Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile ARX Previous Previous Next Next
Concluding Observations on the Mainstream Embrace of Gor - Nothing New Under The Sun — LiveJournal
(the ARX acta diurna)
Concluding Observations on the Mainstream Embrace of Gor
or, Get up on your pedestal, girl, so I can worship you - don't make me smack your ass back to Terra!

Having had the chance to see and judge for themselves, many readers are now asking questions concerning the judgment - nay, sanity - not just of Dark Horse's editors but also the editors of the past big name publishing companies which saw fit to inflict Norman's prose on the world in bulk, forever creating a low-water-mark in genre fic and shackling the dead albatross of Gor around the neck of fandom. It was Ballantine who started it, and bears the initial odium, but DAW which happily picked up the Gorean torch when they dropped it and carried it for the two decades.

Listing of original Gor novel publication dates and publishers
Ballantine/Del Rey (here be the original Boris Vallejo covers)
Tarnsman of Gor/1966
Outlaw of Gor/1967
Priest-Kings of Gor /1968
Nomads of Gor/1969
Assassin of Gor/1970
Raiders of Gor/1971
Captive of Gor/1972
Hunters of Gor/1974
Marauders of Gor/1975
Tribesmen of Gor/1976
Slave Girl of Gor/1977
Beasts of Gor/1978
Explorers of Gor/1979
Fighting Slave of Gor/1980
Rogue of Gor/1981
Guardsman of Gor/1981
Savages of Gor/1982
Blood Brothers of Gor/1982
Kajira of Gor/1983
Players of Gor/1984
Mercenaries of Gor/1985
Dancer of Gor/1985
Renegades of Gor/1986
Vagabonds of Gor/1987
Magicians of Gor/1988
New World
Witness of Gor/2002

Speculation about the historical and present use of recreational substances aside, I have made an effort to find out what I can of the publishing backstory from the internet. It's not easy - most of what comes up via google is just more copies of used Gor paperbacks for sale, which are a drug (as other commenters have noted) on the free market.

I don't know at whose doorstep the initial acquisition may be laid - whether the Ballantines themselves, or perhaps one Bernard Shir-Cliff, [an?] editor at BB in the 1960s, or someone else altogether - Lin Carter seems a likelier choice, but he didn't start there until 1969 from what I've read.

I did come across something which gives a clue as to why Ballantine dropped the series between 1972 and 1974, and that is that they were acquired by Random House in 1973 - my guess (I have no inside information as yet on it all) is that Random House's editors looked over the list of titles currently in print, hit Norman, said "Gyah! What is this glop?" and picking it up with the figurative tongs dropped it in the wastebasket, having as outsiders no irrational emotional attatchment to them.

The story of DAW's ultimate rejection I can only find in one place, and that being a Gorean partisan site, giving Norman's own version of events, must be taken with a full saltshaker; but if substantially correct, it explains why DAW picked them up, as well as why they were eventually dropped.

In the fourteen years between 1974 and 1988, John Norman had produced eighteen Gorean novels, which were all published by Donald A. Wollheims publishing company DAW. But during the coarse of 1985, Don Wollheim became seriously ill and in the first week of 1986, this is what he wrote in a letter to a friend.

"1985 was a very bad year for me insofar as I had been hospitalized for a long time. Four major operations - and just in December a fifth and I trust the last. My daughter - a very competent person with experience - is handling my desk at the office and she has determined to cut down on those authors and series which never quite justified their advances."

Donald Wollheim intended to overrule his daughter, Elisabeth (Betsy) Wollheim, on several occasions, but as his health deteriorated, so did his influence. The sales of the Gor series could not have been the issue; in March 1982, the DAW sales alone reached three million copies, a year later, in March of 1983, the figure came close to four million. Even so, in June, 1988, Magicians of Gor, was the last of the series published by DAW. Two years later, Donald Allen Wollheim, futurian and founding father, died of cancer, and John Norman decided to postpone his Gor series.

I also found a contemporary review of a Gor book, from a 1972 Vancouver student newspaper* from 1972 (p. 8), in which the reviewer (of course male) admits that the books stink stylistically, and points out that this one is getting worse in a lot of ways, but makes no remark about the antifeminism of them and glorification of the idea of "natural slaves" at all, save to claim that Norman seems to be "getting over" his hangups about Women's Lib (!), and that the "romance" (!!) is "not very convincing" even by the standards of previous series entries, but claims that they compare favorably to the John Carter books (!!!) - and closes by saying that he hopes Ballantine brings out more of them!

Raiders of Gor (Ballantine, 95c) — John Norman

Raiders is the sixth book in the Gor series, which I find myself unable to keep from reading, despite Norman's many errors — he seemed to be trying to make every error that an author could make.

On the positive side though, he seems capable of capturing much of the feeling, the romance and adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian adventures. Norman's novels may be blundering but he captures more of the essence of the Barsoom novels than any other author.

This novel contain s relatively few of the errors that plagued Nomads and Assassin of Gor. He seems to have lost most of his Men's Lib adolescent hang up where he was out to establish that woman wants to be enslaved, that nothing captures the female heart like a good beating. He has also given up his tricked up method' of story telling used in Assassin of Gor which used too many flashbacks to cover the lack of real action in the story.

Raiders gives up the central theme of his stories recently — the alien invaders and Cabot's attempts to help the Priest Kings destroy them. Norman, possibly tired of a hero who was strong, valorous and determined, has Cabot given a choice between slavery and death choose slavery, a choice which his caste codes regard as being cowardly. This does give the story a new orientation but possibly due to the lack of any past guides in handling this technique, it fails. Cabot has no real basis for his choice, he just rapidly turns coward for a second. The scene itself lacks conviction — its too much like other scenes where Cabot did not turn coward. And in the end Cabot's discovery that any man may have moments of weakness without losing his hero status is too rapid, too unexplained to hold any conviction.

The main impression left by this story is that it drifts. It has few of Norman's earlier faults, but it also has none of his earlier drive. The romance and adventure mixed up in all of this is not convincing even by the very generous standards set by the earlier Gor stories.

But overall, this is a story that Gor(e) fans. will want to own. It retains the coloring of the earlier stories, and hopefully in losing his bad habits, Norman has put himself in good condition to continue the series — if not, let us hope that Ballantine waves a sufficiently large advance under his nose. Anyways, its faults aside, there is a lot of action and adventure for your money.

--Has anyone else yet considered the role and cultural influence the Vietnam War, then ongoing, and the inescapable fact of college deferments and "retreat from the world" mentalities of the time, on Dr. Lange's fervid hypermasculinity and valorization of violence as expressed in these books? Or, in short, raised the question of Sixties' chickenhawkery-- People have always been (and continue to be, with more accuracy and scholarship) trying to pigeonhole Tolkien's fantasy by contemporary chronology, but you don't really see critics doing it for anyone else in the genre: why not?

Sarcasm aside, the UBC review is interesting* because among other things, the reviewer admits that the books are just bad, and this one (per him) only marginally better than previous entries, but that he can't stop reading them - and doesn't want to. This, combined with the frequent - and false - defense made of them (see here for an example) that they compare favorably, or at least not unfavorably, to the rest of the pulp hack'n'hew genre of yore - says to me the answer is not so much that the editors at BB and DAW were dropping acid, but that the books themselves are, in the popular phrase, crackfic. Crackfic for the psychologically-stunted and grandiose temperament, to be sure; but the more honest fans will, like this guy, admit that the writing is awful any way you look at it.

That's not what they're reading it for, after all, any more than the "OMG i <3<3<3 this fic!!1! i <3 U2!1 this is soooo sad!!! plzwritemorekthxbai!!!1" fans of endless Tortured!Sue stores at the Pit of Voles are looking for poetry, coherent plotting, plausible action and believable characterization there.

And, clearly, not even Professional Editors at Big Name Publishing Companies are immune to the lure of the crackfic. David A. Wollheim being one apparent example - and Laurell K. Hamilton's editor at ACE being another.

The Crackfic Effect - and I should be sure to point out that most, if not all, fanficcers who use this term do so in full self-aware irony that what they are reading/writing is pure literary self-indulgence, nor meant to be anything else, any more than a box of truffles is meant to be a square meal - is to be seen most clearly in the frenzied defense and charges of Sinister Conspiracies to keep down The Man and Stifle Truth, Joy, Freedom and Beauty leveled by John Norman and his admirers alike.

The equation of the non-subsidization of anything by a commercial concern with censorship, the official banning of material by the state, is particularly rich coming from Free Market worshippers - but not uncommon at all, for all that.

The idea that perhaps the books just are that bad, and given the choice not to, these free fiscal agents would rather not be associated with them due to the embarrassment before their peers of being known as the publishers of A Boy's Own Wet Dream, vols. 1-27, even if they have to pass up on profits, is unfathomable to them.

Even more so is the possibility that maybe they aren't that great an investment any more - crackfic after all is faddish, and fads pass quickly, and (as many readers have pointed out) better erotica is available for free online. (Aha! it's those dastardly pixel-stained technopeasants again! Refusing to keep Caste and forgetting their place as Readers, thinking they can move themselves up to the noble Caste of Author just by, you know, writing stuff...) The biggest US publisher of erotica brought them back in the latter '90's under their Masquerade imprint, saying
"There are other books I've brought back. There's an author named John Norman, who wrote a series of about 30 science fiction books in the '60s called "The Gor Series." They've been out of print since the '60s. And I reprinted them because I felt there would be an audience, and there is an audience. He wasn't politically correct in the '60s, and he's not politically correct today. But there is a market."

These must have been the slightly-larger editions with the slick black covers which I saw on the shelves at our old B&N (this is how I date things, which bookstore did I see them in? because when area bookstores open/close/expand is very important in my personal calendar) and which, as I noted, sat there...and sat there...and sat there...in SF, until they eventually went away.

New World Publishers brought out one new Gor book in 2002 - and nothing since. Apparently the number of people willing to pay US $25 plus shipping for an unpublished Gor novel was not enough to break even.

Now, you can try to blame it on a vast shadowy conspiracy of tyrannical Politically-Correct Left-Wing Publishers that the books didn't sell well when reprinted - or you can admit that they were freely available and had their chance to compete on the big chain shelves and Amazon pages, and were too unsuited for the present climate, like small-beaked Galapagos finches in a time of heavy rain, to thrive against their competition. Only one of these is the sane response.

But "sane" is not on when dealing with Gor partisans - and that isn't just limited to the lifestylers.

I find fascinating the rabid insistence on all quarters that the only reasons for loathing the books are 1) "Political Correctness" and 2) not having read (with implicit "dared to) the books themselves, but only taking the liberal zampolit's word for their badness. If you only gave them a chance, you'd see how beautiful and noble and wonderful and liberating they are! is the cry from the Gor fans.**

It seriously not only doesn't occur to them, but is apparently outside their comprehension that anyone could have actually read the damned things and made up their minds about them on their own. That maybe we are at least moderately familiar with the pulp genre as a whole, and are capable of doing compare/contrast on our own - and maybe, just maybe, we can make the judgment as to whether the worldview presented as "normal" in Norman's Counter-earth is dehumanizing and degrading to both women and men on our own, based on the primary texts...

I also find it fascinating that while there certainly are RL female Gor fans, there don't seem to be as many as are held up verbally like human shields by the Gorean fanboys. Part of this may just be that the Gor fangirls don't get out much; but what struck me strongly in the course of this ongoing debate is that there are a lot of people - mostly male - saying "But look! Lots of women LOVE Gor and being slaves, so that means it's all fine!" and a handful of Bingo-card women going "Oh, I read one of those books a long time ago and it didn't bother me, I don't know what you are so upset about, what about X?" and no "kajira" showing up to fervently defend the books to us at all.

--I cannot help but be reminded of all the men who show up at feminist political blogs to tell us that their wives and girlfriends (or mothers, as in the case of the Missionaries Who Wouldn't Stop) just LOVE their roles as Traditional Women serving them and being pretty and never complain and never want to do anything else, and we feminists want to force them to give that up, and gee isn't it funny that the number of guys saying this of absent, mute women outnumbers the handful of women who claim it for themselves? Not funny is the fact that as one commenter described from her personal experience, these lifestylers isolate their "slave girls" from the outside world, insisting that they break off friendships, just like mundane abusers.

Dominant/submissive, or sado-masochistic themes have always played a part in fantasy literature. The one thing that Gor does, is move this element to the center of the story. Norman's timing was fortunate. By the late sixties young women had begun to feel free to read, think, and feel as they chose, and the feminists had not yet nailed down their new set of "thou-shalt-not's". What many of them chose to read, think, and feel is what Mr. Norman had to offer. At times the later ones can also get just a little mean spirited; I presume that is a reflection of the growing controversy surrounding the books and the ideas expressed in them.
Pornography has been a common charge against the Gor books, but not one that that the average reader can take seriously. For one thing, back in the late sixties and early seventies, that more innocent time before the internet, the Playboy channel, and HBO specials these far tamer books recieved little special notice or comment. Apparently since that time a number of people have reverted to virginity. For another thing, pornography has become for the Anti-sex League of feminism a code word for any expression of sexual interest between male and female.

Pornograpy is readily identifiable by two traits: it celebrates the ugly, and it's normal direction is toward death, or at the least a sort of mechanical or non-human existence that is equivalent to death. Why are porn movies so bad?--bad in terms of plot, dialogue, and acting. Why do you feel dirty after seeing one? Couldn't someone make some "good" porn? No, "good porn" is a contradiction, for then the work would be merely erotic, and have a different, and less wide appeal. In porn everything is either dirty, or has to be made that way.

The Gor books are oriented quite differently. They continually celebrate beauty and vitality. Norman is not a particularly beautiful prose stylist--few are--but he is continually stressing the beauty not just of women, but of cities, of the landscape, of the day and night sky, of primal emotions, of craftsmanship, and so on. Vitality is also stressed, and many readers have been drawn to the books by the idea of a more vital and alive world, a world without hypocrisy, where one may be more in touch with one's real instincts and drives.

[..]The literary qualities of the Gor books are not particularly high, though on a par with the competition. It's not a field that has tended to draw the literary giants of the age. Oddly, many of the most impassioned Goreans have spoken very negatively about the readability of the books, while at the same time treating their content with the literalness and faith that fundamentalists do the Bible. I am not sure why this attitude; the Gor books are written clearly, in simple, straightforward prose. The latter ones have picked up a few annoying quirks of diction that earlier books did not have, and all the books do violate a number of basic creative writing commonplaces. The worst qualities, which are only apparent in the later books are repetitiveness and occassional flashes of mean-spiritedness, both the result*** of the increasingly heated debate with the feminists. It is a shame the author did not ignore them. Instead, he has allowed them to detract greatly from the appeal of the books.

[...]In fact, a very important theme in much of the Gor writing by women is that of freedom, that they have been bullied consistantly by society in general and feminists in particular to fit into an unnatural mold, and to be ashamed of their sexuality. For them, discovering the Gor books was a liberation. A typical example is a website I found recently that was a tribute to John Norman. The woman who created it desribes how in her early teens she slipped one of the books out of her brother's room and read it with both delight and amazement. Women were taken seriously, and were more real than in any fantasy books she had read before. This was better than Tolkein, where there were few women at all, and real women were clearly inferior to elf women. This is a close parallel to many, many statements by women on Gor pages and channels who have felt the need to be liberated from their self-proclaimed liberators. [And, of course, all of them really are women, he knows for a fact. Myself, I'm sure some certainly are...]

[...]I confess to having enjoyed all twenty-five books, and even to cheering the tirades before they became so many and so long. I am greatly interested in the development of Gor on-line, and in the various attempts to create a Gor lifestyle, though here I have a couple of reservations as well. On Gor most slavegirls were captured, and have virtually no chance of escape, or to change status by their own actions. And once the are slavegirls, they are a fully recognized and generally accepted part of the social fabric. That they adapt quickly agrees with something I once read about slavery on Earth. Africans captured by Arab slavers were understandably distraut at first, but as they got farther from home and closer to their destination, the women tended to become more cheerful and optimistic, [??!?!?] while the men grew even more sullen and despondant. Women are more adaptable than men. For an Earth woman on Gor, being on another planet would certainly give a sense of inevitability, while a Gorean woman woud already know the odds.

...or in plain English, Freedom IS slavery, dammit! At least if you're XX. And you totally brought the sexism on yourselves, bitches. (Let's just ignore all that about the Cité des Femmes Communistes in book II, otherwise my argument falls apart.) And I like it and feel ennobled by it, so it can't be porn, because porn is ugly and degrading, and there's nothing degrading in Gor, it's all about celebrating you ungrateful sluts. And you totally love it anyway. --And this guy is one of the saner ones - he doesn't believe in the Vast Shadowy Left-Wing Publishing Conspiracy, frex, and he finds some of the worldbuilding implausible.

Gor is a continent in science fiction. Many may wish it did not exist, but it is there.

It is not hard to find, really. Just look for a world that lies a thousand degrees north of monothink, a thousand degrees east of orthodoxy, a thousand degrees west of ideological conformity, a continent far from the placid waters of predictable mediocrity, a different world, one real, one like no other, one beyond the familiar world’s horizon, one emergent from far, tumultuous, untamed seas, a world alert to deep currents, which listens to secret whispers, which wears stars in her hair.

The maps of ideologically servile cartographers may choose not to show the Gorean world, but it is there, a wonderful, forbidden continent. Some of you know her, and have been there.
---J. Norman, Dec. 2000

--These are the people Dark Horse has chosen to align themselves with, and the caliber of the work they have chosen to invest in. Printing books in large quantities is not cheap, nor is distribution, even for an established publishing company with the infrastructure in place - and money spent on one project is money that cannot be spent on something else. The only person I know of active in feminist comics fandom who has the capacity to give inside info on this choice has declined to do so because she understandably wants to keep her job, but I don't think it's very difficult to explain why the big boys at Dark Horse are doing this. I mean, the of-course-male head of the company calls it "great" fiction, and dismisses the hatefilled ideological-ranting nature of it, so clearly demonstrated in the first two volumes, as merely "controversial"--

Crackfic - It's Not Just For Amateurs. And Never Was.

* The instructions on DIY dormroom vintnery, aka how to make your own hooch with some grape juice and a condom on page 6 are also interesting, at least to see it written out & published thus shamelessly in a school paper, instead of merely being furtive oral tradition.

**It reminds me a bit of those scenes in other old SF books which I read whilst working in the same library that I found Dancer of Gor on the new paperbacks shelf, where "plugged-in" junkies of the network, starving in squalor, insist that only cowardice and stodginess hold others back from getting a jack in their skull and experiencing the same joyous freedom...

***Funny how they all have to find ideological excuses for his repetitiveness - and it never occurs to them that maybe it's because Norman just didn't have anything else to say? That he'd exhausted his meager invention, and went to reruns? Nor is it just him - I'm not the only one who remembers Eddings recycling entire pages of chara description word for bleeding word in the Belgariad, right?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

48 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 26th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I alseo read a Gor book, Captive of Gor, and thought it was ridiculous. It's told from the POV of the titular captive, a dumb spoiled rich bitch who gets carted off to Gor and ends up the property of Rask of Treve, with whom she falls in love.

It starts off stupid: Elinor wakes up one morning and finds she has been branded-- and she's still in her apartment. Huh?! If you're going to brand somebody, shouldn't you, I don't know, take her to your spaceship first?

Elinor, being a Weak Woman, faints. (Standard Trope of Misogynistic Horseshit: Weak Women can't fight or act effectively.) She wakes up again and finds she is still in her apartment and now wearing a slave collar.

Elinor finally flees and, IIRC ends up in the country somewhere. Turns out they were expecting her to do just that, and she is easily captured and taken to Gor.

Now, if I'd been in Elinor's place, I would not have fainted, and I'd have gone to Baltimore, which is 1/2 hour's drive from my home. Have fun looking for me in a city, you bastards!

Several chapters later, Elinor encounters some "panther girls", Gorean women who like their freedom. She asks if she can join them. When the leader tells her she must fight for her spot on the tribe, Elinor bursts into tears. I like to think in her place, I'd have accepted the challenge and asked for an opponent about my own size. She would, of course, have the edge in experience, but not size or strength-- or so I could hope.

Elinor, like most of Norman's women, definitely falls into the Too Stupid to Live category.

As for Dark Horse-- shame on them! I used to read some of their Aliens vs Predator comics, sometimes with great pleasure. There was one very good series in which the lead human character was a tough Japanese businesswoman who was trying to run a colony that the Predators had decided to use for a hunting ground in a coming-of-age ritual for their adolescents. Very cool story.

From that to John Norman?! Talk about going backwards!

voxwoman From: voxwoman Date: July 26th, 2007 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was the book where the line of dialog But... I was a poetess!!!!!1111!!! appeared.

Yeah, I kept hoping she'd die, too.
voxwoman From: voxwoman Date: July 26th, 2007 12:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm even more horrified now

to realize I've read 11 of these things during my lifetime, instead of merely 9.

You left off a not-quite Gor book that Norman published... a sex-fantasy book (whose title now escapes me) for couples that had about 100 role-playing plots (none of them were The Pirate and the Cheerleader, I regret to say).

My guess is he had these sitting around for stories he never bothered to write. They are better than the Gor books, in that they are no more than 5 pages long, many only a few paragraphs, so he only winds up repeating himself in the sense of almost all the fantasies involve "uppity woman gets taken down a peg and ravished" storylines. Only the backdrop changes. I think there were a couple of scenarios that had both the man and woman at the mercy of some other being (both are slaves of someone else, a mating experiment run by aliens, or whatever).

chaoticgoodnik From: chaoticgoodnik Date: July 26th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have you heard of the (real life) Tuchux? I only ever heard of them, and Gor, because of the SCA. They come to Pennsic to play. Real info.

Pictures of Tuchux "wenches": http://www.pbase.com/darter02/p35_05

Supposedly they wear horsetails attached to their clothing ... I'm not seeing anything like that in these on a quick skim, but I think I've seen female Tuchux wearing the horsetails at Pennsic. Though for all I know, that's only the "Upchux".

Tuchux vs. "Upchux": http://www.midrealm.org/middlebridge/archives/1998/199809/1303.html
chaoticgoodnik From: chaoticgoodnik Date: July 26th, 2007 01:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Er, I guess that was supposed to be "more info." Not sure why I typed "real info." It's early.
From: violaswamp Date: July 26th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Query: If the Gorean "novels" were based around the ideology that black people were natural slaves and white people were natural masters, would there be as many people defending them and calling their critics "Politically Correct"?

Imagine those slave-girl scenes with a racial difference instead of a gender one.

I don't mean to suggest that racism is any less prevalent than misogyny, because I don't think it is, but we seem to have been semi-successful in making the most overt expressions of racism 100% unacceptable, at least in public. Misogyny, on the other hand, isn't even unfashionable.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 26th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

someone needs to tell Pat Oliphant and Universal that

at least in public.

So I thought before the Don Imus scandal. I wish I'd thought to save them when I had the chance, but Oliphant had some of THE most insulting, stereotyped pro-Imus cartoons nationally-syndicated, I really couldn't believe it - but he was just expressing the views of so many young "ironic hipster liberals" I heard IRL and saw on general boards, like FARK - pity the poor white man, artistry strangled by the iron grip of Political Correctness.

I agree that I don't think that Dark Horse would dare, partly because fandom *does* see itself as more progressive than the mainstream (snort) and also because it turns out that some other comics publisher got themselves in deep shit with fans for putting out a collection of some early 20th c cartoonist with the cover image they chose...a horribly-stereotyped black cannibal, exactly what you'd expect - they apologized, but that they would not have any clue why this was inadvisable, much less wrong, for all the people who had to handle it to get it to print - says *volumes. I wish I could remember which outfit it was, but I didn't recognize the cartoonist and it didn't stick.
ronin_kakuhito From: ronin_kakuhito Date: July 26th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just look for a world that lies a thousand degrees north of monothink, a thousand degrees east of orthodoxy, a thousand degrees west of ideological conformity

So about the distance from the equator to the tropic of cancer from all of these things?
ronin_kakuhito From: ronin_kakuhito Date: July 26th, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
okay so I suck at math... 1000 degrees != 23.3 degrees. 1000 degrees = 80 degrees or 23.3 percent of 360
dryaunda From: dryaunda Date: July 26th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
[B]etter erotica [than Gor] is available for free online.

And that's including the rapefics!

It reminds me a bit of those scenes in other old SF books [...] where "plugged-in" junkies of the network, starving in squalor, insist that only cowardice and stodginess hold others back from getting a jack in their skull and experiencing the same joyous freedom...

Huh? Could you elaborate on that one?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 26th, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)


And I don't know who/what it was, I just shelved it (ahem) circa 1985, and it wasn't a new book then, but it had police or the paramedics or someone showing up and finding someone who had starved to death whilst "jacked in" to the proto-internet-of-the-future (I love it when people say "they couldn't have dreamed of what we have now, back then!" because all you have to do is look around a little harder and somebody *did*) through a plug into their skull, blissed out on pure mainlined cerebral stimulation, obviously modeled on drug addiction but poking around into the idea of cybernetic implants. There were several stories I read around that time that had this theme - part of the whole 60s-70s angst over "mind-expanding" and likewise grasping at immortality through bionics.
the_leewit From: the_leewit Date: July 26th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Might I say that I find this series of articles fun and fascinating, and wish to thank you?

It is possible that one of the reasons you don't see Gor fans trumpeting that they have femfans is a well-publicized (or at least, picked up by tabloid news shows such as A Current Affair) case of a serial rapist during the late eighties/ early nineties who based his schtick on the Gor novels. His wife, his "love slave," helped out, acted as a Judas goat, whatever. The medium of television grumbled sleepily, muttered for a ji'had against the medium of comic books (!), because comic books rot your brain and it's so hard to tell comic books from reality, and maybe this couple were so lazy they couldn't come up with they own version of complete lunacy to play out their little folie a deux in... anyhow.

OTOH, I cannot see an isolated incident like that having such universal appeal. Maybe... there is about twenty minutes in the normal young woman's developing sexuality where the discoveries of new vistas, such as role-playing and BD/SM, where the fact of discovery of these things and their shiny newness blinds one to the logical holes inherent. (Happens elsewhere. Remember when all science fiction was good and fun and worth reading all the way through? And everything in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies seemed bold, original, and feminist?) The women who don't grow out of this tend to be in arrested development, which comes across as creepy. (Would it sound jaded to say that arrested development on some males in this society hardly shows?)

Sorry; my two cents.
randwolf From: randwolf Date: July 26th, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
You might ask about the publishing history over on Making Light; there are regulars there who would know; there's already some discussion of the books over there. I do recall Elsie Wollheim quoted, more-or-less, to the effect that the Gor books were the little engine that pulled the train of DAW along; they were cash cows. I think this is probably because it was nearly impossible to widely distribute S&M porn back when, but bad sf--no problem. I also heard that DAW's marketing department found that a substantial majority of the buyers were women(!) I suppose that now that S&M porn is now more tolerated means that there's less of an audience for the Gor books, specifically; the stuff doesn't need to cross-dress as sf, anymore.

People are weird, and sex fantasy is weird. A taste for violent sex fantasies doesn't usually indicate a taste for violent sex--rape fantasies are a staple of costume romances but the women who buy them in huge numbers (back in the early 1980s, Dave Hartwell said they were the most popular genre) don't want to be raped. (A lot of women also like to see romantic male characters treated brutally; this is an element of, of all things, Harry Potter.) One the other hand--no surprise--violent people usually have violent fantasies. I have for some years now been discouraged to reflect that a great deal of recent US political behavior can be explained by masculinity doubts (I mean, Ah-nold?!)

And satire? After Genre Zombies I can only say go for it!
(Deleted comment)
smurasaki From: smurasaki Date: July 26th, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Where's a sociologist (or social psychologist?) when you need one?

I just don't get it. I am a bit sorry I suggested that the books' publication could be explained by stupidity - I didn't really think about when some of them were published until you listed it out. The books feel like something from the distant Conan/Carter of Mars past, not something published almost to the 90s. Then again, the quality (make that lack there of) of most of the mystery books on the shelf these days has about convinced me that most people in the publishing industry are illiterate, making the existence of the Gor novels quite easy to explain.

Having looked up crackfic, I can see the appeal of the bizarre. And Gor is definitely bizarre. But liking it because it's cracktastic is one thing - and doesn't explain people defending it. That's where I get disturbed, mainly because I get the feeling these defenders aren't much different from the people who want to act it out/live it. Then again, judging from the one's you've quoted, they're already from another planet. The icky stuff aside, this boggled me: "The literary qualities of the Gor books are not particularly high, though on a par with the competition. It's not a field that has tended to draw the literary giants of the age." I really hope they meant pornography, because I've never encountered a sci-fi/fantasy book anywhere close to as badly written as Gor. Never.

In fact, agreeing is the only reason to buy and defend him (laughing your head off only explains buying), especially when you consider that he can't write. Though I'm not sure why you'd buy more than one to laugh at, either, unless you picked them up at the same time or in a one cent bin. I mean my parents and I found the one Earl Stanley Gardener book we read to be hilariously badly written and lines from it are now family jokes...but we didn't buy any more of them.

I'm not sure what I'm saying...other than that I really don't think I want to understand why people like Gor. The answer would be just too depressing.
dinpik From: dinpik Date: July 26th, 2007 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Got a live one for you

On a related tangent, this link from metafandom

Talk about "I don't have a problem with it, and you do but you'll never convince me, so you should just STFU you stupid bitches."
From: anna_wing Date: July 27th, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
There was a writer going by the name "Sharon Green", I think, in the 1980s, who did a few novels that were Gor but from the (a;;egedly) female point of view. Otherwise exactly the same though - high-status female becomes sex slve, likes it, blah, blah, blah. There were several, both fantasy and science fiction, but all variants on the same theme. They didn't take off; at least, I haven't seen any around for a long time. The writing style did seem to be deliberately modelled on Norman's. Ugh.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 21st, 2007 05:01 am (UTC) (Link)


The Gor dude makes the same super annoying prideful misstep that lots of patriarchal assholes have through history. The manly men of Gor are supported by a vast number of women doing the all of the unpaid labor that makes society run yet the men of Gor are heroic instead of parasitic. Not doing any of your own goddamn work=strong and manly. Irony blowing up all over.
dinpik From: dinpik Date: July 27th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gah. I messed up the link.

Stop reading my comics, you stoopid girls!
From: violaswamp Date: August 26th, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Back for a re-read...

...because I had the unpleasant experience of dealing with a pseudo-feminist princess who tried to defend the Gor books on the grounds that they were "just fantasy" and hinting strongly that the LJ feminist "choir" was oppressing the Gor-loving minority or some shit like that.

This drives me crazy because it's not "just fantasy"--it's not just an eroticized description of women being raped (which in itself would be morally reprehensible, IMO, but that's not all it's doing). No, it's actually making concrete claims about REALITY. It's espousing an ideology that says REAL women enjoy being raped and abused and enslaved.

And that's why you get people who seriously try to implement this ideology in their everyday lives and will defend it, not on the grounds that it's a harmless fantasy with no connection to real life, but on the grounds that it reveals the TRUTH about real life. Excusing this as "just fantasy" is fucking bullshit. Not to make Godwin rise from the dead and throttle me, but it's a bit like saying Mein Kampf was "just fantasy."

Besides, I don't think fantasy is a judgment-free zone--how very un-PC of me, I know, but it makes no sense to say it is. To be clear, I'm not espousing any kind of legal action against John Norman or Gor readers or what-have-you. No, I'm talking about moral disapproval and mockery and scorn, and fuck you very much to those who can't understand the difference between saying "These people are sick fucks" and saying "These people should be in jail/censored." If people repeatedly fantasize about doing violence to other people, then yes, dammit, I judge them. I think they should seek help.

*grr* Sorry for the rambling comment. I'm glad you did these take-downs--they were a cathartic read.

bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: August 27th, 2007 04:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Back for a re-read...

yeah, the people who say criticism = censorship bug the heck out of me. They want the privileges of speaking in public with none of the responsibilities, really - to be able to broadcast their stuff without receiving any feedback, which is to say that other people don't have the right to broadcast in turn - because *they're* special snowflakes, I guess. Then you get the ones who take it to a new level, which is that even hearing criticism of stuff they like is an unconscionable persecution, whether or not they wrote it themselves, so anyone who dislikes what they like has the obligation to just shut up and suffer in silence. Um, no - that's not how this whole "freedom of speech" thing works, everyone gets to criticize or defend and make their case and accept or dismiss others' cases.

But the Special Snowflakes of the world don't get this - you heard about the self-published crackpot suing PJ Meyers for calling him a crackpot, right? Same thing.

And when I hear these Princess Snowflakes claiming that sexist ideology in books doesn't bother them, or that they haven't experienced it IRL, I am put in mind of the bit in "Small Gods" where the Tyrant of the Ephebians telling Deacon Vorbis that he imagines that fish have no word for water...
From: lemuelb Date: September 21st, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Something to Think About - Part 1


You made a comment here:

in which you said:
"...so anyone who dislikes what they like has the obligation to just shut up and suffer in silence. Um, no - that's not how this whole "freedom of speech" thing works, everyone gets to criticize or defend and make their case and accept or dismiss others' cases."

Wouldn't that mean that the people who don't want John Norman's books back in print are "special snowflakes" too? By pressuring Dark Horse not to print them aren't they telling people that don't like radical feminism "to just shut up and suffer in silence" too?

I just don't get the animosity you all seem to have for Dark Horse over the republication of John Norman's books. You seem to equate them printing the books with them endorsing Norman's view of feminism - which is silly IMO.

The reason Dark Horse is publishing the books is simple - there is a market for them and they want to cash in on it. As someone else mentioned, the Gor books were major cash-cows for DAW - and for Ballentine too. Even though Betty Ballentine dropped the series because she didn't like where the books were headed it didn't stop her from printing more copies. And when Judy-Lynn Del Rey took over Norman's views didn't stop her from commissioning new artwork for the books and keeping them in print right up until 1991 - including "Captive of Gor", which was the first book where it was blatantly obvious that Norman was lampooning radical feminism. That's right, he was making fun of it. Norman was satirizing extreme statements like these:

"Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the Women's Movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage." (Sheila Cronan, in Radical Feminism - "Marriage" (1970), Koedt, Levine, and Rapone, eds., HarperCollins, 1973, p. 219)

"Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture. Marriage meant the taking was to extend in time, to be not only use of but possession of, or ownership." (Andrea Dworkin, Letters From a War Zone, Dutton Publishing, 1989)

"Rape is the primary heterosexual model for sexual relating. Rape is the primary emblem of romantic love. Rape is the means by which a woman is initiated into her womanhood as it is defined by men." (Andrea Dworkin, Letters From a War Zone, Dutton Publishing, 1989)

"There are no boundaries between affectionate sex and slavery in (the male) world. Distinctions between pleasure and danger are academic; the dirty-laundry list of 'sex acts'...includes rape, foot binding, fellatio, intercourse, auto eroticism, incest, anal intercourse, use and production of pornography, cunnilingus, sexual harassment, and murder. All sex must stop before male supremacy will be defeated: ... We know of no exception to male supremacist sex. ... We therefore name intercourse, penetration, and all other sex acts as integral parts of the male gender construction, which is sex; and we criticise</span> them as oppressive to women. We name orgasm as the epistemological mark of the sexual, and we therefore criticise it too as oppressive to women. ... If it doesn't subordinate women, it's not sex." (Judith Levine commenting on a document from Women Against Sex: A Southern Women's Writing Collective - Sex Resistance in Heterosexual Arrangements, 1987)

It's amazing to me that people seriously think Norman was actually advocating slavery. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised though - after all, there were people that didn't recognize the sarcasm in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" either. There were people that actually thought Swift was seriously proposing that the gentry eat the infants of the poor. Imagine that.

Continued in Part 2...
From: lemuelb Date: September 21st, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Something to Think About - Part 2

...Part 2

Norman doesn't really think rape is acceptable either. If you had ever read his book "Imaginative Sex" you might know that.
"Rape, real rape, even if we are naturally inclined to do it, is not to be done. Our rights to self-expression end where the other person's feelings begin. Civilization, as Freud recognized, requires restraint. All things considered, civilization is better than the jungle, and it is a fragile and delicate set of relationships. We have lost it many times, and we must try not to do so again. In short, a true man, one with normal aggressions and fully operating glands, presumably desires to rape, but also, having a hard-won manhood, does not in fact rape. This is not particularly because he does not wish to agitate the precinct detectives, but rather because, when the chips are down, if he really had the choice, he would not want to hurt or intimidate a woman. He might desire to do so, but, on the genuine level of his humanity, he just would refuse to do so. It is not a humanly good or worthy thing to do." - pages 53-54

Norman also believes women should have the same opportunities as men.
"...it is good for them to be dominant. It helps them to think better of themselves. It releases suppressed emotions and ventilates often-bottled hostility and aggression. It gives them more self-respect and helps them to be freer, happier human beings. There are pleasures in being the leader, the commander. These pleasures should be open to the woman as well as the man." - page 97

Norman also acknowledges that women are often mistreated by men and have every right to be pissed about it.
"...most women, regardless of their ideology, have excellent reasons, at least from time to time, for resenting men and their dominance. Men do, in effect, run society and women, rightfully or wrongfully, desirably or undesirably, tend to occupy, statistically, less prestigious positions. The woman, just in standing before a man, is immediately classed with all other women as a certain kind of object, to be accorded certain kinds of treatment. She is seen as a "kind" of thing, pretty, weak, vulnerable, at the mercy of men. She is classified as prize, as sexual quarry. One cannot blame a woman for not, upon occasion, resenting this immediate classification of her as a "form" of life with a certain sexual destiny. There are times when a woman wants to be seen by a man as his object, and his prize, but there are other times when she resents, and justifiably, her nature as the always-weaker, the always-hunted. There are times when she wishes she had power, that she might look on men as they look on her, that she might own and command them, as they do her, that it might be she, she, who is dominant!" - page 110

If you don't like his books, or his attempt to make radical feminism look silly, that's great - more power to you. I personally feel that the anti-feminist crap became way too heavy-handed from the seventh book onward and Norman's writing "style" and grammar are horrible, so I can sympathize with your feelings there. But for people that are supposed to be all about freedom and equality to try and prevent someone from exercising their First Amendment right to find an outlet for their ideas - however disgusting and deplorable they might be - is reprehensible and gross hypocrisy. But, perhaps you don't believe, as Noam Chomsky did, that "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

Please think about this: In your pursuit of the freedom, equality, and respect you deserve; will you hold to your ideals - or will you trample the rights of others in the process?

I wish you well,

48 comments or Leave a comment