Posts Tagged With: john norman

“Priest-Kings of Gor” by John Norman

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.

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“Outlaw of Gor” by John Norman

I picked up Outlaw of Gor, sequel to John Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor, because I was having a stressful week and wanted something mindless, pulpy, and fun.

Tarl Cabot goes on a camping trip into the mountains and once again finds himself swept away to the planet Gor, known as the Counter Earth.  When he arrives, he finds that his city has been razed and its people scattered, including the woman that he loves.  Tarl vows his revenge upon the Priest Kings and embarks on a journey to confront them.

On his way, Tarl visits the city of Tharna.  Unlike any other place on Gor, Tharna is ruled by women, who coincidentally wear creepy masks as further proof that they are evil.  Men have no social status, and are generally enslaved.  Reproduction is handled medically, and there is no place in Tharna for sex.  Love is forbidden.  There is no laughter, song, dancing, or anything else to relieve the monotony of life.  When Tarl finds himself captured and enslaved, he mounts a rebellion to change Tharna.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding in Outlaw of Gor far more than in the first book.  Norman’s passages on Gorean society, flora, and fauna are such that you feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never been.  You can tell that he’s spent a lot of time thinking about his world, and that he cares about it.  In the first book, it felt like an infodump, but in this one, it makes me want to visit Gor and see the wonders he describes.

I read the book in one sitting, and it worked wonders for my mood.  This series has become one of my guilty pleasures.  I should probably be outraged by the treatment of women, but I’m not.  Strangely, I think it adds to the books’ charm, and let’s face it, the male characters are no less objectified in sword and planet books and movies.  That being said, these books aren’t for everyone, and readers should know what they’re getting into.  Pretty much every female character is a happy sex slave (or discovers she’d be happier as a sex slave, as in the case of Lara, the ruler of Tharna).

I’m eager to read the next book and to see where Tarl’s adventures take him.  If the Gor series were a video game, Outlaw of Gor would be a side quest.  The adventure in Tharna was fascinating, but the plot line with the Priest Kings and Tarl’s mysterious return to Gor are left unresolved.

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“Tarnsman of Gor” by John Norman

When I picked up this book, I wasn’t quite sure to expect.  The reviews that I had read before buying it were a mixture of outraged feminists, nostalgic reminiscences, and people pointing out the predictability of the plot.  It sounded like it would either be terrible or a lot of fun.

“Tarnsman of Gor,”  is basically “A Princess of Mars” with bondage and sex slaves thrown in for the aesthetic. The plot is almost exactly the same as  Burroughs’.  Tarl Cabot is a professor who goes hiking in the woods and is somehow teleported to Gor, the Counter Earth.  Gor follows Earth’s orbit, but is on the opposite side of the sun, so we can’t see it.  While on Gor, in part because of slightly altered gravity, Tarl becomes a heroic warrior who is capable of seemingly impossible feats of strength and valor.  He rides on a giant bird called a tarn.  Tarns are treated a lot like the sand worms in Dune; they’re integral to society, but they’re dangerous and can kill people.  While on a quest, Tarl falls in love with Talena, a warlord’s daughter, and when she falls into enemy hands he must rescue the damsel in distress.

Based on the outraged reviews, I had expected the S&M parts to be a lot worse and/or more sexist than they were.  Yes, the female characters tended to either be sex slaves or to wear veils and and be socially segregated from the men, and I can see how that might bother some people.  But, to be fair, the heroine didn’t end up chained up until she tried to kill Tarl several times, and he did seem to be very respectful of her under the circumstances.  Then again, I also probably wouldn’t fall in love with someone who tried to kill me, so there’s that.

One thing that I didn’t care for was the infodump when Tarl arrives on Gor.  I tend to prefer a more integrated way of worldbuilding, where the details about the setting and society are woven into the plot as they become relevant.

The plot is very predictable, but that’s to be expected in pulpy sci-fi, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.  It’s a fun read if you know what you’re getting yourself into.  Sword & planet science fantasy adventures are my indulgence of choice if it’s been a particularly rough day (/rant/ such as when you’re house-sitting at your boyfriend’s apartment while he’s on vacation overseas and there’s a sewage backup that they have to dig up the street to fix and you’re trying to keep yourself awake at five in the morning while repair people and plumbers are going in and out and there’s shit everywhere… /endrant/), and if there are scenes that border on softcore porn, it’s just part of what gives that type of book its flavor.  The book was perfect for something mindless but with lots of adventure, and I ordered the second book in the series with the hopes that I’ll enjoy it too.

“Tarnsman of Gor” certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for some cheesy pulpy sci-fi, then it’s perfect.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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