Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

That Woefully Incomplete Sampling of Appendix N

When John C. Wright wrote an essay about some points I raised in my Appendix N series, the folks at File770 had a field day. The overall effect was not unlike raw meet being dropped into a piranha pool.

The part where I got drug into it begins with Jim Henley praising a truly excellent book:

I’ll speak up for the elves in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword too. (Broken Sword may well be an Appendix N book; I forget.) They are deeply amoral and also alien; however, physically they’re not dissimilar to Tolkien’s.

Aaron agrees, and then (hopefully inadvertently) introduces a lie into the discussion:

Yes. Yes it is.

One might note that of the Poul Anderson selections contained in Appendix N,The Broken Sword is the one that Johnson did not read or review.

Jim Henley is stunned:

What?! How the hell do you not read The Broken Sword when it’s right there? Just for one’s own personal enrichment? It is one hell of a book.

Aaron answers:

Because Jeffro’s much ballyhooed tour through Appendix N is a woefully incomplete sampling that consists of reading one (and maybe two) works by each author mentioned in the list. He read The High Crusade and Three Hearts and Three Lions from Poul Anderson. Based on that, he apparently decided he was sufficiently well-versed in Anderson’s fiction.

Incuriosity seems to be a defining personal characteristic of most Pups in general, and Johnson specifically.

(Note that this “Aaron” guy is so ignorant of Appendix N literature, he declared that he’d be “hard-pressed to think of more than one or two fantasies that didn’t adhere to the ‘Mediaeval-ish world’ trope in the 1960s and 1970s.” Yep… it’s that guy.)

Paul Weimer answers as well:

Not a clue. And it is one of Anderson’s best, IMO.

Joe H. promotes what must be a much better Appendix N series:

Y’know who did a good Appendix N reread? Mordicai Knode and Tim Callahan over at tor.com

But Jon Meltzer pities the fool that doesn’t know which Poul Anderson books to review:

I think we may be a bit hard on Jeffro here – how was he to know that The Broken Sword was (as people are saying, and as I agree) the Anderson book to read, out of the three?

Oneiros piles on:

Also, surely someone doing a reading of the Appendix N books would be better off reading all of the Appendix N books instead of taking wild stabs in the dark at all the authors with more than one book listed. Right?

And Aaron continues to hammer away at his point:

My issue isn’t that he skipped the one book. It is that he essentially did little more than a cursory sample of most of the authors on the list and has made sweeping pronouncements based on that incomplete knowledge. Appendix N only lists three Anderson novels, all of which are fairly short, and Johnson couldn’t even be bothered to read all three.

Who knows how long this would have gone on?! It could have been pages upon pages of righteous indignation, but Brian Z. spoiled the fun shortly after this by pointing out that I had actually covered the book…. The entire discussion gets tabled, with only Jim Henley even acknowledging the link.

Given how fast a misconception like this can travel, I feel like I ought to clear up some of the confusion here. For the record, here are my posts on that novel:

In fact… this concept of explicitly Christian fantasy that so struck John C. Wright when he took the time to write an essay about Appendix N is derived from my discussions of Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, and C. L. Moore’s “Daemon”.

The thing that’s really embarrassing here, though, is that the Tor.com Appendix N series that is being recommend there…? They chose to cover only Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions. And if my googling is correct, there are no reviews on the internet about The Broken Sword by either Mordicai Knode or Tim Callahan. Also note that they don’t cover The Roaring Trumpet by de Camp and Pratt. They don’t cover The Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Claire. They don’t cover de Camp’s Fallible Fiend. They don’t cover A. Merritt’s Creep, Shadow! or Dwellers in the Mirage. They don’t cover Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar stories or his Venus stories. They don’t cover Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows or Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld.

The reason that Mordicai Knode or Tim Callahan skipped all of those really essential books is because they chose to cover just one representative work for each author on the list. And they had a perfectly good reason for doing that, too: not very many people are going to want to hunker down and dedicate three separate retrospectives for each of Poul Anderson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and A. Merritt. It’s a daunting amount of work to dig into that kind of project!

But that’s exactly what I did. I’d go into the third post for one of those guys (or Moorcock or de Camp) and wonder how in the world I was going to have anything else to say. Somehow I managed to find something each time, but it was a grueling process. In the end, I think it was good for me because it pushed me to go beyond the usual observations– to dig deeper, reach higher… and to go after new angles that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise. The fact that my series is so much more comprehensive than anything else on the topic is a big part of why you read stuff in it that you just don’t see anyone else writing about.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the Tor.com Appendix N series. They really made my own expeditions into classic fantasy literature more interesting. I would do my pieces and then cruise over to both Tor and Grognardia each week to compare my reaction with theirs. It was great fun. Sure, I got a real charge if I’d stumbled onto something that the other reviewers missed. Sometimes I got schooled on things that would end up saving me grief later on. And yeah, the perspective you get at Castalia House is going to be the Earth-3 version of anything you read at Tor.com, that goes without saying. But the fact that they’re so different makes it that much more interesting when they line up, as we did in the case of Fritz Leiber’s work and its relationship to classic D&D.

If people prefer one series to the other, hey… more power to them. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that they appeal to different audiences. But if you’re going to come down on me for doing a “woefully incomplete sampling that consists of reading one (and maybe two) works by each author mentioned in the list”, well hey… you’ve got the wrong guy. Oh I know, though. Facts don’t matter at File770 as long as people are going after the right sort of targets. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to get this straight.

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23 responses to “That Woefully Incomplete Sampling of Appendix N

  1. Bz October 29, 2015 at 9:47 am

    All die. O! The embarrassment. But really, that was rather amusing.

    (From File770) “Y’know who did a good Appendix N reread? Mordicai Knode and Tim Callahan over at tor.com”

    The only thing I remember about that reread was that those guys usually didn’t get it, made no effort to get it, thought the attitudes in the books were insufficiently enlightened, thought the people who wrote the books were like old and racist, and intellectually maxed out at “uuhh I didn’t like it”, etc etc. Basically pointless. No, basically a soft amateur lobotomy of readers who might have expected some insight. But it was a while ago and maybe I’m misremembering some parts.

  2. Cirsova October 29, 2015 at 10:43 am

    Brad Torgersen hates black people, Sarah Hoyt wants women out of sci-fi and Jeffro didn’t read The Broken Sword.

    • jeffro October 29, 2015 at 10:47 am

      We’ll never work in this town again!

    • jeffro October 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Well I’m gonna to go then! And I don’t need any of this! I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need anything except this and that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this! The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something? And this! And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

  3. H.P. October 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I enjoyed the Tor.com Appendix N: retrospective (if only because it led me to read Hiero’s Journey and your retrospective), but it is, well, cursory.

  4. Sky October 29, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    The sniping and BS Jeffro deals with always turns my mind toward the split in fandom. Here is my take.

    The two types of fans:

    The Grinian. This individual reads with the goal of savoring fantasy’s mythic and heroic roots. Leo Grin names two pillars, Tolkien and Howard, and not much more needs to be said about it. This type of stuff is woefully out of fashion yet refuses to die. I know liberals that love Howard and the pulps so don’t automatically think conservative.

    The Omela. This the up to minute, in the know, modern reader and scenester. This reader enjoys what the art world calls the shock of the new. The idea of the new, the challenging, the cutting edge, etc. cannot be maintained without an ongoing conflict, the fight against older modes. It used to be organized religion, capitalism, whatever. Now it must delve deeper, into things like binary gender and whiteness. Something must be attacked and laid low.

    Now the Grinian and Omela can share some reading. The Grinian needs to open their mind up a bit and take in something from outside their power alley. And as long as the Omela doesn’t pathologically hate white males or Western civilization, then they can have a good time with the older stuff.

    The Grinians have largely left, or in cases like mine, simply read without being any part of fandom. I have no online presence. I don’t go to conventions. I just read. Thankfully people like Jeffro are creating online content I enjoy and I can benefit from. And I am getting hooked up with his links. Zenopus Archives is awesome and I am enjoying Cirsova immensely.

    And for Leo Grin, who likely won’t read this, a poem.

    The Grinian waits in restless sleep
    His fortress sunk in oceans dark
    His laughter smothered by currents deep
    Dreams entombed in a silver ark

    His realms are gone from the earth
    Hidden now from sun and sky
    But red moons will signal new birth
    When the temple’s end draws nigh

    • H.P. October 29, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      I’ve noticed a lot of readers, especially small-time authors, book reviewers, and critics, really, really care about a book hewing to orthodoxy. They aren’t judging a book by how fun it is, by how beautiful it is, or even by how “important” it is. They just want conformance (albeit conformance they believe to be subversive). Anything old is wrong because it doesn’t hold to arbitrary standards.

      I don’t get it. Especially because these are the people who read the most. I read a lot, including a lot of new releases, and what I want more than anything else is something different. If I wanted to read the same book over and over I would just go read mysteries or romance. I really don’t understand the value of orthodoxy for orthodoxy sake.

      • jeffro October 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm

        That’s the thing I find so interesting about Appendix N. New wave books that raise my hackles are right there side by side with pulp fiction by openly conservative or Christian works. (Not to mention an openly Wiccan author as well…!)

        The standard for what’s on the list is clearly what he considered to be a great read or something that could be mined for great gaming. There were no ideological litmus tests with him.

        Fandom today just isn’t like that. In fact, some “trufen” will go so far as to “not a true fan” Gygax just to avoid having to admit that something’s changed.

      • Civilis October 30, 2015 at 7:13 am

        There’s a difference between hewing to genre orthodoxy and hewing to political orthodoxy.
        I know a number of sci-fi or fantasy fans that are stuck on a particular genre or set of genres: military sci-fi fans, space opera sci-fi fans, etc., and deviating from genre orthodoxy can really put them off of a work.

        In practice, I think the Omela can be broken down into those that want new because it’s new, those that want new because they’re obsessed with being popular, and those that associate new with ‘politically correct’.

  5. jlv61560 October 29, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Wait. What? You expect a rabid SJW to actually get his facts straight? Or, once his stupidity has been pointed out, to apologize to, or even acknowledge, the person he attacked based on his stupidity? C’mon, Jeffro! Ain’t gonna happen!

    By definition, no SJW can ever admit to error. Not because of “strategy,” or “narrative,” but rather purely because of ego. After all, SJW-ism is based on the sure and certain knowledge that the SJW knows everything better than anyone else, and must school the lesser beings as part of his/her wonderfulness. Interestingly, I see the same effect in many egomaniacs of the conservative bent. In effect, each has become what they decry most in the “other.”

    • jeffro October 29, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      Ah, you went there.

      Yes, this is same old same old.

      1) SJW’s always lie.

      and

      3) SJW’s always project.

      It’s like a textbook example or something!

    • Sky October 30, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Civilis is absolutely right. Simply wanting to read something new is not the mark of the Omela. The Omela needs to be on the offensive, always fighting for the cause. We all tend to consume things that reflect our worldview but the Omela must constantly signal and build social capital with their righteousness.

  6. Pingback: The First Draft of My Appendix N Book | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  7. Pingback: Throwing Gary Gygax Under the Bus for Justice | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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