Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Injustice Book Review: Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson

Cower not, fierce reader! Today we cover a tome of rediscovery. As most of my readers likely know, Jeffro engaged himself with a quest to read through the Appendix N list in the original Dungeons and Dragon DM Guide. His original posts at Castalia House were good, and he garnered  a Hugo Nomination for Best Related Work for his efforts.  This book is hard to review, as it's so closely tied to its material, so I'll drift a bit in my points.

First, let me start by saying this was in many ways a HUGE project. Even reading close to the minimum for the project, he still covered 43 essays, with a focus on tabletop rpg content. What he found was, in many ways, startling to most of us not reading SFF before the purges of the 70's and 80's.

The essays have been edited some, though there are remnants of the origins as blogposts here and there, mostly in the occasional endote(per essay, thankfully). They have definitely improved by this time and care, as the passion has been more measured here. I do remember reading some of the original posts and thinking "this guy's too excited", and I still sometimes get that feeling reading his twitter feed, or hearing him on a podcast. I don't fault the man's passion, but for a broader audience I'd recommend it measured out a bit, as the topic nears esoteric for most people reading SFF.

Of course the main crime this book commits is to give even a chance to literature that has been read out of SFF culture, never mind finding it to be mostly better than most of the books out now. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft have never been removed completely by the SocJus forces in publishing, and the reason is the enduring appeal of these books. And from what I've read of Wellman, Anderson, and others of the Appendix, it applies to the rest of them as well.

Why didn't they endure as well, but instead have been consigned to bursts of popularity each time a group discovers these authors? There are various reasons that come to mind. Inventory tax laws are a big one, as they disincentivized keeping backstock and a growing catalog of authors.  As reviewers and news organs focus on the new, publicity almost demanded that publishers continue to push new books. (Yeah, I'm not to political moves yet.) These other authors largely didn't see their works adapted across multiple mediums, to the diminshing of popular imaginations that read less, but view plenty. And of course, there's the political motivations: we can only be progressing if our forebears were less enlightened than we are, so they have to pretty much disappear.

The list strikes great blows against the narrative. Many of these authors are slandered as misogynistic, and racist, though the reality is that most of them merely acknowledged the differences. Of course, they also don't want the public to know that there was a time when most SFF authors at least understood the Christian worldview, and appreciated the society that it created. Instead, the modern publisher wishes to openly engage in war with Christianity, and celebrates the undermining of society at every step.

From my readings, the greatest blow this book delivers is to the separation of the genres of science fiction and fantasy. It also puts the lie to much of what is considered "Hard SF".  During the era of the Pulps, there was no division, nor was there seen to be a need for such.  The fact is, that most of the science of ANY era will be outdated at some point. Acknowledge that, and the marketing, like most marketing, is easily visible as false.

Oops. Got somewhat off topic. Jeffro does excellent work of pointing out the elements that are usable for RPGs in these games, especially the ones that have been more integrated into the games. The fact that the original D&D set was not just for fantasy games, but also sff, and borrowing from anything you wanted was the original expectation of the authors. Limited magic, post apocalyptic wastelands, multiverses, gigantic fortresses or towers, thieves' guilds, cults bringing the inexplicable, things Man Was Not Meant to Know, and more all were the expectation for early RPG gaming. This broader view of game material and setting and the constant blurring of SFF were my biggest takeaways from Jeffro's writing.

All in all, this is also an excellent starting point if you wish to begin exploring the old material. Nobody is likely to enjoy all the authors covered, but many are even available from free to cheap for Kindle(can't speak to other formats right now).  9 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

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