Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Withering Criticism for me Compliments of “Mark” from File770

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….

Or Stevie:

Kudos for Jeffro for being here, being civil, and being interesting!

And Will:

Props to @Jeffro for coming here to discuss.

And brightglance:

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! 

Mind. Blown.

So maybe we can all get along. Or at least realize that there are human beings on the other side of those avatars.

28 responses to “Withering Criticism for me Compliments of “Mark” from File770

  1. Cirsova June 5, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Jeffro Johnson: Not the Hero Worldcon Deserves… but the Hero Worldcon Needs.

  2. dgarsys June 5, 2015 at 9:06 am

    well said, Cirsova

  3. twilaprice June 5, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Hi! I saw your conversation over at File 770 and came over to say “hey!” Because I read your appreciation of A. Merritt’s “Dwellers in the Mirage” and had to go yay! Because I have a tattered paperback copy with the exact cover you showed on your post, and I have read that thing to DEATH, since I bought it as a new book way back when that reprint was first published. I agree that no one writes like that anymore, and it’s too bad, because that book, that book, is awesome.

    (Obligatory gaming note: I started playing D&D back in 1974, when a new friend of mine at college saw me reading an Michael Moorcock Elric book and asked if I wanted to play this new game-thing he’d discovered… I can recall being all mind-blown at the idea of playing a half-elf. :-) And of course I scarfed all the books I hadn’t read in the Appendix N.)

    • jeffro June 5, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      “Dwellers in the Mirage” is one of the greatest books ever. Oh, I love it. I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one that feels that way. (It’s kind of lonesome sometimes for A. Merritt fans these days…!)

      I have Moorcock in the to-do pile here. Hopefully I can share your mind-blowiness at the idea of half-elves once I get to Elric. (Half-elves were fairly conventional in games I played in the eighties.)

      Thanks for dropping by!

      • twilaprice June 5, 2015 at 2:50 pm

        Abraham Merritt needs to be re-introduced to modern audiences, that’s for sure. I want to write a book as awesome as “Dwellers in the Mirage”, with a lot of adventure and derring-do and heroics. I did pick up an e-copy on the Kindle after reading your appreciation so I can re-read it whenever I please instead of having to locate my tattered paperback. :-)

        I’ll definitely be following your continued reviews with interest, and (once I finish the others in the Hugo packet) I think you may be coming in first on my ballot for fan writer.

        To be clear, Elric is not a half-elf. Just a very ambiguously moral albino elf sorcerer king with a sword.

        [Jeffro: “Ambiguously moral” describes every player character in every game I’ve ever run. I can’t wait!]

  4. Warren Abox June 5, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    For what it’s worth, your posts on Appendix N hit the sweet spot between “too smart and dry” and “too dumb and breathless”. Not only that, but it also introduced me to a whole new world of RPG/fandom writing that make my years in the RPG internet-ghetto look like a total waste of time.

  5. Mike Glyer June 6, 2015 at 1:31 am

    Jeffro, thanks for engaging with the madding crowds at File 770. I enjoyed your comments and admired how you handled yourself.

  6. Pingback: The Dingolarity 6/5 | File 770

  7. Mark June 6, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Jeffro, thank you for the cite. For the record, I think you answered my criticism of missing out the 80s religious stuff to my satisfaction, and I enjoyed talking to you.
    Hope you drop back to F770 again.

  8. Ray June 6, 2015 at 3:26 am

    While I appreciate your civility on the File 770 thread, the fact that you think it required a lot of courage is sort of mind boggling

    • jeffro June 6, 2015 at 6:02 am

      No, it wasn’t easy.

      The fact that you want to say something snide about it is sort of mind boggling to me.

      • Cat Faber June 6, 2015 at 7:15 am

        Hmm. I believe that you were nervous.

        Now try an experiment. Try using a throwaway e-mail and posting on Torgersen’s blog as if you were a nonPuppy who disagreed with Puppies about the slate, or who wanted to know who *really* chose which of the many many suggestions the Puppies offered Torgersen to actually put on the slate.

        Try that on Larry Correia’s blog. Try that at Mad Genius Club. See what happens. Compare that to your reception as yourself on File 770.

        Just saying.

        [Jeffro: You know, I don’t think I was throwing any punches here. Good things are happening. No need to kill the buzz just to score a few more points.]

      • Ray June 6, 2015 at 11:58 am

        But what did you expect? A siren to go off somewhere? The thought police to trace your ip and kick in your door?
        It sounds like you think File 770 is an enemy country and you are astonished that the people there like hamburgers too. Why?

    • Meredith June 6, 2015 at 6:26 am

      Well, I wouldn’t fancy being one of the more culture warriory Puppies and heading over to File770. We’re not very nice to those. I can understand it taking at least a deep breath or two, even though Jeffro specifically – who has some respect for Being A Fan and also not spending half his Hugo packet Insulting Other Fans – was probably pretty safe from the start.

      • jeffro June 6, 2015 at 6:31 am

        Maybe I’ll try it at Making Light some time! :cue laugh track:

      • Meredith June 6, 2015 at 8:12 am

        I don’t hang out on Making Light for accessibility reasons (its a layout thing, not an easy fix), but from what I understand and have seen they’re perfectly reasonable so long as you stay on topic and don’t play attack dog. I don’t think you’d find it a hardship to join in if you stuck to those.

        [Jeffro: Good to know. Maybe I really will try it sometime.]

  9. Meredith June 6, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for stepping over. Its always good to see a friendly Puppy who wants to talk about sf/f. :) (Even if your opinions on Lady Astronaut of Mars are dead wrong and I almost demanded pistols at dawn;)

    • jeffro June 6, 2015 at 6:33 am

      I’m still recovering from that. But if I can just read a few more Leigh Brackett novels, I’ll be fine.

      • Meredith June 6, 2015 at 8:15 am

        Of course on today’s post we had an attack Puppy turn up. :( No interest in talking to people, all “SJWs always lie” catchphrases.

        [Jeffro: I don’t think this is the sort of flame war that can be settled. People can sure pour gasoline on it if they have a mind to, though!]

  10. Rogers Cadenhead (@rcade) June 6, 2015 at 8:37 am

    I am not surprised you got a better reception on File 770 than you anticipated. You talk a lot about SF/F works that interest and excite you, and that is appreciated regardless of where someone falls in the Sad Puppies debate.

    There have been a few times in this rolling flamewar when I’m engaged in comments on one of the main participants’ blogs or Facebook walls and the topic shifts to actual books people actually liked. People get nicer. There’s a deep reservoir of love for SF/F that can override fandom’s collective foul mood over the Hugos.

    It’s not going to happen, but if Sad Puppies 4 dropped all of the “stick it to CHORFs” rhetoric and just compiled a list of 10 well-liked works in each category that fans should consider (10 being too many to bloc vote), there would be peace in our time.

    • Meredith June 6, 2015 at 9:36 am

      I’d like that. It would be tough for an individual to do, but Sad Puppies as a whole shouldn’t have a problem coming up with 10. Maybe Sad Puppies 5?

      • jeffro June 6, 2015 at 1:27 pm

        I have not ever voted in the Hugos and no one has ever really sought my opinion for how to do this stuff. I don’t really have strong feelings about it at this point. Well, beyond pushing for a couple of people in particular to be nominated next year and reviewing some of the works. But I think that’s no different than most people that even care about the award just a little.

        As far as being included on the SP slate this year, I personally did not believe that they would get too many people on the ballot. I certainly never expected anything like a sweep. When my nomination was announced, not one person came to me and suggested I have myself removed from the shortlists.

        I am not sure what all can be drawn from that, but honestly… I’m not really that concerned with the politics of fandom in general or the Hugos in particular.

    • jeffro June 6, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      One of the strangest things to me is how fandom seems to spend more time talking about fandom than sff. I mean sure, I do indulge in a crazy rant occasionally. But I do try to keep the focus on the thing that we’re all supposedly fans of. (!!)

      • Mike Glyer June 6, 2015 at 1:59 pm

        I will have to start by saying this is an ironic comment, but yes, there is nothing fans like more than talking about themselves. We will resort to sf if necessary.

        [Jeffro: Now that’s funny.]

      • Standback June 6, 2015 at 4:23 pm

        Very true, and more than a little frustrating. Props for stepping up to talk about the actual content, for visiting us at File770, for being so nice while you were at it, and for writing this nice piece :)

        [Jeffro: Ah, hey. It’s nothin’.]

  11. Pingback: Jeffro FTW (Hugo news if you’re ignoring) | William Reichard

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