Penzler Pick, November 2001: Pulp magazines reigned for about a quarter of a century as the most popular entertainment medium in America. They were cheaply produced and, during the Great Depression, were blessedly cheap to buy, generally a dime.
And they were plentiful. After a low-key beginning, when a few magazines displayed their tasteful covers to an appreciative readership, their success spawned countless competitors. The covers became more and more garish, and promised ever greater excitement. Western covers went from an illustration of an Indian gently paddling his canoe to furious cattle stampedes, a huge gang of obviously ferocious savages attacking a defenseless family, and depictions of shootouts in every conceivable locale. Mystery covers went from showing a cop on the beat to villainous thugs tearing the clothes off a helpless young woman (most frequently a generously endowed young blonde) or any other sort of action that promised the reader endless excitement.
And they delivered. Pulp writers knew how to write thrilling stories and books. Many of the best went on to extremely successful careers in book form. Dashiell Hammett wrote most of his stories and novels for the pulps, and he is now recognized as one of the most influential fiction writers of the 20th century. Raymond Chandler, too, wrote stories for the pulps and is frequently conceded to be the great mystery writer of the 20th century.
Pulps became more and more specialized as their numbers increased, soon appealing to fans of jungle stories, science fiction, fantasy, railroad stories, romances, Westerns, Western romances, aviation, the Foreign Legion, engineering, the outdoors, courtrooms, Wall Street, newspapers, firefighters, and so on. Now there is a new book that recalls that Golden Age of the pulp magazines (roughly 1920-1945) with a knowledgeable and nicely written text that covers all the highlights of the major magazines and the major writers, who are sometimes remembered today and, alas, sometimes not.
And there are those fabulous covers! Magnificently produced in Hong Kong, Pulp Culture is a genuine bargain. Here are the Shadow, Max Brand, Talbot Mundy, Erle Stanley Gardner, Black Mask, Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu, C.S. Forester, and Captain Horatio Hornblower, Doc Savage, the Phantom Detective, and on and on.
For the old codgers among us, this gorgeous book will produce a happy trip down memory lane. Younger readers, eat your heart out. It will show you what you missed in a time of great storytelling that today's television shows can't ever match. --Otto Penzler [via]