Archives: Authors

Appendix N, Past Mid-Way

I’m about two-thirds of the way through my haphazardly completed reviews of Appendix N authors. Andre Norton is in the batter’s box. I’ve not read much of her output, so I’m taking in a few of her Witch World novels before writing up my assessment. But this seems a good time to look back on what I’ve covered so far.

I’m comfortable in saying that I can understand why each of the authors made the list. I can either point to a specific instance in a novel (an item, monster, concept, etc.) that filtered into the rules of D&D or I can see how the tenor or flavor of the writing influenced the style of play Gary Gygax was attempting to encourage and the archetypes he was attempting to emulate through the character classes.

Most of the tales are adventure stories, sitting in varying positions along the pulp-to-literary stylistic spectrum. Importantly, most were entertaining. I can see the influence of a few of these writers in my own output (for better or worse, depending on how you perceive my work.) These are deep-seated influences. I’ve been reading this stuff for a long time. I’ve only rarely had to hunt up a book or two in order to familiarize myself with an Appendix N notable. Most of the authors have had works sitting on my shelves for years.

Now, if someone were to ask for three authors one must read from the first two-thirds of the list in order to get a handle on what D&D is all about, I’d suggest (in alphabetical order) Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock. This is not intended to slight any of the others (in fact, most of the others are, in my opinion, better writers than Moorcock) but to single these writers out as having the greatest influence on the game. Of course the final third will include some heavyweights. Might Jack Vance knock one of these off the podium?* You’ll have to wait.
* What about Tolkien, you ask? J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence on D&D is a matter of some controversy. I’m not sure I want to weigh in on that one. Not yet anyway.

Top Five Novels I’d Like to See Filmed

For every film made based on a novel there are a hundred books optioned but not green-lit. For every book optioned but not filmed there a hundred thousand not optioned. Many of the latter two categories read as pretty cinematic to me. So here is a list of novels I’d like to see turned into films. Or a series of films. Or a television mini-series. Or a television ongoing series. Whatever. This doesn’t include books I know to be optioned or have heard rumors to that effect.

It’s Criminal

I suppose the appropriate thing for me today would be to write about last week’s Westercon. I’m used to doing the inappropriate, might be best you get accustomed to it as well. Today’s web log post will instead consist of a bit of upcoming news.

Country music holds a tradition of crime ballads, stories of men on the run, stories of alcohol and mistakes. Certain singers even attracted the label “Outlaw Country,” though the term might also come from the musicians bucking the established Nashville sound, pursuing instead a sound outside the norms. Either way, we got some excellent, evocative music from the movement. I grew up with it, and I still dig it.

You know who else likes it, even loves it? James R. Tuck. He loves it so much, in fact, that he put together an anthology of crime stories based on Outlaw Country songs. I bet he loves beer as well, because his consumption of a six-pack or so would go a long way to explain why he let me join in on the fun.

In a bit over a month from today’s web log post, Down and Out Books will release Mama Tried: Crime Fiction Inspired by Outlaw Country Music. My story, Copperhead Road, appears somewhere in the book. Here’s a suggestion for mid-August: Get yourself a copy, dust off your LPs, throw some Waylon and Willie on the turntable, crack a bottle of bourbon, and read.

Michael Moorcock, Appendix N’s Prince of Angst

It is only fair that I begin my web log post on Michael Moorcock with the positives of my assessment. He deserves recognition for his contribution to the field and I’m the last man to withhold his just due. Moorcock’s Law/Chaos dichotomy, along with Poul Anderson’s, was a seminal contribution to the alignment system of Dungeons and Dragons. Elric sits among the pantheon of notable fantasy characters. And while Moorcock did not invent the cursed sword, Stormbringer has become the epitome of the trope. In fact Dungeons and Dragons pays homage to it with the inclusion of the sword Black Razor in the funhouse adventure White Plume Mountain.

So Michael Moorcock’s deserved position in Appendix N remains undimmed, whatever I might think. And I do have an opinion. For whatever that’s worth.

Pacific Northwest Coastal Thoughts

Good — even great — writers develop and thrive in every climate and every locale. I’m not going to pretend they don’t. But, as I’m writing this in my hotel room on the beach in the Pacific Northwest Coast, I’m going to ignore all that pesky reality and posit reasons why the PNC matrix grows and nurtures superlative writers. N.B. I’m not counting myself among them; I’m a long time resident of Portland and its environs (soon to stretch the practical definition of ‘environs’), and not a coastal denizen.

Gloomy leaden skies threaten rain and reliably deliver on those threats. Monotonous drizzle, wind-driven sheets of icy sleet needles, torrents. Sodden evergreen forests soak up the constant precipitation, storing it up to deliver bucket loads to the fiddlehead ferns and assorted undergrowth below that turns the ground to an unbroken stretch of sponge. It’s wet, is what I’m saying. People stay indoors. Might as well write.

And what goes on in those vast tracts of rainforest? Dense, trackless. Why not Sasquatch? Elves or aliens. There’s a reason Mulder and Scully spent so much time blundering about through Pacific Northwest forests, right? Couldn’t just be the Vancouver, B.C. shooting location. Don’t be a cynic.

Over the dunes the gray expanse of the Pacific beckons. Waves pound irregularly on the rocks and sand, suggesting to the imaginative a syncopation one could grasp if one listened long enough. It is tantalizing. What is the rhythm? The off-beat drives the offbeat imagination.

The Pacific Northwest Coast restaurants abound in clam chowder, Dungeness crabs, fresh caught salmon, beer brewed not too far from that very spot. Fuel for the imagination.

The funky little towns tucked into coves and straddling headlands offer quirky antique shops and used bookstores. The kind of tiny, bric-a-brac filled establishments that seem to promise a long-forgotten magical relic or tome of lore, if one searches long enough through overlooked alcoves.

The people who wash up on the coast from inland like flotsam and jetsam offer model fictional characters. The burnouts, ex-hippies, retirees, seekers of second, third, fourth chances, the eternal optimists who think this business venture will really get traction.

Are any one or combination of the above the answer, or even an answer? I don’t know. All I know is that recent series of crashing waves had a pretty catchy hook.


Hobbits are the quintessential homebodies. So it is no wonder that Professor Tolkien’s literary masterpiece includes one of the few examples in speculative fiction of a lovingly detailed home. Bag End is so finely realized that most of us would love to live there. That makes it a rarity. Homes in speculative fiction are usually jumping off points, or places characters are pleased to leave, or destroyed in order to compel the characters to leave. Homes are seldom longed for, or if they are, we take the character’s word for it, instead of vicariously experiencing that longing ourselves as we do with the Baggins’ cozy hole in the ground.

Appendix N is Cosmically Indifferent to Your Opinion: HP Lovecraft

So we come to HPL himself, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Much anguished ink has been spilled over HPL in recent years. You want to delve into that, you’re on your own. I’m just writing about stories here.

HPL is best known for his Cthulhu Mythos tales, his stories of men driven to madness upon coming face-to-face with cosmic horrors. The kicker, and the thrust of HPL’s philosophy, is that these cosmic horrors — and by extension, the universe itself — are completely indifferent to the fate, and even the existence, of humanity.