I’m at FantaSci 2022 this weekend, reporting from Raleigh, North Carolina. Even as I speak, with only Thursday for Precon, and Friday of the con, I’m having a blast, and I have two more days of this to go. This post isn’t going to be about the con, necessarily, as I plan a full AAR on my blog Monday *noting that Monday is a Big Day as it’s the first day of my new job.
No, I want to talk about pulp fiction, my love for it, and the new wave of pulps, carried to us by Amazon. There was a panel Friday, Pulp (Science) Fiction, asking ”Has Indie E-Publishing become the new Pulp?” Now, I rarely go to panels at a con, unless I’m on the panel, because I have trouble not keeping my mouth shut when something is wrong, and, well, this one was no exception. I begged the moderator’s pardon later, and she graciously forgave me, but in all honesty, the audience got feisty on this one and that’s not always a bad thing for a panel, especially in a relatively small audience (there were about 20 people in the room, counting the panelists).
Is Indie the new pulp? I certainly hope so! There are a lot of parallels. Including with some people thinking that rather than a wave of innovation, they are a tsunami of crap. Am I saying all pulp is good reading. I am not. I collect pulp. I aspire to write pulp. I do not think that what I write is crap (don’t ask me that question right after I finish a book, though), I don’t think what Henry Vogel (one of the panelists) writes is crap. In fact, learning more about his background in Indie Comics (who, as he point out, did this before publishing, as did music), made me regret not having read more of his sword and planet series, which I will rectify soon.
There are few things that poke me in a raw spot harder than the implication that Indie=Crap, and it’s not simply that I am one. No, it’s the community. Walking around the con, I can’t get more than a few feet without seeing a familiar face, getting a hug, talking shop… this is why I love cons. And the writing I see from this community? Is varied in ways you might not expect at first. Are we brilliant wordsmiths? Nah. We aim to entertain. And that is just what pulp was about. Learning, in the serials and magazines that are making a renaissance as anthologies. Honing a craft through direct exposure to the grindstone of fandom and reader feedback. You should read your reviews. Just don’t let them take the edge off your writing, instead figure out the angle that will make your writing sharper, more incisive, cleaner. Then write more.
The market will, given time, correct itself. Writers who simply can’t learn, and improve, will see their sales dip. Readers will give up on being lured into an awful story by a slick cover and blurb, and will learn how to find books they want to read. As authors, it behooves us to not only teach them how to find us, but to learn how to use the tools that will help them in that search. Word of mouth, always, is king. Be active where there are people that like the same kinds of things to read that you do – you are writing what you like to read, yes? And it’s not a quick paycheck. There is no get-rich quick in Indie, despite the wild rumors.
Here’s the other thing. Pulp swept across the nation in the way that it did because there was a populace hungry for entertaining reading material, not the ’edifying’ books that the gatekeepers preferred to push. I have brittle, crumbling paperbacks from this era, but I also have books from the era before this, when the piracy was cross-Atlantic, and in my 1898 American Kipling editions (First US printing was almost certainly unauthorized) I see the precursor to pulp. People want exciting stories, they want stories about ordinary heroes, and the extraordinary.
Pulp was about cheap paper, and cheap stories, and it touched the hearts and minds of far more than anyone could have predicted. In an era when paper is getting scarce and expensive, electrons are rising up as the conveyor of strange tales, told dirt cheap. Ebooks are the new Pulp, and their sibling the Audiobook right alongside them. I, for one, plan to surf this wave as a reader and a writer, and may it never wane.