Monday, June 27, 2016

Dad the Pornographer

One of the more entertaining authors caught up in the Sword & Sorcery movement was a prolific writer named Andrew Jefferson Offutt – though he wrote under no fewer than twenty pseudonyms in his life, and maybe as many as thirty – no one really knows. Born in 1934, his career spanned fifty years and a multitude of genres through the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, but he only really came into his own in the sex-obsessed 70s.

Because while nominally a science fiction writer, this man, born in a literal log cabin in rural Kentucky, was maybe the most prolific pornographer of the twentieth century. He wrote at least 420 books of erotica and pornography under about twenty pseudonyms and house names – again, no one is really sure.

In the late 60s there was a burgeoning market for “Sleaze Books” which were packaged as “sexy” versions of respectable narratives like Noir Detective stories or Action/Adventure. The courts still held a broad view of what constituted obscenity, and so everyone had to keep in line. By 1970 this was no longer the case, and the market flowered with out-and-out porn, and the line between what was called “erotica” and “porn” all but vanished. Offutt thrived in this environment, producing such works as Bondage Babes and Sex Toy.

However, he was also a highly prolific writer in the field of Science Fiction, even serving as the president of SFWA in the late 70s for several years. He also wrote fantasy. Some of it was “sexy” fantasy like The Passionate Princess, but he wrote serious works as well. He edited the highly-regarded Swords Against Darkness anthologies, which ran to five volumes and included many of the old pulp writers like Manly Wade Wellman as well as new voices like David Drake.

Offutt also wrote Howard pastiches, and he generally did well by them. He wrote a trilogy of Conan novels: Conan and the Sorcerer, Conan the Mercenary, and The Sword of Skelos, all of which have been adapted into comics, and are some of the better-regarded pastiche works. In a way he helped really set the mold for all the works that followed, keeping to Conan’s established timeline and “filling in” the blank spaces in his biography.

He also wrote a much longer series of books about the minor Howard character Cormac Mac Art. Cormac was a wandering Irish warrior of the Dark Ages, loosely based on the historical Cormac Mac Airt, though the fictional Cormac dwelled in the eleventh century, not the third. Howard never wrote more than a few stories about him, though the ones he did include such awesome works as “Tigers of the Sea”.

Offutt ran with this, and ended up producing six Cormac books, filling in far more of the Irishman’s history than Howard ever did. Offutt was not the prose stylist that Howard was, and he tended to be more comfortable describing sex than violence. Yet his stories maintain a kind of breezy energy and a light touch that makes them eminently readable. Offutt did not have the signature Sturm and Drang of a real Howard story – it just was not in him – but he had respect for the source material and a sense of adventure that kept him going.

He had a full and varied career, was married for fifty years, had four children and five grandchildren, and died at 78 in 2013. He was such an elusive presence that it is not easy to find pictures of him. A writer of many names, he let his work do the talking.

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