When I was completing my Appendix N series back at the tail end of 2015, let me tell you… it felt like I was just about the only one. Not that I was the first, by any stretch. Ron Edwards and James Maliszewski had trod the same path before me. But the thing is… I couldn’t square how obvious my observations were next to the fact that nobody in the book scene seemed be saying anything remotely in the same vein. It was baffling, really. Sometimes it seemed like there was really only one or two people that even “got” what I was trying to do.
It’s ironic given how I much I’ve written about mass media’s conquest of the imagination, but really… I couldn’t imagine that changing. I should have known better. Working out the actual history of science fiction and fantasy was like putting a puzzle together with no box lid, no edge pieces, and several pieces on the table from entirely different pieces. It took a while. And when it finally started to come together, something happened. There was (and I’m not exaggerating) a kind of sea change in the book discussion scene.
All of it’s documented right here on the Castalia House blog in my Sensor Sweep link roundups. What’s going on exactly…? Well, if you are into classic Dungeons & Dragons you might recognize it as being similar to the Old School Revival that swept over the role-playing game bloggers several years ago. (Cirsova is an obvious counterpart to, say, Fight On! and Knockspell, for instance.) Beyond that, it’s becoming increasingly clear that people that are exposed to the science fiction and fantasy canon don’t just want to talk about it. They want to create!
What does this mean for readers…? It means that awesome things are on the way! If you want a preview, then check out the fifteen book bloggers that I’ve singled out as the best of 2016.
15. Hooc Ott — Ah, the number of times that I’ve been told that Appendix N was just a list of books that Gygax liked. No it wasn’t. Zelazny’s Amber stories thoroughly infuse an iconic adventure module for the classic expert set. And Edgar Rice Burroughs was not just a primary influence on the formation of D&D. He was an essential inspiration to Conan in particular and thus swords and sorcery in general. The only people are still in denial about just exactly Appendix N is at this point are the ones that have blocked Hooc Ott on Twitter.
14. James Cambias of Just the Caffeine Talking — If you don’t know who James Cambias is, well… I’ll hazard a guess that you were never into space themed role-playing games. He wrote or co-wrote a lot of the big ones. He also writes a blog that has more than its fair share of references to classic games and old school science fiction and fantasy. His Nostalgie Du Geek is a must-read series in my book, as are his posts on Game Mechanics. (If you don’t have strong opinions about that last one, then you aren’t a gamer.) He dips into movies on occasion as well, but the post of his this year that got the biggest reaction from me was The Worst Science Fiction Writer Ever which completely destroyed one of my favorite characters of all time.
13. John C. Wright — Jon Mollison nailed it when he tweeted the other day: “I’m starting to think John C. Wright is the spider at the center of an all-encompassing web.” I thought that was hyperbole until I went back through his posts for the year. If you look past the rants on the usual geek culture meltdowns, the political posts, and the analysis of “Morlock” thinking… you really can see Wright was endorsing key players in the scene well before any of this became a “thing.” For a straight ahead book blog post, see this write-up on Lord Dunsany’s “Our Distant Cousins”. For Catwoman pictures, see here.
12. Nathan Housely of Pulp Archivist and Puppy of the Month Club — One big reason I thought the Appendix N series was worth doing as I worked through it was because the pulps were really nothing like what I was told they would be. Nathan is picking up that strain of thought and delving deeper into the specifics of that than I ever dreamed anyone could go. If I’m more of a big picture guy, then he’s definitely more about nuts and bolts. Posts like Lester Dent’s Pulp Master Formula, The Hydra Club, and Michael Moorcock’s Three Day Novel really capture this aspect of his thinking. When he does circle back to the big picture — like he does with posts like The Narrative on Tolkein— I just get blown away. Nobody writes like that.
11. J. D. Cowan of Wasteland and Sky — You know, I didn’t really notice it while I was reading his reviews this year… but this blogger seems to have known what the Pulp Revolution was going to be before I even knew it was a thing. He’s got reviews of Nethereal and Souldancer, the first issue of Cirsova, Honor At Stake, The Worm Ouroboros, Cirsova 2, and Cirsova 3. Check it out!
10. Kevin Winkless of Actually… — Kevin has delved into A. Merritt, the ubiquitous incomprehension of pre-Campbellian science fiction, Henry Kuttner, what skills have been lost in the post-pulp era, just how far back the hard vs. soft science fiction debate goes, Jack Vance, the nature of the pulp aesthetic, and what can be learned from an old Leigh Brackett story. This really is a tremendous amount of analysis and I really can’t think of anywhere you can go to consistently get this level of depth and breadth of discussion.
9. Ron Edwards of Dr. Xaos Comics Madness — Honestly, I really do think this is one of the most influential and least credited people on the internet. And more than that, there are whole lot of people doing something that seems totally brand new but which this guy has already done. His blog is ostensibly about comics; I would tend to characterize it more as being about culture. There’s nothing really like it anywhere else, either. He’s covered The New Universe, the DC Heroes rpg, the Teen Titans, Watchmen, and Creepy this year. If you only read one post, I recommend At corporate, they just sell paper. Here’s a snippet which I can’t help but pull out here:
I’m not idealizing – those weren’t days of high-minded idealism and artistic integrity, but rather the days of hustle to get to the movies and toys, merely before the latter exerted their larger pressure to start affecting the colored-paper’s content, leaving a whole lot of opportunity for funky creation from people who – as far as I can tell – simply couldn’t help doing it. Those days are not only over, they are expunged. Vanished into the memory hole. Un-history.
There’s quite a bit of that going around. And explaining to people in a way that can even make sense to them is danged hard. Ron Edwards makes it look easy.
8. The Frisky Pagan — This is another one of the guys behind the Puppy of the Month Book Club. On his personal blog you can find one of the best explanations for how hit points in gaming work the way they do because of the pulp literature that inspired tabletop role-playing. The fact is, a lot of people know what Gygax said on the matter and they still don’t get it. And this takedown of an anti-nerd rant is one of the funniest things I’ve read this year. Finally, this piece on Schuyler Hernstrom’s stories is some really solid criticism. This is someone to keep an eye on!
7. Rawle Nyanzi — I pretty well missed the seventies, so the old science fiction and fantasy canon isn’t really something that engenders nostalgia in me. Still, most of the game bloggers discussing old books with the past several years have been gen Xers and older. Given that Rawle is the first millenial that I’ve seen that has really delved into this topic, I was really keen on seeing his take on things. He doesn’t disappoint! Read the whole series.
6. PC Bushi — You know, some bloggers really hustle to “get there firstest with the mostest” whatever the topic is. Others contribute to the buzz surrounding what everyone else is doing. Bushi is the latter type of blogger and let me tell you… this sort of thing has a side effect of ratcheting up the amount of discussion that goes on whether its in comment boxes, Twitter, Google Plus, or whatever. This in turn builds everyone’s commentariat. It’s awesome. It’s like crack cocaine for bloggers, too– everyone starts posting and interacting more, creating a veritable movement out of a handful of columnists! I don’t think the value of this sort of thing should be underestimated.
PC Bushi has weighed in on The High Crusade, Jack Vance’s Star King, Andrew Lang, the rise of the Pulp Hipster™ , Love and Family in Storytelling, Three Hearts and Three Lions, The Dragon and the George, Nine Princes in Amber, Secret of Kells, Strong Female Characters, Frankenstein, Cirsova magazine, and Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker. Looking over this blog, it really does capture what people were talking about this year. And if you don’t know about The Great List, you gotta go check that out!
5. Suzannah Rowntree of Vintage Novels — There are a great many things that I’ve struggled to convey to people and the reaction that I’ve gotten for my efforts has been fairly vexing at times. So I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to read someone who can tackle things I care about much more effectively than I ever could. Things like the connection between Appendix N writers like Andre Norton and the “real” fantasy canon, why The High Crusade is awesome, what Leigh Brackett really brought to the heroic fantasy table, the downright nasty things that were done to the Tarzan ouevre this year, and the Christian themes of Lord of the Rings that have been so butchered at the cinema. This really is some of the best book blogging on the internet.
4. Christopher Kubasik of Tales to Astound — The biggest story to break this year in science fiction is the astounding nature of Traveller’s pulp roots– which incidentally connects the usual Appendix N suspects to everybody’s favorite space rpg, establishes Jerry Pournelle’s place among them, and illustrates Castalia House’s connection to both the science fiction canon and the first wave of role-playing game designers. Nobody has done more to delve into this topic than Christopher Kubasik. It is mind blowing and it will transform the way you read and implement those iconic Little Black Books of the classic Traveller line.
3. Fletcher Vredenburgh of Stuff I Like and Black Gate — You know, I don’t think anyone on this list has read as much or loves books as much as Fletcher Vrendenberg. It’s the absence of that quality more than anything else that motivated me to begin writing book reviews regularly back in 2014– and I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to finally come across someone that embodies that better than I can imagine anyone doing. The one topic that I never addressed that most deserved to be addressed in my Appendix N series is the question of just what exactly Clark Ashton Smith brings to the table. If you only read one post from him this year, I’d suggest the one where did just that.
2. H. P. of Every Day Should Be Tuesday — H. P.’s Throwback Thursday series has been a consistently good read. If you want a second opinion on a whole host of issues I flushed out during my Appendix N survey, this is your man! (Even better for some, you can get it without a lot of digressions into game design and topics related to rpg history– something a lot of people have asked me for in the past couple of years!) Read H. P. and you can find out how Ursula Le Guin stacks up against C. L. Moore, whether or not Mary Shelly really did write the first science fiction novel, why Schuyler Hernstrom is the fan favorite of the Pulp Revolution set, and whether or not Jack Vance really is as good as the D&D junkies say he is. This is a top notch column that accessible to a broad audience of readers.
This dude just comes out of nowhere, hey, I see there is a literary movement being born. Watch while I mount this t-rex and ride it to victory. Seriously. It’s freaking awesome. Every time I read his posts like this it’s like pyro is going off and his drum kit is spinning like Tommy Lee’s. Dude’s charting the course. If I had panties I would be throwing them on stage.
This is spot on. He’s energetic. He’s got verve. He’s got a sense of what matters and why and he can break it down in such a way as to be both comprehensible and interesting. Just as one example, here he is weighing in on the perennial boring elves discussion– and raising the bar on what passes for great book blogging in the process. Yes, he is redefining what it means to be a “Puppy” with a potent synthesis of ideas drawn from all of the various factions. He really is charting the course.