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