Can we have better pulp fiction please?

A Song of Ice and Fire
Image by f_r_e via Flickr

So. I’m trying to get an Advance Reading Copy of A Dance With Dragons, because everyone is excited about it and Vandermeer has one and I feel left out. So far, no luck, although I’m told I’m on the list as soon as any arrive in the UK. Which is cool.

So why are so many people so excited about A Dance With Dragons? BECAUSE GEORGE R R MARTIN IS A MASTER OF PULP…that’s why. Yes, having your own HBO mini-series helps. But that would never have happened if the books weren’t hot shit in the first place. Which they are. And it also helps that GRRM is writing in to a pulp field with almost no competition at the moment.

Let’s place GRRM in context. First, he isn’t Tolkien. Lord of the Rings exists on a whole other level, a work of modern mythopoeia so important that Tolkien had to invent the term himself. Our modern age needs myths, and Tolkien’s is one of the few truly great ones. Neither is A Song of Ice and Fire (I wonder how long before the rename the whole saga A Game of Thrones?) in any way a great work of literature. His books have been called Shakespearean. Beyond the fact that lots of people die, they aren’t. GRRM isn’t even attempting to dissect human behaviour as Shakespeare did. And that is a good thing.

Because what GRRM is doing is producing absolutely masterful pulp fiction. Stories where every character leaps fully formed from the page in all their archetypal glory. Where the plot careens forward through murder, revenge, war, incest, more murder, more revenge and on and on and on without apparent end. And it’s GREAT. Pulp fiction, done well, is an absolute joy. MORE I say MORE, MORE, MORE.

George R R Martin is a master of pulp fiction, a mastery achieved over decades as a Hugo award winning SF novelist then a jobbing Hollywood screenwriter. And that mastery shows when you compare GRRM’s writing to almost any other writer attempting to make pulp fiction within the SF & Fantasy genres. Publishers are flooding the market with pulp fiction across every sub-genre of fantastic literature, but there are very few, if any, writers who can match GRRM. And most fall far, far short of the mark. Wooden characters, incompetent plots, plodding and overwritten prose. Not only are most of the authors too inexperienced to have any mastery of the tools of pulp fiction, they’re being corralled into churning out a book a year or even more. The results are an undending flood of mediocre or worse fiction that fails even at its pulp aspirations.

So come on publishers. Can we value our pulp fiction more please? Give authors time to master the tools on small projects before throwing them in to multi-volume sagas, and wait the time it takes even GRRM to produce a great work of pulp fiction.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

4 thoughts on “Can we have better pulp fiction please?

  1. This is just so incredibly condescending to Martin’s work I don’t know where to start. It shows, yet again, a tendency on your part to make divisions in literature based on received ideas. I’m sorry, but I’d take Martin over Tolkien any day of the week. Indeed, I am beginning to wonder if you’re displaying British-centricism here. JeffV



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