Just Visiting: Old Town Albuquerque

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Originally posted on MzSusanB's Just Visiting:
I had my right side Total Hip Replacement surgery on August 30, 2016. It’s amazing, this absence of pain. It, the pain, becomes such an integral part of existance that when you wake…

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The Five Pillars Of Pulp Revival

Opening Note One: There is some difference in meaning between the terms “Pulp Revolution” and “Pulp Revival”. The Revolution, I feel, is concerned with the publishing and distribution of literary works, ways to enhance discoverability and inform readers of the literary movement. Revival, on the other hand, is more concerned with the aspects of the movement itself. The first term is strategic, the second artistic. Being a literary theorist, my work generally concerns the latter term. Also, from a purely emotional standpoint I prefer the image of people gathering under a tent to sing songs and praise the Lord to the more utilitarian image of crowds rolling a guillotine through the streets.

Opening Note Two: This article should not be taken as either authoritative or definitive. Pulp Revival is, itself, a work in progress, and any analysis of its characteristics is, of essence, incomplete and fluid. Perhaps a few decades hence someone will be able to stand back and get the entire picture so as to be able to codify the movement. At the moment, however, I am in the midst of it and jotting down my observations from, as it were, the trenches.

Opening Note Three: I have deliberately avoided any references to genre in what follows. This is because I don’t think it is significant to the Pulp Aesthetic. The guidelines can apply to Detective Fiction and Westerns just as readily as to Science Fiction or Fantasy. The Pulp era made no such hard distinctions, while some magazines specialized in a particular form of genre fiction, most were open to anything thrilling and exciting. Pirates rubbed elbows with cowboys and spacemen and barbarians from the bygone past in the pages of adventure magazines.

These having been said, this is what I see as the signature characteristics of Pulp Revival.
Action: The focus of the storytelling is on what happens. We know who people are by what they do. This does not mean that every scene has to involve a knife fight on the top of a speeding train. Ordinary every day actions can also inform—Raymond Chandler could describe a couple’s relationship by showing us the man lighting the woman’s cigarette. We don’t want the writer to tells us that a scientist is an unconventional genius, we want to see him tearing a rival’s paper to shreds and throwing the pieces out the window when asked to critique it.
Impact: These actions have consequences. While a character’s actions do inform us of that character’s personality, significant actions should never be only character studies. They have lasting real world consequences. You don’t go into a pulp story with an expectation of a happy ending. Pulp heroes are fallible heroes, and when they fail, bad things happen. Neither, though, is worse coming to worst a forgone conclusion. Up until the very end a pulp character has the power to change his or her fate. They can always do something.
Moral Peril: Consequences are more than just material. In Pulp stories there is not simply the risk that that the hero may fail to defeat the villain, there is also the greater risk that the hero may become the villain. A hero should have a code to follow, and lines that he or she is resolved not to cross. That line should be close enough that the temptation to cross is real—maybe not constantly, but from time to time. There is almost always a really good reason to break one’s moral code, particularly to protect a loved one in danger.
Romance: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. Not always romance in the modern sense of a relationship involving physical attraction, but a relationship that obligates the pulp hero to take risks on behalf of another. An old military buddy, a long lost friend, even a client who paid in advance. The consequences, both physical and moral, effect more than just the hero, and those affected should be given a human face. When the hero is working to thwart a villain’s plan we want to see the potential victims not in the abstract, but in the concrete. “Saving Humanity” is a vague, bumper sticker kind of motivation, saving the fair maiden with the sparkling eyes and plucky wit, or the ragged waif with a mewling kitten is much more satisfying.
Mystery: I am using the word here not in the genre sense of a plot concerned with discovering the identity of a criminal, but in the broader sense of the unknown. There are many potential unknowns—the setting, the true identities of other characters, the events that led up to the current crises. Something is going on and neither the protagonists nor the reader should be quite sure what. Things are never quite what they seem which, of course, also serves to increase the tension. A pulp hero is playing a very dangerous game for high stakes, and no one knows all of the rules…

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Putting the Weird back into Weird Tales

In response to my recent post on the Pulp Revival movement, Rampant Coyote of Rampant Games wrote What Is The Pulp Aesthetic?

He makes a number of good points, but the one that I’d like to address at the moment is the centrality of what he calls the “lurid spectacle” in pulp fiction.  To quote the relevant paragraph:

Also – building on the concept of “classical romance” which generally involved heroism, adventure, and mystery in exotic places or times – I’d suggest that the pulp aesthetic includes “lurid spectacle.” Lester Dent insisted on having those elements in his Master Plot Formula – an exotic location, murder method, villain’s plan, etc. At least one, preferably two or more. Science Fiction and Fantasy almost have exotic locations sewn up… except where they’ve become so common in the genre they no longer feel exotic. A Middle Earth look-alike no longer feels exotic. A pulp story should have a bit of the spectacle, some unusual and unique characters, settings, or plot elements.

Yes, a thousand times yes.  Pulp stories take a walk on the wild side.  Even the “realistic” hard-boiled detectives exist in a shadowy world just past the edges of polite society–the grifters and gamblers of Chandler’s LA would have been as exotic as martians to his audience.  The Western towns of the pulp gunfighters might as well have been the Plateau of Leng to an elevator operator in Queens.

These stories are an invitation to the strange.  The world in these pages is dangerous and unknown–and it is dangerous because it is unknown. An explorer on a new planet doesn’t know the rules of the world.  The giant spined lizard might be as harmless as a puppy, and the soft grasses might be sudden venomous death to walk on.  To drink from the enchanted goblet might mean invulnerability, or it might mean inescapable damnation.  Any of the strangers passing in a darkened alley might be an agent of the Tongs, armed with a hidden needle dripping with an exotic oriental poison.

I believe that in the stories of the fantastic it is particularly important–and increasingly difficult–to maintain this sense of a mysterious and perilous cosmos.  As Coyote observes above many fantasy worlds are so similar to others that they might as well be the reader’s own neighborhood.  Many science fiction stories are no different, the same starships, the same blasters, the same quasi-military organizations setting up cookie cutter colonies like Pizza Hut franchises across the galaxy.

That’s not to say that a story that contains derivative elements is necessarily bad, but that’s not the spirit of Pulp Revival.  The spirit of Pulp Revival is, to quote Lord Dunsany, “A man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders.”

And that, I might add, is exactly what I attempted with The Book Of Lost Doors. I didn’t want to use vampires of werewolves or zombies because when a modern reader sees those things pop up in a story they are known qualities.  Everyone knows that werewolves are killed by silver bullets and faeries can’t stand the touch of iron.

And so I introduced Ambimorphs and Necroidim and Blue Metal Boys–supernatural creatures whose abilities and weaknesses would be a complete mystery to my readers.  Judging from comments made in reviews of my books, my readers liked that, too.

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Why I Stopped Caring About Banned Books Week

Echoing my own thoughts, but he was able to put them into words.

Under-Paid, Over-Enthused

banned-books Logo copyright to S. Hunter Nisbet, 2016.

Banned Books Week: the week trade publishers who have already made a butt-load off a certain book try to make a little more by pretending to be oppressed.

Call me cynical.

What is this week? It’s the week we talk about books that regularly get banned from schools, libraries, and even entire towns. Texts such as that obscure tome Harry Potter, or, what’s it called again, Anne Frank, Dairy of a Girl. Good books. Important books. Books that you’ve probably read, because, uh, wait, I thought they were banned?

Ah, we found the catch. See, Banned Book Week is one of those events that sounds really good and important, until you realize, actually, there isn’t much there.

For people to care that a book is banned, a lot of people have to have already read it when the “take it away”…

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Some Notes Towards A Pulp Revival Manifesto

In yesterday’s post I wrote about the Pulp Revival, and I–rather off the top of my head–listed a handful of characteristics of what I consider the Pulp Revival Aesthetic.  I would like to discuss that list in more detail today.

action-oriented storytelling, protagonists with a clear moral compass, an element of romance in both the classical sense of decisive action as well as the modern sense of interpersonal passion, and an unapologetic view of violence as the proper tool for overcoming evil.

Action Oriented Storytelling:  Action-packed is almost a synonym for Pulp Fiction, but I think that Action Oriented Storytelling is more than just fights on top of speeding trains and blowing things up. What I mean is that the use of a character’s actions–in opposition to a description of the character’s feelings–should be the primary engine that drives the story.  Don’t tell me that Thangar felt sad at finding that his village has been burned to the ground, show me Thangar throwing back his head and howling to the stars. Even in less dramatic moments actions will inform the reader better than a flat statement.  If Thangar looks down at his feet when he asks the fair maiden if she will permit him to escort her through the forest, we’ll pick up on his nervousness.

Protagonists with a clear moral compass:  I actually wrote a rather detailed post on this subject a while back and rather than restate my points, I’ll just link to it.  The first two points lead directly into the next one.

An element of romance in the classical sense of decisive action: “Romance” in the elder sense of the word is difficult to define (which may explain why the modern sense has supplanted it) but both G K Chesterton and Ayn Rand have described it as a conviction that the universe is not what it ought to be and that this gap between what is and what should be creates a moral imperative to act.

A romantic hero is not able to passively watch injustice, she or he is compelled to do something.  When brigands attack a carriage Thangar does not ask himself if he has any right to interfere, he leaps into the frayinstinctively and decisively, to correct an outrage to his sense of justice.  It may be misguided, it may, in fact, turn out to be exactly the worst thing he could have done, once he knows all the facts (which means that the same sense of justice will compel him to right the wrong he has committed).  Even so, the character’s actions are motivated by an involvement with the universe–things are not as they should be, and it is the personal responsibility of everyone to put things right.

As well as the modern sense of interpersonal passion: Pulp heroes are motivated by love.  It may be the sexual love of the brawny barbarian for the lovely and quick-witted princess, or it may be his comradely love for the soldier who has fought valiantly beside him. Love of home, of nation, of a way of life, all can compel a barbarian to take up arms against an oppressor. Thangar may hate the corrupt usurper to the throne with a blazing passion, but that passion is driven by his love for the princess that the usurper has imprisoned or the villages that the usurper’s armies have burned.

An unapologetic view of violence as the proper tool for overcoming evil: Not the only tool, or even, necessarily, the best tool.  A Pulp hero will often try diplomacy first, saving violence as a last resort.  However, the potential for violence, the willingness to use force in the defense of what is right is an indispensable factor in the Pulp Aesthetic. Reason is useful only against those who will be reasonable.  One’s convictions must be backed up by the courage to fight, or they are meaningless.  When faced with the power-mad usurper who is putting all opposition to the sword, Thangar must be willing to draw his own blade in his own defense, and in defense of those he loves.

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But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes

There is a question that I have probably spent far more time pondering than I should.

Am I Pulp Revival writer? 

On the one hand, I can point to “A Hill Of Stars”, which is very much a Pulp Revival story.  It appeared in the first issue of Cirsova magazine, and the story was a deliberate homage to H P Lovecraft and E R Burroughs.  I set the story in an alternate Permian Era Earth which is inhabited by both humans and the Elder Races of Lovecraft.  That story has inspired other writers to set stories in what we are calling “The Eldritch Earth”.

I have another story set in that world, “In The Gloaming O My Darling”, which I wrote specifically for Cirsova.  That one is a little less adventure and more horror, but I think it fits easily into the Pulp Revival genre.

I have some other stories that I think qualify–“We Pass From View”, for example, in the Sins Of The Past anthology, is a horror story told as an interview with a dying B-movie director and is a deliberate pastiche of the Weird Tales style. And then there is “The Silk Of Yesterday’s Gowns” which was inspired (in part) by an on-line discussion of “The Great God Pan”. (And which I am still trying to find a home for–it’s kind of brutal.)

I’m much less sure about my novels, however.  The Book Of Lost Doors series drew on a lot of different sources for inspiration, and most of those sources are New Wave or later. Leaving that aside, however, is the spirit of my novels consistent with the Pulp Revival aesthetic?

The answer to that, of course, lies in the definition of Pulp Revival.  And that, I believe, is still a very unfixed thing.  There are some characteristics that everyone who uses the term (and it seems to be gaining ground day by day) seems to agree on: action-oriented storytelling, protagonists with a clear moral compass, an element of romance in both the classical sense of decisive action as well as the modern sense of interpersonal passion, and an unapologetic view of violence as the proper tool for overcoming evil.

The genre (or subgenre, or style, or school) is still in a state of flux, however.  Which means, I suppose, that it is going to be the writers and fans of Pulp Revival who get to define how the term is defined.  That’s rather an uncomfortable state of affairs for me, since it means that I probably could, with some effort, help to shape a style of literature.

Who wants that kind of responsibility?

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Cirsova #3 eBook out on Amazon

Cirsova #3 is now out on Kindle


You can get it here today.


We’re having some issues with Kickstarter money clearing; it should’ve been moved on Tuesday (which was 14 days from the end of the Kickstarter), but has not been transferred to our account yet. We have queried Kickstarter about this; as soon as the money transfers or the end of next week (whichever comes first), we will begin fulfilling backer orders.

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