My latest Appendix N post is up:
RETROSPECTIVE: Star Man’s Son by Andre Norton
Last year I made the point that Edgar Rice Burroughs was a major influence on the creation of Superman, D&D, and Star Wars. He’s just huge. And it’s weird that people don’t seem familiar with him. I don’t see a lot of people pointing that stuff out.
Well… in a similar vein, it looks to me as if the progenitor of the whole nuclear holocaust post-apocalyptic mutant adventure genre– ie, the thing that became Gamma World– was pretty much invented by a woman. All y’all that are beating the drum to promote women authors and women’s contributions to science fiction and fantasy? Please spread the word on this one, because it’s awesome.
(And if anyone knows of an earlier work that fits the bill, please clue me in on that. I think this is the one, though!)
Here are some additional tidbits on this from around the web.
Pulp Fantasy Library (Grognardia) — “The story — an outcast on a quest to prove his worth, both to others and to himself — is an old one, but it’s one with which most people, espcially young men, can empathize. Add to that the terror and mystery of a world destroyed by man’s own folly and you have the recipe for a classic adventure tale. If you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend you do so, if only to see the wellspring of what would eventually become science fantasy clichés. But Andre Norton wrote these things first and, in my opinion, best and deserves to be given her due.”
Gamma World, Cover to Cover (Grognardia) — “Gamma World is a flight of fancy; it’s not a scientific speculation into what the world after the Bomb might be like. Rather, it’s using the collapse of human civilization as an occasion to imagine a purely fantastical world of adventure. The funny thing is that, back in the day, this wasn’t a point that needed to be explained to anyone, because, frankly, most of us didn’t care about ‘realism’ — we just wanted to blast mutants as we explored the ruins of DC. I’m not sure exactly when things changed and gamers began to need detailed explanations of what a RPG was about and how the game mechanically supported its “themes,” but, at some point, it happened and games like Gamma World were among the hobby’s casualties.”
150 Years is a LONG Time (Grognardia) — “Of course, the real reason so many post-apocalyptic settings, including those in RPGs, don’t pay much heed to the effects of time and tide on the works of Man is that a big part of the appeal of these games are their references to contemporary people, places, and events. Moreso than most science fiction, post-apocalyptic tales are ready-made to comment on the present, particularly its foibles and vices. To present a post-apocalyptic world where one’s character is not only ignorant of the past — our world — but likely to see very little evidence of its existence takes some of the fun out of the genre for a lot of people.”
James Nicoll Reviews — “I would not be surprised to learn that Norton, along with so many others, was influenced by Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 classic short story, ‘By the Waters of Babylon.’ To Benét’s hauntingly prescient depiction of post-apocalyptic collapse, Norton adds a healthy dollop of post-atomic anxiety, as well as many of the themes and tropes one learns to expect in later Norton novels. Fors’ world isn’t just smashed flat and depopulated; it has been bathed in mutagenic radiation. As Fors points out, it is not at all clear that the Old Ones responsible for the Great Blow-up and modern humans are the same people any more. Perhaps all people are mutants.”
Not The Baseball Pitcher — “Some believe it was the first fiction to deal with a post-nuclear holocaust world, but there is no reliable evidence to prove that.”