“The Best Bad Reviews I’ve Ever Gotten”

Saturday , 15, July 2017 5 Comments

Author James Desborough has responded to criticism from an unnamed Pulp Revolutionary. It’s a good video and well worth a watch. My take on this…? Looking at the pulps through a “modern” eye as he’s proposing has already been done. Decades ago even. There is nothing revolutionary about such an act.

Notice how James grapples with the moral elements of the old pulp stories. This is a guy that goes out of his way to be provocative. It’s his shtick, really. And yet… here he is thoroughly bamboozled. That as much as anything sums up the cultural moment. There’s nothing left to subvert. There are no lines left to cross. There are no conventional bourgeois nuclear families left to scandalize. They’re long gone.

And in that milieu  he wants to go back to the pulps and then reinterpret them with an eye towards modern sensibilities? Well hey, the market is wide open and the gate keepers are on their way out. Everybody has a chance now to– just like the original pulp revolution– throw some stuff at the proverbial wall and see what sticks. We all agree that this is an exciting time to be a creator.

But note the concern on Desborough’s part. There are things in those old pulps that he wants to bring forward. And there are things there that he most assuredly wants to leave behind. And now that he has received criticism from someone that sees value in the thing that he’s passed over… he’s left reaching for something to explain this. And the only thing he’s got is this “moral certitude” he sees here– it’s what the Nazis had, and it’s terrible. It opens the door to all kinds of awful things!

This is not a new idea at all. Consider Philip K. Dick’s The Man in High Castle, published in 1962. The familiar tropes of rocket ships and the planetary romance of a solar system full of adventure? Dick takes an alternate history Third Reich that has conquered half the world and eradicated the Jews and depopulated Africa and re-instituted slavery in the United States– he takes all those old science fiction tropes and he cedes them all to his Nazis. Come at this book with any sort of appreciation of classic science fiction and it’s just plain shocking. The contempt Dick has for the men and virtues of pre-1940 America…? It’s palpable.

It’s a common view point. It’s the sort of value system that has been programmed into creators like Desborough from the cradle. To practically everyone in fantasy and science fiction, the ascendancy of this overall critical frame is inevitable. And everything that accords to it is… realistic. Modern.  While the old pulp stories are merely a product of their times. Simplistic. Dumb.

But maybe that view has it backwards. Maybe guys like Philip K. Dick were just passing fancies, a product of their times. Maybe their ascendancy wasn’t inevitable. Maybe it’s coming to an end. And maybe the pulps are underrated, containing a great many virtues that are superior to the things we’ve been told we’re supposed to like. And maybe… this is obvious in hindsight. And now that people are talking about it, the implications are clear.

A revolution is coming. And it makes guys like Desborough clutch at their pearls!

Talk about flipping the script! Pop some popcorn, y’all. The fun is only just starting.

5 Comments
  • John E. Boyle says:

    I’m not familiar with Mr. Desborough’s work. Is he worth a look?

  • Vlad James says:

    Nowadays, the most subversive, rebellious thing a Western man in his 20s or 30s can do is to get married, have a bunch of kids, raise them in a traditional family structure, and become religious.

    As for Dick, I love his work, but he was an utter madman. It cracks me up that there are authors actually trying to IMITATE his style. As if it’s possible to recreate the writing of an utterly deranged, brilliant lunatic and not have it be complete shit.

    One can admire it, but writers are certainly better off looking elsewhere for inspiration.

  • Brett George says:

    I don’t see anything to complain about with Dick’s work. I’ve been a fan for fifty years. There are many others that have written much worse.
    PK Dick had a wonderfully creative imagination.

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