Given the dark humor, the violence, the sex, and the general crudity of Pop. 1280, it would be easy enough to dismiss the novel as mere pulp entertainment. Some critics would even agree. Paul Lukas discusses the book favorably but ultimately classifies it as escapism. Others have praised the novel—upon its reissue, Charles Solomon found it “chilling,” for example, and Tom Matthews specified how well Thompson captured a sense of perversion and how the narrative is driven by a sense of urgency—but do not really give it much more weight.
However, numerous critics argue otherwise, awarding Thompson and Pop. 1280 considerable commendation. Douglas Kennedy discusses the novel as a reflection of period culture, arguing that it could be used as a mirror of the times. In addition to praising specific elements of the work such as the dialogue, Arthur Salm argues that the novel is part of Thompson’s career that helped lay the groundwork for later cultural and literary developments, such as the cyberpunk movement. Writing for the Journal of Popular Culture, Susanna Lee examines how Thompson plays with and against the hard-boiled detective tradition in Pop. 1280, arguing that having a character like Nick Corey in an official position of power and justice is a powerful social critique as well as a criticism of the entire genre. One of Thompson’s biographers, Robert Polito, feels that Pop. 1280 is one Thompson’s most intensely political novels, particularly because of the way violence against African-Americans is handled and discussed by the characters.