From the Vault: Sex in the Pulps

mellisa_clark_unmaskedYep. 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? And then there was The Spider, who was very clearly a passionate lover of Nita Van Sloane. But most of the romance that was depicted between them were of steamy kisses and verbal flirtations.

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.

So…

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!

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