Embrace The Red Revolution!

Monday , 13, February 2017 41 Comments

The Pulp Revolution doesn’t storm barricades—we straight fly over them.

Strong opinions piss people off. Strong opinions, expressed forcefully, piss people off even more.

To those offended, I say this:

Campbell, confreres, and successors have—for seventy-nine years—pumped out self-serving propaganda that paints the Pulps as worthless. Constant recitation of a litany of calumnies has succeeded in erasing not only the virtues of the Pulps, but even the memory of their existence.

You can likely recite the litany as well as I:

“Pulp is puerile, childish, and inartful. The stories are simplistic and obvious, the science sloppy and embarrassing, and the language purple, baroque, and overdone. They focus on action more than science, and that is Just Not Proper Science Fiction.”

Well, the Pulp Revolution is here and it’s time to set the record straight: Pulp stories are amazing.

If Pink F&SF is pathetic, gitchy-goo modern (Clay Age) not-really-fantasy-or-science-fiction pap and Blue SF is Silver Age technology-and-science-uber-alles stories, the Pulps are RED.

Red for passion, Red for action and adventure and yes, Red for violence. Red for courage, Red for heroism, Red for heroics. Red for vividness and blood-stirring excitement. Red for outrageous creativity and inventiveness. Red for a vitality and drive that was, little by little, lost over the decades. Red for characters who fought and strove and lived, and writing that was about evoking emotions in the audience, not abstract intellectualisms or ideological lectures. Red for the blood of humanity.

In the days of the Pulps, magazines had to cultivate an audience and keep serving them, just to survive. Pulp stories had to thrill and enchant the audience. The further F&SF gotten away from this keystone, the worse it has become, and the smaller the audience has become: You can track the descent of the genre by the decreasing emphasis writers and editors placed on giving the audience what they wanted.

I’m not saying all Silver Age stories are worthless, far from it. Blue SF produced some great works, some of my favorite Science Fiction. And, as the Silver Age, it is provably superior (as a body of work) to what would be produced during the Bronze, Iron, and Clay Ages. But the Silver Age stripped out the core of Fantasy & Science Fiction: adventure, heroics, and heroism, wild creativity, variety, and vividness, and later Ages went even further.

All Fantasy & Science Fiction stories after the Pulps are just Pulp tales with good things taken away. (And, occasionally, bad things added.)

To the extent that writers omitted these virtuous elements, their writing suffered. Their stories simply could never be as thrilling, inventive, or beautiful as stories which included them.

They could never be as good as the Pulps, no matter what their propaganda said.

And, while I’m not rejecting all the work of the Silver Agers, I do repudiate and condemn their lies about the Pulps and the framework of literary criticism they imposed on Science Fiction. Splitting Fantasy from Science Fiction narrowed the scope of potential stories and straitjacketed writers’ imaginations. Venerating mere technical accuracy above all other potential virtues pushed writers to disregard those other virtues. And deliberately agitating against heroism and heroics… well, that’s just insane.

We can do better. And to recapture the audience F&SF once had, we must do better.

We can tell better stories. More imaginative stories. More thrilling and moving stories.

We can recapture the zest and zing of the Pulps, the heroics and heroism, the action and adventure, the inventiveness and creativity.

We can serve the audience better. And in serving the audience better, we can expand the audience.

People want stories that move them. They want stories that are involving, engrossing, vivid, visceral, thrilling, and touching. They want stories that make them care.

What people don’t want are stories that are boring, uninspired, or preachy. By and large, they don’t want stories that are primarily about abstract intellectualisms, whether moral, scientific, or ideological.

The Pulps were far more successful at satisfying audiences than tales of any later Age. If what is sought is a rejuvenation of the genre, they seem a perfect place to start.

The Pulp Revolution is a call to create more stories, to create better stories, to cast the shackles off our imaginations. It’s time to paint Fantasy & Science Fiction RED. It’s time to embrace the Pulps.

Embrace their vitality. Embrace their freedom from genre limitations. Embrace their drive to thrill and move the audience. Embrace adventure, heroism, and heroics.

Embrace the Pulps, and greatness will follow.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

41 Comments
  • caleb says:

    In alchemy, red symbolises creative principle at its most intense. So, it’s a good fit for what you folks are trying to do.

  • Mark says:

    There’s a reason I keep coming back to Doc Smith and let Asimov et al sit on the shelf. Sure, the prose is purple, but the man had a real scientific background and a tremendous vocabulary, came up with about 3/4 of all the cliches in sci-fi, and could spin a good yarn to boot.

  • deuce says:

    Yes, the Red Dawn Cometh!

    Doc Smith was a big fan of A. Merritt, hence the vocabulary, heroism and sense of wonder in his own work. Asimov was something of an arrogant pedant who never had a good thing to say about Merritt. His protagonists are usually case studies of “Men with Screwdrivers SF”. The math is pretty simple.

    • icewater says:

      Asimov was a master among masters as far as utterly dry, bland and pedestrian realizations of potentially epic ideas go.
      “Monk-like secret society that controls Earth’s history trough time travel and large scale temporal engineering, with linear conception of history being thrown out of window”
      Now imagine the blandest possible take of that.
      You did it?
      Well, Asimov’s take was worse.

      • deuce says:

        Absolutely agree, Ice. I only was able to make it through half of the first “Foundation” book, even though I felt bad about it at the time. I thought I just didn’t get it. All I’ve ever liked from IA are some of his early “Robot” stories.

        Don’t worry, Scalzi will fix all that with his “Foundation 2.0”. 😉

  • “And, while I’m not rejecting all the work of the Silver Agers, I do repudiate and condemn their lies about the Pulps and the framework of literary criticism they imposed on Science Fiction.”

    Amen! Lest anyone mistake our intentions, the Pulp Revolution does not seek to memory-hole works from the Silver Age onward. We want authors to write the stories they want to write and for audiences to read the stories they want to read.

    Following the model of the pulps, with their freedom from genre constraints and market-facing work ethic, delivers the best of both.

    In that light, having my books described as what would happen if A. Merritt wrote a Dune novel is the highest praise imaginable.

    • deuce says:

      Hey Brian! I’ve seen that quoted many times. Are you, in fact, a Merritt fan? If so, I’ll add you to the list. 😀

      Make Merritt Great Again!

      • Jagi and Jeffro inspired my respect for Merritt. He’s at the top of my TBR list after I finish Appendix N. Any suggestions as to which book of his I should start with?

        • Gaiseric says:

          Ship of Ishtar and Moon Pool are considered among his best works, and both are in the public domain and readily available on Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

        • deuce says:

          Gaiseric is right that THE MOON POOL and THE SHIP OF ISHTAR are usually accounted Merritt’s best. However, there is another camp which tends to hold DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE as the best. That novel seems to have inspired both Brackett’s SWORD OF RHIANNON and THE DARK WORLD by Kuttner/Moore, among others.

          All that said, I would personally recommend THE SHIP OF ISHTAR. Here’s my review of it:

          http://leogrin.com/CimmerianBlog/merritts-the-ship-of-ishtar-from-planet-stories-paizo/

          I assume you’ve read Jeffro’s 8-part series.

          • Carrington Dixon says:

            The Dark World is pretty much Dwellers with the serial number filed off. I should rate it was one of the Kuttners’ lesser efforts. ‘Course, a lesser effort by the Kuttners is still better that the best effort by 90% of their colleges.

            Dwellers is best read with Merrit’s preferred ending rather than the happy one imposed by his publisher. Unfortunately, that is hard to find. Try to locate a copy of the story in the old Famous Fantastic Mysteries pulp.

          • Jasyn Jones says:

            I much prefer “Dwellers” to “Moon Pool”. Still reading second, will read “Ishtar” thereafter.

          • deuce says:

            I agree with Jasyn that, as a story, “Dwellers” is better than THE MOON POOL. To me, TMP is awesome because of the sheer imagination involved. It was a literary nuke exploded in the pages of Argosy when it came out. Once again, I recommend “Ishtar” to start, followed by whatever else after.

          • Thanks for the recommendations, everybody. Ship of Ishtar it is!

          • deuce says:

            Right on.

            Make Merritt Great Again!

  • PCBushi says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but what do the colors mean here – red, pink, blue, purple? I’ve seen some of this discussion on social media recently, but I think it refers to a greater conversation that I’ve missed.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      This is the original post, though the meaning has drifted over time. It’s basically what I said above: Pink is the modern SocJus F&SF, Blue the “Men with Screwdrivers” SF.

      Pulps are bigger than both, and better than both.

      http://voxday.blogspot.sg/2013/12/pink-sf-vs-blue-sf.html

    • Nathan says:

      Pink and Blue can be found here:

      http://voxday.blogspot.sg/2013/12/pink-sf-vs-blue-sf.html

      “Pink SF primarily concerns a) choosing between two lovers, b) being true to yourself, or c) enacting ex post facto revenge upon the badthinkers and meanies who made the author feel bad about herself at school. Pink SF is about feelings rather than ideas or actions.”

      “So what, in contrast, is Blue SF? Blue SF is a return to the manly adventure fiction of the past.”

      However, Blue gets often conflated with Campbell’s Men with Screwdrivers.

      • Jasyn Jones says:

        @Nathan: “Blue gets often conflated with Campbell’s Men with Screwdrivers.”

        In specific, because VD scorns the mixing of Fantasy with SF, his definition of Blue SF of necessity excludes the Pulps. This restricts it to Silver Age writers, and those from later Ages who hearken back to that sensibility.

      • Jasyn Jones says:

        Also, depending on how strictly you enforce the Blue “masculine stories” categorization, it would seem to omit most of CL Moore’s works which, while they were great and wonderful Pulp stories, were definitely written with a pronounced feminine sensibility.

  • Got me PUMPED with this. Thanks DW!

  • VD says:

    Jasyn is right. I conceived of Blue SF as Campellian science fiction, as distinct from both fantasy and the SJW amalgamation of SF, fantasy, and romance that is Pink SF, as well as the pulp that preceded it.

    I will readily admit that I have tended to scorn the pulps in the past, although I have read all the John Carter books, and most of Howard’s work.

    Pulp is still not much to my taste, but reading Appendix N has given me more respect for it.

    • Jasyn Jones says:

      The problem with identifying Blue as “masculine” and Pink as “feminine” is that, while Blue is more masculine than Pink, it deliberately omits a great many manly virtues. It encompasses only a tiny subset of masculinity, that being engineering and science.

      It’s the masculinity of intellectuals and geeks, not the masculinity of warriors and leaders.

      On that level, Red fiction is far more masculine than Blue, because it includes the manly virtues of physical courage, heroism, and brawn.

      • Gaiseric says:

        Depends on the work, though. A lot of blue, Silver Age sci-fi is the Asimov stuff that’s getting beat up here in the comments, but not all of it is. Much of the Heinlein stuff is pretty masculine with regards to heroes and warriors. I recently read Jeff Sutton’s First On the Moon and it’s defnitely blue sci-fi men with screwdrivers, but it’s also got a truckload of warrior ethos and leadersship from the main character.

        It’s not really fair to compare the best of the pulps to the worst of the post-pulps.

        • Jasyn Jones says:

          Your mistake is assuming this is about mere comparison of published works. It isn’t.

          The Silver Age was about the New York clique (Futurians & Cambellines) becoming gatekeepers in F&SF, then imposing their vision of what SF should be on the field. They purposely stopped publishing Pulp-style heroics and heroism, in preference to their own style of stories. More, they waged a DECADES long campaign of defamation against the Pulp authors, a successful campaign of defamation, to where even modern authors with a pronounced love of the pulps use “pulpish” as an insult.

          (Again, not all of that was Campbell himself, but rather the Futurians and the like.)

          And, while Heinlein was my first SF love, and still one of my favorite authors, even his most adventurous and heroic books simply cannot compare to the masculine virtues evident in Pulp characters, and that’s not counting what happened once he went full counterculture with “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

          “Stranger in a Strange Land” was Heinlein’s take on Tarzan. Compare John Smith to Tarzan. Which is more manly, masculine, and heroic?

          Exactly.

          • deuce says:

            If the “Big Three” were defined as Heinlein, Anderson and Herbert I would have less problem with that era. However, van Vogt was read out and Clarke and Asimov were made plasticene gods. Thus, the whole course of SF was diverted.

          • Alex says:

            @deuce
            Andrew J. Offutt referred to “the ABCs” of sci-fi: Poul Anderson, Leigh Brackett, and Alfred Coppel. Now THERE’s a radically different sci-fi paradigm!

          • deuce says:

            @Alex:
            Andy may not have been a very good writer, but he was a good editor and had some discernment. I love Brackett (not that familiar with Coppel), but her main claim to fame, IMO, is more as a writer full stop. Poul and Frank, when at the top of their game, were just as good AND brought a lot more pure science to the table. I suppose that might sound like I’m pushing for “Men with Screwdrivers”, but it really isn’t. I’ve got way more Brackett in my library than Heinlein or Herbert.

            I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I believe SF was going to head into more of a “hard science” direction regardless, due to the zeitgeist, but that the “Futurian” approach was a sterile course. Asimov and Clarke being marginalized while Anderson and Herbert were held up for emulation would’ve done much to head off convergence.

          • Nathan says:

            Unfortunately, it’s the pulpier Campbelline writers that got ignored and pushed out of the club of good writers. So van Vogt and Kuttner vanished from memory, while humorless scolds try to push Heinlein out today.

  • Man of the Atom says:

    As long as E. E. Smith is in the Red Zone, I’m cool.

    Another great article, Daddy!

  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    I fully concur, Daddy Warpig. We’ve all got to do our part.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Now you’ve got me seeing Red…

    Agreed, Mr. Jones. I think the Pulps hold the key to recapturing the public’s interest. So start writing if you can, and if you can’t, then think about supporting the new crop of Red Writers and Red Magazines like Cirsova.

    Make Merritt Great Again!

    Although, strictly speaking, he was already great. We just have to expose him to the public again.

    That last sentence came out completely WRONG, and on more than one level. Apologies.

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