Pulp. Grindhouse. Exploitation.
These words conjure images of explosions, gritty streets, and events that defy the laws of logic and physics. One might pass an eye over the covers of books and films in this style and immediately assume that they are mindless forms of entertainment at best and absolute trash at worst.
I’m here to tell you this assumption is dead wrong. Of course, exploitation has its bad apples that really are just guts and sex and nothing else, but, when done right, when focused to a righteous point, exploitation can change the world… and have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
When I wrote my book, Daughters of Forgotten Light, I was angry, furious at the way society treats those who don’t fit into a prescribed box. They are ostracized and treated as outcasts, and a majority of them are women. In my book, a new ice age forces the government to do a little population control, giving parents the power to sell their children to the military, or send the women who don’t make the cut to a prison city in space.
But I didn’t want to be didactic. I wanted to entertain readers while I fumed about the injustices of the world. And that’s where I brought in laser-wheeled motorcycles, boomerangs made of light, and a gritty vibe that’s been described as Bitch Planet meets Escape from New York. I added tips of the hat to women-in-prison films, cannibal movies, and outlaw motorcycle flicks, while giving all the power to the women.
There’s this idea out there that you can either write fiction that delves into the human condition, espousing justice for those trampled on by society, or you can write about space lesbians that blow shit up.
Allow me to step up to the pulpit and declare through the megaphone: you can do both.
We first screen all information with the “hot cognition” area of our minds, also known as the crocodile brain. Swear words, acts of violence, and sex all give us that tiny shock to keep our attention and receive the message with open ears and stunned expressions.
It’s the difference between a boring school lecture you forgot as soon as you walked out the door and the holy-shit-this-has-changed-my-life-forever book or movie you took in over a weekend, and have probably told someone else about every day since.
Stories are meant to entertain and give us a different perspective on the world. Exploitation tells stories in a way that “serious fiction” can’t. It makes you face things in full, visceral detail, titillating you while addressing issues you might not have even thought about before. This style isn’t just about cheap thrills. At its finest, it reveals the best and worst in us, expands our world view for the dirty reality it is, and I say that’s what good art is for.
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Sean Grigsby is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons. He hosts the Cosmic Dragon podcast and grew up on Goosebumps books in Memphis, TN.
Sean Grigsby: Website
A floating prison is home to Earth’s unwanted people, where they are forgotten… but not yet dead, in this wild science fiction adventure
Deep space penal colony Oubliette, population: scum. Lena “Horror” Horowitz leads the Daughters of Forgotten Light, one of three vicious gangs fighting for survival on Oubliette. Their fragile truce is shaken when a new shipment arrives from Earth carrying a fresh batch of prisoners and supplies to squabble over. But the delivery includes two new surprises: a drone, and a baby. Earth Senator Linda Dolfuse wants evidence of the bloodthirsty gangs to justify the government finally eradicating the wasters dumped on Oubliette. There’s only one problem: the baby in the drone’s video may be hers.