When I get stressed out, I find myself drawn to so-bad-it’s-good pulpy sci-fi, which is why I picked up book three of John Norman’s Gor series. For anyone who hasn’t read my reviews of the first two books, think A Princess of Mars, except all the women are sex slaves who seem to be relatively happy about it. If you’re looking for high-quality literature, then run. This is not the series for you. I’d compare it to a meth addiction (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually tried meth, but I’ve watched my fair share of Intervention). You know on an intellectual level that it’s bad, but somehow you can’t make yourself stop doing it. That’s why I’m in the middle of book four as I’m writing this and am impatiently waiting to jump back into it.
In my review of Outlaw of Gor, I mentioned that the book felt like a side quest. Priest-Kings of Gor picks up with the main story. Tarl Cabot, in a quest to avenge the destruction of his city, travels into the mountains of Sardar, from which no man ever returns. He intends to find the technologically advanced Priest-Kings of Gor.
The Priest-Kings were not what he expected. They are giant insects who dwell in an underground nest. Most of the Priest-Kings are genderless. The Queen is the only true female in the Nest, and she is dying. This means that the Nest is dying. Tarl Cabot finds himself caught between two opposing factions, one that wishes to destroy the Nest, and one that wishes to save it.
I found myself impressed with the world-building as the author describes the social structure of the Priest-Kings and of Gor itself. The Priest-Kings’ culture involves a strong sense of loyalty to the Nest, to the point that it can mean forgiving betrayal if it is committed by someone who is a part of the Nest. Outside the Nest, the Priest-Kings are less forgiving. After seeing the way that humans blow each other up on Earth, the Priest-Kings forbid humans from having technologically advanced weapons. If a human tries to build a gun or explosive, he is incinerated by the dreaded “Flame Death.” This is what keeps Gor so primitive, and part of what gives it its charm.
The Priest-Kings keep slaves, but those slaves are still considered to be “of the Nest,” which is considered to be a higher social status than being outside the Nest. One of the turning points in Tarl Cabot’s struggle was when he taught two slaves who had been raised in the Nest that rebellion and free will is part of what makes us human.
There’s a bit of a double standard going on, because when it’s a guy slave, rebellion and free will are glorified, but for women, submission is considered to be the ultimate form of existence. It’s almost like women are viewed as wild animals that are dangerous if they aren’t tamed. This can be demonstrated through Tarl Cabot’s encounter with the treacherous slave girl Vika, who only when fully dominated decides to switch sides and help Tarl instead of working against him.
Verdict: If you’re in the mood for some creative pulpy sword-and-planet featuring technologically advanced insect-people, then give it a try. The rampant misogyny is going to be a deal breaker for a lot of readers, so be forewarned. If you know what you’re getting into, it can be a fun read.