Remember those awful novels and short stories you were forced to read in high school English class?
The depressing ones that made you hate reading?
Yeah, this is nothing like those.
In the early 20th century, a certain type of publisher printed short fiction magazines and novels on the cheapest paper available, known as “pulp”.
The covers used bright garish colors depicting lurid scenes.
The stories employed colorful protagonists engaged in constant action. Fists pounded! Bosoms heaved!
The people loved the pulps.
The critics hated them.
(Especially the communist critics…)
It wasn’t good literature! they complained.
The gatekeepers got their way, eventually.
Paper shortages during World War II raised expenses for the cheap magazines. The pulp business model faltered.
With pressure from the powers of New York publishing, the pulp magazines closed or consolidated. Some were subverted by new Establishment editors like John W. Campbell, eager to earn respect from the critics.
Slowly, the two-fisted space operas of E. E. “Doc” Smith and the sword-and-sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard gave way to the slow and staid think-pieces of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.
The genre-bending creativity of the pulps subsided. It was the winter of fantasy and horror. Narrow science fiction emerged to rule a shrinking fandom.
Good stories still got published, but some of the verve was lost in the pursuit of literary rectitude.
As the old pulp magazines disappeared, the old pulp novels and fix-ups were relegated to the backlists and critical scorn.
Then, in 1979, an obscure court ruling (Thor Power Tool v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue) forced publishers to destroy their backlists. For tax purposes.
The pulps were literally pulped. They faded into oblivion, entirely forgotten by the succeeding generations.
Or were they?
Copyright doesn’t last forever.
Some of the best stories published in the 20th century are now in the public domain, given new life by volunteer efforts like the Gutenberg Project.
The pulps are being revived.
When you join the Pulp Classics Reading Club, every week I’ll send you a hand-picked classic short story, guaranteed to get you pumped up for the weekend.
Now’s your chance to catch up on some reading.Join the club today!