Book - Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction

Steve Taylor-Bryant enters the murky world of bookshop bargain bins to discover some new (to him anyway) names in pulp fiction...

Intellectual burnout. It's a real thing honest, I found it on de tinternet so it must be true! What am I talking about? Well, as reviewers of many things, we read some epic and clever books, worlds that jump into our subconscious, plot twists that are as bizarre as they are clever, character development so rich it hurts my average brain. That's the intellectual I'm talking about, not me, the boys and girls that produce such quality fiction in every genre for us to try and pick holes in. We read and marvel at their creative prowess but burnout can happen, not theirs mind you, they are geniuses, but ours. My head can only take so many interesting and intelligent words before I'm dribbling and rocking in the corner, craving something good but less taxing. Every reviewer has this problem from time to time. You sit for hours immersed in a clever piece of prose, you analysed and worked on how you make your article justify the beauty of what you've just read but what do you do to shut down? What do you read to just empty your mind? With film and television it's easier. For every 2001: A Space Odyssey there is a no brainer piece of tosh like R.I.P.D that you can sit in front of and just let your eyes look at whilst your brain has a little sleep. Bad films, easy watching films, action movies starring whatever Hollywood hero or heroine is popular at that moment can strut their 'just getting a pay check' stuff and you don't think for ninety minutes. Brilliant! But what about books? Reading taxes you more than watching explosions and crappy CGI but the process to relax and have some downtime should be the same. However anyone who has read a really bad book will tell you it's not the same, you can't shut down whilst reading like you can lying on your sofa watching Tom Cruise run around.

Is there a point to this article? I hear you cry, yes there is... Pulp Fiction. Not the Tarantino film but cheap paper products containing stories that entertain but are hardly award winning opuses (although awards are seemingly easier to come by than they should be). Pulp fiction started in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a cheap option that allowed the working classes and, more importantly, children to see the written word, to discover imaginary worlds lost in space and time or follow the grizzled detective as he tracked down some perpetrators of crime. The magazines and books were printed on awfully cheap and poor quality paper, pulp, and by using this printing process and not paying the author a great deal either, reading became financially easier for the consumer. It also became a growing industry for the publisher and, whilst the author wasn't paid much if at all, they became a household name and as their fame grew the reader followed them from the pulp issues into their quality work. The stories were often short and the twists easier to grasp than some epic publication, but they weren't bad in the sense of awful, they just weren’t intellectually challenging.

These types of authors exist today, writing great stories that are there for consumption by the masses rather than aimed at a smaller niche of reader. The author can, and nearly always does, release numerous titles based on the adventures of one single player, usually a detective or a psychiatrist, and sell millions of copies. Quantity over quality for sure (although year upon year the writing becomes better and better) you can walk into your local cheaper option book store and purchase three books for the price of skinny decaf pumpkin spiced beverage from a high street coffee brand, and have a relaxing read, a good enjoyable story but not one that will stress the neurological parts that maybe a lesser known genre writer on the award circuit might do.

Don't get me wrong, I mean no offence to the authors of these books, in fact I'm going to celebrate a few in this very article and you must remember that the likes of Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick had their big breaks in the old pulp system. I am also not saying that the mass production route is wrong, it really isn't, because anything that gets a population reading and enjoying can't be all bad (even 50 shits of the sexbed has its place) and if the author is able to make a career of writing surely that is also a good thing. I like our modern day pulp fiction. I love getting three books for five pounds. I've discovered all the authors I'm going to mention because buying their titles hasn't been a financial risk. Would I buy these books in a branded bookstore at full cover price? No, I'm not made of money. Fifteen quid for a crime book is ridiculous for anyone and I'm certainly not spending it on the work of an author whose writing I'm not familiar with but picking it up as the modern day equivalent of a 'pulp' book? A book that costs the same as an overpriced chocolate bar? Why not. The stories are good, the characters easy to root for, the locations familiar and enjoyable to picture. These books are the Hollywood films of their respective market. Not Award Winning but easy going and I love them. So who are the authors and books I discovered? Well, I started this year buying books from only bargain bookshops, supermarkets that have a multi-buy offer and my local charity shops that sell new books on poor paper and here’s a few names for you to look for.

Brian Freeman

I came across book one of the Jonathan Stride novels in my local charity shop. Immoral introduces the reader to Lieutenant Jonathan Stride of Duluth, Minnesota, as, for the second time in a year, a teenage girl has gone missing. The girls had little in common and clues are sparse but the media is hounding Stride to catch a serial killer loose on the shores of Lake Superior. The plot is a fascinating one that digs right into the psychological make up of a girl from a twisted background and the scenery of icy woodland adds to the darkness of the tale. As the story progresses and a sighting in Las Vegas is discovered, Stride travels the hot desert and finds his life will change forever. Immoral is the first in a series of six, soon to be seven, Stride novels and each is quite gripping without taxing the brain too much. Any of the titles can be picked up as a first read and each has recaps about certain characters and events woven into the narrative which help them work as standalone titles but do become a tad boring if, like me, you start with Immoral and read them all in order. Put the recap annoyance to one side and you'll see Brian Freeman has captured all of what we like in our detective television shows and managed to transpose that into some solid storytelling. The next instalment is Goodbye to the Dead and is due out early in 2016 and there is also Spitting Devil if you fancy a Stride short story and Turn to Stone is a great novella.

James Rollins

I hadn't heard of James Rollins before finding The Sixth Extinction for £1.99 in my local branch of The Works, a discount book and stationery shop. The Sixth Extinction is apparently the tenth title in the Sigma Force series that started with Sandstorm in 2005, that's a Sigma Force book every year for a decade which is some serious writing schedule. Sigma Force is an elite Black-ops branch of the U.S. Defence Department which, whilst it contains your usual mix of Special Forces soldiers, has the added twist of them also being scientific experts in various fields. The Sixth Extinction takes in an experimental virus being released into the surrounding area near Yellowstone National Park, a crazy bad guy scientist, long thought dead, living in a genetically modified version of a new Eden contained within the jungles of Brazil and an underground world discovered beneath Antarctica. The science throughout the novel seems other worldly and yet, as Rollins explains at the end of the novel, it is all legitimate and currently being worked upon in various stages throughout the world and he has just added some artistic license for narrative purposes. The use of history and the myths that surround historical fact is well placed and interesting. From Darwin and a disputed map showing the coast of Antarctica before it was heavily covered in ice to the Nazi exploration of the area I found myself fascinated about a region I know little about, although I found the genetically modified Brazil a bit too much and it verged on a plant and animal version of Jurassic Park at times. Yes, the science may be sound but it just felt too Island of Dr. Moreau or The Lost World at times whereas the action underneath Antarctica felt new and refreshing. I'll certainly be reading more adventures from Sigma Force soon.

Jonathan Kellerman

Kellerman has earned some well warranted fame as an author due mainly to his Alex Delaware series which follow a child psychologist as he helps police solve crime. What I liked about reading Twisted, which was another £1.99 purchase, was finding Detective Petra Connor in her own standalone story. Connor had been in the Delaware novels before but not as the main character, although she had always been one that I gravitated towards so reading a Connor novel was quite exciting. After a drive-by shooting outside a concert venue, a potential witness catches Connor's attention which leads her down a path of a serial killer who murders on a certain date at a certain time as pointed out by her grad student assistant, Isaac Gomez. Yes, okay, it's another serial killer book but when this particular trope is done well there is nothing better and Kellerman has all the twists you'd hope for and then some. Connor is a great character, the child genius of Isaac is written sympathetically as you see him struggle with everyday relationships but excel at the intelligence stuff and, whilst I love the Delaware books for their entertainment value, I feel Kellerman has written Twisted with more thought. The cast, no matter how throw away they seem at first, all have their place in the story and unlike his other novels I genuinely didn't see the twist coming in this one. I urge Kellerman to stop with the Delaware books right now and flesh out some more Petra Connor books.

Forty acres
Dwayne Alexander Smith

Here was an author I had never heard of but, during a book buying spree in my local supermarket’s 'buy one get one free' sale, I picked up Forty Acres as my freebie whilst purchasing a Dan Brown book (don't judge me!). What I found wasn't just a really well written novel but a book I think should somehow enter an education curriculum or at least get discussed at a higher level than here. Here's the synopsis...

What if overcoming the legacy of American slavery meant bringing back that very institution? A young black attorney is thrown headlong into controversial issues of race and power in this page-turning and provocative new novel.

Martin Grey, a smart, talented black lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, becomes friendly with a group of some of the most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men in America. He’s dazzled by what they’ve accomplished, and they seem to think he has the potential to be as successful as they are. They invite him for a weekend away from it all—no wives, no cell phones, no talk of business. But far from home and cut off from everyone he loves, he discovers a disturbing secret that challenges some of his deepest convictions…

Martin finds out that his glittering new friends are part of a secret society dedicated to the preservation of the institution of slavery—but this time around, the black men are called “Master.” Joining them seems to guarantee a future without limits; rebuking them almost certainly guarantees his death. Trapped inside a picture-perfect, make-believe world that is home to a frightening reality, Martin must find a way out that will allow him to stay alive without becoming the very thing he hates.

Thought provoking is a term thrown around a lot in reviews and I am desperately trying to find a description that is bigger than that but can't. This is slavery reversed, this is a book about anger, about the past wrongs being reversed, about morality and ethics. It is uncomfortable and rightly so. I am a forty year old white man so could never truly understand the feelings of those whose lives have been tainted with the evil we inflicted (and still do. Sorry had to be said) but Forty Acres gave me just a glimpse of what it would be like and I was horrified. This shouldn't just be a thriller book in a supermarket, this should be a must read by everyone. Not often does a book stay with me after I've read it. In fact that list is very small indeed, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell and now Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith. Whether Smith can continue to shock and provoke, cause debate and thought is yet to be seen as he is in the beginning of his career but a couple more novels like Forty Acres and lumping him in with Dick and Orwell will be a matter of course.

So that’s what I’ve found so far but I know there's plenty more out there. Let me know who and what I should look for next in my discount bargain bin, two-for-one supermarket book buying sprees.

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