The Gor novels, or Gorean series, is one of the longest running Sci-Fi series in history, with the first book published in 1966 and now stretching into 34 books. It is largely a sword-and-sandal planetary romance, and in many ways are of a type with the pulp novels of the first half of the 20th century such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter on Mars series. The series’ author is Dr. John Lange, under the pen name John Norman, a professor of Philosophy at City University New York.
The books are primarily set on the fictional planet of Gor, which is a “Counter-Earth”, orbiting the Sun in the same orbit as Earth but opposite it. The concept of a counter-Earth dates as far back as the Pythagoreans of Greece (a likely origin of the name “Gor”). Gor itself is an artificial world, brought into our star system tens of thousands of years ago by its hyper-advanced but reclusive native species, known as the Priest-Kings. The Priest-Kings have, over the millennia, transplanted many humans to their world for study and to populate the surface while they live underground in secret. The Priest-Kings ensure that the technological level of humanity is kept no more advanced than roughly ancient Rome and the early iron age, with a few exceptions such as medical technology. (The lack of realism of developing advanced medical technology without also developing advanced metallurgy and chemistry is ignored, as are many other impossibilities for the sake of the story.)
Because of the low technological level, the humans of Gor have developed a purportedly more “natural” culture, one that by modern Western standards would be alien and anachronistic but is presented in the books as superior as it is more in tune with humanity’s animal natures. The dominant culture on Gor is a romanticized and idealized version of ancient Greece, with similarly romanticized representations of medieval Africa, Arabia, American Indians, and others thrown in for good measure. All, however, share common cultural attitudes that are presented in a way to reinforce the core philosophical concept.
In particular, the most notable aspects of the Gorean setting are a society based on a firm honor code and a strongly patriarchal worldview, up to and including slavery. The latter is what the Gor series is most known for, and takes up the lion’s share of words spilled, but is not ultimately the central point.
The books themselves primarily follow Tarl Cabot, an Englishman transplanted to Gor who, over the course of several books, “goes native.” They are largely romance stories that serve as parables and allegory to convey a deliberate philosophical viewpoint and critique. A handful of books follow other primary characters, mostly Earthers brought to Gor but occasionally a native-born Gorean as well. The series is largely chronological and should be read in publication order in order to make sense.
As parables, many of the arguments made in the series are deliberately hyperbolic. However, it is that hyperbole that has appealed to many, and allowed Gor to stand out among other Sci-Fi series for so long.
Put another way, they are a lengthy and repetitive philosophical rant thinly wrapped in a sword-and-sandal Conan-esque adventure story with some sexy slave girls thrown in. (No wonder they’ve been so popular!)
The Gor series enjoyed tremendous commercial success throughout the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. Shortly after book 25 was published, in 1998, however, the new owner of Daw Publishing decided that the books were too misogynist for her taste (despite their major commercial success amongst women as well) and halted the series; Norman was effectively blacklisted in the publishing world until the early 2000s, when the books started to come back into print via new independent and online publishers. Book 26 was first published in 2001, although that publisher quickly folded and Norman moved to EReads, who have been publishing the series ever since.