With the explosion and growing popularity of the New Pulp movement, the vast changes in
the world of publishing have also made it possible – and profitable – to
reprint collections of many of the original pulp series, which once graced the
newsstands behind lurid, eye-catching covers.
Revered pulp historian Ed Hulse has stated there were over
1,100 individual pulp magazines published during the pulp heyday from the ‘20s
through the ‘50s, with each of those titles published either weekly, bi-weekly,
or monthly, with each containing ten to a dozen stories in each issue. I’d need
a calculator and a slide rule to do the math, but let’s just say that’s a lot
For the new reader curious as to what the fuss is all about,
it can be hard to know where to start.
The problem with the hug mass of original pulp and even the large number
of current reprints is much of it is dross – forgettable filler published
simply to feed the voracious demand.
There is also a lot of average tales – readable, but not strong enough
to explain the lasting legacy of pulp.
However, there are also – certainly – enough stories and
characters with the spark of brilliance to justify that lasting legacy. The
problem for the discerning pulp neophyte is to be able to pluck it from the
current swirling pulp whirlwind.
While other pulpsters will wax eloquently about the
justifiable popularity of the hero pulps – featuring such characters as The
Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Tarzan, and more – my own expertise and
enjoyment comes from those pulps featuring stories from the high adventure genre. The reigning pulp
titles in the field were Argosy,
Adventure, and Short-Story.
Collections of tales from these magazines highlight the best of the best in
both authors and characters. For a reader looking to escape into thrilling
adventures set in faraway locals, here are a few solid starting points.
Black Dog Books, one of the premiere publishers of pulp
reprints in beautifully bound trade-paperbacks, has produced two volumes (with
more to follow) featuring The Best of
Adventure magazine. Edited by Doug Ellis, these collections include stories
by the best of the best – Talbot Mundy, H. Bedford-Jones, Rafael Sabatini, and
many other writer who were once household names. Volume 1 contains one of the
single greatest pulp adventure yarns, Talbot Mundy’s, The Soul of a Regiment, which never fails to give me chills every
time I read it.
The second volume of The
Best of Adventure includes The
Getting of Boh Na-Ghee, a cracking story set in Burma by Gordon MacCreah. Known
for the verisimilitude of his African set stories, MacCreah’s expertise has
been captured by another top notch pulp-centric publisher, Altus Books, who
have reprinted a two volume collection featuring MacCreah’s most popular
character Kingi Bwana.
The Lost End of
Nowhere: The Complete Tales of Kingi Bwana Volume 1 and Unprofitable Ivory: The Complete Tales of
Kingi Bwana Volume 2 unleash the magic behind the words, “Anything can
happen in Africa!” Big game hunter, trader and safari guide King, known all
over the Dark Continent as Kingi Bwana, together with his two loyal companions
– the deadly Masai warrior Barounggo and the wizened, cunning Hottentot Kaffa –
battle slave traders, ivory poachers, gold smugglers, arms traffickers, evil
witch doctors, and secret societies in the savanna and jungle of Central East
Africa. These stories, tempered by the author’s firsthand knowledge of Africa
transport the reader to a world long vanished.
I’ve only just discovered the tales of Kingi Bwana myself,
but I enjoyed and was fascinated by every tale. I also found them surprisingly
modern in the main character’s attitude and treatment of indigenous Africans
and scorn for the trappings of the British overlords.
Some of my personal pulp favorites are the Foreign Legion
stories from the battered typewriter of Theodore Roscoe. Altus Press has produced four volumes to give
us The Complete Adventures of Thibaut
Corday and the Foreign Legion. The stories in Better than Bullets (volume 1), Toughest
in the Legion (volume 2), The Heads
of Sergeant Baptiste (volume 3), and The
Kid and the Cutthroats (volume 4) are all narrated by the ancient and
querulous Foreign Legion campaigner Thibaut Corday. Corday spends his days
smoking and drinking in small French cafes until he is nudged into spinning
another fantastical yarn about his life as a Legionnaire. One of my favorites
is The Wonderful Lamp of Thibaut Corday,
a variation on the story of Aladdin’s lamp which had me on the edge of my seat.
There are many other pulp reading choices out there, but the
above titles will give anyone a feel for the genre along with a quickening of
their pulse and a longing for adventures of their own.