So. Right. Sword and Flower by Rawle Nyanzi. Rawle's a dedicated fan who seems to be coming to to the Pulp Revanchist movement from the 90s anime/D&D side of things, I see him on Twitter a lot, and now he's published a novella that has good claim to be the first direct literary output of Pulprev as such, not something backclaimed even with as much authority to do so as Jon Mollison.
If Mollison is Pulprev's kindly wizard figure, Rawle is its young protagonist. You'd especially think so if you look at S&F's Amazon reviews. They're all about his growth potential. I'm not going to talk about his growth potential, confirm or deny, I'm going to talk about his book, as she stands, and also about the movement some.
Genre restrictions. Between Sword and Flower and Wyrm's Bane, we see the potential of Pulprev to leave any trappings of setting behind, focusing on the action and the moral weight. Wyrm's Bane was completely comfortable in its standard fantasy setting, and S&F is just as comfortable in its crowded milieu. "But isn't that just fantasy?" you might ask, and you'd have good reason to, because it's easy to get the impression that Pulprev is about zany settings. It's actually about the ability to have zany settings. In reading Wyrm's Bane I didn't feel like Mollison felt himself bound to pseudo-Europe. He just wanted to write a story there. He could have written something else if he wanted to, and we wouldn't have minded, because we'd be comfortable the Mollibdenum core was intact.
Sword and Flower is not only closer, though, to the stereotype we seem more closely to be asking for, but to the format and feel of the old pulps. Mollison writes like a father telling stories for our entertainment and moral instruction, Nyanzi writes like he's got ideas bubbling out of his exposed veins that he wants us to hear about and that he also wants to pay some bills with them. I could see him ramping up his output and publishing under five different pseudonyms. Rawle Nyanzi, as far as I could feel from reading the words he ripped from his soul and offered for sale, as authors must, has true pulp spirit. I'm a little jealous.
Can't really put my finger on the it here though. Could be involved with how he sets out some strange things matter-of-factly, like the Japanese pop idol having magic powers to begin with, to give weight to the things that are strange even to characters comfortable with them. Could have to do with the focus of the story, very little wasted space. Could just be that I already associate Nyanzi with Pulprev. I don't know.
The story itself, outside of its bizarre trappings, is straightforward - again contrasting with Mollison's, where the story wove some major twists through its timeworn material. Magic pop idol gets blasted to a purgatory world where a Puritan village is fighting off demons, there's misunderstandings, then there's understandings that help them beat the final boss. Again, this is unironic, unashamed, and exciting.
Nyanzi's reverent treatment of the Puritans' religion is also noteworthy. Characters that would have been rubber-stamp good guy villains have a tinge of depth to them just through that. I liked his monster design, too, a three-eyed laser-eyed giant samurai demon at one point, and a raid on a living samurai castle with exposed, throbbing veins for the denouement.
All of this is couched in very clunky language. Shifts from formal to informal without warning. Barely a trace of poetry in it. Coming into it uninformed I might think this was a crossover fanfic between two series I hadn't heard of. I put off reading it for a while on this account. I think this is what the other reviewers are talking about when they talked about growth potential. They probably want to read fast-paced action with developed yet archetypal characters in prose that sings, and hope Rawle can do it. I hope he can too. I hope he develops a unique and uniquely readable style and gives us a lot more of this stuff.
But so what if he doesn't? I could read it. I had fun. It was good as it was and it was a good deal better than a lot of stuff that people in the 30s got paid to write. This is pulp. We're not about fine sentences, you can find those anywhere. His grammar's good, this novella was copy-edited well, and his structure's good, you never lose sight of the plot, information's given as it's needed. It works well enough.
I could do with less of the beam-wars though, I don't know if I've ever seen one of those that excited me.
Can't please everyone I guess.