Or Maybe I’ve Been Pulp Rev All Along

Taken and expanded a bit from a Facebook convo asking whether or not there were sources for a conspiracy where Campbell and co memory holed the pulps. Merritt was named specifically:

I think conspiracy is a word that trips up people…I don’t know if you’ll find any secret notes where people say things like “Step 1: Bash R.E. Howard daily”, but you will find…

– John W. Campbell renowned by one and all as the most influential editor in sci-fi history…

…Despite the fact that none of the works of the supposed biggest names in science fiction like Asimov, Heinlein, or Clarke ever reached the fame or popularity of “A Princess of Mars” or “Conan the Barbarian”. So how did they get to be known as “The biggest names in science fiction”?

– And of course, Campbell was the most influential editor of the time. He owned the magazines, where he would mold all of the writers to write “Hard” sci-fi [note: the extent of his influence was later disputed, but what is not disputable is that he HAD influence, and a good deal of it for a couple of decades].

This didn’t work out so great. How do I know that? Because since Campbell took over and the pulps died sci-fi readership has dropped like a rock.

– Damon Knight in his editorials and introductions to books would try and make the time to slip in a little dig at the pulp authors.

I can’t really tell you what it was that made Merritt disappear as thoroughly as he did, except that he was a pulp guy like all the others whatever his reputation, and his works simply never reached the iconic status of Conan the Barbarian or A Princess of Mars. He may have been very, very highly regarded at the time, but he just didn’t have enough force to get out of the black hole. Pretty much only Burroughs and Howard did, and NOT with reputation intact.

The term “pulp fiction” as used today was not created as a compliment, but is used to describe trashy, low-brow entertainment. Until the pulp rev guys claimed it it was only ever used in a positive manner ironically or nostalgically – like the Sam L. Jackson movie. Pulp was lesser.

This stuff isn’t made up. It’s in the language.

 I’ll end it with this – the revelation of the quality of the pulps was a big enough deal that it angered a lot of smart people. Genuinely angered.

Maybe you didn’t hear the stuff they heard about how bad the pulps were…but I did.

 if you don’t see the memory holing of the pulps as having been a serious issue, or the blowing up of Campbell’s rep, then sure, this will all sound silly.

But to a lot of people it isn’t.

I don’t think a bunch of supervillains got together into a room and concocted evil plans; I do think a bunch of folks felt it fit to puff up their own influence while looking down on or sometimes outright disdaining stories feom the past – and that this strategy worked.

Or maybe it didn’t, since you apparently didn’t see this attitude like I did, but I know a lot of folks who seem to think it did as well. And that’s why the pulp rev has gained so much momentum, and why the Campbellians are so looked down upon (even to the point where, yeah, it DOES get unfair). You can talk about changing tastes, but for some reason the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” is Campbell’s era and not the FAR more popular and influential pre-Campbell era.

How did that happen?

Extrapolating from there that Campbell and the Campbellian era writers liked and wanted to push this narrative isn’t exactly a hard sell.