There are several reasons why I enjoy reading historical rather than modern fiction. Much of it is down to the depressing nihilism and Marxism of modern popular fiction. There are still many great books written, but they are niche. If it’s in a bestseller list today it’s almost certainly trash. Quality and themes aside, I like historical fiction because it’s like taking a holiday into another time and place.
Mirror neurons, I believe a commentor recently said. Magical things they are. If you get close to somebody feeling certain emotions then your mirror neurons fire and let you share those emotions . Immersing yourself in fiction is a great way to broaden your mind. I really don’t get this common idea that only non-fiction counts as learning. I often advise clients that a good way to build masculinity is to leverage the mirror neurons by consuming heroic fiction.
Another good reason to read old books, rather than new books about old times, is the lack of anachronism. It’s very odd to read a medieval story where the female characters are kick-ass go-grrrrrls. In reality they’d have been backhanded across the face and kicked down the cellar stairs, at best. Old books are written from the frame of their times and it can be illuminating to see how people thought back then. Mentally, it takes you outside your comfort zone. Here’s a good example
Note the story is billed as “funny”. What do the authors of this 1931 story find funny? Here’s the plot. Two explorers for the American Asiatic Academy of Archaeology are sent to Sumatra upon rumours a stone age tribe lives in the jungle. The AAAA wants proof one way or the other. The man who started the rumour, George Hanley, has gone missing. These two intrepid chaps take a canoe up river into the green hell and are immediately captured by a cannibal stone-age tribe. They are hustled to the village, locked into a cage, and they see a row of shrunken heads including that of Hanley who preceded them. The language is rather non-PC:
The giant glared back. But after a few seconds his snaky eyes wavered, just as those of an animal might do. No animal can steadily meet the gaze of a white man standing still. And this brawny brute, although strong enough to tear Tom apart, was not much more intelligent than an orang-outang. He soon proved it.
That’s a tame section.
The intrepid explorers are able to convince a jealous native, using sign language, to challenge the chief and then in the ensuing melee they escape with their rifles. But they don’t have any proof for the AAAA! So they recover their 16mm camera and set to filming the scrap between rival factions of the small tribe and then….
…. shoot them all and torch the village. While filming. Basically it’s Cannibal Holocaust or Africa Addio forty years early. Hilarious. They return to the US and screen their footage to the AAAA of the stone age tribe they found and then wiped out. This is the AAAA’s response:
“Yes,” said the president, “undoubtedly they are Gormoras every foot of this film reveals the traits of the Neolithic Age. What utter savages – giant brutes – they must be! And now, in behalf of the academy I wish to congratulate you upon your splendid achievements: your bringing the facts of George Hanley’s fate: these films, the proof of a Stone Age existence that will electrify the scientific world.”
The president of this esteemed academy is congratulating the two men on wiping out the stone age tribe they were sent to find, so long as they returned with a snuff movie proving it. Funny, you see?
Imagine how a Refugees Welcome do-gooder would react to this story, should they read it while handing out Soros-bought life jackets and mobile phones to Somali cannibals waiting in Libya for a ferry ride to Italy. Different times, different thoughts about “the other”.
This Far East Adventure Stories is the second I’ve read from this series. Adventure House is a small publisher that specialises in producing facsimile reprints of original pulp magazine in full, including advertisements. The quality is wildly variable between series. For example New Mystery Adventures has great covers but childish writing. FEAS is pretty good. This April 1931 issue only has one dud story, the first one. The rest are ripping yarns. They move fast, pull you into the scene, and because it’s crammed with EIGHT stories there’s lots of variety.
This issue has a rescue mission into the Malay forest to battle an agitated crocodile god cult (that’s the dud), a revenge story in the Bornea wharfs between a captain and his first mate, a police heist investigation in the Burmese logging camps, a slave rebellion against brutal Portuguese masters in West Africa, an old hunters tale of searching for a lost Elephant graveyard retold in a bar between retired ivory traders, the aforementioned murderous explorers in Sumatra, part 3 of a 4 part novel about Moroccan bandits fomenting rebellion against French colonials funded by an old treasure, then finally a confrontation between a Saudi emir and a bandit leader he captures.
Don’t think these are just trash. Some great fiction writers got their start in the pulps. For example, in an advertisement here for a sister magazine, Amazing Detective Stories, it heralds the next issue having stories from Erle Stanley Gardner and Edgar Wallace – two bestselling crime writers. The key is to find the right pulp, because writing quality varies massively between titles.
You can find them all on ebay. I think I’ve read a dozen or so over the years.
 My untested hypothesis is that psychopaths and autists both suffer from malfunctioning mirror neurons, hence their lack of empathy and learned rule-based system for guessing emotions in others