“Tarnsman of Gor” by John Norman

“Tarnsman of Gor” by John NormanTarnsman of Gor by John Norman
Series: Chronicles of Counter-Earth #1
Published: 1967 Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 196
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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When I picked up this book, I wasn’t quite sure to expect.  The reviews that I had read before buying it were a mixture of outraged feminists, nostalgic reminiscences, and people pointing out the predictability of the plot.  It sounded like it would either be terrible or a lot of fun.

“Tarnsman of Gor,”  is basically “A Princess of Mars” with bondage and sex slaves thrown in for the aesthetic. The plot is almost exactly the same as  Burroughs’.  Tarl Cabot is a professor who goes hiking in the woods and is somehow teleported to Gor, the Counter Earth.  Gor follows Earth’s orbit, but is on the opposite side of the sun, so we can’t see it.  While on Gor, in part because of slightly altered gravity, Tarl becomes a heroic warrior who is capable of seemingly impossible feats of strength and valor.  He rides on a giant bird called a tarn.  Tarns are treated a lot like the sand worms in Dune; they’re integral to society, but they’re dangerous and can kill people.  While on a quest, Tarl falls in love with Talena, a warlord’s daughter, and when she falls into enemy hands he must rescue the damsel in distress.

Based on the outraged reviews, I had expected the S&M parts to be a lot worse and/or more sexist than they were.  Yes, the female characters tended to either be sex slaves or to wear veils and and be socially segregated from the men, and I can see how that might bother some people.  But, to be fair, the heroine didn’t end up chained up until she tried to kill Tarl several times, and he did seem to be very respectful of her under the circumstances.  Then again, I also probably wouldn’t fall in love with someone who tried to kill me, so there’s that.

One thing that I didn’t care for was the infodump when Tarl arrives on Gor.  I tend to prefer a more integrated way of worldbuilding, where the details about the setting and society are woven into the plot as they become relevant.

The plot is very predictable, but that’s to be expected in pulpy sci-fi, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.  It’s a fun read if you know what you’re getting yourself into.  Sword & planet science fantasy adventures are my indulgence of choice if it’s been a particularly rough day (/rant/ such as when you’re house-sitting at your boyfriend’s apartment while he’s on vacation overseas and there’s a sewage backup that they have to dig up the street to fix and you’re trying to keep yourself awake at five in the morning while repair people and plumbers are going in and out and there’s shit everywhere… /endrant/), and if there are scenes that border on softcore porn, it’s just part of what gives that type of book its flavor.  The book was perfect for something mindless but with lots of adventure, and I ordered the second book in the series with the hopes that I’ll enjoy it too.

“Tarnsman of Gor” certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for some cheesy pulpy sci-fi, then it’s perfect.

16 thoughts on ““Tarnsman of Gor” by John Norman

  1. For a real world book club a couple of years ago, one of our members emphatically recommended Time Slave by Norman. Not knowing anything about Norman’s writing, I had to search across most of the Net to find an affordable copy of the book. I couldn’t make it through the book. It was pretty awful all around and has become my new standard for bad books.

    When asked about it, my reply is “Sometimes books go out of print for a reason…”

    1. Well, one of the things that I read about this series in the reviews is that after about four books it starts to quickly descend into sexual fantasy at the expense of the overall plot. I’m going to read the next couple, but I’m expecting there to be a point where the series goes from fun to terrible without warning. At that point, I’ll need to find a new pulpy guilty pleasure series…

  2. I just find it impressive that you are taking the time to read this kind of stuff. I like it too (in moderation, like you) and think it is a lot of fun but is definitely the kind of literature that gets dismissed by the majority of readers. So kudos to you for having a wide variety of reading tastes. More proof that you are a kindred spirit. I’m so sorry. 🙂 LOL.

    I wouldn’t have figured that the ‘naughty’ stuff would have been anything but tame by today’s comparisons and so am not surprised that you found that to be the case. And unfortunately info dumps were a prevalent part of this era of storytelling. Its very refreshing when they don’t exist but I pretty much go into pulp/early SF era stories expecting them.

    1. Old pulpy novels are fantastic for brightening one’s mood, and they’re also particularly good if you’re tired/stressed/having life fails/etc. It’s the sort of thing that I never expected that I’d like, but once I started reading it I realized how fantastic it is, and I’d love to discover books that are like it.

      I found the “naughty” parts to be a bit hilarious… I read a lot of books, and with a wide range of content, so when controversy pops up, I tend to react by thinking “Oh, the Kushiel books were a lot more disturbing” or “Oh, whomever’s writing this critique has obviously never read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy.” Part of the occupational hazard with reading too much is that you come to a point where it takes a lot to traumatize you or offend you, and stuff like this is all in good fun.

  3. I’m going to talk about Conan again now. One of the things I love about Robert E. Howard is how incredibly detailed his world building was, and it’s really apparent in the stories, and doesn’t come across as infodumping or over explaining. He wove it through and makes you confident that he knew his Universe well. (he was actually a schizophrenic, and according to some people, thought his Conan stories were re-tellings of historical happenings)

    1. So, pretty much the moment that the apartment fail happened, I placed another order with Marx Books. It included the first book of the Conan series, among other awesome pulpy treasures. I can’t wait!

  4. I read these way back when. They used to come out about one per year and I’d get them at the used book store swapping 2-for-1. If you read one per year, you can carry on longer. I think there is still a box in the garage with 15 or 20 of them moldering to yellow crumbles. Very predictable. But fun in a mindless sort of way.

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