“Space is big. Really big,” as Douglas Adams observed. So why haven’t we seen any alien life yet?
Odds are a big universe must have some – or are the odds wrong? This is the Fermi Paradox, and today in pulp I’m looking at some of the novels that have explored it.
In 1950 Physicists Enrico Fermi and Michael Hart were chatting in the Los Alamos canteen when the topic turned to UFOs. Where were they? After a few calculations Fermi felt the probability of alien life was high enough; we just didn’t have any evidence ‘they’ were out there.
Frank Drake built on this in 1961. The Drake equation looked at the probabilities for how many stars and planets over what period could host life that could become intelligent and travel in space. Life on Earth meant the probability must be more than zero, but how much more?
Today in pulp... let me introduce you to Mark Hardin: The Penetrator!
Mark Hardin is a one-man strike force against corruption. Orphaned at the age of four he was brought up mean and hungry. He learned his fighting skills in Vietnam before returning to an America gone bad.
Actually The Penetrator is one of a long list of vigilante pulp heroes thrown up in the 1970s counter-counterculture backlash, along with The Destroyer, The Executioner The Iceman and The Marksman to name but a few.
Today in pulp I look back at an amazing but slightly forgotten British publisher: a company that made a virtue of necessity and an art form out of amazement...
John Spencer and Co was founded in London in 1946 by Samuel Assael and specialised in publishing original fiction, normally written to order by freelance writers using house aliases. Like many pulp publishers they paid a flat rate for copy – up to ten shillings per 1,000 words.
Initially Spencer focussed on story magazines in digest and pocketbook form: Tales of Tomorrow, Out Of This World and Supernatural Stories focussed on fantasy and sci-fi short stories. But the digest market was beginning to decline as the post-war paperback market began to boom.
Time now to look at one of the biggest stars of wrestling: a man who had the crowds booing, hissing and paying to see him in the ring and on TV.
I am of course talking about Gorgeous George...
George Raymond Wagner was born in Nebraska in 1915. Age 17 he was paid 35 cents to wrestle at a carnival. When his amateur wrestling coach found out he kicked him out, furious that he was now a "professional wrestler."
Wagner was 'only' 5ft 9in tall and weighed 215 pounds, but he was athletic and technically solid. By 1938 he had won his first title.
Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg were graphic designers from Moscow who produced a range of amazing constructivist film posters during the 1920s.
Let's look at some of their work...
Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg were born in Moscow in 1899 and 1900 respectively. Their father was a Swedish artist who encouraged their interest in both painting and graphic design.
The Stenberg brothers were students at the Stroganov School of Applied Art when they first started to design posters. They founded the Society of Young Artists in 1919 and held their own constructivist art exhibition in 1922.
Today in pulp I look at the original white stripes.... the world of dazzle camoflague!
Traditional pattern camoflague had been used by the British Royal Navy to break up a ship's outline for some time. But in 1917 artist Norman Wilkinson presented the Admiralty with a different idea - camoflague that confused the enemy rangefinders.
Dazzle - known in the US as Razzle Dazzle - would use high contrast colours in irregular patterns to make it difficult for enemy gunners to calculate a ship's range and bearing. This would (hopefully) lead to them taking up a poor firing position when they attacked.
Happy #808day everybody! And as we're celebrating the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer I make no apologies for sampling one of my favourite previous threads.
This is the story of digital synthesised music...
In the 1940s Musique Concrète introduced the idea of sampling and sound distortion into musical composition - often with the help of audio tape splicing.
It was all very avant-garde, but it was limited by the available technology.
However by 1957 the massive experimental RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer had shown composers how an analogue synthesizer could be paired with a programmable sequencer to play music too complex for human musicians to manage.
JX Williams was an alias used by many writers who knocked out cheesy sex pulp for Greenleaf publishing. At least 20% of each novel had to be sex scenes with the other 80% titillation, voyeurism or padding.
As a result Greenleaf plots were somewhat thin affairs: sexy sensationalism was more important than character arcs or the niceties of the three act drama.
Time once again for my occasional series "Women with great hair fleeing gothic houses!"
And today it's a Queen-Sized Gothic special...
'Queen-Size' is a polite way of saying large print, which is a format that has a lot going for it. For a start it's much easier to read!
However for years the standard size for a paperback book was the dimensions of a coat pocket. Paperbacks were meant to be read on the train or bus, so they had to be compact. The US term for them was 'pocket books.'
Today in pulp... I look back at an artist whose brazen, action-packed news images captured the essence of post-war Italy: Walter Molino!
Molino began his career as an illustrator and caricaturist in 1935, working on a number of Italian newspapers. But in 1941 he took the prize spot for Italian commercial artists: cover illustrator for La Domenica del Corriere.
La Domenica del Corriere came out every Sunday, free with Corriere della Sera, and its hallmark was always its cover illustration: striking, exciting and sensationalist!