Thursday, April 27, 2017

Get Pulp in Your Teeth

Image result for trump juicero
There’s been a lot of talk lately about a “magical” device that delivers “perfect” juice, and is destined to revolutionize the way people drink juice in just the same way Keurig revolutionized coffee.

I have no idea about this device other than what has been in the news and so will refrain from more than a brief comment about money[1] and coffee[2] but I will use it as an excuse to talk about pulp.

There has been a lot of talk about the pulp aesthetic in fiction among the people in my circles. Not merely in the Pulp Revolution community over on G+ but elsewhere as well. Not a great deal of what is being said is particularly innovative – I suppose this is a natural consequence of the fact we’re mostly discussing styles of writing that are at least a century old – but a great deal of it is interesting, and exciting enough to have triggered a little nest of activity in writing and publishing.

This isn’t the first time a revival of the pulp aesthetic has started up – in fact it seems to have been coming more or less at 5 year intervals for a while now – but I think this may well be the first time I’ve seen it actually getting traction in a big way. This might be an illusion caused by the fact I seem to have been sucked into the center of the maelstrom, of course. My fingers are crossed that it’s more than that, and to be honest I think the circumstances are quite different now than they have been in the past.

One reason the pulp vibe is coming back, I think, is technological: the last big wave of enthusiasm[3] seems to have petered out largely because it was too soon to take advantages of the various ebook and archive resources currently available.  

With the meteoric  rise of self-publishing platforms such as Amazon, Smashwords, and others – with the explosion of highly affordable print on demand services in the last few years – with the emergence of alternative financial tools such as the various crowd funding platforms – and with the growing ubiquity of social media communication platforms – it’s easier than ever to get a conversation started, to generate enthusiasm, and to keep the momentum rolling.

I think this is enormously significant.

When you look back to the golden age of the pulps, you see a slowly building momentum that – by the time of pulp’s peak in the 30s and 40s – had generated a truly incredible range of magazines. And when I say incredible, I mean incredible: take a look at this photo of a street-side magazine display from 1935.

The market was bulging with magazines. Significant publishers and little fly by night operations were all jostling for space on the shelves. Offset printing technology was getting cheaper, and advances in paper manufacturing were making printing a much cheaper industry than it had ever been before. Small-shop printing houses sprang up all over the place, and taking advantage of this new infrastructure people threw money at new magazines as business speculation or even just because what they wanted to see on the shelves wasn’t there yet.

And that’s not even considering the underground publishing industry.

The Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA) founded in 1937 is the oldest fan APA for science fiction, but the APA model goes back into the 19th Century and there were little APAs all over the place. Many of these were hobby oriented, and quite a few were focused on some variety of creative work. But what happened in the early decades of the 20th Century was an enormous shift in thinking that added to the boiling industry.

Certainly, many fanzines of the era orbited around fans who – by some means – had access to one of the smaller shop presses and were able to buy, negotiate, wheedle, or simply steal time at the press when it wasn’t in ordinary operation.  But this still limited the number of people who could get in on the activity.

APAs already existed, as I mentioned, but for the most part they operated via carbon copy or laborious retyping – naturally, this significantly limits the range and size of audience.

But hectograph and mimeograph technologies were plummeting in price as well, and this made a huge difference: suddenly, a fairly normal middle-class fan could reasonably buy or borrow a new or used mimeo or hecto and churn out dozens of copies of a ‘zine. Suddenly, the conversation wasn’t limited to the people an enthusiastic fan could talk to in person, or the handful he or she could contact by carbon copy letters.[4]

Even before the establishment of FAPA suddenly connected fans were talking: through the letters columns in print magazines, in letters to what we might call semi-pro magazines (the fanzines being produced at pro presses), and now in hectoed and mimeoed pages being churned out in people’s cellars and garages and kitchens.

Overnight, the conversation went from being an excited murmur to a veritable roar.

Why is this significant? Because I strongly believe we are looking at a similar kind of sea change in publishing.

E-books have been around for a while of course, but over the last few years it has been getting easier and cheaper to produce astoundingly professional products that are available not only in e-book format but also in print, thanks to POD services. Approaches and techniques that were once sneered at as “mere vanity” are now viable business models, particularly for what amount to fan works with attitude.

Combined with crowd funding to ensure a regular flow of capital even in cycles where breaking even is difficult just about anyone can notice a gap in the market, conceive a way to fill it, and launch the product in the course of just a few months.

Look at the success of Cirsova Magazine, now going into its second year.

Look at Bryce Beattie’s StoryHack, which went from a call for submissions at the beginning of March to being nearly ready for its first issue to go to print in May.

Look at the explosion of collaborative anthologies.

Look at the growing number of blogs and the increased volume of chatter about self-publishing on social media.

As always happens when there’s a technological “singularity event” bringing together interest and enthusiasm with a sudden decrease in the cost of artistic expression, we’re seeing the boom beginning right now. This is nothing new: it’s happened every time a new technology makes the headlong dash into everyday commodity level prices. It happened with hector/mimeo in the 30s, it happened with 8mm film in the 60s, it happened with cassette tapes in the late 70s and 80s, and it’s happening now with the convergence of e-books and the tools to produce them.

And the thing is, #pulprevolution is really just one facet of the explosion, the one I happen to be seeing most clearly because of location.

It’s really been bubbling for the last few years with the erotica/romance e-book boom, with the extreme horror movements, and of course with wave after wave of amateur book publication in nearly every genre imaginable.

This brings us back to the juicerino or whatever the stupid thing is called:

It's not just a metaphor for the over-produced slicks, it's also a metaphor for publishing more generally.

Sure, I could pay too much for an electric motor and some rollers, and slap in a squeeze-bottle of processed juice. Or I could just grab some fruit and veggies - maybe even out of my own garden - and smash the juice out of them myself.

Yeah, I might get pulp in my teeth. I might even get a healthy dose of caterpillars along with my kale smoothie.

But man will it taste good!

#pulprevolution - not just good, but good for you!

It’s an exciting time, people. It's a time when if you long for a certain flavour of fiction then it’s probably time to heed the clarion call:


Get pulp in your teeth!

Join the revolution!

[1] And the fools from whom it is soon parted.
[2] And the terrible sins that the unwashed commit against it
[3] See The Cimmerian Blog (shuttered since 2009), the Grognardia blog (likewise since 2012) and the Robert E Howard Foundation (still active, and – significantly – actively producing their own imprints of REH’s work)
[4] Carbon copy letter circles were certainly common enough – Lovecraft’s is of course the most famous.

1 comment:

Deuce said...

Excellent post!