Thursday, September 18, 2008

No One Reads That Old Stuff Anymore

Self-ganked from The Magic River:

I'd been thinking about this post for a while ... as a response
to comments I've heard here and there to the effect that there's no market anymore for classic pulp adventure. My own, admittedly somewhat arbitrary perspective is this: if classic pulp adventure is dead, if no one cares about these characters and series anymore, if there's really no market for this old stuff ... then how come I can walk into my local bookstore, either the local chain B&N or Borders -- or even better, the independent Tattered Cover -- and buy this old stuff right off the shelves?

So this is an overview of what
the bookstore buyers have decided I can just walk in and get off the shelf, without special ordering it in, or turning to online bookstores, etc. (This is not meant to be a dig at, or utterly dismissive of, publishers with non-traditional distribution models -- heck, anything but, because some of them publish me. I'm trying to make a point about the market viability of this genre, and let's face it, bookstore distribution is still very important.)

Nostalgia Ventures reprints of the Doc Savage and The Shadow pulp novels, two novels each coming out each month in very nice reproduction volumes, are available at online bookstores, via the Diamond catalog which mainly serves direct-market comic shops, and mail order services. But better than that, imagine one of the most thrilling pulp-buying experiences of all, that of walking into a B&N and seeing this shelved cover out in the sf section:

I haven't had the pleasure of that experience since buying the many of the Bantam Books Doc Savage reprints from my local strip mall B. Dalton when I was a kid. And the local B&N didn't just have the book pictured to the left. There was half a shelf devoted to many in the series, right up there with the Doctor Who, Torchwood, Star Trek and Star Wars books.

Too cool.

Paizo's Planet Stories line also deserves special mention; it was, amazingly, launched just a year ago and is putting out an impressive one book a month. R.E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Michael Moorcock, Henry Kuttner, etc., what's not to love?

Baen Books is putting out omnibus editions of The Spider novels. The first trade did well enough to warrant a mass market reprint and a second trade.

Now again, this survey was arbitrary in that it sets as the bar what can I reasonably expect to walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore any buy off the shelf ... and that's a damn good list. I also should point out that some of the entries above are in the public domain, and thus presumably much cheaper to reprint (and I left out many PD reprints which appeared to be on-the-cheap, focusing on traditionally quality reprint editions from the likes of B&N Classics, Penguin, and Dover). But ... most of the list above is not PD. That means publishers are paying license holders $$ to reprint old stories or write new ones.

Also, the definition I used for "pulp fiction" was strictly narrow (tales actually and literally published in pulp magazines from the 1910s-1940s, and I noted where I deviated from the strict definition), whereas my
own definition for my personal reading is much more wide-ranging, to include the Sherlock Holmes stories, the James Bond novels, and so on.

There's other great stuff to be had
and -- let's admit it -- some not so great, both in reprinted pulp fiction and in "neo-pulp," that doesn't fall into the "buy-it-in-a-bookstore" category. You can check out Bill Thom's weekly updates to his Coming Attractions site for the latest in pulp-related news in books, comics, and movies. There's a lot to digest at Thom's site. I'll save some of my favorite high-quality non-brick-and-mortar recommendations for a later post, but one thing is certain: pulp is not dead.


Mike said...

Win, I agree completely. There are hundreds of vintange books I want to read, many of them written way before I was born. I guess the problem is that they just don't make book stores big enough!

Win Scott Eckert said...

The certainly don't make my bookshelves big enough to hold 'em all. ;-) said...

I'd like to see "Pulp" become an actual, recognized genre. I think that labelling it could open the genre up to a new host of readers and keep it going in a solid way, instead of just on the fringe. For example, "film noir" is now widely known as a genre and many are endeavoring to make their own "neo-film noir" movies, Frank Miller being a good case in point. Of course, as we've discussed before, the name "pulp" is subject to a great deal of interpretation; but is it any more open than "horror" or "fantasy"? Seems to me that we could only benefit from bringing a little more attention to it. But then again, not TOO much attention, lest it morph into something else entirely...

Win Scott Eckert said...

John, agreed, to an extent, though there are many variations of pulp, including horror and mystery, etc. I'd like to see pulp be synonymous with good, exciting storytelling. :-)