Attempting to Define the Pulp Revolution: What It Is and What It Is Not

The “Pulp Revolution” seems to be met with confusion, misunderstanding and conflation when those unfamiliar with what is going on first catch wind of it. As such, I wanted to try to define and explain some of what the Pulp Revolution is and is not to dispel some of those misunderstandings. I’d like to disclaim that Cirsova Magazine is NOT the Pulp Revolution (it’s much bigger than us), though we are happy to be a part of it, with many friends and writers who are involved to varying degrees. 

The Pulp Revolution is not a genre or a subgenre.

The Pulp Revolution is not about reprints or rehashes. We are writing and creating new things every day.

The Pulp Revolution is apolitical and international. There are writers and readers from all walks of life and all political persuasions – the Pulp Revolution only cares about great storytelling.

Pulp Revolution is not a rebranding of the Sad Puppies. Some of us got drawn into the maelstrom of fandom politics when Sad Puppies 3 blew up and caught our attention, but at this point, we’re doing our own thing independent of Sad PuppiesTM. In fact, I daresay that the Mad Genius Club might be happier without us being associated with them.

We also aren’t just a rebranding of modern pulp (New Pulp/Pulp Revival). Those cats are doing what they do largely apart from us. To my knowledge, there’s been very little if any crossover influence between the New Pulp/Pulp Revival crowd and the Pulp Revolution folks.

We are not using the term “Pulp” as a substitute for “classic SF” pre 1990. Various folks involved with the Pulp Revolution may have slightly different definitions, but I’m talking about the literal pulp format (not the digest mags), and in terms of influence, I’m specifically looking at a handful of titles that published stories that influence MY acquisition guidelines (Planet Stories, Weird Tales, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Argosy, if you need some specifics).

We are not using the pulps to recapture kitsch; we are not using the pulps as a trope-mine. What we are doing is going back to some of the exemplary authors from that period and using them as a starting point. Not to ape them, but because we love them – we love the stories they told, the characters they brought to life, and the vivid colors in which they painted the exciting futures and worlds of the unknown.

We are not hell bent on re-inhabiting the past; we are using it as a launching point to go off in new directions. We do not ignore nor do we deny the influence of writers who are not from the pulp eras.

The Pulp Revolution today has only a tenuous link to the ‘pulp revolution’ of the 70s. That pulp revolution was part of the climate that inspired things like D&D by bringing a bunch of pulp writers who had fallen into semi-obscurity back into the forefront via paperback reprints, pastiches and homages. But that was 40 years ago. That was a generation ago. Many of us were not even alive in 70s, much less old enough to been a part of that resurgent wave of fiction. Do not assume that because people got interested in the pulps 40 years ago that everything is all good and people don’t need to get interested in the pulps again. There was not an unbroken cultural continuity that kept those works and authors in the public conscious. Do not assume that we are only talking about Burroughs, Howard or Lovecraft. Do not assume that because you have old works sitting on your shelf that people today know about them or worse that new people do not need to be told about them or should not be excited about them.

I am curious what lessons we are relearning that we do not need to relearn. Of course authors are going to write what they want to write – that is why we are supporting those who do who also happen to be writing the stories we love. Many writers involved have been writing for years, yes. The Pulp Revolution itself is more defined by the surge of excitement among these authors’ shared reader-base, who have come together to celebrate and encourage what they are doing.

But we have already been done. We are pointless. We will cease being a thing after a relatively short time. We can safely be ignored.

24 responses to “Attempting to Define the Pulp Revolution: What It Is and What It Is Not

  1. My experience with the Pulp Revolution has been one of exposure to reader-driven content. That is to say, the people creating within its ecplicitly ill-defined borders are readers first whose desires were not being met anywhere in the market.

    Most of them are driven more out of passion than the hope of financial rewards. They take advantage of the new publishing tools available to plug gaps left by publishers who have deliberately turned their back on them. They also use those tools to reach out to like minded (and underserved) fans, who are legion.

    In short, the Pulp Revolution may look like previous movements, but this new world is not the one previous movements inhabited. As a result, the Pulp Revolution is unlike anything the legacy media has ever seen, and they ignore it at their peril.

  2. “The Pulp Revolution is not a genre.” More, the Pulp Revolution REPUDIATES THE EXISTENCE OF GENRE. The pulps were about fantasy and science fiction and horror and westerns and mysteries ALL IN THE SAME STORY. The Pulp Revolution is about imagination, about freeing yourself of the limits of genre, of ideology, of anyone else’s ideas about what F&SF ought to be.

    Ever-smaller, ever-more restrictive boxes of tropes are the antithesis of Pulp. The Pulp Revolution is about storytelling, first and foremost, not arbitrary restrictions of genre.

    • The worst tropes were the almost-invisible ones, like the hero not getting the girl. That one snuck up on us, turned around a few times, and fell asleep right on top of SFF, and it’s been there for years, waking up now and then to mumble something about women not being trophies. Not to say that no heroes ever got girls after 1980, just that our reserves were dwindling.

      • That’s something I noticed when I was reading a few pieces from the late 40s and why I was shocked to find Rocklynne’s The Diversifal had been written in the mid-40s but kept finding its way into reprints and collections; in MOST Rocklynne stories I’d read, the awesome hero got the equally awesome dame.

        As for women as trophies, it was an epiphany for me when I read Black Amazon of Mars; Ciara ends up with Stark (though briefly) because Stark was the trophy that she earned by the Heel-Face turn that the other villainesses didn’t take in the previous two Stark stories.

  3. I’m writing what I want to read. I hope that other people like it too, but I’m having fun, so that’s a reward in and of itself. I don’t care what it’s called, to me it’s “what I write.” I know that whatever it’s called, most readers are going to think it’s old-fashioned and out-of-date, but “most” is not “all.”

    • That’s awesome, and a big part of why we love you, Brian!

      I’m a mediocre and slow writer, so I tried to do my part by finding and encouraging people writing what I love to read to write more of it.

      Ironically, I think the Pulp Revolution’s aim is to get works like this thought of as not just pulp but great works in their own right that are part of the written conversation within SFF. (And that’s a big part of why I didn’t want to go for a 100% retro pulp aesthetic for the magazine.)

  4. Good post. For me personally, the Pulp Revolution has been the discovery of those old works and writers you alluded to, and the resulting great fun and insight of sharing and discussing them with fellow fans. If that fits what you’re talking about, anyway!

    • True, and that’s a very good point. The Pulp Revolution is not the stories themselves, or at least it is not JUST the stories. I think it’s more the fervor and conversation that has sprung up around a number of convergent events and phenomena.

      I never started Cirsova with the intent to start a movement, nor did I conceive of anything like the Pulp Revolution going into it. Cool folks, though, started using it and considered what we were doing to be a part of it, and I’m all for that!

      It’s been a wild cross pollination of the OSR, the SF community, and various writers and bloggers who were just seized by excitement and energy to create. Pulp Revolution just seems to be the name folks have settled on to try to describe what happened and is still happening.

      Funnily enough, despite some connections with MGC and Vox Day, neither the Sad PuppiesTM nor Vox themselves have much to do with it (though, as Jesse pointed out, Castalia House has become something of a common platform, especially in the last month with the new contributorship. And yeah, it’s kinda funny that a publishing house that specifically calls for a Campbellian revolution in science fiction has become the home of such an anti-Campbellian movement.)

      • You’ve mentioned Campbell a couple of times on the blog. Have you done an article about his influence, or can you point me to one?

        I’ve read a couple of his short stories and thought they had interesting elements, so I’m guessing you’re referring to his editorial influence, rather than his writing.

      • Hmm, just read something at Castalia House blog that made me wonder if you’re talking about Joseph Campbell, not John Campbell.

        Tried to read Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces twice, put it down twice.

      • No, talking about John Campbell. I wish I could point you to something off the top of my head. Jeffro’s talked about him a good bit in various places and how he redefined the field of science fiction in terms of “the big three”.

        Funnily enough, Offutt, who was arguably one of the important forces behind the 70s revival, refers to “the ABCs” of science fiction: Poul Anderson, Leigh Brackett, and Alfred Coppel.

      • John Campbell pretty much singlehandedly turned science fiction from a field that embraced planetary romance and hard science fiction into one that held that hard science fiction was the only valid science fiction. In fantasy, he tried to steer away from Weird Tales’ more mythic mysterious, and moody fantasies to more comedic ones where the gods, instead of being mysterious and in the background, could be major players as well. Fortunately, he only had the money to corrupt one genre.

  5. Great post, man! Couldn’t have said it better myself!
    I mean, personally I’m here because it’s a damn fun time. I’d spent near a year filling my head with boring stories that were only inspiring in the sense of, “Well that’s interesting but it could be better, made more exciting, or this thing should’ve been explored more.” It was crap, and it was dragging me down. But I didn’t realize it till I found you psychos and read the stuff y’all were putting out.
    There’s a reason the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” is such a truism. Now I’m so damn on fire to get busy creating my only issue is finding time to write between all the audio work I’m doing to resurrect those classic pulps in the public domain. But steady progress is being made, and I never would’ve gotten into this if or had the urge to publish my own writing if it weren’t for you guys who seem to be just as crazy as I am. And the similar tastes in fiction helps out, too.
    But this here is a whole new world, and I’m personally itching to explore it. SFF could do with a little shaking up, and there’s nobody better equipped to do that than this ragtag crew of madmen.

  6. Excellent post. I came to this organically. I started writing stories that, after a few years of searching through the big magazines, I could only find old collections. Adventure, magic, mystery; stuff that brought me back to the crazy D&D games my friends and I used to play. I think that if there is a movement, it should be distinctly separate from any puppy stuff. While I was sympathetic to the original cause, it was ultimately about the Hugo and some personal beefs between published authors and SFWA members. I don’t give a two fucks about the Hugo or SFWA, and I honestly see no interesting output coming from either side.

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