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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sticking It to the Man

The latest book from Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, following on from Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats, is a study of countercultural pulp and popular fiction paperbacks of the 1950s,’60s and ’70s. The title, Sticking It to the Man, hides a smorgasbord of revolutionary fiction that sprang from the growth of anti-authoritarianism in the decades after the Second World War, when consumerism pacified the middle-classes but made many aware of the inequalities of life.

The Sixties especially became the decade of dissent with protests rising in campuses and spilling out onto the streets in the form of peace marches against the H-Bomb, against Viet Nam, marches in support of black rights, of gay and lesbian rights, the rise of the Black Panthers and the White Panthers—all of which coincided with the post-War decline of pulp magazines and the growth of paperback publishing as the chief outlet for the pulpier end of the market. At the same time, rulings brought down by courts in a number of obscenity cases offered new protection for the publication on novels about taboo subjects, including prostitution, interracial relationships and homosexuality.

With some publishers happy to push the envelope to make their otherwise niche books stand out, writers found their subjects in the headlines of newspapers—not always the best source of accurate information, but certainly a good guide to what people were talking about and what authors who could turn a book around quickly should be writing about to take advantage of the zeitgeist.

Between them, the 26 contributors to this volume cover a bewildering range of topics. The opening essay looks at the works of Chester Himes, a crime writer who created police officers of colour tackling crime against a structure of white power. This is followed by essays on gay fiction in the days when homosexuality was considered deviant; E. R. Braithwaite’s ground-breaking To Sir, With Love; lesbian pulp novels; a look at John Rechy’s City of Night; and a study of black archetypes in crime novels, which also touches on Chester Himes’s novels.

The book continues to build up a picture by supplying its readers with a jigsaw of articles, features—some on individual authors, others on broader subjects—and interviews with Nathan Heard, M. F. Beal, and Australian publisher Gerry Gold.

As someone who is more familiar with British publishing and British authors of this era, some of the articles have more resonance. ‘Ferment in Fiction’ looks at Britain’s Angry Decade and works by Alan Sillitoe, Simon Raven and a handful of others; and there’s some discussion of Petra Christian and a number of Jim Moffatt’s more female-oriented novels as by J.J. More, Leslie McManus and the Virginia Box series published under his own name.

Other articles covered some novel areas completely new to me: Australian industrial novels; the works of Robert Deane Pharr, Wally Ferris, Donald Goines, Roosevelt Mallory, Jo Nazel, Vern E. Smith, Dambudzo Marechera; and the Dark Angel series, to name a handful. Some were on authors I was aware of but have never read: Iceberg Slim; Joseph Hansen; and Mike Barry (Barry N. Malzberg’s pen-name for the Lone Wolf series).

The breadth and depth of the book should be recommendation enough, but for a collector there’s also the joy of looking at the 350 or so covers that are reproduced, and that it reminds me that I have a handful of Shaft novels by Ernest Tidyman but I’ve never found the right time to read any of them. Having read the lengthy section on Tidyman’s books,  and the article of vigilantes of the seventies, I think I’ll have to dig out my Dirty Harry and Death Wish novels, put them on a pile with the Shafts and make time.

(P.S. The introduction makes clear that there is to be a third volume, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1960 to 1985. Now that's a book I need to read!)

Sticking It to the Man: Revolutions and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980 by Andrew Nette & Iain McIntyre. PM Press ISBN 978-1629-63524-8, December 2019, 319pp. Available via Amazon.

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