I read to be entertained.
I read to escape.
I read pulp.
Catch me at a debate tournament and you’ll likely find me in the school library, where results are being tabulated. Catch me in that library and you’ll watch me walk right by stacks of quality literature to pick up a graphic novel. I actively prefer YA to adult fiction. Given the choice between a new Aliette de Bodard release and a Heinlein I’ve read three times, I’ll likely reach for the Heinlein. I recognize that my tastes as a reader limit my ability to write for upscale markets, but I can’t apologize for it. It’s who I am, and who I’ve always been.
My principal introduction to the writing of fiction was through “efeds,” which are, roughly speaking, exercises in competitive mosaic fiction. The game master sets up a scenario, the writers adopt various characters and turn them loose in the scenario, and everyone produces individual story segments featuring their own character existing and changing the story universe, but all while confined by the events and changes created by previous characters. This format, as you might guess, is better-suited to slam-bang action than carefully constructed plots. I played in efeds which placed the players in the roles of hired mercenaries, superheroes, and even professional wrestlers. It was pulp. I loved creating it.
Pulp hasn’t got the market presence it once had, in part because its core market has been captured by video games and by serial novels set in video game universes. But there are, as it turns out, readers who long for the literary conventions of yesteryear. Signalling their affiliation under the hashtag #PulpRevolution, they’ve been gaining ground over the last two years or so, opening up new venues for old-school, action-centric work. One of those venues, Cirsova, even picked up a Hugo nomination this year.
I dreamed, one night, of Amelia Owen, Countess of Basingstoke. She appeared in a gown, sitting in an ornate Victorian parlor, spinning an antique globe with a dreamy smile playing about her lips. I awoke knowing that she was the protagonist of a story—but what story? Certainly a pulp adventure of the old school—something along the lines of what H. Rider Haggard would have dreamed up. Certainly she’d be the center of a motley band of ruffians and rogues, all of them outcasts, but each of them admirable in their own way. Eventually it became clear to me that they were Queen Victoria’s cleanup crew—that Her Majesty was secretly ashamed of the atrocities of empire, and occasionally found it necessary to intervene directly in order to right the worst wrongs of colonialism. Lady Amelia and her menagerie were to be the Queen’s hand, deployed to work Her Majesty’s secret will, and to bend the arc of empire towards justice.
Was this a novel? A series of novels? Alas, after the donnybrook that was Axis of Eternity, I didn’t feel I had another one in me, at least not for a while. But the story wanted out of my head, and was not to be denied. So over a couple of weeks, with no realistic prospect of publication, I splattered an eight-thousand word initial adventure into my word processor. And then I left them there for a couple of years while I strove to write something I could sell.
The literary market is a funny thing. While I butted my head against numerous brick walls trying to get the rest of my work into print, the #PulpRevolution was steadily brewing in the background. Enter, at this stage, Mr. Bryce Beattie, proprietor of the widely-read blog StoryHack. The revolution had called out to him, and like Lady Amelia herself, he was putting together a menagerie—a collection of talented ruffians, proper tools for a black task.
I made the cut. Given the superior credentials of literally every other writer in StoryHack Action and Adventure Issue Zero, I don’t quite know how. I’m batting ninth, no question. But I have a bat in my hands, and I’m appearing for a hell of a team.
I have, therefore, the privilege of introducing Amelia Owen, Lady Basingstoke, a young woman of breeding and refinement with a most improper appetite for adventure. Meet also John Runciter, disgraced courtier and alleged sodomite, and his ward Jack, an orphan boy from the streets of New Orleans with a talent for elusion. Meet the giantess Fatima. Meet Sergeant Declan Curragh, dishonorably discharged hero of Balaclava. Meet Doctor Lemuel Lepellimer, genius inventor and incorrigible pyromaniac. A varied menagerie of ghastly beasts, to be sure…but where civilization fails, beasts reign supreme.