The Pulp Fiction Archive: The Cheap, Thrilling Stories That Entertained a Generation of Readers (1896–1946)


For the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, pulp mag­a­zines were a quin­tes­sen­tial form of Amer­i­can enter­tain­ment. Print­ed on cheap, wood pulp paper, the “pulps” (as opposed to the “glossies” or “slicks,” such as The New York­er) had names like The Black Mask and Amaz­ing Sto­ries, and promised read­ers sup­pos­ed­ly true accounts of adven­ture, exploita­tion, hero­ism, and inge­nu­ity. Such out­lets offered a steady stream of work for sta­bles of fic­tion writ­ers, with con­tent rang­ing from short sto­ries about intre­pid explor­ers sav­ing damsels from Nazis/Communists (depend­ing on the pre­cise time of pub­li­ca­tion) to nov­el-length man vs. beast accounts of courage and cun­ning. This, inci­den­tal­ly, gave birth to the term “pulp fic­tion,” pop­u­lar­ized in the 1990s by Quentin Tarantino’s epony­mous film.

In the 1950s, the pulps went into a steep decline. In addi­tion to tele­vi­sion, paper­back nov­els, and com­ic books, the pulps were over­tak­en by the more explic­it, and even low­er brow men’s adven­ture mag­a­zines (read­ers of Tru­man Capote’s In Cold Blood may remem­ber Per­ry Smith, the socio­path­ic mis­fit who mur­dered the Clut­ter fam­i­ly, being an enthu­si­as­tic read­er of these ear­ly lads’ mags). Thanks to The Pulp Mag­a­zines Project, how­ev­er, many of the most famous pub­li­ca­tions remain acces­si­ble today through a well-designed online inter­face. Hun­dreds of issues have been archived in the data­base that spans from 1896 through to 1946. It includes large mag­a­zines, such as The Argosy and Adven­ture, and small­er, more spe­cial­ized fare, such as Air Won­der Sto­ries and Bas­ket­ball Sto­ries. Although good writ­ing occa­sion­al­ly made its way into the pulps, don’t expect these mag­a­zines to mir­ror the lit­er­ary depth of seri­al­ized pub­li­ca­tions of the 19th cen­tu­ry; rather, the archive pro­vides a ter­rif­i­cal­ly enter­tain­ing look at the pop­u­lar read­ing of ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca.

To browse the com­plete data­base, head over to The Pulp Mag­a­zines Project.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Quentin Taran­ti­no Gives Sneak Peek of Pulp Fic­tion to Jon Stew­art (1994)

Isaac Asi­mov Recalls the Gold­en Age of Sci­ence Fic­tion (1937–1950)

Did Shake­speare Write Pulp Fic­tion? (No, But If He Did, It’d Sound Like This)

Down­load 14 Great Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Philip K. Dick as Free Audio Books and Free eBooks

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.