Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Pulp Revolution and Winning

Mean things have been said!

But was saying mean things right back good enough? Not this time!

Jesse Abraham Lucus explains why:

Turns out there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle on Jeffro’s blog. Commenter with the username “Groffin” has laid down some harsh criticism of the movement. What stands out to me about Groffin’s comment, poking out from between the blackpill, is this:

And for all your glorification of the insular and self-aggrandizing indie-literature circuit, you have no minds of comparable skill or prestige, and will not for years and years if ever.

That hits me where it hurts. We don’t have writers like that. I’m far more optimistic than Groffin about our prospects, but the road to greatness is long and hard, and we don’t get there just by saying we’re getting there.

“We don’t have writers like that.”

Hey, speak for yourself, guy. I sure as heck do. And I’m happy to name names, too.

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!

What kind of person looks at this smorgasbord of thrills, romance, and wonder and feels compelled to say something nasty? Probably someone that isn’t looking for quite the same things that I championed back when I surveyed eighty years of influential tales of adventure, horror, and heroics. 

But the framing here is absolutely absurd. Why would you expect anyone living today to have achieved the same prestige as the pulp masters? When they’ve been unfairly mocked, smeared, diagnosed as mentally ill, and pretty well erased from the science fiction and fantasy narrative. (!!)

So much for prestige!

But really, the question isn’t whether these contemporary authors have equaled pulp masters. No one living is capable of achieving the same sort of gravitas as someone that died eighty years ago and then went on to directly influence the canonical works that define the field. That is self-evident, isn’t it?

The real question is… do we have something right now that we didn’t have five years ago? I think we do. You really could not find people creating stuff like this then. (Let’s be honest. A good chunk of us didn’t yet know that this is what we had a hankering for. Ahem!) It didn’t help that the stories in Asimov’s, Analog, and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy weren’t at all like this. And I’ve been reliably informed that he stories that got nominated for awards were not like this, either.

If you had come to the conclusion that nobody would ever write Appendix N style science fiction again, nobody would have blamed you. But here we are. After entire strains of fantasy and science fiction were pretty much suppressed, changes in technology combined with a diverse range of amateurs, professionals, commentators, and all-out rabble-rousers have arguably revived them.

Whether you can call that “winning” or not is up for debate, sure. But as far as I’m concerned, this is unimaginably awesome. Where I used to routinely walk out of Barnes & Noble with nothing good to read– to the point where I was beginning to think that I just wasn’t that into science fiction and fantasy anymore, now I’m swamped with more great authors than I can keep up with.

If you ask me, that’s winning.

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6 responses to “Pulp Revolution and Winning

  1. RandyB March 12, 2018 at 7:58 am

    At risk of being pretentious, I think Churchill is relevant. We are at “the end of the beginning” of this revolution. These authors will continue to refine their craft and others still will step up beside them.

    So passes the Dark Age of SFF, and good riddance to bad rubbish!

  2. Nathan March 12, 2018 at 11:53 am

    It took 20 years for the science fiction mags to get from the backwaters of Amazing at its founding to the science fiction boom of the late 1940s. Asimov, Brackett, and Kuttner didn’t happen overnight.

  3. malcolmthecynic March 12, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Where did this idea that we’re all lounging around crowing about our great victory come from? It’s not even a little bit true.

    • Cirsova March 12, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      Some black-pilled dude was buttmad over Jeffro’s suggestion that “the residual power of Tarzan, Cthulhu, Middle Earth, and Conan remains a potent force, even in a marketplace flooded with both bastardized derivatives and hostile critiques” and it’s been strawmen ever since.

    • Cirsova March 12, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      Trying to take away valuable feedback from the individual in question at this point evokes Flaubert’s imagery of peacocks pecking through piles of shit for grains of corn.

  4. dither001 March 13, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Dunno if you saw this (week old news), but WotC posted some stats on Twitter that the majority of players (spanning multiple editions) prefer A) human characters, and B) ignore incremental/ mechanical advantages granted by various character options (feats, perks, etc).

    I couldn’t find a link to the actual stats, but here’s the post from EN world:
    http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?5013-Most-D-D-Players-Prefer-Humans-Without-Feats!

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