Friday, January 3, 2014
Sign of the Labrys (Margaret St. Clair) - Appendix N and Beyond!
Title: Sign of the Labrys
Author: Margaret St. Clair
Appendix N Status: Part of the original Appenix N list by Gary Gygax
One of the books that was part of Gary Gygax's (in)famous "Apppendix N" in the original Dungeon Master's Guide, this book is more what they call "weird fiction" than anything else. It is unfortunately not nearly so good as The Shadow People, the other Margaret St. Clair book mentioned in the appendix.
Set after a biological apocalypse (caused by "yeasts" that wiped out more than 90% of the population), this book follows a character named Sam Sewell as he quests through an underground world (partly natural caverns and part bunkers built for the nuclear war that never came) in search of a witch named Despoina, and slowly realizes that he is himself a hereditary witch of a sort. There is a weird mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and both Wiccan imagery (St. Clair was, in fact, connected to the early Wicca movement, and was apparently an initiated Gardnerian witch) and ancient Minoan and Greek imagery (hence the name "Despoina," Greek for "Lady," and the title's reference to the sign of the "labrys" (the double-bladed axe of Minoan iconography).
Some of the D&D elements I found in the book were:
* Dungeons and Dungeon Levels - The "dungeons" are part of a bunker complex built for a nuclear war, and most of the "monsters" in it are either experiments gone wrong, human enemies, or hallucinations, but still, the elements are there, as well as strange portals and traps and such. There is even something particularly D&D-like about the way each dungeon level has its own unique flavor, and they talk about the way things are on one level or another. This theme of exploring a weird underground world was also strongly present in The Shadow People.
* Mythological elements connected to Minoan/Cretan myth and Greek mythology
* Magic is present, and strange, the adventurers possessing unique magic through the power of Wicca, though their enemies possess adaptations of "some of [their] techniques."
* There is a sort of rugged survivalist element to the tale, the heroes forced to endure the strange elements of its underground Otherworld, which seems to be a pretty common element in D&D campaigns.
All-in-all, it was fairly enjoyable, but not nearly so much so as The Shadow People. Still, a good read for fans of Appendix-N-type literature.