Pulp fiction museum
by S. T. Karnick
When one thinks of pulp fiction, what tends to think of the tawdry, ultraviolent, oversexed, nonsensical style represented by the Quentin Tarantino movie of the same name. Actually, the truth about pulp fiction--the inexpensive, popular magazines that thrived on newsstands between the two world wars--is quite different. The pulp magazines were an incredibly varied lot, incorporating detective stories, science fiction, Westerns, adventures, "weird menace" tales, war stories, hero tales, sports stories, supernatural horror, "spicy" (meaning sexy) stories in nearly all those genres, and much, much more.
The variety of fiction on offer at that time is truly staggering to contemplate today, a half-century later, but what it all had in common was a certain wholesomeness. The pulps were often wild, weird, and full of depictions of cruelty and perversity, and the "spicy" ones were surprisingly explicit, but the authors were always on the side of the good guys, either openly or implicitly. That, of course, is a definite contrast to prose fiction and movies today, where the authors' sympathies so often lie with the perpetrators of evil, even in these supposedly less cynical, post-September 11 times.
As a result, there is a large subculture of people today who buy second-hand copies of the original pulp fictions, read reprints or electronic texts of the stories, or enjoy new stories written in the same vein as the pulps. One publisher who specializes in reprinting forgotten works of the past, including many pulp stories, is James A. Rock and Company, located in Maryland (www.rockpublishing.com) and established in 1973 though increasingly active of late. Rock's specialty is inexpensive editions of out-of-print books that are quite pricey in their earlier editions if you can find them at all. His roster is quite eclectic, ranging from several excellent science fiction anthologies (such asMartianthology and Womanthology) edited by Forrest Ackerman to a reprint of John McAleer's biography of the author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life.
Rock also offers the top companion to the Wolfe tales, At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout, by J. Kenneth Van Dover. Other mystery classics offered include collections of stories by Arthur Morrison (one of Doyle's foremost competitors) and the quirky turn-of-the-century tale-spinner Grant Allen. Ars�ne Lupin Versus Holmlock Shears collects two of the famous fictional French gentleman-burglar's amusing confrontations with a very thinly disguised Sherlock Holmes. Lupin is a fascinating character who should not be forgotten, one of the very first of many good-hearted, stolid, immensely clever heroes who just happened to be on the wrong side of the law.
From the same era are the eerie fiction classic Claimed, by Francis Stevens, and Historic Boys and Historic Girls, both by E. S. Brooks, in which the author tells stories of real-life boys and girls "who influenced historical events through courage, perseverance, and fortitude." When your kids complain about practicing the piano or having to clean up their rooms, you might place a copy of one of these in their hands. The nineteenth-century French historical romance The Days of Chivalry: or, the Legend of Croquemitaine, with copious, delightful illustrations by Gustave Dor�, may have a similar effect.
As is evident from the examples mentioned here, Rock's publications are fairly wholesome, and clearly the publisher enjoys bringing to modern readers books he likes and considers too valuable to let fall entirely into the du