Amazing vs. Astounding
A common misperception is that there was a genre of “pulp fiction.” There wasn’t. The pulps were the medium, not the genre. As a term of aesthetic and literary judgment “pulp” applies not to a genre, but to the approach of the pulp writers and magazines: an emphasis on adventure; the privileging of plot over characterization; the use of dialogue and narration as means for delivering information rather than displaying authorial style; the regular use and exploitation of the exotic, whether racial, sexual, socioeconomic, or geographic; simple emotions strongly expressed; and good always triumphing over evil.
The genres used in the pulps were those of traditional popular fiction: action/adventure, detective, science fiction, romance, and so on. The majority of pulps specialized in a specific genre. But the apparently overt emphasis on genre in the specialist pulp magazines was often gainsaid by the content of the stories. Each issue of a specialty pulp was filled with stories within that specialty, but there was a considerable amorphousness in the amount of other-genre material each specialist pulp allowed in its issues. This was especially true with science fiction, which sneaked into everything from sports pulps to railway pulps to the pages of Underworld Romance.
The pulps have long suffered from the perception that they were full of bad writing. Unfortunately, this perception is correct. Although many of the writers were skilled professionals, the low pay rate of the pulps–anywhere from a half cent to 1.25 cents per word–meant that a full-time writer had to write quickly rather than well if he or she wanted to keep him or herself above the poverty line. Moreover, the demand for stories–there were a thousand pulps, a number of which published weekly and biweekly rather than monthly–was so great that the pulps published a large number of stories by amateurs and by writers who wrote only a handful of stories, and most of these writers produced hasty, and therefore inferior, work.