Tuesday, June 23, 2015

European Pulp Science Fiction

That indefatigable researcher Jess Nevins has published two complementary essays about pulp fiction from overseas ("overseas" of the United States and Great Britain, that is).

We tend to forget (or, more likely, we never knew) that pulp was a world-wide publishing phenomenon not confined to an Anglophone readership.

In his first essay, Nevins chronicles European SF pulps prior to 1914:
THE HISTORY of science fiction in America and Great Britain has been the subject of a number of popular and academic studies, and in general is well known, at least among science fiction fans. But the history of European science fiction, defined in this case as the countries of continental Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, and Turkey, is less well-known. Less coverage still has been given to the science fiction pulps of Europe.
In Europe, pulps were called everything from "dime novels" to "story papers" to "gialli" to "heftromane." They can be distinguished from magazines by the quality of paper (poor), the level of pay for writers (worse), the number of articles or stories (fewer), and literary aspirations (none). Proto-pulps, in the form of pamphlets and chapbooks, were common by the 1550s, and the most popular printed matter in Britain, France, and Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries was pamphlet fiction, whether the penny novelettes of Britain, the Bibliothèque Bleue canards of France, or the Volksbüchlein of Germany. Long before magazines became common reading matter, proto-pulps were wide-spread and enjoyed.
There were numerous European science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels published in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, but the fantastic was never as popular in the proto-pulps as adventure and romance stories were. This did not change until the 1860s and 1870s, when writers like Jules Verne, the Frenchman Camille Flammarion, and the Hungarian Mór Jókai wrote best-selling works of science fiction. During these decades European readers began to read science fiction in pamphlet form thanks to imports and translations of American dime novels and British story papers. This influx of science fiction slowly began to create, in the public's mind, the idea that science fiction was a discrete genre of fiction. Of course, this conception was still vague, as the idea of literary genres at all was still only nebulously understood.  . . .
In his second essay, Nevins continues his history of European SF pulps through the end of World War Two. Political turmoil on the Continent inevitably shaped the course of fiction:
. . . [T]he rise in fascism in the German pulps made them less acceptable to foreign publishers. As the decade progressed German pulps became increasingly pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, and anti-foreigner. Jörn Farrow changed from a straightforward science fiction pulp to one in which Germany's involvement in World War One was repeatedly justified and Jews were routinely blamed for German's defeat. By 1934 the most popular science fiction pulp in Germany was Paul Alfred Müller-Murnau's Sun Koh, Die Erbe von Atlantis (150 issues, 1933-1936), about a superhuman Aryan descendant of the Mayan kings and his involvement in the genocide of the lesser races.  . . .
It might surprise you to learn that a major producer of pulp fiction was Spain:
. . . It was Spain and not Germany which was the foremost producer of science fiction pulps during the 1930s. Even the caesura caused by the Spanish Civil War was only a three-year interruption. Few of the Spanish science fiction pulps had the longevity of their German counterparts; the longest-lasting of these Spanish science fiction pulps was José Canellas Casals and Francisco Darnis' Los Vampiros del Aire #1-45 (1933-1934), about the brothers Carlos and Marcos Bon, who put on costumes with mechanical wings and fight a gang of criminals with similar flying suits, as well as witches, ghosts, and werewolves. However, the most popular and longest-lasting Spanish pulp series of the 1930s, though a Western, had huge amounts of fantastic material.  . . .
Even after the war Spanish pulps didn't suffer:
. . . World War Two put an end to the pulp industry in most European countries and depressed it in the rest. The only exception was Spain, which as a non-combatant suffered the least of any European country. Correspondingly, the pulp industry in Spain flourished. While adventure, detective, and Western pulps remained roughly as popular as they were before the war, science fiction became more popular, with a larger number of science fiction pulps appearing than at any time since the start of the Spanish pulp industry in 1921.  . . .
- Essay 1: "An Introduction to Pulp Fiction in Europe Before 1914" is HERE.
- Essay 2: "Planetary Romance, Zombie Mentors, and The Rise of Fascism: European Pulp Fiction 1914-1945" is HERE.
- A Wikipedia article about Nevins is HERE.

Category: Science fiction with a pulpy European flavor


  1. le " pulp " est typiquement américain, il n'y a pas de "pulp " en France , juste des fascicules ( qui eux sont les équivalents des " dime novel" ) et des revues ( magazine ) avec une présentation, un contenu , un papier différents des pulps américains . Les pulps équivalent à ceux américains sont leurs traductions en Angleterre, au Canada , en Australie/Nouvelle-Zélande et en Amérique Latine ( Mexique, Argentine )
    pour la France voir les 3 excellents livres de P.Mellot
    et pour les fascicules en europe

    1. jean-yves: A translation for the benefit of our English-speaking audience:

      "There are no pulps in France, just fascicules (which are the equivalent of dime novels) and revues (magazines) with a different presentation, content and paper from American pulps. The pulps equivalent to the American ones are their translations in England, Canada, Australia/New Zealand and Latin America (Mexico, Argentina).
      for France, see the 3 excellent books by P.Mellot
      and for European pulps

      Translated with DeepL.com (free version)