The Kink in Space

My excuse for a certain embarrassing stack of books is that I didn't buy them. Honest. Neighbours dumped their teenage son's discarded paperbacks on me. I offered them to the SF Foundation, who tactfully said: 'Pull the other one, Langford, it has got bells on.' So for years, these books lurked amid piles of unread review copies in our front hall, until some rotten swine wrote a song about this fact ...

John Norman's 'Gor' series started with Tarnsman of Gor (1966) and four sequels, in which mighty-thewed hero Tarl Cabot hacks his way through gory adventure on the subtly named planet Gor – all vaguely in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter of Mars. Later books in the series spice things up a bit, with special emphasis on Gor's slave industry. Tarl Cabot may be from fuddy-duddy old Earth, but he soon sees the advantages of owning gorgeous female slaves and being able to say, rather frequently, 'For that ... you must be punished!'

As the Encyclopedia of Fantasy primly puts it, 'later volumes degenerate into extremely sexist, sadomasochistic pornography involving the ritual humiliation of women, and as a result have caused widespread offence'.

John Norman particularly likes writing about uppity feminist Earthwomen who are abducted to Gor, enslaved, and whipped a lot – whereupon they realize with joy that being a slave is their true and liberating role in life. Gorblimey.

A passage from Norman's non-Gor sf novel Time Slave (1975) indicates the attitude expected from womenfolk, and also shows how he writes very fat books:

'She looked on him. Never before in her life had she seen such a male. He made even Gunther seem a lesser man. Her imagination had not even dreamed that such a man could exist. The men she had known earlier, even Gunther, had been no intimation that there might be males such as these. Such men, she thought, could not exist in her time. In her time there was no place; there could be no place, for such men as these.'

Please don't ask me about Gunther.

I peeped into the late Gor volume Vagabonds of Gor (1987) and couldn't stop laughing at the description of a Gorean left luggage system. Tarl Cabot hits town with his current bimbo from the Slave of the Month Club in tow, and rents a locker to deposit the baggage while he explores the night life: 'I had her climb into the small box in which she then lay down, on her side, her knees drawn up. We had left her in the hood, leash and bracelets. [...] The box itself is of iron and very sturdy. It has various tiny holes in its front wall and in its lid, through which the occupant may breathe.' The paragraph has hundreds more words about the box, making sure to point out that passing chaps can peek through the holes at the naked flesh within.

John Norman (in real life an American university professor) takes all this very seriously. He's upset by the wicked feminist usurpers at his US publishers DAW Books, who in the late 1980s cancelled the Gor series on the paltry excuse of falling sales. He also tongue-lashes sf fans and critics who find his hang-ups somewhat unsavoury:

'As you know most science-fiction fans are still very young. Most have certainly not reached their full sexual maturity. Similarly, the sorts of things to which many of them are attracted, e.g. space ships, ray guns, etc, or, say, magic, sorcerers, dragons, etc, are quite alien to the Gorean books, which are, on the whole at least, extremely realistic. Similarly, the Gorean books are not simple action novels. They are also intellectual novels, philosophical and psychological novels. This puts them in a different category from the average science-fiction or adventure fantasy story ...'

In short, 'The Gorean books are written for highly intelligent, highly sexed adults.' Actually, many intelligent sf people don't mind a bit of bondage or similar naughtiness – but still puke at Norman's humourless insistence that this is the One True Way, that all women without exception want to be helpless slaves. And are genetically programmed to belly-dance.

As I said, some rotter embarrassed me with a song about 'the Gor books in Dave Langford's hall'. The culprit is allegedly Tom Holt, who will suffer for this one day. Meanwhile, I've moved the wretched volumes out of sight ...

David Langford has fantasies of being tied up in Premium Bonds and lashed with million-pound prizes.