Dig Awesome Female Characters in Your SFF? Read the Pulps!

Awhile back, a rather cartoonish individual on twitter criticized Cirsova’s aim to be ‘regressive’ like the pulps, saying that it was tantamount to celebrating and wallowing in sexism. Prior to being blocked, I merely suggested that this person wasn’t actually familiar with the pulps.

If you want some awesome lady heroes, anti-heroes, or villains, the pulps are where it’s at.

The last handful of pulp stories I’ve read have featured:

  • An ass-kicking jungle princess who can hold her own and even saves herself from time to time. (Son of Tarzan, All-Story Weekly 1915-1916.)
  • An alien high priestess queen who sacrifices an anthropologist to her people’s gods because why wouldn’t you? (Garden of Evil, Planet Stories, 1949)
  • A lady spy who outwits an alien viscount and blows up a Death Star (Stalemate in Space, Planet Stories 1949)
  • A warrior woman who unites several barbarian tribes, conquers the largest city in the North, and becomes the queen warden of Mars’ northern marches. (Black Amazon of Mars, Planet Stories 1951)
  • A princess who won a bloody succession war to become the most powerful ruler and greatest fighting general Venus has ever seen. (Planet of Peril, Argosy All-Story Weekly, 1929)

I’ll be talking about two of those, Stalemate in Space and Black Amazon of Mars, in my upcoming columns at Castalia House this week and next.


6 responses to “Dig Awesome Female Characters in Your SFF? Read the Pulps!

  1. Kinda funny; I went to check out your Twitter exchange and I, too, am blocked by said cartoonish individual. It must be so tiring to erect and maintain these safe spaces.

  2. I’ve read dozens of stories from the Internet Archive Pulp Magazine Archive, from a variety of pulps (Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Fantastic Adventures) from 1936-1948, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a single example in what I’ve read of a woman without SOME kind of active influence on the story – they are not there to be passive window-decorations. Admittedly, in some stories there will not be any woman characters at all, though.

    I wonder if some folks heads would explode if they read “Black Silence” from the Fall 1947 Planet Stories?

    • Man, I’ll have to give that one a look!

      What ends up being a genuine surprise is when a pulp story has a woman or women who AREN’T particularly dynamic, heroic, or interesting.

      • I think the cover illo is for “Beneath the Red World’s Crust” but although there is a girl, I don’t remember her “fainting into a man’s arms” like that shown on the cover. There are several strong stories in that issue, at least I found them so. Also not highlighted on cover, a piece by Ray Bradbury of a sort of “proto-Twilight Zone” vibe.

      • I dig Anderson’s art and style, but his covers are rarely representative of the actual stories. I think he worked a lot from a handful of stock photos and pin-ups, so you’ll see that pose, along with the lady with the whip, re-used for a few different covers. When he’s doing interior line-art, he tends to draw them all looking like the same 90s gothic metal frontwoman.

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