Pulp Science Fiction has been a mainstay for literature, comic books, and the silver screen for almost a hundred years and has given many great adventures of daring do set throughout time and space, and sometimes even further. And whilst there is a strict formula for the delivery of a great pulp story, that often rings the same, that doesn’t make them any less fun, so here are some of the best from the last 100 years or more.
originally created by Alex Raymond in a comic strip in 1934, Flash Gordon has been show in comics, radio serials. films and television and has even been adapted to the stage on numerous occasions, and even forms the basis of a Queen album. The stories generally tell the tale of the Earth man Flash Gordon as he is transported to the planet Mongo to lead revolution on the despotic rule of Ming the Merciless.
A confederate soldier wakes up on the planet Mars, Joins a revolution against a despotic ruler and falls in love with a princess, are you starting to see a pattern here? Originally appearing in Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 story a Princess of Mars, John Cater has appeared in novels, short stories, comic books and screen adaptations for over 105 years.
Human Archaeologist Adam Strange is transported to the planet Rann where he falls in love with a princess and leads the revolution to put the princess in power and then in a twist is transported back to earth to pine, until it happens all over again. (Seriously have you noticed the pattern here).
A little while ago I came up with a list of books that I wanted to read before the time I become ancient (30) first on the list was A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, a prolific American writer most well know as the creator of Tarzan. A princess of Mars is the first novel to feature his second most well known creation John Carter of Mars.
The novel itself is fairly short and is a prime example of the general pulp science fiction that was popularised in early twentieth century America and without giving away the plot does stick rather closely to the formula for pulp, of man from Earth winds up on alien planet, fights and then joins with the natives, rescues a princess and then saves the day. As an early example of the sort of pulp (originally serialised in 1912) that was floating about the market place in those days you can forgive it for seeming a little done to death over 100 years later, because you realise it was one of the first to do it.
The writing style feels a little disjointed as it is written in the form of memoir, so Edgar Rice Burroughs has written it in the manner of memoir penned by Captain John Carter, who has a tendency to go off on tangents mid explanation, which does spoil the narrative, however I feel this may have been a conscious choice by Burroughs, as it lends a certain verisimilitude to the work, and it shows that only a really great writer would be able to write from the point of view of an amateur, that is to say terrible, writer.
My only main criticism is that whilst the world of Barsoom is a rich and vibrant world the secondary characters ring a little flat, and whilst the protagonist and his circle are explored the villains of the piece such as Tal Hajus and Sarkoja are lacking in any real depth and seem to be there mainly as plot accelerators more than as real characters.
Overall it was an enjoyable distraction I would give it a 3.5 out of 5 and pick up some the other books that make up the Barsoom series to find out the fates of Deja Thoris and John Carter of Mars.
Look out for more reviews coming soon.
I’ve been reading/ watching a lot of pulp sci-fi lately (which isn’t a new thing), but there is one thing that I’m noticing, and that is that the plots for all of the pulp sci-fi classics are all exactly the same.
If I describe the plot to you see if you can guess the film, book, comic or tv show.
- A human male is somehow transported to an alien world
- said human male will meet a local tribe, and will be captured and or fight, before gaining said tribes trust/respect and then learns that the planet is made up of lots of warring peoples all ruled by one tyrant.
- Human male will then meet a princess who is part of the resistance against said tyrant, will fall in love and then join the resistance.
- Human male will suffer self doubt before uniting all tribes on the planet against the tyrant.
- Final battle
- Human Male either marries princess and rules or is sent back to Earth to pine for princess and scheme to get back.
This formula actually applies to pretty much all stalwarts of the genre across all media, It accurately sums up the novel Princess of Mars, which gave us the John Carter film, it sums up Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. It is an accurate summation of the Flash Gordon serials, comics and film and is a true synopsis for DC Comic’s Adam Strange A Man Of Two Worlds.
So if you ever feel like writing a pulp sci-fi masterpiece, you now know the winning formula, it worked for some pretty big names in cinema.