Pulp Fiction Worlds


October 9, 2012 by bck1402

It’s been a while since the last entry. Okay, no, it wasn’t but since I accidentally started the last one the same way as the previous one, I might as well go three for three.

I recently picked up a new book, “Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan” by Robin Maxwell.  As the title suggests, it’s a new take on the legend of Tarzan, but from the perspective of Jane Porter. There’s more about her life as well. This project was realised almost in conduction with the celebration of 100 years of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Outside of readers, I figure most people would be familiar with Burroughs through the recent “John Carter” movie which did feature a character called Edgar Rice Burroughs at the opening and closing of the movie. Burroughs was a pulp adventure writer, chronicling adventures of macho men in strange lands that were mostly unknown or unexplored. It also got me thinking a little.

Given the age we’re in where information is at our fingertips, could such writers have found success they way they did decades ago? It was probably around the mid 70s when we learned that there really was no life on Mars as one might have read in the years earlier. Not the aliens invading on tripods, not the Red Martians or White Apes or Green Tharks, not they who were ‘dark and golden eyed’, not Valentine Smith. But it’s not just Mars, but other planets or other worlds. The idea of the space adventure sort of fell by the wayside as we became more knowledgable.

Aside from Star Wars – which I view more as Space Fantasy than Sci-Fi (it really does start with a variation on “Once Upon A Time, in a land Far Far Away…”) – I can’t really think of any really out there space adventure that was really successful. Okay, some might cite TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica, or even Firefly (definitely in the same spirit) and many other anime series. But could audiences today get with Flash Gordon, or Buck Rogers, or Commander Cody? Could we still accept some space adventure where all the hero needed to fight in space was a fish-bowl helmet, a jet-pack and a ray gun? Could Ray Bradbury get away with The Martian Chronicles if he had written them in in the 90s? These were stories of adventure and wonder. Speculative Sci-Fi, if you will.

Modern science fiction is a little more based on current research, of course, building a more probable future world as the setting. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, The Martians) chronicles the colonisation and eventual terraforming of Mars over centuries. His new book, “2312” has a majority of planets and moons throughout our solar system colonised. He even has a city on Mercury, constantly moving to stay on the dark side, away from the Sun. There aren’t a lot of pulp-like heroes anymore. The times have just moved on.

Although, something should be said about Warren Ellis’ Planetary (art by John Cassaday, colours by Laura Martin). Ellis’ take on the pulp heroes, the passing of their worlds and transition into the current is a loving tribute, in my eyes. He handles every genre throughout literature, comics and movies beautifully, taking on the archetypes as well as some significant characters that are in public domain (Holmes and Dracula being significant). If you’ve never tried comics and are looking for a way in, this is a pretty good place to start.

Meanwhile, don’t really know when I’m going to get around to reading the new book since I’m slowly working my way through China Mieville’s “Kraken“.


3 thoughts on “Pulp Fiction Worlds

  1. […] So with Depp’s backing and his desire to bring a fresh new angle to Tonto, The Lone Ranger began its journey back to the big screen. Depp would rope in Jerry Bruckheimer to produce and Gore Verbinski (who worked with Depp on the Pirates trilogy as well as Rango) to direct. And my expectations ran high. I love my pulp heroes. […]

  2. pcawdron says:

    Hmm… pulp heroes… you make a good point. We naturally gravitate to “the hero” but more and more our society revolves around teams rather than individuals. And not just in sports. M Theory, as an example, arose from the reasoning of a few key physicists but has required a team effort to progress. Perhaps there’s a little bit of the team effort in Star Wars as well, and the lone hero like Flash Gordon is a relic from a bygone era. It’s interesting to ponder. Thanks for the post.

    • bck1402 says:

      I don’t think the lone hero is completely gone, and we did have a lot of those types in the 90s onwards (see Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, etc.). James Bond in particular is still very much the lone wolf as is the upcoming Jack Reacher, who has several adventurous books. It’s just that they are still very much ‘real-world’ type ‘heroes’. Skyfall does make the attempt to argue about Bond’s relevance in today’s world (if you haven’t seen it – not a spoiler, just something you might notice in the movie. Look under my Review Links for my thoughts on the movie).

      But, yeah- the pulp heroes of yesterday can’t seem to find their place today. The Shadow can’t keep up with Batman. Doc Savage isn’t as recognisable as Indiana Jones. And Flash Gordon hasn’t really gotten past that campy (but fun in a really silly way) 80s movie with the Queen music.

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