Pulp and Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Oh My!

This is a companion to my current bombshell post at Castalia House.

First: I’m delighted at the response it’s gotten to far. Lots of comments clarifying various positions was the point of writing it!

I didn’t really get into another point I hope to make: If we can define pulp as a thing, we can define fantasy and science fiction as a thing too.

Here’s the thing. Everybody and their mother knew and acknowledged what hard sci-fi was, what fantasy was, and what hard science fiction was…right up until the pulp rev folks started acting like the difference was difficult to distinguish. I’m not making this up. A whole post was written on how hard SF just doesn’t exist.

(Note, here, all of the things I’m NOT saying, and be careful what views you extrapolate).

The thing is, if it’s difficult and pointless to come up with a difference between science fiction and fantasy, then it’s even more difficult and pointless to define a difference between pulp and non-pulp.

Pulp is a much more nebulous, vague concept. In its broadest sense, it means the stories that were published in the magazines that used cheap pulpy paper – but that’s clearly not the only metric being used. Lots of other metrics have been added on qualifying fiction that counts as the modern day equivalent to pulp.

But from my perspective what we’re calling as a shorthand the pulp revolution is really more of an Appendix N revolution. And it’s silly to act on one hand as if pulp is free from those petty genre distinctions plaguing modern works while at the same time coming up with metrics and definitions to define what is and isn’t pulp. Of course you want to distinguish between genres; you’re just using a new pulp genre you created as your preferred form of fiction.

This is a good thing! If this wasn’t done, then we’d be talking about nothing at all! But it’s what’s happening.

Looking in the early comments (boy did I provoke quite a few comments quite fast) it seems that a lot of people A) Don’t believe me when I point out the many things that have been disqualified from pulp, B) Seem to think that a hard SF cabal is the source of this pushback, or C) Just misunderstand my point completely.

For example, I did not disqualify superheroes from pulp. That happened in the comments of a post where I brought up superheroes; it was Daddy Warpig who did it*. I’ll dig through the many, many comments on those posts to find exact quotes one day, but I’m not making this up wholesale.

Some commenters at least seem to be quite angry, but since I figured that was going to be the case anyway I won’t comment on it. The post was pushback against prevailing wisdom. When DOESN’T that provoke anger?

The other point too, that I’ve continually made, that (at least some) people seem to think I haven’t, is that I support the pulp revolution!

This “war” between the pulp revolution and the superversive movement? It simply doesn’t exist. Heck, we’re getting close to putting out a pulp magazine soon. We want to bring back pulp fiction!

I’ll leave that as the thought to chew on for now.

*To be fair, I should probably qualify that it was the post-Cambellian revolution modern superheroes that were being discussed as not being examples of pulp works; this has understandably lead to some confusion, since Batman has been acknowledged as a pulp character since the beginning. Misunderstandings on that front are really my own fault.

  • Well the pulp apologists certainly showed up in force to give you a piece of their mind!

    • Bellomy

      I’m happy about it! If people want to clear up misconceptions, that’s great; but I think that post was useful just in the sense that – even if it IS completely not true – I’m representing a larger subset of people (going by my own conversations with the superversive folk and with some of our commenters) than I think a lot of you guys realize, and these are people who are allies.

      So in that sense just by expressing this view I’m giving you guys a chance to respond to it directly, and maybe clear things up for all of us.

      • If they are allies, then maybe they can take some time to comment, link to us on social, and/or join the conversation in the wider book blogging scene by posting Sensor Sweep worthy items.

        • Bellomy

          Well, I’ve been trying to move the conversation around. So has Josh. If it seems like it’s been negative, I’ll just note that compared to some of the other people – not only you and DW – we’re probably still the nice ones. I’ve made it abundantly clear I have great respect for you and DW .

          Also, a lot of us – not just me, I’ve just become the de facto spokesperson – really are somewhat disheartened by the increasingly negative and angry tone at Castalia. I’m not telling you this to convince you to change it. I’m just telling you why we haven’t been reposting a lot of the stuff from there recently. We like the concept of a pulp revolution, but we hesitate about the hyperbolic and negative approach.

          My article was an attempt to mirror the tone and start a discussion. Our “nice” start a discussion post – Josh’s from a few weeks ago – didn’t really get a whole bunch of clicks. This one hopefully isn’t mean, but it’s certainly more provocative, and that’s intentional. And it worked, too.

          I know why you’re doing what you’re doing there. I’m not telling you to stop, nor could I if I wanted to. I’m just telling you what the atmosphere is over here.

          A sensor sweep is a good idea, though. I’ll bring it up.

          • IMO There’s only one way to settle this. **Dueling critical frames.** (Cue banjo!)

            How about… I temporarily stop writing editorials. You temporarily stop writing editorials. (But Daddy Warpig keeps writing them, ‘cuz that’s his bag, sorry.) But we both review short stories published in 2017 from our respective frames– ie, pulp and superversive.

            That way, even if one of is wrong… we (a) balance each other out while (b) boosting the signal on recent efforts to revitalize the short fiction market.

            Just an idea!

          • Bellomy

            Well, I don’t represent the superversive guys as a whole…but I like the idea!

            If the rest of the group approves, I’m up for it!

          • If you don’t know where to start, I suggest The Dreaming Wounds by Anya Ow coming out of the Lyonesse project. If you haven’t read my review or the story yet… I think it would be VERY interesting to compare what you see in the tale with what I saw. No peeking! Review first… then compare.

            This way the critical “fight” would do double duty by boosting the signal on a worthy effort in the short fiction scene.

        • Overgrown Hobbit

          You mean of Castalia House? Things like this drawing ?

          Or this blog post?

          Not all folks commenting have platforms big enough for a sensor sweep, or ones where the sweep would catch us (because we’re in muggle-ville), and I personally am handicapped because I cannot use Facebook for this kind of thing, and I hate Twitter so much it’s not even funny.

          But when I get on Gab which I do about once a month or so, I’ll try to link to the CH blog. It’s really quite enjoyable.

  • Jon M

    Some people just don’t get that you can passionately disagree with people whom you deeply respect and admire, that you can exchange passionate arguments with a smile on your face. And by “some”, I mean “broken”.
    I might disagree with Anthony’s analysis on the Sci-Fi Purity Issue, but when the broader cultural forces figure out we can’t be ignored, then I’ll be the first guy standing next to him on the barricades.

    • Bellomy


  • Jon M

    Question from the peanut gallery: Jeffro has mentioned that the blog has seen significant increases in traffic of late. Are the Superversives seeing the same? If so, is that just because the two groups are moving together and interacting more, or does it represent an actual increase in interest from outside the gladiator ring?

    • Bellomy

      Yes, we’re seeing an increase. Part of it is the call and response vis a vis pulp, but part of it is also that we’ve just been writing more. Several unrelated posts – Mrs. Wright’s Beauty and the Beast post, A couple of the strong female character posts – were also extremely popular.

      So I think it’s a combination of drawing in readers via the conversation and giving them more interesting content to latch onto.

  • cirsova

    “But from my perspective what we’re calling as a shorthand the pulp revolution is really more of an Appendix N revolution.”

    Just speaking for myself, but while Jeffro’s work on Appendix N kicked off a lot of what I’m doing because it got me looking into certain things using certain authors as a starting point, I’m pretty far beyond and outside of those authors (though there is a common time frame). It wasn’t just Appendix N authors that got me wanting to publish and promote fiction, but those others, those contemporaries, I’d found through looking at Appendix N Authors.

    Also, I’m somewhere between Jeffro and Misha when it comes to the New Wave stuff. One of my favorite writers, Thomas Burnett Swann, is a strange product of the period where a dude who himself was super-literary used that super-literary background to write new wave quasi-neo-pagan* romantic adventure fiction set in an antiquity where the myths, epics, and plays of Greece and Rome were all 100% literal and Herodotus didn’t make things up. And his books were sold as science fiction!

    *:Swann strikes me as having enough of a background in history and the classics that he stands apart from a lot of neo-pagan writing.