News Ticker

[GUEST POST] Jonathan Wood on Where The Pulp SF is Hiding

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.

7 Comments on [GUEST POST] Jonathan Wood on Where The Pulp SF is Hiding

  1. Some of the best sf romance with its emphasis on plot, character, and adventure is very much a daughter of pulp sf.  

  2. Not to forget, (on John Denardo’s recommendation) The Breach and Ghost Country (Patrick Lee). Fun books.

    The Breach

  3. Like. 

    What would John D. add to this list?


  4. Good question, tam.  When I think of “recent” pulp sf, I think of  Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Meyers, Paragaea by Chris Roberson and Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann, which were all meant to be an homage to the pulp sf adventure of yesteryear. And I might throw in The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer, which avoids the negative connotation of “pulp” by being Literary-with-a-capital-L, yet utilizes many of the same tropes.  Those are clearly sf.  It’s harder for me to cite examples from books that are not usually considered sf because that’s not usually my playground.  I read Relic years ago and loved it, though never saw it then as pulp, but yeah, that does fit. And sure, by the same token, I can see The Breach and Ghost Country leaning into pulp adventure…

  5. John, I didn’t mean to make it look like you recommended The Breach as pulp. My apologies for the way that is worded in the context.  I think The Breach fit the profile of the essay (and it’s a great book no matter how it is defined), so it popped into my head. Personally, when I think of more pulp-flavored SF, I would probably lean closer toward the other titles you have just listed.  Great suggesstions.

    On the lighter end of the spectrum, I might also add the John Zakour books that started with The Plutonium Blonde.  A. Lee Martinez’s The Automatic Detective, although both of these make good use of pulp detective fiction tropes mixed with the science fiction aspects.

  6. S. Andrew Swann’s Apotheosis trilogy was kinda pulpy.  I liked the 2nd book the most.


  7. One thing I didn’t touch upon here, is the greatness of Decoder Ring Theatre.  If you’re looking for pulp goodness, their podcasts are pitch perfect.  The Red Panda is a personal favorite.  Really recreates the feeling of listening to an old time radio show, while still appealing to a modern audience.

    Also – I love how this comment thread is becoming a way for me to expand my books-I-must-read list.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: