This is easily the harshest criticism I have ever received:
I like the concept of an Appendix N series….. Unfortunately, I don’t think what you’ve produced is the Appendix N series I would like to read. My main issue is that a lot of what you write is fairly lightweight, on both the fiction side and rpg side. For example, in your piece on Poul Andersen you make some interesting links from the religious elements through to Deities & Demigods, but seem quite unaware of how those religious elements played in D&D history.
Similarly, when you look at Lovecraft, you discuss his “cosmic horror” elements as follows “And did I mention that many of these beings are basically inscrutable space aliens”. I’m afraid you’re not adding much to the totality of Lovecraft scholarship with that one. There’s also something interesting to be said about how the RPG formed opinions of the fiction in some cases (adding to the Derlethian Heresy, for one thing), but you don’t go there.
To pick on something that’s actually in your Hugo-nominated year, your review of Nine Princes in Amber is more of a description, with some commentary about the 70s vibe of it, which would be more impressive if you’d ruminated on the fact that Zelazny wrote it in 67. You also spend a paragraph on a sideswipe at GoT for message fiction. (And the highly influential Amber RPG gets only a parenthesis, like this one).
Now, I know that there’s a pretty obvious objection to my critique here: that you weren’t writing a serious set of musings on fiction and rpgs. However, I’ve judged you on your own words: “I noticed that there is not really a serious, in depth survey of Appendix N literature, so I decided to do one…I figured it would give me plenty of time to delve into gaming and game design topics.” I’m afraid I don’t think you’ve succeeded on either the fiction front, or the rpg front.
I will get into Derleth in a few weeks. Also, I assumed that a decent chunk of my audience would be surprised that space aliens were fundamental to both Cthulhu Mythos and Conan… that those two properties are part of the same “universe”, and that science fiction, fantasy, and horror were not always as distinct from each other as we tend to think them today. If all of that is old hat to you, then I guess there’s not much I’m going to do for you.
The guy has a point, though: I am not a scholar. If you want “real” research, go read Jon Peterson’s “Playing at the World.” If you want “real” literary criticism, go read T. A. Shippey’s “Road to Middle Earth.” If you want “real” game design knowledge, go read Lewis Pulsipher’s book “Game Design”. Yes. I write supersized blog posts whose chief purpose is to inform and entertain on a subject that is now strangely obscure. No, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
My series is basically a set of meditations on classic science fiction and fantasy usually with a pivot to a gaming topic. Is it “serious”? Well why wouldn’t it be? There is no other Appendix N survey in existence that goes into this depth. James Maliszewski could have written a great one, but he chose to do other projects instead… and then basically dropped out. John C. Wright could probably write one in a few weeks where I would struggle to do do it in a year and a half. But that’s the difference between a professional writer and an ordinary fan like myself.
Yes, I could go deeper. I am at the point where I have questions that would require me to do “real” research and/or read every single thing by a given author. I would like to read the full Amber series, get a copy of Amber Diceless and run it for a few months and then write about Zelazny. I would like to go to Brown University and read all of Lovecraft’s letters that they have there. I would not be writing at all if I stopped to do this. But at some point I have make a judgement call for what I’m going to address when I’m doing a set of forty-two retrospectives that come in at approximately two thousand words each. There are real constraints here and I don’t think it’s all that obvious how best to work within them. (But yeah… if you are “seriously” expecting unpaid fan writing to compete with the best Lovecraft scholarship, then you’re going to be disappointed.)
My series is relatively personal and it is more about the sort of gobsmacking “aha” experience that a child of the eighties gets when he looks at all of these authors in rapid succession. I doubt I impress too many old timers with my level of knowledge of the literature, but some of them seem to enjoy seeing me “discover” things that they have known and loved for a long time. And while many people do not agree with me on either science fiction or gaming, all kinds of people from all over the political spectrum are getting excited about classic authors that would otherwise be forgotten or overlooked. That to me is the important thing.
Okay, I gotta say. It takes a lot of nerve to go over to File770 and say I’m willing to answer anything they want to ask. It seems crazy. I mean, my gut feeling on that was that it would be sort of like attempting to have a rational discussion in the middle of a food fight.
But to be fair to those folks, there are more than a couple of people over there that notice the effort. Like Meredith, for instance:
When I read through the samples in the voters packet your enthusiasm was palpable….
Kudos for Jeffro for being here, being civil, and being interesting!
Props to @Jeffro for coming here to discuss.
I must say, I reckon that I disagree with Jeffro Johnson on eleventy-million things (including slate voting) but I have respect for his choice of what to include in his Hugo packet submission, his reasonable tone/attitude in comments here and in responding to Lis Carey’s review.
And Chris Hensley:
While not the approach I would take, I do appreciate the Appendix N series. It is quintessential fan writing, and what it lacks in depth it makes up for in sheer ambition.
Wait, what?! Stop the presses! Did that just happen?! I mean seriously… that kind of endorsement coming from the hive of scum and villainy. Woah!
So maybe we can all get along. Or at least realize that there are human beings on the other side of those avatars.