Archive for the ‘Pulp Fiction’ Category

There’s a reason that Black Mask is/was the premier pulp mystery magazine for so long. It had the best. In the introduction to A Cent A Story! The Best from Ten Detective Aces, editor Garyn G. Roberts makes the case that Ten Detective Aces magazine was cutting edge at the time. Well, based on the 10 stories in this anthology, it is nowhere near cutting edge.


Debuting in 1928 and originally entitled The Dragnet and changed to Detective-Dragnet Magazine and ultimately to Ten Detective Aces in 1933, Roberts states that “…a small detective pulp debuted which would in its own way substantially mold the form for detectives to come.” “…and for his dime, the reader got ten fast-paced mysteries, complete in each issue.” Only a cent a story!

True, the anthology does contain stories by some of the pulp greats: Norvell Page, Lester Dent, Frederick C. Davis. However, if you are looking for hard boiled mystery, gritty, noir, the stuff of Hammett and Chandler, you won’t find it in A Cent A Story! The stories are strange, off beat, which is OK. It just isn’t my cup of tea.

I love everything mystery pulp and am glad I read this, but if you’re a novice in the pulp mystery genre and want to start slow, I’d suggest The Black Mask Boys: Masters in the Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction edited by William F. Nolan with eight great stories or The Hardboiled Dicks edited by Ron Goulart.

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PulpFictionThe New York Times is sponsoring a Pulp Fiction Contest, as outlined in the article below:


Here is my very lame entry:

Ed Goldberg

The Man in the Moon’s cynical smirk was obliterated by the dark clouds lying low in the sky, making the night as black and thick as the sludge in the Gowanus. I was peering out of my grit streaked third floor window waxing philosophical on life, love and where to go for dinner. The yellow cone of light from the street lamp cast its halo on a man shuffling down the opposite side of the street. His features were concealed but from the hesitating gait and the peering into windows, I knew he brought trouble. The shrill ring of the phone jolted me from my reverie. Her sensuous voice, all velvety smooth despite an underlying hysteria, summoned me uptown immediately. I gulped the last finger of bourbon, pocketed my trusty .38 and grabbed my rumpled fedora. Little did I know how long and dark this night was going to be.




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Here are a few things I learned from Danger is My Business by Lee Server.DangerIsMyBusiness

1. Joseph Shaw, the man credited for making Black Mask the premier mystery pulp magazine was the only person in New York licensed to carry a sword cane. Yes, he had a sword hidden in his cane.

2. The following characters originated in the pulps: Tarzan, Conan, Hopolong Cassidy, the Shadow and Perry Mason.

3. There as actually a sport called Auto Polo. Per Wikipedia: “Auto Polo was a motorsport invented in the United States with rules and equipment similar to equestrian polo but using automobiles instead of horses. The sport was popular at fairs, exhibitions and sports venues across the United States and several areas in Europe from 1911 until the late 1920s; but it was dangerous and carried the risk of injury and death to the participants and spectators.”

4. The following famous authors got their start in the pulps: Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Louis L’Amour and Erle Stanley Gardner.

5. An author who got his start in the pulps wrote the well known book They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

6. An assistant editor for the pulp Adventure was the first person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Who was it? Sinclair Lewis!

Although the title of the book implies that it is about the mystery pulps, it really covers the gamut from sci-fi to romance to adventure to mystery. Danger provides a short, readable history of the pulps, mentioning titles, authors, companies, etc. It has some anecdotes, some writing samples and a whole bunch of interesting trivia.

This is a must for pulp fiction fans.


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PulpFictionI was listening to the rain coming streaming down as I was finishing Cheap Thrills: The Amazing! Thrilling! Astonishing! History of Pulp Fiction (also known as An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine) by Ron Goulart. It wasn’t the flash flood thunder storms that seem to be typical of this year. Rather it was the steady stream of rain, like it’s supposed to be. I love that sound. However, it is irrelevant to this post. It’s just an aside.

I’ve said this several times in this blog, there are two components to the pulp fiction of the 1920s to 1950s. One is the incredible writing and the other is the incredible artwork. While each of the two books mentioned here relay the history of pulp fiction, Cheap Thrills concentrates on the writing while The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines by Peter Haining concentrates on the artwork. They each also illustrate the copycat mentality of pulp publishers. If one type of pulp magazine is doing well, say hard boiled mystery, then every other pulp publisher attempted to copy the format. And if one is not doing well, publishers did not hesitate to abandon it for something else.The-Classic-Era-of-American-Pulp-Magazines-9781556523892

Cheap Thrills covers most of the genre types such as soldier of fortune, detective, science fiction, western, horror, concentrating on the major successes such as Tarzan, Doc Savage and the Shadow. Mention, however, is also made of some of the less successful attempts. Goulart also includes reminiscences from some of the writers, editors and publishers of the time.

Goulart, as does Haining, emphasizes that many of todays acclaimed writers started in pulps, such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett. Goulart gives many examples of their writing, such as Walter Gibson writing The Shadow:

“Long Island Sound lay blanketed with a dense, sullen mist. From the shore, the heavy fog appeared as a grimy mass of solid blackness. The scene was one of swirling, impenetrable night, for not a gleam of light disturbed the omnipresent darkness.

No eye would have discerned the spot where the shore ceased and the water began. The rocks beside the beach were invisible, and so was the man who stood near them. The only token of his presence was the sound of his slow, steady breathing, broken by the low, impatient growls that came muffled from his throat.”

Great Writing!

Haining, on the other hand, provides tons of examples of both the interior black and white and exterior color artwork. I wish I could provide an example here but I haven’t really found any on the internet. He discusses the artists, their backgrounds and their techniques. He discusses the trend to mildly seductive scantily clad women on the covers, run-ins with the law regarding the illustrations and the reversal of that trend. Each artist had his/her own style—yes there were a handful of women in the field.

Haining, too, mentions the various genres and the related illustrations. One genre not really covered by Cheap Thrills but discussed in The Classic Era is Spicy pulps. There were Spicy Mysteries and Spicy Romance and Spicy Westerns. A little titillation for America’s male species of the era. Obviously, the cover art mimicked (to some extent) the stories inside.

To sum it up, I can’t get my fill of pulp era writing, primarily mysteries and cover art. The Classic Era and Cheap Thrills are great additions to any pulp aficionado’s collection.

My next pulp mystery? The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Let’s see how it compares to the movie with William Powell and Myrna Loi.


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Here’s what you learn when you read about pulp fiction:

1. The Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback who was the publisher of several science fiction pulp magazines. From the Hugo Award site itself:

Why are they called Hugos?

The Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, a famous magazine editor who did much to bring science fiction to a wider audience. Gernsback founded Amazing Stories, the first major American SF magazine, in 1926. He is widely credited with sparking a boom in interest in written SF. In addition to having the Hugo Awards named after him he has been recognized as the “Father of Magazine SF” and has a crater on the Moon named after him.

2. The illustrator, Earle Bergey was the ‘inventor of the brass brassiere’, as shown in the cover of Startling Stories.BrassBrassiere

3. You get to read this kind of prose: “Tony’s admiring eyes swept over the ivory columns of her legs and the gracious swell of her young hips.” These were written by Noel Barrow in his story His Midnight Moll as published in Snappy Detective Mysteries.

The-Classic-Era-of-American-Pulp-Magazines-9781556523892So, if you’d like to learn more about pulp fiction of the 1920s to 1950s, I highly recommend you read Classic Era of American Pulp Magazine. Who knows what interesting bits of trivia you might unearth.


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