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.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Publishing, On Writing, pulp revival and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Putting the Weird back into Weird Tales

  1. Pingback: Hard Yet Squishy | Davetopia

  2. Pingback: The Wind From A Distant Storm | mishaburnett

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