Golden Age Pulp Scifi (Or Modern Recreations)

Qt3 scifi grognards, I turn to you!

I am preparing to run a pulpy science fiction/space opera/sci-fantasy campaign using the wonderful FATE Core ruleset. The plan is to go high-octane, tongue-in-cheek humor, swords-n-planets galore, low-science high-fiction fun. The biggest background influence so far is Star Control II (insofar as the game opens with the players exploring a space sector whose peaceful alliance was conquered by an evil alien empire hundreds of years ago, but the grip is starting to slip), but I can see elements of Star Wars, probably Firefly, and Outlaw Star creeping in, alongside some of the goofy spirit of The Rocketeer and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (maybe a hint of Indiana Jones) for the planetside stuff.

The problem I run into is that I am woefully under-read in the classic-era 30s-50s pulp scifi market. Whether right in the Golden Age with Doc Smith’s Lensmen or later on with Anderson’s Star Fox, or going early with Burroughs’ Barsoom books, or even the “influenced by” sector of Harry Harrison, I’m sort of generally aware of all this work by virtue of being a nerd and reading a lot in general as a kid and teen, but I have rarely had an opportunity to crack these classic works whose worlds, writing, heroes, and stories set the stage for the big, influential latter-day stuff I am familiar with.

I’d like to dig into some of this stuff now, but trying to narrow it down to, say, 1000 pages worth of books I can reasonably hope to consume in the next month or so feels impossible given the breadth of what I’m missing.

So, scifi aficionados: fight it out and tell me what I absolutely have to read before I can even attempt to convey the proper atmosphere for a rip-roaring intergalactic adventure taken straight from the pages of a pulp with a good, solid name like [I]Amazing Adventure Tales!!

[/I](P.S. - If it’s available via Kindle or–even better–available royalty free nowadays–all the better, but I have a few bucks to invest in this enterprise before getting it off the ground)

Give Asimov’s original Foundation Trilogy a try. And since you mentioned Harry Harrison possibly check out some of his Stainless Steel Rat books. Of course you already nailed the grand daddy of true space opera EE “Doc” Smith. The Lensman series is pure pulp awesomeness and his other big series Skylark would serve you well. One more recent book that would fit your criteria is Vernor Vinge’s fantastic A Fire Upon the Deep.

For more modern examples that remind me of those older pulps, Charles Sheffield’s Jupiter series of books. I also just read The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko, very much informed by things like Heinlein’s juveniles. For more straight up “bang zoom” action, John Varley’s Red Thunder is a “good” for values that include pulp. The follow ups leave a bit. There’s also R.M Meluch’s Tour of the Merrimack series, it starts with The Myriad. It’s another series to stop with the first for the most pulp action.

Check out some of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comics from the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the most beautiful comic art ever printed.

I’ll second Lensman, that shit is great. Pop out for an undercover operation stealthily sneaking into an enemy base, using your superior intellect and the powers of the lens to befuddle the minds of your enemies, probably get into a fistfight or two on the way out. Then it’s back to your starship for a rare steak and a smoke. Life was good in those, uh, future days.

In that vein, possibly consider the old Infocom adventure Leather Goddesses of Phobos for good old pulpy sci-fi flavor, with a side of raunch. It’s a lot of fun.

IMO the Foundation Trilogy is not anything like pulp, nor is it space opera. Asimov did have a series of YA space opera novels, “Lucky Starr and the whatever of whatever”, though that might be fun.

If you want proton-blasters-blazing stuff, you will mostly have to go to magazine archives, because it’s mostly pretty awful. Since you already know Doc Smith, that’s definitely the acme of the genre. I imagine there’s some Henry Kuttner and CL Moore and people like that around in old novels, but I’ve never read their stuff myself.

Hm, this is not really pulp, nor is it golden age, but the free trader and related SF books by Andre Norton (60s, mostly, I think) might not be a bad reference for some elements of that kind of interstellar society and technology anyway, though these books mostly don’t have much actual space combat. She may have invented this whole precursor/progenitor/ancient-race trope that appears throughout this kind of story.

For modern stuff, I hate to recommend David Weber, so I won’t, but of course there’s Lois McMaster Bujold.

If you want the really pulpy stuff (and not respectable science fiction that just happened to be published in the pulps like Asimov) then you want Captain Future, who had his own pulp magazine in the 40s.

To quote the blurb on Amazon:

Captain Future… the Ace of Space! Born and raised on the moon, Curt Newton survived the murder of his scientist parents to become the protector of the galaxy known as Captain Future. With his Futuremen, Grag the giant robot, Otho, the shape-shifting android and Simon Wright, the Living Brain, he patrols the solar system in the fastest space ship ever constructed, the Comet, pursuing human monsters and alien threats to Earth and her neighbor planets

There are Kindle versions on Amazon, though they’re a bit pricy (though “pricy” in this context means $3.99 for one book, $9.99 for an omibus of 5 books.)

The only card you need
You know it’s gonna be


Not at all to discount the other awesome suggestions here (many of which I’m going to try to investigate), but this is precisely the sort of goofy fun I want to be sure I read up on. The bizarrely anachronistic post-battle behavior of the Lensmen mentioned upthread is also closing in on it for me.

Thanks for the replies, all; keep ‘em comin’! :)

Downloaded Triplanetary for free off Amazon. Never got around to reading it - my brother devoured these things in the sixties. I’ve been on a foundations of science fiction kick of late, so might as well start in on this.

I should warn you, Triplanetary is slow, or at least I found it to be. There are a couple of books of world-building and background-building before you even see a Lensman. But it picks up, and it’s worth it.

The Lensman series really starts with Galactic Patrol. Before that is dull. Also the last book, Children of the Lens is weak, but it’s interesting, because it shows Doc Smith sort of trying to break out of the cultural mode he grew up with and which you see so clearly in the Skylark series and to a lesser extent in the Lensman books – the casual racism and extreme sexism. Children may not be the world’s best novel, but it’s nice to see the old guy trying to change, anyway.