Over the past three years, I made a great many bets. Some turned out to be on the money. Others turned out to be swallowed up by trends I couldn’t even imagine.
Before Appendix N, pulp was synonymous with awful writing and was generally considered to not be a topic worth delving into. Today? Pulp methods are not just back in style, but they are considered to be pretty much an essential survival mechanism for anyone that seriously wants to make it as a writer. To be fair, though, of all the things I intended to be bring attention to… Pulp Speed was not one them! (As far as I know, Nathan Housley is responsible for introducing that particular nugget into the discussion.) Being more focused on the critical space than the rat race, I was much more inclined to dismiss the concept altogether, as I did when I encountered the fact that Roger Zelazny wrote Jack of Shadows in a single draft.
From a critical standpoint, I championed short stories at a time when the word on the street was that short fiction is a colossal waste of time. Surveying the 20th century, short fiction was the undeniably where the most ground was broken, the most influence was made, and the most action was. In many cases, the original short form works are better than the later fix-ups that replaced them. The Moon Pool is a canonical example of that. But I would even point to The Eyes of the Overlord as being noticeably stronger and effective when compared to its followup Cugel’s Saga, which reads much more like a bland contemporary overlong novel than its predecessor.
It turns out that the people that are really doing well with fantasy and science fiction writing are putting out large numbers of novels as part of an interminable series. Edgar Rice Burroughs is the exemplar people are recapitulating, not H. P. Lovecraft. Which irks me a little. I really liked the variety that was to be had in the standalone stories that made up the bulk of what came out in the pulp era. But mass matters. Authors like A. Merrit and Leigh Brackett are less well known today in part because they never took a character like Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan and did them to death.
On the other hand, there are a great many short fiction magazines and anthologies coming out the past year or so that make explicit moves toward the old ways. I have no idea how things are shaking out there, it’s a veritable deluge. My opinion is that it’s absolutely integral to the health of the broader fantasy and science fiction scene. But I don’t see the big dog types ever getting behind this.
Which not coincidentally leads me to my next point. The big disappointment for me is that individual author mailing lists have turned out to be far more important than a strong social media presence– and yeah, I bet BIG on the latter. The increase in shadow-banning and censorship by big tech puts a hard limit on what can be done on the web, yes. But more than that… what effort I put into bringing attention to new writers this past year mostly only contributed in mistraining their Amazon algorithm and locking them into a ghetto of wrong-thinker types.
It’s a bitter pill. I think it changes everything, too. But the big dogs did not climb to where they are by ignoring unpleasant truths. I really have no idea what the implications of this are for the various literary movements that coalesced in the past couple years here. It’s danged hard listening to this. On the other hand, the thesis of my book is being born out. The people that are killing it on Amazon have far more in common with Robert E. Howard than they do Philip K. Dick.
Or Ursula Le Guin for that matter.