Bursting with critical thought without an outlet, I started writing Amazon reviews six years ago. The natural constraints of that format began to chafe, and I started this blog over a year and a half ago. The catalyst was the reaction to the Sad Puppies 3 Hugo Awards campaign, although, impetus and clicks notwithstanding, I have little interest in fighting speculative fiction’s culture wars. Preparing to vote and blogging on the nominees that year exposed me to a variety of new voices. Not, overall, a terribly great array of voices, one reason I’ve lost interest in the Hugo Awards.
With one rather significant exception. Jeffro Johnson was already well underway with his Appendix N Retrospective series at the Castalia House Blog when he was nominated for a Hugo. I didn’t go back and read his old posts–and still haven’t, all the more reason for anticipation–but I started reading his posts around that time. And what I got were, with clockwork regularity, consistently high quality, insightful posts on a bunch of fiction that I had barely heard of, let alone read. Appendix N.
What is Appendix N? Famously (infamously?), Appendix N is, well, appendix N to the original edition of Gary Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. I was never much of a D&D player, even in high school. I owned a Dungeon Master’s Guide but never gave Appendix N more than a passing glance. Most of the books and writers listed would have seemed entirely foreign to me at the time and hard-to-impossible to find at the mall Waldenbooks. So high school passed with no greater acquaintance with Appendix N than Tolkien.
I can’t truly say I didn’t hear tell of Appendix N again until I started reading Jeffro. At the very least, I noticed and mostly read the series Tor.com ran on Appendix N. And while it convinced me to read Hiero’s Journey (a book I continue love entirely out of proportion to its merit), it didn’t make much of an impact. Nor, necessarily, did Jeffro’s series. At first.
But it started to seep in. Creeping, digging its tendrils into the nooks and crannies of my brain. I didn’t always agree, but it was a conversation I wanted to be a part of. His descriptions of the books intrigued me, suggesting an entire world of speculative fiction I was unaware of. After several years of reading dozens of new releases each year, it was painfully obvious that diversity was the one thing contemporary speculative fiction lacked.
I cast about for any number of features to run at Every Day Should Be Tuesday. I considered a Generation X retrospective. But I found myself pulled farther back in history, entirely before my time. I considered doing a Tolkien re-read, or a Conan first-read, but I found myself pulled to a broader perspective. Hence Throwback SF Thursday. Far more expansive in reach than an Appendix N retrospective, to be sure. But undoubtedly inspired by Jeffro’s work.
And so I find myself working (sort of) under his auspices, contributing an every-other-week column at the Castalia House blog he now manages. I’ve read many of the essays. But there remain many I have not. And I understand he has revised essays and added new material. I remain largely uninterested in the works’ influence on tabletop gaming, but there is so much more to it than that. I’m also happy to have it in an easily readable form (now we just need a physical book suitable for coffee table display!).
If you find yourself intrigued by the books I feature in my Throwback SF Thursday posts, then Jeffro’s Appendix N book will open your eyes to a new world of almost forgotten literature. If you are interested in why D&D has all those funny rules, Jeffro will show you the literary roots, from trolls regenerating to the law-chaos axis for alignment to the paladin class. But even if you–like me–don’t care about the gaming influence, Appendix N represents the closest thing to canon for pre-1980s speculative fiction (sans the Big Three of Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein) that exists. This isn’t just a book about gaming, it’s a book about speculative fiction’s history. You will be sure to walk away dying to pick up some books that will blow your mind.
Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons and Dragons is available at Amazon.