up a website dedicated to reviewing some of these books. I'm no expert or authority on the subject, but I actually feel a little too much literary authority would really detract from the sort of focus these books have; they're cheap thrills, high-octane entertainment. This isn't "literature" the way your stuffy college profs view literature, this is pulp, and if one doesn't "get it", they'll never read beyond page 3 of anything on this website.


Anonymous said...

First of all, let me state that I'm quite excited about your plan to cover such topic on a blog exclusively dedicated to it. I do hope that your enthusiasm for writing about it won't wane again. I wouldnt' be surprised to discover the contextualisation of these texts (in terms of both literary history and their social backdrop) to be quite a rewarding enterprise.

Call me academia-obsessed, but in which way are these texts you intend to discuss actually postmodern? At least to me, it's easy to imagine that they fit the term (at least in regard to self-reflection, "innocence lost"), yet I unfortunately lack the in-depth knowledge to assess it adequately.

Badelaire said...


I hope to write a followup post about, well "post-modern" as I see it referring to these sorts of pulps.

I know my academic logic regarding the term is probably shaky or awkward, but...well it sounded like a catchy term, so I went with it.

Thanks for posting!

Jim said...

Very happy you are resurrecting this blog! As you've mentioned, there just isn't a whole lot of discussion about these various series online. Here's hoping we might also resurrect some of the discussions from the message board as well, or at least revisit some of those topics.

Badelaire said...

Jim - I hope so too. The message board had some great discussions going; shame it has petered out over the years.

Anonymous said...

this guy's blog has some stuff about the pulp novels of the 70's and 80's, including our old favorite The Death Merchant, and little-known ones like the bizarre TNT series:

He writes a lot about 70's and 80's TV and film, with a slant toward cheap exploitation stuff.

J. E. Badelaire said...

Anon - take a look at the blogroll on the right - it's up there.

Thanks for the heads up though - it's a very good blog, one of those I always take a look at whenever I see it's been updated.