Linus’s secret revealed!

Yeah, that whole Finland thing? It’s just a cover story.

Back in the early Seventies an otherwise unassuming professor of philosophy named John Norman had a minor succes de scandale with a series of books set on a planet called Gor, a sort of counter-Earth in the same orbit as our planet but on the exact opposite side of the sun. These were quite like Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “John Carter of Mars” novels and probably patterned after them – sword-and-planet swashbucklery in a miliieu that mixed tropes from Earth history with plot hooks involving aliens and exotic super-science.

What made them scandalous was Norman’s sexual ideology. On Gor, women are slaves, and like being slaves. A lot. Norman had this idea that the unacknowledged heart of female psychology is a desire to be dominated into a state of ecstatic sexual surrender. It is fair to note that this isn’t completely crazy; studies of female sex fantasies consistantly report rape and domination as the #1 most popular theme (a female friend of mine, commenting on this fact, calls these the “It’s not my fault” fantasies). But fantasy isn’t reality, and the firestorm of indignation you’d expect eventually got Norman quietly blacklisted at all of the major SF imprints.

I read the first four of the Gor books so long ago that I had almost completely forgotten them. If you’re wondering why, three reasons. First, Norman’s worldbuilding was pretty good, considering; the man knows a lot of history and ethnography and I had fun playing spot-the-references. Second, this was before the post-Star-Wars boom in SF publishing, when the total published output of SF and fantasy was so much smaller that anyone who read as fast as I did more or less had to take anything they could get. Third: while I never believed Norman’s ideology or identified much with his unintentionally funny caricatures of masculinity, it was sort of clinically interesting to watch him unfold the ideas and see how far he’d push them.

But I lost interest pretty quickly and forgot about these books for nigh-on forty years. Until last night, when I dropped a joking reference to John Norman on someone much younger than me, found myself explaining it, hopped on over to Wikipedia, and discovered a shocking fact!

Er, no, not that Norman is still cranking out Gor e-books and up to #32 (“Smugglers of Gor”). No. The Wikipedia Gor page has a map. A map, not featured in any of the paperbacks, that reminded me of a toponymic detail meaningless to me at the time, but which since 1992 must assume ominous new significance.

Like Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Norman frequently played with the fabulation that the Gor books are no fiction but an actual chronicle of a counter-Earth, and that his heroes are real people who traveled, through the instrumentality of the alien Priest-Kings, from Earth to Gor…or from Gor to Earth. Even now, Goreans may walk among us, marvelling at our decadence and pitying our unhappy, undominated women. Perhaps exhibiting strange powers of interplanetary techno-wizardry born of civilizations more ancient and advanced than our own.

Strange powers of interplanetary techno-wizardry, I say. And there, on the map of known Gor; far to the north, beyond the Sardar Mountains where the Priest-Kings have their impenetrable fastnesses; north as well of the port city of Lydias at the edge of civilization; between the vast boreal forests and the frigid arctic; there is a place where hardy Vikingoids do the hardy Vikingoid thing with the huge battleaxes and furs and drinking horns and yeah, you know the drill.

And on the map of Gor, the name of that place is writ clearly: Torvaldsland

Categorized as General


  1. Oh, I have an even *more* portentuous suggestion: that the Morris Worm didn’t die, but instead hid. Explains all sorts of things, like why the NSA has such big computers, and why it doesn’t give a crap about the Constitution. Why the push towards self-driving cars? Why the push towards Google Glass? Why is there so much porn (you don’t think *humans* are really watching all that, do you?) Why so much e-commerce? And on and on.

  2. Tarja Turunen? The former Nightwish singer? The original vocalist of “Wishmaster”, which was explicitly about LotR and Dragonlance?

    That was not unwitting.

    As for Torvaldsland — ha ha. “Torvald” (or “Thorvald”) is actually a fairly common Norse name; it’s not surprising that, for instance, a Vikingoid community on a fictional extraterrestrial human colony be founded by a Torvald, who chooses to name it after himself. Nor is “Torvalds” a particularly eyebrow-raising surname; the rare bit, the interesting bit, of Linus’s name is the “Linus”. It’s not often that a Swedish-Finn is named after an American chemist and an American comic strip character.

    I also find it interesting that the Gor series, with its pervasive theme of female submission, has been so roundly shunned outside certain alt-lifestyle circles; whereas Wonder Woman, an explicitly fem-dom-themed character, has gone on to exceeding popularity. (Sure, her origins as a template for the ascendant ruling woman have been toned down, but she still ties men up and forces them to tell the truth!)

    That said, “Gorean subs/kajira” are some of the creepiest women I’ve encountered. A bit like anime cosplayers who want to become, and live life as, Sailor Moon or Lina Inverse.

  3. Is it a coincidence that Finland on planet Earth is more or less the antithesis of Norman’s fantasy? The undominated women of Finland were the first in the world to have full suffrage and, before the last elections, held both the office of the president and the prime minister.

  4. > “It’s not my fault” fantasies

    FWIW, I have seen a few guy-centric “it’s not my fault” fantasy stories floating around on the net, and the common theme there seems to be that the protagonist winds up owning a bunch of hot female sex slaves, through absolutely no evil actions or intent on his part.

  5. Some comments on Norman and the Gor books:

    1. Norman was quite a good storyteller. And his rejection of modern ideology wasn’t, I think, limited to sex, although that was the most visible part of it.

    2. In the first couple of books, the protagonist (from earth) accepted more or less current earth ideology, creating an interesting tension with the Gorean attitudes he was surrounded with. Pretty soon he went full bore with the Gorean ideology, which made the stories less interesting.

    3. As the series went on and (I presume) its sales reduced the leverage Norman’s editor had over him, the ideology became more and more blatant and preachy, making the stories less interesting as stories. The fact that the author had views of human nature, morality, and related issues different from those around me, in part I think based on views in classical antiquity, was an asset—it made the books more interesting. But the preaching was a very large liability, which is why I eventually stopped reading the books.

    4. It’s worth mentioning that Norman also wrote a nonfiction book, _Imaginative Sex_, which was basically a handbook to BDSM, back before that subculture was anything like as obvious as it later became.

    1. >But, have you ever seen Free Amazons of Ghor?

      Hm. My Firefox instance got hung up trying to find a plugin that would display that content.

    1. >It was performed at an early Darkovercon, I think #2.

      Hm. I think I was at Darkover Grand Council II. I must have just missed it.

  6. Too bad Mr. Assange couldn’t arrange a trip to T-land rather than the real thing. Nobody deserves to have to answer the outrageous charges he’s now hiding from.

    Maybe the place can be built as an adult theme park. ;-D

  7. I read the first six or so of the Gor books. If you could buy the premise – that Gor was hidden on the other side of the Sun, and kept hidden there by the advanced science of the insectiod Priest-Kings that ran the place, who had been systematically kidnapping people from Earth and transplanting them to Gor for centuries – it could be entertaining. Norman had a wide knowledge of history, and you could encounter all manner of societies from diferent times and places on Earth juxtaposed. The early books were published by Ballantine. Around book seven, I think, publication moved to DAW Books.

    Norman could have beneitted from more editing than he got – his storytelling was marred by infodumps, like building suspense of an impending climactic sea battle punctured by a cut to a multi-page description of the design and construction of the Roman style triremes used and the naval combat tactics employed before getting back to the fight.

    The female subnission bit was originally part of the background, and you could buy it as a quirk of Gor’s culture. In the early books, Tarl Cabot’s lover is Talena, a Free Amazon, who have explicity rejected the idea of becoming a Kajira. She’s kidnapped early on,and Cabot vows to find and be reunited with her. As the series progressed, the female submission motif became front and center. Talena was forgotten, and Tarl Cabot became progressively closer to the ideal Goreaan male. As he did so, he became progressively more one dimensional, and the series become increasingly formulaic. (DAW even published the volume mentioned above – “Imaginative Sex”, which was BDSM fantasies.)

    I didn’t stop reading them because I objected to the female submission motif: I stoppped because they became boring.

    Norman got dropped from contract by DAW, and blames that on a change in management. Don Wollheim, DAW’s founder (who I knew, back when) died, and control passed to his daughter Betsy as Publisher, with Sheila Gilbert as Editor. Norman says his sales were just fine, thanks, and they dropped him because they objected to the female submission aspects. He may be right.

    Amusingly, the DAW books were picked up and being re-issued for a while by Masquerade Press, an NYC based porn house, and marketed *as* BDSM porn. (Masquerade Press doesn’t seem to be around any more, but I can’t blame that on the Gor stuff. Written porn all moved over to “Erotic Romance”. Increasingly, guys didn’t *read* porn, they *watched* it.)

    There’s certainly a market for female submissive BDSM porn. One need only look at the three volume “Fifty Shades of Grey” series. (I thought that had been done better in one book by the pseudonymous “Elizabeth McNeill” in “Nine and a Half Weeks”, but I’m not the audience Fifty Shades was aimed at.)

  8. Jeff: You think Gorean kajirae are creepy in RL…try spending some time around them in Second Life. There’s an active Gorean community there. I’m told they follow the superficial bits of the stories, while completely missing the point. I’m not curious enough to dig that deeply, though I might nab the first couple of Norman’s books just to see what the canonical version is.

  9. The overlap between Tuchux, wanna-be-Dom and Gorean fandom is an odd Venn diagram. For a three year stretch in the late ’90s/early ’00s, I was around the SCA but not of it, was on meds that gave me hyperfocused intensity alternating with surly crankiness at anyone who didn’t have an IQ of 130+…and ended up being the “halfway house” date/relationship for a lot of Tuchux/Gorean/Kajira female population where I lived.

    The typical “Gorean Male” likes to paint himself as a power dom and master. In actual 20th Century America, there aren’t any steppes to be riders on, and Norman kind of glosses over the boring minutia of running a household of slaves. So, they tended to model themselves off of Hell’s Angels…except they couldn’t usually back up the rep (The Tuchux could fight, SCA style).

    The would-be-Kajira is what I refer to as “fan-bright” – she wasn’t one of the Popular Girls in school, but she was reasonably attractive, if bookish. The cute nerdy girl who’d melt various varieties of male hearts by being found curled up with a book in the library. In the social circle I’m describing, she’s usually taking a year or two off of college (more than half never go back) because it suddenly got hard when the courses hit 300-level. She’s got an apartment, often times a cat, a retail or customer service job that pulls about double minimum wage, the car her parents gave her as a graduation gift, free time and disposable income. She usually thinks of herself as being overweight; she isn’t. And all the guys she meets in her normal social circles are boring. Most wouldn’t know what a swash was, let alone where you buckle one! She demands romance! And excitement! And bold alpha-males who will vie for her attention!

    She finds the SCA/Gorean Fandom/fringy BDSMy overlap.

    So, would-be-Kajira finds, for lack of a better term, a guy who claims to be a badass, has a ponytail, some facial hair, wears leather to the right social events, has practiced a good sneer in the mirror…and the fact that his primary form of exercise is smacking asses and drinking beer (or if Tuchux, fights SCA style) means that his early-20-something muscles are turning into late 20-something/early 30’s beer-gut.

    And he works at a convenience store. Or Target. Or Wal*Mart. If he’s a bit more ambitious, he works at a garage changing oil, because he can buy parts for his bike wholesale. He lacks the self-discipline to join and stick with a band, though there’s decent odds he has a guitar and knows basic chords.

    He can’t actually clean up well enough to get an inside sales or office job. He paints this as “see, I am not of this world and go my OWN WAY.” He sponges off of his girlfriend(s) to support his lifestyle (“A slave owns nothing; anything she earns belongs to her master…”) She puts up with it because it’s a fun fantasy…until such time as it isn’t. Which is usually around the 9-12 month mark, and the fact that he’s already making the moves on a “sister slave” and isn’t paying enough attention for her. It gets worse – waaaaay worse – when a pregnancy occurs. Nothing like a squalling infant to observationally collapse the waveform of this fantasy.

    When the pregnancy doesn’t occur, after a span of time, she assesses. Her alpha-male shows all the signs of a guy who’ll aspire, some day, to a double-wide and living off of disability checks, and maybe pot-dealing. He probably lacks the ambition to cook meth.

    She leaves.

    Repeat as she goes through the local circle of “Doms,” but never quite gets ’round to meeting the BDSMy community (Which tends to be a lot more sane and better at communicating.) Eventually she stops going to SCA events because it’s mostly full of her douchebag exes, and she mostly used it as a dating service, and only peripherally was into any of the other things in the SCA.

    And then she bumps into other ex SCAdians.

    At the time I was involved, I was on ADHD meds. I cycled between “hyperfocused, don’t have time right now”, “scathing asshole” and “normal Ken, who’s a pretty mellow guy.” This was apparently a set of attractors, and ADHD drugs and their side effects weren’t as widely known.

    My guess is that they were trying to find some blend between “confident guy who’s a scathing asshole” and “Ken, who’s a pretty mellow guy…but only for MEEEE.” That person doesn’t exist without time-release stimulants…and those time-release stimulants don’t really leave that niche she wanted carved out.

    I had a fair number of conversations (sans stimulants) where I’d deconstruct what it was she found attractive about the lifestyle, and that I really didn’t want a “Kajira” or “sub.” I’d be more than happy to date her if she found a couple of hobbies or causes she became deeply interested in. I had no interest, none, nada, zip, zilch, in being the Alpha and Omega (or alpha-male) of her lifestyle. I’d explain the meds, why I was on them, what they did, and the illusion of the hyper-competent alpha-male who had a nurturing side straight out of the romance novels she imprinted on at the age of 12 or 13 kinda went “phhht” and I wasn’t going to string her along.

    Also, she should probably talk to some of those guys who were boring. They’d be low-drama, happy to have someone as cute as she was around the house, usually had won that second or third promotion at the office job de jour, and were suddenly in the “I have money and am considering purchasing a house” phase of their lives.

  10. @Jay Maynard: Oh, how history repeats itself!

    Back in ~2005 I used to be involved in a program called ActiveWorlds, which is a bit like SL but much older and significantly less money-pinchy (you don’t have to rent land, for example). Back then, one of the complaints from some circles was exactly that there were some Gor sub-communities and worlds (Note that worlds in AW are rented).

    It seems obvious, to me, that as SL became the new and trendy thing (and it probably helped that SL wasn’t stuck with a crusty old graphics engine which wasn’t holding up too well on modern hardware then and hasn’t improved since)

  11. @Ken Burnside Your comment, as personal and quirky as it was, just improved my understanding of the world a bit. “Archetype Vivisection” is what I want to call that. Thank you.

  12. Just wanted to mention – in an RSS reader, the juxtaposition of the titles of your most recent two posts sort of look like the scoop of the century. Hilarity unintentional?

  13. >Tarja Turunen? The former Nightwish singer? The original vocalist of “Wishmaster”, which was explicitly about LotR and Dragonlance? That was not unwitting.

    Except that the person responsible for those references would not be Tarja, but, rather, Tuomas Holopainen, who writes 90% of Nightwish’s material, including “Wishmaster.”

    (Tarja does still sing “Wishmaster” in her solo sets, though, along with some other Nightwish songs for which she was famous.)

  14. If it turned out that Crying Moon was about Dahak on purpose, I wouldn’t be too surprised, but I don’t think it is.

    I know that the ones resembling my stories are certainly not on purpose (unless you credit God!) since in most cases, my story hasn’t been published, the songs apparently related to them were written before the story and only discovered by me after I had written the story. There are two examples that stand out as being particularly spectacular:

    1. Over the course of May to December of 2009, I wrote FHD Remix: Three Worlds In One, a crossover fan fiction of Featherwing Love (my own story), Haibane Renmei (an anime series first broadcast in 2002) and Doom 3 (a 2004 computer game by Id Software, part of the famous Doom franchise that started in 1993.) I was only peripherally aware of such ancient technology and had no specifics regarding the Antikythera Mechanism. I certainly had no idea that Brian Transeau and Scott Pagano had done a music video (respectively ;) about it. This music video has nothing to do with the historical device, but instead focused on a cube that apparently wanted to build a city while a lady wandering in the wilderness watched. In FHD Remix, the Soul Cube from Doom 3 creates Glie, the setting of Haibane Renmei and I happened to find the video nine days after I finished the story. The first surprise of that video wasn’t the cube, nor the city as they appeared at three and eight minutes into the ten minute video… the young lady is the spitting likeness of Yaiba, one of my characters, exactly as I had imagined her.

    2. On 2011 July 15, I wrote a chapter in a book about nuclear terrorism (not published yet.) A 320kt warhead detonates in a fictional city, and as it unfolds, there are several flashbacks to share various recollections and to try to help the survivors piece together what’s going on as the world plunges into war. One of those flashbacks involved a young lady who had just dove into a swimming pool as the bomb goes off. The community center the pool is attached to is destroyed, so she must leave the pool area through where the bomb’s flash has burned away the fence. The city is almost unnavigable and people are having trouble finding the streets and avenues, not to mention blinded and shellshocked “ant-walkers” like in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and other types of disasters. The next day, I bump into a cell phone recording of Lights’ “Where The Fence Is Low”, as she was performing the unreleased single in open air concerts at the time. The song describes this chapter perfectly. (I think this is a different recording of the same performance) (my blog post a couple hours later)

  15. > Except that the person responsible for those references would not be Tarja, but, rather, Tuomas Holopainen, who writes 90% of Nightwish’s material, including “Wishmaster.”

    Holopainen has also been in the habit of firing female lead vocalists by way of a press release… maybe he’d like a slave woman who could sing? Today, a Finnish tabloid ran a story about Tarja Turunen and Anette Olzon becoming BFFs on Facebook. Olzon praises Turunen’s new record and both disapprove of the behavior of the men of Nightwish.

  16. I made it through about #23 or #24 of the series before I quit, but they got really bad quite a lot earlier than that. The first six books are actually decent SF, and worth reading. But round about book #12 or #15 or so, I found an entire page repeated verbatim, about 200 pages apart. That’s the most egregious example I can cite of how bad his writing got.

    Too, I got really really sick of his habit of starting sentences with “too,”. I understand that it’s valid English, but I’ve never come across it anywhere else, and it grates on me. And he does it all the time.

  17. Too bad Mr. Assange couldn’t arrange a trip to T-land rather than the real thing. Nobody deserves to have to answer the outrageous charges he’s now hiding from.

    You do realize that Assange was in Sweden and Linus is from Finland. These have been separate countries since 1809.

  18. I think the fantasy being sold in the Gor books isn’t “It’s not my fault” but rather “Hot sex magically guaranteed; no cognitive effort required.” The female character doesn’t have to engage in the difficult, unpleasant, and embarrassing effort of thinking or making a decision about the man’s offer to have sex – the man just captures or purchases the female, and the scene jumps straight to sex-with-a-desirable-man, with a side order of “I’m so sexy that I can make strong men lose control.”

    And on the male side, the fantasy is “Hot sex magically guaranteed; no social cognitive effort required.” The male character might have to use guile and cunning to obtain his slave woman, but this is comfortably male-style thinking. He doesn’t have to engage in the difficult, unpleasant, and embarrassing social- or female-style thinking involved in courting a woman and trying to figure out how to convince her. Instead, the male character just captures or purchases her and the scene jumps straight to sex-with-a-desiring-woman.

    In a way, it’s similar to certain old fairy-tales where fate or a fairy godmother acts as a magical matchmaker: For the female character, marrying whatever handsome prince the matchmaker throws up is a no-brainer, much like being the willing slave of whoever your master is in the Gor books is a no-brainer. In both cases “they will live happily ever after” and never mind that relationships in the real world don’t work that way. It’s just that the Gor books are more openly mercantile about it all.

  19. It’s funny that the “Gor” books are beyond the pale, but not the “Fifty Shades” books.

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