Cover of Amazing Stories from November 1928; the image is of a death-star like mechanical planet, surrounded by vague yellow-green energy.

Juicing the Pulps: Presearch

Hi folks, Michael here.

This year, I was awarded a summer research grant from MSU’s English Department to make an archival research visit. I’ve chosen to spend my time and energy in the Browne Popular Culture Archive at Bowling Green State University. In particular, I’ll be looking at three series of pulps: Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, and Weird Tales. My intention is to read through some of the early stories being circulated, particularly focusing on stories that involve, as a crucial story feature, representations of disability. In addition to the stories themselves, I’ll be looking for audience responses and commentary to get a feel for the dialogue happening between narratives and fans.

Over this next week, I’ll be providing you all with daily research updates, so keep your electronic information devices tuned to this site for updates, commentary, and images from the archives of early science fiction writers and their use of disability and animality in the genre!

In my pre-research (or “presearch” as I like to call it), I came across this gem from February 1928, a story called “The Revolt of the Pedestrians” by David H. Keller, MD. Two lines into the caption for the title image, I encountered disability and animality as explicitly as possible:

“Then came mass movement–a slow, torturous movement of crippled animals dragging legless bodies forward by arms unused to muscular exercise–a slow, convulsive, worm-like panic” (1048).

A muscular, white man with two satchels and a walking stick stands over the bodies of men and women with smaller limbs crawling along the ground. The scene takes place in the midst of a cityscape.

I’m hesitant to provide an in-depth analysis immediately, because the story is a convoluted one. The Bourgeois of this future-world all use power-chair like vehicles and have atrophied or missing legs; they are meant to be villainized or painted as wasteful (like the power chair users in Wall-E).

Image from the movie Wall-E: the titular robot is looking up at a fat black woman and a fat white man sitting in hover chairs. They are both staring at screens and drinking from large foam cups.
Image from the movie Wall-E: the titular robot is looking up at a fat black woman and a fat white man sitting in hover chairs. They are both staring at screens and drinking from large foam cups.

However, it is the able-bodied folks who eventually enact a genocide on vehicle users. There is also a brief and beautiful vignette that describes one disabled woman’s desire for another woman’s “dangling, shrunken, beautiful legs” (1058). Surely it was meant to be gross or horrifying at the time, but it sounds like queer crip pride from 2019. The weird spaces science fiction opens up even when its writers might have meant to be closing things down are what I’ll be reporting on next week.

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