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Amazing Pulp Magazine Collection Exhibit: Pulp Authors - Full Text

Exhibit showcasing the Library's extensive pulp magazine collection and provides historical context for this wildly popular - and influential - form of entertainment from the early 20th century.

Pulp Authors

What is often overlooked in the legacy of the Pulp literary phenomenon, is the large number of respected writers who contributed to the success of numerous magazines, starting with H. Rider Haggard (Lost World), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian), Talbot Mundy (King of the Khyber Rifles), and Robert A. Heinlein (Starship Toopers).

Issac Asimov

Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was far more than merely a writer of stories for the pulp magazines. As a professor of biochemistry and author of much science-based – and, later, popularized science books – he also wrote on philosophical and psychological topics, giving him the distinction of being one of the most prolific authors of all time, once his book and article titles are enumerated.

Along with fellow, contemporary science fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, Asimov was one of science fiction’s “Big Three” in the last half of the 20th century.

He had begun writing for the pulps in 1929, but only wrote his first science fiction story in 1937, “The Cosmic Corkscrew.” His most celebrated pulp story was “Nightfall,” published in 1941. Widely regarded as a classic, Asimov credited the success of “Nightfall” as a pivotal point in his career: from that time forward, he was recognized as a formidable presence in the world of science fiction authors.

Part of his success was his emphasis on the human condition throughout his science fiction stories. He, like Heinlein, did not lean exclusively on action and gadget-based plots, but wrote about what he termed “social science fiction.”

Another aspect of his appeal, was that Asimov had created a single, cohesive history of a fictional universe that appeared throughout his larger works: Notably, in his Foundation and Robot series. Several film adaptations grew out of his works, notably from the Robot series, including Bicentennial Man (1999) and I, Robot (2004).

In regards to his time with the classic pulps, Asimov had sold stories to Amazing in the 1930s, and almost exclusively to Astounding in the 1940s. In the 1950s, Asimov branched out further, contributing to a new crop of science fiction magazines, specifically Galaxy magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. In the late 50s – with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, Asimov published less fiction, and began to write more and more on popular science topics, attempting to make science concepts more accessible to the population at large.

Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett  (1915 – 1978) wrote for the pulp market from 1940 to 1946, creating dozens of short stories during this period. By the time her novella, “Loreli of the Red Mist” began to appear in Planet Stories, Brackett had published her first science fiction novel (Shadow Over Mars) in 1944, and was being courted by Hollywood to do the script for The Big Sleep. As a result, her colleague Ray Bradbury was asked to finish “Loreli,” enabling Brackett to finish her Hollywood commitment.

She continued publishing in the pulps after a brief hiatus following her initial screenwriting success in 1946 (she married fellow pulp writer, Edmond Hamilton that year). Upon her return to pulp writing in 1948, she turned out several dozen new science fiction adventure stories, all notably longer than her earlier work from before and during the War. While she sold her work to Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, Brackett’s primary pulp showcase for short science fiction came to be Planet Stories.

Between 1959 and 1970, director Howard Hawks also tapped Brackett to write four John Wayne vehicles, beginning with Rio Bravo (1959), then Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970).  Because of her work on Raymond Chandler’s Big Sleep, another director, Robert Altman, asked her to write the screenplay for The Long Goodbye – his homage to Raymond Chandler.

Brackett wrote for science fiction magazines until 1964 – by that time, she was devoting more time to her novels (she published ten between 1951 and 1976) and screenplays, culminating in Star Wars’ second episode, The Empire Strikes Back, in which George Lucas initially asked her to bring his own story outline to life.

Brackett died shortly after completing her submission, and Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan reportedly did extensive revision of her work, crediting the screenplay equally to Brackett and Kasdan.

Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard (1906 – 1936). Born and raised in a small town in Texas, Robert Howard was an introspective youth, who loved reading books. He attempted his first story at age 9, and wrote all manner of adventure tales, inspired by his readings of Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, and others. He began reading pulps when he was 15 (Adventure was his favorite).

Before long, Howard was creating a diverse collection of series characters, but it was not until his senior year in high that he first got published – in the school newspaper. At 18, he sold his first story to Weird Tales, which began picking up his other submissions. In his late teens, Howard also began devoting himself to bodybuilding and amateur boxing: activities that informed many his short stories.

During a period of convalescence from the measles in 1927, Howard perfected an earlier story he’d written, “The Shadow Kingdom.” It blended elements of action swordplay, horror, fantasy, historical romance and mythology in such a way that it is now regarded as the birth of the “sword and sorcery” genre. Its hero, the barbarian, Kull, laid the groundwork for his more popular later creation, Conan the Barbarian.

Before Kull was actually published in 1929, however, Howard wrote another tale in this same, new genre that became his first successful, long-running series of character stories. The hero was a Puritan swashbuckler named Solomon Kane, picked up by Weird Tales in 1928.

Howard’s fight ring experience paid off with the sale of another recurring character: fighter-sailor Steve Costigan, whom he featured in many stories he subsequently sold to Fight Stories and Action Stories magazines. This, in turn, led to a deal with Street & Smith to create a new fight character, Kid Allison, to be featured in Sport Story Magazine. He sold several historical fantasy stories to the short-lived Oriental Tales between 1903-34.

By 1930, Howard had been introduced to fellow author H.P. Lovecraft, and had joined his close circle of correspondents. One theme they had differing takes on was their view of barbarism vs. civilization: with Howard arguing civilization was an unnatural, fragile state that could easily be overrun by barbarism. Lovecraft took the opposing view.

Two years later, Howard conceived the idea of Conan the Barbarian, complete with his own universe of kingdoms and characters. The first Conan story was published in Weird Tales in late 1932, and was an instant hit. Howard sold a total of 18 Conan stories to Weird Tales, but continued to branch out, notably devoting most of the last years of his life writing in this genre.

H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) was an English-born writer in many genres, including history, politics, novels, and social observation. He is best known, however, as one of the earliest authors (along with Jules Verne) of science fantasy or fiction. In fact, within the realm of science fiction, only two figures have ever been given the title of “The Father of Science Fiction:” one being the editor, writer, and publisher, Hugo Gernsback (see elsewhere in this exhibit); the other, more famous to earn the name, is H.G. Wells.

Wells’ science fiction titles read like a checklist of blockbuster movies from the past: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Things to Come, and The First Men in the Moon. It is notable that movie industry adaptations of his stories began in the 1930s, and continue to this day.

Most of Wells’ stories have actually invented the themes used in countless subsequent science fiction plots: Alien Invasions, Time Travel, and Human Experimentation, e.g.

Writing best-selling non-fiction as early as 1901 (Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought), Wells always imagined the various ways in which the future might unfold, and brought these visions to his writing. He was especially critical of class system within English society, and the way in which it prevented individual advancement based on merit.

With his early academic training in biology, Wells grew up and functioned in a culture imbued with the tenets of Social Darwinism. Though he supported Britain in the First World War, Wells was sympathetic to pacifism, and is regarded as a Utopian – seeking better ways for people to organize society and live in peace.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012). When famed science fiction author Ray Bradbury died in 2012, the New York Times described him as “The Untortured Genius.”  He led a happy life, maintained his boyhood enthusiasm for everything, and wrote prolifically even into his reading in the science fiction genre but actually look more like non-fiction today. 

After high school Bradbury wanted to go to college but he didn’t have the money, so he taught himself through constant visits to the library, reading, going to the movies, and writing.  Among his first sales, were stories to Mademoiselle and Super Science Stories.

Bradbury’s works have been the basis for many movies (The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes), TV shows (like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and have inspired generations of writers. Over a 50-year career, he wrote over 30 books, 600 stories, as well as poems and plays.

Bradbury allowed his book Fahrenheit 451, which deals with the death of print, to be digitized only if free downloads were available to every library. Some of his papers can be found at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and at Indiana University.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 - 1950) began writing fiction after reading a few pulp magazines around 1911. He claimed to have been unimpressed with the content, and was inspired that he could do better. In fact, his stories, in turn, have gone on to inspire hundreds of his readers to become writers themselves. 

As the creator of one of the most enduring fictional characters of all time -Tarzan - Burroughs also wrote science fiction (most notably the space adventure stories of John Carter), time travel and even Western stories.

Burroughs was a voracious reader who ran business enterprises, published 70 novels, and traveled extensively. 

But, Tarzan the Ape Man, created in 1912, is Burroughs' most enduring legacy and Tarzan's adventures have been the subject of movies, television shows, cartoons, and even a Broadway musical.

“Tarzana” was originally the name of Burroughs' ranch in Southern California; it is now the name for the entire Los Angeles suburb
in the same vicinity - a real place with its roots deep in pulp fiction.

Lester Dent

Lester Dent (1904 - 1959) was the primary author of the famous pulp hero, Doc Savage. If you try to seek out his name on pulp covers of Doc Savage, however, you’ll only see his name credited once – in March 1944, when his name was accidentally used for “The Derelict of Skull Shoal;” otherwise, his Savage stories were attributed to Kenneth Robeson, a nom de plume assigned by Dent’s publisher, Street and Smith as part of his contractual arrangement with the publishing company.

Doc Savage was created by publisher Street & Smith’s executives, Harry Ralston and John Nanovic after the success of The Shadow – another character-based pulp title. They tapped Lester Dent as the primary writer for this series, though there were occasional contributions by other authors. Doc Savage was the iconic blond-haired adventure hero, raised by his fictional father to be not only a perfect physical specimen, but also a physician, scientist, surgeon, researcher, inventor, explorer, and musician! From his operational base on the 86th of what is probably the Empire State Building in New York City, independently wealthy Savage and his 5 assistant command a transportation fleet that allows them to fight bad guys “…with no regard for anything but justice.” – as related in Doc Savage’s “oath.”

During the course of his career writing for the pulps, Dent also wrote pirate, adventure, detective and Western stories, though his work on Doc Savage was wildly popular during the magazine’s 16-year run (1933-1949). In the years since Dent’s death in 1958, the series was resurrected, and lives on to this day.