12.27.2003

(re)Appreciating Pulp

I'm almost literally hip-deep in writing my "Read and Appreciated in 2003" piece for Fantastic Metropolis and having an enormous amout of fun doing it. Yet it's a sad truth that there was a lot that I read and didn't appreciate this year as well.

The one I feel obligated to talk about, however, is McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, aka 'McSweeney's #10', which I had long anticipated....

I mean, I had such high hopes for this issue/anthology, which I had devoted hours to speculating about from the moment the names were listed on McSweeney's.net. The names filled me with thrills, in fact: Chabon, Moorcock, Ellison, Gaiman, Hornby, Leonard, Eggers, Link and more. It was a listing that absolutely screamed quality.

Michael Chabon is an author that I greatly enjoy. But as an editor? Not so much. And unfortunately, it was Chabon's introduction that first set my teeth on edge.

Chabon laments the death of rip-roaring good stories, which have apparently fallen away beneath an avalanche of do-nothing, go-nowhere PoMo slice-of-non-life non-stories; which, you know, is really only half right. Certainly those kinds of stories tend to fill the pages of self-possessed "Literary" magazines and collections, where everyone wears a black turtleneck and thick-rimmed glasses. But down here in the trenches of readerdom? Nah.... we gots us plenny o' good stories, eh?

And never mind the fact that McSweeney's #10 isn't even close to being a "mammoth" treasury; in fact, at 480 pages, it's barely hit anthology adolescence when compared to the average genre anthology.

None of that really got my goat, though. What upset me, what left me groaning into my pillow in disappointment, had nothing to do with the physical dimensions or overblown hyperbole. It had everything to do with the fact that far too many of the stories included in this "mammoth treasury of thrilling tales" were actually quite.... pedestrian. Boring. Run of the mill.

It wasn't that the stories were actually bad, per se. In fact, some of them were quite good; I particularly enjoyed the contributions from Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Glen David Gold and Carol Emshwiller. Rather, after all of the anticipation, all of the waiting, the anthology simply failed to live up to my expectations. McSweeney's #10 was a flop.

It all came down to attitude.

Chabon and the writers he choose for McSweeney's #10 tried hard to capture the zeitgeist of the pulp era, but failed miserably. Rather than capturing the spirit of the pulps, this Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales was instead an Average-Sized Collection of Reheated Pseudo-Pulp Tales.

Then again, perhaps it's just me. Perhaps I've steeped myself too deeply in pulp fiction to enjoy anything that aspires to be modern 'pulp fiction'.

More on this when I don't have to be at work by 7AM. But here's a hint of what's to come next time....

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