Why pulp fiction is inauthentic (The ACU theory of literature)

I’m going to be a little fancy today.  I got into a “get off my lawn” type argument at the blog of a guy who really digs pulp fiction and midcentury sci-fi.  This led to someone else making a post about some of my comments here.  Ultimately the whole thing is a little inside baseball, as is typical for neophyte literary movements, but the back and forth made me realize why I was so crabby at all about the “Pulp Revolution” and all that.

It’s that pulp fiction is inauthentic and thus if you think it’s the only worthwhile fiction to model your more current fiction writing upon, you will end up in an even more inauthentic place and be less popular and interesting than original pulp and pulp-like genre fiction.  And that’s where the Pulp Revolution (also goes by PulpRev) and similar folks like Superversive are.  They are enamored of pulp fiction because their ideological enemies (SJWs and other ultra liberal types) think all pulp fiction scummy and gross and they found some that was pretty good reading and entertaining so they feel like “TAKE THAT SJWS PULP FICTION IS ACTUALLY ULTRA KEEN FABBO”.

This is mostly false.

To explain why I’m going to introduce my own “three-legged stool” theory of successful literature.  The three legs are authenticity, craft and universality, or the ACU of the post title.  Authenticity is, I suppose, literary qualia, how real-feeling the fiction seems to the reader.  A highly authentic work will typically be pretty universal in appeal and thus quite popular.  There are exceptions, but the more authentic, the more relatively successful and universal/crossover-friendly the work is likely to be.

Craft is, well, craft.  You can get pretty far into the inauthentic end of authenticity and still reach a relatively larger audience just by upping your craft game.  *cough Margaret Atwood cough*.   But pure craft is not enough.  There are a lot of prettily written fiction works that can’t reach a larger audience because they describe a world too inauthentic and non-universal for readers to connect with.

Universality is pretty obvious.  I may not like J.K. Rowling, but she is essentially beyond-pulp, doing what pulp writers did in subverting conventional literature, but retaining a sense of true authenticity of experience that readers could latch on to.  She integrated decades of popular, universal literary tropes and character types with modern touches and achieved something both authentic and fairly universal, with an above average degree of craft.  Her work, whatever one might say about her as a person or celebrity, is an example of all three legs being firmly represented.

And yet, there is a bit of pulpishness to the Harry Potter world.  The reason regular old pulp fiction is inauthentic is because it can’t be sufficiently universal.  It was formed in a specific time and place thematically and that means it describes a world a bit too private to break out of the genre cage.  And this is obvious with any pulp fiction that achieved popularity in the mainstream.  It was beyond-pulp, pushing aside the narrow scope to do something more authentic and often also more universal.

Instead of scrabbling in the dusty pages of pulp magazines trying to defend a good line or two in badly written and not very interesting pulp story after pulp story (this is a frequent occurrence at the Castalia House blog, though it does cover a broad range of topics), I guess I expected pulp fiction rediscoverers to move forward from the pulp fiction that was a little more authentic and thus a little (sometimes a lot) less pulp.  I thought they’d go look at mainstream fiction of its day, much of which wildly outsold pulp authors in general and rediscover the whole package, not just the seamy crumbs at the bottom of the package.  Robert Howard had craft, and he sometimes achieved a relatively higher level of authenticity and in his most famous creation he found a moderate degree of universality.  But in general his work was not solidly three-legged ACU fiction.  Cordwainer Smith, a favorite of mine, is nevertheless inauthentic because his world was a little too private to be universal-enough for mass popularity.  Deeply strange, profoundly intimate, but ultimately closed-off and full of private humor and emotion inaccessible to most readers.

Pulp fiction, and genre writing as a whole, are such that very good examples will not read quite like the norms for the genre and the best examples will expand the scope of or otherwise break out of the genre’s convention.

This is, of course, quite open to discussion.





February reading update

I read 12 books for this month.  Two were from a trilogy very popular with Cure fans, four were a super cool post-apocalyptic maritime series with far future Franco-Asians who’ve mastered wind power and Islamic pirates and fightin’ Africans, three were novellas about a very cheesy but amusingly chaste “Master Thief”, one was from the military science fiction series There Will Be War, Castalia reissues.  One was book two in a cute, fairly clean new series called Magebreakers (book one is fun and cute too) and to make a round dozen, I also read a book strictly for the premise.  That one is about far-future humans being flung back in time to the Viking era of the 9th century or so and having to build a spaceship, somehow, for the future.  The guy got people to Kickstarter for it and I will be buying books 2 and 3, when he puts them out, just to see if they build that spaceship.


The current count is 22 down, 78 to go. I’ve also taken up reading the Bible near daily.  I’m still working on a target I can hit every day, but of late I have only missed a day and easily recovered from it rather than falling behind a week or more and feeling overwhelmed.

January reading update

I read 10 books for this month.  Seven were Sherlock Holmes, one was a Clifford Simak collection of four novellas, one was a very weird 1960s short story anthology I bought strictly for a story I can’t read online in full anymore, and one was non-fiction, The Art of the Deal.

Sherlock Holmes was very modern in a lot of ways and extremely refreshing stylistically.  Clifford Simak was ok, but I remembered why I never got into completionist mode with his work.  It’s weak on characterization and doesn’t have a lot of zing.

The short story anthology was very, very, very, very, very 1960s.  It was, except for the story I bought it for (“The Dance of the Changer and the Three”, available partially online due to link rot) and perhaps one other story, totally full of the laddishness the recently deceased Ursula LeGuin criticized.  I can live with that kind of stuff in my sci-fi now and again, but it’s also good there’s a lot less of it these days.

The Art of the Deal was really fascinating as a look into the mind of someone who is nerdy in ways that I am nerdy.

So current count is 10, 90 to go.



Reading goals for 2017

It’s a new year, and for people who read, that always means making a fresh new reading action plan.  I used to make big lists of books, but then I only ended up reading a few on the list and reading dozens of others instead.  So now I stick to straight numbers.

Read 60 books to the end last year, ranging from pamphlet sized to doorstopper sized.

This year I think I’ll try for a clear hundred.  The twist is that I hope only 1/5 are ebooks.  I went ebook heavy last year when I got tired of reading like 1960 hadn’t arrived and wanted to read something modern and fresh.  Which led to me reading a bunch of 70s and 80s ebooks, lol.  I did stumble into a couple of interesting new authors writing fresh recently published books, though.

Anyway I’m back to old stuff again, because I got some ancient tomes for Christmas gifts and they are delightful.  I guess I’m making this post so I remember to do a monthly update.

Happy New Year!


What I’ve been reading

I recently finished the D’Artagnan Romances. which consist of The Three (Scandalous) Musketeers, Twenty Years After and Vicomte De Bragelonne.  The last one is around 2000 pages and usually split up into three books called Vicomte De Bragelonne, Louise de la Valliere and The Man in the Iron Mask.  The evolution of the Musketeers from rascally 20somethings to middle-aged men to men just waiting to retire and/or die is quite fascinating.  And there is lots of drama and intrigue and action.  And something like 3500 pages total.

I am currently beginning the very long journey that is reading the unabridged (and also steam coming off the 1200+ pages “mature”) Count of Monte Cristo.

I also read some Dorothy Sayers, a couple of memoirs by a 1940s housewife and Winnie the Pooh.  I read all of Narnia, and The Last Unicorn, which is truly magical.

I’m still working on Maria Montessori’s pedagogy.

I have also been reading some demographic analysis stuff, apparently looking into the increase in college education among women and how it was changing their family having patterns was all the rage and then it suddenly wasn’t, around the time they became a majority of all births (the 80s).

And I haven’t done more than glance at it yet, but I have a very interesting book about sorcery, the occult and Christianity and how the neo-pagans of the late 19th century were not creating something new and weird, but echoing long standing occult practices that had been aggressively hidden by Victorians wishing to represent an unbroken line of faithful and untainted Christian practice.  It’s actually about how much of this was carried over the sea by those English and Germans who “founded the country”, but it gets into backstory about the occult in Western Europe up until the 19th century.

I thought I hadn’t been reading much this year, but I haven’t even covered a quarter of what I’ve gotten through and I started on a couple other books.  I guess the Dumas being soooooo long makes it seem like I’ve barely read more than two books in six months, but it’s nowhere near that bad.

Maria Montessori welded Rousseau, Nietzsche and the medieval Catholics.

I’ve been reading up on Montessori because personal reasons, and reading Maria Montessori’s own words on her methods has been truly a fascinating journey I’ve only just begun.

Her methods appear to work with very little boys who were the children of muggers and prostitutes, and they also have a robustness that worked when she was able to work with children from more ordinary backgrounds.

She took the naturalism of Rousseau and Nietzsche and interpreted them in a context of Christian liberty rather than pagan liberty. She admitted to rather desiring a world where nobody was a servant or had servants, she preferred an employee/employer model of two equals negotiating in good faith.

How all this relates to teaching 2-7yos (she had the occasional kid under 3, though she tried to work with 3-7) is that she wanted an open exploratory environment for the children so that they could learn self-mastery and to replicate correct behavior and discontinue incorrect behavior, in both the moral and physical senses. She also had a commune-style model, with the parents and the directress living in the same apartment building centered around the school, with live-in doctors as well. She talks in her pedagogy (method discussion) of essentially seeking a balance between the mother directing her own children at home and the directress reinforcing that in the Montessori school setting by consulting and talking with each mother weekly or so.

She wanted children to understand the proper form of things so that they would recognize them when they were older. She was very clear that her methods were not something that was the One True Way of Learning, but that she thought she’d gathered together the genius of men before her to find a path in which young children might be most optimally prepared for more formal education in the teen and adult years.

She felt that children discovering on their own would be better able to grasp introductory moral lessons in context. It’s a very radical and fascinating educational approach.

In America, it was literally dismissed by jealous nerdy men because it didn’t match up that well with their pen and paper test mania (although the children did get very good test performance, she wasn’t focused on maxing that particular stat). Interestingly Montessori’s methods and pedagogy were revived during the postwar era, particularly around the time the youngest Boomers were being born in the middle 1950s and early 1960s.

Angela Nagle vs. Thermidor, blind squirrel edition

T.W.O., who reads different parts of the reactionary right than I do, mentioned that the “neoreaction” “magazine” “Thermidor” decided to review some very silly book by a left-wing woman about the alt-right. The review is overlong and fretful, but this part was about the only interesting detail:

“In the opening of Rousseau’s pedagogical handbook, Emile, for example, Rousseau takes contemporary women to task for abandoning their motherly duties. He argues that the weakness and fragility of modern man is likely a result of mothers abrogating their duties to their children. He rails against the use of nurse maids and severely reprimands mothers for poisoning their new born children with the sickly air of the metropolis rather than face the horrors of confinement in the boring and uncomfortable countryside. This all sounds like it could easily have been lifted from some Red Pill forum post, but this in Nagle’s interpretation is one of the founders of the Equalitarian Feminist movement.”

Nagle was right, though, unfortunately for the reviewer. The Rousseau model, where the entire burden of motherhood is on individual mothers without the assistance of other women is explicitly one of the germs of expansion of economic and political power for women, particularly married women and married mothers. All those center-left free ranging mothers didn’t burst onto the scene in a vacuum.