Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on the Appendix N Generation Gap

Doing the Appendix N series, I’ve gotten a range of feedback. My favorite is of course the variety that goes like this: “I’d never even heard of that author and now I’m reading several of their novels. Wow! So good!” But then there’s that other kind of feedback. It goes something like this: “You act like these authors are a big deal. And they are. But we’ve been discussion them for decades. We know all about them and you aren’t saying anything new. The idea that they are in any way obscure is preposterous!” To which I can only say, thank you for illustrating my point.

There really wasn’t anything special about these books. If you think about where guys like Gary Gygax and James Ward bought their books and how fast that changed, then you’re onto one key to this thing.¹ The fact is, the determining factor for whether or not the list of Appendix N authors is obscure or familiar to you is your age. Just going by the many people that have talked to me about this, there is a noticeable difference between people that were born, say, in 1975 and people that were born in 1970. Just that few years difference could have a tremendous impact on the odds of you having picked up a book by Fritz Leiber, for example.

Now, I love me a good conspiracy theory. Illuminati is one of my favorite games after all. But there’s more to this than a shadowy group of nudniks ruining fantasy for their own nefarious ends. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch details several factors that can explain a good chunk of what’s behind all this:

So by the end of the 1980s, as Jeffro Johnson noted, books went out of print. There was also a tax ruling that got misconstrued as the main cause of the loss of the backlist in the 1990s, but that ruling only had an impact for a few years. The ruling changed the way that warehoused items were counted on taxes. It’s too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say it wasn’t cost effective for publishers to sit on books in warehouses during that period, so stocking books at a publisher’s expense (to replenish when the supply in the market diminished) ceased.

Midlist books got published, but older titles? Important titles? The first books in a series or books by authors no longer producing new work? Those books were the first to leave the inventory.

Publishers stopped reprinting them, but kept them as company assets unless the writer or the writer’s estate asked for a reversion of rights.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.Fascinating stuff! Thanks, Kristine!

As always, read the whole thing!™

¹ It was the Lake Geneva News Agency. (See Dragon Magazine #203 for the earliest account of their initial meeting that I know of.) If anyone knows of any pictures of this place, I’m curious as to what it looked like. Not so much like a Barnes & Noble I’d wager!

11 responses to “Kristine Kathryn Rusch on the Appendix N Generation Gap

  1. Cirsova July 13, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I had the misfortune of growing up during the height of the pink-slime fantasy bubble, wherein 20+ book branded series and foot-thick bricks of series with no end in sight completely dominated the fantasy and science fiction sections at Barnes & Nobles and Books-a-Millions. When I was around 10 or 11, my dad seemed kind of grumbly about how much Dragonlance I was reading and couldn’t really figure out why. I wish now that he’d taken the opportunity to better articulate his frustration, sat me down and stuck one of the dozen or so Anderson, Zelazny or Dick pocket paperbacks he had in my hand and told me to read that instead.

    • jeffro July 13, 2015 at 10:25 am

      I never met anybody grumbly like that… until Grognardia became a thing. Even then, those sorts of posts didn’t register. I only see the grumbly now that I’m grumbling myself.

      Some guy gave me a set of Tolkien paperbacks when I was in the 4th grade or so. A very big deal. The sunday school was reading through the Narnia series at the time. The gifted program was pushing “Wrinkle in Time”. A few years later a guy would give me a set of Thomas Covenant books. I got Foundation from the used book stores. The library was where I got Dune and Spell for Chameleon. That’s a good chunk of the reading I did. I remember buying The Azure Bonds, but it was only for the eighties hair and chainmail cleavage window. I really wanted something like that to get into, but nothing much took.

      • Cirsova July 13, 2015 at 10:40 am

        It was a very low-key grumbly, such that I mostly found out about it through my mom. By the time I was reading the pink slime, though, I’d already read all of LotR + the Silmarillion. I thought Santa showing up in the middle of the Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe was stupid, so I never got into Lewis that much. The Prydain Chronicles were more my style, and if I’d known that they wrote those sort of books for adults, I’d’ve been all over them as a teen. Had bookstores in the mid 90s been carrying older stuff, I’d’ve probably got them based on the covers alone. I got the first Dragonlance book because I was 10 and it had a pretty dragon on the cover. It looked nicer than the Drizzt books, was shorter than the Wheel of Time books, and my Mom vouched for Margaret Weis (she was a fan of her pre-D&D stuff).

  2. Trimegistus July 13, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    I think this is one of the main reasons the SJWs can get away with denouncing all SF written before 1990 or whenever as racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.: they haven’t read it, and neither have any of their Millennial-cohort blog readers and Twitter followers. The older fans, who have read it, are either grumbling about kids these days, or have learned to love Big Brother and denounce themselves for not having noticed the racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. (whether it existed or not).

    This is also how they can get away with patting themselves on the back for being such brave pioneers — they literally don’t know about all the trailblazers who went before. Apparently that railroad just grew right out of the ground and nobody noticed it before they did.

    • jeffro July 13, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      I can’t blame the young’uns for not having read the stuff. The older readers… some of them have changed with the times and can’t go home again:

      “I read a lot of Bradbury as a teen and thought his stories were wonderful. Rereading his stories now is actively painful to me. I’m a lot more able to pick up on those subtle cues, and less able to make excuses for them, that the author doesn’t really see his female characters as important, or real, or three dimensional, or people.”

    • Cirsova July 13, 2015 at 3:30 pm

      Jack Vance’s The Gray Prince should be taught in school. I’m trying to figure out how I can get a classroom set to donate that won’t just be thrown away.

      • jeffro July 13, 2015 at 3:35 pm

        The more I read the more irritated I am with the three or four stories the schools chose as being representative of all of sff. Bah!

      • Cirsova July 13, 2015 at 3:38 pm

        One of my readers in school had The Cold Equations, but it was never assigned. I can’t really think of any time SFF was part of a curriculum.

  3. Gordon Landis July 15, 2015 at 2:41 am

    Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains”, was (at least in years gone by) regularly used academically to get students thinking about what the principle “a story must have characters” really means. I hate to bow to either extreme of this SJW nonsense that keeps insisting it be preeminent in places where it isn’t, so I’ll just say – this story is painful in exactly the way it needs to be painful, and no other.

  4. Pingback: Something Happened | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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