There’s that moment, you know, when I’m reading a story and a section smacks me crossways and I know I’ve come across something special.
I’m an animal
of the worst sort–
but still needing
to go on.
(That’s Norman Savage there, who’s been chronicling hard times and hard living since the 60′s. I’m very proud to introduce him to the wider audience he so eminently, utterly deserves.)
I think of these lines as down payments.
This was back when we still hadn’t figured out the key to living forever, back when all the dumb schmucks about to check out down on Earth would pay to have their minds warehoused in the chitinous skin of those giant low-grav shrimp and lobsters they’d let loose on the moon, in all the new oceans that happened when the craters filled up with industrial rain.
Back in the stupid days, I mean.
(Via Stephen Graham Jones, pulp stalwart and possibly the single most inventive writer I know.)
The stories I chose for the Pulp Issue pay off at rates that would make your local loan shark proud.
Jesus smiles. I turn my gaze to my feet and watch dust clouds form around my steps.
“I heard you talking back there. You really know how to pull a crowd.â€
(That’s Keisha Lynn Ellis there. You haven’t heard of her before, because this is the first story she’s published in the US. A threeway with Jesus Christ and Che Guevera serves as subplot to a story that doubles down on Hemingway and comes up smiling aces.)
Whole stories in their own right, each one. By turns hypnotically somber:
Ollie climbed up into the cab and backed out of the alley, driving as he always did, not fast but not slow either, past the bumper of one of the cop cars with eight inches to spare, past the brick of the building on the other side with a foot and a half to spare, out onto the bright snowy street and back into the rhythm of the route. George Hill, he thought. Dead as clay. Someone beat the everloving shit out of him. In a dumpster like a bag of trash. George Hill who gave me his carrot sticks that whole year we were in third grade. Corduroys and the mud smell of the playground. And the sun is sharp on the snow and the wind can cut your head off if you stand up too tall. When they say that the earth spins, maybe this is what they mean. And no one notices. Look at the cars and the snowplow. Janet Henderson going shopping. None of them has noticed.
(Tyler Sage manages to tweak the conventions of the standard “literary” story into a searing portrait of simplicity choking hard on grit and steel of reality – )
And gut-bustingly funny:
He pulls a small box of chocolate chip cookies from his pocket and presses them into my hand.
“These left over from the election?â€
His smile wavers. “Excuse me?â€
“Seem to remember a lot of kids walking around with these that Tuesday morning. Some people called it a bribe.â€
“Campaigning,â€ he corrects. He’s gritting his teeth now, but goddamned if he’s not still smiling. “You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to like anyone. But you do have to live on this playground. Think about that.â€
( – while Alex Mattingly lands the conventions of a dime-store pulp on an elementary school playground, an idea so deft I was left wondering why no one had thought of it before and excecuted with such precision that I’m damn glad someone as talented as Mattingly was the one).
Likewise, you can’t have pulp without creepy-crawlies:
I fled my cheerful, shiny family for the Bug Man.
(Do yourself a favor and don’t skip to the end of Laura Benedict’s story. Really.)
Nor would you be advised to skip the wrong side of the tracks:
“Watchin’ for those boys,â€ Marge answered, training her eyes on the street again. “Saw â€˜em come by before I was even done with my Sugar Pops. Drove by a second time when I was fixin’ up this heater.â€ She nodded toward the orange glow. “They up to no good. Uh huh.â€
(That’s another pulp veteran, Patricia Abbot, busting us off a chunk of Detroit steel.)
I’d be foolish, of course, to miss the larger world, where the locals are drop-hopping around the influence of America’s own special brand of pulp -
Some time ago in the Wazirate, an Arab city-state similar to the others along the Persian Gulf, a tribeless nomad named Ali al-Mutawakkil began tying brass cooking pots to his feet and went out into the spectral sand swirling under the moon and vandalized the bulldozers and the rollers and the trucks belonging to a company commissioned to build a paved road through the desert.
(How do you use a serial killer to fight a technological onslaught? Ali Etaraz has got an idea or two.)
And you don’t need hardly need more than 39 words to pack in a perfect revenge:
leave the bar
(Still not sure how David Romanda pulled this little triumph off. I mean, the words are right there, but still.)
And what kind of pulp doesn’t take a trip to the carnival?
Jacki’s boyfriend, Anthony, a red-faced, muscular punk, stomps along with a bundle of helium “Happy Birthdayâ€ balloons. He’s the kind of asshole who wanted a boy so bad he named the girl after him anyway. They bounce lower and lower as they rebound through the crowd, the excitement hissing out of them every few feet or so.
(You wonder how David James Keaton keeps up the frenetic pace. I’m just glad we got us a nice long toke from him here.)
Feel no guilt in your desire, you say? All right:
I cooked up an excuse to give to my wife Leslie and drove down there by myself. I didn’t bother removing my wedding ring because I was already four months pregnant.
(Dominica Phetteplace ain’t fucking around, wedding rings or not. Not even a little.)
And the bad guys. Good lord the bad guys:
“You know Greenie’s back,â€ the clerk said.
“Going to see him now.â€
“I bet it’s your thermostat.â€
“I know what it is. I just ain’t had time to fix it.â€
“You think it’s a good idea not to have a quick getaway you going to see Greenie.â€
“Probably better not to have a vehicle around at all.â€
(S. Craig Renfroe Jr. isn’t either. You’ll read this one and be damn glad it’s not you.)
Your job, now, is to get lost in the abandon, clicking the clicks till, sadly, you’ve got to go. In the meantime, you think I can outdo these twelve writers? The hell I can. With thanks to Roxane Gay for the opportunity to edit this spectacular issue and Brad Green for putting it all together, I’m going to stop trying right here, and get to reading.