Pulp. Undeniably awesome. Tautly written, unpretentious, imaginative, pure story from beginning to end. Even at its worst, it shot for a higher bar than any pretentious, whiny, narcissistic LitFic ever did.
Which is why the bastards killed it. Or, at least, they tried.
They tried to kill The Pulp, BUT THE PULP WOULDN’T DIE!
As a wise and undeniably sexy man said during the last Geek Gab, The Pulp lived on. It lived on in the Silver Age comics, in 1980’s Action Movies, and in Saturday Morning Cartoon shows. Wherever pretentiousness was banished and unselfconscious sincerity lauded, Fun was more important than Message, and imagination could reign unchecked, there you found The Pulp alive and well.
It even tried to survive in places it had no right to be, like in often-despised Sci-Fi movie tie-in novels.
Han Solo was the pulpiest element of the Pulp-ripoff “Star Wars” movies. He should be—he was essentially a clone of Northwest Smith, CL Moore’s roguish spacehound. He walked with a swagger, smiled with an off-kilter grin, and left a long string of broken hearts behind him.
The Han Solo Adventures, 1979’s trilogy of novels about the swashbuckling smuggler, was set two years before the events of Star Wars during a difficult time in the life of partner lawbreakers Solo and Chewbacca. Lost in the reaches of the Corporate Sector, the pair must dodge the police forces of the Sector Authority whilst trying to make a dishonest (and sometimes even honest) credit. They make money and lose money, but never really get ahead.
The novels are fun, and imaginative, and feature a number of interesting secondary characters (including beautiful and vivacious love interests). The plots are interesting and varied, and avoid falling into the sea of self-referential in-joke callouts that so blighted other “Expanded Universe” works. (It was 1979, a year before The Empire Strikes Back, so the number of archetypal elements the author could slyly refer to was very limited.) The novels even had a respectable amount of action, and were refreshingly un-pretentious. Yet for all that, the stories just aren’t Pulp.
At first glance, you might find that a bit puzzling—isn’t Solo stolen from Pulp? Doesn’t he do Pulpy things? Don’t the books hit all the criteria you mention above? JUST WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING AT, WARPIG?
Look, I could bafflegab on about how the books lack the moral core of Pulp literature (which they do), and toss in a couple of other observations about how the books reflect the culture and morals of post-1969 America (which they do), but that’s not the real reason. The real reason is this:
They’re just too damn slow.
Daley is a prime example of a post-[FORBIDDEN TERM CITIZEN] SF writer, someone who feels the need to toss in excess exposition and interstitial scenes all over the place just so he can explain stuff way more than is strictly necessary. (He isn’t alone in this impulse, many writers do this because they think The Rules require it.) It doesn’t take much excess verbiage to turn a tautly paced and plotted novel into a too-slow plodder, and Daley could have stood to trim about 5% of his wordcount. Then the books would have been Pulpy enough to pass muster.
LEARN THIS LESSON WELL, APPRENTICE PULPISTS: Always Be Cutting. Skip scenes that aren’t strictly necessary. Learn to use reference and imputation to IMPLY that something happened, so you don’t have to show it. Resist the urge to show off how clever your worldbuilding / thorough your research / accurate your science is. LET IT BE. LET THE AUDIENCE APPRECIATE IT ON THEIR OWN.
The point of Pulp is to entertain the audience. Authors who are trying to fish for compliments from other authors are Doing It Wrong. (Authors who are trying to fish for compliments from CRITICS aren’t even Doing Writing Wrong, they’re just whoring around.)
This is, by the way, emblematic of a larger problem in writerly circles: authors are way too concerned with garbage that doesn’t matter. Whether induced by suffering through a college English degree, reading (and believing) too many book critics, or grimly enduring the hippest, hottest writer’s workshops, authors who analyze stories as if they were an English professor, a sci-fi book critic, or a sneering post-Modernist literary critic are Doing It Wrong. These people are not fiction authors, and their analyses, right or wrong, are a bad foundation to build your story on.
Writing is a tough gig, so conscientious writers take advice from anywhere they can. More, it’s easy to find people willing to dish it out. (I, myself did just a few paragraphs ago, and am about to again.) This advice often becomes internalized and formalized into a set of Rules, which become a fundamental part of how writers see storytelling.
Instead of letting a story blossom and grow, letting it live and thrive, writers take their burgeoning piece of fantastic fiction and mutilate it, chopping off bits and pieces that should be there, and adding garbage which shouldn’t, all so they can force their story to exactly match The Rules that live in their brain. Ideological Rules, religious Rules, Rules of Literary Criticism—when used as straightjackets, they massacre storytelling.
My Advice: Don’t play Procrustes to the stories in your head. Love them and write them, with ruthless integrity. Don’t force them to conform to anybody’s Rules, yours or someone else’s.
If you want to write Pulp, write Pulp. Screw The Rules, and don’t let anybody else tell you that you’re Doing It Wrong.
Do this, and you too can keep the spirit of Pulp alive. They may try to kill it, but THE PULP WILL NOT DIE!