Best Pulp Science Fiction Books

Pulp science fiction is one of the most fun and enjoyable subgenres out there.

It eschews in-depth characters in favor of fast-paced adventure around the galaxy. Pulp contains some of the most memorable characters in sci fi, and fondly symbolizes an age of science fiction which has mostly passed.

Despite it's reputation, many of the science fiction heavyweights wrote in the pulp style. In our list of the best pulp sci fi, you'll be sure to see some of the biggest names.

If you want to check out any of these titles for free, you can do so with Audible's one month free trial.

1.

Tunnel In The Sky
Robert A. Heinlein


​Robert Heinlein’s classic tale ‘Tunnel In The Sky’ was originally published as a young adult pulp story, but it has plenty to offer for sci-fi fans of all ages. This gripping pulp plot focuses on a band of explorers who use a portal like tunnel to visit strange and exciting new worlds. However, when they find themselves stranded, their concern turns from exploration to survival. Tunnel In The Sky is a perfect example of a pulp style story still considered a science-fiction classic.

2.

The Cosmic Computer
H Beam Piper


One glance at the original cover for H Beam Piper’s 1963 story ‘The Cosmic Computer’ will convince you this book is archetypal pulp sci-fi. The story contained within is sure to do the same. This is classic territory focusing on epic space wars, the aftermath of devastating technological events, and vague ruminations on the implications of computing’s advance. Read ‘The Cosmic Computer’ to witness classic pulp storytelling that’s surprisingly thought-provoking.

3.


Jack Vance holds a special place in the hearts of many science-fiction lovers, and rightly so. His iconic pulp sci-fi series ‘Planet of Adventure’, first released in the late 60’s, combines fascinating concepts with exciting storytelling. Imagine a world where various alien races live in a state of almost constant conflict. Not to mention the presence of enslaved human beings. Vance deals with all this and more. Planet of Adventure is definitely a destination worth visiting in the science-fiction universe.

4.

Armageddon 2419 A.D
Philip Francis Nowlan


If you want to delve deep into the history of pulp science fiction stories, Armageddon 2419 AD is a good choice. Want proof of its prestige? This is the story which eventually evolved into the introduction of Buck Rogers. That’s one serious legacy. A little word of warning. Any book written in the 1920s is going to be a product of its time, in terms of certain attitudes to gender and race. If that doesn’t bother you, ‘buckle your seatbelt and get set to enjoy the origin of a legendary science-fiction icon. 

5.

​Galactic Patrol
Edward E Smith


Galactic Patrol originated in the most tried and tested way for pulp sci-fi of its era - serialized in the magazine ‘Astounding’. E.E Smith’s story is as exactly as it sounds, dealing with a group of good guys patrolling the galaxy in the fight against space pirates. It’s big on action and fun, but also contains a surprising amount of depth, with believable and engaging world-building.

6.

Hothouse
Brian Aldiss


If you want an example of classic 1960s British pulp-sci fi, look no further than Hothouse. It was originally serialized before being remixed and repackaged into the full-length work we know today. The story deals with an ecological meltdown and the implications of this for a group of friends. A fun read which is also surprisingly prescient considering humanity’s current concern with the environment and ecology.

7.

The Stainless Steel Rat
Harry Harrison


Surely the author and title found here are the absolute epitome of peak pulp science fiction? The titular Stainless Steel Rat also goes by the moniker ‘Slippery Jim’ and is very much a Han Solo type of figure. The character is considered a true legend by pulp science-fiction readers, to the point where he had a ‘choose your own adventure’ style storybook, not to mention a cameo appearance in an Asimov tribute. If you’re ready for the ultimate in pulp science fiction entertainment, you’re ready for the Steel Rat!

8.

​Doc Savage
Kenneth Robeson


We’re going way back into the 1930s here to witness the debut of Doc Savage, a pulp science-fiction character with a serious legacy. How serious? None other than Stan Lee credited Doc Savage for blazing the trail that modern superheroes would follow. Interestingly, Kenneth Robeson never actually existed, and was the identity adopted by a team of writers who worked on the Doc Savage stories. The Doc Savage stories first appeared in a magazine named after the character, before being repackaged into novels. No science-fiction fan interested in pulp should miss the chance to check out this true icon of the genre.

9.

​Mars Trilogy
Edgar Rice Burroughs


Widely regarded as one of the earliest stories suiting the label of pulp science-fiction, A Princess Of Mars was first serialized way back in 1912. It truly is a product of its time as although the story is set on Mars, it makes extensive use of swordplay! Whatever you do, don’t dismiss the impact this story had. It inspired some of the finest fiction minds including Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. It’s also credited by none other than Carl Sagan as being one of the reasons he learned to love space.

10.

​Cosmic Crusade
Richard Saxon


Cosmic Crusade by Richard Saxon is a fine example of 1960s British pulp science fiction which aimed to cover lofiter topics than simply sci-fi swashbuckling. How lofty? None other than the meaning of life. If you’re interested in checking out an ambitious example of the pulp science-fiction genre, Saxon’s Cosmic Crusade is a fine option indeed.

11.

Slan
A.E Van Vogt


Despite its 1940 original serialization date, Slan by AE Van Vogt continues to inspire and entertain fans up until this very day. The story arguably set the scenes for Marvel’s X-Men, as the deal focuses on a society in which mutants are discriminated against. For a couple of decades, Slan was considered the archetypal, unmissable golden age sci-fi story. By checking it out, you’ll truly be enjoying a slice of science-fiction’s prestigious legacy.  

12.


Considering the legendary status HP Lovecraft has in the modern era, it may be surprising to know that ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ was originally rejected for publication. Like all the best Lovecraftian stories, it blends horror and science-fiction to gripping effect. This originally serialized story will stick long in reader’s nightmares after the final page has been turned. 

13.

​The Legion of Space
Jack Williamson


Like many of the pulp classics on this list, Williamson’s ‘The Legion Of Space’ originated in serialized instalments in ‘Astounding Stories’ during the 1930s. It was later adapted into book form due to its popular plot involving a group of adventurers. In terms of feel, modern audiences might understand ‘The Legion of Space’ as being akin to Guardians Of The Galaxy. Like all the best pulp tales, science serves as a prop to support Williamson’s main focus, namely excitement and adventure.

14.

Triplanetary
Edward E Smith


E.E Smith reappears here as proof that pulp sci-fi writers are more than capable of creating epic sagas. Triplanetary is a retrofitted prequel to the iconic lensman series. Like all the classic E.E Smith stories, Triplanetary deals with the commercial realities of science fiction, but in an exciting manner with plenty of piracy and action. If you’re interested in seeing a complex and elaborate pulp story structure in action, Triplanetary is the right choice for you.

15.

Second Variety
Philip K. Dick


Philip K. Dick is certainly among the most widely-respected authors in science fiction, and Second Variety is a fine example of the prestige of the pulp publication format. Although originally a magazine short story, Second Variety deals with some really interesting themes, such as self-replicating robots existing in the aftermath of the Cold War conflict. If you want a taste of politically motivated, brilliantly written pulp science fiction, look no further than Second Variety.

What Makes a Pulp Science Fiction Book?

Pulp science fiction is named according to the type of paper upon which the stories were originally printed.

Printers of science fiction magazines needed a large number of stories to fill the low cost pulp magazines they produced. As a result, a large number of science fiction authors got their start producing regular stories for this type of publication.

In order to fulfill the large number of stories needed to satisfy the demand for pulp science fiction, the magazines often chose to release the tales on a serialized basis. They would release a chapter of the story each week. This was an effective approach, as it ensured that readers had to purchase a copy of the magazine each week in order to not miss out on the latest installment of the story.

Common Tropes of Pulp Science Fiction

Pulp sci fi is known for having several common tropes. These include:

  • Action-based plot. Pulp sci fi tales tend to have a fast paced plot which is high on action and low on depth. This is primarily intended to entertain the reader, rather than providing any type of narrative depth.
  • Two-dimensional characters. Just as the plot of pulp sci fi tends to favor action over depth, the characters tend to lack any real believability or complexity. They usually exist on a functional basis, and are basically there to carry the story from point to point.
  • Iconic book covers. The style of pulp book covers is very distinctive, with a memorable illustration aesthetic and bold colors. This type of cover has received a resurgence in popularity in recent times thanks to the dual forces of hipsters and Instagram, but make no mistake, true sci fi fans have always appreciated them regardless of their status in terms of wider recognition and popularity.

If you haven’t really checked out much of the best pulp sci fi in the past, but like the sound of the above elements, then you should definitely check out some of the titles on the list to see if they are a good fit for your tastes.

Is Pulp Science Fiction Controversial Within The Wider Genre?

Pulp science fiction is named according to the type of paper upon which the stories were originally printed.

Printers of science fiction magazines needed a large number of stories to fill the low cost pulp magazines they produced. As a result, a large number of science fiction authors got their start producing regular stories for this type of publication.

In order to fulfill the large number of stories needed to satisfy the demand for pulp science fiction, the magazines often chose to release the tales on a serialized basis. They would release a chapter of the story each week. This was an effective approach, as it ensured that readers had to purchase a copy of the magazine each week in order to not miss out on the latest installment of the story.

If you haven’t really checked out much of the best pulp sci fi in the past, but like the sound of the above elements, then you should definitely check out some of the titles on the list to see if they are a good fit for your tastes.

Where Did Pulp Sci-Fi Start?

Pulp sci fi tends to be associated with an older time period in science fiction.

This is due to the fact that the time of the weekly sci fi magazines peaked around the 1930s and 1950s.

Many stories released since that time period can be grouped within the genre of pulp sci fi, but often they are a homage to the originals, borrowing aspects of those stories such as their character types and the aesthetic style of the book covers.

In order for a story to be truly considered pulp science fiction by even the strictest of readers, it should ideally have been published back in the era of the serialized magazines, even if it was later adapted into conventional novel.

The best pulp science fiction can be summed up as an action-packed, exciting, and engaging story satisfying to both the casual reader and the dedicated science fiction fan.

Pulp Science Fiction: The Golden Age of Sci-Fi

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