Tag: raygun gothic

Pulp Problems

Courtesy fuckyeahspaceship.tumblr.com

I’ve been struggling to put together the sci-fi serial I want to start. I’ve come at some concepts from a couple angles, but they’ve been either too derivative or too preachy. My desire to brush up a tried-and-true aspect of the sci-fi genre should not have ‘fixing Star Wars’ as an end goal. The end goal should be to tell a good story, right? Right. So why sci-fi adventure?

I think my attraction to it, other than nostalgia, is my appreciation of its narrative simplicity. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and John Carter are extremely similar stories in that an ordinary man is transported to an unfamiliar place and becomes an undisputed hero. They also draw very definite lines between good and evil. There’s a brevity to their construction I can’t help but appreciate. But at the same time, I realize that some of these tales are a bit too simple, and as much fun as they are for me, they don’t necessarily hold up.

I mean, let’s face it. I enjoy Captain America as an old-school adventure yarn, and personally find a straight-arrow character who’s unquestionably virtuous kind of refreshing in a cynical, morally gray world where every hero has to be tortured, conflicted, or shady in some way. However, I can’t deny that putting such a character up against a scientist so evil Hitler kicked him out of the Nazis is a bit laughable. There’s also the fact that his magical bottle superpowers don’t really cost him much, other than some friends dying or going missing, until he wakes up in the 21st century. He becomes, like Rogers and Gordon and Carter, a man out of his element, and sticking to his moral guns brings him into direct contact with many people around him. It’s a far more interesting and involving situation than the clear-cut black-and-white conflict that essentially created him.

The biggest problems with pulp, as far as I can see, are a lack of lasting consequences and the main character’s biggest flaw being they have no real flaws. If our hero is going to get flung across space and time, there should be culture shock involved beyond having to learn some new lingo. It also should not fall to the protagonist to suddenly be the entity to whom everyone turns to get their problems solved. Stories like Avatar (the movie), Dances with Wolves, and The Last Samurai all suffer due to this sort of character insertion. We also can’t have status quo being restored at the end of every week. As far as I’m concerned, in a good serial, the status is never quo. Even if there’s no immediate danger, there should be consequences that linger, situations that feel unresolved, words that go unspoken. How else can you keep the audience coming back for more?

I don’t want to base the story on concepts or gimmickry, though I’m certain the trappings will be there. I would like there to be a narrative through-line other than “Our hero wants to go home,” but I fear falling into one of the aforementioned traps. The shiny, adventurous atmosphere of the raygun gothic aesthetic still calls to me, but I can’t set out to fix what doesn’t work in other stories or try to transmit some kind of message. This needs to stand on its own, as all good writing does.

If you have any thoughts or comments on any of this, I’d love to hear them.

My Roots In Pulp

Courtesy fuckyeahspaceship.tumblr.com

When I was growing up there were plenty of books to be had in my house. My parents owned a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but that wasn’t what kept me up past my bedtime. I never read any of my mother’s paperback romance novels, either. No, for the most part I started by reading books by Paula Danzinger, the adventures of Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys, and flipping to the back of the newspaper for the latest Calvin & Hobbes. As I got a bit older, I found myself curious about a few dog-eared paperbacks my dad owned, penned by one Mickey Spillane. So I guess I really have him to thank for this writing thing I have going on. In addition to the book that got me juiced to write in the first place, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, he introduced me to a guy by the name of Mike Hammer.

Mike Hammer, a private detective and somewhat caustic fellow, is most often described as “hard-boiled.” His rage, violence and rather selfish outlook on life and the law are far more emphasized than in the likes of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. His influence can be felt throughout Frank Miller’s Sin City and in modern, more esoteric detectives like John Constantine and Harry Dresden. My curiosity about this form of storytelling is probably where my fascination with pulp really began.

This interest grew when I discovered Robert E. Howard and his musclebound sword and sorcery heroes, Conan and Kull. These blood-soaked tales were quite different from others I’d experienced growing up. In addition to the sex and violence, though, was the difference in protagonists between Conan and, say, Luke Skywalker. Like Mike Hammer, Conan was not a hero that I always liked. There were times he struck me as a complete selfish jerk. Thus pulp adventures introduced me to the concept of the unlikable protagonist.

But most of all, pulp showed me how concepts and settings that might seem weird in other, more straightforward works could be pulled off with bombast and appeal. Specifically, Flash Gordon’s world of Mongo and the Mars in which John Carter finds himself are filled with exotic aliens, dangerous creatures and shockingly beautiful women; in other words, they’re fantastic places to which many would love to escape. They showed me that no world is beyond creation, that with refinement even the most screwball idea can yield something interesting to read.

Time has passed and we live in an age that tends to be a bit more cynical and straight-faced, with such flights of fancy often looked upon as juvenile or even sophomoric. The failure of pulp-flavored adventures on film like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Sucker Punch haven’t helped matters. Call me sentimental, but I feel there’s still room for the pulp in which my fascination with writing is rooted today. I know I have enough on my plate as it is, but in the back of my brain there’s something going on involving rayguns and war rockets.

Then again, that could just be my daily coping mechanism.

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