I’m proud to say that all 25 of the original novels in John Norman’s Gorean saga are together for the first time in decades, plus his 26th and penultimate novel, WITNESS OF GOR. The journey of the series from Blockbuster to Can’t Give Them Away and back to Blockbuster (they are among E-Reads’ biggest sellers) is a saga in itself and sheds some interesting sociological light on the publishing industry.
The first novel, TARNSMAN OF GOR, was released by Ballantine in 1966, and over the next fifteen years or so another 24 were published by Ballantine and then DAW. The books were enormously popular and sales were tremendous – until, one day it all ground to a halt, mysteriously, like that scene at the end of War of the Worlds where a seemingly invincible alien catches cold and drops dead. What happened? Tastes in reading habits change but usually they evolve rather than fall off a cliff as Gor did.
The answer may lie not in what readers like to read but what editors like to edit. The Gorean Saga’s epic sales were fueled by the kind of red-blooded male readers that consumed cowboy books, Executioner and Destroyer action-adventure, Spillane-type thrillers and space operas by the carton. And many of the editors who acquired them were red-blooded males themselves (with notable exceptions like Judy-Lynn Del Rey, the diminutive titan who gave her name to Random House’s science fiction line).
Then came the Feminist movement, and with it a revolution in editorial viewpoint. And Feminists had a lot to say about the morality practiced by the masters of Gor on their female slave subjects. As Feminists occupied more and more significant editorial positions at major publishers including the science fiction and fantasy divisions, hard-line Feminist thinking influenced decisions on all kinds of books, especially the kind that guys cherished. A lot of Feminist ire focused on Gor – many female editors passionately hated Norman’s world and all the decadent male chauvinism it seemed to stand for. (Not surprisingly, the author takes a very different view of all of this!) In any event, yes, by the 1990’s you couldn’t give Gor away.
The books were all out of print when I started E-Reads around 2000, but I discovered something very interesting when I went online. Not only was there a huge cult revolving around Gor (some of his hard to get editions sell in the used book market for well over $100), but many of those involved in Gorean role-playing games were women who were into fantasy slavery or simply took the stories in with a large dose of good humor.
Gor is once again alive and thriving on E-Reads, I’m happy to report. And as for Feminism in the publishing industry, I’m also happy to report that it’s here to stay. But it still unnerves me when female editors refer to the literature men like to read as “Boy-books.”