Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Counting the spicys

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51frd3a577l-_ac_ul320_sr214320_Two days ago I posted on my Italian-language blog a few stats, derived and reworked from Jess Nevin’s The Pulps about the incidence of spicy pulps and romance pulps on the overall pulp magazines market.
Because by reading certain books about the pulps, sometimes it feels like the pulp magazine rack was somehow dominated by Adventure, and The Argosy, and Weird tales. Black Mask vied for space against the Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown.
And then, oh, yes, there was Spicy Mysteries too.

The numbers of different magazines per category tell a different story.

In 1934 there were 6 science fiction magazines, and 55 spicy pulps. And about 20 romance pulps.
All of them pretty healthy, as this was the golden era of the pulp magazines.
Of all the pulp magazines.

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And until the war first and the advent of the Tijuana Bibles later shot them down, the spicys were the dominant genre in terms of choice of titles if not for number of issues published.
From Jess Nevins’ book it looks like the pulps ecology was one red in tooth and claw, extinction always close at hand, and the dark pool of the spicys was certainly the most ferociously Darwinian venue of the whole pulp world. Racy magazines came and went in the blink of an eye, replaced by other contenders.

ward-spicy-adv-may-1935And the spicys adapted to other niches – interested parties could get Spicy Adventure Stories, Spicy Mystery (actually a smutty weird menace magazine), Spicy Western and Spicy Detective.
That is, “genre spicy magazines”,catering for not one, but two readerships.
And indeed to me these magazines are more interesting than, say, Ginger or Snappy Tales, Silk Stocking Strories or Hollywood Nights.

This connects with my idea that the current ebook market is bringing back a number of features of the old pulp market: fast stories written by fast writers, short stuff sold cheaply and in large numbers.
Also, a pulverization of genres, and a predominance of smut and romance._35

I am not judging anyone, mind you – not the writers, not the readers.
As I said a while back, there’s a full roster of first class writers that paid their bills with racy stories, and said stories are well written and fun.
What might come as a worry, for me, is the distorted perception some readers (and authors) seem to push, something along the lines of

once there was a lot of SF and fantasy, now there’s only romance and erotica

… often blaming the increase in the number of women showing a “sudden interest” for certain genres.

It also seems that involving women with fantasy and science fiction is a bad thing, probably the cause of the current downfall (really?) of the genre. I caught a few nights back stuff like

Supernatural has a mostly female fan-base

said with the brief smirk of superiority of the observer that’s kept safe from these womanly excesses by his ample supply of testosterone.

It appears like a lot of people – at least in my neck of woods, you out there might be luckier than me – is judging the market based on a set of false perceptions and prejudices.

365946ac170e083e20f8cc0cafda12acThe market was never like that, and the female half of the public was always quite engaged with the scene. Did they read romance? Sure.
Spicys? I’m not so sure1.
SF & fantasy? Most certainly, even if their mothers or their teachers (and boyfriends!) frowned.
And indeed, there’s quite a few women that contributed to shape the field of science fiction and fantasy.
C.L. Moore and Leigh Bracket, just to name two?

So, all in all the situation’s not so clean cut and extraordinary as some might claim, and a lot of gurus seem to have missed some essential elements in the story.

The bottom line?
We live in a new pulp era – all you can do is sit down and hammer out those 1.500.000 words per year, or you won’t pay your bills.
And thank your gods for a wide and varied readership.


  1. just as I’m not sure that the bulk of the readership of the current erotica titles is of the female persuasion. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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