This would go on superversive SF but it’s kind of self indulgent, so here we go.
Draft one of the frame story for the massive anthology/novel “Tales of the Once and Future King” is done.
This is no ordinary frame story, though. This is a retro-futuristic fairy tale/western about knights of King Arthur who rescue a Princess locked in a tower from an evil king. It’s got gunfights, romance, wagon chases, secret kings…the works.
The question is interesting, though: Is “Tales of the Once and Future King” pulp?
Let’s apply Misha Burnett’s five pillars of pulp revival to it and find out!
- Action: The focus of the storytelling is on what happens. We know who people are by what they do – This is, or should be, a definite yes. One down.
- Impact: These actions have consequences. While a character’s actions do inform us of that character’s personality, significant actions should never be only character studies. They have lasting real world consequences – I’d say so. Characters make mistakes, these mistakes put them in danger, but they come up with brave and clever ways to solve their problems. Impact works.
- Moral Peril: Consequences are more than just material. In Pulp stories there is not simply the risk that that the hero may fail to defeat the villain, there is also the greater risk that the hero may become the villain – This is where it gets sticky. I really can’t recall any point the heroes were at risk of going “to the dark side” as it were. They have a moral code, but it’s left unstated for the simple reason that an opportunity never arose for them to announce it to the world. That moral code is never really in danger of being broken. My heroes are heroes, and heroes they remain. This has to be a no.
- Romance: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. Not always romance in the modern sense of a relationship involving physical attraction, but a relationship that obligates the pulp hero to take risks on behalf of another – This is another one where it gets sticky. It would be more accurate to say my heroes are driven by honor. Maddie, the viewpoint character and default protagonist, is in the situation she’s in because she is on a quest to rescue her father, but the main driving force of the plot doesn’t revolve around that but on a promise. That said, the heroes will, at times, take outrageous risks in order to defend each other’s lives. And there is a traditional romance in the boy-meets-girl sense. So I’ll give this one a yes.
- Mystery: I am using the word here not in the genre sense of a plot concerned with discovering the identity of a criminal, but in the broader sense of the unknown. There are many potential unknowns—the setting, the true identities of other characters, the events that led up to the current crises – Once again, this is sticky. What the protagonists are trying to accomplish and why are never really a question. There is, I suppose, a brief period of time at the beginning of the story where it remains unclear whether our heroes are in the hands of friends or foes, but it becomes clear fairly quickly who the real bad guys are. I’ll give myself a half point on that one.
So, “Tales of the Once and Future King” hits 3.5 pillars of the pulp revival. Maybe I can get a participation trophy.