Pulp magazines – periodicals published on paper so poor that pulp debris in the form of wood chips was actually present on many of the pages – had their heyday in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. During those years, they were the most popular form of portable entertainment available. People lined up every month at the newspaper kiosks to get the new editions of their favorite magazines featuring over-the-top heroes like Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, G-8 And His Battle Aces, and others.
The pulp format ran the gamut of genres. The magazines featured adventure, crime, private eyes, romance, mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, and horror. They even specialized with tales of boxing, aerial combat, and sea stories.
Those old pulp tales saw the rise of several authors who became literary lions: Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales started in pulps, Dashiell Hammett established private eye characters that would later become Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, Raymond Chandler cobbled his first Philip Marlowe novel The Big Sleep from stories he’d sold to Black Mask Magazine, and Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury got their starts in those pages.
There was nothing like the pulps. But after World War II, when guys came back from war after seeing how harsh the world could truly be, they didn’t want heroes that were squeaky clean. They wanted tales about things that showed the darkness they’d discovered. As the paperback originals (like Mickey Spillane’s novels about two-fisted P.I. Mike Hammer) started coming out, the pulps gradually died till only a handful of science fiction magazines were left.
I grew up reading the paperback reprints of Doc Savage and The Shadow. I loved those stories. Short, compact, tightly written, filled with death, disaster, mayhem, and action, they filled my mind with endless adventure. You just can’t find stuff like that any more.
However, a new publishing venture, Astonishing Adventures Magazine is trying to bring those halcyon days back to old fans as well as new aficionados of this brand of fiction. They’ve published their first magazine as a PDF that they’re giving away for free on their website and it’s jam-packed with stories that usually aren’t more than 3500 words long.