Friday, November 07, 2008

Where Has It Been?

First published over the course of three months in 1939 in the magazine Weird Tales, this story then vanished for almost 70 years.
As I've mentioned before, I absolutely love the adventure stories from this time period.
Most of them are undeniably bad, like literary placeholders between books that became "the classics". But pulp, named for the low-quality paper it was printed on, is an almost inherently American style of writing.
I just finished Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline, courtesy of Paizo Publishing's Planet Stories line.
Kline was is more famous as Robert E. Howard's literary agent than as a writer on his own, but back in the day there seems to have been quite a rivalry between Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline in the fledgling field of what I lovingly refer to as "crap fiction".
In the twenties and thirties, their stories were wildly popular. This was possibly due to the cheapness of the books in conjunction with the Great Depression and a total lack of a Home and Garden Television Network.
It may also have been due to America's need for an escape from the day-to-day abject poverty and unemployment rate.
Pulp provides that. The stories are straightforward action in fantastic locations. The characters are cookie-cutter archetypes. Burroughs' Tarzan and Howard's Conan were always the leads, but sometimes the names were changed. There is absolutely no learning curve in these books.
The characters reject modern culture and return time and again to a more primitive lifestyle fighting giant monsters for survival. Society is portrayed as corrupt and a weakening agent on the human spirit. The aristocracy is uniformly evil and foppish.
I think that was the key to the success of pulp, and when people began to make money again they lost interest in stories about turning away from it.
Swordsman of Mars was not, by any definition, a good book. Kline telegraphs every twist and every plot point seems completely stolen from Burrough's John Carter series. But sometimes not being a good book and not being a good read are not the same thing.
It was fun.
Almuric, on the other hand, is well-written. And fun.
The protagonist is dropped on an alien planet where he must survive without the benefits of the modern world in both books, but Howard just does it better.
With the current state of the economy I'm hoping to see a resurgence in pulp, possibly even in online serialized format.
Escapist entertainment is a time-honored American tradition.

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