Hello, my lovelies. I apologize for my enforced hiatus from book blogging – I just moved, and haven’t had reliable internet access for the last few weeks. But don’t worry. My lack of posting does not mean I haven’t been reading, so look forward to seeing a bunch of critiques coming up soon.
Now, on to the review.
The last time I was on the intarwebs, there was a big to-do going on in regards to the re-release of the Gor series, and the publication of a new Gor novel. For those of you not in the know, Gor is a series by John Norman. It’s the name of his counter-Earth, a planet whose orbit mirrors ours exactly, so the two planets are always on opposite sides of the sun. We don’t know about them, and the average Gorean doesn’t know about us. The only contact we Earthlings have with Gor is when one of ours is brought over by mysterious forces.
Sometimes, these mysterious forces aren’t so mysterious. Women on Gor are slaves. Sure, there are “free women” – but, as you’re reminded over and over again throughout the course of the series, a free woman is just a slave without a collar. And they love it. Only in slavery and in submission do women (both Earth and Gorean) realize their true femininity. Men are real men – they’re beasts, brutes, and warriors, chockfull of honor and honest-to-goodness manhood, not the tepid stuff men from our world try to play off as masculinity. So sometimes? Those mysterious forces have a not-so-mysterious motivation: profit. Gorean slavers often raid Earth in order to kidnap its women, who are known for their “hot bellies” (ease of arousal) and overall craving for REAL MEN.
Already, it’s a mixture for problematically awesome times. There’s the many proud, bratty women (all women in this series are proud and bratty, until forcibly reminded to be otherwise) who realize they in fact love being topped and collared. There’s the men who are eager to top and collar them. There’s the static gender roles. There’s the constant denigration of the feminist movement, the insistence that equal rights squashes women’s sexuality, the idea that lesbian/assertive women just haven’t met the right man, and on and on. Underlying all this is the insistence that these sexualized gender roles are a biological necessity.
This book exhausted me. It truly did. Especially since I used to like Gor. To be honest with you, I read Tarnsmen, Outlaw, Raiders, and Magicians when I was a wee Ria. This is not my first introduction to the series. This is not my first introduction to intrinsic gender roles, to slavery in fantasy fiction, to male fantasies of what real women are like. I liked Gor. I thought it was good fun. I thought John Norman and I were having a romp through the tropes – he was writing a slightly explicit sword-and-sorcery and I was just along for the ride. I thought he was writing self-reflexively, that it was “just fiction.”
Witness of Gor changed that for me. Maybe it’s because this is the first Gorean novel I remember reading from a female perspective (I think I picked up Kajira of Gor at one point, but didn’t finish it). Maybe it’s because I really like who I am. I don’t think I need to be collared or flogged or whatever to realize my truest self. Maybe it’s because Norman’s narrator really clearly shut down any progressive possibilities within the text. The misogyny is just that thick. Our girl Janice can’t even envision being friends with other women. After being kidnapped and subjugated on Gor, and realizing she loves it there, she thinks, ‘Would they [her Earth friends] be able to grasp now that she must obey, that she must please and serve?…What would it be like, I suddenly wondered, to compete with them?… Would we not, suddenly, find ourselves divided against one another?’ (WoG 119).
Honestly? At this point, I think I died a little inside. It’s rare that women’s relationships with one another gets treated well in SF/F. Not only are women biologically designed to be submissive, constantly antagonistic when not properly owned, and only happy in servitude, but they can’t actually have friends. All the other women are competition and all the men are their masters.
What a lonely, lonely existence.
Sigh. I read all 720 pages. I felt dirty when I was done. I felt especially dirty when I got to John Norman’s letter to fans. At the end of it, he asks, ‘How many honest books have you read lately?’ Plenty, really – too bad that number didn’t include this book.
here are some John Norman/Gor links: