Pulp? Yeah, Pulp.

When I was a kid, I was surrounded by the paperback reprints of the classic pulp heroes: Doc Savage, The Avenger, John Carter, Conan, etc. Those books excited me with their lurid covers and exciting characters, instilling a love for that kind of fiction that remains with me today.

These days, when people ask me what kind of things I write, I sometimes avoid describing it as “pulp” because most people have no clue what that means and I’m too tired of explaining it to bother. Sometimes, I say I write “horror, sci-fi and fantasy” but then folks expect to find elves or something in my books. A bunch of folks (of which I was one) spent a lot of time coming up with a ‘definition’ of pulp that runs like this: “Fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.”

Now that’s quite a mouthful so it’s not something I can just spout off at a moment’s notice. It’s a compromise, too, which means that nobody was really happy with it. And there are so many exceptions to the rule that the definition often sparks debate amongst pulp fans.

I understand the desire to want to brand ourselves as “pulp” — we love it and we want to be a part of it, to be seen as the inheritors of the mantle and the ones who continue to carry it forward.

But to the general public, pulp fiction is a movie that starred John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson.

I don’t have the answer for how to change that. Honestly, I think it will take that brass ring we’re all chasing — the book or character that “breaks out” and becomes popular to the mainstream. But when that happens, will the New Pulp label be brought with it? I don’t know.

In the end, pulp is kind of like pornography… I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy? Pulp. The Time Traveler’s Wife? Not Pulp.

Our art today is by George Sellas and features Leonid Kaslov in a scene from “Kaslov’s Fire,” which can be found in The Rook Volume Two Special Edition.


  1. When asked what I write, I tend to reply with action/adventure or SF with a pulp flair. Like you, I gave up answering with ‘pulp fiction’ because of the movie association. I still get asked what I mean by pulp flair, and then can explain a bit more in detail about it. But I do write action/adventure in general for the genre – it’s the style of the story that makes it pulp

  2. I tend to describe what I do as “genre fiction” (when they ask “what genre?”, I can give’em some more details) or, if I’m dealing with the literati elite, as “imaginative fiction” (the old L. Sprague De Camp catch-all label).
    “Pulp” does carry a lot of bad rep here in Italy – it’s either “Tarantinesque nonsense and violence” or “that sexist racist right wing stuff the Yanks wrote in the ’30s”, and the pornography analogy is a lot less flattering than the one you make.
    Most days I don’t want to get into long discussions with prejudiced people (but sometimes I do on my Italian-language blog).
    When it comes to my own writing, I often simply go for “Think Indiana Jones/Think Conan.”
    Nice and smooth.

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