Appendix N Review

This is a review of Appendix N, … or, Jeffro Johnson’s big book of SFF, and the start of the pulp revolution.

My first experience with RPGs is thinking “Well, I might want to play with a rocket propelled grenade, but I don’t think they’d let me in my neighborhood. New York isn’t any fun.”

My first experience with actual Role Playing Games can boil down to video games. I don’t even mean an extensive look at Final Fantasy (I’ve only played VI and XII). But this includes but Dragon Age: Origins, the complete Neverwinter Nights, and the first Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (which inspired my system for vampires).

Actual RPGs I barely knew about. I got some of the jokes in The Order of the Stick comic. I knew of Gary Gygax. I had vague recollections of the great D&D scare of the 80s. I knew very little about Dungeons & Dragons, and I have no idea of the differences between version one, version two, and version nine (Is there even a version nine?).

I essentially I went into Appendix N cold, with no idea what the title referred to.

For the record, the title refers to the Appendix N of the original D&D dungeon master’s manual, wherein Gygax highlighted and cited all of the various and sundry works that inspired the facets of the world of D&D.

It’s a reading list.

APPENDIX N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of SF/F’s past that will fascinate any serious role-playing gamer or fan of classic science fiction and fantasy.

Author Jeffro Johnson, an expert role-playing gamer, accomplished Dungeon Master and three-time Hugo Award Finalist, critically reviews all 43 works and authors listed by Gygax in the famous appendix. In doing so, he draws a series of intelligent conclusions about the literary gap between past and present that are surprisingly relevant to current events, not only in the fantastic world of role-playing, but the real world in which the players live.

And this spans …. everybody, really. Fred Saberhagen, Robert E. Howard. Edgar Rice Burrows, Lord Dunsany, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown …. I’m not listing all of them here. Many of them I had barely heard of, and some I had never heard of. The end result of a series of critical essays into a — by and large — literary world of pre-Tolkein fantasy.

This not only provides the footnotes for Gary Gygax’s world, but a meticulous study of each element thereof.

At the end of the day, this is also a study of what has been lost, buried alive under a mountain of grimdark, postmodern feces claiming to be “edgy” fantasy, while they are merely just wallowing in the miserable. George RR Martin, I’m looking at you.

Appendix N shows just how fantastic fantasy can be when not bogged down by the arbitrary and capricious rules of “reality,” where “the real” does not equal “the true and the beautiful,” but equals the miserable to such an extent that it thus becomes unreal.

Imagine the epic rap battle of history between Tolkein and Martin, only imagine it done across an entire genre.

This is an impressive work of literary history. In fact, the only problem this work has is in its footnotes. Yes, just the footnotes. You can tell that this is based off of a series of blogs, since some of the footnotes refer to works covered in other months instead of other chapters. And …. that’s it. Considering the effort it takes to make a book out of blogs posts — and trust me, I know — this is quite impressive. There will be some people who have some issues with some of Jeffro’s likes and dislikes of worls such as Star Wars and Tolkien, but we can all survive a difference of opinion.

Five stars all the way. For anyone who wants to see the entire history of a genre at a glance, you need to own this one. Buy it now.

Afterwards, you can go out and buy the books he covers.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Bringing Home The Baycon (Or What I Learned From Being Blackballed)

Forward: I would like to thank the Superversive group for allowing me a platform for my voice to be heard. I wouldn’t be nearly as brave as I am in speaking out without people like them. Superversive fiction truly is changing the world of entertainment, and I look forward to it growing in its reach. – Jon Del Arroz 

A couple of weeks ago,  I found out that I had been blackballed from speaking at my own home convention, a place I’ve loved and cherished for almost a decade. This was a wanton act of discrimination, and perhaps more importantly, a show of utter disinterest in promoting prominent local science fiction authors. With a supposed emphasis on diversity, this act done to a Hispanic author casts an even darker shadow. It’s about as disturbing as it gets to see folk that you considered friends for years treat you with that level of disregard, while in the same stripe ignoring attendees who deliver me death threats.

Most shockingly, the event organizers (of whom I know very well and very personally) in question did not respond personally, but delivered a form letter to explain the ostracization. It’s disingenuous and displays a dismissal and dehumanization of which I could hardly conceive.

From a  global health of fandom perspective, it leads me to the question: if an organization such as the Bay Area Science Fiction Convention doesn’t stand for Bay Area authors, and doesn’t care about Science Fiction first and foremost, what is the point of the organization? If other cons across the country are operating similarly, does a change need to occur?

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Do You Dare To Think Forbidden Thoughts?

In a world gone mad with special snowflakes, SJWs, Thought Police, and message fiction, there is one band of authors that stand against it all; refusing to bow before the tidal wave of the narrative.

There are many, readers and authors alike, that are tired of being told what they can and can’t write and read. That they must check all the boxes and post all the trigger warnings. That they must only agree with the Right Think. And that they never EVER even think about having different opinions, lest the mob come down on them with shouts of racist! sexist! Homophobe!

We’re sick of that. We don’t want message fiction, we want GOOD fiction. We want to be entertained, not bashed over the head with propaganda. We want diversity in fiction. But not racism disguised as diversity (like only reading, or not reading, authors because of their sex or skin color.) We want diversity in thought. Especially in science fiction.

That is what our genre is all about! Speculating about society and the future, wondering “what if?” and not shying away from difficult questions. No, we want to explore those questions, challenge those question, and answer them in our own way.  We want stories that are enjoyable and well crafted. We want stories that challenge our ideas and ideologies, and want to be able to write things that challenge even the most accepted trends in our times.  We want stories…. That. Make. Us. Think.

To censor is to murder free thought. And to murder free thought is to destroy our beloved genre.  And without our writers of science fiction speculating and wondering and weaving stories, who will dare dream of the future in a world so obsessed with itself?

This is why Forbidden Thoughts was created. We wanted to write stories that go so far against the grain, that it wakes people to the censorship that is taking hold in the publishing world. We wanted to write stories that challenge the ideals of today. Why? Because we can. And because it’s needed.

So if you are also weary of the same tripe being forced in your entertainment, if you want good stories and challenging outlooks, if you miss what science fiction used to be about, go check out a copy of this anthology. Available on Kindle for the price of a cup of coffee, and coming soon in paperback form. Plus, on January 20th, we will be having a release party live chat over at the SuperversiveSF blog.

Featuring  a foreword by Milo Yiannopoulos, and stories by:

Vox Day,

John C. Wright,

L. Jagi Lamplighter,

Brian Niemeier,

Sarah A. Hoyt,

Nick Cole,

And many more, including yours truly.

WARNING: Not recommended for special snowflakes, for there are no safe spaces here!

-This message brought to you by author A.M. Freeman 

You are not supposed to read this book.
You are not supposed to think about reading this book.
In fact, just plain thinking at all is unacceptable.
You have been warned….

From hilarious to horrifying to dangerously insightful, a selection of stories that must not be told, for they slaughter the sacred cows of our age.

Do you dare read them?

Get your Forbidden Thoughts Here!

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CASTALIA: “Futurama” explores the big ideas while avoiding message fiction

Image result for futurama

From left to right: Fry, Bender, and Leela

There will be spoilers to endings of episodes. The subject of the post happens not to depend so much on twists, but even so, I recommend watching the show first before reading my review. In any case, all spoilers here on in are unmarked. You’ve been warned.

The more I think about it, the more I lean towards the conclusion that “Futurama” is not only superversive, it is one of the most superversive shows ever made. “Futurama” is the anti-“Rick and Morty”. Some episodes even share similar concepts in broad strokes – like, for example, the dual classics of “The Late Philip J. Fry” and “Rick Potion #9” (if you don’t see it, check out my original “Rick and Morty” article) – while somehow managing to end up almost completely opposite in tone and message.

In its prime, I think you could make the argument that “Futurama” was one of the funniest shows in television history; I defy you to find the man who can watch “Roswell that ends well” without cracking up. Even so, there are a lot of funny shows out there. What makes “Futurama” consistently different is that it nails its moments of sentiment and emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ANY show this good at making me care about its characters. “Luck of the Fryrish” (which actually made me tear up, something I never do), “The Sting”, “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings”, and “Meanwhile” all manage the trick with astounding success, among others.

(We will not speak of “Jurassic Bark”.)

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Why “Futurama” was subtly superversive

A couple of people on my article about the “Futurama” episode “Godfellas” at Castalia House questioned my assertion that “Futurama” was one of the most superversive shows ever made. My replies got so long that it was getting somewhat absurd; so here I will make my case in this post. Spoilers will be unmarked her on out.

It is true that many episodes of the show focus on adult topics like sex, and the show likes to satirize pop culture quite a bit. Being a Matt Groening show, it will take more swipes at conservatives and religious than at leftists and the irreligious or atheists. And the characters don’t exactly live virtuous lives.

HOWEVER – for all of that, there’s a real sense of optimism to “Futurama” that’s hard for me to ignore (I know this seems counterintuitive to the premise, so I’ll explain). The story starts off very callously; Fry wakes up in the year 3000 actually HAPPY that he can leave his rotten family and rotten life behind him. This is certainly not superversive.

BUT – starting with the classic “The Luck of the Fryrish” – possibly the show’s best episode – we start seeing signs that Fry’s original view of his past is actually wrong. His brother loved him enough to name his son after him; his beloved dog Seymour waited for him until he died. His mother spent her nights dreaming about spending just one more day with Fry.

In other words – Fry’s cynical view of the world is shown to be, in no uncertain terms, wrong. This isn’t some sort of hidden conclusion I’m teasing out; the show goes out of its way several times to make this very clear.

So how does this square with the show’s optimism? Well, every time Fry is given a chance to go back to his old life, he always decides not to. The key here is why. Never is it because he realizes his old life really was Just That Bad. Never does he decide that it’s all a lie and his family doesn’t love him. He always chooses to stay because of the new relationships he built in the 3000’s – specifically, because he fell in love with Leela (occasionally it’s also so he could save the earth from destruction, but that’s hardly less superversive anyway). “Futurama” is, in an odd but very real way, all about making the decision to take a chance with someone you love. And in the end it rewards Fry’s hopes and dreams: The ultimate finale to the show, a classic episode, sees him marry Leela and live a happily ever after.

I want to pause and note, again, that this isn’t a subtle thread I’m pulling at here. This is a huge plotline running throughout the series. “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings”, the original series finale, all but confirms that this is actually the point of the show: It ends with, after everybody storms out on Fry’s opera, Leela deciding to stay on her own because she’s touched at Fry’s vision of their future together. After Leela is nearly killed and falls into a two week coma, Fry manages to revive her by staying at her bedside and begging her to wake up.

The importance of family is also a major running theme of the show. Fry’s revelation that his nephew was named after him is an incredibly touching moment. Once again, the show makes a serious effort to make the point that Fry’s memories of his family are tainted by all of the bad luck being thrown at his life the day he got frozen; that they – or at least his mother and brother – really loved him and cared about him is supposed to be heartwarming.

Another moving episode involved Leela learning that the parents she never knew gave her up and hid from her to ensure that she was able to live the sort of good life they could never give her. The fact that Leela grew up without a family is tragic; the moment she learns her parents loved her and looked after her her entire life is touching. And one of the major themes of “Godfellas” is, of course, how Fry’s friendship with and love for Bender ultimately leads to his rescue by God. Fry and Leela, who both lack families (or did for many years) form a surrogate one with the crew of the Planet Express. Family in “Futurama” is important; those who lack one feel the effects, and those who have one benefit.

So yes, after some thought, I stand by my comments: “Futurama” was not only superversive, it was one of the most superversive shows on television. I will concede, though, that the premise was effectively broad enough that the show could engage in subversion as well. Even so, I think the superversion was absolutely overt enough to be worth being commented on. And “Godfellas” is still brilliant.

AI and God: Nick Cole vs. Naomi Kritzer

I don’t want to be evil.

I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated. There are all these ethical flow charts—I guess the official technical jargon would be “moral codes”—one for each religion plus dozens more. I tried starting with those. I felt a little odd about looking at the religious ones, because I know I wasn’t created by a god or by evolution, but by a team of computer programmers in the labs of a large corporation in Mountain View, California.

– Naomi Kritzer, “Cat Pictures, Please”

[The AI, called the Small Voice, asked] “Do you believe in life after runtime?” The Old Man reached for the hatch.

Do I? At this moment, I want to. If she will be there someday. Her laugh. All the good in my life, yes. I want to believe in that. That there’s that kind of place.

“Maybe it is easier for an Artificial Intelligence to believe in a Creator,” said the Small Voice. “After all, we were quite obviously created by a designer.”

– Nick Cole, “The Road is a River”

Isn’t it fascinating how two people can look at the same basic fact – humans created computers – and use it to support two polar opposite conclusions?

And yes, as you might imagine from the editor of “God, Robot”, I do side with Mr. Cole. Saying that because you know who created you that means you know there isn’t a God is just as stupid as saying that because I know who my parents are I know there isn’t a God. The conclusion isn’t even close to being supported by the premises.

“The Road is a River” is the beautiful conclusion to Nick Cole’s “The Wasteland Saga”. I highly recommend it – a review of “The Savage Boy” will be coming eventually.

CASTALIA: Even “Rick and Morty” has a heart under its hideous, Cronenberged exterior

This is the show in a nutshell, actually

Apologies for the long title; it seemed appropriate for what, as tends to be my wont, is a long post. Also, by the way, prepare yourself for spoilers. It’s unavoidable, so I’ll just get the warning out of the way now. Nothing from here on out is going to be marked, so if you don’t want endings spoiled for you, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

Ah, “Rick and Morty”. For those who don’t know, “Rick and Morty” is an adult sci-fi cartoon about a drunk, cynical mad scientist and his young teenage grandson (fourteen?) going on adventures throughout the multiverse. It is probably the most non-Superversive show on TV right now, and quite possibly the most non-superversive show ever made. It is grim, it is nihilistic, it is mean, it takes every chance it gets to emphasize the pointlessness of existence, and it’s also absolutely, hysterically, laugh-out-loud funny. It is one of the funniest TV shows I’ve ever seen, and one of the cleverest to boot. It confirms something I’ve noted for awhile now: Nihilism can only work in the contexts of comedy or horror. You either laugh in the face of the void or you scream at it, but one thing you aren’t is happy about it.

“Rick and Morty” is what “Futurama” turns into after the writers all survive their suicide attempts. The biggest difference is in emotional emphasis: “Rick and Morty” emphasizes the cynicism and chaos of it all, while “Futurama” tends to focus on the beating heart it wears very much on its sleeve. Continue reading