Charlie Jane Anders, over at io9, has posted a really interesting interview with John Norman, author of the Gor novels (all 29 of them!). It turns out that, when he's not writing BDSM-themed science fiction, John actually teaches philosophy at Queens College CUNY under his birth name, John Lange. Who'd have guessed?
I have to admit to a strange sort of guilty love for the Gor novels. I first discovered them in my high school days, having been drawn in by the pulp beauty of the Boris Vallejo covers, and tantalised by the very taboo nature of the stories themselves. The books are 'classic' adventure novels, similar to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars especially), but set in a very misogynistic world of sexual slavery. They were my first exposure to the world of BDSM, and I will still admit to a guilty little thrill of excitement in reading them. If you look at the covers today, you'll see just how far the series (and society) has come in embracing the BDSM elements.
Yes, as critics far as wide have suggested, the novels are deplorably sexist and embarassingly awful in their treatment of women. There's no point in trying to defend their sexuality, and absolutely nothing can be said to justify their often deliberate assault upon feminism. Like everything else, however, we each bring our own unique perspective to what we read. Personally, looking past the politics, what so enticed me about the stories was the fact that, once enslaved, the women of Gor truly revelled in their situation. They found a power in their sexuality, which is a theme that recent BDSM fiction has certainly exploited. As a curious teenager with sexually submissive leanings, I found it quite exhirlirating to imagine myself as a Kajira.
Questions of sexuality aside, the stories are fantasies, tales of imagination, with a concept I still think is rather clever - men and women are abducted from Earth by alien Priest-Kings, and deposited upon a hidden counter-Earth that resembles a mix of ancient Roman, Viking, and Native American civilizations. There are also some very promiment philosophical themes of heroism, self-sacrifice, honour, etc. that you might expect from tales of adventure and heroism. Even if you skip over the sexual elements (which, admittedly, does shorten the later novels quite dramatically), there is still a great science-fiction story to follow.
They are definitely not for everyone, but exploring them as BDSM novels (rather than fantasy/adventure novels) has certainly given Gor a new life and, I suspect, prompted readers to look at the stories in a new light. What was so taboo 40 years ago, when they first began to be published, has definitely shifted a little more towards the mainstream.
Anyway, if you are so inclined, you can read the full interview HERE. Just be warned, the comments (as you might expect) tend to get a bit heated.