The Magic Of Pulp Fiction

Literature for the masses kindled the imagination and used our reading skills so that we could regale ourselves in the cold chambers of alienation and poverty.
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Published as the introduction to Black Pulp ($14.92/$2.99, Pro Se Productions)

In a bygone day, before my time, there was an expansive era of fictional writing that existed in cheap pulp magazines.

Every week a plethora of publications appeared on the newsstands providing crime stories, horror stories, science fiction, sword and sorcery, and more westerns than a rattlesnake could shake its tail at. These were short stories and novellas that filled the first few decades of the 20th Century giving the release of adventure to a broad population suffering under the weight of working class poverty that led, finally, to the Great Depression. This era spawned wonderful writers from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler, Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft; from Max Brand to Louis L'Amour and hundreds of others.

These stories got right to the point on the first page and kept your heart rate up until the final word. Some of our best writers graced the pages of these dime fortnightlies. Many a noire master did his apprenticeship in pulp.

People read these stories and novellas for fun. There was a hero, a chance for romance, possibly some magic, or maybe a world of science that we imagined and hoped for. Sometimes there was just a man or woman against nature in the wilderness of our recent or far flung past.

Whatever the genre the stories were exhilarating. This form was a transportative vehicle that could take us from the daily grind to a world where hard labor, the force of will, and physical strength could do more than provide a moldy loaf of bread and cold gravy.

Literature for the masses kindled the imagination and used our reading skills so that we could regale ourselves in the cold chambers of alienation and poverty. We could become Doc Savage or The Shadow, Conan the Barbarian or the brooding King Kull and make a difference in a world definitely gone wrong.

After World War Two, fiction in magazines waned steadily until today there are few pulps, or really any other types of published magazine fiction. There was a time when there was a newsstand on every corner selling Weird Tales and Magic Carpet Magazine. So-called literary fiction has tried its best to banish the genres to the back rooms along with children's toys and pornography. The distribution systems have changed and magazine fiction (that spans from Charles Dickens to Robert A. Heinlein) has faltered.

This is a sad state of affairs not because of some sappy nostalgia but for the loss of the kind of stories that bring us out of the darkness of the common work-a-day world into the brilliance and true imagination that only fiction can provide. Movies and TV are okay but it is only reading and storytelling that allows our inner imagination to soar.

And so this collection speaks to us with great power. The beauty of reading is not a college course on existentialism or a psychology seminar on the disaffection brought about by suburban living. Reading can also allow us to imagine a different world, a different self. This vision is the first, or maybe the second, step in the liberation of the human spirit.

I am more than happy to read about the history and psychology of oppression, the disenfranchisement of our culture and the overwhelming power of capital - but these revelations are poor fare if I cannot also imagine a different world and a different life where the chains of the modern world can be shrugged.

Pulp fiction, in many cases, is the second movement in the dialectic of inner transition. It is the antithesis of what is expected and the stepping stone to true freedom.

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