Monday, 20 October 2008


Encyclopedia Of Pulp Fiction Writers
Lee Server
Checkmark $19.95 ISBN 081604578X

Lee Server's definition of 'pulp fiction', at least for the purposes of this book, extends all the way from the dime novels of the 19th century to contemporary best-sellers as diverse as Jackie Collins, Mario Puzo, and Pauline Reage. What links them has nothing to do with pulp magazines, or even the pulp magazine ethos. Rather, Server here seems to be defining 'pulp' as an attempt to reach the mass market with material pounded out with the suitably hackish intent of making money.

It's not that this approach couldn't work, but that once you get beyond the realm of the actual pulps themselves, even allowing for their dime-novel precursors and paperback successors, it does become pretty damn arbitrary, far too arbitrary to fit any definition of an 'encyclopedia'. This may seem picky of me, but it's one thing to define 'pulp fiction' casually, if at all; it can be whatever the marketeers want to call it, but we all know what an encyclopedia ought to be, and that's complete.

Server serves up some anomalies. Elinor Glyn for example, whose short story in Cosmopolitan created the 'It Girl,' was a lot closer to Margaret Dumont than Margaret Brundage, and would been horrified to have her name even mentioned in a pulp context. Having said that, the linkage Server makes between writers not generally grouped together is interesting, and sometimes provokes some unique reappraisals. As when Paul Cain shares the page with Barbara Cartland. Or Mickey Spillane gets followed by Ted Sturgeon. And it's worth the price of admission to catch up with such once-major figures as Arthur Guy Empey or Richard Sale, and forgotten minor modern stars like Don Tracy. But why Don Tracy, say, and not Dan Sherman? Why Richard E Geis but not his own favorite pulpster, Charles Runyon? One assumes that some of these people are Server's own favourites, or that occasionally he is doing some well-thought out slumming. And why is Dick Francis here at all? To appeal to the British market? Or just because he fits that most general definition up above? Why why why? My advice is, don't worry about answering such questions, just read, enjoy, and follow the linkage.

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