I got a couple of comments on the last blog. One is to the effect that the Sad/Rabid Puppies are more interested in pulp type stories as “traditional” than real, hard SF. Okay, so maybe that’s why there are a lot of reptiles and science errors as part of these stories. The writers are pretending to write hard SF, but it’s really just an adventure story, instead. Let’s look at that.

Like literary SF&F that uses devices like symbolism and allegory, pulp fiction has its own memes. The genre was named for the low quality paper the magazines were printed on, and typically it featured adventure stories in foreign climes. Early writers of pulp SF&F include Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan of the Apes, John Carter of Mars), H. Rider Haggard (She), H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu) and Robert E. Howard (Conan). Writers like Ray Bradbury got their start there, too. I have to admit to a certain weakness for pulp stories. I grew up on this stuff. The question is whether this is still a valid form of entertainment for the target audience.

Traditionally, pulp was aimed at working-class men who bought into the “hero who saves the day” ethos. There were strong elements of 19th century romance in the primitive settings and sword and sorcery adventures. In a text called Science Fiction (The New Critical Idiom), Adam Roberts points to Star Wars as the story that mediates between the pulp era and the modern with its bigger scale and more sophisticated presentation. It has all the right archetypes: the aspiring youth, the princess, the hero, the wise old man and the evil emperor with his dark champion.

There is definitely a big market for this kind of story and people who hit it right tap into the young, male action-adventure crowd. Jim Butcher is an example of someone doing it well—he has a reserved spot on the best seller list with The Dresden Files. I noted in my review how closely The Skin Game reads like an action-adventure film. So, yes, this type story does still have an audience. But you have to get the memes right in order for it to work. I can’t find the hero in Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars, for example, or the princess. I don’t feel any adventure in Antonelli’s “On a Spiritual Plain.” Dry recitations won’t function, nor will peppering in archetypes without really connecting them with the story. Some of the stories get it right. Rzasa in “Turncoat,” and Kratman in “Big Boys Don’t Cry,” for example. I suspect Flynn’s “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” would, if I had the longer story.

So the Puppies are complaining that they’re not appreciated any more, that they should be winning awards, that their genre has been invaded by people who add political messages to their space opera. Pulp doesn’t normally win awards, but maybe the issue is about certain people being marginalized. This still looks like a skills gap to me.