[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 9 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Tuesday, July 17th, 2012|
Okay, a very brief Readercon report. I had a fantastic time, though Friday was exhausting since I was on three panels and did a reading.
Panel One was on theological debate in SF and fantasy. I got to meet James Morrow, who wrote Only Begotten Daughter
, a favorite book of mine, and had a chance later to chat with Kathryn Smith Morrow, who is very nice and told me lots of things about the Gor novels from a bookseller's point of view.
Panel Two was on Anthropology in SF and Fantasy. There is a good way to build culture and a bad one, and I used Gor as and example of the bad. There's so much you can learn form John Norman's writing about how not to do it.
Panel Three was "Have We Lost the Future?". We have, and we discussed why. In a nutshell, I cited Star Wars and Ronald Reagan as symptoms (not causes, mind you) of a deeper malaise in American culture that, to make it simple, means we've lost our chutzpah. We can now pretend to go to the moon instead of actually doing it.
I also did a reading. By popular demand, I read the rest of Gay, Bejeweled Nazi Bikers of Gor
, and this seems to have been appreciated. I think I have gotten more enjoyment out of the Gor books than anyone, though not quite in the way John Norman intended. A copy was given away as a prize at the Kirk Poland, which was as always lots of fun.
I had a chance to see several people I rarely see, including Sonya and Greer, as well as Josh and John Benson, and I was approached by a few people who expressed interest in my work. I hope I didn't frighten anyone and not know it.
Another high point: I picked up a Sasanid coin in the dealer room. Leave it to me to go to a science fiction convention and wind up with something 1400 years old.
|Monday, July 18th, 2011|
Well, for those who follow the book industry, it is hardly a surprise, but Borders has announced
that it is being liquidated. Given that the superstore concept has, in my opinion, done as much harm as good to publishing, and to new and midlist authors, and has certainly killed off no small number of the independent and small bookstores that I remember from my youth, I heard the news with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I do like bookstores, even big ones, but on the other, Borders' business strategies over the past decade have been so inept that it's a miracle they lasted this long. And the whole concept of corporatizing storytelling that the superstore concept was and is part of just makes me cringe. I do feel badly for the employees, since getting laid off in the middle of a depression, even a mild one (and that's what this is, despite what the politicians may tell you) is no fun for anyone.
It's a little poignant for me because of timing; I just spent three days at Readercon
where I could browse the book room and lose myself in old books and new books, just like the old days. But now we live in an age of e-readers and e-books, which is both good and bad, and a higher level of access to publication for new authors through those mediums than had existed in decades, if ever. The world of books and publishing and bookselling is changing forever, and it looks like the old dinosaurs like Borders just couldn't adapt. I wonder how many other big names in the industry are going to follow?
|Sunday, July 17th, 2011|
Okay, I'm back from Readercon and if I don't sum it up now, I will procrastinate and never get to it, like when I was at the Council of Nicea the first time and had that really cool interview with the emperor Constantine where he admitted to having a peculiar fetish involving ham sandwiches, but which I never got around to posting. So here it is (Readercon, not the council).
It was fun. I got to read Gay, Bejeweled Nazi Bikers of Gor
to an appreciative audience, and gave out copies to all there since we ran out of time and the modalities needed muchly to be completed; the book was also the prize for winning(?) the Kirk Poland bad writing contest, which we, the audience, won for what I think is the first time in history; this meant that everyone there gets to go and read it online and then scrub out their brains with steel wool (and yes, the multiple use of semicolons is a feature of John Norman's writing style, such as it is).
As to panels, the one on how to make money with your writing was, as always, helpful and informative, and the recollections about Joanna Russ were very nice, though I do wish that Suzy Charnas could have made it to that one. The panel on capturing the hidden history of SF was interesting in that it discussed the importance of biography when doing history, though it seems to me we mustn't look past the fact that all biographies are impacted by the broader social world in which the person lived.
I also got to enjoy the reading by sovay
and then the one by rushthatspeaks
, both of which were delightful. I went to many more panels, but things are a blur right now due to the strange pink cloud that settled over the hotel and changed everyone into giant avacados, so I'll have to process my impressions another time.
As to my own panels, apart from my reading, there were two. The panel on Why We Love Bad Writing was most interesting, and was my first time ever as leader, so I hope I acquitted myself well and gave everyone a chance to speak. They had many interesting comments, as did the audience. It's nice when you emerge from a panel having learned something. (Which way did they go? How fast were they going? I must hurry and catch up with the others, for I AM THEIR LEADER!)
And finally, at the Tinfoil Hat Open Mike, I was able to explain my brilliant theory that the pyramids were built by giant intergalactic space doughnuts to an audience other than my hapless students. Since audiovisual aids were not allowed, however, I was not able to present my photographic proof, which I would have included here instead, but Livejournal wouldn't let me upload the picture (clearly there is a conspiracy afoot to hide the sugar-glazed truth). So instead I have posted it in its minute glory as my userpic. Suffice to say that the image dispels all doubt, and now you may all bow down before my scholarly genius and award me that massive research grant (and they all said I was mad! MAD! HA!).
My thanks to all at the con, and especially the con committee for not having me hauled away in a wraparound jacket.
|Friday, July 1st, 2011|
|Readercon Schedule 2011
Well, assuming a giant comet doesn't smack into the Earth between now and then, I should be at Readercon in less than two weeks. In keeping with no particular tradition, here is my schedule, which will no doubt be supplemented by various moral outrages once the weekend begins:
Friday July 15
1:00 PM NH Reading. Harold Torger Vedeler. Vedeler reads from Gay, Bejeweled Nazi Bikers of Gor.
Saturday July 16
2:00 PM ME Tin Foil Hat Open Mike. Rose Fox (moderator), K.A. Laity, Shira Lipkin, David Malki !, Charles Platt, Eric M. Van, Harold Torger Vedeler. Bring your wildest and wackiest ideas to this open mike session. Each speaker gets five minutes, ruthlessly enforced, to try to convince the audience of an unprovable (and ideally undisprovable) theory related to speculative fiction. The viewers are free to applaud or heckle as they see fit. No handouts, no visual aids, no multimedia, no Q&As, no spitballs, and please, no politics or religion.
Sunday July 17
2:00 PM F Why We Love Bad Writing. James D. Macdonald, Anil Menon, Resa Nelson, Eric M. Van, Harold Torger Vedeler (leader). In the Guardian, writer Edward Docx bemoaned the popularity of such writers as Stieg Larsson and insisted on a qualitative difference between "literary" and "genre" fiction. Critic Laura Miller, writing in Salon, disagreed with most of Docx's assumptions, but wondered what it is that makes the books of Larsson or Dan Brown popular when few people would argue that either is a particularly good writer. Miller suggests that clichéd writing allows faster reading than unique language does, and the very ordinariness of the prose in The Da Vinci Code allows an average reader to devour its 400 pages in a few hours. Is this true, and if so, is it the only appeal of "bad writing"? Or are "entertaining writing" and "good writing" two entirely distinct ways of evaluating a book?
I have no idea what being a "leader" for that last panel means, but hopefully it will involve me wearing a cool hat.
|Monday, July 12th, 2010|
Well, I have returned from Readercon
, and thought I could share some of my thoughts and experiences on the convention, which was quite a lot of fun. Conventions, whether academic or otherwise (and I'm not entirely sure where Readercon falls in that), are really more social events than anything else, and so I'll start there.
I met a number of very nice people, using Gay, Bejeweled Nazi Bikers of Gor
as a sort of calling-card. These included Samuel R. Delany, Charles Stross, Greer Gilman, Inanna Arthen and Caitlin Kiernan, as well as Jen Matteis (who was kind enough to give me in exchange a copy of Three Stories
with her own very fine work in it) and the very nice lady in the Con suite. Since I gave away all of my copies, I know there were many more people who got one, and my apologies for those I have omitted in my post-con delirious haze. Another copy was given to the "winner" of the Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition, at which, God help me, I pegged the John Norman quote right away (he does love his semicolons).
There were some fine panels: how to make money writing was very useful, since the country is in a mild depression these days, and it was well-attended. The panel on sex was interesting too, and raised the question of the author's responsibility to the reader. It was noted that in the Romance genre it has become common to include the types of sex acts in the story as part of the description, to which Caitlin Kiernan and others objected quite strenuously, stating that all the warning the reader needed was the author's name. There is, it was argued, also the problem of giving away the story with such descriptions.
While this is true (if I pick up a novel by Penni Fitzmon
, for example, it is reasonable to expect it to have tentacles, and I don't really need a warning), I think it depends on the genre. Since Romance is a highly consumer-focused genre, publishers need to consider readers and their tastes much more carefully than they should in more "literary" forms. As Kiernan put it, her work is, at least partly, meant to "punch you in the nose".
And a good nose punching by a book (think of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men
, for example), is an important part of the reading experience sometimes, and no author should need to apologize for that. Another part is sometimes to laugh, which brings me in a very clever way back to my experiences at the con.
The real reason to write isn't to make money but to have people read and appreciate what you have written, and in this way Gay, Bejeweled Nazi Bikers of Gor
has been a smashing success; the first page was read after the Kirk Poland competition and made people laugh, which is the story's intent. In that spirit, here is a Normanesque summary of Readercon:It was a weekend on Gor, in the high city of Lexington, in the great towers of the Marriott hotel, where many tarns perch on the high towers of the hotel in the mighty city, built by the labors of slaves, constructed of stone drawn from the nearby quarries by thralion or by wagon, the stonecutter's guild not dealing muchly with the merchants of the Con but rather directly with the government of the Con, led by the mighty men and free women and slaves of the High Council of Readercon, dealing under the aegis of the Con organizers, so to speak; and muchly did Blergus and I walk the halls with the other mighty Gorean warriors, seeking the truest of modalities of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature as decreed by the Pope-Kings. For there were many panels, attended by many lovely slaves and mighty masters, this being a Con on Gor, where the rightness of the modalities of master and slave are muchly and clearly defined as is right in our very genes, coming from our manly Spartan ancestors, who were truly the manliest of men in their manhood.
And muchly at the great contest of the mighty Kirk Poland did they read of eyeballs and battleaxes and manly, throbbing things to which the slave girls could only tremble in their true modalities as beautiful slaves, being of Gor where the rightness of proper modalities is maintained; for this befits their ancient genes and evolution with the many generations of manly men who were out with their manly bikers like Cobra, or watering their houseplants in manly Gorean modalities, or doing other such Gorean things, did the words of the mightiest of Gorean warriors get read in all their modalities, so that even the names of small Gorean streets, which might have one name at one end of the street and another at another as described in a long description by the slave Tiffany, were placed as they should be in accordance with the modalities of our beings.
And that's as much of that as I can manage without needing medical attention. So with thanks to sovay
for cajoling me up to Lexington on a hot summer weekend, I now return you to your regular, non-Gorean programming.
|Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006|
|The Two Worlds of Gor
Having been the inspiration of sovay
's recent post about Assassin of Gor
, I feel I should offer a few comments about Gor, so to explain, in part at least, just WHAT THE HELL I WAS THINKING when I loaned her that book.
Okay. Over a curry dinner, I commented that Assassin of Gor
resembled the typical James Bond movie plot: undefeatable hero, hot, sexy female sidekick, wicked megalomaniac villain, cool chase scenes, sex, more sex (but always implied, never graphic), good triumphing over evil despite impossible odds, happy ending. And in this, I have to rate Assassin of Gor
as a perfectly acceptable read, not promising more than it delivers.
Had John Norman stopped the series there, Gor would have been remembered as a nice five book series of science fantasy adventures.
But he didn't stop.
Instead, Gor is, for the most part, a running joke among science fiction and fantasy fans, and deservedly so, lending itself to parodies like Houseplants of Gor
and Gay, Bejeweled, Nazi Bikers of Gor
. The reasons for this are twofold: first, John Norman is a very, very poor writer, and second, his theories about gender relations are so overgeneralized that they come across as ridiculous.
As a result, the Gor books have rarely been given serious treatment as literature, and that's a shame. Because despite the fact that they are often offensive, they are also an important part of the history of science fiction and fantasy. What Norman did was show the sexual side of heroic fantasy that authors like Robert E. Howard had only implied, and as well, the Gor books are an artifact of their times and the culture in which they were created. During the 1970's and 1980's, when most of the Gor books were written, feminism was finding itself, and this included the evolution of a radical feminism of the Andrea Dworkin/Catharine MacKinnon type, which regards sex as a thing to carefully regulate for political ends. For those of us who have read the later Gor books, it is clear that the vilification of feminists becomes a stronger and stronger theme, to the point of pathology. Gor is a reaction to radical feminism.Assassin of Gor
was, in my opinion, the watershed moment in the series. Norman had a formula not dissimilar to the James Bond formula, and this had served him well for five books. But in book six of the series, Raiders of Gor
, everything changed. Tarl Cabot (I have a terrible verbal tick in that I want to call him "Carl Cabbage"-- sorry) is sent on yet another mission by the Priest-Kings (them big bugs that run Gor), but he gets himself into a tight spot where his only hope for survival is to become a slave. This he does, but feels such shame over his decision that he abandons his old morality. Gone is his "Honor", his "warrior caste codes" etc. Oddly, Tarl has been a slave before, in Outlaw of Gor
, and he simply saw it as a challenge to overcome. So instead of finishing his mission, he becomes the utterly self-serving "Bosk of Port Kar". This book is followed by Captive of Gor
, the first book told from the point of view of an Earth woman abducted to Gor to be a slave girl, at which point Norman's publisher changed and he was picked up by Daw Books. The first book published by Daw, Hunters of Gor
, is so different from Assassin of Gor
that it is hard to believe that they were penned by the same author.
Where in Assassin of Gor
, for example, Tarl has a moral code that leads him to free a large number of slaves at the end of the book, an act that the Goreans regard as noble, in Hunters of Gor
he actively enslaves every woman he can lay his hands on, to the approval of his Gorean comrades. Where in Assassin of Gor
it takes many months of conditioning to turn an Earth woman into a willing slave, in Hunters of Gor
it takes only one romp in the sack with Tarl for any woman to "see the light" and welcome a life of abuse. Elizabeth, who in Assassin of Gor
was a lively, self-assured character, is ruthlessly betrayed by Tarl, and her appearance in the books that follow is one of the saddest examples of Norman's failure as a writer; at every turn she gets stupider and more docile, becoming just another penis holster for Tarl and his buddies in the end.
Further, Gor loses its alien sense in the books following Assassin of Gor
. In the first five books, there are aliens for Tarl to meet; like the imaginary Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs that stands as the original inspiration of Gor, Norman's imaginary world is rich with surprises and adventure. There are giant, intelligent pacifist spiders, amoeba monsters, big bugs, aliens with nefarious plans who must be defeated, beautiful maidens to be rescued, swordplay against great odds. But following Assassin of Gor
, the world Norman paints seems more and more just like Earth; just as the books get longer (and longer, and LONGER), the less interesting the world of Gor itself becomes.
This strange affair is explained by Norman's obvious interest in listening to himself philosophize, as he attempts to justify his growing misogyny (I add here that the misogyny is not because of the sex, or even the sexual dominance and submission theme, but with the ever-present violence committed against female slaves on Gor) with longer and longer diversions away from the story, and his obvious efforts to impress his readers with his anthropological research. Instead of giving us an alien world, his heroes are more and more sent off to deal with human cultures from Earth, transplanted to Gor. This reaches its sad and laughable conclusion in his attempt to recreate the old West on Gor in Savages of Gor
and Blood Brothers of Gor
, complete with cowboys (the Hobart brothers) and an obvious love of the mythical "noble savage".
I wonder if this deterioration in the quality of the Gor books can be traced to the change from Del Rey to Daw; the later books seem to be less edited than the earlier ones. This is a common failing in science fiction and fantasy, and Norman is hardly the first author in the genre to have seen his later books deteriorate because of his own success; Heinlein's later books fail for the same reason, and what else could explain the travesty that is Niven and Pournelle's Footfall?
Since the later Gor books did sell well without editing, it would make sense for Daw to just let Norman run wild, since that freed up editing resources for Daw's other projects, while the commercial success of the Gor books helped keep the company afloat. We can thank Gor, in other words, for a lot of Daw's other, better work.
I return now to Assassin of Gor
, and to the fork in the road represented there. There are two Earth women highlighted among the slaves being trained in that book: Virginia and Phyllis. Virginia falls in love with the young guard Relius, and their love story is really quite sweet; as a mere guard, he will never be able to afford an expensive pleasure slave such as Virginia is being trained to be, so there is a sadness to their relationship that Norman handles well. In the end, Relius sides with Tarl against the villain, and as his reward is granted Virginia, whom he frees because he loves her. They get married and happiness ensues. Phyllis, on the other hand, is a feminist, and she falls in love with another guard, Ho-Sorl, whom she claims to hate. In the end, he too sides with Tarl, and is rewarded with Phyllis, whom he keeps as a slave, and who is shown as having decided that slavery and submission are what turns her on after all.
What happened with Gor after Tarl flies off into the sunset at the end of Assassin of Gor
is that Norman was faced with a choice: the Virginia model or the Phyllis model. With the Virginia model we have a sexy paradigm in which slavery is an unpleasant reality of the world from which most people want to escape; with the Phyllis model women are sexual toys who desire to submit to men. Norman chose the latter for Gor, and pretty much every woman who appears in the series after this is to some extent a clone of Phyllis. To the best of my knowledge, Virginia and Relius never appear in the series again.
It could have worked, of course. Had Norman realized that the Phyllis model was a perfectly functional paradigm for bondage fetish fiction, he could have really had something, since it is in writing about edgy, uncomfortable topics that great literature is often born. If he had had the talent to present the protagonist of Slave Girl of Gor
as a submissive woman seeking sexual and emotional satisfaction, for example, he could have commented on human sexuality in a way that enlightened us. But he didn't. In fact, he didn't even write effective porn, since he refused to actually show any real sex; there's lots of hinting and lots of background, but actual sex is usually described in a single sentence: "I used her" or "he used me". This is boring and disappointing and often broken up by philosophical rants that all say the same thing. Instead of adventure or sex, then, Gor gives us some titillation and the frustration of bigger and bigger books that say less and less.
What a pity.
|Sunday, January 8th, 2006|
Today I went to the Peabody Museum with sovay
and we looked at dinosaurs, particularly with the new Torosaurus statue outside. Then we went and picked up my spiffy new suits, which make me look cool.
Then we watched High Plains Drifter, which was both creepy and cool and a reminder to us all to mark those damn gravestones.
|Friday, August 12th, 2005|
|I'm still here....
Well, after an auspicious start of a whole one
livejournal entry, this place has been rather quiet. I haven't been, of course, and have had a busy year dissertating (Samsuiluna of Babylon, son of Hammurabi, was cool: this is my thesis) and writing.
I had one story, Choices
, published in the Yale Graduate School literary magazine Palipsest
in the spring. Another, Valley of Bones
, is due to come out in Not One of Us #34
in late September, and I have it on good authority that this issue will be awesome. Then an old story of mine, Adaptive Circumstance
will be published in the September issue of The Fifth Di...
. Along the way I have collected several rejections as well.Intersect
sells a copy from time to time, and I went to Readercon up in Boston in July and handed out some copies.
Then, of course, there have been the conferences: the American Oriental Society in March, at which I presented a paper on Old Babylonian year name conventions (truely, I am king of the obscure), and then, in July, the Rencontre d'Assyriologie in Chicago, where I hung around the Oriental Institute and bought way too many books.
|Tuesday, December 14th, 2004|
Okay, this is my first attempt at one of these, so bear with me. I figure this will be a good place for me to post my reviews of things I like and don't, often for totally irrational reasons. Nonetheless, I'll tray and explain myself when I do, but as guidelines, here are some pointers:
Some thing I like are bad, things like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Robot Monster". I like them because they are bad.
Other things I like because they are good, things like "Pleasantville" and "Of Mice and Men".
But if I put my mind to it, there always seems to be a reason or ten why I like something. Hence my reviews, which I suppose someday a psychiatrist is going to go over in a futile effort to figure out how my mind works.
And that's okey-dokey.