A Lovecraft story you won’t be expecting.

A story by me in which I attempt to tell a Lovecraftian tale that’s never been told before.

reverse the charges

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The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victorian (2nd ed.) now online!

the cover to my Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

It’s true. I converted my blasphemously long Victorian encyclopedia–all 2,259 manuscript pages of it–into a series of web pages which are now publicly accessible.

Of course, I’d still prefer you buy the ebook over at Amazon–only $9.99, which comes out to 4/10ths of a penny per page, and where else are you going to get a deal like that?–but I know people don’t like to use Amazon and of course there are those of you who can’t afford it. So every page is open to the public. I hope you find it useful!

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My bibliography of sources for my Viking work.

I’ve been banging on about Viking stuff over on Twitter and on my Patreon for some time now. What really started me on this was the Viking roleplaying game (working title: The Fury of the Northmen; tagline: “the greatest Viking roleplaying game ever written,” a claim which I stand by) I wrote, which is only awaiting me getting the money to pay artists for me take the game to Kickstarter. But my interests in Viking stuff took on a life of its own, and now I’m writing a Viking novel and thinking about other ways I can incorporate all the reading I’ve done on the Vikings into something productive.

Over the past year and a half I’ve written a lot about the Vikings, and inevitably some people have asked me for my sources. So the following is my bibliography for The Fury of the Northmen, with everything I read that ended up in the book, one way or another (though not everything I read, naturally):

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It’s New Year’s Eve! Let’s talk about lutefisk!

We’ve been blaming the French for various woes for decades, if not centuries, although the British have been doing it for a lot longer. (The O.E.D. has a pejorative use of “Frenchified” dating back to 1592). But let’s not forget to blame the Swedish. Or, more precisely, Gustav Vasa.

Once upon a time, it was an honorable thing to be given the title of lord (occasionally, lady) of the grain. Shénnóng was “Emperor of the Five Grains.” (Chi (setaria millet), shu (panicum millet), shu (legumes), mai (wheat and barley), and either tao (rice) or ma (hemp), depending on which translator you use, were the staples of Chinese diet in antiquity). Suddhodana, the father of the Buddha, was known as the “Pure Rice King.” The Izapa Maize King drew blood from his own mouth to use as an offering to the gods, while Mayan mortals who wore the headdress of the Jester God were the Maize Lords. (Keep in mind that, for the Mayans, human flesh was made from maize dough, which should hint at the level of importance of the Maize Lord, which is why his sacrifice to the gods, every April 20th, was so vital to the health of the community). The Golden Bough tells us of the Silesian “Oak King,” one of a bridal pair who–well, go ahead and read it yourself, although you should probably start at the beginning of the chapter. (But then, the oak was Jove’s tree, so of course the Oak King is going to be important). And, of course, there was John Barleycorn, lord of the corn, always dying, always reborn. The ancients being what they were, we can assume there was some human sacrifice involved. (What, you want to tell Rabbie Burns and James Frazer (yes, him again) they were wrong?)

You’ll note that these individuals didn’t grab the title for themselves. They were assigned it or given it, and accepted the responsibilities which came with it. Indeed, sacrifice and responsibility were a central part of the role. The kings and lords came from the community and died in the community, and theirs was a role of significance.

More recently?

There was John Mackay, the Canadian “Barley King” and Almon James Cotton, the Canadian “Wheat King.” There was Henry Wilson, the South African “Oat King” of the Boer War, who was apparently succeeded by Tom Rhatigan, the “World Oat King.” There was Lê Van Lap, the “Millet King.”

The “Sorghum King” is a special case. The lineage is unsettled, and the title contested. Was it the Cherokee Charley Bumper? The South Carolinan W.S. Wilkerson? The Missourian John Heathman (father of Frankie Lee Timbrook)? The Georgian Walt Medlock, “Sorghum King of Sand Mountain?” Phelix Pryor Nance, “Indiana’s Sorghum King?”

We’ve also seen a number of “Rice Kings,” from Korean-American Kim Chong-nim, who had over 2,000 acres of rice in the San Joaquin Valley, to a succession of Chinese businessmen in Vietnam, all calling themselves “the Rice King.” But the last Rice King in Saigon was Ma Hy, and the Communists arrested him in ’75, and since then, the only Rice Kings have been…something quite different.

So where did it go wrong? When did the title of lord of the grain shift to profiteers and outsiders? How did it become about avarice and not responsibility, about aliens and not members of the community? Somewhere along the way the archetype of the Lord of the Grain flipped; it went from Tammuz/Attis/life-death-rebirth gods to something colder and crueler and altogether more exploitive, to the naiad of Love Canal. How did this happen?

If Ken Hite (@kennethhite) were writing this, he would describe, with erudition and wit, the occult significance of the change in the nature of the identities of the title-holders, perhaps involving the Green Man or Caliban’s “pricks at my footfall” speech as displaying the symptoms of ergotism or the manner in which Lussi, Queen of Light was replaced by St. Lucia.

But, alas, I’m not Ken. My thoughts are more base. Like Falstaff, I’m led by my belly, or at least preceded by it, and so my thoughts turn to food.

I mentioned Gustav Vasa. In The Observer Guide to European Cookery Jane Grigson mentions seeing “a portrait…of the great Gustav Vasa, the 16th century King of Sweden, dressed all in black with yellow slashes, like a regal insect, who encouraged his subjects to grow rye and make crisp bread. He is the Rye King of the packaged crisp breads sold in Britain.” Not just of the crisp breads, though; he was known as the Rye King during his lifetime.

Let’s look closer at Gustav. Founder of modern Sweden, but known as a tyrant. Led the rebellion against Christian II of Denmark, a.k.a. “Christian the Tyrant,” the man responsible for the Stockholm Bloodbath–but Gustav was no cupcake himself when it came to massacres, so that’s a wash. He oversaw the breaking of the monopoly of the Hanseatic League and the conversion of Sweden to Lutheranism–again, a wash. And the gematria gives us a 79 for Gustav, and a 1010 for Kristian (Christian II’s real name), which would seem to indicate that Gustav was one of the white knights.

On balance, Gustav seems a positive figure. But there is one area in which we can fairly describe Gustav, or at least his impact, as calamitous, and that’s in matters culinary.

From 1470 to 1521 Kristian II and Denmark ruled Sweden, but Gustav led the rebellion, got himself elected regent in 1521, and then was elected king in 1523. At the time of Sweden’s independence the most influential school of European gastronomy was French, and this was magnified in 1533 when Catherine de Medici arrived in Paris from Florence. She brought with her a retinue of chefs, pastry makers, and gardeners, and revolutionized French cooking, leading to a deluge of French cookbooks swamping Europe, including Pierre Sergent’s very influential Le Grand Cuisinier de Toute Cuisine (1540), which displaced the more traditional Le Viandier (circa 1485).

Denmark, as it happened, was and remained primarily influenced by German cookery. (This changed in the 1830s, with Madam Mangor‘s Cookbook for Young Girls, Written by a Grandmother (1837), but we can attribute that to Denmark’s choice of Napoleon as an ally). Sweden, on the other hand, more quickly took to French cookery.

Now, consider lutefisk. (In the Swedish, lutfisk). Garrison Keillor, who presumably knows whereof he speaks, described it this way:

Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, “Just have a little.” Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.

And where can we find the first written mention of lutfisk?

That’s right.

In one of Gustav Vasa’s letters, written in 1540. (Wikipedia doesn’t give a citation for this, but it can be found in Astri Riddervold‘s Lutefisk, Rakefisk, and Herring in Norwegian Tradition (1990)).

Gustav didn’t invent lutfisk–the taste for lutfisk already existed among Swedes–but he surely had a hand in popularizing it. (We can’t discount the effect of royalty’s imprimatur on food; just look at what Catherine de Medici did). Swedes wanted to emphasize their differences from the Danes, and so they embraced the French rather than the German influence on their cooking.

This, by the way, was a decision Swedes surely came to regret. Patrick Lamb, cook to five kings and author of Royal Cookery: or, the Compleat Court-Book (1710), described northern European, German, and Danish cooking as a “substantial and wholesome plenty.” The French of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, on the other hand:

  • followed the Italian lead in seeing the tomato as evil and claiming that it caused “inflamed passions;”
  • blamed chocolate for corrupting women’s morals;
  • said that too much chocolate consumption led to women giving birth to coal-black “cocoa babies;”
  • likened chocolate to feces;
  • said that Madame du Barry‘s appetite for chocolate came from her propensity for anal sex, gotten from her brothel training at the House of Gourdan;
  • claimed that allowing proles to eat pain mollet, a light bread formerly reserved for royalty, had introduced “an element of voluptuousness” into France;
  • sneered at rye and barley bread, with only white bread being good enough for French palates, so that the elite were “bread mouths,” who dined only on white bread, and the proles were “fodder mouths,” peasants who lived on dark brown bread;
  • agreed with Diderot, who said, in his Encyclopédie, “the potato is rightly held responsible for flatulence. But what is flatulence to the vigorous organs of peasants and workers?”;
  • and ultimately created the attitude which Brillat-Savarin described so well: “a true gourmand is as insensible to suffering as is a conqueror.”

Now, lutfisk was originally prepared with potash (K2CO3), but that was displaced by the stronger “caustic soda,” a.k.a. NaOH, a.k.a. lye. The way it works is, a white fish (usually cod) is steeped in lye for several days, rinsed under running water, and then boiled, which reduces it to a shoggoth-like mess gelatinous substance. It’s then served with boiled potatoes, flatbread, a white sauce, pepper and melted butter.

Between 1820 and 1920 over a million Swedes emigrated to the United States, many of them settling in the midwest and bringing their culinary traditions with them. So we can assume that, during that time, an unusually large amount of lye was used and dumped into the soil. Lutfisk consumption declined after the 1920s, when roast rib of pork replaced it as the main dish of Christmas Eve dinner, but lutfisk made a comeback in the late 1970s and has been going strong ever since.

Lye is an alkaline. And the Mississippi River (which, as you can see, runs along the Wisconsin border), is suffering from greatly increased alkalinity (see, for example, Science v302n5647, 7 Nov 2003, esp. Jones, “Increased Alkalinity in the Mississippi” and the Lackner/Raymond/Cole exchange on “Alkalinity Export and Carbon Balance”), with, as Jones puts it, “important implications for the biogeochemistry of the region.”

But not just biogeochemistry. Regularly dumping toxic amounts of alkalines into the soil for almost two centuries has, obviously, done more than just poison the rivers. It poisoned the earth, so that those who would claim to lordship over its produce are poisoned themselves. No more self-sacrificing Corn Kings for us. The Lord of the Grain has become a dictator. Now we get Blairo Maggi, the iniquitous “Soy King.”

And it’s all Gustav Vasa’s fault.

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Cyberpunk master’s thesis bibliography.

Last week I provided a Cyberpunk 101 reading list in response to some discussion over on Twitter about the game Cyberpunk 2077. As follow-up, I ordered a copy of my master’s thesis (“The Evolution of the Myth of the Frontier in Cyberpunk”, Bowling Green State University, 1995). It came, and I made a thread about what I wrote in the thesis. (Well, I’ll write that thread tomorrow).

For anyone curious, here’s the bibliography of cited works in the thesis. (Keep in mind all this is as of 1995, so naturally twenty-five years out of date) (Also keep in mind that I read a hell of a lot more books than I cited–the bibliography is the only a fraction of my research).

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Your basic Cyberpunk 101 reading list

Cyberpunk 2077‘s more regrettable & problematic design choices prompted some discussion–well, a lot of discussion, really–over on Twitter. And one thing led to another and people started discussing the genre of cyberpunk and not just the macho wankery of Cyberpunk 2077.

Now, I wrote my Master’s thesis on cyberpunk (“The Evolution of the Myth of the Frontier in Cyberpunk”, Bowling Green State University, 1995) and read, if I recall correctly, the entirety of the genre published up to 1995 as part of the research for it. So I have Opinions on cyberpunk.

So I briefly vented about Cyberpunk 2077 and What Cyberpunk Literature Really Is (get off my lawn, kids), and I was asked to provide my reading list. So here’s a slightly trimmed-down version of it, including the most important and relevant pre-1996 cyberpunk texts. I’m undoubtedly leaving out a number of good stories and novels, but I had to stop the list somewhere or it would be unreasonably long. Also, “important and relevant” =/= unproblematic or good by 2020’s standards.

Proto-cyberpunk texts (i.e., published before 1983, containing cyberpunk elements, and were influential on later cyberpunk writers):

Bernard Wolfe’s LIMBO (1952)

Alfred Bester’s THE STARS MY DESTINATION (1956)

William S. Burroughs’ THE SOFT MACHINE (1961)

John Brunner’s STAND ON ZANZIBAR (1968)


James Tiptree, Jr’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973)

John Brunner’s SHOCKWAVE RIDER (1975)

Thomas J. Ryan’s THE ADOLESCENCE OF P-1 (1977) [thanks to Bill Higgins for correcting my mistake on the book’s publication date]

John Shirley’s CITY COME A-WALKIN (1980)

Bruce Sterling’s THE ARTIFICIAL KID (1980)

William Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981)

Vernor Vinge’s “True Names” (1981)

David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME (1982)

William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” (1982)

Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER (1982)

1983 & post-1983 cyberpunk texts (1983, of course, being the year when the word “cyberpunk” became widely distributed thanks to Bruce Bethke’s short story):

Bruce Bethke’s “Cyberpunk” (1983)

William Gibson’s NEUROMANCER (1984)

Victor Milan’s CYBERNETIC SAMURAI (1985)

John Shirley’s ECLIPSE (1985)

Bruce Sterling’s SCHISMATRIX (1985)

George Stone, Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton’s MAX HEADROOM: 20 MINUTES INTO THE FUTURE (1985)

William Gibson’s COUNT ZERO (1986)


George Alec Effinger’s WHEN GRAVITY FAILS (1987)

Candas Jane Dorsey’s “(Learning About) Machine Sex” (1988)

William Gibson’s MONA LISA OVERDRIVE (1988)

Richard Kadrey’s METROPHAGE (1988)

John Shirley’s ECLIPSE PENUMBRA (1988)

Bruce Sterling’s ISLANDS IN THE NET (1988)

Joan Vinge’s CATSPAW (1988)

George Alec Effinger’s A FIRE IN THE SUN (1989)

Kim Newman’s THE NIGHT MAYOR (1989)

John Shirley’s ECLIPSE CORONA (1990)

Pat Cadigan’s SYNNERS (1991)

Tom Maddox’s HALO (1991)

Pat Cadigan’s FOOLS (1992)

Ernest Hogan’s HIGH AZTECH (1992)

Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH (1992)

Len Kaminski, Chris Bachalo, Jim Daly’s GHOST RIDER 2099 (1994-1995)

Melissa Scott’s TROUBLE AND HER FRIENDS (1994)

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The Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Now Online!

Well, sorta. Let’s just say that converting the Encyclopedia from a manuscript to an online resource is going to take me a long time; the Encyclopedia has over 6,800 entries, and I’m giving each entry its own page, which is time-consuming.

But I’ve gotten a start on the conversion–I completed the As this morning. And I assume I’ll be able to keep up a good pace, and–I hope–complete the conversion by next summer. (sob)

Anyhow. If you’re at all interested in the pulps and their characters, you’ll enjoy the online encyclopedia, I think.

The Online Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes 

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Some thoughts on Lovecraft, for and against.

The following is largely taken from my Horror Fiction in the Twentieth Century, which if you’re interested in the development of and history of horror fiction, both in the Anglophone world and in the rest of the world, is essential reading.

The Case For H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft is a topic that contemporary critics and writers argue and speechify endlessly about. His sexism, racism, antisemitism, and bigotry; whether he was a good writer or not; should the readers of the 2020s read him or not; whether he was a good influence on horror fiction or not—these are all topics and questions that raise themselves up like Cthulhu from the depths, only with great regularity (every six weeks or so, it seems to me) and greater vehemence on all sides.

It seems to me, though, that both the pro- and anti-Lovecraft partisans take something for granted: that, in the words of Annalee Newitz, Lovecraft (along with the odious John W. Campbell) “made sci-fi what it is today.” My purpose in writing the following is not to take a shot at Annalee, who I think is divine, but rather to question the premise—to raise the issue of what Lovecraft actually wrought, and what he did not.

It’s taken for granted that via Weird Tales Lovecraft changed the course of horror forever. But if you start examining the publishing world in which Loveraft began appearing, you’ll see that that ain’t so.

The presence of Weird Tales has tended to overshadow the existence of the other pulps that published horror fiction. There was a substantial amount of horror fiction in the pulps before Weird Tales arrived and during its heyday. Weird Tales should properly be seen as a step in the development of horror fiction rather than the first in its modern evolution.

Weird Tales was not the first pulp to publish fantastika or horror. Four years before Weird Tales debuted, there was Thrill Book, whose contents were intended to be different and unusual and which published horror alongside fantastika. Twenty years before Thrill Book , and less than three years after it had become a pulp, Argosy began running fantastika , including horror stories. Between 1899 and 1923, dozens of works of horror appeared in pulp magazines. ArgosyAll-Story, and Cavalier—general pulps rather than genre pulps—played host to over sixty of those stories by themselves.

It is going too far to suggest that there was an exploding world of horror in the pulps, one that complemented the horror appearing in the slicks during this time period, but horror was an active, healthy genre in the pulps before Weird Tales arrived: healthy in numbers, quality, and in the range of horror being written. But the number of horror stories in the pulps outside of Weird Tales would decrease with Weird Tales ’ arrival, as would the average quality of the horror in the pulps, and it is a fair conclusion that, far from bringing about a renaissance of horror in the pulps, Weird Tales dealt a blow to the genre in the pulps that it would not recover from.

Foremost among the Weird Tales writers was H. P. Lovecraft, who became so central to the magazine’s identity that his death (along with Robert E. Howard’s) spelled the end of the magazine’s golden age. Much has been written about Lovecraft, and as the controversy over his racism and xenophobia has grown, so too has the academic and critical respect in which he is held. Certainly, considering his long-term influence, he deserves the attention; his cumulative effect on horror fiction and science fiction in the twentieth century was remarkable, and it can fairly be said that he is the most important horror writer before Stephen King and the second-most important American horror writer after Poe. But it is important to keep in mind that much of Lovecraft’s influence was posthumous and delayed, evolving out of the large-scale reprinting of his work in the early 1970s until he became, in essence, Mt. Lovecraft, in whose shadow most contemporary horror writers now involuntarily labor. Lovecraft was influential during his life, as we’ll see; but after his death, his influence waned among all but a handful of writers—well-known writers, admittedly—until the 1970s renaissance of interest in him. During the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, despite the occasional Cthulhu Mythos story by writers like Ramsey Campbell and the reprints of Lovecraft’s work by the publisher Arkham House, Lovecraft was neither well-known nor well-regarded.

Suffice it to say that while Lovecraft, thanks to his unique style and well-articulated philosophies of art and horror, exercised an outsized influence on other Weird Tales writers during his lifetime. But that influence didn’t extend to horror writers as a whole during his lifetime, and after his death his influence dwindled, although it never disappeared.

Lovecraft deserves analysis on two fronts: his worth as a writer and his influence. With regard to the former, he is the victim of a persistent misapprehension: that his distinctive style is “bad.” Nick Mamatas’s rebuttal—that many readers and critics mistake a level of difficulty and a degree of narrative experimentation for bad fiction—is a sound one: “One might even say that Lovecraft interrogates the assumptions of realism and bends the habitual gestures around new shapes.” Lovecraft is a mutable writer, altering his narrative style and vocabulary to fit the character and story being told. Lovecraft has an extensive vocabulary and is well-read, and usually displays his erudition in his stories. As has been endlessly repeated, his own personal bigotries are to be found in his stories, from racism to xenophobia to class-based bigotry [1]. And as Mamatas says,

Characterization and observation of social realities go right out the window, but Lovecraft had no real interest in the social world or even human beings at all. Franzen could have been speaking of Lovecraft, and not postmodern fiction, when he wrote, “Characters were feeble, suspect constructs, like the author himself.” Pulp, like postmodernism, offers other, more difficult, pleasures.

Lovecraft’s writing began under the influence of Poe, Machen, and Dunsany, as well as a few less obvious writers [2], but it evolved until it became distinctively his own, using his advanced vocabulary to attempt to approach and describe the cosmically indescribable, in stories that transgressed traditional horror literature’s understandings of man’s place in the cosmos. Lovecraft was not the first author to write a cosmic horror story, but he was the first to use it as the underpinning and guiding philosophy of his stories, and he was the first to advance cosmic horror beyond stories of an inimical universe—a simple and predictable reversal of the traditional horror literature moral cosmology—into scientifically justifiable and scientifically supported stories of an uncaring universe in which humans, frighteningly, discover their true nature in the cosmos: irrelevancy.

Lovecraft became an inspiration and mentor to the most important Weird Tales authors, who happily let his Cthulhu Mythos stories influence their own writing. Through his letters, Lovecraft communicated with a wide range of writers and readers. In the decades after his death, his work was a strong influence on the early work of major writers, men like Fritz Leiber and Ramsey Campbell. Lovecraft picked up the fading tradition of regional horror from the East Coast school and not only gave it renewed life but also inspired other writers to write regional horror of their own, whether overtly Lovecraftian, as with Ramsey Campbell’s Severn Valley in England, or simply unique to those writers, as with Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine, Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station in Connecticut, and Davis Grubb in rural West Virginia. And, as Fritz Leiber aptly put it, Lovecraft “shifted the focus of supernatural dread from man and his little world and his gods, to the stars and the black and unplumbed gulfs of intergalactic space.”  [3]

The Case Against Lovecraft


Lovecraft was the central figure during Weird Tales’ golden age, and horror literature’s most important figure in the first half of the twentieth century. But his undeniable importance to horror literature has led to an overinflation of his accomplishments and an overestimation of his talents. A corrective is needed.

Lovecraft is commonly associated with the concept of cosmic horror, the notion that there is no god in the universe, that humans are insignificant on the cosmic level, and that all we do and will be and ever have done and been is meaningless. Michel Houellebecq summed it up well:

The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of halfdead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure “Victorian fictions.” Only egotism exists. [4]

Lovecraft used cosmic horror as the philosophical backdrop for his stories, in which humans often come into contact with cosmic beings and are driven mad by the experience. Numerous later horror writers used the core concept of cosmic horror, the meaninglessness of existence, without resorting to alien

beings, and it can justly be argued—and persuasively so—that the idea of an uncaring and even hostile universe became common enough in twentieth century horror literature that it changed the dynamic of horror fiction into a three-sided continuum rather than a binary continuum. [5]

Unfortunately, a common misconception is that Lovecraft created cosmic horror. It is more accurate to say that Lovecraft popularized it and that in his hands it cohered from an age-old trope—the knowledge that drives one mad—and a nascent idea about the world into an articulated philosophy. In a crude, prototypical form, cosmic horror was present in a variety of nineteenth-century texts: in the devastating vision granted by the titular box in Vladimir Odoevsky’s “The Cosmorama,” (1838), which a terrified victim cries out that “You can see everything—everything without the covering;” in the haunting effect of the illimitable past of Egypt in Théophile Gautier’s “Une Nuit de Cléopâtre” (1838); in the baleful existence and effect of the dread Dweller on the Threshold, in Lord Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni (1842); in the refusal of the main characters in James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre; or, the Feast of Blood (1845–1847) to believe in a world where God would allow vampires to exist, because “we disbelieve that which a belief in would be enough to drive us mad;” in Arthur Machen’s “Great God Pan” (1894), where the merest sight of a divine being is enough to drive a character mad; in Robert W. Chambers’s The King in Yellow (1895), in which the play “The King in Yellow” drives men and women insane simply by reading it; in these and other horror texts, proto-cosmic horror can be seen. Lovecraft was aware of most of these works, praising Gautier, Machen, and Chambers in Supernatural Horror in Literature and openly acknowledging their influence on him; those he was unaware of provide examples of the existence of proto-cosmic horror in the zeitgeist, as a reaction to Enlightenment science’s destruction of the traditional conception of God and religion and to the prospect of non-Nordic immigration into Europe and the United States. [6]

So cosmic horror was not Lovecraft’s creation. It is more accurate to say that Lovecraft took the raw materials that he found and forged them into something new. Lovecraft was a popularizer of cosmic horror; he was an advancer and promoter of it. He was crucial to its evolution. But he was not its creator.

Lovecraft, and Weird Tales more generally, are also credited with, in Steven J. Mariconda’s words, an “innovative combination of horror and science fiction [that] has proved a bellwether for the modern weird tale.” [7] Again, this is a confusion of influence with creation. As Peter Nicholls and John Clute noteBrian W. Aldiss argued in Billion Year Spree (1973) that sf

“was born from the Gothic mode” in the nineteenth century . . . and that was also one of the birthplaces of horror fiction; certainly many of sf’s early manifestations were horrible indeed . . . in the flurry of fantastic fiction published in magazines and Pulp magazines between, say, 1880 and 1930, occult and supernatural fiction and sf were so closely related as to be disentangled only with the greatest difficulty, and sometimes not very convincingly.

That Weird Tales was the source of the numerical majority of the horror science fiction of its time is inarguable; the major sf pulps of the 1920s and 1930s, including Amazing Tales and Astounding, ran very little that can be accurately described as horror, though there are memorable exceptions to this rule. And later writers of horror sf certainly looked to Weird Tales , among other sources, for their influences. But Weird Tales and Lovecraft were working in a preexisting tradition rather than establishing one, and Lovecraft was popularizer rather than a creator, someone who didn’t create a toy so much as wave it in people’s faces while screaming, “Isn’t this great???”

Finally, there’s a common misperception about Lovecraft’s influence. As mentioned, he was a posthumous influence on the early works of Leiber and Campbell. But the thirty-three years between his death and the start of the 1970s Lovecraft revival were long, and the great majority of the horror writers of those thirty-three years were only marginally influenced, if at all, by him. Lovecraft is undeniably an influence on current horror writers, even if those writers are only attempting to write nothing like him; but there was an entire generation of skilled and successful horror writers who turned out work entirely free of even a hint of Lovecraft. Lovecraft may seem inescapable now, but for many years he wasn’t, and at some point in the future—the near future, one hopes—he won’t be again.

[1] David Simmons’ American Horror Fiction and Class: From Poe to Twilight (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) is very good on Lovecraft and class.

[2] Jessica Amanda Salmonson writes, regarding the influence of Sarah Orne Jewett’s fictional Maine towns on Lovecraft, that

Dunnet Landing is the most famous non-existent town of Maine & reminds us of Lovecraft’s Dunwich, Massachusetts. The influence of regional fiction from the nineteenth century on American horror writers has long been underestimated, though many of the ghost stories of August Derleth are frank imitations of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman & Sarah Jewett. The idea of a totally invented town was well established among the New England regionalists, & it is safe to say there never would have been a Dunwich or an Arkham had there never been a Deephaven or a Dunnet Landing . . . as for Lovecraft, he may well be regarded as the last of the great New England regionalists; & as is typical of the last of any important movement in art or architecture or literature, “last” implies decadence, in the sense of repeating all earlier themes & modes to splendid excess.

Anthony Camara makes a reasonable case for the influence of Vernon Lee on Lovecraft in his “Dark Matter: British Weird Fiction and the Substance of Horror, 1880–1927” (PhD diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 2013. Lovecraft directly praises Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in Supernatural Horror in Literature. Eleanor M. Ingram’s The Thing from the Lake (1921) was relatively famous on publication, and Lovecraft would have known of it and likely read it. And Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson’s Monster, She Wrote makes a strong case for the influence of Gertrude Barrows Bennett (who wrote under the pen name “Francis Stevens”) on Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s reluctance to name his female influences likely stems from a typical-for-the-era sexist view that to be influenced by female writers was to be unmanly and that only women should be influenced by women writers.

[3] Fritz Leiber, “A Literary Copernicus,” in H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, ed. S. T. Joshi (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1980), 50.

[4] Michel Houellebecq, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (San Francisco, CA: Believer Books, 2005), 31–32.

[5] Briefly: There are three kinds of horror fiction. They operate on a continuum rather than a binary/trinary, yes/no, is/is-not scheme. The first kind of horror fiction, incursion, is the intrusion of wrongness into an otherwise moral universe—the appearance of a monster, the discovery of a haunted house, etc. Stoker’s Dracula is an obvious example of this dynamic. The second kind of horror fiction is what can be called “the trip to Faerie” or “into the forest,” in which the protagonist leaves the everyday world and travels to a place of terror; the narrator’s discovery of the lethal valley in Ralph Adams Cram’s “The Dead Valley” and the mayor’s literal trip to Faerie in Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist are two classic examples. Most pre-Lovecraft horror stories and novels fall into these two categories. The third category, revelation, the one essentially created by cosmic horror, is horror caused by the revelation that the universe itself is malign or at best uncaring and that the protagonist’s (and the reader’s) ideas of a just world are dangerous delusions. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories are primus inter pares for this kind of horror.

[6] This point deserves emphasizing. Moral people abhor Lovecraft’s bigotry, but there’s an increasing effort among writers to try to separate cosmic horror from Lovecraft’s version of it and create a bigotry-free cosmic horror. I applaud the attempt, but in a very real respect all cosmic horror, not just Lovecraft’s, is the fruit of the poisoned tree of racial bigotry and bias. This doesn’t mean that cosmic horror can’t be cleansed and redeemed, of course—it just means that those who would create works of cosmic horror must be careful about what they say and write.

[7] Steven J. Mariconda, “H[oward] P[hillips] Lovecraft,” in Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia , ed. S. T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 738.


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The Yellow Peril.

The following is an excerpt from my Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, Second EditionThose story and novel titles in boldface are entries in the Encyclopedia.

The Yellow Peril. Although the anti-Asian stereotype of the “Yellow Peril,” the threat posed to the West by Asian countries and peoples, was made commonplace in the twentieth century, the source of the modern Yellow Peril stereotype lies in the literature and cultural trends of the nineteenth century. Continue reading

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The pulps of East Germany!

In case you don’t know, I’ve been posting a bit on Twitter and over on Patreon. The following is one of the free posts I did there:

Stealing from @mc_ellis: “This is the City, Karl-Marx-Stadt. My name is Freitag, I plant microphones.” It’s time to talk about the pulps of East Germany! 
(Only through 1963 or so; post-mid-60s is not just out of my area of knowledge but to cover the pulps of the mid-60s to 1990 would make this essay—which is promising to be long enough already—wayyyy too long.)
First, though, a reminder: I covered the history of the pulps in pre-WW2 Germany here. (The German term is “heftromane,” “notebook novels,” and English-language critics and historians usually call the heftromane “dime novels,” but what they actually were, were single-story pulps, so I’m going to stick to “pulps” when referring to them). 

 After World War Two was over, the Americans, British, and Soviets (and later the French) divided Germany into zones of occupation. The Soviet occupation zone became East Germany (hereafter “DDR”), a client/vassal state of the USSR, in October 1949. 

Now, East Germany, like all the USSR client/vassal states, had substantial press restrictions and government censorship. The censorship began immediately and was inherited from the Soviets. Most American, British and western European literature and literary forms were regulated, discouraged, or forbidden. 
Nonetheless, the East German readers still got pulps. (The impulse towards pulp fiction is a universal one, I think. American readers, Egyptian readers, Russian readers, Indonesian readers—everyone loves pulp fiction, and has since popular literature began appearing in the pages of cheaply-made magazines). 
The most popular kind of East German pulps were “women’s publications.” These published things from “practical manuals” to serialized novels starring the heroines of international socialism. (This image is from one of the “practical” pulps, Frau von Heute (Woman of Today)). 

The single most popular line of East German pulps was the “Roman Zeitung,” novels published in installments. In the 1960s they would include every genre, but in the late 1940s/early 1950s they focused on the history of the German workers’ movement. (The image below is from a 1960s issue of the Roman Zeitung line).
Regrettably, I don’t have much info on either the novels-in-installments or the women’s pulps of East Germany, despite their popularity. That is seems to be the way with the pulps: pulps written for women (and usually by women) are slighted by the (male) historians of the medium. You can find a lot written about American science fiction pulps, despite sf being the fifth- or sixth-most popular genre of American pulps. You will find little written about American romance pulps, despite their being the most popular genre of American pulps. (Pulp historians, like the pulp community itself, really need to get their stuff together and stop being such misogynists). (But then, the pulp community of collectors have an outsized & pronounced set of character flaws, so pulp historians likely can’t help but reflect those flaws. And, yes, I’m indicting myself along with the rest of the pulp historians).
So let’s shift to what I can talk about. The first East German pulp was Geschichten, die das Leben schrieb (Stories that life wrote; 14 issues, 1949-1951). Geschichten was a trip. 

Geschichten alternated between real-life [sic] adventure stories, detective stories, and fighting-the-fascists-during-WW2 stories. Never respectable to the literary establishment, Geschichten published numerous big-name (for East German) authors, but every one of them wrote under pseudonyms. They weren’t slumming; they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to publish “respectable” literature if anyone knew they were writing pulp stories as well. 

 In its way Geschichten is paradigmatic of the DDR pulps: the editors and writers were caught between the ideological requirements of the government and the writers’ desire to play with the familiar genre tropes and the editors’ desire to give the reading audience what it really wanted, which were stories with the familiar genre tropes. 

Take this one: “Slaves of the Green Hell.” An obviously pulpy adventure, with a great pulp title, but the story’s got a very awkward overlay of Marxism. 

Or this one: “The Lemke Murder Case Solved.” A standard German mystery with a standard German police detective hero (ask me about the Nazi mysteries sometime), but the story tries to emphasize how solving the case is a communal effort (which is properly Marxist), not an individual accomplishment (individualism being a western capitalist element, per DDR Marxism). 

Similar to Geshichten but much longer running was Die Neue Abenteuer (The New Adventure; ? issues, 1949-1950, 1952-1990). It was a mainstay of the DDR pulps—arguably the headliner of the DDR pulps from men, not unlike the USian pulp Adventure
Abenteuer even had color interior illustrations from issue #100 onward, which was a rarity in the primarily black-and-white DDR pulps.

The primary genres published in Abenteuer were adventure, mystery/detective, and science fiction. (As is always the case with the pulps, DDR pulp sf is overlooked in the USian and English reference books about DDR science fiction). Abenteuer ran many translations of Russian, English, French, and Japanese writers—and believe me, I would love to read the adventure, mystery/detective, or science fiction stories of 1950s Japanese Marxists and communists! This was twenty years before the Japanese Red Army, but even in the early 1950s Japanese communists were no joke. The adventure, detective, or science fiction stories they turned out must have been quite something. 

Like Geschichten, Abenteuer’s authors tried to serve two masters: official DDR ideology and the pulp gods. In the early days, especially during the 1949-1950 Abenteuer series, the pulp gods were usually supreme. But in the second series, from 1952 onward, Marxism came first, pulpishness second. (Mostly. There were a few honorable exceptions). 

In 1950 the DDR literary establishment cohered with formation of the Academy of Arts and the German Writers’ Union. Both established what was socially acceptable literature and what was “trash and dirt” literature. Neither had legal powers, but culturally both were very powerful, and both ruled the literary whisper networks. 

In 1951, the East German government formed the Office of Literature and Publishing to (quoting here) “manage the publishing industry and facilitate the appearance of those texts commensurate with public policy.” All literature published in the DDR had to be approved by the Office. 

So it was the 1950-1951 period when the screws really began to tighten on DDR pulp writers and editors and publishers. The government was formulating an official cultural policy on literature: how to make a “literature of the proletariat”? How to make a German literature that reflected Marxism? And the old pulps didn’t fit in either category. 
1949-1950 by comparison was a golden age for the DDR pulps. 

I’d say it was 1950 when East German audiences got the first proper “East German” pulps. Arguably the biggest of these was Kleine Jugendreihe (Small Series for Children; 300+ issues, 1950-1965). Stories in Children were written either by DDR authors or Soviet authors—no other foreign stories were allowed. 
Stories in Kleine were almost entirely in the “KAP” mode: “krimi, abenteuer, phantastik,” or “mysteries, adventures, and science fiction.” Kleine’s title actually changed to KAP in 1965, and under that title it ran for 114 issues from 1965-1971. 
Despite the genres published in both magazines, the stories in Kleine and KAP were…not as much fun as the stories in pulps like Abenteuer. The Kleine and KAP stories were usually too heavily freighted with Marxist ideology to really let loose in proper pulp fashion. 

On 17 June 1953 a general strike-cum-uprising erupted in East Germany. (It didn’t end well, of course). The result of the uprising was to make the DDR government both more conservative and less heavy-handed—the government realized it couldn’t arbitrarily force the people to create the “accelerated construction of socialism,” but the government also put in place measures to prevent a repetition of 17 June. 
One of these measures were the moralizing and anti-capitalist campaigns of the mid-1950s. These were government-backed and influenced most aspects of DDR culture. The pulps, like everything else, were forced to serve these campaigns. 

So readers got Für Volk und Vaterland (For the People and the Homeland; 43 issues, 1954-1956). Homeland was published by the Ministry of the Interior and later by the “Verlag der Kasernierten Volkspolizei” (“Barracked People’s Police Publishing House”). 

That’s right: a pulp published by the Ministry of the Interior. The stories were directly addressed to workers and the leaders of the “people’s police”, and were written to support the government campaigns. 

The genres of stories in Homeland were mystery, military history, and war stories, and were supposed to be “real.” Interestingly, Homeland not only published DDR authors, it published Russian, Czech, and Chinese (!) authors. (I’d love to read the Chinese stories). 

Obviously, the Chinese stories in Homeland had to be Marxistically correct. But Homeland’s published genres were unlike anything published in China during 1954-1956. Did the Chinese authors view Homeland as an opportunity to tell the real or fictional stories they weren’t allowed to tell at home? Did they view Homeland as merely an easy way to make some extra money * , or did writing for Homeland scratch a creative itch, fulfill a creative need that couldn’t be fulfilled under a regime even more oppressive and anti-creative than the DDR? 
* At least, I’m assuming the East German pulps paid their authors. This hadn’t occurred to me until just now, but—maybe the East German pulps were purely volunteer, unpaid outlets? Was exposure all anyone got from writing from the DDR pulps? Answers on a postcard, y’all. 

1955 was a big year—perhaps the central year—for the DDR pulps. DDR readers not only got a wave of new government approved pulps, they got some hero pulps, whose focus on the exploits of one or two individuals was at odds with the government emphasis on collective, not individual, actions. Hero pulps were a major tradition of pre-WW2 German pulps, but the DDR government had discouraged them for the first few years of its existence. But for whatever reason, in 1955 that changed—this, despite the fact that 1955 was the first year of the DDR’s Committee on the Fight Against the Poisoning of Our Youth Through Smut and Trash, whose remit was to purge the DDR of “smut and trash literature” (i.e., popular literature, including dime novels). 

The first of the three hero pulps, and the most controversial and among the most successful of any DDR pulps, was Fahrten und Abenteuer von Pitt und Ursula (Actions and Adventures of Pitt and Ursula; 10 issues, 1955). As you might have guessed from the title, Pitt und Ursula was a children’s pulp about a pair of siblings, Pitt and Ursula. 

Pitt and Ursula are spunky younglings who live in an East German village and have adventures (alongside their pet dog) including and not limited to catching an arsonist, uncovering a poacher, and discovering the hiding place of a West German spy plane. 
You know—the usual adventures of East German kids. However. 

Pitt und Ursula was published to counteract the effect of the USian comics that were flooding the DDR schools and barracks. (Which comics those were, I’ve been unable to discover. I’d like to think they were E.C. horror comics, but they were probably Uncle Scrooge, Katy Keene Fashion Book Magazine, and Batman #92 featuring Ace the Bat-Hound). 
(German pulps were flooding the DDR, too, naturally—and those pulps contained advertisements which were anti-DDR propaganda. But Pitt und Ursula was specifically about USian comics). 


But the DDR government thought that Pitt und Ursula was a little too close to USian comics, a little too individualistic, and was a bad example for DDR youth. Neither Pitt nor Ursula were Young Pioneers, after all, or wore the Pioneers’ uniform. (Gasp!)

So what was supposed to be a 14-issue series got cancelled with issue #10 by order of the government. The same thing happened to the science fiction pulp Abenteuer aus weiter Welt (Adventures on Distant Worlds; 18 issues, 1955-1956)—it was too close to the comics it was supposed to negate. 

The government pumped out another Ministry of the Interior pulp: Zur Abwehr Bereit (Ready to Defend; 33 issues, 1955-1956), which featured war stories and spy stories, with with numerous translations from Russian, Czechoslovakian, and Hungarian authors. 
I’m not sure if these genres were published in Czechoslovakia or Hungary in 1955 and 1956. It’s certainly possible—don’t sleep on the Czech pulp tradition! (Hungary, on the other hand, is the undiscovered country from whose bourn no English-language pulp researcher returns, that I’ve found. Plus looking at Hungarian makes my eyes bleed, so I have a hard time translating it). If those genres weren’t published in either country in ’55 of ’56, we’re looking at the same situation as with the Chinese authors in Homeland

The second hero pulp…well, this is going to require some context. (Oh, don’t groan, I know how much y’all love context). 
Circuses have been popular in Germany for a long time—since the late 19th century, although the craze really hit its stride in the 20th century, as this handy history of the circus in Germany describes. 
Naturally, the leading men and women of German circuses became celebrities, and equally naturally, the German pulp industry published pulps about these celebrities. (What I call the “celebrity pulps” will make for a good future Twitter lecture or Patreon post, I think). So as early as 1919 you’ve got German celebrity pulps about circus star (and film superstar) Eddie Polo and circus star, cowboy, and Nazi Billy Jenkins
Celebrity pulps about circus stars sold well to pre-WW2 German audiences, and after the war ended there were circus stars in the DDR—circuses were popular in the DDR—so it wasn’t much of a leap, in 1955, to decided “Hey, why not make a celebrity pulp about one? Julius Jäger (1889-1952) isn’t alive to bother us about exaggerating his exploits—let’s use him!” 
Jäger was a circus star under the name “Cliff Aeros;” he founded a circus of his own, the Zirkus Aeros, in 1942. (The Zirkus Aeros is still performing today). So the celebrity pulp about him was Cliff Aeros – der Menschliche Sternschnuppe (Cliff Aeroes – the Human Shooting Star; 16 issues, 1955-1956). 


Okay, you didn’t deserve to see that. 


Cliff Aeros describes the titular hero’s adventures as he travels the world with his circus, triumphing over the most difficult stunts, outwitting the cleverest of scoundrels, and bringing proper Marxist justice to the oppressed masses. Some of the issue titles of Cliff Aeros were “A Dying Man Flies to Heaven,” “The Trip with Crocodiles,” “Aeros at the Bullfight,” and “A Leap Through the Bayonet Tire.”
Cliff Aeros was perhaps the most successful of the DDR hero pulps to thread the Scylla & Charybdis of “Marxist collective action” and “Western pulp individualism.” Cliff Aeros is the lead character, but everyone on the circus does their part and gets their moment in the spotlight. It really is like the Circus of Crime, only, you know, devoted to Marxist justice rather than capitalist crime. 


1956 continued these trends. 
Another government pulp came out: Der junge Patriot (The Young Patriot; 7 issues, 1956), published by the Gesellschaft für sport und Technik, one of those “popular” DDR organizations that people were “encouraged” to join. In this case the Gesellschaft had very close ties (i.e., took direction from) both the DDR Army and the ruling Socialist Unity Party. Issues of Patriot alternated between WW2 war stories and dramatized episodes from the history of the international labor movement. In the second issue, for example, the story dramatized a factory workers revolt in Thuringia against the short-lived  Wolfgang Kapp government. 


And another hero pulp came out, this one the greatest, most successful, most domestically controversial, and generally most paradigmatic of all the DDR pulps: Abenteuer des fliegenden Reporters Harri Kander (The Adventures of Harri Kander, the Flying Reporter; 15 issues, 1956-1958). (There was a trial run for Kander in the non-fiction magazine Flieger-Revue #3 (1956), and the response was sufficiently positive for Kander to get his own pulp later that year). 


Harri Kander is a German pilot who deserted from the Luftwaffe when World War Two began and joined the Maquis in Holland [sic]. This got Kander on the Gestapo’s List, but Kander continued to fight the Nazis during the war. Kander and his resistance gang stole Luftwaffe planes and used them to carry messages between the Allies and the resistance; Kander and his gang shot down Nazi fighters in mid-air combats; Kander and his gang even flew to England to make sure a vital message reached London in time. 
All of that was in the first three issues of Harri Kander


In issues #4-6, the situation changed, as the stories leapt forward to the post-war environment. Kander, his best friend Walter Winter (great name!), and his wife Katarina travel to Canada and meet up with Canadian communists, travel to the Soviet Union, and then return to the DDR and become “flying reporters,” uncovering capitalist corruption in Canada (issue #4), undoing the foul schemes of the running dog capitalists in the U.S.S.R. (issue #5), and helping the Vietnamese resistance against the French colonialists during the Anti-French Resistance War (issue #6). Harri, Walter, and Katarina don’t solve crimes in issues #4-6; the stories aren’t mysteries. The stories are Reporter Adventures, a time-honored genre in the USian dime novels and pulps and slicks, but one which for various reasons never caught on outside of the U.S. 
(The best of the Reporter Adventures genre was Jerry McGill’s radio program Big Town (1937-1954), featuring star newspaperman Steve Wilson; Wilson also appeared in four movies in 1947 and 1948 and in a DC comic, Big Town, from 1951-1958. I bring this up because each episode of Big Town began with the stirring words, “The freedom of the press is a flaming sword! Use it justly! Hold it high! Guard it well!” I think of those words every time I see the DC press corps and t.v. talking heads “interview” Trump or a member of his administration, and I want to cry.) 

Issue #7 of Harri Kander had, on its cover, the words, “In this issue we have met the desire expressed by many readers to resume the events interrupted in the third number.” Inside, the story leapt backwards to World War Two and resumed describing Kander’s exploits during the war. The rest of the series was about Kander and his Maquis pals fighting the fascists inside occupied France, fighting the fascists inside “the Allies’ Stalingrad,” and taking part in the “struggle of the righteous Communists” who aided the Allies during the Normandy invasion
The WW2 issues of Harri Kander were enormously popular in the DDR, as the many many many veterans of the war found it easier to identify with Harri Kander the WW2 veteran rather than Harri Kander the Flying Reporter, the hero of the Russian Revolution [sic] and the Spanish Civil War. The war issues of Harri Kander were East Germany’s first serious attempt to acknowledge the reality of the German veterans of the war and the country’s first real attempt to show how these veterans contributed to the building of the DDR’s socialist reality. 
(Of course, those people used to be Nazis, so fuck’em—let them live miserable lives and die alone and forgotten).  

But all was not well with Harri Kander. The portrayal of a heroic defector from the Luftwaffe did not sit well at all with elements in the DDR government, especially in the military. Harri Kander was banned from the barracks of the army and the people’s police, and anyone caught reading or disseminating an issue of Harri Kander faced serious jail time. The army’s official magazine, the Armee Rundschau, published ferocious attacks against the pulp, and military higher-ups lobbied to prevent Harri Kander’s publisher from continuing publication of the pulp. In Saxony many copies of the pulp were withdrawn from newsstands by order of the police. In the end, in 1958, despite Harri Kander’s overwhelming popularity and huge sales numbers (300,000+ an issue, from an overall population of about 18 million), the pulp was cancelled by order of the government. 


I mentioned The Young Patriot up above. Its last issue had a spy story—a distinct change from the war stories and workers’ movement stories that Patriot usually featured. By order of the government, Patriot was cancelled with its seventh issue. What replaced it was Broschurereihe Technische Abenteuer (Brochures of Technical Adventures; 29 issues, 1958-1962), which would later become Kleine Erzählreihe (Small Series of Short Stories; 43 issues, 1962-1966), which would eventually become Meridian (94 issues, 1966-1981). 


Brochures would absorb not only The Young Patriot but Harri Kander. Brochures’ genre was war stories, spy stories, and eventually crime and police stories; the latter would become the primary genre of Kleine Erzählreihe and Meridian. Accompanying the war stories and spy stories in Brochures were numerous technical details and illustrations and blueprints of “sophisticated,” cutting-edge weapons and spy technology. The mass production in the DDR of technologically-“advanced” consumer goods is thought to have facilitated a general understanding of the science and technology behind these “sophisticated” weapons and spy devices—but in a number of issues “sophisticated” actually meant “science fictional in the James Bond gadget way.” The James Bond books, of course, began in 1953, with the Bond films beginning in 1961. The government of East Germany, like the governments of the U.S.S.R. and the rest of the Soviet client/vassal states, were well aware of the Bond novels and films, and the high-tech weapons and devices in Brochures can be seen as one of the Eastern Bloc’s responses to Bond. 
(Another such DDR response to James Bond was Alexander from Das Unsichtbare Visier—but Alexander and Das Unsichtbare Visier are subjects for another time and a different essay). 


(Although Brochures fed its readers a steady of diet of war stories and spy stories and police/crime stories, the pulp’s final form, Meridian, always had room for mainstream mimetic fiction and science fiction, publishing both German sf as well as translations from Russian, Polish, and Bulgarian). 
(And let me tell you, you ain’t read nuthin’ until you’ve read Bulgarian science fiction. Oh, the laughs they had!)


1958—we’ve hit the final stretch of the essay, folks, never fear, don’t tl;dr on me now—also saw the debut of the longest-running (and in that sense most successful) of the DDR pulps: Die Blaulicht (The Blue Light; 390+ issues, 1958-1961, 1962-1968, 1969-1990). (“The Blue Light” being the flashing lights of police cars as they swung into action). 


For its first five years The Blue Light was a publication of the Ministry of the Interior and showed “real life” police and detective cases, solved—of course—by the “people’s police.” The stories were narrated with an overtly ideological and pedagogical bent. But in 1963 publication of The Blue Light was taken over by the publisher Das Neue Berlin. At the time, the main author of The Blue Light stories and the de facto editor of The Blue Light was Gunter Prodöhl. Prodöhl—a court reporter by trade—favored a different genre of story for The Blue Light: crime stories from the world outside the window. The higher-ups at Das Neue Berlin agreed that a change in direction for The Blue Light was a good idea * and ran with it.
* I mentioned that The Blue Light had been temporarily cancelled in 1961. The cancellation was due to the construction of the Berlin Wall and the closing of the borders with West Germany. When The Blue Light resumed in publication, there was a conflict between the generalized German setting of the stories and the government’s requirement that stories no longer portray crimes as being committed in the “state of workers and peasants.” Prodöhl saw this difficulty and, inspired by both the real world he saw in his day job and by the approach of Marvel Comics **, came up with an alternative for The Blue Light’s writers. 
** Even after the 1961 closing of the borders with West Germany, USian comics continued to flood into the DDR. In 1963, when Prodöhl and the publishers at Das Neue Berlin were revamping The Blue Light, USian comics were still making their way over the border into the DDR in great numbers, as part of the US government’s propaganda and subversion campaigns against Communism and the DDR. Marvel Comics’ output was included in these campaigns. 
Now, at the time of the 1963 Blue Light revamp, Marvel had been publishing The Amazing Spider-Man for several months. The Amazing Spider-Man was arguably the best expression of the formula that Stan Lee would later articulate, that Marvel’s comics should take place “in the world outside your window.” Issues of The Amazing Spider-Man made their way into East Germany; while Spider-Man was far from the best-selling comic in 1963Dennis the Menace, Archie, and Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories were—but the US government wanted superhero comics to convert East German youths to the way of capitalism, and Marvel gave them Spider-Man alongside Fantastic Four
I don’t think it a coincidence that Gunter Prodöhl was an advocate for the “world outside the East German reader’s window” approach at a time when Spider-Man was doing just that for American readers—not when it’s reasonable to conclude that Prodöhl would have been exposed to Spider-Man. I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to conclude that Stan Lee, Cold Warrior—seriously, check out Marvel comics in the Sixties, nearly all the heroes are staunch anti-Communists—influenced East German culture via Gunter Prodöhl and The Blue Light.  


Getting back to The Blue Light—these ADD-driven side notes are going to be the death of me; I’ll end up driving off a cliff because I’ve just mentally connected two things that are wholly irrelevant to what I was previously thinking about, and I’m distracted enough by the new connection that I ignore the fact that I’m driving along a cliff face—Marcello Anselmo described the new, Prodöhlian pulp:
Among the hundreds of protagonists that the series has hosted there is certainly no shortage of good inspectors and successful criminalists to which, however, we must add a people made up of criminals, capitalist businessmen, young “asocial” and other marginal figures typical of the criminal consumer literature. The series represented a sort of literary gymnasium both for professional writers, screenwriters and for policemen, prosecutors and judges with literary ambitions, but also for workers, workers and more rarely peasants, who in particular in the 60s were able to publish stories or even novels, when not to embark on a truly successful career in the cultural landscape of the DDR.


The Blue Light’s circulation was around 195,000 copies per issue, although as always the circulation numbers don’t reflect the number of actual readers. As in the US, but even more so, readers in the DDR passed issues of The Blue Light around to friends, to fellow workers in factories and on farms, and to fellow policemen and soldiers in various barracks. The Blue Lights cultural penetration was much deeper than its circulation numbers reflect. It inspired an eponymous television show (1959-1961). ***
*** The Blue Light (the television show–which used Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme song as its own theme song–I wonder if Mancini ever knew he’d been ripped off by the East Germans?) was heavily influenced by the West German police tv show Stahlnetz, a Dragnet-like tv show which ran from 1958-1968. But Gunter Prodöhl was the head writer for The Blue Light (the tv show), and he ensured that the show stuck relatively closely to what worked in the pulp. 
The t.v. show followed an Army lieutenant, an Army captain, and an inspector of the “people’s police” as they investigated smuggling cases, clandestine emigration cases (before the construction of the Berlin Wall clandestine emigration to the West was a major concern in both the tv show and the pulp), domestic fraud against DDR citizens and government institutions, and crimes committed by DDR citizens or Western spies. 


After 1963 the situation for men’s pulps changed. (It’s my understanding that women’s pulps kept on keeping on, unchanged]. There was generally a greater emphasis on crime and police fiction and a de-emphasis on other genres, combined with a consistent intrusion of Marxist ideology into the storytelling. It’s not that the DDR pulps hadn’t ever been intruded upon in this fashion, or non-Marxist. But post-1963 the story telling was fully subservient to the ideology, and it showed. 


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