Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He is also the author of No Hero–the upcoming Lovecraftian urban fantasy that dares to ask, what would Kurt Russell do? Read the fist chapter for free at

Across the aisle

I love how misleading the phrase “sf” is. The label sits there above me as I browse the shelves in my local bookstore, and pretends to represent just a single type of book. But instead there’s a myriad of sub-genres: epic fantasy, swords and sorcery, urban fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, military sf, hard sf, and I haven’t even gotten to the obscure ones yet (seriously, who can resist the phrase arcanepunk?). But as I skim the book spines, one subgenre is marked in its absence.

Where’s the pulp?

Yes, yes, there are your Robert E. Howard reprints, and eighty-six different Lovecraft anthologies (as well there should be), I will concede that. But what about pulps that lay nearer to the fringe of sf? Where are the works inspired by Doc Savage and The Shadow? Where are the literary equivalents of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? Of Indiana Jones? Where are the mad Nazi scientists, the apes with brains of men, and the the bold men and women with flying jackets and adventurous attitudes running off to investigate uncharted islands in the Pacific?

And then, one day, I wandered across the aisle.

My agent had suggested I needed to work on pacing. What better way to do it, I reasoned, than by reading the novel equivalent of a summer action blockbuster. A quick dalliance, I thought, away from my beloved genre, and then, a lesson or two learned, I could scurry back to the safety of familiar shelving.

I had no idea what a bounty of riches awaited me.

The first thriller I picked up was James Rollins’ Sandstorm. At first I thought it was just a more action-oriented Dan Brown-alike. How wrong I was. Before I knew it, there were ninja assassins, tribes of asexually-reproducing desert nomads, and grenade fights in cities of glass buried deep beneath the desert.

Oh my God, the awesome.

And while Rollins has recently strayed into slightly more serious material, his early works are a treasure trove of pulp madness. Subterranean races. Mad alien spacecraft breeding Incan tribes in the Andes. Nazis. Hell yes.

And it doesn’t stop there. There’s Preston and Child. The relatively well known Relic is a great big monster story, no more, no less. Just because it’s set in the New York’s Natural History Museum doesn’t make it any less fantastical. And then there’s the sequel Reliquary where the monsters have escaped and bred in the abandoned subway lines. It’s brilliant. It’s pulp, and it was just paces away from where I’d browsed my whole life, and I never knew.

I could go on. The Gabriel Hunt books, each by a different author, form a more recent series. They are unabashed in the homage they pay to the pulp tradition–from their glorious cover illustrations to their wonderfully preposterous endings. There are fountains of life, ancient sphinxes, and one book with a gunfight in every chapter. Now that is quality fiction.

This is sf, wonderful pulp sf. Somehow it has ended up in a different marketing category, but it’s our genre even if it wears the clothes of another one. It’s there waiting to be picked up. So, cross over the aisle in the book store. Cross over and seek out books by Rollins, and Preston and Child. Seek out books by Matt Reilly (aliens hunting each other through the New York public library!) and Andy McDermott (a race to find Excalibur!) and Boyd Morrison (Noah’s Ark is buried in them there mountains!). Cross over the aisle. There’s treasure (and magical relics, and trap-laden temples, and Atlantis) buried there.

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