Jeffro’s original aim wasn’t something everyone would be interested in. Add in to that the fact that most of these authors and their works have been intentionally memory-holed because of their “problematic” aspects, and not only is Professor Jeffro setting himself up for a payoff that only a small portion of rpg gamers will enjoy, which will hardly pay dividends on the amount of effort going into the task (If you haven’t tried, merely collecting all that literature is a herculean task, as some of these books are out of print and don't have ebooks, let alone actually sitting down and reading the whole lot of them, letting alone FURTHER writing an insightful essay on each); he also stands to make not a few enemies in the undertaking, if for no other reason than his respect for these venerable tomes. It’s quite gauche to praise anything from before 1980, apparently.
Too much racism and sexism and homophobia, you see. Decent people don’t encourage reading this sort of sick filth! Won’t you think of the women and children?!
Well, fortunately for us and sff as a whole, Jeffro is not a Decent Person.
(Disclaimer: I do not know Jeffro personally, but I have interacted with him online and read many of his blog posts and posts on the Castalia House blog, and he seems a thoroughly decent individual to me, just not in the manner the people who would rather you don't read the Appendix N stories would describe as Decent. Which is to say an actually decent individual, not someone who acts decent then pitches a fit and hurls racist & misogynist epithets when they don't get their way.)
Jeffro is the type of person to not only engage in all the herculean tasks delineated above, but also to use the Castalia House brand to popularize it, then actually gather together his writings into ebook format and blow the charts the fuck UP on his first two days. Because his work isn't just some old fiction that would be of interest to old school D&D gamers. No, Jeffro did unearth a spaceship, and a damn big one, too. And with the publication of this book he’s made it clear that it’s big enough for anyone who wants to come along for a ride to hop in and start exploring. So him who hath an ear, let him hear…
This is far, far bigger than gaming. I’ve been thinking of it like an avalanche that is just starting to pick up speed. First there were the pebbles of Jeffro’s initial posts, then the subject began to be picked up by book bloggers, and game bloggers. Then we get Cirsova Magazine, and books like CTRL-ALT-REVOLT! and Nethereal. And now, we have the definitive work on Appendix N from the Professor and pilot of this mad, careening, eclectic starship himself.
In the circles I run in on twitter, we sometimes speak of “Jeffro’ing” people. In the interest of clarity I’d like to propose a definition, if I may be so bold.
- To interest someone in either the books on the Appendix N list, or
- To interest someone in old school D&D-style rpg’s in their first editions
“Yeah, I jeffro’ed him last month.”
Let me be quick to say that this is only a tentative definition of “jeffro’ing” someone. I’m not even sure that’s proper linguistic form. I’m not a linguist, and properly turning a name into a verb is beyond my ken. So if anyone who actually knows what they’re doing wants to step in beyond my abortive attempts at this task, be my guest, I’ll gladly step aside.
My inability to English correctly aside, the publication of this book has made it eminently easier to jeffro someone. Whereas before we’d have to toss people hundreds (no joke) of links to Jeffro’s blog, or the Castalia House blog, or any one of a dozen other places around the net; now we can just give them this book, have them read it, and see what’s up. I’ve joked about throwing copies around at conventions like Stryper does with Bibles, or leaving them in motel bedside table drawers like a bunch of Gideons, and those statements are made in jest.
Because before to interest someone in Appendix N, to jeffro them, you would have to talk to them in person, physically give them a book on the list, gift them a book from the list on Amazon, or already have a following online and just start blogging about this out of the blue. Now we have the overview. It details every book mentioned on the Appendix, so people can read it and figure out if Conan sounds more interesting to them than John Carter of Mars, then go start collecting books. The Appendix N list looks daunting, and it is. This book is a competent survey, letting you know the ups and downs of each, as well as how they relate to the beginnings of tabletop rpg’s.
But more than just interesting people in books, or exploring the origins of conventions laid down by Gygax et al., the work of Jeffro Johnson has started a revolution.
Now maybe I’m reading signs that don’t exist, or misconstruing my tea-leaves, or maybe I’m actually being a bit prophetic (stranger things have happened than me being right for once), but I for one see the avalanche coming, and all the old, tired, staid towers of sand are about to be ground under and the foundations of something new are being laid.
You can see it in things like the Superversive movement, or magazines like Cirsova, or in authors like Nick Cole and Brian Niemeier bucking traditional publishing conventions and being wildly (or at least surprisingly) successful at it. And, more glaringly, you can see it in the sales numbers of Appendix N. At the time of this writing it currently sits at 2694 on the Amazon sales ranks. It’s also been sitting at the top of its respective categories for the better part of four days now, which is not an easy feat on a site like Amazon.
The audience is there. This is bigger than a couple of yahoos unearthing the past on their personal blogs to the delight of their meager following. There are storm clouds on the horizon, and if you strain your ears you can hear thunder.
That thunder is the murmur, quiet now but steadily growing, of fans who are dissatisfied with the current crop of fantasy and science fiction that has been running the roost since round about 1980. They are tired of being preached to, of being condescended to, of being moralized at. They want stories that are fun, with action, heroism, romance, good guys that are actually good, and bad guys that are actually bad. I think there is a fundamental part of the human soul, if you’ll forgive my poetic license, that yearns for this kind of thing, and that has been quashed and outright starved by the modern subversive fiction with a tragic backstory for every villain, a hero who really isn’t all that heroic, and a lack of true romance because we can’t make it seem as if normal relationships between men and women are okay, now can we? These people are sick to the back teeth of the tripe that is published in outlets like Uncanny Magazine, Escape Artists, Skyboat Media, and to an extent even venerable publications like Clarkesworld. Though Clarkesworld does keep things interesting, I’ll give them that. These people want a way to strike back, to make stories fun again. And fortunately for them, the good ship Appendix N is not just some tiny research craft, gathering knowledge for the purpose of classification and historical interest only.
It has offensive capabilities as well.
These come in the form of the things in these stories that writers can notice themselves enjoying, and then work into their own stories. The ability to publish literature of this quality, this scope, this level of wonder has not gone out of the world, and I predict it’s about to make a huge comeback. And thanks to self-publishing and book bombs and cross-promotions between authors and publications, the only gatekeepers are the readers themselves.
Professor Jeffro’s Magic Starship is a big vessel. It travels to many places. To Lankhmar, to Middle-Earth, to Tschai, to Amber, to Pellucidar and Barsoom. It shows us these places and their inhabitants, what makes them great or evil, the struggles they go through and the manner of their victories and rewards. There are lessons in these places that we must learn if we’re to make good on the promise of that thunder rumbling in the distance. If my predictions are true, then within five years we should be seeing the ramifications. We should see a lot more stories of the quality that Cirsova publishes. We should see a lot more Schuyler Hernstroms and Brian Niemeiers. We should see more along the lines of In The Days Of The Witch Queens, and a lot less of the glorified fanfiction that’s been winning the Hugo’s for the past few years.
But to make any of that happen, we’ve got to step inside the starship, and go explore these wondrous worlds that Jeffro has rediscovered. So buy this book and read it. Find the books it talks about that seem interesting to you and read them. Tell your friends and family and write blog posts and make YouTube videos. Enjoy yourself, and get the word out there. Because this has the potential to be big. The biggest thing in sff since the subversive movement got its stranglehold on the genres and has been beating us into submission ever since.
But whether or not that happens is up to us, the readers and writers. We can either let sff languish in the decline its been in for decades, or we can dust off the ruins of that ancient civilization Jeffro has uncovered, take notes, and build something equally as wondrous.
Music is Double Drift by Kevin Macleod: https://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?collection=6&page=3
Double Drift Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License