Tuesday, March 13, 2018

So What Is This #PulpRevolution, Anyway?

By now, regular readers of this blog will have noticed several posts using the #pulprevolution tag, and might be wondering what I mean by that descriptor. Happily, author J. D. Cowen has just made an excellent blog post that recaps the last several years of rediscovery of what pulp fiction really means.

"Of course, pulp fiction has never fully gone away. But that isn't without lack of trying. It has been used as little more than an insult or a cheesy aesthetic for those who hated them. It has been used as an insult by those who never bothered to read the original works. Pulp became a synonym for trash, and nothing else. The Tarantino movie didn't help. The tradition of genre fiction actually goes back through the pulps and the penny dreadfuls all the way to at least Poe. By ignoring the pulps you are cutting the line of tradition and thumbing your nose at it. Those who trash it have no idea what they are actually doing."

The post compiles a lot of the discussions, videos, and controversies of this movement to date (including one of the most objective takes on the whole Sad/Rabid Puppies Hugo Awards thing I've ever seen), making it a valuable resource for those interested in improving their writing craft.

And though it's only been a few years in the making, there's already been progress made. Jeffro Johnson recently had cause to give a quick sketch of some of the standout authors in the movement, a few of which have been mentioned here before.

If we can take it for granted that the past forty years has been a veritable Dark Age for science fiction and fantasy, then having P. Alexander’s Cirsova magazine has been an absolute godsend. Has it come close to the very best of the Weird Tales era? No one that I know of has argued that. But I believe he can go toe to toe with some of the better works in Andrew J. Offutt’s Swords Against Darkness series. More recently he has managed to go further and acquire stories that are on par with the better efforts you could find in Planet Stories.
You’d rather have the next H. P. Lovecraft? Well maybe he hasn’t arrive yet. But Misha Burnett‘s New Wave style handling of the Great Old One’s oeuvre  sure did manage to raise the bar on what I expect today’s short fiction authors.
Who has managed to capture some of the more thrilling qualities of Jack Vance and Robert E. Howard? Schuyler Hernstrom, hands down. Who has succeeded in imbuing his stories with the more compelling aspects of Lord Dunsany, C. S. Lewis, and 1930s space opera? John C. Wright. Who has diligently applied himself to reclaiming pulp era heroism and romance? Jon Mollison. Who has gone from making a work comparable to a short Andre Norton novel to recapitulating the fire of an early 1940’s Leigh Brackett? Dominka Lein!

While I haven't read everything by every author on that list, Cirsova magazine, John C. Wright, and Jon Mollison have all made appearances, to much-deserved praise. And Jeffro modestly neglects to mention his own Appendix N, which as J. D. Cowen noted above deserves a great deal of credit as a catalyst for the movement. But you don't have to take our word for it - lots of these author have free works available on their websites (many of which are in my blogroll) or for their newsletter subscribers. And speaking of Cirsova, this week the fifth issue is free on Amazon Kindle - it's a great example of some of the ideas being thrown around in the Pulp Revolution (especially considering it has a story by Schuyler Hernstrom taking place in Misha Burnett's Eldritch Earth setting, and it's one of the highlights of the issue, too!).

Possibly the most astounding thing about the Pulp Revolution is the way it's expanded over only a few short years. If you're a fan of science fiction and fantasy and have felt that recent mainstream offerings lacked something, now's the time to dig in and try something new - the only place to go from here is up!

Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Pulp Revolutionary Sci-Fi of Jon Mollison

OK, now that I've given author Jon Mollison grief a couple of times over the cover of his novel Sudden Rescue, I probably ought to mention that it's really a pretty good book. In fact, last summer was something of a breakout season for Jon, and so far I've picked up three of his novels and thought them all great reads.

I still say he looks like Luigi.
Sudden Rescue, released just under a year ago, starts with an archetype we're all very familiar with, the independent space hauler who's not afraid to shade the finer points of smuggling law. Captain E. Z. Sudden would be right at home with the likes of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds, dodging space pirates and overbearing AI empires until he is suddenly thrust into galactic politics with the recovery of some lost cargo containers, one of which contains a member of the local space nobility named Karenina. When it is revealed that she was on her way to a wedding that could make or break the human alliance against the aforementioned AI, she and Sudden must embark on a journey through treacherous peril and exotic, imaginative locations to stop a terrible war.

The next novel, and probably my favorite of the three, is Adventure Constant. This one uses travel to parallel dimensions rather than space, postulating a world where the physical laws of the universe encourage swashbuckling and derring-do. I suspect Jon especially enjoyed the world-building on this one, what with the Panama Canal becoming a lizardman-infested suicide run, Hawaii still an independent kingdom, and the US equivalent run by an office called the Autocrat of Liberty, the current holder of which is described as a "bombastic business tycoon who had rallied the common man to his cause and was even now attempting to roust the cancerous elitists and their foot soldiers from the country." OK, that last one probably didn't take much imagination.

As a crossover enthusiast, I also need to mention the couple of times that Jack Dashing, the hero from our world transported via crashing rocket to this new one, makes a literary reference only to discover that he's accidentally talking about real people. When this happens to the Three Musketeers it's kind of understandable, since half the characters in that work were real people anyway, but when Jack mouths off to a British spy about his 00 number, he barely manages to get the words "secret agent named James -" out before the spy is question goes from demanding where he heard that to ranting about fraudulent poster boys.

With his next release, Jon Mollison returns to the stars with the aptly named Space Princess. In this case, however, the princess is an infant, rescued by a fairly standard American Catholic family and caught up in the political intrigue and space combat that naturally follows. Jon does a neat trick here by making a setting that shares some broad similarities with that of Sudden Rescue - both are interstellar monarchies - but is quite individual at the same time. In fact it reminds me a bit of a lighter and softer Warhammer 40,000, what with all the cathedral- and chapel-shaped ships being used by the Space Catholics (the red crescent fighters and minaret-bedecked capital ships of the Holy Terra-threatening enemy weren't terribly subtle, either). But the best part is the way in which the ordinary family rises to their very un-ordinary circumstances.

In a way, (and given a flexible definition of "ordinary") that's something that all three of these works have in common. In addition, of course, to being fun, adventure-filled works that rest on sound Christian principles without being preachy. The heroes are all heroic, in every sense of the world, and their sense of optimism makes a fine alternative to the too often nihilistic spirit present in many SF works today.