If you’ve been reading closely, you’ll no doubt have noticed that my posts have all been about older characters and writers, most of which are in the public domain. My experience with pulp has mostly been with the original era. However, there have been several anthologies since the beginning of the 21st Century that have caught my eye.
In the early 2000s Michael Chabon, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, saw a need to collect modern short stories in the pulp tradition. His influences in his earlier novels clearly included pulp authors, and Chabon said as much in interviews. The result of his push to bring about more appreciation for pulp literature was 2003’s McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. Chabon collected works from pulp-y authors like Stephen King, Michael Moorcock, and more literary elites like Dave Eggers and Neil Gaiman, among others, and pushed out a collection of contemporary pulp literature the likes of which hadn’t been seen in awhile. I am particularly a fan of Gaiman’s “Closing Time,” with its ambiguity over who is telling the tale and its connection to the Diogenes Club, the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s a framing story, and such stories within stories are ones I find particularly entertaining.
A year later Chabon published another collection by many of the same authors, with the focus more on 1950s ray-gun science fiction. Titled McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, the book does deliver on its promise. It does include a couple of great stories by Stephen King (“Lisey and the Madman,” an early version of what would eventually become the novel Lisey’s Story) and Peter Straub, but like its predecessor it includes literary heavyweights like Margaret Atwood and China Mieville. Atwood hates being included in the genre world and refuses to acknowledge her science fiction leanings, but it’s as clear here as it is in The Handmaid’s Tale, and Mieville, who embraces the science fiction genre, doesn’t quite fit into pulp fiction either. Even so, both this and the previous collection are worth reading.
On the heels of Chabon’s collections, comic book writer and novelist Chris Roberson put out his own anthology in 2005 called Adventure Vol. 1. It was supposed to be an annual publication, but after the initial issue there was nothing else communicated by the publisher, Roberson’s own Monkeybrain Books, which is a shame as this collection, while not having quite the name recognition of McSweeney’s, does include a tale by Michael Moorcock and a few genre authors like Kim Newman and Lou Anders, whose names should be familiar to enthusiasts of scifi and fantasy. The first story is by Mike Resnick and is essentially a parody of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which is amusing, but it doesn’t hold up well upon rereading. My favorite stories are Chris Nakashima Brown’s “Ghulistan Bust-out,” which marries contemporary soldier fiction with paranormal entities and a call back to Robert Howard, and O’Neil de Noux’s “Silence of the Sea,” the tale of an explorer in the vein of Allan Quatermain mapping out a distant planet, with call backs to H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
While these anthologies are already 10 to 15 years old, pulp didn’t recede in that time. In fact, it seems to have grown. We know we aren’t publishing in isolation, and as both producers and consumers of pulp, we’re super stoked that there is renewed interest in these kinds of stories.