Tag Archives: Jeffro Johnson

“Appendix N” by Jeffro Johnson

The last finalist in the Best Related Work category is Jeffro Johnson’s “The First Draft of My Appendix N Book”. It’s a post published in Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog last November, and I don’t know why the Hugo administrators have decided to include it like this. I guess the point was to nominate the whole of Johnson’s Appendix N project — that is, the batch of 50+ articles that the blog post links to.

The Rabid Puppies slate (which is probably the driving force behind Johnson’s getting on the finalist list) included the item “Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson” and linked to a post titled “Appendix N Matters”. That is the final chapter which delivers some jabs against the “politically correct” “thought police” that has “taken over# “our culture” — so I can see why Theodore Beale likes to send readers that way, but the bulk of Johnson’s Appendix N project is, luckily, about something else.

Category: Related Work
Slate: Rabid Puppies

But let’s start at the beginning. What the hell is Appendix N, anyway? The title probably leaves most people scratching their heads.

Appendix N is a list of fantasy works that Gary “The Father of Role Playing Games” Gygax mentioned in the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook Dungeon Master’s Guide back in 1979 with “the following authors were of particular inspiration to me”.

dungeonmastersguide

In Castalia House Blog, Jeffro Johnson has been reading through Gygax’s list and blogging about it since 2014. The first 15 chapters were published in 2014, and some of them I already read last year when Johnson was finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. The last 29 “official” chapters as well as some appendices and extra stuff that Johnson plans to cut were published last year (and are eligible now).

Johnson’s idea is not completely original. In 2013, Tor.com writers Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode did the exact same thing with their Advanced Readings in Dungeons & Dragons series. Reading some of their thoughts on the Appendix N books alongside Johnson’s series offers an interesting comparison.

I have to say that I enjoyed Callahan and Knode’s take on it significantly more (even though they are dead wrong about Zelazny’s Amber series), but the reason might be that it’s written for a general (or, at least, more general) audience. Johnson is quicker to dive into the intricacies of Dungeons and Dragons which I have never played and do not really care about. He gives lengthy quotes from books and points out D&D stuff that they relate to, and that’s not a very good way to keep me interested.

I did take a look at some of the chapters that deal with books and authors I’m familiar with (a minority, I’m sad to say): Dunsany, Moorcock, Leiber, Farmer, Lovecraft and so on. On top of that, I read few about writers I know next to nothing about, like Gardner F. Fox.

And it’s a mixed bag: some of Johnson’s points were profoundly interesting, some were not and some were deep in wait-what-that’s-not-right territory. Here are examples of all the three:

  1. The setup of Leiber’s Lankhmar stories captures quintessential features of D&D. (Or, as Knode phrased the same point, they are the most Dungeons and Dragons of anything on the Appendix N list.
  2. Elric has so much contempt for honor that real tabletop gamers would whack him.
  3. Lovecraft’s great attention to detail in his writing makes his tales feel very real.

Even though I don’t care about D&D, I respect Johnson’s mission to educate people about the early alternatives to Tolkienesque fantasy which has later taken over and plagues the genre like a fucking leprosy. The science fantasy tradition is fascinating and it’s truly regrettable that it got pushed out of the market back in the day. Or, to be more exact, the worst thing is that it got forgotten and very few casual contemporary fantasy readers know about this stuff.

On the other hand, Johnson takes it all so very seriously. In his concluding and judgemental rant he seems to treat the Appendix as an authoritative, sacred canon that defines which books of the period are worth taking a look at instead of just a list of titles that Gygax happened to read and enjoy.

A tad pompously, Johnson informs us that

[Appendix N] preserves a sense of who we were… and what we could yet become again if we chose to.

Johnson has his headpalm moments when he suggests that, for example, the Earthsea books shouldn’t be on the list because

the defeating of Lovecraftian terrors with the power of friendship really isn’t how anyone handles adventures in a mythical underworld.

Too unrealistic ways to handle adventures in a mythical underworld? Come on. It might be an un-AD&D-ish book, but Zelazny’s Amber books have next to nothing to do with AD&D either. Gygax’s take on why there’s no LeGuin on his list would be interesting to hear but Johnson’s second guessing is not that convincing. On the other hand, I’m ready to forgive him because he plugs Tarzan of the Apes.

But despite Tarzan, my ultimate response is that I feel my time would have been better used if I had read a couple of these books instead of wading through Johnson’s assorted commentary.

Is his Appendix N project a nice thing to have around? Yeah, why not. Is it good enough to be recognized as the absolute best work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy or fandom that was published last year? That’s a tougher one.

Many interesting things were again left off-ballot because of the slate-voting organized by Johnson’s employer — consider the essay collections Speculative Fiction 2014 (edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke) and Letters to Tiptree (edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce), or David Langford’s interview collection Crosstalk, or the non-fiction books on Iain M. Banks (by Simone Caroti), Ray Bradbury (by David Seed), Lois McMaster Bujold (by Edward James) and Frederik Pohl (by Michael R. Page). Like last year, it’s a shame.

Johnson certainly isn’t the worst finalist here, but is he good enough? I’m not sure yet.

 

Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Score: 5/10

Laura J. Mixon & Wrapping Up the Fan Writer Category

Category: Best Fan Writer
Blogs on: Laura J. Mixon
Slates: None

It took me a while to decide whether I would vote for Laura J. Mixon in the Fan Writer category.

It’s clear that her Requires Hate / Benjanun Sriduangkaew report is an enormous service to the fan community and required a fair deal of hard work. On the other hand, people like Abigail Nussbaum and Kate Nepveau have made a case for voting for No Award and I find some of their reasoning convincing as well (not all of it, though, maybe not even most of it).

On the third hand, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (a post here + comments here), among others, has disagreed with Nussbaum with pretty convincing reasons of her own. Mixon has also written a series of followup posts. On yet another hand, awarding the report with a rocket for Best Related Work would have made more sense than awarding Laura J. Mixon with a rocket for being the Best SFF Fan Writer in 2014 which I don’t necessarily think she is, even though the report itself is valuable.

So, what should someone like me — who is most definitely not member of the underprivileged ethnic/cultural/whatever communities that are most affected by the things the report details — do? Not voting at all and letting others decide would maybe work on another year, but that’s another bad choice now that there are Vox Day’s troll hordes pushing for anti-feminist rant bloggers in this category and I have to register my wish to not give them an award in any case.

After some thought, my ballot looks like this:

  1. Laura J. Mixon
  2. Jeffro Johnson (6/10)
  3. No Award
  4. Cedar Sanderson (3/10)
  5. Dave Freer (1.5/10)
  6. Amanda S. Green (1/10)

Sure enough, Jeffro Johnson seems to be an uncritical sidekick of Vox Day, but I think his work that was included in the Hugo voter packet was reasonably good. That makes him stand apart from all other (save one) Puppy nominees in writing categories, who are going below No Award.

Edit 29/7/2015: Added some links to Mixon’s blog posts that should have been there.

Jeffro “GURPS-disadvantaged people ruin SFF” Johnson

Category: Fan Writer
Blogs on: Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog & Vox Day’s Castalia House
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

Reading Jeffro Johnson was an interesting and even SFFnal experience. I mean, one of the most enjoyable aspects of science fiction and fantasy is that it has the capacity to offer alien experiences and viewpoints.

Most likely I disagree with Jeffro Johnson on a wide range of topics, but unlike the three Mad Genius Club bloggers who are competing with him for the Best Fan Writer Hugo, Johnson makes a better job at explaining his views. He is also mainly interested in science fiction and fantasy instead of waging a culture war against “social justice warriors” which is more than a welcome change after wading through the polemics of Dave Freer, Cedar Sanderson and Amanda S. Green.

The most striking thing that put me into pondering mode was actually only an offhand remark about George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Johnson opined that only “a freak show can result” if you have as story’s protagonists “a bastard, a dwarf, a cripple” et cetera, and it is this feature that makes Martin’s epic message fiction.

For me, that’s very alien (and thus fascinating) logic. I always thought that having characters “with the equivalent of a hundred points or more in GURPS disadvantages” makes the Song of Ice and Fire world more realistic and enjoyable. Every living person I know is a constellation of unique disadvantage points if you want to use those terms. Martin manages to bring that real-life complexity to fantasy and renders much of the epic fantasy that came before him unbearably obsolete as far as the characters are concerned.

There are other aspects in his work that one can certainly object to, but I consider characters one of the strengths of Song of Ice and Fire. Johnson disagrees and is disappointed when, for example, “a rather touching origin story” is given to a repugnant character (The Hound, in this case). Conversely, I have always had trouble with suspending disbelief when people seem to already be chaotic evil when they emerge from their mothers’ wombs, so to speak.

So, in general, Johnson and I like different kinds of stories (he likes, God forbid, Rzasa’s “Turncoat”). However, he manages to enthuse about the exact same part of Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber that I found most compelling: the protagonist blinded and being thrown into jail for years (and the emotional significance of cigarettes). It was nice to notice some details such as that.

Too bad Johnson’s main focus is on role playing games — which is a field I’m not terribly interested in and have no clue as to whether his insights are revolutionary or not — and being nostalgic in a way that dismisses most modern SFF. Still, it’s a nice read and he may be able to beat No Award if I’m in a good mood when I send my votes in.

Score: 6/10