Monday, April 26, 2010

28. The Great Pulp Heroes by Don Hutchison

Finally completed a non-fiction book! Though this one is basically a survey of the many stories that made up the pulp fiction wave in the '30s, each with a synopsis of the storyline, so it was kind of like reading a lot of fiction from a slightly removed perspective.

For whatever reasons, the term "pulp" seems to cause a lot of controversy and argument in the geek world. I guess there are some purists who feel that people mistakenly define the term based on more recent interpretations such as the Indian Jones movies or the Mummy franchise. In the gaming world, there are others who get all bent out of shape when people equate pulp with over-the-top action. Fundamentally, pulp refers to the cheap paper these fiction magazines were printed on. They were popular among men during the depression, being a cheap form of escapist entertainment for people who were having a tough time in the real world. Their influence stays with us today in well-known characters like The Shadow, Tarzan and Doc Savage. Many big name authors, like John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard and Louis L'Amour in the science fiction, western and crime genres got their start as pulp writers as well. With the increased cost of paper pulp and the real menace of World War II, the pulps fell out of favour and evolved into a darker, more realistic strain, hard-boiled noir detectives and super hero comic books.

This book is not a profound analysis of this development, though it lays it out pretty clearly at the beginning and end. Rather, it goes through all the various genres and details the popular characters and series, giving a nice synopsis and all the main characters. Quite an entertaining read and it really gives me the taste to try and hunt some of these down. These pulp stories really were over the top. My closest connection to them are the old time radio shows, but they are quite tame compared to the pulp novels, where entire cities are destroyed, invading hordes actually take over America and violence and super-science are a given. I'm particularly interested in Operator 5, where America is under control of an evil mongol empire from across the Pacific and the hero is part of an underground resistance movement (yes, the yellow peril is in full effect in the pulps).

If you want to get a broad overview of the wide range of pulp novels, then I would strongly recommend this book. If you are looking for a more in-depth analysis, either literary or social, this book only touches the surface. Nevertheless, it does reinforce how important and prevalent these novels were in their time and that is always a good reminder for the fan of story.

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