Monday, August 06, 2007

Fair's fair

It takes all sorts.

I read in the Publishers Lunch newsletter that Richard Curtis (a smart NY agent) has sold (actually resold) John Norman's 26 Gor books to Rob Simpson of Dark Horse Books.

The books are described by PL as a 'controversial science fiction world chronicling dominant men and submissive women', the action taking place on the imaginary planet Gor.

The phrasing made me smile a bit. I have never read a Gor novel, but they're famous in a modest sort of way. There is, for instance, a web site set up by and for fans of the series: it grew out of one woman's (note that, please) love for the series. But what amuses me (somewhat) is the way people wriggle and squirm when discussing these novels.

The Gor books began to appear in 1967, and they soon centred on the sado-masochistic relationship between men and women on the planet Gor. Actually it would be more accurate (apparently) to speak of the relationship between men and slave girls on the planet Gor.

Eric Lindh's essay on the series gives you a reasonably concise insight into what is on offer, and it nicely illustrates the difficulty which nice, decent, law-abiding, church-going liberals have with this kind of thing.

On the one hand, our nice et cetera liberals believe in a free press and free speech, and they oppose censorship and so forth. But here we have a series which, to quote Lindh, 'orbit[s] around uncomfortably nasty sexual humiliation of women. Sure, this has been an (often implied) element of most weird heroics, from Conan on, but Norman goes over the line that many readers would find acceptable. Elaborate set pieces of sexual torture and slavery are the essential core of the stories; they are not plot devices insomuch as they become the plot. Sadism, rape, and violence are repeated ad nauseum (sic).'

And yet, you see, Lindh also feels it necessary to point out (because he is a fair-minded nice et cetera liberal) the following uncomfortable fact: 'The creepy thing is that Norman has touched quite a chord out there. The books are tremendously successful, and not just among men. A bookseller who hazarded some statistics had at least half of his sales being made to women.'

Oh dear oh dear. This is all very distressing, isn't it? At least it is if you're one of the many who haven't yet got their head round the general principle.

And the principle is this: If you want to publish your own work uncensored -- unmodified by political correctness, religious dogma, or any one of a thousand other forces which are all too ready to interfere with what you have to say -- then you have to accept that the reciprocal applies. It other words, you have to accept that other people are going to write, publish, and read, material of which you heartily disapprove. Simple as that.

But oh what heartache it causes.


Ms Baroque said...

Yes but even the women who buy these books know it's fantasy. If it wasn't fantasy, they wouldn't be able to buy them unless they had permission from the men! There's the difference.

Dave Fragments said...

There's gambling in this bar, I'm shocked, shocked I say!

Eric Lindh doesn't speak for all liberals. As one, I might tell him to take matters in hand and masturbate a few times to relieve his anxiety. As much as I think it's silly of any woman to act the way the "slave girls" do in the GOR novels - submissive playtoys without lives of their own -
As much as I tell girls not to depend on men as their saviors whether it's financial, emotional or whatever... they can read about it all they want.

These are old novels from a another time. they represent different sensibilities when men with tiny weenies and bad breath had to boost their egos by dominating women. (that's a very liberal attitude.) Hatred of open sexual discussions are very conservative. (There! I've stepped in it now.)

Every industry has its petty tyrants - the moralists, the overeducated who insist on setting rules for eveyone else, the gatekeepers who decide style, and the just plain egotists who really believe they are superior to everyone else. Why do we let these people act like that? Laugh them out of the room.

The soapbox will now leave the room!

Martin said...

Funny to se the Gor books rise from the vaults again. I've heard tell lately that there's a highly visible "Gorean" sub-culture in Second Life. Wouldn't surprise me if that's what's made the books yet again into a marketable commodity.

Anonymous said...

It was Richard Curtis who told me more than ten years ago that I was a talented writer but that the market for traditional western novels was so soft that he just couldn't offer representation. "It has become increasingly difficult to sell the products that my established authors have sent in. I encourage you to write to other agents."

I wonder if he would now be able to make the western, too, "rise from the vaults again".

Anonymous said...

I don't know about a 'Gorean sub-culture' in SecondLife but I seem to remember reading reports of people who attempt to live a Gorean lifestyle in real life. There's nowt as queer as folk.

Anonymous said...

There is hardly a contradiction between believing in a right to express your beliefs, and condemnation of the substance of an belief expressed under that right. The dilemma is completely artificial.
There are few absolute rights (or absolute anything, for that matter). The freedom of speech is one of those that is as close to absolute as exists. Drawing a line should be confined to such activities as conspiracy, inciting violence, and slander (speech) or libel (writing).
But just because the right is so expansive does mean one must accept the the actual text or utterance as valid.

Anonymous said...

My own short term experience with S&M and the ideas of submission and dominance showed me that it was all mostly play acting and no one got hurt. Perversion/Obsession can be expressed in sexuality, but it seems to be further down the road of dominance/submission, and that it is not limited to only sexuality. I have read recently how certain English women of high intellect and professional success are unhappy with unsuccessful romance and that is shown to be in part due to an inability to surrender to the male ego. So it seems that the GOR novels could be an example of another way to play together. Myself, I prefer the give and take of, say, tennis.

Anonymous said...

And how about that Harry Potter?

Anonymous said...

The notoriety of these books is something that's interested me, as a woman; I don't find them to be healthy but that's my personal opinion, which is my own thing, but I've noticed that the more extreme something is, the more potential it has to be popular. It's like Eli Roth's films Hostel and Hostel II; explicit horror, and disturbing scenery, often lacking in any suspense or character development, but popular.

I haven't found any one in real life, or away from the PC or Internet who finds extreme sadomasochism a turn on, let alone discuss it. The erotica section in every major bookstore I visit is always the teeniest section, with one copy of each title, with few visitors. Thank goodness for Amazon, I guess, but I notice that many ordinary people are queasy about vanilla sex, so the likelihood of extreme bdsm is on the outer limits.

I doubt they'd be as popular as Harry Potter.

Sex is always hyped up, so as to sell, the same with porn. Ask ten people if they know about Harry Potter, and eight out of ten are aware of it. Ask ten people about Gor, and they'll shake their heads. It's not that popular.

Jon said...

There's a strong correlation, I suspect, between the remoteness of a book from one's own experience and its entertainment value (do real police officers enjoy procedurals? Do real spies read Clive Cussler?). So stories about cruel, virile men and weak, submissive women will grow in popularity just in proportion to the gradual disappearance of these stereotypes in the 'real' world. Nobody should confuse enjoying this fiction with any real desire to inhabit such a world -- just as enjoying mystery stories doesn't make me a potential murderer.