Long Live the (Well Executed) Trope

Something I love: reading a work of fiction and coming across a classic, pulpy trope done exceedingly well. 


  • That moment in A Game of Thrones when I realized Tyrion Lannister had become an axe-wielding dwarf. Great because it’s done so logically and organically within the story, and because there is SO much more to Tyrion Lannister than that one time he had to run into battle with an axe.
  • That moment in the Otherland series when I realized Martine Desroubins is a blind sorceress and it makes sense because she’s blind in the real world but has such familiarity with the virtual that the virtual world the characters are trapped in is easier for her to interact with.

I read a lot of pulpy stuff when I was a kid. The old greats of science fiction, weird fantasy like Conan and Elric. And generally speaking if you come across a book written in the 21st century with an axe-wielding dwarf or a blind sorceress or a mystic blade that drinks life, there’s no Wow, Holy Shit That’s Awesome factor. (The exception is Lovecraft, whose legacy has been delightfully expanded in recent works that subvert the old weirdo in exceptional ways – see also The Ballad of Black Tom and Lovecraft Country.)

So books like Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series and the others I’ve mentioned will always become instant favorites, because they take that “Good Old Stuff” and bring it back with proper handling. You get to this part in the story where something happens that you recognize, but you almost don’t because it fits in this story and has been prepared for logically and you’re so used to seeing it as a lazy trope that your brain just sort of skips over the Magic Ring To Rule the World.

I try to do that in my own writing, and whenever I feel like I’m succeeding it’s the best feeling.

Sometimes I get to write a sentence – one sentence – that is straight pulp, like Saturday morning cartoons or bubble helmeted heroes fighting green monsters on an alien world.

It keeps me happy.

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