Most people have not read many stories from the actual pulps, and most people have only a vague idea of what the pulps actually were. The following is intended as a brief primer on the pulps and a guide to what they are and what they aren't.Read the first and second parts in their entirety. Perusing Nevins' primer, I couldn't help but notice the differences between the short fiction of that age and of ours. The pulp spirit, it seems, has largely disappeared from the genre landscape. Today's flagship publications are far more literary in tone, employing experimental styles, turning tropes on their heads, and preferring a gray ambiguity to stark black-and-white morality. (Of course, there are exceptions. Consider, for example, the wonderfully unpretentious audio magazine The Drabblecast.) In some ways, I find such changes worthy of celebration; crude craft in the genre world has vexed me for ages. Yet I often find such stylistically excellent pieces devoid of the one thing I long for in fiction -- delight.
During the pulp era (roughly 1900 to 1950) fiction magazines were either printed cheaply on wood pulp paper or more expensively on higher quality paper often chemically coated to create a glossy sheen. Those magazines published on better quality paper became known as the "slicks" while those published on the cheaper wood pulp paper became known as the "pulps." ...
The divide between the slicks and the pulps was more substantial than just size and paper quality. Slicks usually had a considerable amount of advertising and colored art, while the pulps had less advertising, for cheaper products, and only black and white art. More importantly, the slicks cost more and aspired to a better quality of prose and a generally higher level of professionalism, while the pulps were cheap and aspired only to entertain.
A common misperception is that there was a genre of "pulp fiction." There wasn't. The pulps were the medium, not the genre. As a term of aesthetic and literary judgment "pulp" applies not to a genre, but to the approach of the pulp writers and magazines: an emphasis on adventure; the privileging of plot over characterization; the use of dialogue and narration as means for delivering information rather than displaying authorial style; the regular use and exploitation of the exotic, whether racial, sexual, socioeconomic, or geographic; simple emotions strongly expressed; and good always triumphing over evil.
(Picture: CC 2009 by x-ray delta one)