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"Planet of the Complete Bloody Psychopaths" part 1 - Nothing New Under The Sun — LiveJournal
(the ARX acta diurna)
"Planet of the Complete Bloody Psychopaths" part 1
aka "Tarnsman of Gor", by John Norman, c. 1966

After about the fifth or sixth reiteration of the (usually-male-made) claim that "the first ones weren't so bad, the misogyny and male dominance stuff didn't come in till later," I resolved, in my Chaotic way, to challenge this dogma and put it to the test. First I had to locate a copy; I really didn't want to go down to the used bookstore and dig for a copy, though that would have been cheaper - assuming they had it at all - simply because of the cash-register embarrassment factor. I've been on the other side, we do notice even if we don't say anything, the eyebrows go up inside. Explaining that I'm a feminist researcher gathering materials - I just didn't feel like it. I considered getting it secondhand online, but then I remembered that there was an ebook edition available, and when I did the math it worked out the same as the cheapest secondhand with the shipping added. And I'd have it instantly.

There is a big difference between gets even worse as they go along and "mostly harmless" as someone dismissed this series opener. I found plenty of sexism and demonstrations of Norman's faith that all women really deep-down want to be enslaved and "protected" by a strong manly he-man.

There is also plenty of bad writing - again, just because it gets worse doesn't let something off the hook - and implausibility, starting with the idea that alien pilots could easily find a good place to set down in the White Mountains (yes, it starts in NH, lord knows why) and take off again, undamaged - um, hello? Really Tall Pine Trees? Steep slippery slopes and scarps? Big jagged rocks that aren't level? It's not even a good place for rescue helicopters, with the strong crosswinds and sudden updrafts. But the worst plausibility offenders are sociological/psychological - and I'm not talking about the we-women-natural-slaves, either.

1. Dweebish Oxonian humanities teacher is carried off to another planet where he learns his long-lost father is a ranking nobleman and former temporary dictator of his city, and he is destined to be a member of the Warrior caste. He has some rudimentary 20th-century Western scruples and qualms about inequality and violence, but these evaporate remarkably fast. Remember, fellow 'Scapers, how John reacted when he first fell down the Wormhole - and for months and months thereafter? Well, young Tarl Cabot our British dilettante hero takes to an even more violent, uncooperative, hostile society without ever once going "OMGWTFBBQ! You people are all INSANE! What is WRONG WITH EVERYONE ON THIS PLANET?" No, he has some Issues - actually Concerns might be the better word - but he's overall just delighted to be kidnapped away to a strange world where his father sets him up to be killed any number of violent ways, that is to be "tested" to destruction, if need be, to find out if he is Worthy to be a Warrior of Gor.

2. Dweebish Oxonian is retconned to have been a fairly-avid fencer both back in Oxford and at the all-male New England college where he was pretending to be qualified as a history teacher, having been a self-admitted slacker at University and a poseur on his resume. This magically enables him to be up to not just learning swordplay and spearplay in a sink-or-swim (ie dodge-or-die) crash training course, but to take to it mentally like a duck to water, instead of OMGWTFBBQ my dad is trying to KILL me! No, he thinks his dad is the warmest, kindest, most wonderful father a boy twenty-something young man could have appear out of nowhere.

3. The warriors ride tarns (hence "Tarnsmen of Gor") What are tarns, you ask? Giant hawks. Ah, you think, they must telepathically (or at least empathically) bond with the huge raptors, otherwise what possible kind of leverage could they have over them? The answer is yes - a tarnsman has a sacred psychic bond with his tarn, the moment when the new warrior goes out and calls the freeflying unclaimed tarns who have been saddled and bridled and turned loose for this moment, and one of them comes to his call - and tries to gut him like a fish, and the would-be tarnsman kicks it in the head, zaps it with an electric ankus, and scrambles onto its back and spends the rest of his life trying not to get eaten by it, since it is only held in check by the combination of its conditioning and his Awesome Manliness (those clouds of testosterone billowing off the Hero, I guess.)

Tarns often, we are told, break free and fly away to the wild, which makes perfect sense given that even tamed falcons are wont to go feral; they like to hunt and must eat as much and as constantly as the giant eagles in fairy tales which carry the heroines to the End of the World. Pedestrians are considered food for them, too. Why are they tolerated as "domestic" animals, nay, celebrated and encouraged? (I mean, can you imagine any city on earth putting up with a bunch of tyrannosaur-riders as part of the defense force, when everyone knows that the "tame" tyrannosaurs break their training and eat their riders and rampage with predictable regularity?) I told you: because this is the Planet of the Complete Bloody Psychopaths.

And I don't even want to try to wrap my head around the Implausibility Threshold of the mentioned "flocks of tarns" that are herded in the mountain city-states...

4. The cities of Gor are involved in war of all against all, over mystical rocks. Not powerful rocks, mind you, not magic protective rocks, just the lithic version of the flags in Capture The Flag. Everybody apparently tries to steal these rocks from each other, unless they're too weak or too cowardly - or in rare cases, too prudent - to do so. Houses, towns, cities - they all have these mystical rocks that the tarnsmen try to take from each other to their own places, which then by the Capture The Flag rules of Gor means that they rule the other town.

Somehow this goes on all the time, with all this energy being devoted to supporting the enormous ever-hungry tarns and their riders, in this primitive artifically-low-tech world, held back in a bronze age millieu by the godlike distant Priest Kings, belived by the elite to be capable of tugging their planet through space, not just sending out spaceships to kidnap earthlings, and yet there is enough in the way of human and other resources to allow for large stone cities to be built, supplied with grain and wine and every luxury, and maintained - with half the population out of the workforce, since the low-ranking slave women seem to do nothing but dance and fuck, and the high-ranking "free" women must remain imprisoned in their homes or in walled gardens, veiled and shrouded in hijabs (he explicitly compares them to Muslim women's wear) so that no roving tarn-rider will see them and carry them off to a life of slavery.

There is no way the economics and politics of Gor is even remotely possible. It's exactly and everything that was being mocked in Jones' The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, only played straight.

5. Did I mention that there are land-bound warriors and that they ride velociraptors, too? (At least he did think to put shock-absorbing saddles on them...)*

6. The Priest-Kings don't allow any men of Gor to have guns, on pain of death for the inventors - but their Builder-Caste has managed to make self-contained hundred-year-burning light bulbs.

7. Pretty much any screw-up - or your leaders' screw-ups - can get you impaled by the city government, either civil or religious, on Gor, whether free warrior, peasant, or slave.

8. And none of this exites more than a mild disapproval and faint repugnance in our Terran-born-and-UK-raised hero. (We never find out how his father got from the 17th century on Terra to Gor, and back again to 20th century Terra long enough to father a son, btw.)

--And after only a few months of training, he's able to engage in unsecured combat on top of a flying enemy tarn, having broken free of the execution harness with which he was being rent asunder as with wild horses, to climb up, after having been flogged and in chains for days beforehand - and not only not fall off, but win.

I'm honestly not sure which is more improbable - the idea that he would be physically capable of all this (that ANYONE would be!) or that the idea that this is the life his father planned for him doesn't freak him out in the slightest. (We do find out much later that, in addition to having red hair (!) for which he was persecuted in school (!!) though his fierce huge pureblood stallion tarn is rare sable black (!!!) he is apparently the Chosen One of Gor legends and prophesies, the warrior who comes once in a thousand years to inspire the world,

2. Of Human Bondage

No, there's no explicit sex in Tarnsman of Gor - but that doesn't win any points with me, because I'm not a Puritan. My objections are to the ethos, not the explicitness: if there existed a mass-market genre typically full of absurdly-written euphemism/cliche-ridden Tab-A-Slot-B explicit affectionate egalitarian sex scenes, I would probably not be much inclined to read it, it would probably not do much for me erotically, the bad writing style would make me wince - but I wouldn't consider it to be something that attempted to subvert the recognition of the full personhood of women, or upheld the paradigm of sex-as-conquest. It would be at most a guilty pleasure, and not hostile propaganda to be studied.

There's something rather smarmy in Tarl's presentation as a humane Earthman who is (marginally) squicked out by Gor's customs of slavery and violence, and his by-comparison-chivalrous attitudes towards women - mostly because at its best his attitude is no better than that of an Athenian playwright waxing sentimental about oh, how sad, how pitable the fate of the poor wretched Trojan women who used to be free and now are about to be sold off as slaves to the conquering Greeks, far from their homes, where they're going to have to do their masters' bidding, boy it would suck to be them, wouldn't it? So glad I'm a free man, and not a woman!**

In fact, I rather think it qualifies as glurge...

But on to the show. This is what happens when philosophy majors go over to the Dark Side of the Force. Here is the "not so bad" misogyny of the first Gor book:

I nodded, not wanting to speak, wanting him to tell me the thousand things I had to know, to dispel the mysteries that had torn me from my native world and brought me to this strange room, this planet, to him, my father.

"You must be hungry," he said.

"I want to know where I am and what I am doing here," I said."

"Of course," he said, "but you must eat." He smiled. "While you satisfy your hunger, I shall speak to you."

He clapped his hands twice, and the panel slid back again. I was startled. Through the opening came a young girl, somewhat younger than myself, with blond hair bound back. She wore a sleeveless garment of diagonal stripes, the brief skirt of which terminated some inches above her knees. She was barefoot, and as her eyes shyly met mine, I saw they were blue and deferential. My eyes suddenly noted her one piece of jewelry— a light, steel-like band she wore as a collar. As quickly as she had come, she departed.

"You may have her this evening if you wish," said my father, who had scarcely seemed to notice the girl.

I wasn't sure what he, meant, but I said no.

He's so gallant! And clueless! We never ever hear about any girlfriends either back at Oxford or in New Hampshire, either. And there are some extremely subtexty bits later on, when he meets his Enkidu on the road and defeats him and they become very, very, very close friends thereafter.

(FYI His father never really does explain the whole thing, just makes some cryptic remarks about his mother being the Only One He Ever Really Loved, tells him a very little about the set-up with the Inscrutable Priest-Kings and then throws him into headlong training to learn the language and how to be a manly warrior from a Viking-ish tutor named Older Tarl, thus explaining the mystery of his unique un-English name which got him picked on in grade school - tho' his father is Matthew Cabot, go figure. Then as soon as he proves that he can manage not to get et by the brand new steed his proud papa presents him, dad sends him off to raid their hereditary enemies' citadel and carry off their Home Stone MacGuffin, and Tarl doesn't see Dear Old Dad until briefly again at the end of the book, weeks of adventures later. Maybe it gets more cleared up in subsequent volumes, I don't know.)

I could remember something of the night before, but not much. The Older Tarl and I had made a round of taverns in the various cylinders, and I recall toddling precariously, singing obscene camp lyrics, along different narrow bridges, about a yard wide without rails, and the earth somewhere below— how far I had no idea at the time. If we were on the high bridges, it would have been more than a thousand feet away. The Older Tarl and I may have drunk too much of that fermented brew concocted with fiendish skill from the yellow grain, Sa-Tarna, and called Pagar-Sa-Tarna, Pleasure of the Life-Daughter, but almost always "Paga" for short. I doubted that I would ever touch the stuff again.

I remembered, too, the girls in the last tavern, if it was a tavern, lascivious in their dancing silks, pleasure slaves bred like animals for passion. If there were natural slaves and natural free men, as the Older Tarl had insisted, those girls were natural slaves. It was impossible to conceive of them as other than they had been, but somewhere they, too, must be awakening painfully, struggling to their feet, needing to clean themselves. One in particular I remembered, young, her body like a cheetah, her black hair wild on her brown shoulders, the bangles on her ankles, their sound in the curtained alcove. I found the thought crossing my mind that I would like to have owned that one for more than the hour I had paid for. I shook the thought from my aching head, made an unsuccessful effort to muster a decent sense of shame, failed, and was belting my tunic when the Older Tarl entered the room. [Chapter 4]

See, there is absolutely nothing in all the subsequent scenes of Tarl getting all choked up in tearful embraces with other half-naked leather-clad warrior dudes, even ones who were just recently trying to kill him in horrifying ways, because they're just so manly and magnificent and heroic, dammit.

I mounted my tarn, that fierce, black magnificent bird. My shield and spear were secured by saddle straps; my sword was slung over my shoulder. On each side of the saddle hung a missile weapon, a crossbow with a quiver of a dozen quarrels, or bolts, on the left, a longbow with a quiver of thirty arrows on the right. The saddle pack contained the light gear carried by raiding tarnsmen— in particular, rations, a compass, maps, binding fiber, and extra bowstrings. Bound in the saddle in front of me, drugged, her head completely covered with a slave hood buckled under her chin, was a girl. It was Sana, the Tower Slave whom I had seen on my first day in Gor.

I waved a farewell to the Older Tarl and to my father, drew back on the one-strap, and was off, leaving the tower and their tiny figures behind me. I leveled the tarn and drew on the six-strap, setting my course for Ar. As I passed the cylinder in which Torm kept his scrolls, I was happy to catch a glimpse of the little scribe standing at his rough-hewn window. I now realize he might have been waiting there for hours. He lifted his blue-clad arm in a gesture of farewell— rather sadly, I thought. I waved back at him and then turned my eyes away from Ko-ro-ba and toward the hills beyond. I felt little of the exhilaration I had felt in my first soaring venture on the back of the tarn. I was troubled and angry, dismayed at the ugly details of the project before me. I thought of the innocent girl bound senseless before me.

How surprised I had been when she had appeared in the small room outside the Chamber of the Council, after my father! She had knelt at his feet in the position of the Tower Slave as he had explained to me the plan of the Council.

[...]The girl on the saddle before me stirred, the effect of the drug wearing off. She moaned softly and leaned back against me. As soon as we had taken flight, I had unfastened the restraining straps on her legs and wrists, leaving only the broad belt which lashed her securely to the back of the tarn. I would not permit the plan of the Council to be followed completely, not in her case, even though she had agreed to play her part in the plan, knowing it meant her life. I knew little more about her than her name, Sana, and the fact that she was a slave from the City of Thentis.

The Older Tarl had told me that Thentis is a city famed for its tarn flocks and remote in the mountains from which the city takes its name. Raiders from Ar had struck at the tarn flocks and the outlying cylinders of Thentis, and the girl had been captured. She had been sold in Ar on the Day of the Love Feast and had been purchased by an agent of my father. He, in accordance with the plan of the Council, had need of a girl who would be willing to give her life to be avenged on the men of Ar.

I could not help feeling sorry for her, even in the stern world of Gor. She had been through too much and was clearly not of the stock of the tavern girls; slavery would not have been a good life for her, as it might have been for them. I felt that, somehow, in spite of her collar, she was free. I had felt this even when my father had commanded her to rise and submit to me, accepting me as her new master. She had risen and walked across the room, her feet bare on the stone floor, and dropped to her knees before me, lowering her head and lifting and extending her hands to me, the wrists crossed. The ritual significance of the gesture of submission was not lost on me; her wrists were offered to me, as if for binding. Her part in the plan was simple, though ultimately fatal.

[...]Lastly, as the culmination of Ar's Planting Feast, and of the greatest importance to the plan of the Council of Ko-ro-ba, a member of the Ubar's family goes to the roof at night, under the three full moons with which the feast is correlated, and casts grain upon the stone and drops of a red, winelike drink made from the fruit of the Ka-la-na tree. The member of the Ubar's family then prays to the Priest-Kings for an abundant harvest and returns to the interior of the cylinder, at which point the Guards of the Home Stone resume their vigil.

This year the honor of the grain sacrifice was to be accorded to the daughter of the Ubar. I knew nothing about her, except that her name was Talena, that she was rumored to be one of the beauties of Ar, and that I was supposed to kill her.

According to the plan of the Council of Ko-ro-ba, exactly at the time of the sacrifice, at the twentieth Gorean hour, or midnight, I was to drop to the roof of the highest cylinder in Ar, slay the daughter of the Ubar, and carry away her body and the Home Stone, discarding the former in the swamp country north of Ar and carrying the latter home to Ko-ro-ba. The girl, Sana, whom I carried on the saddle before me, would dress in the heavy robes and veils of the Ubar's daughter and return in her place to the interior of the cylinder. Presumably, it would be at least a matter of minutes before her identity was discovered, and, before that, she would take the poison provided by the Council.

Two girls were supposed to die that I might have time to escape with the Home Stone before the alarm could be given. In my heart I knew I would not carry out this plan.

Tarl is so chivalrous that he frees Sana and drops her off at her hometown, even turning down her offer of herself as his bride, free without any dowry - or even a quickie - before going off to handle the mystic rock raid on his manly lonesome. Don't credit this all to his residual Free Modern Englishman's upbringing, though.

What could I tell her? That I had come from another world, that I was determined that all the ways of Gor should not be mine, or that I had cared for her, somehow, so helpless in her condition— that she had moved me to regard her not as an instrumentality of mine or of the Council, but as a girl, young, rich with life, not to be sacrificed in the games of statecraft?"

"I have my reasons for freeing you," I said, "but I am not sure that you would understand them," and I added, under my breath, to myself, that I was not altogether sure I understood them myself.

...Sana, collar or no, had the infuriating, endearing vanity of the young and beautiful of her sex. [He doesn't believe her claim about her hundred-tarn bride-price and dismisses it as boasting]
On a tower of Thentis I left her, kissing her, removing from my neck her clinging hands. She was crying, with all the incomprehensible absurdity of the female kind.

We also never find any logical reason why Sana would be patriotic enough to be willing to die for the sake of her city - as a "free" woman of Gor, she would have been isolated from everyone, kept a virtual prisoner in her own house, and sold off in marriage by a distant father, for profit, down the road.

3. So where do Tarnsmen keep their change?

No, seriously. From Chapter 15:

I stopped a hurrying slave girl and inquired the way to the compound of Mintar, of the Merchant Caste, confident that he would have accompanied the horde back to the heartland of Ar. The girl was not pleased to be delayed on her errand, but a slave on Gor does not wisely ignore the address of a free man. She spit the coins she carried in her mouth into her hand, and told me what I wanted to know. Few Gorean garments are deformed by pockets. An exception is the working aprons of artisans.

And in the very next paragraph...

Soon, my heart beating quickly, my features concealed by the helmet I had taken from the warrior in the Voltai, I approached the compound of Mintar. At the entrance to the compound was a gigantic, temporary wire cage, a tarn cot. I tossed a silver tarn disk to the tarn keeper and ordered him to care for the bird, to groom and feed it and see that it was ready on an instant's notice. His grumbling was silenced by an additional tarn disk.

So where was he keeping his disks? Warriors don't have pockets, no mention of Gor having wallets or pouches, it doesn't say he took them out of his mouth...so...???

Next: It gets worse - the Ubar's Daughter, or, how many horrible movie cliches of the Useless Treacherous Female can you pack into one short novel?

* Moreover, everything is subverted by the fact that Tarl is ever presented as the naive, ignorant, callow young man who needs to grow up and learn the ways of the world.

**The kindly Giant-Spider-Person in the swamp, though a deus ex, was the only bit of Tarnsman of Gor that I found admirable - and that totally undercut by the juxtaposed Princess Ta-Stupid-Ta-Live-a plot. But it was a nice subversion of genre cliche.

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bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh please do --

I did try to spare you ....

Hey, I sat through *repeat* showings of the first half of Passion out of my obligation to Not Condemn It Without Watching It, but not being able to not storm out of it as an alternative to standing up and shouting in visceral fury in the theatre.

I read the first two books of the Sword of Truth, in hopes that it really wasn't AS awful as it seemed, being this tremendous bestseller. I skimmed a lot, but I still remember waaaay too much, Bleeprin not having been invented in those days. (And I never even got to the Evil Chicken.)

I have scoured ffnet looking for stories to recommend - once going through every single summery [sic] in the LOTR section (this was early days, that was still possible for non-cyborgs to do).

And this doesn't even have the head-explody factor of the other one I read, Slave Dancer of Gor, not being in a female voice, appropriating my perspective and telling me what I "really" want!

This is only swing-over-the-lava-pits hard, not face-off-with-Darth-Vader hard.
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bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 12:08 am (UTC) (Link)

I read most of Slave Dancer of Gor (turns out that's what it was)

when I was working in the library in High School.

This is my revenge.

(Also, have you seen Gay Bejeweled Nazi Bikers of Gor? It really does leave no subtext untouched...I mean, half the passages it's parodying are right here in Tarnsman of Gor.
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bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Ours had Frazetta-style covers

even back in the early '80s, with equally lurid teaser prose on the back, and they were sold in the big mainstream family chain bookstore in the mall, next to the Piers Anthony and the Jack Chalker books...yeah, those 3 authors took up a HUGE amount of big-chain bookstore real estate in the sr section.

It was a *very* macho and Othering era in the genre, altho' it did get better by the end of the decade. There is a very good reason why many of us my age have a very much stronger bond with kid's and YA fantasy and sf of the time - like the Alanna books, frex.
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fledgist From: fledgist Date: July 24th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I read one Gor 'novel' 28 years ago, and have avoided them ever since. I'd say that you skewered John Norman's oeuvre pretty neatly. It's badly written, sexist, implausible, and basically screams wankery to the skies.
archangelbeth From: archangelbeth Date: July 24th, 2007 01:42 am (UTC) (Link)
(Linked here by incandescens, via chat...)

When I was young and foolish, I read two Gor books. It would have been only one, but I mistakenly mis-named Captive of Gor as Slave Girl of Gor to my SO of the time (and now spouse, these many years). Captive... Well, the last 42 (or 48? I counted, but it has been many years...) were acceptable enough, I suppose. I didn't want to throttle the character in them, unlike the prior 150 pages or so. However, by the time he wrote Slave Girl, apparently no one would edit his undead prose, because he had managed to summarize the past fifteen pages every five pages or so, which bloated it unconscionably.

And considering the misogynistic drek... To have that book's truly fatal flaw be the bloating? It was that bad an editing job. *shudder*

Thank you for this review; my mom had said that she'd hoped for something amusing and fluffy along the lines of the Dray Prescot series, and eventually given up in disgust. (I'd found the "Captive" one when I was desperate for reading material, you see.)
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 03:39 am (UTC) (Link)

the lack of editing

becomes both a joke and a plot-point in "Bejewelled Gay Nazi Bikers of Gor" as a matter of fact.

Thank you for this review; my mom had said that she'd hoped for something amusing and fluffy along the lines of the Dray Prescot series, and eventually given up in disgust. (I'd found the "Captive" one when I was desperate for reading material, you see.)

I know what y'all mean! Every time I leave the grocery store I have to case the dollar table, because you cannot have enough stuff to read in a house. That's why I periodically do reviews here of "from the dollar table" because I figure most of us can never have Too Many Books and we all know the blurbs are (almost always) useless, they all claim this book is exciting and moving and better Than Middle-Earth and often it turns out that they didn't even read it all the way thro. So either to warn away from (usually) or to recommend. I figure it's a public service/karma-dharma thing.

(BTW, you are going to LOVE John Norman's new preface - I'm saving it for last. Because John Norman talks about John Norman and John Norman's valiant stand against the rabid Lefty forces of Political Correctneess - in the Third Person...)
buggery From: buggery Date: July 24th, 2007 01:50 am (UTC) (Link)
it starts in NH, lord knows why

How many CoCs have you come across in the book so far?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)

There's one so far on Gor, almost at the end.

I thought it was actually the Planet Of All White People, until then. With it being explained by "the aliens just abducted people from ancient Greece and Northern Europe for their planet stocking expeditions," which is what he says at the beginning. She doesn't have a speaking role, she's just "a black slave girl" and no explanation of her ethnic origin is made. (I guess she was kidnapped from Terra, because there don't seem to be any distinct ethnic groups on Gor, just a bunch of city-states of mixed European immigrant stock.)

Though I think I can make the case that Nar the Good Giant Spider is coded as black & functions as an early genre version Magical Negro, tho' I am not sure if Norman did this consciously or not. I kind of suspect so, from the very heavy-handed and preachy way that the "Well missy, unlike you, I'm not a bigot! I like nice well-spoken Giant Spider People!" exchange goes.
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bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)

You know, I don't think it's ever mentioned!

But Princess Brat has fiery *green* eyes, at least...
(Deleted comment)
skalja From: skalja Date: July 24th, 2007 04:38 am (UTC) (Link)

[edited for better icon]

On a tower of Thentis I left her, kissing her, removing from my neck her clinging hands. She was crying, with all the incomprehensible absurdity of the female kind.

The only people who say that's not all that misogynistic are the ones who actually think like that.
voxwoman From: voxwoman Date: July 24th, 2007 12:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

This is brilliant

Thank you (I think you are going to be added to my friend's list).

I had the misfortune of finding these wastes of paper in the early 70's, when I was 15. (and I think I still have Tarnsman which I would have sent to you if we knew each other). I read 9 of them before I couldn't take it anymore (apparently I had a really high tolerance for horrible writing). But even as a teen he stretched my incredulity past the breaking point.

I wanted to write Housewives of Gor (my feminist/reality check version) for about 20 or so years.

What really tosses my brain right now is that I was also reading Joanna Russ during that same time period (I know I read The Female Man when it came out, and it was around then, too). It's a wonder I didn't suffer flame death from that.

I know it was the Frazetta-rip-off cover that attracted me to the book in the first place. My copy's copyright page attributes the book to one "John Lange" (last name may be misspelled; I'm going on memory here) which has got to be the guy's real last name. I wouldn't be surprised if the "franchise" got sold to the publisher and other hacks were churning out Gor novels later on.

Let me see if I can recall any plot points... Talena gets captured later and turned into a slave, and Tarl never forgives HER for this: he rescues her and then refuses to free her. (like this was her fault, somehow). I was hoping for some turn about in Amazon Women of Gor or whatever the hell it was named, when Tarl is captured by a band of Amazon women and turned into a slave himself (it takes him several books to "forgive himself", for getting an erection while being simultaneously fellated by 3 or 4 extremely beautiful women - they had him tied up, you see, which makes it All Wrong and Evil.) And in the meantime, while he was immersed in self-loathing (completely understandable since the rest of us loathed him, too), he was even crueler to his slaves than usual.

Was the first of these books you read the one where the line But I was a poetess!!! shows up? I think that stays in my mind as the worst and funniest line of anything I have ever read (which is why it sticks with me after over 30 years).

I think I'm going to have to re-read Motherlines by Suzi McKee Charnas to re-bury these memories.
From: deiseach Date: July 24th, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Ah, you noticed that too?

"See, there is absolutely nothing in all the subsequent scenes of Tarl getting all choked up in tearful embraces with other half-naked leather-clad warrior dudes, even ones who were just recently trying to kill him in horrifying ways, because they're just so manly and magnificent and heroic, dammit."

The only one I read was, I think, "Blood Brothers of Gor" (but I could be mistaken; it would be one of the early 80s ones, anyway) in which, for the purposes of the plot, Tarl gets taken captive and marched off to some hellhole notorious inescapable prison in the middle of the desert or some other equally lethal environment to be a slave in the mines. This after screeds of description about how terrible a comedown it is for a man to be a slave, so low that even slave women despise him, but Tarl seems to accept his status pretty calmly.

And he totally goes into a swooning crush over his chaingang overseer who is also a slave. Instead of regarding him with the contempt a warrior of Gor should regard a man fallen so low as to be a slave - a common labourer in the mines, not even a gladiator or fighting slave - he is always rhapsodising about how brave, how manly, how wonderful he is and how Tarl longs only to be worthy to serve him and earn his respect.

I see he makes a habit of falling for the big, strong, masterful types, eh? I mean, in other scenes of that only Gor novel I read, he is always complimenting other men on their mastery and their skills and noting how handsome and attractive and so on they are; he pays no attention to the women (well, of course... but they're all just uniformly beautiful and either perfectly submissive or proud misses who need to be taken down a peg so they can then rejoice in their submission). No, Tarl really, really, really likes the boys, is all.

So, did his Enkidu love him and leave him? Is Tarl on a never-ending search for the truly masterful manly man who will allow him to express his masterful manly nature? Are the Gor novels really romance novels for the closet cases?
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 24th, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
In re some of the stuff in point one, it may be worth recognizing that Tarl's transformation from Oxford dweeb to primitive superhero is part of what we might call, for lack of a better term, a literary tradition. There's a sort of sub-genre of action fiction from the early-middle part of the previous century involving people transported from Earth to another planet where, partly as a consequence of the low gravity, they become great warriors, usually in settings involving low technology with the occasional super-science gadget, feuding city-states, and scantily-clad-princess-saving. Burrough's Barsoom series is the progenitor, of course, but Robert E. Howard did the same thing with Almuric, Lynn Carter did a similar thing set on Ganymede, and, of course, there's Norman's Gor. If one were of a mind, one might look for closer parallels between Burroughs and the early Gor books.

Alternatively, one might just reread Burroughs and never, ever be so foolish as to pick up anything written by John Norman ever again.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 24th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Since we fairly regularly refer to Barsoom around here

it may be worth recognizing that I and my readers are rather well aware of this tradition in the genre...
From: nenya_kanadka Date: July 25th, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)


I know Gor is legendary notorious, and have always thought "not worth picking up" but have also always been a bit curious. Yet again you're doing that service for the rest of us, digging through the 90% for those of us too lazy to stretch our brains to the breaking point with this crud...

I, just, wow. Someone actually wrote this? How many books were there?

*moves on to reading review of next section, in classic train-wreck rubber-neck style*
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 25th, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

25 or so that were published

before DAW - yes, DAW! - let them go out of print, and then the company that brought them out of backlist limbo four or five years ago said that he had two other *new* ones never seen the light of day that they were going to bring out too.

I don't know what became of them, if they're still a going concern or what...
timgueguen From: timgueguen Date: July 27th, 2007 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
At least some of the DAW Gor covers were done by Boris Vallejo, but I'm sure I remember seeing at least a couple in some of the Frazetta art books.
voxwoman From: voxwoman Date: September 20th, 2007 11:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Frazetta never did a Gor cover. Daw may have paid for re-use of a Conan cover (which Frazetta re-sold many many times for various purposes, including an Iron Maiden album, I believe). Considering that Boris is "Frazetta Lite", I can understand your confusion.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 20th, 2007 03:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Stuff and nonsense

I have been reading quite a few posts from a very few people, a vocal minority it seems, who apparently believe they have the unchallengeable right to say and do what they like on the subject, but that the target of their animosity should be tarred and feathered, figuratively speaking (and perhaps in fact for all I know), for doing the same. A word to the wise – personal convictions do not equal absolute right, only absolute conviction. The fervor of fanatics does not require facts, only fervent faith in a belief.

I have seen a number – no, an abundance of factual errors in the posts, each stated belief presumably fired by the aforementioned absolute convictions, given emotional credence, if not quite making it in the truth department. Although, perhaps “truth” is not quite the right word to use as it implies deliberate lying, and that would be a leap of faith judgment on my part, making me guilty of the very thing I am speaking out against. Shall we say that what I see in these all too numerous anti-“anything to do with John Norman” posts is a ready willingness to see and believe anything that sits comfortably within in the ambit of your own narrow, focused point of view (I use the word “narrow” not as in narrow minded, of course, but as in fixed parameters).

Shall we start with the term, “Gorean”. I have seen it used as though describing an organization, as dupes – a group of adult men and women ranging from PHDs, Registered Nurses (myself amongst others – and to even suggest that I would treat a female patient with anything less than my best efforts would be egregious point-scoring slander), career military/ex-military (again myself included), lawyers, business men and women, engineers as well as average, everyday people that walk the streets who have been somehow hoodwinked into surrendering their minds to the author of a fantasy series, a sect (although those saying this might possibly be thinking of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and simply shoe-horning this often disliked religion into their vilifications as a further point scoring opportunity), and any number of other equally unlikely terms.

Has anyone asked “Goreans” what they are? Judging by the multitudinous stabs in the dark at definition by detractors, I somehow doubt it.

There are two basic ‘types’ of Gorean, role-players and ‘life-stylers’ – three if you count the silent majority who read the books as simple hero-fantasy adventure books. The former are composed of almost anyone who can imagine themselves to be someone other than they are, including the opposite sex, and encompassing personal fetishes and preferred kinks in their play. The main complaint within the Gor aficionado ranks against these people is that the first thing that goes out the window in their fantasy scenarios is the Gor books. This doesn’t encompass all role-players of course, but a significant proportion of them, along with a significant proportion of the more outlandish practices attributed to “Goreans”. (For the comprehension impaired, this is saying that a major part of what is said of “Goreans” is even more in a world of fantasy than the books themselves). “Life-stylers”, on the other hand, are men and women who try to live by the tenets of Honor, Integrity, Honesty, and Courage, while at the same time adhering to the law of the land, these being book-Gorean traits. Do they practice bondage in their personal lives, styled for convenience upon the books – yes, some do. Some don’t. But such consensual private life practices are the business of the practitioners, not people who set themselves up as the arbiters of moral and ethical right and wrong. The “Goreans” who practice this have exactly the same rights as BDSM and S&M couples who have nothing to do with the books and remain apparently untargeted. They are constrained by laws, not personal attacks by people who have decided they know what is good for others and what is not; what is acceptable and what is not.

From: deiseach Date: September 21st, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Stuff and nonsense

"a group of adult men and women ranging from PHDs, Registered Nurses (myself amongst others – and to even suggest that I would treat a female patient with anything less than my best efforts would be egregious point-scoring slander)"

No, *this* is what "egregious point-scoring slander" looks like:

(1) I always thought it was PhD, not PHD.
(2) Ah, so you've failed in two careers?
(3) "Gorean" is being used here as an adjective, not as a reference to that sad little band of wanna-be dominants who only exist in the perfervid imaginings of one loser who, in the "Fortean Times" amongst other publications, was soundly mocked when he came to public notice.
(4) Though BDSM is not my cup of tea, I understand that the mantra of all practice is "safe, sane and consenual". The practices of the Gor novels are most assuredly not consensual.
(5) Unlike Mr. Norman's ideal society, in which we are treated to the sight of women with blood trickling down the insides of their thighs as evidence that they have been raped and have lost their virginity and are now slaves and no longer free women, we were not deciding what was 'good for others'. We were stating we found such descriptions unacceptable as ways to treat women, and certainly not descriptive of how we would wish to be treated ourselves. If you can present me with someone who expresses a desire to be gang-raped so that she bleeds, I will still maintain my right to say "However, that is not how I would wish to be treated."
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 20th, 2007 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Stuff and nonsense continued

I’ve read in at least one blog that “Goreans” are even associated with possibly illegal activities, quoting that rather sad individual Lee Thompson and his Kaotian “sex-slave cult”, as the BBC’s salacious headline dubbed it. The reporting in the piece was aimed more at sensationalism than reality, but let us deal with a few of the more salient points brought up.
a) Much as I hate to been seen to be defending a fellow that tried manfully to appear dark and mysterious at best, and seemingly delusional otherwise, he was neither charged nor convicted of anything. Therefore even if he was in any way connected to “Goreans”, there is nothing illegal involved and the “possibly illegal activities” accusation is just there to muddy the emotive waters on the part of those pushing their own agendas.
b) It is my understanding that no “Kaotians” were ever uncovered (to quote the article,” Mr Thompson says up to 350 followers regularly meet in pubs and clubs around the North East, in an area from Berwick to York.”) other than those located in his terraced house in Darlington, Northern England. Clearly a reliable informant.
c) To be a “splinter group of the Goreans”, there would have to be a formal “Goreans” group. Sorry – the only people who believe that there is such an organization, apparently, are the aforementioned sad individuals, and emotionally involved activists who want it to be so in order that their own beliefs can be thus substantiated. It is also noted elsewhere that the Kaotians did not think the “Goreans” knew what they were doing, hence the formation of Thompson’s group – so what the media was reporting was that the Kaotians were based upon a group whose ideas they disagreed with. Somehow that doesn’t quite compute.
d) Lee Thompson came to at least one major Gor discussion website and tried to chivvy, entice, dare or verbally bully Gor aficionados, using accusations of cowardice and suchlike, to join him on a TV discussion program that was much in the style of a Jerry Springer special, wanting his moment in the spotlight regardless of the obvious intent to ridicule and belittle him. He seemed genuinely surprised that no one took him up on his challenge. He seemed equally surprised at the consensus opinion regarding his intellect and gullibility.
e) A little research by those willing to look might find that Lee Thompson has links to far more controversial connections than the wished for “Goreans”, not to mention some questionable fantasies according to some sources. I know of no so-called “Gorean” that would hesitate to report any illegalities on his or anyone else’s part to the proper authorities (as opposed to point scoring public denunciation that might be expected of others).
Anyone can use anything to base or even blame their fantasies on. Anyone can cause harm and injury while basing their fantasies on personalized interpretations of their chosen text. The bible in its various forms, the Koran according to which descendant of Mohammed’s interpretation is being quoted, ant-Semitic forgeries, racial dogma and excuse making to name but a few. They are all examples of books that have brought about unspeakable atrocities against men, women and children.

But here we are discussing the fantasy world of a man writing hero fantasy tales, using his extensive knowledge of classical history and philosophy as building blocks – but daring to do so in terms that some consider personally offensive.

From: deiseach Date: September 21st, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

And where, pray tell, did we mention life-style Goreans?

Or Kaotians, or the likes? The only pertinent matter in your post is the very last line:

"But here we are discussing the fantasy world of a man writing hero fantasy tales, using his extensive knowledge of classical history and philosophy as building blocks – but daring to do so in terms that some consider personally offensive."

Yes, that is what we were discussing - the reissue by Dark Horse of the "Gor" series of novels, and our reactions to this news and our opinions of the novels based upon our reading of them.

Your divagation into the red herring of those who attempt to compensate for their unsatisfactory personal lives by lifting ideas from popular novels was unnecessary - though, since you have raised the point, it is curious (is it not?) that he should fall back upon "Gor" as his inspiration, rather than, say, "The Story of O"? Trashy fantasy calls to trashy fantasy, perchance?
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