What's truly subversive in 2017? Writing stories without getting on a soapbox.

Politics ruins everything. And it has infiltrated nearly all aspects of our life, including our entertainment.

Perhaps I should say, especially our entertainment.

Politics has always permeated the arts, of course, but lately it just feels so blatant, so in-your-face.

It’s understandable, though. There have been many formulations of the premise that “politics is downstream from culture,” but however it’s said, it explains why entertainment is a battleground.

“The personal is political,” right? Any movement, political or otherwise, needs to capture hearts and minds in order to perpetuate itself and effect change. What better way to do so than through the mechanisms of storytelling? Stories are how human beings relate to each other on deeper emotional, and even spiritual, levels.

“Pure reason” is a myth. Humans are emotional creatures, and rhetoric—an appeal to emotion–is far more effective than the mere recitation of fact, pointing the audience to where the skilled rhetorician wants them to arrive.

But even if it makes sense, it doesn’t always make for good entertainment.

Soapbox Sermons

Even politics one personally agrees with has a way of bogging down the movies and television shows you watch, the music you listen to, and for the purposes of this piece, the books you read. Heavy-handed messages, whether it’s Ayn Rand or Upton Sinclair, have a way of detracting from the enjoyment factor.

Some call this message-fiction: the idea that you will get a heaping helping of the “correct” message in your stories, and you will like it . . . at least if you want to be considered a member of the highly evolved elite. This attitude is not solely confined to the works themselves, as the words and actions of the creators make their intentions clear.

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This trend has been particularly prevalent in the world of science-fiction and fantasy, which has morphed from providing exciting, thought-provoking, anything-goes escapism into a cloistered bastion of gatekeepers adhering making sure that what gets out there is focused on message first, and story second.

“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer and “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” by John Chu are prime examples. Both novels scored Hugo Awards. Neither lacks entertainment value. But are they truly science fiction or excuses to send a message?

Agree … or Else

Few people want to spend time with hectoring scolds in their everyday lives. But much of our arts have turned into moral crusaders telling you that, if you disagree with The Message then there must be something wrong with you.

Stories are methods of communication, but they should above all else be enjoyable.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have found such stories. There is a movement that does not care about writing message fiction. And what’s even more exciting is that it has no rules, no set guidelines or genre-definers, and most importantly, no political litmus test dictating what stories can and cannot contain.

It’s called the Pulp Revolution.

All that the Pulp Revolution—PulpRev for short—cares about is telling amazing stories based on timeless human principles. The purpose? Have fun without alienating half of its potential audience.

But what is the Pulp Revolution? To answer this, it’s helpful to talk about what it isn’t.

No Label Will Stick

The Pulp Revolution is not a genre or subgenre. It has no leader. And it is not a revival nor an imitation of the older sci-fi and fantasy authors in what is known as the pulp era. In the words of P. Alexander, publisher of Cirsova Magazine,

“We are not hell bent on re-inhabiting the past; we are using it as a launching point to go off in new directions. We do not ignore nor do we deny the influence of writers who are not from the pulp eras.”

I’d call PulpRev a conscious decision to reject labels and pre-defined genres in order to tell the most thought-provoking, and action-packed stories possible without getting bogged down in what is “real science” or “hard sci-fi” or “deconstructing fantasy” or whatever. And especially without using the story as nothing more than a piece of political propaganda, even for the politics that the writer agrees with.

Stories might have a message, but they don’t need to be message fiction.

Anyone can pen a political screed. The Pulp Revolution eschews using the characters as mouthpieces for the author’s personal politics.

Stick to the Script

It’s not that politics has or ever will be completely absent from all works of fiction. Lots of classic stories had political messages, and indeed so do some PulpRev works. The difference between then and now is the level of artistry in conveying these messages through great stories that didn’t take the reader out of the adventure. And that’s what the Pulp Revolution wants to reclaim: the “great stories” part.

If you want guns, swords, magic, monsters and spaceships coexisting in the same place, have at it!

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There tends to be a preference for heroism over nihilism. Darkness for darkness’ sake isn’t seen as edgy, but as desperate. These days, goodness and sincerity over darkness and cynicism seems like the counterculture positions compared to decades of post-modern cynicism. I myself see much overlap with the Superversive movement, but your mileage may vary.

This doesn’t mean that there is a Pulp Revolution checklist–far from it. You’ll find disparate stories with characters and milieus ranging from spacefarers, swashbucklers, and hard-boiled detectives to dinosaurs, time-travelers, giant robots, and ghosts.

Nothing ‘Problematic’ Here

What there is is a healthy respect, and often love, of those older works of pre-Campbellian fiction that have been unfairly discarded and maligned as “problematic” in the current parlance. Authors like Robert E. Howard, Leigh Brackett and Jack Vance are looked to for inspiration as much as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.

There is also an ethos of “Give the readers what they want.” There is a vast, under-served audience who wants to be entertained, challenged and exposed to interesting worlds without getting lectured at by self-proclaimed authorities.

The Pulp Revolution eschews using the characters as mouthpieces for the author’s personal politics.Click To Tweet

It’s a proven fact that a dismissive, and even downright hostile, attitude towards the audience is a killer for an industry.

Take a look at Marvel Comics,

By doubling-down on the “correct” political message and depicting differing worldviews in an inaccurate and insulting light, its readership has fallen to the point that its comic wing is essentially irrelevant, existing mainly to maintain the copyrights needed for use in its other, more profitable ventures like movies. The publishing industry has seen a similar trend.

But isn’t the “right” attitude a requirement for entry into the publishing world? Won’t the gatekeepers choke off anything that doesn’t fit the pre-approved agendas?

This is where the do-it-yourself spirit comes in.

Gatekeepers … Take a Hike

The Pulp Revolution doesn’t care about the gatekeepers, nor does it want their acceptance. In fact, it;s content to let them do their own thing. All the Pulp Revolution cares about is getting stories into the hands of enthusiastic readers.

Many authors self-publish–and the Internet has been a godsend for this. The speed at which works can be released without praying some unpaid intern picks your work out of the slush pile is one of the Pulp Revolution’s strong points. There are also smaller publishing houses more than willing to release books that deviate from the publishing citadel’s norms.

It’s akin to how low-cost digital recording, mp3s, and sites like YouTube, MySpace and SoundCloud radically changed the music world. They give great musicians you otherwise never would have heard of the ability to spread their music all across the world in ways previously only dreamed about.

The Pulp Revolution shares this same make-a-name-for-yourself attitude. If there are such steep barriers to entry, then build your own damn door.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, browse some of the works infused with the Pulp Revolution spirit and see if there’s something there for you. In the meantime, there’s a whole world of authors out there interested in nothing more than having fun.

A short bibliography to get you started:


Alex Athans works in an office, writes and makes music. He is serializing his short novel ‘Reset’ on his website. Find him on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade.

Photo credit: Foter.com