Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Meeting Howard A. Jones at PulpRev.com

Over at Pulprev.com, a review of Zelazny's Jack of the Shadows introduced the PulpRev movement to Howard Andrew Jones, an earlier voice in reviving pulp sensibilities and sword and sorcery to fantasy. 

Mr Jones wrote:
I’m following the discussions of a pulp revival with great interest because it seems to dovetail a lot with what some of us have been trying to do for years with sword-and-sorcery, which was to hone it and give it a new edge. Chris Hocking, William King, Clint Werner and some other folks along with me were talking about that during the years I was involved with Flashing Swords and Black Gate. In some ways it seems like our interests overlap profoundly with those of this movement, but in other ways it feels like we have our borders in different places. 
When you write that Roger Zelazny doesn’t feel like pulp, I think you’re right in that he doesn’t feel much like The Shadow, or E.E. Doc Smith. But to me it’s more important if the author took root in the same rich soil and delivered some great storytelling thrills.
So what does the pulp revival search for? What defines it? Is there a manifesto of some kind? 
If you’re interested, here’s what we cooked up (my God, I’m getting old) back in 2008 on the old Black Gate forum page when we were discussing a new way to craft sword-and-sorcery. I’d be very interested to hear how it lines up with the goals/outlook of the new pulp movement. 
I’ve since updated my definition of sword-and-sorcery, here, which might make a better starting point to ensure we’re starting from the same standard of reference as to what we mean when talking about sword-and-sorcery. 
I took a moment to answer in the comments:
PulpRev started out of two distinct sources. One was Jeffro Johnson's survey of the Appendix N literary inspirations for Dungeons and Dragons, the other was "Cirsova's" dissatisfaction with the fiction of both sides of the Hugo Awards dust-up, which led to him publishing his own periodical of heroic fantasy short fiction. A bunch of us found that the older pulps and the Cirsova fantasies to be more satisfying than the current tradpub fiction, so we started to devour the pulps as inspiration for new works. 
A lot of this enthusiasm is still new-born. While a couple of us have attempted to distill some guidelines from the pulps, there are few real rules. Unlike newpulp, we don't want to be limited to pulp as a millieu, even if some of us do like pulp-punk or diesel-punk settings and write in that vein. Some of us even turn to the pulp-descendants of New Wave, wuxia/xianxia, and Japanese light novels for inspiration in addition to the classic days of the pulps. 
As for inspirations, the most common among the PulpRev are Burroughs, Merrit, C. L. Moore, R. E. Howard, and Leigh Brackett. But there's a large tapestry of pulp and pulp-descended works out there, so it seems like every month, someone new discovers a new writer who broadens the horizons on what pulp-style can be. 
If you haven't read these already, I'd recommend Thune's Vision by Schuyler Hernstrom, Cirsova Magazine, and StoryHack Magazine as examples of what PulpRev and fellow travelers are currently writing. 
I look forward to taking a closer look at your own experiences with sword and sorcery.
I do beg forgiveness of many of the PulpRev writers my suggestions might leave out. Mr. Jones likes sword and sorcery, so I tailored it accordingly.

Curious of how Mr. Jones attempted to define his new approach to sword and sorcery, I took a look at the first link. There, he lays out five goals:
1. We can find inspiration from the pulps without pastiching them. Specifically I mean setting aside the sexism and racism and the suspect politics, but embracing the virtues of great pulp storytelling: The color. The pace. The headlong thrill and sense of wonder. The celebration not of the everyday and the petty, but of those who dare to fight on when the odds are against them. 
2. We can create new characters. Not homages. And not ironic sendups. I would prefer to go a long time without seeing any more “comedy sword-and-sorcery.” 
3. We can craft exotic settings and/or settings that live - as in NOT faux Tolkien of faux Howard. We need to make our own worlds and look past the groundbreaking ideas that have now become limiting barriers set in place by Tolkien’s imitators and bookshelves stuffed with gaming manuals. 
4. We must restore the sense of fantastic. Once magic is banal or easy, once magic rings can be found at the corner market and wizards are everywhere, sense of wonder all-too-easily goes straight out the window. It may be possible to write good fantasy in such an environment, but it would be very challenging to craft good sword-and-sorcery there. 
5. We can check the irony at the door. Sure, humor and irony can be found in the world our characters walk, but we don’t need to write, as Martin Zornhau says, with “amused detatchment to revel in swordfights.” We should either embrace the genre or not, but we shouldn’t pretend to do so then try to excuse it to our literary friends by claiming it’s all just a joke and is really beneath us. Pfah.
I see PulpRev as harmonious with these ideas. We do want to bring some of the writing techniques of the pulps back, and since much of our inspiration is found in Weird Tales, to be honest, most of us have yet to grapple with the problems of the spicies, weird menace, and Yellow Peril. Personally, I'd like to see more of the chinoiserie and japonisme found in those days, but I am more critic than writer. As for not creating pastiches or retreads or ironic reinterpretations, we agree. We wish to take our turn in the Great Conversation instead of mimicking others like a myna bird. The exploration of the exotic and the sense of wonder/fantastic are key parts of what makes pulp pulp. And on poisonous irony, we agree as well. Restoring the sense of the fantastic means restoring the heroic, and to do so requires stepping away from ironic detachment and literary realism's fascination with the mundane.

As for comedy in sword and sorcery, I much prefer the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser that tried to be published in Wright's Weird Tales than the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser molded by Campbell's vision of fantasy. But on that, I won't dare speak for others.

I do hope that Mr. Jones may find PulpRev kindred spirits or fellow travelers in bringing back a little of that old time sword and sorcery.

1 comment:

  1. I think the pulprev differs on the first idea. I am not quite sure what he means by sexism, racism, and suspect politics, but for the most part pulprev doesn't think there is much in the classic material that fits that description. Good post though, and thank you for the link/trackback.