Indian pulp/noir.

crossposting from my Tumblr account, because I want to spread the word:

The Indian newsweekly Tehelka just put out a pulp/noir fiction issue. All stories free online, with great accompanying art.

If you are at all interested in pulp/noir fiction, you owe it to yourself to read the stories. India has a tradition of mystery fiction that is almost as old as England's, and has boasted some fantastic writers who are completely unknown in the West. The authors of these stories aren't necessarily on the level of the greats of the past, but these stories can act as an apéritif for the greats of the field, and should give a hint at the vitality which Indian authors (and, yes, Chinese and Pakistani and Indonesian and Malaysian and African and basically the entire world outside of the Europe and the U.S.) can and will inject into genre fiction in the coming century.

It's gonna be great.


The shamans of Tibet.

Continuing on from yesterday:

At the birth of the shaman already 'the evil spirits multiply.' If he really becomes a shaman, that will cost the life of several members of the tribe, not infrequently his relations, for 'elected shamans must have water from the river of death.' At his vocation, the shaman in fact concludes a pact with the devil, in order to obtain power against the devil. The pieces of his body belong to the evil spirits and are their property. It is typical that the infernal spirits who cut him up and devour him, are often the spirits of dead shamans! The shaman becomes a devil himself: 'The shaman's spirit interrupts and blocks the road by which he is threatened with evil, with dead people.' In this way the connection between fear, identification, and aggressivity is explicitly formulated. When the shaman must do his work for the community, it is not rare for him to become a bellowing, potentially death-dealing and destructive bull. The greater part of his life is a battle. The shamans of the Eskimo [sic], too, made for ttheir great goddess to engage her in combat. There is one remarkable exception. In an obviously sexual rite the shaman goes to the female Spirit of Earth, to ask her for the sexual urge, the fertility of man and cattle. It is only permissible for shamans who have no malignant or blood-thirsty spirit helpers to carry out this rite....
The Tibetan shamans, who had a specific skeleton-soul, afforded clear evidence of the aggressive aspect of shamanism, for they were considered capable of cutting open their own bellies and taking out the entrails. The shaman's role as guide of the dead was afterwards taken up in Tibet by the Buddhist lamas, but the people insisted that priests of the Bon should be present, that is representatives of the ancient shamanism. The oracular function of the shaman - an essential part of his work, that he is found exercising as far as the Eskimo [sic] of East-Greenland - proved so important that shamanistic oracles were given a recognized place in Tibetan Buddhism, and the great 5th Dalai Lama even instituted a state oracle. The seances of these oracles, carefully observed, described and photographed by De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, are very impressive. When 'possessed' by a Terrifying Deity, they not only identified themselves inwardly with these gods, but outwardly. They were then able to bend a hard iron sword in half with their bare hands, as that author himself has seen and checked....

Finally, there is a Tibetan variation of the shaman showing how the marginal figures of shamanism and the 'mad monks' of Buddhism might easily be associated, in spite of the gulf that generally divided them. We mean the bard, the singer of the so martial and cruel epic of Gesar, who had to go into a trance before beginning his recital, and made use of the same technique as the shamans. These bards were musicians, poets, dancers, acrobats, magicians, mediums, and often smyon pa too, madmen, excentrics [sic]. These poets and merry-andrews of the Tibetan people, like the oracles, preserved a part of the ancient Tibetan shamanism, which they also linked with the mad monk.

The old Tibetan New Year.


"When the New Year was celebrated in Lhasa, the capital of the 'Land of the Snows,' the Tibetans turned life upside down. In former times this was even done so drastically, that most laymen went out of town for fear of the innumerable begging monks, whom they could not refuse generous alms upon this festival, and whom they also had to receive as guests in their houses. In view of this threatened attack upon their purse and possessions the well-to-do left the sacred city in such numbers as to constitute a veritable exodus. But in more recent times also, when the monks no longer formed a financial danger, it remained evident that the New Year brought about a temporary reversal of all values. Instead of the Dalai Lama and his government of monks and laymen, the monks of the Dre-pung monastery were lords and masters in Lhasa then. The function of a sacred king was fulfilled by the abbot of this monastery, which had once been a considerable power in Tibet, where many monasteries were also fortresses.

"A much more remarkable ruler, however, went through the streets at the New Year. Far more of a carnival figure than the venerable abbot of Dre-pung, he played a central part in the festivities. He was the scapegoat, allowed to spend a week among the flesh-pots of Egypt, eating what he wanted and taking whatever he desired, and then sent out into the desert. He was a man from the social no man's land, appointed to play a part in the ritual no-man's land between the Old and the New, and in this part much was revealed of that which normally remained hidden under the social, religious and cultural institutions of Tibetan life. That he lived literally between old and new, in the region where normal institutions and customs no longer function, was apparent from his aspect: his face was painted half black and half white. We shall see that every year anew the Tibetan society attempted to exorcize its own inner conflict with the driving out of this ambiguous figure.

"After his one week's rule the scapegoat had to stake his power on a game of dice with a monk, who obviously represented the clergy and normal life. It goes without saying that the scapegoat, as representative of all the ancient evil that was to be cancelled, but also of everything that did not match the ideal pattern of society and religion, always lost the game. That was a certainty beforehand. When he had played his game and lost, he was driven out of the city and had to take refuge in the 'abode of demons' of a nearby monastery, where in olden times, according to the stories, he was murdered. That after his temporary rule the scapegoat had to seek refuge with the demons, thus showing to what realm he belonged, is eloquent of his true nature. For one week Evil might roam at will, bearing in the black half of its face the sign of that darkness to which it would inevitably be returned and wherein it would be dissolved - at any rate for one year.

"It would not seem hazardous to regard the scapegoat of the New Year as the earthly representative of the demons who, be it said in parentheses, are grouped with the Terrifying Gods who are so important in Tibet. That he may be regarded as such with certainty, is clearly evident from the revealing words spoken by him before his enforced departure from Lhasa, when like a true advocatus diaboli he said to the monks: 'What we perceive with the five senses is not an illusion. All that you teach is untrue.'"
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excerpts from Fantastic Victoriana

I assume that some/most of you are familiar with the blog Beyond Victoriana, which I think is doing some quite valuable work in broadening the parameters of steampunk, making it multi-cultural and injecting non-Western cultures and perspectives into it.

Beyond Victoriana will be running weekly excerpts from my Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana and my Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes. Up today: Raphael Aben-Ezra, from Charles Kingsley's Hypatia.

Shadows in the Desert.

If you're well-read in history, Kaveh Farrokh's Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War is probably going to be a boon to you.

Not because Farrokh is a particularly great stylist (although he's perfectly adequate), and not because Shadows in the Desert will make you re-examine your worldview or your opinions about the ancient Persians (there's more than a bit of special pleading in the book).

No, you'll find the book enjoyable because it'll introduce you to an entirely new cast of characters and peoples, with histories you know nothing of. (Also, it's an Osprey book, so it's well-illustrated and has a nice bibliography).

Because, let's face it, after a few decades of reading history, you know what you want to know about European and American history, and Chinese and Japanese, and Aztec, and so on. You're au courant with the Taira/Minamoto war, and the Avars, and the Comanche/Shoshone split. You know the names, you know the histories. Hell, you're probably not reading my excerpts from Robert Ferguson's The Vikings because you probably already know it.

But unless you've deliberately delved into the subject, you probably know next to nothing about ancient Persian history.

So these names won't mean anything to you:

  • the Saka (ethnic group, northern Iran)
  • the Yueh-Chi/Kushans ("The Kushan Kingdom at its height in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD was composed of present-day Afghanistan, Central Asia, and northern India")
  • the Alans (relations of the northern Iranian Sarmatians; the Alan invasions of Armenia in AD 72-75 were apparently devastating).
  • the Chionites ("the Uralo-Altaic descendants of the Hsaing-Nou [who] were dominating Central Asia").
  • the Amidans ("possessors of "high-power, high-velocity ballistic weapons, discharged by mechanical releases").
  • the Hephthalites (a.k.a. the White Huns, a.k.a. the Haiatheleh).
  • the Kidarites (circa 440 AD, a "proto-Turkic or Hsiang-Nou tribe").
  • the Gok (rulers of a kingdom in western Turkey).

And you probably don't know anything about "the region of Media in northwest Iran known as Aturpatekan, literally 'the land of the guardian-keeper of the flame.'" Think about that: the ruler of Aturpatekan was officially known as The Guardian-Keeper of the Flame. I think that beats "Your Highness" any day.

And unless you're Ken Hite, you probably didn't know about this:

Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 121-180 defeated the Iazyges Alans in Pannonia (Hungary), and exiled 5,000 of their cavalry to Britain in AD 175. They were settled in Chester, Ribchester, and at Hadrian's Wall. The Alans introduced Iranian mythology, Zoroastrian themes and legends into Celtic folklore. The characters and themes of the King Arthur legend have direct parallels in Alanic mythology. The gathering of the knights at a round table was seen among the Savaran knights of Sassanian Persia such as at the military conference conveyed to elect Bahram Chobin to combat the Turko-Hephthalite invasion in AD 588. Some themes of the Arthur legend are reflected in teh upper panel of the Tagh-e-Bostan site near Kermanshah in Iranian Kurdistan - the water goddess of fertility Anahita (the lake goddess), the king with the "European" broadsword (Excalibur), and the supreme god Ahura Mazda dressed as a magus (Merlin).

Northern Iranian legends and exploits have been commemorated in the post-Islamic Shahname epic of Firdowsi. Many elements of the "Arthurian" legends are to be found in the Shahname, such as Guiw (Gawain) and Kay-Kavoos (Kay).

I can't vouch for the veracity of the preceding. A footnote leads to C.S. Littleton & L.A. Malcor's From Scythia to Camelot (Garland, 2000). But doesn't that make you curious and want to know more?

And, finally, because you're well-read in history, you probably knew about Queen Zenobia. But you probably didn't know about:

  • Youtab. Writing about Alexander of Macedon's battle at the Persian Gates with General Ariobarzan, Farrokh says, "In this final chapter of organized Achaemenid resistance, Iranian legends recall the exploits of female warrior Youtab, Ariobarzan's sister, who fought ferociously before falling in battle." 
  • Hypiscrateia. Mithridates, a.k.a. Mehrdad Eupator, had a female bodyguard named Hypiscrateia. "According to Plutarch, Mehrdad Eupator's female bodyguard, Hypiscrateia, was 'a girl...shown the spirit of a man...ready to taken any risk...dressed like a Persian.'"
  • Azadeh, a female resistance leader for the Mazandarans against the Arab invasion.

Interested yet?


Some of what I'm looking forward to in 2011.

Of course, most of those are paperback editions of hardcovers that are available now. If I get a windfall before then, I'm splurging on the hardcovers.

Andrew Coe's Chop Suey.

Andrew Coe's Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States is informative and entertaining. Coe's a professional food critic and knows his subject, and he spends a decent amount of time on the history of Chinese and American interaction, the evolution of Chinese cuisine, how Chinese writers have viewed Chinese food, and so on.

But I found it disappointing in at least one respect. As a reader, what I want out of a book like this is both the feeling that I'm getting a glimpse into a secret history of the subject, and the feeling that there is Awesomeness in the subject. Sadly, there's not a lot of Awesomeness (defined as a fact, theory, or anecdote that makes me want to share it with the world immediately, accompanied by the phrase, "Isn't that great?") in Chop Suey. The book entertains, but doesn't thrill.

Except for two things. (Well, three, if you count the fact that chop suey isn't an American dish, but ultimately came from the Four Counties in Guangdong--I'd been told for years that chop suey wasn't really Chinese).


Immigrants from the Pearl River Delta, with its centuries-old fishing tradition, saw the economic and culinary possibilities of California's rich sea life very early. By 1855, they had built dozens of Chinese fishing villages around San Francisco Bay and along the central California coast. They caught Pacific salmon and squid, collected red, black, and green abalone in the intertidal zone, and netted shrimp, minnows, and other fish. They even built Chinese-style fishing junks from which they tended their nets.

...American junks? How long were these active? Oh, wait: "the junks sailed in California waters until the twentieth century, when the large-scale Chinese fishing industry finally dwindled away."

I need to know more about these, obviously. And not just because steam-powered Chinese-American-crewed junks sailing around the Pacific in the late Victorian era, or in a steampunk novel, have fiction potential written all over them. The South Seas Adventurer (white man in a smack or steam trawler having adventures around the South Pacific islands) is a pulp archetype--why couldn't he have been Chinese-American, in a junk? Why not, indeed?

Second, while talking about the the American perception of Chinese cuisine in the 19th century (filthy, full of rats, cats, and dogs) versus the reality (clean and not full of those), and the pro-Chinese report of the NYC Santiary Inspector, Coe mentions Wang Qingfu (?-?), who he calls "Wong Ching Foo":

That wasn't enough for the editor of New York's first Chinese newspaper, Wong Ching Foo, who was very different from the rest of the Chinese population. He had been raised in the Shanghai, not the Pearl River Delta; he had been educated at an elite academy, not a village school, and had even worked as an interpreter in the imperial court. He was also a sharp-tongued gadfly, not afraid to speak out against the California racist rabble-rouser Denis Kearney or anyone else who wished to deprive the Chinese of their rights. In fact, his aggressive defense of his compatriots may be part of why the anti-Chinese movement failed to gain traction in New York.

I need to learn more about this man, not least because he disappeared after having voiced support for Sun Yat-Sen.

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Pulp Market Share, 1930.

Title data: 187 total pulps.

  • Adventure: 14 titles, 7.5%.
  • Aviation: 20 titles, 10.7%.
  • Boxing: 1 title, 0.5%.
  • Detective: 21 titles, 11.2%.
  • Fantastica: 2 titles, 1.1%.
  • F.B.I. 3 titles, 1.6%.
  • General: 10 titles, 5.3%.
  • Humor: 5 titles, 2.7%.
  • Miscellaneous: 6 titles, 3.2%.
  • Mountie: 1 title, 0.5%.
  • Romance: 21 titles, 11.2%.
  • Saucy: 44 titles, 23.5%.
  • Science Fiction: 8 titles, 4.3%.  
  • Sports: 1 title, 0.5%.
  • True Crime: 3 titles, 1.6%.
  • Underworld: 7 titles, 3.7%.
  • War: 6 titles, 3.2%.
  • Western: 25 titles, 13.4%.

Issues data: 1847 total issues.

  • Adventure: 159 issues, 8.6%.
  • Aviation: 145 issues, 7.85%.
  • Boxing: 12 issues, 0.6%.
  • Detective: 254 issues, 13.75%.
  • Fantastica: 24 issues, 1.3%.
  • F.B.I.: 3 issues, 0.2%.
  • General: 136 issues, 7.4%.
  • Humor: 59 issues, 3.2%.
  • Miscellaneous: 39 issues, 2.1%.
  • Mountie: 12 issues, 0.6%.
  • Romance: 270 issues, 14.6%.
  • Saucy: 359 issues, 19.4%.
  • Science Fiction: 49 issues, 2.65%.  
  • Sports: 24 issues, 1.3%.
  • True Crime: 23 issues, 1.2%.
  • Underworld: 42 issues, 2.3%.
  • War: 52 issues, 2.8%.
  • Western: 317 issues, 17.2%.

Combined data:

  1. Saucy: 23.5% of titles, 19.4% of issues.
  2. Western: 13.4% of titles, 17.2% of issues.
  3. Romance: 11.2% of titles, 14.6% of issues.  
  4. Detective: 11.2% of titles, 13.75% of issues.
  5. Adventure: 7.5% of titles, 8.6% of issues.
  6. Aviation: 10.7% of titles, 7.85% of issues.
  7. General: 5.3% of titles, 7.4% of issues.
  8. Humor: 2.7% of titles, 3.2% of issues.
  9. War: 3.2% of titles, 2.8% of issues.
  10. Science Fiction: 4.3% of titles, 2.65% of issues.
  11. Underworld: 3.7% of titles, 2.3% of issues.
  12. Miscellaneous: 3.2% of titles, 2.1% of issues.
  13. Fantastica: 1.1% of titles, 1.3% of issues.
  14. Sports: 0.5% of titles, 1.3% of issues.
  15. True Crime: 1.6% of titles, 1.2% of issues.
  16. Boxing: 0.5% of titles, 0.6% of issues.
  17. Mountie: 0.5% of titles, 0.6% of issues.
  18. F.B.I.: 1.6% of titles, 0.2% of issues.

Conclusions: And so we come to the end of the Pulp Market Share posts. I'll still be compiling this data, but I'm saving 1931-1955 for the book, which is tentatively scheduled for the end of 2011. (I'll be plugging it here when the time comes, of course). I hope those of you reading this will consider buying the book, and I trust no one will be irritated with me for not making the entire book available online for free. I've done that with six books so far, but I don't think I'll be doing it any more. (Information may want to be free, but I don't want my work to be. And, frankly, I've done as much as anyone this side of Doctorow to put my work online, all with the expectation that it would somehow help my sales. I'm not sure it has, and it certainly hasn't cut down on the pirating of my work).

Fittingly for my last pulp market share post, the Saucy pulps reign supreme. Perhaps not a surprising development, since the Saucy publishers flooded the market in 1930: 14 new Saucy pulps appeared in 1930, meaning that there were 44 Saucy pulps on the market in 1930, with the next closest genre, Western, only having 25 on the market. If the Saucy publishers were assuming that what people suffering from economic hardships wanted was porn, then that assumption was proven both correct and profitable. 1930 was by no means the worst of the Great Depression--wages held steady, the deflationary spiral hadn't begun, and the worldwide effects of the Depression didn't set in until the end of the year--but consumer spending and investment were both depressed, and the U.S. was hardly a cheerful place. Hence the increased appetite for porn, which the Saucy publishers were happy to cater to.

The growth of the pulp industry slowed in 1930: Growth of 16% 1926-1927, 29% 1927-1928, 40% 1928-1929, but only 11% 1929-1930. Expansion was in Saucy, Westerns (six more titles), Detective (six more titles), and General (four more titles). The other two major genres all went through some contraction--Adventure lost five titles and Romance lost three--and minor genres like War either lost titles or held steady. The industry as a whole will only add four more titles in 1931 before losing 26 in 1932 and going through a two-year valley. The Depression hurts the industry, though some genres more than others, and it will be interesting to see which genres prosper and which wither away. Of course, in 1934 there are 201 pulps published, and 1934-1941 is another period of sizable growth for the pulps, so the effect of the Depression on the industry as a whole only lasts for a few years.

The performance of the Detective pulps is a bit of a puzzler. They aren't performing badly: 11.5% (4th), 11.4% (5th), 13.2% (5th), 11.8% (5th), 11.3% (4th), and now 13.75% (4th). So far, though, they've been consistently out-performed by Romance, Saucy, and Western, even though the late 1920s were the era of Capone and Chicago crime, and even one of the popular stereotypes of the pulps is that they were dominated by Detective/Mystery stories. I suspect that, for all my twitting of parvenu science fiction fans for their mistaken notions of the pulps and science fiction's place in them, I have committed a similar mistake and been influenced by mystery fans and their (apparently) mistaken notions of the pulps and mystery and detective fiction's place in them. I anticipate this changing in the 1930s--but I could be wrong about that, as well.  

Interestingly, 1930 sees the debut of three pulps--Confessions of a Federal Dick, Secret Service Detective Stories, and Secrets of the Secret Service--which are the first in the "F.B.I." category. None of these three pulps lasted more than a single issue, and in fact Confessions of a Federal Dick was simply Secrets of the Secret Service retitled, but they were the precursors to the wave of F.B.I. pulps of the mid-1930s, and perhaps were trial balloons floated by publishers to see if what the public really wanted wasn't detective and mystery stories but stories about heroic Feds capturing nasty criminals.

It didn't. Nor was the public quite sated with Underworld pulps, either. I had read the Underworld genre was in mid-decline in 1930, but you can't tell that from the number of pulps (up two from 1929, to seven) or its market share (up from 1.8% to 2.3%--small but not insignificant), and the new Underworld pulps don't go away for a couple of years. So perhaps what the public really wanted wasn't stories about successful cops, but stories about successful criminals.

As part of the rise in Underworld pulps, Gun Molls made its debut in 1930. Gun Molls (a "gun moll" is a female shootist; Wiki entry here) is one of more enjoyable pulps of this era. It's not quite on the level of Scarlet Adventuress, but it's close, with fun characters like Perry Paul's "The Madame," who is

the mystery moll feared and respected by both police and underworld because she could case a job so tight that nothing could break it, because she could spot dip, dick or peterman whatever handicap he liked and beat him at his own game; and because she was a straight shooter in a town where even the calendar was suspected of being fixed.

Gun Moll is part of the evolving effort of the pulp industry to feature stronger, more active female characters, this time in one of the new, hot genres. It's also, I think, another effort, similar to 1929's Love and War Stories, to get women readers to buy pulps in a genre they wouldn't usually buy. A number of gun molls appeared in other Underworld pulps of this era, like Gangland Stories and Gangster Stories, so while it may not have been a premeditated action on the part of the publishers it was a widespread effort. Gun Moll lasted for three years and 19 issues, so one would have to say that the effort was a qualified success.

wonder baby

Pulp Market Share, 1929.

Title data: 166 total pulps published.

  • Adventure: 19 titles, 11.45%.
  • Aviation: 19 titles, 11.45%.
  • Boxing: 1 title, 0.6%.
  • Detective: 15 titles, 9%.
  • Fantastica: 2 titles, 1.2%.
  • General: 15 titles, 9%.
  • Humor: 4 titles, 2.4%.
  • Miscellaneous: 11 titles, 6.6%.
  • Mountie: 1 title, 0.6%.
  • Romance: 24 titles, 14.5%.
  • Saucy: 27 titles, 16.3%.
  • Science Fiction: 6 titles, 3.6%.
  • Sports: 1 title, 0.6%.
  • True Crime: 3 titles, 1.8%.
  • Underworld: 5 titles, 3%.
  • War: 10 titles, 6%.
  • Western: 19 titles, 11.45%.

Issues data: 1652 total issues published.

  • Adventure: 162 issues, 9.8%.
  • Aviation: 151 issues, 9.1%.
  • Boxing: 12 issues, 0.7%.
  • Detective: 186 issues, 11.3%.
  • Fantastica: 24 issues, 1.45%.
  • General: 181 issues, 11%.
  • Humor: 44 issues, 2.7%.
  • Miscellaneous: 68 issues, 4.1%.
  • Mountie: 12 issues, 0.7%.
  • Romance: 247 issues, 14.95%.
  • Saucy: 221 issues, 13.4%.
  • Science Fiction: 42 issues, 2.5%.
  • Sports: 25 issues, 1.5%.
  • True Crime: 14 issues, 0.85%.
  • Underworld: 30 issues, 1.8%.
  • War: 92 issues, 5.6%.
  • Western: 276 issues, 16.7%.

Combined data:

  1. Western: 11.45% of titles, 16.7% of issues.
  2. Romance: 14.5% of titles, 14.95% of issues.
  3. Saucy: 16.3% of titles, 13.4% of issues.
  4. Detective: 9% of titles, 11.3% of issues.
  5. General: 9% of titles, 11% of issues.
  6. Adventure: 11.45% of titles, 9.8% of issues.
  7. Aviation: 11.45% of titles, 9.1% of issues.
  8. War: 6% of titles, 5.6% of issues.
  9. Miscellaneous: 6.6% of titles, 4.1% of issues.
  10. Humor: 2.4% of titles, 2.7% of issues.
  11. Science Fiction: 3.6% of titles, 2.5% of issues.
  12. Underworld: 3% of titles, 1.8% of issues.
  13. Sports: 0.6% of titles, 1.5% of issues.
  14. Fantastica: 1.2% of titles, 1.45% of issues.
  15. True Crime: 1.8% of titles, 0.85% of issues.
  16. Boxing: 0.6% of titles, 0.7% of issues.
  17. Mountie: 0.6% of titles, 0.7% of issues.

Conclusions: 1929 is of course the year when the Great Depression begins. But the effects of the Depression aren't visible in this data, mostly because of the lag time between the cover date of the pulps and the actually on-sale date of the pulps. As is the case in comics, there was a one-to-three month delay, so that many pulps with a cover date of July would appear on the stands in May. Most pulps sold after Black Tuesday had a cover date of January or February of 1930.

(Why haven't I taken that into consideration before now? Because the lag time was by no means uniform, and I have no easy way of knowing which pulps actually went on sale when. Basically, it's a lot easier for me to use cover date across the board than to spend endless hours chasing down on-sale dates).

1929 was a very good year for the pulps, reflecting the general economic state of the U.S. before Black Tuesday. But what I've called the fracturing of the market accelerates. The dominant genres in the market continue to lose percentage points in their dominance: the dominant genre in 1929, Westerns, only has 16.7% of the market, while the dominant genre in 1924 had 23.3% of the market and the dominant genre in 1919 had 49.3% of the market. The Invisible Hand is suppressing the major genres while lifting up the lesser ones, even while the overall market grows and publishers feel comfortable rolling out eight new Adventure pulps, ten new Aviation pulps, seven new Detective pulps, ten new Romance pulps, and five new War pulps.

Western and Romance remain the most popular, while General continues its decline. The popularity of Aviation pulps (fueled, as noted by Garen Ewing, of the splendid Rainbow Orchid, by Charles Lindbergh's cross-Atlantic trip) continues to surge. Among the smaller genres, Underworld performs well, no doubt a response to the (more perceived than real) rise in crime, but 1929 is the peak year for Underworld and its decline begins in 1930. I'm a little puzzled by the increase in the number of War pulps. There were no war scares in 1929--perhaps the perceived security of the year made people comfortable enough to indulge in war fiction?

Two peculiarities of 1929 for the pulps were genre-jumping, and mixed-gender pulps. A surprisingly high number of pulps jumped genre in mid-year--for example, Soldier Stories turned into Detective Classics in November. There seems to be no common pattern among the changes--as many pulps went to less popular genres as to more popular genres. The mixed-gender pulps are pulps like Love and War Stories and Stage Stories, which had stories aimed at male demographics (war and adventure, respectively) accompanied by stories aimed female demographics (romance in both). I'm sure there was the occasional example of this before now, but there were an unusually high number of pulps which tried this tactic in 1929. None of them lasted very long.

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Pulp Market Share, 1928.

Title data: 119 total pulps.

  • Adventure: 11 titles, 9.2%.
  • Aviation: 9 titles, 7.6%.
  • Boxing: 1 title, 0.8%.
  • Detective: 8 titles, 6.7%.
  • Fantastica: 3 titles, 2.5%.
  • General: 17 titles, 14.3%.
  • Humor: 6 titles, 5%.
  • Miscellaneous: 6 titles, 5%. 
  • Mountie: 1 title, 0.8%.
  • Romance: 14 titles, 11.8%.
  • Saucy: 23 titles, 19.3%.
  • Science Fiction: 3 titles, 2.5%.
  • Sports: 1 title, 0.8%.
  • True Crime: 1 title, 0.8%.
  • Underworld: 3 titles, 2.5%.
  • War: 5 titles, 4.2%.
  • Western: 18 titles, 15.1%.

Issue data: 1422 total issues published.

  • Adventure: 156 issues, 11%.
  • Aviation: 50 issues, 3.5%.
  • Boxing: 7 issues, 0.5%.
  • Detective: 168 issues, 11.8%. 
  • Fantastica: 28 issues, 2%.
  • General: 201 issues, 14.1%.
  • Humor: 58 issues, 4.1%. 
  • Miscellaneous: 37 issues, 2.6%. 
  • Mountie: 23 issues, 1.6%.
  • Romance: 210 issues, 14.8%.
  • Saucy: 187 issues, 13.2%.
  • Science Fiction: 23 issues, 1.6%.
  • Sports: 24 issues, 1.7%.
  • True Crime: 12 issues, 0.8%.
  • Underworld: 21 issues, 1.5%.
  • War: 54 issues, 3.8%.
  • Western: 289 issues, 20.3%.

Combined Data:

  1. Western: 15.1% of titles, 20.3% of issues.
  2. Romance: 11.8% of titles, 14.8% of issues.
  3. General: 14.3% of titles, 14.1% of issues. 
  4. Saucy: 19.3% of titles, 13.2% of issues.
  5. Detective: 6.7% of titles, 11.8% of issues. 
  6. Adventure: 9.2% of titles, 11% of issues.
  7. Humor: 5% of titles, 4.1% of issues.
  8. War: 4.2% of titles, 3.8% of issues.
  9. Aviation: 7.6% of titles, 3.5% of issues.
  10. Miscellaneous: 5% of titles, 2.6% of issues.
  11. Fantastica: 2.5% of titles, 2% of issues.
  12. Sports: 0.8% of titles, 1.7% of issues.
  13. Science Fiction: 2.5% of titles, 1.6% of issues.
  14. Mountie: 0.8% of titles, 1.6% of issues.
  15. Underworld: 2.5% of titles, 1.5% of issues.
  16. True Crime: 0.8% of titles, 0.8% of issues. 
  17. Boxing: 0.8% of titles, 0.5% of issues.

Conclusions: Examining the pulps in this fashion has proved to be a useful corrective to me, since compiling and analyzing the numbers has forced me to re-examine some of my assumptions and pre-conceived notions about the pulps. I've only been reading, writing, and thinking about the pulps for a decade now, and yet I'm continually discovering mistakes in my own opinions.

For example, I was under the impression that detective fiction was much more important in the pulps in the 1920s. I think Detective pulps will be in the top three or four through the 1930s, but it's been hovering around an 11-12% market share and the #4 position for several years in a row. I like to twit fans of science fiction pulps for their mistaken ideas about the importance of the sf pulps, but sf's bigger sister, detective, is bigger but not that much more important.

More broadly, the position of women in the pulp-buying audience needs to be re-examined, I think. I'm hardly alone in believing that women weren't, shall we say, in the forefront of the pulp publishers' minds when they were conceiving of and publishing pulps. Pulp scholarship (what there is of it) consigns the female demographic to the romance genre, and assumes that women were buying the slicks rather than the pulps. But a look at the numbers in 1928 certainly makes me wonder if my thoughts here spring from sexism and an underrating of the publishers.

I think we can safely assume that the great majority of the buyers of Romance pulps were women. Regarding the dominant genre, Western, only two of the 18 Western pulps published this year were Western Romances. But there's always been a certain number of women who enjoyed Westerns (and why not?), and if Ranch Romances was largely responsible for the rise of the Western (as I believe it was), why shouldn't we assume that Ranch Romances persuaded both men and women to start buying Western pulps? I think I've been wrong in assuming that the Western audience was derived mostly of men who, on seeing Western pulps on the newsstand, added Westerns to their lists of pulps to buy. Why wouldn't that also apply to women?

Certainly in the late 1920s there were an increasing number of pulps, like Live Girl Stories, which were aimed at the female market, and were an attempt to give women the equivalent of the male adventure pulps, only with female protagonists. And an increasing number of stories in genre pulps like Western and Detective had women in active roles, although the real surge in heroines as lead characters would come in the mid-1930s. The pulps had a surprising number of female protagonists--despite their (deserved) reputation for racism and sexism, the pulps also had a lot of female and non-white heroes and heroines, far far more than appeared in the slicks. So perhaps the truth is that pulp publishers were less in thrall to sexism than we now assume. It would not be at all odd or unusual for greed to trump sexism in their thought processes.

Which means, I think, that we--I--need to conceive of the pulp market as much more mixed than we have thought of it. Certainly in the late 1920s teenage women had a historically unusual amount of money to spend on luxury items (Jon Savage's Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture is quite good on this) like magazines, and I suspect that geek girls, the kind who would like and buy Western and Detective and, yes, Science Fiction pulps, existed in numbers in the late 1920s, even if they were more covert than they are today. So any thoughts about the pulp market needs to take this into account.

From this point out the General category will consist of at least as many pulps like American Pioneer Tales, which had stories from a set, limited number of genres, as it will of pulps like Short Stories and The Popular Magazine, which would print nearly any damned thing. The era of General pulps being primarily wood-pulp-paper-imitators of the major slicks is over.

The Detective pulps are plateaued this year, but Aviation and Western are both up significantly over 1927. The number of Aviation pulps went from 1 in 1927 to 9 in 1928--obviously the publishers wanted to get in on what they perceived as the next big thing. And Western, though only increasing its market share by 2% over 1927, went from 11 titles to 18. Aviation is a fad, and its numbers will dwindle, but Western's won't. From here on out, Westerns will be in the top three.

Humor pulps would seem to be slowly increasing, both in title and market share number, but every Humor pulp published in 1928 is like Captain Billy's Whiz Bang and Jim Jam Jems: a combination of smutty art and stories and smutty jokes. Americans pride themselves on having a good sense of humor, but through the 1920s the best we could do for humor pulps was pr0n, while the Europeans were turning out pure humor pulps, and even the Germans were managing a primitive kind of humor pulp.

Lastly, I've made a separate category for Boxing pulps, but put pulps like Secret Service Stories and Spy Stories into the Miscellaneous category. I'm assuming that there will be enough Boxing pulps to merit a separate category for them, and there won't be enough Espionage pulps to merit a separate category. But after I've done the entirety of pulp history I may find that one or both of those assumptions was wrong. One more thing I'll be changing when I turn these entries into a book.