Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pulp Affliction

Title: The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps
Editor: Otto Penzler
Bookmark: one I've used before.

The back cover claims that this is "the biggest, the boldest, the most comprehensive collection of pulp writing ever assembled!" Let's examine those claims.

Biggest: It's paperback, printed on the thinnest paper available without actually being transparent tissue, and still the size of a major city's telephone book. You could prop a door open with this thing, or hold your car in place while changing the tire. It has over a thousand pages. Yes, it's huge.

Boldest: I'm really not sure how to address this, especially because my only other taste of pulps was a couple books from roughly the same era, and I'm not even sure they count. Perhaps the boldness is more in claiming that some of these stories are worth reading, but each is preceded by a page giving some history of the author, the story, the pulp magazine in which it was published, or the era itself. Many of those forewords note that the following story appeared in one of the publications that paid writers half a cent per word (the best offered ten cents per word) for the stories, and the quality was a reflection of the price, so this book is at least more honest about its contents than the pulp magazines ever were.

Most Comprehensive: No arguing that. It ranges from Hammett, Chandler, and Gardner (including one Hammett story never published before) to several authors on which the editor could find no information whatsoever. They may have been pseudonyms for someone better known , or simply a nobody who happened to get one story published before disappearing again into obscurity. The book makes no claims to include only high-quality stuff, and even pokes a little fun at some of the poorer stories (and the magazines that ran them). Sometimes, the bad stories were just as entertaining because they were so very bad.

Occasionally, I was bored out of my mind. Usually, it was entertaining. Once, I had to take a break of two or three months because I was so saturated with pulp nonsense that I had to take a break and read something lighter. It took me well over a year--probably closer to two--to finish the damn thing, and it's far too big to stash in a coat pocket or purse for airport or beach use, but if you want something to keep by the bed for a while, it's perfect.

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posted by reyn at 9:43 PM


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