Sex in the Pulps

Yep. Today we’re talking about S-E-X and, by extension, loving relationships.

In the classic hero pulps, there wasn’t a whole lot of sex. You’d have the occasional lurid cover, with some scantily clad woman (usually with stockings showing) in distress while our hero moved to protect her but for the most part, guys like Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger were not very interested in knocking boots. Doc occasionally in later years would display a kind of boyish interest in the fairer sex and The Avenger’s love for his wife was constantly being referenced but even in the first book where you see The Avenger alongside his wife and daughter, you didn’t exactly get the image that they were passionate lovers. They were partners, friends and spouses, yes, but there was no sign of “heat” in the relationship.

There were some exceptions, of course. Jim Anthony was basically Doc Savage with a sex drive but by today’s standards, he was still a bit tame. In fact, the idea of Anthony was racier than the truth — he liked to lounge around at home in a speedo while working in the lab. Hell, what guy doesn’t?

The fantasy pulps (like Conan) got a lot of mileage out of ladies whipping one another and there was no doubt that Conan and others got into lusty embraces. But I’m focusing on the hero pulps because those were my favorites and that’s where most of the New Pulp writings out today fall into place.


Now we’re in the age of New Pulp. Writers are now bringing in more modern ideas about race, gender relations, etc. into their pulp-inspired writings.

But we still don’t have much in the way of S-E-X. I’m not saying we *need* it, I’m just surprised there’s not more variety out there.

When I wrote Rabbit Heart, I deliberately made it dirty. Foul language, lots of explicit sex and gory violence. It was my Anti-Pulp pulp book. When I did The Damned Thing, I didn’t go quite as far but it was still a pulp novel, only with explicit oral sex scenes and rape. The reviews I got for Rabbit Heart all made direct mention of the dirty stuff because I think it’s hard to discuss the novel without it — and it was out of place in the pulp world. The Damned Thing, though, got high praise but few people mentioned the sexy stuff — maybe after Rabbit Heart, they weren’t as surprised?

We have guys and gals in the pulp field who can cover all sorts of things and do it well. I’d like to see more variety in relationships on display in New Pulp stories. No, we don’t have to go into the boudoir with the Moon Man and his long-suffering girlfriend, but if a writer could do it well, why not? Hell, just some acknowledgement that these heroes are human beings and are sexual creatures would be welcome sometimes, just for the sake of something different.

The number of unfeeling automatons I’ve met in real life are relatively few in number… so why do I see so many in pulp? Look, I have one hero (Lazarus Gray) who kind of fits that bill, too — but in his series, there’s also plenty of sexual beings who surround him. Hell, I make it quite clear in Die Glocke that Lazarus had a “steamy” romance with the daughter of the local museum curator so even he’s not as stoic as he first appears.

Yes, I enjoy pulp that features heroic figures, over-the-top villains and happy endings. I make no apologies for that. But I also like to have my heroes fall in love, make babies and grow old.

I had The Rook fall in love, get married, become a father, etc. His wife is his partner and his lover, equal in both regards.

I did this because I think of Max Davies as a man — and most men want those things.They want love, they want sex, they want a family.

So, New Pulp writers, don’t be afraid to bring the sexy back!




  1. I’m with you 100%.

    One of the things I enjoy about The Spider is the fact that you get the sense that not only are Dick and Nina utterly romantically enraptured with each other, they’re fucking like bunnies. I was bugged by Doc Savage’s apparent pre-adolescent state even when I was reading the books as a kid, and it bugs me even more now.

    In the Doc Wilde series, Doc is a widower, but over the course of the stories he will start to develop romantic connections again (indeed, we’ll see some of it in the second book). But he’s already a warmer, in every way more emotional, hero than his literary ancestor. And his parents are very old but still quite youthful, and enjoying each other just as much as The Spider and his lady. (And I’ve already made reference to the fact that the elder Wilde, the “original” Doc Wilde from the pulp era, used to be very stoic and humorless, but his wife opened him up emotionally, making him more loving and playful, and, frankly, human).


  2. I agree with Tim that Richard Wentworth and Nita Van Sloan were most likely knockin’ boots every chance they got. In the later books, Doc Savage is mentioned as dating women but his disinterest in women during the early years is due to his arrested emotional development. I never got the impression that The Shadow was interested in anything else except nemesizing evildoers. I think you’re kinda hard on Richard Henry Benson’s relationship with his wife as we never really got to see what their married life was like. And due to the extreme traumatic shock of their deaths which turned his hair white and paralyzed his facial features, I think it highly probable that he was impotent as well.

    As for more sex in the pulps…hell, more sex anywhere, I’m all for it. I mean, we do have the opportunity to present not only New Pulp heroes but Classic Pulp heroes as complete human beings with a healthy sex drive/life. For my own part, I do make it very clear that Dillon likes sex and enjoys bumpin’ uglies whenever he can while Fortune McCall is revealed to have a weakness for married women. As you say, I don’t follow them into the bedroom and give play-by-play of what’s going on but you get enough to know full well what’s going on.

    I think the idea of testing the waters with a Spicy/Sexy Anthology is a good idea. Why not? Isn’t the whole idea of a movement to expand the boundaries of what is?

  3. Agreed on the Bensons’ marriage, Derrick — we didn’t see enough of it to really know and following those events, Dick’s emotional state was stunted enough that it’s hard to judge how passionate he might have been prior.

  4. I say if a writer is capable and comfortable writing about it, go nuts. Going from The Rook to Rabbit Heart was a shock to me as a reader, but it was definitely a good shock (and to this day, Rabbit Heart remains my favorite of your works).

    I take a similar approach Derrick does — the characters are sexual, they have sexual relationships, but I don’t follow them into the bedroom. I came close a few times in Chasing The Dragon, but not all the way and that’s because I feel the reader’s imagination can come up with something far steamier than anything I could write. But I definitely have references to things.

  5. That’s my thinking as well, Perry…I’ve written three stories that have scenes with Dillon in bed with women and it’s pretty obvious what they’ve been doing. But I usually try to go for a PG-13 sensibility when writing Dillon as they’re supposed to be fun, action-adventure romps. Now when I wrote the first Diamondback novel the description of sex and vilence was more of a hard R because that was what the characters and the nature of the story demanded.

    I do get get complaints about Dillon having sex though…not because he’s having it but who he’s having it with. I once had a friend of my wife’s demand back the money she paid for VOICE OF ODIN because in that story Dillon had sex with a white woman. And I’ve gotten a couple of emails from female readers who expressed disappointment of Dillon having sex with women of other races and demanding to know why he can’t have sex with black women and black women only.

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