I’ve set myself an amusement for the holiday season. You see, I have a bad habit. If I’m not at the computer, writing, I have to be reading something. If I’m not, I get the shakes, and things get blurry, and next thing you know, I’m flopping around on the sofa yelling “The book, Watson, the book.”
The problem is that looking for something to read often takes more time than reading whatever the heck it is. And that I’m looking for a specific type of book, preferably short and not so absorbing it’s going to keep me from finishing way overdue books.
Which is why I tend to get on binges — usually mystery — of finding an author who is innocuous and reading everything he or she has. Only I’m trying to keep it cheap.
Also, I’ll be honest, since my brother sent me the list of SF/F books we owned or read at some point, I’ve been riled at how few of them I remember. I used to have a near-eidetic memory but concussion and other health issues have dented that. I can now start reading a book and only realize in the middle that I read it before. Saves on books, sure, but it’s very annoying, particularly when I realize it’s a book that dented the wall.
My memory is better now, part of the whole thyroid adjustment thing, and I thought “What if I find these books and re-read them?”
Now, this has some issues, as some of the books aren’t available at any price, some are available at crazy prices (I am not going to pay 4.50 for a badly formatted fifty year old A. E. Van Vogt to which the agent didn’t even bother to find a generic cover, but has a picture of Van Vogt on the cover. That foretells of horrors I don’t want to deal with inside.) Some are available from Gutenberg, and I’ll have to transfer (soon.) And some are available but… well, let’s say I’m returning Three Go Back, because someone missed the “just scan the pages and put it up.” They seem to have decided they should put up the PICTURE of the scan instead of running it through ACR. My eyes are NOT that good, and also what the heck?
Anyway, the first one that sort of fell in the category “I can read this and it doesn’t make my eyes twist” was The Green Man of Graypeck by Festus Pragnell (which I hope to Bob is a pen name).
Wow. Holy unadulterated pulp, Batman.
However, if we must — I come to praise pulp, not to bury it.
There is one very good thing about the unadulterated pulp. It has a punchy and immediate beginning, and it keeps the action rolling along on a steam roller. That’s something most of us practitioners of a slightly (ah!) more nuanced art could learn.
Now the world building is … not bad, but rather a collection of stereotypes, and I finally found that one “the women are decorative, and treated as baggage” sf. I haven’t looked at when this was published, but mind you there is more to it than that, since the world has several more or less primitive civilizations, in which the women are “inferior” beings, by lack of body strength, as most women were in uncivilized societies.
OTOH the collection of stereotypes is no worse than the ones we get in most novels now, just a different KIND, and at least to me they were refreshingly novel.
The fun part of this though is seeing that people still felt a need to justify writing novels about a future that never existed, by bringing in some “relevant” “lesson.”
The story is that a man is catapulted into another universe, a very small universe in atoms of our world (go with it.) Given this you expect the almost Tarzan feel of a completely different world (though why some of the people would be humanoid at all… never mind.)
BUT this makes no sense at all when he explains that the collapse of civilization came about because they didn’t listen to Aige Geewells (spelled something like that) about scientific governance. And unless I’m missremembering there’s also a bit about eugenics, which at any rate is implied in the “Status” of the “races” in that world, because eugenics is an old (and crazy) obsession of the left.
Anyway, this is stuck in, where it makes absolutely no sense, and is only about three paragraphs. I remember, when I was a little older (if I read this before, I’d have been very young and not seen the incongruity) just skipping such paragraphs.
I don’t remember when that became impossible, but I think I figured out why.
Look, this books worldbuilding is offensive to my principles at several levels, from the worldbuilding with Superior and Inferior races, assumptions about how women will act, etc. OTOH it is not offensive, because it’s such a different world, the society is so different, and it’s very clearly “Tarzan of the Apes” in Space. (With perhaps a dash of the Odyssey.)
Also, I don’t know how to put this, but it comes across as almost innocent. The writer clearly believed in this load of bull. There is sort of an internal consistency to how the world is organized that tells you he didn’t even think about it, so he either believed it, or thought his audience would without thought. And that makes it more bearable, as does the rip roaring non-stop plot. Why? Because it keeps you reading. You can ignore any truckload of carp, provided the story isn’t boring.
Now am I going to say this is the quality of science fiction I’d like to see? Oh, heck no. For one, I suspect the idea for the story was disproven before it started. Though it was a fun way to get someone to a completely different world.
On the other hand, I also realized why I read these back to back as a kid, even the ones that made me roll my eyes and go “oh, this is so stupid” or “Bud, your politics reek.” They caught you. They did their job first and preached at you second. (And sometimes incoherently, improbably, and in a few paragraphs.) Which I’m cool with.
So, should you read it? If you wish. It’s on Amazon. It’s readable. Do I recommend you pattern your writing on it? Uh… no.
But you might want to look at how he sets up a beginning with a man accused of his brother’s murder, then drags you through a plot that doesn’t stop. Take that and do a bit of better worldbuilding and fewer crazy assumptions (though for his time these might very well have been state of the art assumptions) and you might have a winner.
After all, cringingly strange world building and all, these pulp novels sold and publishing was a money-making business. Mostly because the books were fun to read, and people read them for fun and not out of a sense of obligation.
Perhaps that’s something we should contemplate more often.
Reading a ludic enterprise, not a moral one. One shouldn’t be ashamed of reading (or writing) in a fun way.