Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Pulpcon 33 was last week and weekend. It's a very interesting and fun convention, on the whole. If you love pulp heroes, noir art, mysteries, adventure, old fiction, and the smell of acidic paper committing suicide, you definitely ought to come. But it is not like most other cons.

First off, it's not held in a hotel but the Convention Center. Indeed, it centers on the dealer room, with secondary expeditions to the annual sales at Bonnett's (in the Oregon District), the Dragon's Lair (comic/bookshop two blocks in the other direction), and Bookery Fantasy (in Fairborn -- and check out this review). The problem is that, for me, this is rather like being a drug addict at a pharmaceutical convention. The only consolation is that the rest of the people are as bad as I am -- no, worse!

Second, there isn't much in the way of programming. There are guests, who had something to do with the pulp industry, and they make presentations. There is also a reader's theater radio play, various other presentations, and auctions. Lots of auctions. Auctions every night. Full of stuff that will caaaaaaaalllll to you. Honestly, it's a menace. OTOH, I never thought I'd own one Hannes Bok sketch, much less two. (I managed not to bid on any Bok this time, thank God...he was starting to invade my brain.) The bargains are hard to pass up, though. I wound up with a beautiful art book of b&w illustrations by Virgil Finlay called Phantasms which went for five bucks.

Third, the hospitality suite is only open when the con staff remember to open it up, which seems to be at some rather odd hours. Also, if you want drinks and munchies, you'd be well advised to bring some for everybody, as resupply can be haphazard. But hey, the conversations are definitely worth it!

No previous knowledge of pulps is required. Whatever you know, the other people here will know more -- but they will be more than willing to share information with you. It's a small, friendly fandom that is very welcoming.

The fandom is overwhelmingly male, btw -- even more so than Sherlockian fandom. Sherlockians are perhaps 3/5 to 3/4 male. Pulpcon had about ten women among about two hundred in attendance, but they weren't marginized in any way. I suppose most girls nowadays just don't run across much pulp stuff; and pulps historically had a lot of pictures on their covers of beautiful, scantily clad women being menaced by criminals, robots, aliens, and so forth. It's not surprising, then, that there's plenty of merchandise available which deals with this aspect. (Jokily, mostly.) There are also quite a few 'spicy' pulps. Don't be fooled by this; they're all pretty tame by today's standards. (One of the old pulp writers defined 'spicy' as stories in which the heroine loses her clothes, but nothing happens.)

Women had 'love pulps' instead -- with no clothes lost -- but guys used to read and write them, too, just as women read and wrote stories for the male-marketed adventure and mystery pulps. There were also Western love pulps like Ranch Romance, which tended to feature plucky girls who knew how to ride and shoot straight. (Well, at least until they hit the late sixties and turned into Gothic Western bimbo tales -- judging from the covers, anyway.) It's a really intriguing chapter of literary history that is almost unknown to today's romance fans and women's historians, and it shouldn't be. I long to write about it. The only problem is that...geez, it's so girly! But seriously, the stories aren't too bad. Maybe I can enlist Joy for further explication of the relevant tropes.

However, as a pulp novice, I admit that I tend to go shopping for what I can understand. SF I know (though I can't afford good copies of most sf pulps, alas). Books I know, too, and they're in ample supply at Pulpcon. So guess what I bought! A James Branch Cabell hardcover, mwhahaha! It's from some late non-fantasy trilogy about people living in St. Augustine, but hey, it's Cabell! Also, three hardcover kids' books by Manly Wade Wellman, an old DeCamp book about magic featuring the world's goofiest photo of Aleister Crowley, a compendium of H.P. Lovecraft non-fiction called To Quebec and the Stars, a collection of M.R. James' ghost stories, a couple of John Creasey paperbacks in The Toff series (and I know where to get more!), and some very cool John Dickson Carr paperbacks I've never run across before. The Bride of Newgate is a particularly good Regency mystery which reminds me of Heyer in more tortuous mood.

Black Plumes by Margery Allingham is a 1940 non-Campion mystery which is just as satisfying or more than her series mysteries. The advantage of non-series mysteries is that you get a wider field of potential detectives, victims, and suspects; and Allingham takes full advantage of this with her household visited by love, murder, guilt, and fear. Also, The Allingham Minibus is a really satisfying collection of short stories by Margery Allingham, including a few Campion stories I've never come across. But the rest of the book is the showpiece, frankly. Her ghost stories are genuinely spooky stuff, and her generic fiction is good, too. I was particularly struck by "The Pioneers", a story in which two people whose marriage is breaking up are visited by two newlyweds inspired to marriage by them. (Nothing topical there.)

Anyway, I had a really great time. I'd like to thank Ray Skirsky and John DeWalt, who once again let me hang out with them. Also, it was very cool to get time to talk with John Pelan of Darkside Press. He really does want to hear what you think about his books!

The personable and knowledgeable Howard DeVore wasn't there this year for health reasons (sigh), but you can read his 2003 report.


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