Hard-Boiled

The celebration and exploitation of bargain-bin Americana has been a hip (and marketable) activity ever since Andy Warhol found inspiration in the supermarket aisles and Blondie started plun dering Woolworth's record bins for Shangri-Las B-sides. The impulse is essentially democratic; it offers both the thrill of re-visioning the common, and of flipping the bird to the exclusionary and genteel standard-bearers of art. Twenty-five years later, the mass-market entertainment industry has caught on, and is now looting/recycling low-budget culture with abandon. Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino's modern take on the lurid and sensational paperbacks of the 1940s and 50s, is especially satisfying because--as opposed to Warhol's brillo boxes--this brand of fiction was an affront to traditional stan dards of respectability from the start. The fit-in-your back pocket paperback, born in 1938 with the softcover publication of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, quickly blossomed into a lucrative, controversial and slightly subversive trade. The two- bit softcovers (hardbacks cost roughly $2.50 at the time) were aimed at working class G.I.s returning from the war, and featured ultra-visceral tales of slutty tramps (Hitch Hike Hussy), bloody vengeance (I, The Jury) and erotic subculture (Marijuana Girl). These depraved themes transformed the highbrow world of literature into a forbidden, sensual and readily-accessable source of sex-fiends, temptation, crime and vice. Naturally, the pulps sold like crazy. But McCarthyist spoilsports just couldn't let the fun last. As paperback historian Lee Server describes in his excellent pulp overview, Over My Dead Body: "The U.S. Congress, identifying a target as publicity-garnering as the Red Menace, agreed to investigate and if necessary destroy the evil scourge known as the paperback book. In the end, with threats of fines and imprisonment looming, an abashed industry tamed its excesses. The American paperback would never be the same." The sensational softcovers of the 40s and 50s usually fell into one of several genres, which included Drug Addiction, Juvenile Delinquency, Lesbianism (the moronic male-fantasy ver sion), Science-Fiction, and Romance. Tarantino's movie, of course, owes its debt to the most popular genre of the paperback heyday -- the hard-boiled crime stories, those violent and sexy tales that got their start in the cheaply produced, rough-wood pulp-paper magazines of the 1920s like Black Mask and Dime Detective. Black Mask produced over 300 issues - - adding up at least 1500 dimly-lit stories of underworld nihil ism from these outlets alone. Hopefully, trash-culture remakes like Pulp Fiction will, like the recent Ed Wood, spark a revival of interest in original article, and move audiences to give some of the highly-skilled and original genre authors a re-reading. The following survey is by no means intended as a comprehensive list (the stable from Black Mask magazine alone is enough to fill an encyclopedia on crime fiction)--more a list of personal favorites and notable also-rans. But if you like broad-shouldered tough guys and dangerous dames, your vodka straight and your jaw broken, the work of these writers is a great place to go dumpster diving for low-brow masterpieces. Dashiell Hammett & Raymond Chandler Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are considered the masters of pulp fiction. Hammett emerged in the early 1920s as the fea tured writer at Black Mask, where he became the leading practitioner of the new "hard-boiled" school--writing about his anonymous, hard-working detective in the clipped news-reporting style often associated with Ernest Hemingway. He published his first novel, the gruesome Red Harvest, in 1929. Chandler came on the scene in the 1930s, also writing for Mask and publishing the dope-fiend drama The Big Sleep, his own debut, in 1939. Chandler's style was more poetic and atmospheric than Hammett's, but just as dirty, and the roman tic realism of the authors' working class, impossibly ethical, hard-drinking, sarcastic private eyes--Hammett's Sam Spade and Chandler's Philip Marlowe--came to define the genre. Both writers have since been granted literary status, rightly getting credit for using the detective genre as a form to create morally complex characters and dense memorable landscapes. Their novels and short stories are available everywhere, and Vintage paperbacks has issued handsome sets of both authors' complete works. But don't be put off by the respectability: The body count is high, the smell of hashish pungent, and the wise cracking dialogue pops like a sub-machine gun shoot out. Hammett's Maltese Falcon (1929) and Chandler's Farewell My Lovely (1940) are required pulp reading. Mickey Spillane If Hammett and Chandler veered hard-boiled paperbacks toward the literary, then the tremendously popular Mickey Spillane tilted it towards comic books and pornography. Mickey Spillane, a former comic book writer himself, exploded into the paperback world with his eight million copy bestseller, I, The Jury (1947), a furious novel of vigilante justice and dangerously sexy broads. Spillane's heart-racing narrative starred the charismatic, cold-blooded moralist Mike Hammer, a Rambo-style avenger in a jacket and fedora. Some critics called the simple- minded Hammer series a degradation of the hard-boiled style and others called it fascist and illiterate. Whatever it was, the action-packed paperbacks sold millions of copies throughout the 1950s (all total, an amazing 160 million sold at last count). Some of the series' high points are My Gun is Quick, Vengeance is Mine, Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Kill, and One Lonely Night. All of these novels are testosterone tone poems of personal vendettas, misogynistic imagery and right wing justice. However, amidst all the maniacal fantasizing, Spillane's mesmerizing pacing still comes through. In the infamous conclu sion to I, The Jury, Hammer snarls: She leaned forward to kiss me, her arms going out to encircle my neck. The roar of the .45 shook the room. Charlotte staggered back a step. Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbe lieving witness to truth. Slowly, she looked down at the ugly swelling in her naked belly where the bullet went in ... 'How c- could you?' she gasped. I only had a moment before talking to a corpse, but I got it in. 'It was easy,' I said." The inimitable Mike Hammer stories are still available in cheap ($3.95!) paperbacks from NAL Dutton. Jonathan Latimer Pulp Fiction historian Martin Greenberg said the distinguishing feature and main appeal of hard-boiled American detective novels lies in their direct opposition to the genteel Victorian crime genre that preceded them. "Americans want gritty believable nasty stuff," he wrote. "Not cerebral stuff about the British upper classes." Toying with the dichotomy between proper British crime fiction and seedy American paperbacks is exactly where pulp novelist Jonathan Latimer found his quirky style. In novels like Headed For A Hearse, Latimer takes standard Sherlock Holmes conventions--guts them of British specifics--fills them with the deplorable details of prohibition era Chicago--and detonates the whole thing with frenzied tommy-gun warfare. By candy-coating the harsh Chicago landscape in the quaint Sherlock Holmes formula--the impact of Latimer's gritty fiction packs a double wallop. The first murder scene in Hearse--an execution-style gun blast to the face--comes as an unsettling surprise to a reader deceptively lulled by the superficial touches of drawing-room fiction. At that point, however, you are already caught in Latimer's demented city of boozers, murderers, and painted show girls. Latimer's 1941 novel, Solomon's Vineyard, is per haps the grungiest detective book of the 1940s. It was so sexu ally graphic, American publishers wouldn't touch it for nine years. (Could it be the necrophilia scared them off?) Latimer ultimately wound up in Hollywood where he wrote the screenplay for Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key and churned out episodes for the Perry Mason television show. All of Latimer's novels are currently available on International Polygonics, LTD. Leigh Brackett There were only a handful of women pulp writers in the 40s and 50s. One of them, Leigh Brackett, was arguably the most hypnotic prose stylist (man or woman) writing in the hard-boiled form. 5Brackett managed to combine the noir poetry of Chandler with the cold brass knuckle minimalism of Hammett--concocting page-turning stories of political corruption and candid violence. Her curt yet descriptive style is evident in this hook intro from a 1950s pulp magazine story, narrated by Brackett's disaffected newspaper reporter, Greg: "She was the last person in the world I expected to see. But she was there, in the moonlight, lying across the porch of my rented cabin. She wore a black evening dress and at her throat was a gleam of dim fire that, even by moonlight you knew, had to be made by nothing less than diamonds. Her name was Marjorie, and once upon a time, a thousand years ago, she had been engaged to me. That was a thousand years ago. If you checked the calendar it would only say eight, but it seemed like a thousand to me. She hadn't married me. She married Brian Ingraham, and I had to admit she had probably been right, because he could buy her diamonds and I was still just a reporter for the Fordstown Herald. I didn't know what Marjorie Ingraham was doing on my porch at 2:35 of a Sunday morning. I stood still on the graveled path and tried to figure it out. The poker game was going strong in Dave Shuman's cabin next door. I had just left it. The cards had not been running my way, and the whiskey had, and at least five minutes ago, I had decided to call it a night. And now here was Marjorie, lying across my porch. I laid my fingers on her throat, above the diamonds. I waited and waited, but there was no pulse." For a novel's worth of this icy prose there's always Brackett's 1944 paperback No Good From A Corpse. The book stars a Marlowe-inspired detective named Edmond Clive and established Brackett as the true successor to Chandler's lyrical scribblings. In addition to writing smart-mouth detective fiction Brackett penned fast-paced sci-fi adventures for the Ace Double paperbacks in the 1950s. And her connection to Chandler was formalized when she wrote the screenplay to Robert Altman's version of Chandler's The Long Goodbye in 1973. No Good From a Corpse is available for $8.95 on the elegantly packaged Black Lizard Vintage crime series. Unfortunately, Brackett's other bleak and shadowy novel, An Eye For An Eye (1957) is out of print; check the used shelves. Paul Cain While crime fiction lit-crits are busy praising the novels of Raymond Chandler, hardcore fans of the hardboiled are still catching their breath and gawking over the whiplash-paced gang ster tales of Paul Cain. Cain's stripped-down prose appeared briefly during the 1920s in Black Mask. Luckily, five of his 17 stories were linked together and preserved in Fast One (1933), a sinister blood-soaked excursion which is arguably the most intense trash detective novel ever written. In the closing pages, Cain describes: "Someone pounded on the door.'What's the matter in there?' Kells looked at Jake Rose. The automatic was rigid in his hand. Focused squarely on Rose's chest. 'We're playing games.' There was laughter. 'Post office?' The woman in the orange dress giggled. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped down on the floor. Kells was standing with his back to the door. His face was bloody and blood dripped from his cut left hand. He took a handkerchief out of his over coat, held it to his face. Kells said: 'We're going out of here now. You're going to walk a little ahead of me, on my right. If we have any trouble, or if any of these gentlemen forget to sit still, I'm going to let your insides out on the floor. Do you understand?' Ruth Perry staggered to her feet. She had picked up an ice pick that was lying by one of the tubs; she waved it at Kells. Kells dropped Rose's gun into his pocket, shifted his own gun to his left hand and shoved Ruth Perry away with his right. She ducked suddenly, straightened up and brought her right hand around hard against his back. The ice pick went in deep between his shoulder blades." When softcover publishers at Avon realized this grotesque mate rial matched the moody smut of the paperback craze--they released a collection of seven more Cain Black Mask stories under the title Seven Slayers (1946). Cain's ethereal lowlife fiction has all the cheapo thrills of Spillane's sex-violence stories while maintaining the hallucinatory heat of Chandler's weird L.A. landscapes. If you want to know what pulp fiction is all about, but don't have much time to dedicate, just spend a day with the uncompromising 300-pages-worth of Fast One and Seven Slayers. This small collection of writing is the dope. Both books are available on Vintage's Black Lizard crime series. Theodore Sturgeon Theodore Sturgeon did not write hard-boiled crime, but his con versational pulp sci-fi prose and mind-bending philosophical dimensions dwell in the same degenerate barrooms, corrupt minds and small town gutters of crime paperbacks. Sturgeon stories like "Microcosmic God," "The Wages of Synergy," and "Medusa" rip through the acid-trip settings with Hammett-style, diamond-cut prose. And unlike the fantasy fiction of his contemporaries-- Robert Heinlein and Frank Vance--Sturgeon's spooky realism always focused on the personal psychologies of troubled characters. Haunted with pages of crumbling marriages and telepaths, con- artists and supernatural math geniuses, drunkards and astronauts, Sturgeon's juxtapositions engaged the reader in psychoanalytic dirges--all the while zooming along at a crime thriller clip. No matter what far-out planet or cosmic dimension they took place in, Sturgeon's stories insisted on revolving around down-to-earth matters--namely, screwed-up interpersonal dynamics. In "Make Room For Me," a 1951 story printed in Fantastic Adventures Magazine, a trio of inseparable best friends--two men and one woman--discover they are actually the corporeal extension of an alien mind. This strange circumstance works as an exploration of their bizarre love triangle. Lost in 50s pulp magazines like Weird Tales, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Galaxy Science Fiction, and Unknown Worlds, Sturgeon's fiction was obscured by the weirdo-stigma of his genre. But like Hammett and Chandler, this writing transcends the B-movie formula and deserves literary recognition. Indeed, if you took the pensive blue collar charac ters from Ray Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and sent them on a mission to destroy the mind-eating magnetic field of the mad planet X, you'd have something resem bling a Sturgeon story. Many of these stories were collected in paperback edi tions during the 50s and 60s, but sadly, most are now out of print. If you can uncover a copy of Caviar (1955) or Sturgeon in Orbit (1964) you've hit the jackpot. Meanwhile, we hear that North Atlantic Books is bringing out a ten volume anthology chronologically reprinting all of Sturgeon's short fiction. But at 25 bucks a volume, you'll probably want to prowl the used bookstores instead. James M. Cain While there wasn't a shortage of sex on the racks during the pulp era, there certainly was a shortage of sexuality. But that all changed with James M. Cain's popular run of erotic crime thrill ers. Beginning with The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), Cain effectively transformed steamy sex scenes from daring taboos into the psychological centers of his stories. In non-stop trance-like riffs of dialogue, Cain's no-way-out lovers simulta neously created breathless atmospheres of sexuality and plotted murders of passion: "'Frank, do you love me?' 'Yes.' 'Do you love me so much that not anything matters?' 'Yes.' 'There's one way.' 'Did you say you weren't really a hell cat?' 'I've got to be a hell cat, just once, to fix it. But I'm not really a hell cat, Frank.' 'They hang you for that.' 'Not if you do it right.' 'You talk like it was all right.' 'Who's going to know if it's all right or not, but you and me?' 'You and me.' 'That's it, Frank. That's all that matters, isn't it? You and me.' 'You must be a hell cat, though. You couldn't make me feel like this if you weren't.' 'That's what we're going to do. Kiss me, Frank. On the mouth.' Set in the grim climate of depression era America, Cain's working class characters lived in desperate worlds of adultery, lust and greed. With his new tabloid headline formula, Cain became in credibly popular, selling millions of paperbacks, and literally creating the format for thousands of summer trash novels to follow. Cain himself followed his own trend with several sexually driven crime-of-passion novels including Double Indemnity, Love's Lovely Counterfeit, Serenade, and Mildred Pierce. A collection of Cain's shorter fiction -- Baby in the Ice box --- has gone out of print, but his breathless novels are available from Vintage. These paperbacks are the definition of page-turners: when you're finished, you'll need a smoke, guaran teed. Juvenile Delinquent Paperbacks With all this gangland murder and vice, let's not forget about the teenage crime wave. After the publication of Irving Shulman's inner-city juvenile delinquent tragedy The Amboy Dukes (1947), and with the wild popularity of rock-n-roll music, teen exploitation paperbacks (not to mention movies) overwhelmed the market with titillating jailbait girls, deranged switch blade murderers, and an almost apocalyptic sense that our country had lost control. Paperback novelist Hal Ellson rushed out 15 of these anarchistic novels, bringing the harsh and candid details of gang violence, teen sex and drug addiction to millions of gawking Americans. Ellson's shocking novels included Duke, Tomboy, Jailbait Street, and the frighteningly authentic teen junkie narrative The Golden Spike. The teenage pulp novels started out as sociopolitical commentaries on alienation, class, sex, psychology and crime. For example, Evan Hunter's Blackboard Jungle offered an ambiva lent and harrowing zoom-in on the psychological dynamics between a white highschool teacher and a troubled black student. And Shulman's Amboy Dukes focused on the hand-me down structure of oppression plaguing America's disenfranchised inner-cities. But soon enough, the social indictments degenerated into strictly prurient details of dope parties, sex orgies, fast cars, and cut-up rumbles. Shulman's industrial fiction gave way to exploitation titles like Teen Temptress, Sex Gang and the particularly despicable Boy Gang: The Pecking Order. All of these teen titles are out of print. But don't worry --with Frances Ford Coppolla's big-budget premiere of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and Showtime Channel's glossy Friday night series of teen-biker film remakes -- it wont be surprising if Cellar Club Girl, Zip Gun Angels and The Black Leather Barbarians are all re-issued as tarted-up Vintage trade paperbacks before too long. In the meantime, the history of pulp fiction still lies mostly in basements, attics, garages and used book bins. Happy hunting. # # #

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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