First draft of a best-of SF/F/H pulp list coming right up.
Note: I’m not an expert, and I haven’t read most of this stuff. However, I want to become well-read in the area, and there aren’t a lot of resources giving any kind of organization. “Pulps are bigger than you can imagine and way more influential and actually pretty good reading,” people say, and then send you toward a massive and intimidating rabbit hole. So, for the lack of finding something easy, like a “100 Best SF/F/H Pulp Stories” list from someone who actually knows what they’re doing – you and I are stuck with this.
What is Pulp?
Pulp fiction was an inexpensive type of magazine with fiction in it. A pulp magazine was kind of like the Enquirer of stories, the Weekly World News. They were cheap – The first pulp was Argosy, which in 1906 cost ten cents an issue (about $2.55 in 2013 dollars [192 pages–however, the typical issue of a pulp was 128 pages long]) or $1.00 a year (compare to a single issue of F&SF, $2.99 single digital issue/$7.99 print [256ish pages for bimonthly issues], or $12.00 yearly digital subscription/$36.97 print). The first issue of Argosy that was considered a pulp was in 1896. The pulps switched from 10″ by 7″ to digest size (e.g., F&SF size) around WWII, during paper shortages. By 1957, due to production costs as well as increased competition from comics, TV, and cheap paperback novels, the pulps were pretty much over.
“The New Era of Pulps”
Some people have called the coincidence of digital publishing and indie publishing “the new era of pulps.” I don’t know enough to agree or disagree–but apparently the top pulps were selling, at their peak in the late 1920s and early 1930s, a million copies an issue. I was unable to find a single English-language magazine consisting primarily of fiction that sells over a million copies an issue. There are multiple fiction-based TV shows that have over a million viewers an episode, from Big Bang Theory on down. The top-ranking comic book series, Batman, has just over 100K readers per issue. The numbers of views on YouTube videos will have you crying into your wood pulp. I couldn’t find anything on the number of views for fiction websites, but I wouldn’t be surprised if fanfiction didn’t blow the paying markets out of the water. If this is the new era of pulps, there are still some differences.
The methodology I’m starting with:
Flailing around on Wikipedia. Because Wikipedia is edited by multiple editors (and therefore has a reasonable chance of being argued over by more than one person who gives a damn, rather than being just one person’s idiosyncratic list), I started there first. Actually, I started by looking for a real list curated by some experts, but then I moved on to Wikipedia.
Note: Going into the behind-the-scenes stuff on Wikipedia is like finding out about dark energy. The Wikipedia that most people see and use for research, as immense as it is, is just the tip of the iceberg. Sheesh.
I’m sticking with SF, fantasy, and non-reality horror and their subgenres, from 1896 to 1957. Tentatively, I’m going to say the work must have been originally published in a) a pulp-fiction magazine, or b) a dime novel of the same period, which weren’t so much novels as they were pulps with one story in them (having nearly the same format and cost). At least, as far as I can tell.
Pulps seem to gather not so much around authors (many of which were house pseudonyms written by multiple people) as magazines and characters; however, multiple writers emerged from the pulps that went on to have huge careers as paperback and hardcover writers, and I’ll probably end up leaning a bit toward them (e.g., Ray Bradbury).
The List (in no particular order at this time):
- Doc Savage (character). SF. The Man of Bronze, Kenneth Robeson (house name)/Lester Dent (main writer). March 1933, Doc Savage Magazine. Not especially heavy on the SF, but the list would be poorer without him.
- Conan the Barbarian (character). S&S. Originally published mostly in Weird Tales in 1932-1936. Most of the Conan opus was short stories; Robert Jordan put together an excellent chronology of them. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian looks like a good place to start on the earlier written, although not necessarily the earlier chronology, stories.
- Anthony “Buck” Rogers (character). SF. Armageddon 2419 A.D., containing two novellas, “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” and “The Airlords of Han.” Philip Francis Nowlan. First printed in Amazing Stories in 1928.
- John Carter of Mars (character). SF. A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Serialized in All-Story in 1912.
- Seabury Quinn (author). Horror. The Monkey God and Other Stories, by Seabury Quinn. Wrote primarily for Weird Tales in the 1930s, and was famous for an occult detective named Jules de Grandin.
- Solomon Kane (character). Horror. Published in Weird Tales in 1928 onward. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, Robert E. Howard.
- Allen Quartermain (character). Adventure/Fantasy. This is admittedly pushing it. The first book, King Solomon’s Mines, was published as a novel in 1885 (wrong format, wrong year). However, subsequent books in the series were published during the pulp period in the pulps (I think). Ach, I’m just going to leave it. He’s the basis of Indiana Jones. If you aren’t going to fudge the lines for Indy, then who?
- William Hope Hodgson (author). Horror. Published in all kind of US/UK pulps, including The Red Magazine, starting in 1904. I’m going to go slightly off-topic again and say the best choice here is The Night Land, published in 1912 as a novel, because it was greatly praised by both Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.
- Gertrude Barrows Bennet (author), aka Francis Stevens. Dark Fantasy. “The woman who invented dark fantasy.” Published her first written story at age 17 in Argosy in 1904. The Heads of Cereberus, first published in the pulp The Thrill Book in 1919, was possibly the first parallel-worlds story. Personally, I can’t imagine that Gene Wolfe wasn’t making a reference to her in his similarly-titled novella.
- William Wallace Cook (author), aka John Milton Edwards. SF. Published hundreds of stories and dime novels, wrote the magnificent plot generator Plotto. Doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia page. Yikes. Adrift in the Unknown, first appeared in the Argosy in 1904-5.
- Clarence Aaron “Tod” Robbins (author). Horror. Published in All-Story Weekly and more. Best known for the short story “Spurs,” which was made into the movie Freaks. Freaks and Fantasies collects many of his more famous short stories.
- Abraham Grace Merritt (author). Fantasy. Listed in Appendix N of The Dungeon Master’s Guide and is cited as an influence of Lovecraft. The Moon Pool, published as two novellas, “The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool” in All-Story Weekly in 1918-1919.
- Ralph Milne Farley (author), aka Roger Sherman Hoar. SF. He wrote some John-Carterish stories in The Radio Man and its sequels, but I find the short story collection The Omnibus of Time, a collection of time-travel-paradox stories, far more interesting. Stories originally appeared in Amazing, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Weird Tales, and more, although I can’t track down exactly when at the moment.
- Ray Cummings (author). SF. Worked as a technical writer for Edison. In the 1940s, shifted to writing comics, including some for Captain America. Many works published in Argosy in the late 1920s. The Ray Cummings Megapack: 25 Golden Age Science Fiction and Mystery Tales.
- Edward Elmer or E.E. “Doc” Smith (author). SF, the “father of space opera.” Most famous for the Lensman series, mainly published in Astounding Stories in the mid to late 1930s. Triplanetary is the first in the series. Runner-up for the Hugo Award for all-time best series.
- H.G. Wells (author). SF. One of the fathers of SF (it was a genetic engineering thing, multiple fathers of SF, okay? Okay). The War of the Worlds, published 1897 in Cosmopolitan in the US. Heh. I doubt they were giving advice on how to blow your boyfriend’s mind at the time, but if they had been, this would have worked. To me, The Island of Doctor Moreau seems the most classically pulp of what he’s done, though.
- Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie (authors). SF. When Worlds Collide, 1933, in Blue Book magazine. May have helped inspire Flash Gordon and Superman.
- John Buchnan (author). Fantasy. While he’s most famous for the novel The 39 Steps, his fantasy short stories are what we’re interested in here. The Far Islands and Other Tales of Fantasy, with stories from 1901 forward.
- John Collier (author). Fantasy. Fancies and Goodnights collects many of his more famous short stories, some of which were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, and more.
- G.K. Chesteron (author). A bit of a stretch, as mostly his stories appeared in places like The Saturday Evening Post. However, since the SEP also published people like Bradbury and Heinlein, I’m going to fudge it. The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908.
- Sax Rohmer, aka Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (author). Horror. Famous for his Fu Manchu stories; the beard is named after the character. You know you’ve made it as a writer when they name beards after your work. Brood of the Witch Queen is his most famous horror work. Set “in the bowels of a pyramid.”
- Arthur Machen (author). Horror. His novella “The Great God Pan” was called “maybe the best [horror story] in the English language” by Stephen King. Arthur Machen Collected Works: 23 Tales of Horror & Other Fiction Short Stories.
- M.P. Schiel (author). SF. The Purple Cloud, originally published in The Royal Magazine in 1901; it was later praised by Lovecraft as an excellent example of weird fiction.
- Talbot Mundy (author). Fantasy and SF. The Jimgrim series, which begins with Guns of the Gods and has multiple books in The Talbot Mundy Megapack, 28 Classic Novels and Short Stories. The most famous of the series is King of the Khyber Rifles. Most of his novels originally appeared in Adventure.
- Jules Verne (author). SF. He’s outside the time limit, but did publish his works as serials. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1869 in French, translated into English in 1870. The real reason I want to include this is that it seems impossible to have a pulp list without Captain Nemo in it.
- August Derleth (author). A divisive figure, August Derleth both supported Lovecraft’s work and probably help save it from being forgotten (he founded Arkham House to publish Lovecraft’s work) and undermined it, by writing posthumous stories based on fragments of Lovecraft’s work under Lovecraft’s name. Lovecraft’s more hopeful, more Christian heir. Also wrote a lot of mystery stories about the detective Solar Pons, which aren’t relevant here. Some of these Cthulu Mythos stories can be found in The Mask of Cthulu, which originally appeared mainly in Weird Tales.
- Tom Swift (character). SF. Created by Edward Stratemeyer and written by the house pseudonym Victor Appleton. Both Asimov and Steve Wozniak called Tom Swift an inspiration. The series starts with Tom Swift and his Motor Cycle, published in 1910 by Grosset & Dunlap. Not technically pulp, but…c’mon.
- Flash Gordon (character). SF. Cartoons. Created by Alex Raymond in 1934, along with ghostwriter Don Moore. Flash Gordon, Volume 1.
- Isaac Asimov (author). SF. While Asimov’s career spanned decades, I, Robot collected nine of his stories written during the pulp period.
- Robert Heinlein (author). SF. Another long-term career author. Heinlein’s earlier short stories, about Future History, were collected in The Past Through Tomorrow. His juveniles were also a big deal, but…I’d start with the short story collection.
- L. Ron Hubbard (author). SF. While famous for founding Scientology and writing the Battlefield Earth series in the ’80s, the Stories from the Golden Age series seems a better bet, pulp-wise. The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Collection looks about right.
- Carl Richard Jacobi (author). Horror. A short story writer, many of his tales appeared in Weird Tales and Startling Stories. Revelations in Black contains many pulp-era stories.
- Clifford D. Simak (author). SF. Hugo- and Nebula-winning author. Check out The Fourth Golden Age of Science Fiction Megapack: Clifford D. Simak, via Wildside Press. Really, Wildside has a wonderful amount of all kinds of pulp available.
- Theodore Sturgeon (author). SF. The Ultimate Egoist: Volume 1: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. These collections are pretty cool, with the stories in chronological order–I forget if they’re written-chronological or published-chronological. Watch Sturgeon go from writing stories about vanilla (literally!) to some of the weirder fiction you’ll ever come across.
- A.E. Van Vogt (author). SF. Look, he wrote a lot of great stuff. But you have to read Slan, serialized in Astounding in 1940. Fans are slans.
- Arthur C. Clarke (author). SF. The transformative effect of Arthur C. Clarke on SF and on science can’t be covered here. But check out the collection The Nine Billion Names of God, which gathers some of his earlier stories.
- James Blish (author). SF. Adapted many episodes of Star Trek in collections. Originally published in Astounding, the series of four novels known as Cities in Flight (published starting in, I think, 1952). is perhaps his most famous work.
- Poul Anderson (author). SF. A founding member of the SCA, a president of SFWA, and a Grand Master. Guardians of Time collects time-travel stories from the mid- to late-1950s.
- Alfred Bester (author). SF. Wrote comics early in his career and is credited with the Green Lantern Corp’s oath, “In brightest day, in darkest night…” Also wrote many radio scripts. The Demolished Man was serialized in Galaxy in 1953.
- Nelson S. Bond (author). SF. Wrote for radio, TV, PR, and fiction. It looks like the best bet for tracking down an entire book of his (he’s in all kinds of anthologies) is That Worlds May Live, first published in 1943 in Amazing.
- Leigh Brackett (author). SF. Wrote SF, mystery, and movie scripts for novels like The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and The Empire Strikes Back. Known as the Queen of Space Opera. The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark contains the four EJS novels, including Black Amazon of Mars. The novels were first published in Planet Stores in 1949.
- Robert W. Chambers (author). Horror. This one crosses outside pulp proper, but it seems odd to try to put together a list without The King in Yellow, 1895.
- Clark Ashton Smith (author). Horror. “One of the big three of Weird Tales,” with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and was friends with both. Wrote stories in the Cthulu Mythos, as well as other darkly fantastic stories, from 1926-1935ish. The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies looks like a good collection to start with.
- Algernon Blackwood (author). Horror. A prolific ghost story writer: wrote “The Wendigo,” one of my personal favorites. The First Algernon Blackwood Megapack: 36 Classic Tales of the Supernatural looks like a good starting point and (yay!) contains “The Wendigo” (1910).
- H.P. Lovecraft (author). Horror. I really liked Lovecraft, a graphic novel by Keith Giffin and Hans Rodionoff. I mention this every time Lovecraft comes up… There are a bajillion Lovecraft collections; I’m listing Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft because I think it was one of the first ones I read. Call me objective, will you…
- Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany (author). Fantasy. Another one of those not-quite-pulp guys that influenced so many writers it would be silly to leave him out. It looks like “anywhere” is the general consensus of where to start with Dunsany, but as this is quite overwhelming, I’m going to say The Book of Wonder (1912) is as good a place as any.
- Harry Stephen Keeler (author). Horror. A pulp writer whose works became increasingly bizarre. Was all about “the webwork plot,” in which the twist ending is the result of multiple strands interacting with each other. Strands of the Web: The Short Stories of Harry Stephen Keeler collects stories written in the 30s and 40s.
- Henry S. Whitehead (author). Horror. Published often in Weird Tales. His collection Jumbee and Other Uncanny Tales collects stories written in the 1920s and 1930s.
- Charles Beaumont (author). Weird Fiction. Wrote many episodes of The Twilight Zone. The Hunger and Other Stories (1957) collects some early, strong work.
- Andre Norton (author). SF/F. While she has an immense body of work, I’m going to go with Star Rangers (1953) and Star Guard (1955), two of her earlier genre novels.
- Arthur Leo Zagat (author). Weird Fiction. A lawyer who wrote hundreds of weird fiction tales. The Arthur Leo Zagat Science Fiction Megapack (stories from 1930-1948) seems like a good place to start.
- Bram Stoker (author). Horror. He started out with Gothic stories (of which Dracula is one), but lived into the pulp period. I’m going to stretch it and say that his collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories is close enough.
- E.F. Benson (author). Horror. Prrrobably not pulp. And I’ll probably remove this later. But Lovecraft spoke well of him, and I love his work. The E.F. Benson Megapack will probably not do you wrong (1912-1934).
- Edmond Hamilton (author). Science Fiction. Probably most remembered for the Captain Future series. The Edmond Hamilton Megapack covers short stories from 1930 to 1962.
- Achmed Abdullah (author). Fantasy/Horror/Adventure. A number of interesting lies in his autobiography, including descent from the Russian Imperial family. The Achmed Abdullah Megapack covers short stories from 1917 to 1943.
- Edwin L. Arnold (author). SF. His Gullivar of Mars (1905) may have been the precursor to John Carter.
- Robert Bloch (author). Horror/Weird Fiction. While he’s most famous for Psycho, he was also a prolific writer of short stories and weird fiction. The Opener of the Way (1945) covers many of his early short stories.
- Arthur J. Burks (author). Weird Fiction/Adventure/Horror. A WWI Marine who retired to write a million words a year for the pulps, mostly Weird Tales. Horror Stories (Will Murray’s Pulp Classics) (1935-1940).
- John W. Campbell (author). Known more as an editor, he also wrote a good deal of pulp SF. Wrote the short story “Who Goes There?” (1938, under the penname Don A. Stuart) which became the basis for the movie The Thing. The Best of John W. Campbell includes it.
- Mark Clifton and Frank Riley (authors). SF. Authors of the Hugo-winning novel They’d Rather Be Right (serialized in Astounding in 1954), a.k.a. The Forever Machine, about a computer who can grant immortality…if you’re willing to give up your prejudices. It may have been pushed through by the Scientologists.
- Lester del Rey (author). SF. Before he became an editor, he was a pulp SF writer. The Fifth Golden Age of Science Fiction Megapack: Featuring the Work of Lester Del Rey covers stories from 1950-1957.
- Charles W. Diffin (author). SF. An engineer and airplane salesman who was all over Astounding. Holocaust and Other Science Fiction Stories covers stories from 1930 onward.
- Randall Garrett (author). SF/F. While he wrote a wide variety of works, he’s most famous for the Lord Darcy series, a detective in a world where magic works. Mentored Robert Silverberg. Randall Garrett, Science Fiction Collection drifts into the 1960s, but contains several stories from the 1950s.
- Homer Eon Flint (author). SF/F. May have been killed in a bank robbery attempt. One of his stories was the basis for the movie The Amazing Colussus Man (featured on MST3K). The Homer Eon Flint Omnibus covers three collections from 1919 and 1920.
- Raymond Z. Gallun (author). SF. One of the first writers of sympathetic aliens. A First Glimpse & Other Science Fiction Classics appears to be the best bet.
- Winston K. Marks (author). SF. The First Golden Age of Science Fiction Megapack: 12 Classic Science Fiction Tales by Winston K. Marks (stories from 1953-1958). Poor guy. Most famous for being semi-forgotten but apparently a decent writer.
- C.L. Moore (author). SF/F/Weird. The Best of C.L. Moore. Married to Henry Kuttner; together they wrote as Lewis Padgett and others.
- Henry Kuttner (author). SF/F/Weird. The Best of Henry Kuttner. Includes stories co-written by himself and C.L. Moore under various pseudonyms, including Lewis Padgett.
- L. Sprague de Camp (author). SF/F. As a SF writer, wrote one of the seminal time-travel stories, Lest Darkness Fall.
- Gavagan’s Bar (fictional place). SF/F. By L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Barroom tales of a light-fantastical nature. Tales from Gavagan’s Bar.
- Fritz Lieber (author). SF/F/H. Famous for his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, first published in 1939 in Unknown. Fritz Lieber: Selected Stories does reach past the pulp era, but starts there.
- Manly Wade Wellman (author). SF/F, wrote many other genres. Strangely, a lot of his stuff is hard to find…except on audiobook. The Third Cry to Legba and Other Invocations: The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Vol. 1) is one such example.
- Frank Belknap Long (author). Weird/Horror. Mentored by H.P. Lovecraft. The Hounds of Tindalos contains his most famous work (a short story of the same name) as well as much of his earlier fiction.
- H. Rider Haggard (author). Adventure. One of the earliest pulp writers; he is most famous for his character Alan Quartermain, one of the bases for Indiana Jones. He’s first featured in King Solomon’s Mines.
- Ray Bradbury (author). SF/F/H. While I have trouble with some of his longer work, I love his short stories. I’d go for Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales.
- Fredrick Brown (author). SF. One of his short stories, “Arena,” first published in Astounding in 1944, was named as one of the best SF stories written before the Nebulas started. The Fredrick Brown Megapack contains that story and more.
- Stanley G. Weinbaum (author). SF. His first story was published in 1934, and he was dead 18 months later. The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum contains that story and more.
- Hugh B. Cave (author). Weird/Horror. In the 1930s, published about 800 stories under various pseudonyms. Murgunstrumm and Others collects some of his best short work.
- Sir Author Conan Doyle (author). Mystery/adventure. While he was best known for Sherlock Holmes, Doyle is also well known for his SF/F adventure stories featuring Professor Challenger, incluing The Lost World.
- Rudyard Kipling (author). Adventure. Best known for The Jungle Book, he also wrote lots of classic fantasy and horror stories, collected in Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror and Fantasy.
The Pulp Net. Resource list of blogs, bibliographies, a pulp wiki, and more.
Black Dog Books. Reprints/ebooks of classic pulp-era adventure fiction (not otherwise sorted by genre).
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. A wealth of information. Under the “Themes” link, a good Pulp article listing specifically SF-related pulps (scroll down).