Bucking Tradition: 10 Interesting Takes on Pulp

There’s a reason that acclaimed authors of literary fiction, from Borges to Atwood, from Houellebecq to Moody, find resonance in the pulp tradition. Detective stories, science fiction, and tales of horror can inform and influence novels that seem to be more rooted in reality or mundane life. But some of the most interesting work occurs in the space between the two — novels and stories that aren’t necessarily rooted in one literary tradition.

To cite two examples not in the list to come: Kinglsey Amis’s The Green Man manages to function as both a ghost story and a meditation on the presence (or absence) of God; Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl smartly speculates on the geopolitics and technology of a post-oil future, but is also a small masterpiece of classical conflict and plotting. What follows are ten novels, past and present and forthcoming, that fuse pulp thrills with stylistic flair, and arrive at a place that avoids easy categorization. (Except, perhaps, “enjoyable reads.”)

Terese Svoboda: Pirate Talk or Mermalade

Terese Svoboda’s spare, dialogue-only prose lends her novel of the high seas an intentional murkiness that pays off in its second half. We see brothers whose relationship becomes ambiguous, pirates who aren’t necessarily pirates, and killers who’d much prefer to live a life of peace. It’s a seafaring novel stripped down to its rhythms: the dialogue between mothers and children, the tilting of ships in the ocean, the hesitant final walk of the condemned.