Out of the Past

In the end I went for World of Tiers, but ran out of steam somewhere in the second book. Farmer was a better writer — prose stylist, at least — than Zelazny and the story jogged along likeably enough, but eventually it seemed too familiar and too generic and the novelty wore off. I may still dig out To Your Scattered Bodies Go, but I need a bit of a pause first. There’s only so much pulp a person can take in one go.

Back at the start of the year, again at least partly in reaction to a variety of grim events in the real world, I had a massive binge on Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr, with similar gripping-but-eventually-exhausting results. There’s some more of those stacked up around the place too, which I’ll get to in due course.

One of the peripheral lessons of that episode was that Amazon marketplace sellers make it surprisingly easy to get hold of (at least some) interesting, quasi-forgotten and disposable old fiction that nobody can be bothered to republish even in ebook form. Some of the popular writers of yesteryear were astonishingly prolific, churning out hundreds of well-crafted tomes over careers spanning decades. Mass market publishers would print them in tiny type on toilet paper with almost no margins and sell them for pennies to a voracious reading public, adding little blurbs in the back to urge the reader to send them, after reading, to our brave boys overseas, to keep them entertained in the longueurs between battles with Huns and Japs. So many words, long since cast adrift. So many fiddly copyright issues it’s not worth anyone’s effort to unpick nowadays.

Which is a shame, really, because some of that stuff remains eminently readable. Dated, maybe, occasionally even offensive, but fascinating both as a window into another world and as fiction in its own right. In this year of victories for ignorant and toxic nostalgia, it’s hard not to wish people would get better acquainted with the past through the evidence of its actual words, rather than trying to foist their half-baked fantasy version onto a real world that has no use for it at all.

All of which is an awfully roundabout way to note that I managed to pick up a replacement copy of Roadmarks for the laughable sum of 10p (plus shipping). So if and when I get a second pulp wind, that’ll probably be top of the reading list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *