SUPERVERSIVE: Thought Police, Social Media and the Hugos

Monday , 22, February 2016 7 Comments

If you didn’t catch the Superversive livestream this weekend, you missed some of the most substantial discussion on Appendix N I’ve yet seen. The whole thing is good, but the part I’ll be responding to here begins at 1:53:33 when L. Jagi Lamlighter reins everybody in.

Briefly, I do want to address the whole picaresque thing again here. That’s a really neat word and it’s unfamiliar to a lot of people now… but it was not unfamiliar to Jack Vance. He knew full well he was writing one with The Eyes of the Overlord because he said as much when he introduced an excerpt from that book in one of his short story collections. I’ve said before, but James Maliszewski is the person that should get credit for bringing this type of literature into the discussion and relating it to the way that D&D was actually designed and how it contrasts with what it ended up turning into.

The thing that’s really neat thing about this video is [the artist formerly known as Daddy Warpig]’s point about contemporary understandings of genre being a function of volume more than anything else. (This is amplified and developed by both L. Jagi Lamplighter and John C. Wright, so be sure to listen.) You know I asked Ken St. Andre about this and wasn’t entirely satisfied by his answer that Appendix N’s obscurity “comes down to “TOO MUCH GOOD STUFF,” but that is exactly the root of all this. Appendix N is consistently surprising because the divorce between fantasy, horror, and science fiction did not exist until about 1977… and people that haven’t real the old stuff can’t even begin to imagine how things were actually done before that. And yes, Star Wars and The Sword of Shannara have a lot to do with all this, too.

I’ve gotta say: hearing this is like having a dozen puzzle pieces come together all at once. Way more than just five people are listening into this show, but if you aren’t already following the Superversive crew on YouTube, you really out to catch up!

  • Great post. By the way, it’s “reins” everyone in. Like a horse.

    “…the divorce between fantasy, horror, and science fiction did not exist until about 1977.” I have to disagree with that. I happened to watch Bakshi’s “Wizards” within a week or two of seeing “Star Wars” and my friends and I vociferously debated whether the former was science fiction or fantasy, which at the time for us mostly meant sword and sorcery. We were all wargamers and became RPGers, and we were quite aware of the difference in our own minds between wargames like White Bear, Red Moon (which became Dragon Pass) and Ogre/GEV. Even if we couldn’t define it, we knew it when we saw it. I think it came down to tech or magic, and when someone combined the two (Doomfarers of Coramonde comes to mind) it seemed remarkable and unusual.

    So we were quite clear on the genre differences even in our teens in the 70s.

    • cirsova says:

      I’d say Wizards was sci-fi, as it took place on a post apocalyptic earth and looked at the resurgence of Nazism in a fantastical far-future setting. Star Wars is fantasy, because it takes place not only in the distant past but wholly divorced from the historical human experience or its context.

    • Jeffro says:

      Thanks; fixed.

      As long as Edgar Rice Burroughs was a more influential figure than Tolkien, the dividing line between science fiction and fantasy was significantly blurred. Tolkien did not define fantasy until the incredible success of Sword of Shannara. Before that point, things were much more fluid.

      Yes there were people before 1980 that decided that Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein wrote “real” science fiction and that all the rest was inferior somehow. But those people were not yet representative of fandom in general.

      • Luke says:

        Not quite true. Tolkien was the brightest star in the fantasy sky before Terry Brooks wrote his first book.

        I think the key thing to note is that The Silmarillion and The Sword of Shannara were both published in 1977. Those of us who were coming of age about that time were a lot more blown away by the intricate layers of myth underlaying the by-then familiar stories than we were Brooks’ riffs on the theme.
        That was the time when Tolkien eclipsed much of what had gone before, but I think it’s terribly unfair to blame it on Brooks.

        • Jeffro says:

          Tolkien was a late bloomer. He only began to gain star power in the late sixties, eclipsing Lord Dunsany around 1970 or so. Edgar Rice Burroughs was bigger than both of them.

          Tolkien did not “own” fantasy as D&D was coming together. He did not command imaginations the way he does now. Brooks showed the formula for the new style of fantasy that would flood the market in the eighties. Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms would not have happened without him.

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