P. Alexander on Why Appendix N Started a Literary Movement

Wednesday , 18, January 2017 3 Comments

When Jeffro asked if I could help explain why his series on Appendix N helped to start a literary movement and how it played into my becoming a retro-pulp editor and starting Cirsova Publishing, I’d warned it might sound a bit hippie-dippie. “A harmonious convergence of galactic coincidence,” I’d called it. There were so many factors coming into play and so many things going on, from Gamergate to the Sad Puppies to assorted happenstance in my own life, during that wild period from June 2014 until November 2015, when Jeffro was posting his Retrospective series one book a week.

People in the gaming blogosphere had talked about Appendix N works before, but it’s hard to say how substantial their impact was outside of gaming and the OSR community. Many of those (Jeffro included) looking into Appendix N works would be pooh-poohed as part of an “endless idiotic quest to find the UR-D&D” by others in gaming. While bloggers would sometimes discover an in-fiction example of why this or that mechanic worked a certain way, with the exception of Tor’s frequently dismissive “Advanced Readings in D&D” series, there had not ever been this kind of comprehensive survey done of the works on the list. This was different, and while it took time for the ripples to be felt, those ripples would be far-reaching and consequential.

The biggest difference between Jeffro’s series and other posts and commentary on Appendix N was the sustained level of excitement. Week after week, it was like a new Christmas present had been opened. For me, one of the big things Jeffro’s series did was highlight some names to keep on the look-out for; there was a stretch where I’d snatch up any books I saw by authors he’d talked about. Those little excerpts, particularly from Vance and Brackett, had me ready to get as excited about this stuff as Jeffro. Once I’d read them, I thought “Why did I never know about this? How can this be so good? Why isn’t everyone talking about it RIGHT NOW?”

While the argument was going on about whether or not Appendix N was ‘just Gary’s List’, if it was worthwhile to even discuss them, much less pinpoint literary antecedents for this or that mechanic, with some proclaiming ‘why no, no one has forgotten these crusty and backwards authors; I have their books right there on my shelf!’, people who’d not read these works before were reading them and being blown away. I know, because I was one of them.

In early 2015, I’d started buying up a lot of old sci-fi and fantasy stuff using Appendix N as a bit of a buyer’s guide—if I saw a book by one of the authors on there, I’d grab it and add it to my reading pile. I had also found a handful of issues of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the mid-70s which had inspired me to start a series reviewing short fiction. While the first F&SF issue had impressed me, the others, filled with boring stories and Joanna Russ whining about privilege, were rather a let-down. However, I had soon thereafter stumbled across a booth at a flea market filled with old mags from the 40s and 50s. With the likes of Brackett, Vance, Anderson, and Fox gracing their covers, I knew I’d found the real deal, and I had to snatch them all up.

The stories I found in them were absolutely ripping; ten page tales that put Star Wars to shame, not to mention the latter-day Ursula K. Le Guin I’d recently slogged through shortly before. That infectious excitement and desire to proselytize that Jeffro exuded in his Appendix N series was what I was feeling for both the recognizable names from Appendix N and those in the pulps that I’d never heard of and you’ll still rarely hear mentioned outside of the Castalia House blog. I was in love with this brand of fiction, and surely someone must still be writing it!

While I’d been disappointed with some of the recent science fiction short stories I’d read, I was not particularly impressed with some of those that had been offered up as alternatives. Not content to merely complain about the state of mainstream short SFF, I decided to do something about it. I put out a call for old-school heroic fantasy and Raygun Romance in the vein of the old pulps and offered to pay semi-pro rates for them. I figured the best way to get more of the kind of stories I wanted to read was to give authors incentive to write them.

At the time I’m writing this, we’ve put out three issues of Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine with a fourth on the way, having gained a number of accolades from critics, including in Black Gate Magazine. Of all of them, my personal favorite is “Cirsova is a vindication of Jeffro’s work.”

  • Santa says:

    Will this book be made available in print form?

  • Jill says:

    It has definitely revived my interest in reading fiction. I just wasn’t reading it anymore.

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