You Can’t Judge a Pulp by its Pitch

With our own open submission period fast approach, and in light of Corey McCleery’s post on the short story he’s writing for a Superversive anthology, I feel that I need to issue some clarifications on just what it is we’re looking for as a magazine that has had the attention of the Pulp Revolution.

First, I feel it’s important to point out that Cirsova was doing what Cirsova was doing prior to folks talking about a Pulp Revolution, and we intent do continue doing what we’ve been doing regardless of what directions either the folks involved in the Pulp Revolution movement do or what the Superversive movement does in response.

A lot of folks have said “I’ve got this great idea for X where Y happens in Z; there will be plenty of Q and T!” and I’ve absolutely encouraged people to write them.

But the thing is, a Pulp is much more than its pitch. A lot of pulp stories, when you try to distill their plots down to a sentence or two, come across as the wildest, most off-the-wall gonzo nonsense you can dream up. Except when you actually read the stories, they’re not only internally consistent, they often take themselves and the wild situations therein fairly seriously. While there might be some humor, the elements in the stories are usually not played for laughs. And I think that’s part of where we differ from some of the “Retro-Pulp”/”New Pulp” stuff, in that we’re not using the aesthetic for kitsch or playing it for laughs. It’s a very difficult concept to get across. It’s also why I think it’s worthwhile to show by example, which is why I strongly recommend folks read the pulps (particularly those that I’ve reviewed, because they are literally the context I’ve been using and measuring other stories against) and read previous issues of Cirsova to get an idea of just what I’m looking for.

Now, why did I bring up McCleery’s post?

Well, in addition to trying to define Superversive in his post, and trying to show that they are not mutually exclusive, he gives a pitch for his story that he is advertising as being a Superversive Pulp story:

It’s about a man, a man confronted with the injustices of a tyrannical usurper trying to slay the woman he loves, and to defend her, he becomes something greater than he is, using self-discipline and training to go from a plain warrior to someone of unmatched prowess. He’s morally straight and kind, but has courage in the face of incredible adversity, won’t shirk from trouble because it’s, well, trouble, and also refuses to do the wrong thing when that would make life easier, but compromise his conscience. Right there, that checks off two boxes listed above (Aspiring/Inspiring and Heroic).

He travels the world I have made, sees wonders, sees beauties unearthly. He goes into the most dangerous of places, and grows stronger for it.

He is guided by virtue, and eventually meets up with some other characters, many of whom are morally questionable. Through their interaction with him, these characters become more selfless, virtuous, and heroic themselves, and go from morally grey to heroes (there’s the Aspiring/Inspiring). In this world, there’s a clear line denoting what is good and bad, and that the evil usurper is bad, a cutthroat despot who isn’t scared to shed innocent blood (and she does this out of envy and desire for power, not because she was abused as a child or was a psychopath). Good is good, bad is bad, and while the hero isn’t %100 good, he aspires to be good (thus, the Virtuous box is checked).

And ultimately, the hero fights to restore the throne to the rightful ruler, and does so. He is not a pawn of chance, incapable of making his own decisions. He decides, and those choices have consequences. His actions have an effect, and he doesn’t react to the world, but proactively acts (thus fulfilling the Decisive category). And lastly, I’m not deconstructing ideals of heroism or other healthy cultural paradigms (thus fulfilling the Non-Subversive category).

So, I’m writing a Superversive story, one that will be published in a magazine.

Here’s the catch. It’s being published in Astounding Frontiers, Superversive SF’s pulp revival magazine. The description above is accurate, but focuses on the Superversive themes, not the pulp.

My story is about a soldier, charged with guarding the elegant and demure Space Princess, scion of a star (She kind of glows). He teams up with a stoic yet wise Void-wielding pseudo-Buddhist attack monk lizard alien man, a rough-and-tumble yet oddly maternal cyborg techno-necromancer (who’s art is drawn from Daoist philosophy), a giant crustaceanoid barbarian who’s bulletproof and very violent, and the crustaceanoid barbarian’s love, a sorceress insectoid-alien who is refined and demure (as refined and demure as an insectoid lady of high breeding level can be).

He flies in a ship that sails through the ether, and goes from a soldier to a sorcerer-knight who wields the ether and the Void, among other powers. He breaks into the vault of the imperial sorcerers to plunder its knowledge, and fights the horrendous beast that lurks in the heart of a sun. There’s travelling through the myriad avenues of death, Way Cool armor forged from the substanceless Void, action and heroism aplenty.

My story has battles on space ships, duels to the death, a classic romance, and a Space Princess, ethereal and beautiful. It has sorcery used alongside laser cannons and futuristic technology, where a battle can take place with scrambler beams or ether blades. Settings include the deadly library of sorcery, an ancient temple, and ruins of an M.C. Escher palace that is suspended in the heart of a hollow sun. It looks at genre distinctions and laughs in their face.

Now, a couple of things about this. This is a pitch. It gives you an idea of what the story will be about, but there’s no way to know whether this story is going to be any good or not. Also, that’s a LOT to try to cram into a short story*. Awhile back, I made a one sentence pitch for Schuyler Hernstrom’s The First American as an example of how it could be done (“Lizardmen stole a barb caveman’s dame, so he goes to a wizard who is an astronaut who gene-splices him and gives him a shotgun so he can rescue his dame from the lizardmen”), and that was a novella length work into which all of they X, Y, and Z were crammed. Another thing, I don’t know what deal McCleery has with the Superversives for their publication, so this is in regards to our publication, not theirs or anyone else’s, but as a general rule, unless you’ve finished writing your story, submitted it to me, and I’ve paid you for it, don’t say “here is the story I’m writing that will be published in Cirsova”, regardless of whether I’ve told you that your elevator pitch sounds awesome. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something I felt worth pointing out.

But back to pitches. What sounds great in a pitch needs to work out on the page. We’re not specifically looking for gonzo or how crazy and wild you can write a story. There may be a mistaken notion about the Pulp Revolution that to them Pulp is like some kind of Mountain Dew commercial, skiing down a mountain, chased by laser wolves, and screaming “PULP!” A lot of us make joke about that sort of thing, but that’s more about the bants than it is the serious business of writing and critiquing stoires. As for Cirsova, we are not the silly magazine that publishes silly and extreme stories for the sake of silliness and extremity. We’re looking for GOOD stories that are well written and have the potential to be entertaining to readers who enjoy action and romance. Ultimately, that is a far stronger consideration for whether we will acquire a story than whether it falls into a Superversive rubric or a Pulp rubric or a Pulp Revolution rubric, straw or otherwise.

*:Note – Corey’s pointed out that his pitch is for a serial; this is stuff that you CAN work into something longer, like a serial format. For our own submission purposes, since we only take serial works on special basis and by request only (please do not ask), we recommend only cramming in as much as you can reasonably work into 5000-7500 words without spreading your story too thin.