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In Hardcover: My Father, the Pornographer by Chris Offutt

When I surveyed the Appendix N list, it really was hard to just stop with two thousand words or so for some of the authors. I mean, you’re talking about people who had careers that span decades. I could barely even scratch the surface!

In the case of Andrew J. Offutt, it was even worse. I didn’t even get to cover a novel by the guy in that case. His Swords Against Darkness anthology provided a snapshot of the heroic fantasy scene of the seventies while providing the avenue through which Tanith Lee would join this list of Appendix N authors. But what struck me most about it was the extent to which the feel of early AD&D fantasy was more or less in line with the seventies iteration of what they called “heroic fantasy” at the time. Thanks to the essay Offutt included by Poul Anderson, you could find out just why it was that that particular style of fantasy was short lived and why few people mourn it in the wake of the phone book sized Tolkien pastiche of the eighties.

There was much more to the story than that, however. As a New York Times article by Offutt’s son revealed, there was much, much more to his career than just swords and sorcery. There was also a prodigious amount of pornography. That shouldn’t be too surprising given, say, Kurt Vonnegut’s tongue in cheek depictions of the science fiction field of the seventies. (Offutt– or someone much like him– could have been the real life inspiration for Kilgore Trout, for instance.) In this context, the length authors like Harlan Ellison went to be taken seriously certainly begin to make more sense. So too do the varying degrees of creepiness and sketchiness surrounding fandom of the time.

If you want the complete story of Andrew J. Offutt’s career, you’re in luck. Chris Offutt has just published an entire book on the topic. Judging by the Amazon reviews, this could be a painful read given the personal treatment of family matters that the book covers. If the New York Times article is sufficent to you for the personal details, you may instead wish to take a look at the science fiction that is the reason why Offutt is a worthy subject of a memoir in the first place. At the top of my list in that regard would be My Lord Barbarian, which was given a rave review by Cirsova.

And while the full story may be hard to take in– and while the facts behind the backwoods Kentucky “redneck” that rose to be the president of Science Fiction Writers of America may be astounding– he nevertheless deserves more attention than he’s gotten. As Ron Edwards commented on my Google+ feed last year:

Offutt felt very strongly about sword-and-sorcery and tried hard to bring it into modern publishing and into a new level of emotional writing without losing its force. I think he … sometimes succeeded. His editing was excellent, including bringing David C. Smith onto the bookshelves before the younger author committed suicide, and more or less breaking Carter’s hold on the genre….

Whether you agree with that take or not, there’s certainly a lot worth digging into here by any fan of old school science fiction and fantasy.

Note: The book images are linked to my Amazon Associates account which I am testing out at the moment. While it’s a rare person that’s going to lay down the big bucks for a hard cover on so narrow a topic, Amazon is without a doubt the best game in town for old paperbacks that have not remained in print or otherwise been converted into ebook format. The four bucks you’d shell out for My Lord Barbarian is probably less than what you’d pay at a used book store unless you’re lucky enough to live near Half Price Books! At any rate, if you purchase books through these links, it helps keep me blogging; thanks.

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