Isaac Asimov on adventure, pulp, and Shakespeare.

Besides sporting imposing sideburns and writing a few books, Isaac Asimov also lent his name to various magazines and products. One of them, mostly unknown compared to the more familiar Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, was Asimov’s Adventure Science Fiction Magazine. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived publication, with only four issues between late 1978 and late 1979.

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Gygax on post-70s fiction.

There is something missing in the big conversation about the current and future state of sff. Well, I’m sure there are many things, but I will focus on one.

Some of the people I read and follow claim that what is needed is to go back to the more pulpish roots of the genre, with AD&D’ Appendix N (not exactly pulp, but still, close enough) being a great starting point to know more about those now-forgotten or ignored classics. Some even read the editorials and interviews from old magazines to better understand the cultural zeitgeist of that era. Now, Appendix N may very well be a fundamental document of a bygone age, but it’s not like its author (Gary Gygax) died, struck down by a malignant curse in the prime of his life, just after penning his sacred doctrine.

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“But you ‘get’ a pulp story,” an interview with Hugh B. Cave.

Because the word “pulp” references the material on which those stories were published (compared to the “slicks,” for example) and not any specific genre or style (beyond the fact that all the stories attempted to be exciting -not a minor trait-) it is sometimes difficult to write about them without misrepresenting the whole phenomenon of the pulps, which was huge and encompassed at least three generations of authors. There is also the problem that most of the writers died many decades before our current literary and cultural controversies (or died too young,) or left the field once they could start writing in more prestigious circles.

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Why you should read “The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody”

“Peter [The Great] emancipated the Russian women, except those in his own family. He put them into convents.”


“He had the haunted look of the true humorist. All his friends loved him.”

cleopatra by William Steig
Cleopatra, by William Steig

I was 19 or so the first time I read ‘The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody,’ by Will Cuppy (1884-1949,) and I was so in love with it I decided to write something similar. I began collecting notes and writing little encyclopedic articles about, well, everything I could, in a style that combined (or tried) Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary‘s sarcasm and Cuppy’s own brand of comparatively more light-hearted humor. Then I read that it took Cuppy 16 years and 15.000 notes to write that book (and he didn’t even finish it,) so I decided to do something else with my time.

It’s a tragedy that Cuppy, crippled with increasing depression and the prospect of eviction from his apartment, committed suicide because his book became an instant best-seller when it got published (1950) just one year after his death. Not to mention that it’s one of the best books ever written.

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El narcisismo de las pequeñas diferencias.

Durante las Segunda Guerra Mundial, Alemania y Rusia se enfrentaron en un conflicto monstruoso, casi genocida. Décadas más tarde, los hijos y nietos de aquellos rusos van de vacaciones a Alemania y las relaciones entre ambos países son buenas. Durante esa misma guerra, EEUU arrasó Japón, pero apenas unos años más tarde los japoneses desarrollaron una poderosa fascinación por la cultura americana, y el recuerdo colectivo de destrucción se transformó en inspiración y mensaje de advertencia para películas sobre monstruos gigantes arrasando Tokio; todo ello apenas 9 años después de que aquello hubiera ocurrido de verdad. He conocido gente que ha tardado más en sobreponerse a un corazón roto.

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Space Invaders and Mr. Foulker’s glazed eyes.

There has never been a popular entertainment that has not been attacked on moral (but shaky) grounds. Popular being the key word since the content is only secondary and moral guardians usually skim over it until they see something “problematic” enough to create the desired controversy out of thin air. There have probably been moral panics about what people read, listened, saw, or played since someone painted on the walls of his cave a bunch of stick figures engaged in something problematic or violent, but the 19th century was a defining moment. Literacy rates went up and, for the first time, masses of people could -and wanted- to read, and usually not what the intellectual elite wanted them to read. So, the penny dreadfuls and the dime novels appeared (and the chapbook before them); cheap books of adventure, romance, pirates, proto-science fiction, fantasy, detectives, criminals, with a lot of fighting and unapologetic masculinity. Many were sold by the hundreds of thousand and were the bestsellers of that time, but they were also the predecessors of most of what we now would describe as popular culture.

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