Despite the fact that the publishing industry seems to be at an all time low: bookstores closing, a glut of mediocre product on Amazon, so much to choose from and no real way to distinguish, the internet has given us means by which we can find interesting stories more easily than we used to in the good ol’ days of hunting through bookstores.
Just 10-15 years ago, the only way to find anything new would be to go into a Barnes and Noble (or ‘member Crown Books?) and look into their stock to see what they had. The problem you’d find there is that there’s a recency bias toward newer bestsellers, and then you’ll have a standard assortment of what’s been determined classics. You’d be likely to find your Lord of the Rings, Heinlein, Clarke, Asmiov and the like there, but to find many of their contemporaries, you’d be out of luck. Even Hugo winners from the 60s would be rare outside of them (How often did you find Fritz Lieber or John Brunner on those shelves? I have a more literary-centric friend group than most who probably read, but the average person would say, and rightly, “Who?”) .
I say determined classics because the publishing industry has and had a series of gatekeepers that filter these titles before they get to you. There’s of course the first step of the editors and publishers choosing works to begin with, but what about 10 years down the line? You’re not just getting random stock of books to give you a breadth of titles in those stores. Books are chosen for reprint. The book buyers then determine which of those come into the stores, by proxy determining what becomes a classic and therefore what stays in reprint. Everything else gets completely forgotten. It’s not to say that some of those forgotten works aren’t worthy, or that the ones they chose aren’t worthy, but it is several personal decisions by people based on their own tastes who determine what you read of those years past.
Ebooks and print on demand have changed the game. Everything can stay in print for perpetuity. If we just do a little digging into the vast cultural library of the 20th century, we can find interesting stuff. But where to start?
Jeffro Johnson did a series of essays that has been compiled into a book that found a treasure trove of these books. It’s just like delving into a multi-level dungeon and opening up all the chests to reap your rewards. What he did, was open up the original Dungeons & Dragons book and turn to the back, where they have a series of appendices, and what he found there was Appendix N.
Appendix N is a list of reading material for inspiration to give dungeon masters tools to create their own worlds and stories. The creators of D&D chose books with high level of adventure, high level of interesting concept to really expand imaginations and make it so games didn’t have the same stale settings. These books also inspired the basic setting of D&D and others, which with its prominence informs our culture of what fantasy is supposed to look like. Of course, as we’ve gone on, what we’re left with is a copy of a copy of a copy of these stories, which has been distilled down from what used to be really over the top conceptual things to what we have in our generic books of today (and I as a writer am equally as guilty as most modern writers, this is not an admonition but rather an awakening).
I’ve been reading this book in short bursts up until this weekend where I’ve found the time to really delve into it. That was intentional so I could reflect on concepts for story ideas, gaming ideas, etc. But I’ve found the concepts presented here are so juicy I can’t put the book down. I want more, and though I haven’t read most of the works listed, I plan on doing so shortly.
It’s changed the way I think about stories. It’s changed the ways I think about worldbuilding. It’s got my hungry for more reading and literature like few events in my life have ever done. Now I discovered this group touting a #PulpRevolution a few months ago, but until reading Appendix N I’m not sure that I grasped the full meaning of what it entails. There is such a deep world of reading out there that we’ve missed out on based on modern storytelling conventions, where everything has to be told at least in somewhat of a bubble (sensitivity readers will make sure of that!).
If you’re at all interested in literary history, you need to read this book immediately. We’ve collectively missed out on so much fun that went on in the 1930s-1960s in genre fiction. I look forward to getting into some of Edgar Rice Burrough’s more obscure works that I haven’t read, reading A. Merrit and Leigh Brackett among others. These people deserve full biographies and studies dedicated to them, and while ERB certainly has that, the others had until now been lost to time. Appendix N is going to open up the flood gates.
As for me, I’m finishing up a couple of works, but I guarantee you that this is going to reshape any story I write in the future. I just can’t unsee what I’ve discovered here. And that’s an amazing thing.
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