Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ep. 63 Transcript ft. Jon Mollison and "Grim" Jim Desborough

This is the post for the transcript of Episode 63 of the JimFear138 Podcast, featuring Jon Mollison and "Grim" Jim Desborough, so that people can read along given how unavoidably bad Jon's internet connection was at the time. The transcript reads very dry and impersonal, but the actual conversation was very friendly and civil, so don't get the wrong impression from these words. But certain things come across in actual conversation that just don't translate into the written word very well, and as such you can listen to the podcast HERE.

Transcript of Discussion Between Jon Mollison and James “Grim” Desborough

 JimFear138 (JF): Alright, hello everybody and welcome to a very special episode of the JimFear138 Podcast. Today, I have two people who are going to discuss two different stances or views on pulp literature. First up we have Jon Mollison…

Jon Mollison (JM): It’s a pleasure to be here.

JF: And we have “Grim” Jim Desborough…

James Desborough (JD): Hello.

JF: So you can find both of these guys on twitter, and Jim has a YouTube, but all of this will be linked in the description or show notes so you guys can go check that out. [linked in the actual podcast episode post] But the thing that brought this about, was Jim has a book, I think I’ll call you “Grim” to keep confusion down…

JD: Works for me.

JF: So Grim has a book called “Pulp Nova,” and it’s a collection of short stories that are kind of from his perspective on pulp. Am I getting this across properly?

JD: To an extent. It was more like a reimagining or modernization of pulp tropes, was the idea. It’s been some years ago now.

JF: Okay, okay. And Jon read it, and he left a review on it, and it’s not exactly flattering. So I’m gonna go ahead and read the review, and then we’ll kind of get into this discussion about this kind of disagreement. So it says, “Pulp Nova is not pulp. It is pure, unalloyed modern nihilistic fiction that rejects the goodness and decency that saturates the original pulps as a direct outgrowth of the time in which the original pulps were written. The stories of the pulp era are a natural expression of a high trust society predicated on since-discarded notions of fiction as a means to educate, inspire, and uplift. The stories of Pulp Nova are a natural expression of a low trust society predicated on consistently disproven notions of fiction as a means to deceive, demotivate, and hold down. Rather than aspire to stories that encourage the reader to rebel against misery and evil, these stories encourage the reader to embrace deceit and filth, and they do it in the most clumsy and blatantly dishonest way possible. This collection runs the genre gamut and features solid prose absent literary frippery, but it misses the reason for the appeal of the original pulps. If you want modern stories featuring unlikeable protagonists doing unpleasant things to unpleasant people, you might like this book. If you think the truth is as good as a lie and that decency and integrity are a fool’s errand, this might be the book for you. But if you have any desire to read actual contemporary pulp stories, give this book a pass.” Now I will say that I have not read the book yet. But I saw this back and forth going on on Twitter and I wanted to invite both of you guys on the podcast to see if we could kind of get at the meat of the different approaches that you guys are taking towards pulp. Let’s just…since Jon wrote the comment, let’s start with him. Jon, what do you mean here?

JM: Well I stand by every word. I think it’s pretty much as I said. I think it’s probably better if Jim responds to…I mean my opening statement would merely be a reiteration of the words that you’ve already read. So, at that point I think it’s probably better if we turn the microphone over to Jim.

JF: Okay. Jim, what about you?

JD: Well, I’ve got no issue. The difference that we’ve got is one of taste and perspective, I suppose, and there was praise to the writing. So I have no real issue with getting a bad review from someone on that basis because, you know, tastes differ. I just think we have very different perspectives on what the pulps are, and I’ve had a couple of sort of similar reviews or sets of comments on this. And what has worried me a bit is that this kind of…neo-pulp movement that’s come about in the years since I wrote that collection seems to be kind of enforcing their own particular kind of spin or set of ideas on how these things should be written, in a similar way to the people that they’re kind of rebelling against. You know, we’ve got this, for want of a better term, social justice warrior problem in fiction trying to dictate what you can and can’t write about, and I really don’t want to see that coming from the other side as well because then people like me get caught in the middle. But for me the pulps are in a tradition of, like, 17th century chapbooks, or Tijuana Bibles, or the kind of trash novels you used to get in the 60’s, 70’s, even into the 80’s. All of this stuff is cheap, it’s plentiful, it’s throwing ideas at the wall, it’s transgressive, it was often getting into trouble with the authorities. I mean you can look at the similar way in which horror comics caused the comics code thing to come about. You can look at the lurid covers, the kind of topics, the heroes are not nice people. They might have strong moral sense, but they’re not nice people. You know, they go around murdering and otherwise killing hoodlums and torturing them to death and stuff, if you look at example characters from the period. So for me, the pulp ethos isn’t a moral ethos, exactly. It’s more having the space and room to experiment and throw ideas around without being hemmed in so much. So, to me, it’s more…we just have that different perspective on what they were and what they were about, the context in which they existed. Which I think is being replicated somewhat in the sort of e-publishing medium we’ve got now. You know, with such a low bar to entry there’s a real possibility to publish just about anything and see what happens.

JF: Yeah I think that’s a sentiment we can all agree with so far as e-publishing goes.

JM: Well, if I may, I’m sensing two distinct threads here. For those who aren’t aware, I’m part of what would be termed the “PulpRev”, which is short for either pulp revival or pulp revolution. It’s a relatively new band of misfits getting together…

JF (Interrupting): Uh, Jon, you’re getting some interference there. Do you have a phone near your microphone, or something?

JM: I do not. There is one thing I may be able to do, but that’s about it. Unfortunately I’m speaking to you from American Samoa, and the internet is a little better than two coconuts and a string, but not by much. Is that better?

JF: Uh, not particularly but I guess we’ll just have to press on.

JD: Yeah.

JM: So, two threads we’ve got here. One is the pulp revolution, pulp revival, shortened to PulpRev. It’s a movement that I’m a part of. And we are the relative newcomers to this and our spin on attempting to rediscover the pulps and redo the pulps is to take them at face value, and not so much change them as stick them in a modern milieu. And now I’m not sure…Now the first thread I’m a little curious about is how Jim feels the PulpRev is enforcing a new sort of…any sort of requirement on what people should or should not be allowed to publish. The key word there being “allowed to publish”, because in my experience the PulpRev crowd embraces the challenge of meeting other literary movements on the field of battle and welcomes the introduction of as many different kinds of literary movements as possible and as many different kinds of writing as possible. Because we are confident that what we are producing appeals to mankind’s better nature and that there is a thirst, an underserved market in the readership for that kind of writing. So, while we do judge other literary styles as lesser, Grim if you could explain to me how you think we’re enforcing some kind of doctrine, that would be helpful, I think.

JD: Okay, um, yeah. I think it’s more of a concern or worry of mine that I’m seeing emerging. I mean my wheelhouse is much more roleplaying games, where I’ve worked for many years, and I’ve seen a similar kind of reaction in what’s called the “old school renaissance” in tabletop games. They kind of went back to original Dungeons & Dragons, and some people have used that as a way to kind of subvert the similar kind of dominant social justice-y narrative there. But some of them in the process have become quite conservative, and I’m worried about seeing that same kind of thing happen here. I mean there are differences. I don’t think that the groups to which you belong have the same kind of… I’m trying to think of how to put it. You don’t necessarily have the same kind of power that someone might have to have something censored, and I don’t think you would censor something. But there is still this kind of moralistic social judgment which mirrors that that’s found in the other side. So where you might say something is nihilistic, miserable, and evil, they might say something is problematic, and promotes rape culture, and whatever else, you know? And being someone who kind of lived through the Satanic Panic and fought against the evangelical right with their moral position, and who has now been fighting the social justice types with their moral position, it seems like swings and roundabaouts to me. So it's more or a worry and a fear and wanting to nip something in the bud, or make sure everyone’s clear on their positions before it becomes something dangerous. Is that clearer?

JM: Sure. I suspect that part of the issue here is that my review in particular focused on the insistence on a more accurate usage of the terminology, and is advocating for a far more orthodox understanding of what it means to be pulp than we have seen essentially since the pulps themselves were around. The PulpRev is hardly the first movement to tap into the astonishing popularity of the original pulps. In fact, you can even go as far back as the New Wave in Science Fiction that rejected the Campbellian understanding of science fiction as “men with screwdrivers” as we call it, as a focus on the technical aspects of future technology.

JD: Mhm.

JM: And, you know, the New Wave was a reaction to that and they said, “No, let’s go back to that and beg, borrow, and steal whatever we can from the pulps.” So we’re really…they considered themselves aping pulp. We saw a second not quite as successful revolution in the 80’s, there was an outfit, a group of probably about 30 authors that described themselves as “New Pulp” and they’ve done largely the same thing.

JD: Yeah.

JM: So, but, in each case what you have is a movement that said, “Hey, I’m going to take the pulp style, and I’m going to evolve it into something new and different, but I’m sure as heck going to use that word ‘pulp’ because they were so enormously popular, and I wanted everyone to know that’s the tree from which my new thing is growing.” So when I discuss pulp that doesn’t fit the ethos of the original pulps, I’m being as accurate as I possibly can. This is not…you know, this is something new and different. And to say it’s inspired by, but I…either it’s the same or it’s different. And the pulp writing that I do is the same. Really the only difference is there may be cell phones in my pulp.

JD: Yeah.

JM: So it’s a pulp written in the same vein with the same cultural understanding that the writers were using in the 1930’s and 40’s, and unabashedly so. So that may be part of the issue.

JD: See I think maybe I define the pulp era being much broader, you know, from all those topics I was discussing at the start, because I think there’s a clear and distinct run of influence all the way from probably Pierson’s Magazine and so on at the end of the 19th century right the way through to those trash paperbacks of the 80’s. You know, I see it much more broadly, I suppose.

JM: And I, you know, I can’t tell if I’m pressing the point too hard on this issue, because this is an ethic…you know cultures don’t have sharp, clear, defined edges. Things get messy around the margins. If you wanna make a strong case for something like the dime novels of the 1880’s and 90’s being pulp…well, you know, at that point if we really wanna be sticklers the only thing you can do is go to…Jim Fear, help me out here. How do we refer to the editor of Cirsova?

JF: Oh, Alex.

JM: Alex? All right. Alex of Cirsova fame, he takes the absolute literal definition of pulp as if it was produced during the magazine era, and printed on pulp paper, then it’s a pulp.

JD: Yeah.

JM: So his is specifically limited to those titles during the time they were on pulp paper. Which fundamentally, I’m not sure how interesting the discussion of when does that white become…

JD: Oh, yeah.

JM: At what point in grey does white become black. I don’t know how conducive that kinda conversation would be.

JD: No, that…Just to kind of statement of my position and my perception of the term so, you know, it’s important so that we know what we’re talking about. So if you use a tighter definition, that’s fine with me, I’m just kind of setting out my ground that I see it more broadly.

JM: Sure, and you know I willingly admit…and this is… Let me back up a step. One of the reasons I agreed to have this discussion with Grim is that I have a lot of respect for the man and what he’s done over the years. It would be a mistake, based on my…as you can tell, based on my review, to say that I’m a fan of his work, but I’m certainly a fan of the man himself and his courage in standing up to people. I find it, you know, it’s a little interesting to be on the receiving end of his courage, but the point is I agreed to this conversation because Grim is a man who has the integrity…And I appreciate that a large part of our conversation today is merely reaching an understanding, even if we cannot achieve agreement. And if anything what I would like to do is perhaps, having spoken with him personally, is walk back some of the…walk back the intensity of my objection. A big part of my reviews are to tell people, “Listen, if you’re the kind of person that likes this, whether or not you’ll like this sort of thing.” And if you’re the type of person that likes Grim’s style of writing, you’re gonna love that book. But I’m not…and I say that as a means of kind of segueing into the second thread of Jim’s original statement where we start to talk about the morality of the pulps, and how what the PulpRev is doing owes…Well, I kinda gotta walk this back. The PulpRev is a loose collection of individuals without any leader whatsoever, and there is a very small number of us that are pressing for a return to heroism in our fiction. And specifically heroism of the American pre-1960’s variety that is very optimistic, embraces the pioneering spirit, and welcomes that Western, Christian ethos, even in a world where Christ was never born, a la J. R. R. Tolkien. And to lesser extents other popular works such as John Carter of Mars and… Well, listen, the writing that people do is informative. There’s a yin and yang here, there’s a feedback loop. The writing that people do is informed by the culture in which they are raised, and the culture in which people are raised is influenced by the literature that is presented to that culture. And so what the Pulp Revolution is doing is trying to break the direction that that feedback loop has been moving towards a progressivism that is continually dragging man’s vision down to the ground, and trying to return to the vision where we’re trying to lift man’s eyes to the heavens, both literal and figurative. So, you know, when I come at a criticism of, you know, this is not a book that inspires me to be a better person, that’s a negative in my viewpoint. And from Jim’s book, that’s what I got out of it. It’s a wallowing in mankind’s baser, lesser nature, and not to go full Superversive here… Ah, Grim, are you familiar with the Superversive movement?

JD: Barely, I’ve been really busy the last few months when I see it popping up in my feed so I haven’t had time to properly look into it, so if you could give me a cliff notes that’d be really good.

JM: You wanna take this one, Jim Fear?

JF: Ah, yeah, okay. The Superversive movement is a group of people like L. Jagi Lamplighter, John C. Wright, Brian Niemeier, who are trying to use their fiction to inspire…or their fiction basically has it taken as read that there is some higher power out there. So something like Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade, that would be classed as Superversive literature because it’s a bunch of Christians who find a space ship, go to an alien planet, and they’re there to spread the message of God. So that’s kind of what the Superversive movement is. It’s this kind of trying to bring people back to this consciousness that there is some kind of higher power out there, even if it’s not necessarily specifically a Christian one. Like you could write Buddhist Superversive literature just so long as there’s some higher moral authority than man.

JD: Hm. Well, you know, you can’t escape your own influences and I’m a rather strident atheist, so obviously that’s not really gonna fit with me. But more than that, I’m a free speech advocate. It’s weird because I’m definitely what the word “liberal” originally used to mean. I’m a libertine, and I’m progressive in the way that that used to mean, and yet I find myself usually on the side of people who hold opposite political and other viewpoints from me. So I never really quite fit in anywhere. It’s a bit unsettling.

JM: So the point that I was driving towards is that while the style of literature that I prefer, and the crowd that I run with in online circles prefers, is not necessarily as overtly desirous of… We’re writing the new Narnia, where the allegories are blatantly and specifically Christian, and we’re kind of the flipside of the Golden Compass style. It’s written with an understanding that Western civilization is primarily a Christian civilization that is built upon a foundation of the Greco-Roman understanding of virtue. So I write a lot about how virtuous behavior and virtuous people play a strong role even in these fantasy and science fiction realms, and where the writing that we do owes as much to the four pagan virtues as it does to the three Christian virtues. And it runs like a thread through all of our narratives.

JD: Can I just ask you something, did you read every story in the collection?

JM: I read four.

JD: So I think, um… I wrote it back in 2013 so it’s a bit hard to remember. I think of the stories in the collection the most kind of conventionally pulp ones were ‘Doc Osmium’ and ‘One-Man McCann’. So Doc Osmium is kind of an homage to Doc Savage, and One-Man McCann’s like a war story. Those are much more black and white conventional, I suppose, in terms of pulp stories, so those might have been more to your taste out of the collection, I think. But for me, as a writer, as a person, the defining factor for Western civilization would not really come about until the Enlightenment, really. Kind of the post-Restoration in England. For me, what defines us is rationalism, liberalism as it used to be spoken of, you know scientific progress. For me it wouldn’t be Christian virtues or faith. These would not be things that I would consider the foundations of Western society, and it’s that devotion to that rationalism that seems to put me at odds with both the pseudo-progressive post-modernists, and the Christian conservatives. Though I would argue that both would be able to speak, my concern with the pseudo-progressives is that they’re trying to kind of pull the ladder up behind them when it comes to free expression. And that’s why I was so sensitive to the kind of moral tone of your review.

JM: I would counter that the emphasis on science, and reason, and rationality is an outgrowth of the Christian worldview that has unfortunately over the past few centuries been weaponized to use against it. But we’re getting kinda deep into the weeds of the culture clash.

JD: Yeah, that’s [laugh], yeah.

JM: Sure. And…

JD: But it’s important to note the different perspectives, I think.  
JM: Indeed. Indeed. And like I said, we’re achieving clarity here, even if it’s not agreement.

JD: Yeah.

JF: Well it seems to me that this is a kind of fundamentally…I don’t know, maybe “moralistic” is the wrong word, but that’s the one that’s coming to mind right now, argument. Well, discussion. Because Jon is coming from a place of, like he said, a Christian worldview, and Grim is coming from a place of, you know, the Enlightenment. But even if you look at the old pulps, you know, we do have both represented. Like The Shadow. The Shadow’s not exactly a Christian character, to say the least. Or even Conan. You know, Conan doesn’t exactly embody the virtues of civilization but he’s most certainly not a very religious man. I was just reading one of the stories where he mentions specifically that it’s kind of useless to pray for Crom. Crom kind of sets you loose in the world and if you deal with it then cool, you’re on his good side, but if you’re weak then you die and he really doesn’t care about you so he doesn’t pray to Crom. But then you have that same man who wrote the Conan stories writing stories like Solomon Kane…

JD: Yeah.

JF: Where it’s this Puritan running around fighting vampires and demons. So it seems to me that this is more a discussion of taste than anything else. Because even if you look at the era taking Alexander’s narrow definition of the pulps, if you look at that era, all of this was represented. It was one of the most diverse and creative times in fiction period. Speaking of diversity of ideas, at least, because you could get just about anything published in the old pulp magazines. They were running on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, they had to fill paper.

JM: Well I would object to your characterization of Conan as an immoral character. He certainly embraces the pagan virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and fortitude.

JF: Yeah, I didn’t mean to put across the idea that Conan was immoral, just that he was kind of irreligious.

JM: I’ve heard him described as well…and again I’m not necessarily…well I’m writing from a Christian perspective but, you know, the morality’s where it’s at, brother. And whether it’s the pagan or the Christian, which you know there’s, like I said, the pagan virtues were the first four that the Christians tapped into. But yeah, I hear this, “Well, you know The Shadow is not a moral man,” well, he was a dark avenger that was providing justice in a world and a time where justice was hard to come by because the justice system had been so thoroughly corrupted by injustice. And I don’t consider him a murderer. He was delivering justice. And by the same token, I’ve heard people say about Conan, “Well, he raped.” Find me an instance in the Robert E. Howard canon of Conan raping a woman. He did not do it. All of his quote “conquests” were ready, willing, eager, and able, and when it comes to his thievery, in most cases the people he was stealing from were not good guys, and well deserved to have whatever they had stolen from them. He was forced to…and this was situations where he became a pirate. Look at the ships he preyed on. The ships he preyed on as a pirate were ships of the followers of Set, the Stygians. So you have to be careful here, and you have to look with a more careful eye than the history that has been painted by the people who want to dance upon the grave of the pulps, and who had a financial and vested interest – I’m looking at you, Damon Knight – in trying to denigrate them specifically because they wanted to feast upon their corpses. Upon the corpse. Well that sentence got away from me but you get my point.

JD: Yeah. But see, it’s interesting because my spin on that would be the things that they’re saying are bad, even if they’re implicit rather than explicit perhaps in the case of Conan, are all things that I regard as being good. You know, the freedom to write these dark avengers, and I would’ve chosen The Spider rather than The Shadow because I think The Spider is even darker than The Shadow in the way he goes about his…

JF: I’m not as familiar with The Spider as I am with The Shadow, but I’ll add that to my list of things to look up.

JD: Yeah, he’s pretty out and out horrible in the way that he goes after criminals and so on. But yeah, there’s that black and white, absolutist morality, which you can see as kind of a support for the opposite position to mine. But then you can read that that kind of absolute certainty and morality also leads to huge evils in the world if people choose the wrong moralities. But for me the pulps were experimental, they definitely went after these prurient interests. Lots of these pulp magazines also had, like, gossip and sex scandal type of stories in them. To take a moral stance on them just doesn’t work for because the sheer freedom, the amount that they upset the apple cart, the way that they got condemned for being immoral and bad influences on people, these are things that interest and excite me about them. So it’s kind of the opposite of the morality tale. The opposite of the morality tale is what engages my interest in the pulps, particularly. I mean even in the more wholesome ones, you know the first thing John Carter runs into on Mars is a naked lady, so even there you can see that kind of thing.

JF: I can understand that. I mean that’s part of the reason I wanted to have this conversation, because people don’t really have a good idea of what the pulps were, and getting two people who are looking for very different things, like you gentlemen, when they come to this genre of literature, it kind of helps to tell the whole story and represent the truth of the period, I guess. Because there was all of this stuff that Grim brings up in these stories, and there was also all of this stuff that Jon brings up in these stories. But when you look at people who are trying to recreate the pulps, present company excluded, they really just don’t get it. They really don’t get it. And it’s more pronounced with the big publishers and the writers who write for them. Like, for example, the Old Venus anthology that George R. R. Martin put together. Our mutual friend Dan Wolfgang read it and did a review of some of the stories on The QuQu Media, and the way that he put it across was that these stories just weren’t exciting. They were moralistic tales dressed up with the trappings of science fiction and fantasy. Like they were wearing it like a skin suit instead of actually trying to be that thing.

JD: Hmm.

JF: And, when you…

JM: Or, or, they commit the unpardonable sin, in my opinion of deciding to hang a lampshade on the best parts of the pulps, and then give you that wink and nod of, “See, haha, see how silly it is that we’re enjoying this thing, and we’re only really enjoying it ironically this time.” Which is a means of insulating themselves from any criticism of enjoying something for itself, which is inherently dishonest. If you enjoy the thing, just be honest and enjoy it. Don’t feel like you need to put some kind of six layers of irony on top so that if anybody calls you out for enjoying the badthink, then suddenly you can say, “Well I wasn’t really enjoying it, I was enjoying making fun of it by trying to replicate it as closely as possible.” That kinda thing just drives me bonkers. At least be honest. I mean, again, going back to my respect for Grim, at least he’s honest about what he enjoys. I’ll tell ya, it makes it harder to get aggravated and excited and start shouting at the man when he’s so eminently reasonable.

JD: [laughs] I try. I may not succeed, but I try.

JF: M’kay.

JD: I mean, I enjoy the pulps. When I was working on this, as best I can remember, the idea wasn’t to layer on irony or to poke fun, I genuinely enjoy these stories. You know I’ve got a small collection of original old pulps, I’ve got a bunch of early paperback printings of the Barsoom series, I’ve got ebook collections of everything I can get my hands on, and… I… When I was approached…

JM: And that comes through clearly, Grim. I’ll tell ya, that comes through crystal clear in reading Pulp Nova. Available now at Amazon dot com.

JD: [laughs] Well that’s good. That’s good. So I’m just trying to think where our disconnect is on this. It’s difficult, because I don’t know whether to refer to the stories when people might have read them or not. You were talking about…

JF: Well, I would say go ahead and refer to the stories if you have a specific one in mind…

JD: Okay.

JF: Because this stuff really isn’t as popular as it deserves to be, and anybody talking about any aspect of the pulps in a positive light is good in my view because it will interest more people in going out and reading them. So…

JD: Okay, cool. So we were talking about The Shadow and how he’s a very definitive vigilante type character with his own sense of justice and all the rest. So one of the stories I wrote in the collection is called The Black Rat, and he’s a masked vigilante archetype. I set it in the 70’s, like it opens with a scene of some football hooligans rolling down the road drunk and singing Bay City Roller songs, or whatever. But the concept behind this masked vigilante is that he was basically a working class Batman. So he hides his face with a gas mask, and instead of a utility belt he has a tool belt. And so he discovers this body and traces it down…I don’t know how familiar you guys are with British history, but in the 70’s and 80’s there was a group of kind of out of control police officers in London called the Special Patrol Group who would kind of take the law into their own hands behind the scenes and beat people up with hammers and bats and, you know, they were a nasty bunch, basically. So, that’s a story about a masked vigilante taking on corrupt police, and he does it in a nasty way. At the end the leader of the police gets “sent to the rats”, basically. And there’s nothing in that story that you wouldn’t find in the more sadistic and nasty end of the pulp vigilantes. So in that story at least I was trying to replicate that spirit, but to take it a bit further, to be a bit more explicit in how horrendous, and forceful, and righteous this character was. So to me that was a much more straightforward modernization of something like The Spider who used to poison and torture his enemies and mark their foreheads so that people would know who done it. You know? It’s just taking that that they had to be a little more conservative and reticent about in the past, and modernizing it in a way that’s basically more explicit.

JM: Well and here we can talk about the difference between the explicit and the implicit, and to use the more visual medium of film, how people were gunned to death in a 1940’s movie, all you saw were shadows falling. Or else the joke that people bring up all the time is that on tv, a man would get shot, and he would just pretend to get shot. He would grab his chest and there would be no blood, no viscera, nothing. And it conveyed the impression of a man getting shot as opposed to the actual slow motion, gouts of blood and brain matter spattering the camera, and to my preference in literature is to take the more 1940’s aesthetic. We all understand what happens when a person gets shot, and to dwell on the physical mechanics and to embrace that gore and that viscera moves us away from the pulp aesthetic, and towards a more 1970’s, splatterhouse, group-of-teens-in-a-cabin-getting-murdered-by-a-supernatural-killer. You know, that’s the kind of difference that I’d like to see, and in my mind you look at a movie like the masterpiece Alien, where the alien himself is half-glimpsed and in shadows, and when you leave things to the reader’s imagination sometimes it becomes far more powerful. And that’s the kind of literature that I, as a literary critic, prefer. And that may be a good time to segue into the conversation about what’s really going on here, is that we have two competing interests trying to influence the culture in one direction or another. And a big part of the forcefulness of many of my reviews is that I’m trying to push the culture, to use the tour phrase that we use in the PulpRev all the time, I’m trying to regress harder. I’m trying to push our culture back to a time where we were more unified under that common Western civilizational Christian ethos. And again, I’m writing from an American perspective. For those of you that haven’t picked up on it, you might have noticed that Grim is writing from a more British perspective, and I think that may be part of what’s going on here, too, is that our different dialects are strongly informing where we want to see science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, call it what you will, in one direction or another.

JD: Yeah, I think that’s very true. I think that British science fiction and fantasy has a…it’s hard to put your finger on but there’s definitely a kind of ineffable difference in character between the American approach and the British approach both historically and currently, to a lesser degree, I think, so that’s definitely part of the problem. Divided by common language, as the saying goes.

JM: Indeed, indeed. So typically what I’m talking about where I’d like to see the culture move, I’m specifically referring to the American culture, and the American science fiction and fantasy literary culture moving away from the pretentious, as I said in my review, literary frippery that is all the rage these days, and drag it back towards a more plainspoken and, I would unabashedly use the term, American style of speculative fiction.

JD: If I could set out my stall, then? Since you have.

JM: Of course.

JD: My position is I want everybody to be as free as possible to create anything without being shut down, censored, whatever. That’s why…I mean you’re talking about your motivation is why you went in so hard on the review. My reaction is because I go in so hard on the anti-censorship, and that kind of moral judgment, like I said earlier, though I’m starting to understand your position better now, sets up red flags for me. In the same way that being called problematic, a rape apologist, whatever else sends up the flares. But I understand your position a lot better now. But for me, I think, you know, the most radical, progressive, whatever author should be able to write whatever they want, and the most conservative or whatever author should be able to write what they want. And there should be as few barriers to either of those people as possible, and they shouldn’t be trying to silence each other. So, you know I think I’ve belabored the point a bit, but I see that as a kind of old school liberal position in that, “You know, hey, do what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.” You know? That’s where I am.

JM: And, listen, again, when the SJW’s come for Grim, I’m gonna be standing right there on the barricades with him saying, “Hey, he should be allowed,” and please, understand Jim, I say this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I’m gonna jerk my thumb over at Jim and I’m gonna say, “He should be allowed to write and publish this degenerate filth that he loves so much,” because that at least is a part of our shared cultural heritage, is that understanding that if you silence the opposition it doesn’t actually help you. All you’re doing is driving them underground, and you’re gonna drive them into the wilderness where… One of the things that’s been going through my mind for so long is that the people who ascribe to the current literary aesthetic have spent decades ingratiating themselves to the powers that be. Whereas the people that are pushing against it, either from Grim’s perspective or mine, have been spending their time with their nose to the grindstone refining their talent and building the work ethic that they can actually produce, as I said, effective prose, and, you know, good, solid writing. And so all that time in the wilderness has only made guys like Grim and myself stronger as writers compared to people that have spent their time unctuously catering to the whims of whoever is in power right now coughScalzicough. Sorry, um…

JD & JF: [laugh]

JM: So, you know, I think we’re both coming at it from that perspective as well. That, and hey, listen, it’s great that you hold…that somebody holds the reigns of power in New York City right now, but the market ultimately will decide, and so long as our patron saint Jeff Bezos allows us to continue writing what we want and publishing it on Amazon dot com, there’s no doubt in my mind that in ten years we’re going to see a total inversion of the publishing industry. To where the people in New York City are going to be coming to guys like Grim and me, begging for us to join them, and I’m gonna laugh in their face, as I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

JD: [laugh] Well, I hope you will.

JM: So, but again, part of what I’m doing, and that the literary critics on the more, and I hate this word, conservative side of the isle are, today, are merely arguing for their preference, that the culture moves in Direction A vs Direction Hell. Again, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

JD: Yeah, yeah. And I’m just a dirty old hippie that wants everyone to get along.

ALL: [laugh]

JF: I can understand where both of you guys are coming from. I mean, you know, I have often said people should be allowed to write whatever the hell they want. If you want to write feminist message fiction about, you know, gay black trans lesbians in space, go ahead and do it. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it, and that doesn’t mean that I have to not complain about it. Or not voice my displeasure at least.

JD: Yeah, the part that bothers me is that they seem to think that if you don’t write about black trans lesbians in space, or you don’t want to write or read about black trans lesbians in space, then your stuff doesn’t deserve to be published, you should be censored, you should have petitions taken out against you, or whatever, that’s where they lose me.

JF: Yeah, I would say that’s about where they lose me too. It’s a little bit before that point, because I can tell, I’ve gotten very good at this… I can tell when something is gonna be message fiction and when it’s gonna be crap. And then lo and behold I actually go watch it, or read it, or listen to it, and what do you know? I was right. Because when the people are so concentrated…like there are so many people on tumblr that are aspiring writers, and I feel so badly for these people, because the only that they can…the first thing they have to say about their character is he’s gay, or he’s trans, you know. It’s a trans woman in this story. And it’s like, Okay, well, you know, what are they doing? Like someone had an idea about a trans boy going to a school for magical girls.

JD: Hmm.

JF: And I was like, well the magical girl school sounds like a really cool idea for, like, an anime, or something like that, you know, absolutely go and run with that, I would probably read that book. But when you make it all about how, “Oh this is a trans character,” I know that we’re not going to spend as much time with these magical girls transforming and fighting bad guys from the moon as we’re going to spend on the day to day struggle of the trans main character. And I’m just not really interested in that. If I wanted to read that, I could go and find a biography of a trans activist and read that. When I’m coming to science fiction or fantasy I’m coming for the adventure, the fun, the story.

JD: Yeah, that’s the thing that I’ve never really understood about this whole idea of representation in fiction. You know, I don’t want to read about me, I want to read about someone different who does different stuff, you know? I don’t want to read something that’s recognizable, I want someone who’s abandoned on a primitive planet, or is dealing with something far out in the realms of the imagination, not something that’s identifiable. I want a different, new, novel experience, not my day to day experience, so I’ve never really understood that.

JM: It’s interesting that you say that because I actually want to read about people who are like me, but better. I want to be reminded that there’s better out there. And what I’m saying is not a disagreement with you, Grim, it’s just a different spin on it. And when I say someone like me, I don’t necessarily mean a middle class white guy with a receding hairline. I just mean someone like me that faces struggles, and responds to greater struggles than I will ever know, and that inspires me to be so much more than I am today. Or at least reminds me of the sorts of things that I, and my fellow countrymen, are capable of or were capable of at one point in the past and could be again in the future. So I actually like reading about people that are like me in mindset, if not…you know it’s funny, so I’ve written three books, and in most cases I don’t even say what color the guy’s skin is. Because it doesn’t really matter. You know his mindset is what matters.

JD: Yeah, I do like more aspirational fiction. So, you know, I do very much like the more positive vision of the future that Star Trek had. I know a lot of people would disagree with that but for me that was a positive vision of the future. But when it comes to writing I just seem to be too much of a cynic to write anything that positive.

ALL: [laugh]

JF: Yeah, I have that same problem with writing positivity, but I’m getting a little bit better. But I think that’s the fundamental breakdown between, and I hesitate to use this phrase, but people like us, and people like the SJW’s. I mean, you know, we have three people here from radically different backgrounds who have probably radically different takes on pulp and fiction in general, but when we’re talking about representation or diversity we’re talking about diversity of ideas, diversity of moral character, diversity of how that moral character is expressed. When these people are talking about diversity, they’re talking about skin color, they’re talking about sexual orientation, they’re talking about the most basal, surface level things that you could possibly write about. So like, when you look at a tv show like Static Shock, it’s a superhero show about a black teenager who gets electro-kinesis powers. I watched that show when I was a kid and I absolutely loved it. I loved every episode, it was great. And it never once bothered me that the black guy was the main character and white guy was the sidekick, who didn’t even get any superpowers, he was kind of a technomancer. But…

JM: It’s been a few years, Jim, remind me: How much of this show was about a superhero fighting bad guys, and how much of this show was about the main character having to deal with the rampant racism that he faced, and how all of his daily struggles were an outgrowth of that racism?

JF: Just about every single episode had some kind of villain fight in them, and occasionally they did do certain episodes where, you know, there was a black villain, and they would do a commentary on racism and how, you know, “We’re not so different we just have different moral standards,” and stuff like that. But for the most part it was kind of like the old Spiderman cartoon from the 90’s.

JM: Mhm. Well, I appreciate that one as well because Static Shock was a new character who was a character in his own right. They didn’t just take the Spiderman costume off of Peter Parker and put it on…I can’t remember the main character’s name but put it on him and say, “Okay, now he’s Spiderman.” You know, he was a new character, he stood on his own. They didn’t need to borrow the legacy that had been from before in order to make that character work. And now we’re getting really far afield, that’s what I’d like to see more of in comic book world. So, listen, this has been a great discussion, we’ve been at it almost an hour and I think we’ve achieved an understanding. As I said we achieved some clarity if not necessarily agreement. I have to leave for church here in a couple minutes, so can I ask that we wrap it up? And if you guys want to stay on and chat further, by all means, but I gotta bolt here in a little bit.

JF: Yeah, sure.

JD: That’s fine. Jim, did you wanna talk anymore, or…?

JF: Uh, we can if you had something that you particularly wanted to talk about. We can go on for as long as you want, or we can just end it here.

JD: I’m happy here unless you’ve got anything else you wanted to bring up or talk about.

JF: Not particularly.

JD: Okay.

JF: All right, well thank both of you gentlemen for coming on the show, and coming to this understanding if not necessarily an agreement.

JD: [laugh]

JM: Thanks for hosting us, Jim. I appreciate it, and I look forward to seeing Grim around the internet-o-sphere. I look forward to following his career, and will be following his career with great interest.


JM: It’s been a pleasure.

JD: Take care. Have fun at church.

JM: [laugh]



  1. Mr. Fear: Thanks for taking the time and trouble to make and post this transcript. Came in handy.

    1. No problem! I knew it would be an issue. You can mostly understand what Jon is saying, but for someone without a lot of experience listening to bad audio, I wanted to have an aide for people who just couldn't into the sound quality. I'm glad people found it helpful!

  2. Wow this would have been such a great podcast without the audio problems. The transcript was a great read though. Perhaps next time Mollison is on he could record his part and send it to you? Takes some tech savvy to setup though.

    1. It was still pretty good, in my opinion. But yeah, in that case I'll just have to do that, I suppose, although that won't work for everyone, since not everyone has recording software. But Jon's stateside now, so it's all good with him from here on out!