What do Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard, and Fahrenheit 451 all have in common? Pulps! Earlier in their lives, both Louis L’Amour and Elmore Leonard wrote stories for these fiction magazines. Today, they are bestselling authors. Before Fahrenheit 451 was made into a movie, it was a story that appeared in the pulps. Same with Conan. Before Arnold Schwarzennegger brought Conan to life on the big screen, the barbarian was a character who got his start in the pulps.
In his eight-page introduction, Frank M. Robinson provides a timeline for the life of the pulps. Originally created as a family magazine with many genres in each issue, an editor at Street and Smith transformed it into a specialized magazine. Nick Carter Stories became Detective Story Magazine. Westerns, romance, and sea stories followed.
Frank M. Robinson, who also wrote Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines (with Lawrence Davidson), briefly discusses some popular genres, titles, authors and characters. While providing this information, dates are given for when genres or titles started - when they became popular, and when and why they came to an end. In the mid 1930s, “spicy” magazines started selling. When local governments intervened, changes were made and sales dwindled, bringing the heyday of the pulps to an end in the mid-1940s. In addition, males being drafted brought about dips in readership, as was the case in the horror genre.
In the remaining pages that follow the introduction, the covers speak for themselves. The artists could certainly reach their audience and entice them to hand over a little money in exchange for an escape. Frank M. Robinson states that it was the stories inside that made the pulps successful, too. He writes about many authors of the time - Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett, and the most prolific author of the pulps, Frederick Faust. His most famous character was Dr. Kildare. Robinson concludes with the death of the pulps, and what the authors and publishers tried next. The Rockford Files and Perry Mason have ties back to the pulps. Robert Leslie Bellem started writing scripts for Perry Mason, and Roy Huggins, another pulp writer, was responsible for The Rockford Files.
Chapter 1-4 are broken down into Science Fiction, Horror, Mystery, and Adventure and Western covers. Pulp fiction magazine covers are shown close-up and in detail. If the artist is known, the name is listed, as well as the date of the pulp and the title. The dates range from the 1920s to the 1950s. It is interesting to see examples of the first pulp, Argosy, or to see a few familiar names on a pulp cover. A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury can be read in the January 1954 issue of Planet Stories. He also has a story in the April 1943 issue of Super Science Stories.
By the 1950s, the pulps were finished, but you can still relive those times by finding the originals. Some are worth thousands of dollars today. For just a little taste of those times, this is a great book. Seeing the covers is nostalgic. Great covers sell books today; as they did many years ago. It’s unfortunate that at the time, some thought of pulps as “that trash you're reading." I hear the same about comics and graphic novels today, and it makes me sad. Both are examples of a unique style of writing and illustrating that make stories and imagination come to life - for all ages.