I recently spoke with another writer–specifically a science fiction writer–and used the word ‘pulp’. In context, I meant the kind of cheaply produced mass market fiction that is usually associated with detective novels and space operas. Because I used this particular word, I ended up entering a discussion about the history of science fiction that I had no business getting involved in.
I don’t know the history of science fiction, of how ‘pulp’ came before the ‘Golden Age’ or ‘New Wave’. I am not educated in these matters. I want to use the word ‘pulp’ to mean the kind of writing that has a singular plot without complexity or deviation of characters, like a hard boiled detective story full of clichés like fast cars and curvy women (usually femme fatales). When I say ‘pulp fiction’, I don’t mean the movie (though Tarantino captures my sentiment beautifully in relation), but those serialised stories in magazines that were printed on gray paper and left your fingers tainted black when reading through them. Cheap, hard, fast, not necessarily bad but certainly not complex stories. Chewing gum for readers.
As soon as I said the word ‘pulp’ and it was grabbed onto and challenged, I inwardly cringed. I’d had this conversation before and was left floundering, so I attempted to demonstrate my ignorance with ‘pulp’ by explaining ‘no, I don’t mean the science fiction period of history, I mean cheap, hard, fast stories.’ I was rewarded with an expression of dubiousness. It was only later when I thought of the ‘quickie’ metaphor for my version of pulp; “There’s no finesse to it but it gets the job done.”
Gauche, I know. But apt.