Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

WHY YOU NO HAVE APPENDIX N?!

I woke up to find this in my Twitter feed this morning:

What a list, huh?

It has Marry Shelly’s Frankenstein, of course… but then it skips over all the great pulp writers as if they don’t rate at all. You can maybe forgive them for missing Margaret St. Clair, but… wow. No Norton? No Brackett? Seriously?!

To add insult to injury here, I can’t help but notice that the list includes the book that features this noteworthy passage:

He patted the thing he wore on his belt, a metal object like a deformed penis, and looked patronizingly at the unarmed woman. She gave the phallic object, which she knew was a weapon, a cold glance.

Really, though, what’s going on with this?

Is it purely political? Is it evidence of the Appendix N Generation Gap? You know, I’ve been slammed for acting like I’m rescuing these authors from obscurity. Well… are they genuinely obscure at this point? Or are they being intentionally excluded from the media because they are inconvenient to the narrative?

Either answer would suit me just fine, to tell you the truth.

I suppose you’ll just dismiss this as an irrelevant clickbait article or something. Hey, that’s great. So show me the people that actually get this stuff right. I mean… besides that ones writing for Cirsova now.

“An Exhaustive Survey of Golden Age SF as It Relates to Gaming”

Well, somebody had to be first… and in this case it’s Lela E. Buis:

Johnson discusses classic SF writers’ work and how these have influenced games and gaming. He includes interviews, and a chapter on “Adventure Romance in 1934, 1946, 1978, 1988, and 2014.” He challenges assertions that this literature has failed to stand up and should be replaced on the reading shelf by more modern works. His thesis is in support of reading Golden Age adventure SF, not only as the basis for current work, but also because of its intrinsic quality. In support of this, he provides sales rankings for pioneers like Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein and Clarke, compared to highly popular current authors.

This is well written, well organized, well supported with examples and includes an exhaustive survey of Golden Age SF as it relates to gaming. The topic may be of limited interest to people outside the gaming community, but it’s a worthwhile read for the SF history. Four stars.

Would somebody really be crazy enough to dismiss the sff canon? Hey, they’re legion… and they’re really loud, too. The media doesn’t help, either, as it amplifies those types of voices tremendously. But the classics hold up. Half the fun in reading them– being late to the party and all– is the shock-value when you realize just how good some of these authors are.

Never mind who should be added to the Appendix N list. The question is… who were the real “Big Three”?!

That’s My Reporting

So there’s this great video by QuQu on The Decline of Science Fiction Literature. He pulls together a lot of trends in order to shed light on just what is going on. Readers of this blog will be interested to see that in order to break the back of the reigning narrative he relies on analysis, research, and stories that appeared right here and nowhere else.

It starts at about the 16:40 mark:

Leigh Brackett already showed during an interview back in 1976 that there never really was any pushback against women writing science fiction. She said the only time she got any complaints was early on in her career when her writing wasn’t as good.

This is a point that I hammered in They Really Are Incapable of Getting Leigh Brackett Right.

Continuing on:

And this isn’t some no-named author who only got a couple of stories published. This is Leigh Brackett, one of the co-writers of the best Star Wars film ever made. And no, her early draft of the script was not discarded like many bloggers would have you believe. Her script has been available online for over half a decade now, so anyone can easily compare it with the finished work.

This is something that I explored in-depth in posts like Scenes from Leigh Brackett’s Star Wars Script That Weren’t “Discarded” and Why Critics Get Leigh Brackett Wrong.

And oh, and the real irony is that the feminist reporters that were running with this “discarded script” narrative were relying on lies perpetuated by George Lucas in order to create a cult of personality around himself at the expense of women that contributed to his success. You’d think that would be something that feminists would be concerned about, but the truth in this case is incredibly damaging to their narrative, as QuQu ascertained.

At any rate, if my work here is useful to you, by all means… please cite me as a source. Russell Newquist recently pointed out that this has fallen out of fashion somehow, but I’d like to see it make a comeback.

 

Science Fiction’s Invasion

The mail bag is overflowing, so I’m going to do two responses in one here.

First up is member of the far (former anarchist) left Justinian Herzog, who graciously allows that I write well and that I’m a good critic. (In all honesty I do thank him for saying that.) However, he thinks I’m wasting my time in calling out the sort of people today that are unable to read anything from before 1980. He calls my cultural critic type posts “meta-criticism” and says I’m wasting my time delving into it.

Of course, he is talking to a game blogger here– the sort that spends countless hours arguing over the relative merits of Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer and whether or not Unearthed Arcana ruined AD&D. Telling guys like me that we’re wasting our time is kind of funny, really.

So why do I bother? Well look, I’m just trying to follow in the footsteps of my childhood hero John Robbins by making people excited to read classic science fiction and fantasy. These people that work overtime shouting about how “problematic” that stuff is are a natural enemy of sorts. And yes, even people that dislike those people get irritated that I spend time explaining something that should be self-evident. I mean, these people are clearly nuts, right…?

Meanwhile, a commenter (name of Robert) has been describing how The Science Fiction Book: An Illustrated History (1974), The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1977), and The Encylcopedia of Science Fiction (1978) treat the Appendix N authors. They were quite rightly revered and were synonymous with the field.

Today’s science fiction encyclopedias? They make my blood boil. Consider this:

Even though, by any absolute literary standard, Merritt’s prose was verbose and sentimental, and his repeated romantic image of the beautiful evil priestess was trivial – deriving as it did from a common Victorian image of womanhood (women being either virgins or devils) and from H Rider Haggard’s She – the escapist yearning for otherness and mystery that he expressed has seldom been conveyed in sf with such an emotional charge, nor with such underlying pessimism, for his tales seldom permit a successful transit from this world.

How patronizing.

You know, some people want to understand the origin of a thing in order better appreciate it. Others…? It’s as if invoking the historical context and a bit of Freudianism gives them the means to disqualify their betters. It sounds smart, sure. But it’s shallow. And seriously, it’s not as if this generation is actually in need of a catalog of even more reasons to dismiss people that were writing nearly a century ago. I think we have this smug thing well in hand.

I’ll tell you what this is like, though. You remember that time that Ann Coulter said “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”? (I don’t even remember the context anymore, just the outrage.) I think that something like that has happened to us. Oh, it’s a different religion to be, sure– and they didn’t use guns and bombs. They have a penchant for waiting until our leaders are dead before they really go after them, sure.

But it was an invasion all the same.

A Few Thoughts on Mark Kern’s Space RPG Idea

Mark Kern has been looking for rpg help up on twitter. You can see it here, here, and here… or just read this summation:

Okay, so some of you know I’m doing a tableptop Space Opera RPG. I don’t know the lay of the land in RPG social media. Who to follow…? I’m trying to build an audience of tabletop fans my new space operat RPG. Mine has a big focus on space-craft adventures and battles…with 3D printable minis

Okay, he didn’t really ask my two cents on this. But this sounds a lot like the way we played Car Wars as an rpg… and a lot like how we wanted to play BattleTech.

Just some random observations after countless hours of play:

  • You can take a six hour miniatures battle and prepend a role-playing segment that allows the players to gain intelligence, acquire allies, or influence where, when, and how the big show down will be kicked off. A lot of Car Wars scenarios assumed people would do that. At the end you’d (theoretically) do a bookkeeping phase, retrofit vehicles, collect reward money… and then go on to another big scenario and do it again.
  • This isn’t what people think of as role-playing, but I think it’s valid. If you can get a combat game that plays thrilling scenarios in less than two hours… and then solve the campaign system in such a way that the resulting scenarios are both interesting and take a load of the referee having to plan everything… then I think you have something.
  • Even better (in my mind) would be the chain or web of encounters… some of which can be skipped, some of which players can talk their way out of, some of which can provide information or side-quests. If you can combine several role-playing type encounters with some brief combat situations and maybe one or two epic battles in one session, then you’d got something.
  • GURPS Autoduel really tried to push game masters to get the characters out of their cars. I never knew of anyone that wanted to, really. All the stuff engineered for that line really didn’t see a lot of use. And the existence of that line bled out all the role-playing material out of the rest of the Car Wars line. BEWARE OF THIS FOLLY!
  • It’s perfectly fair to make a game where your vehicle is (in effect) the character. In Car Wars this results in a very different feel to the advancement. You might start out in a cheapo Stinger… graduate to a Joseph Special… salvage some kills and pimp your ride with the stuff people were just using to try to kill you with… and then barely survive a crash and burn, leaving you scraping up what dough you can to maybe get a subcompact or a cycle. THIS IS STUPIDLY FUN.
  • Translating all of this into cool stunt fighters or small spaceships… yeah. Going into startown or whatever in each port… there you go, the players are out of their rides. People have a hard time running the wide open sandbox that, say, Traveller was meant to be. If you can solve this problem– take a load of the game master and work out a campaign format that can practically run itself, again… I think you’ve got something. Computer games have tended to be better at this– because they have to be! (I’m thinking of Elite for example.)
  • For the tabletop you want to be able to leverage the human referee… but you need to watch for where you introduce friction into what he’s doing. Whole swaths of Traveller are used more to interpolate the nature of the Third Imperium than they are to run games. That’s a design failure.

Now, I’m probably crazy. I wouldn’t try to take all of my advice at once. Hopefully something here will inspire you to take something in a completely different direction or else save you from running up against a well known problem.

Besides, if you don’t make this game, I might want to do it myself!

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