Appendix N Fans Are Off The Chain!

Tuesday , 11, October 2016 11 Comments

Peter Schweighofer over at Hobby Games Recce weighs in on the recent uptick in Appendix N discussion with a bit of cautionary advice:

I’d encourage D&D or OSR gamers of the more literary persuasion to use these lists as a starting point, but would emphasize them to explore fantasy literature on their own – particularly material published since the early 1980s when these lists were published – to find those “many not listed” titles that best appeal to their sense of fantastic wonder that fuels their roleplaying game experiences.

I find this astonishing, really. I mean the most striking thing about the Appendix N books when I began my survey of them was the extent to which the authors on that list had lapsed into obscurity. No one was discussing them. There had been some investigation of them in the game blog scene, but nothing comprehensive. What conversation that was there had been had stalled years ago. Indeed, D&D bloggers that got a little too excited about the old books and their relationship to the genesis fantasy role-playing were liable to be accused of being part of the OSR-Taliban: pretentious pulp hipsters that were stifling innovation and telling people they were playing the game wrong.

Nowadays when I try to explain what Appendix N is to people outside of the gaming scene, I tell them it is a time capsule preserving a picture of what fantasy and science fiction fandom was like before Star Wars and Tolkien Pastiche flooded the market, displacing an unimaginably different set of assumptions on how genre fiction should even work. People told me I was crazy for thinking that I was rescuing the likes of Lord Dunsany from obscurity. They told me how much they enjoyed the stories back in the day, but how much more they wanted new fiction with new ideas. They told me they didn’t need to revisit Appendix N because they’d already read them and integrated them into their games back in the seventies.

So now what are they saying…? If Schweighofer is any indication, then they’re practically begging people to read something that isn’t on the Appendix N list. It’s like there are hordes of people discovering these old books for the first time and they’re so carried away with excitement that they have to be actively reined in by clear-sighted people with calmer heads. It’s as if pulp fantasy fans have en masse turned their backs on anything published after 1980, and guys like Peter suddenly have to appeal to their better judgement in order to get them to come back to the fold!

I gotta tell you: this really warms my heart!

Notice as well his comment on Le Guin’s Earthsea, which I have argued is rightly excluded from the Appendix N list. He admits it didn’t resonate with him, but he nevertheless holds it as “an example that readers should try new authors and genres much as we encourage kids to try new foods because ‘you might like it.'” I hate to say it, but if someone has only just started reading Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, and Leigh Brackett and they’re having a more fun reading fantasy and science fiction than they ever have before, you are not going to convince them to read something else just because they might like it. I mean… if you’re serious about this, you’re going to need something mind-blowingly awesome pitched with multiple superlatives.

Honestly, this whole “eat your vegetables” type argument isn’t going to change anyone’s reading habits. And the fact that people feel like they have to make this point at all is an indication just how much excitement there is currently building up around the Appendix N authors.

11 Comments
  • Daddy Warpig says:

    I’D encourage readers who find Appendix N works both exciting and inspiring to read more of the same works in the pulps. Modern fantasy since 1980 is well-trod ground, known to nearly all SF/F fans, whereas the era before Campbell is a dark and mysterious continent of fantastic-but-forgotten literature just waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation of eager explorers.

    • Alex says:

      I like to think of the pulps like compilation albums and doubles like split-EPs. You check them out for that one band you like, but start to get into the others you hadn’t heard of before. Except the quality of good to garbage is much higher in the pulps than in most music comps.

  • I’m all over the place as far as pub date, but I’m looking for good stuff of any time. Manly Wade Wellman, ERB, REH, are some great older stuff.

  • Jon M says:

    I don’t understand the concept of, “I read some of this stuff in high school and it was pretty good, but I stopped reading it because reasons. Now you don’t have to read it.”

    If it was good, why stop reading it? Why not revisit it 20 to 30 years later? And why would you discourage anyone from reading it for themselves?

    You don’t see that in any other field of literature. You don’t see people say, “Pfff, oh yea, I totes read Brothers Karamazov in high school, so there’s no point in reading Anna Karenina now. In fact, you shouldn’t read Karamazov now that Oprah has so many new books about people and relationships that you can read.”

    • Jeffro says:

      Culture is downstream of criticism. Heroic fiction is high value real estate. There are all kinds of shenanigans that go on that lure people into driving a stake through the soul of their own civilization. Twerps find it very difficult to kick these habits.

  • Hooc Ott says:

    The link to original “Berin Kinsman of Dancing Lights Press” Le Guin’s Earthsea piece has been 404ed.

    Honestly think it is a bit odd that he chose Earthsea and not Rocannon’s World. A work much closer to say ERB or Brackett in aesthetic and with the race descriptions in the work that read very similar to race or monster descriptions in AD&D; Terse and weird.

    I don’t know because the piece was 404ed but I suspect that Kinsman does not know the works listed in N and therefore does not know the aesthetic found among the works and instead just thought “Oh fantasy yeah I want my favorite lady writer to be in there” and just picked her fantasy work.

    • Jesse says:

      Nobody reads Rocannon’s World. It’s really too bad, because it’s part psychedelic New Wave pastiche and part True Le Guin, with neat constructed cultures and philosophical SF concepts sharing space with bat-people and telepathy.

      The entire Hainish trilogy is really good Appendix N-style stuff. Planet of Exile is the most standard of all of them, but actually deals with the issue of hybrids of human subspecies, something later D&D editions are so famously bad at. City of Illusion is, I’ve probably mentioned, my very favorite Le Guin. In just a few parts it’s part of its time, with the trip across postapoc North America, but its philosophy is the best Le Guin ever put on paper and its ending the most satisfying. The Prince of Kansas and his board game are a beautiful harmony of zeitgeist and Guin, and the Shing are some of SF’s greatest villains, even though they’re the only villains Le Guin claims to have written. I hope more people will read it.

      • Alex says:

        If you only read the first three Hainish novels and never read any Jack Vance, you might come away with the impression that LeGuin was some kind of great visionary SF writer or something. And yeah, City of Illusions was pretty good, and all of the other Hainish books suffered greatly from handwaving its setting more or less out of the continuity.

        CoI -> The Telling
        Catman wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes of North America -> 10,000 years later, boring lesbian from Vancouver goes to another planet to be boring.

        • Jesse says:

          The genius of Hainish isn’t the Vance-style settings, it’s the Vance-style settings with Taoism. Le Guin’s faith shines brightest in City of Illusion and Lathe of Heaven.

          The only non-trilogy Hainish book that was good was Dispossesssed and it was a prequel. I did not enjoy Left Hand of Darkness at all. It’s a classic eat your vegetables novel, but it’s leagues beyond crap like The Telling, and The Telling even has some small virtue e.g. it’s not Four Ways to Forgiveness.
          Werel being a planet of Taoist mindmasters -> Werel being a colonization metaphor that needs Educated by the Space U.N.

  • Andy says:

    The “shut up and eat your broccoli” angle on reading is pretty much why so many people don’t look to books of any type for entertainment anymore.

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