|I came to this novel by way of Gary Gygax by
way of Appendix N of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
by way of James Maliszewski at Grognardia.
think it's safe to say that, if not for that rather remarkable (and
lengthy) chain of recommendations, I would probably have never read
this slim volume -- which, as far as I know, was published in 1963 and
never seen again.
Sign of the Labrys
is a post-apocalyptic tale of the sort commonly found in mid-20th
century science fiction. What sets it apart is that it is also,
although it doesn't strictly look like it at first, science fantasy.
(This becomes clear fairly quickly, but the exact reasons for its
fantastical nature constitute a spoiler so drastic that I won't even
hint at it here.)
The ways in which Sign of the Labrys
inspired Gygax's dungeoncraft become both rapidly and intriguingly
apparent: Sam Sewell, the protagonist of the tale, lives in a vast
underground complex of modified caverns that was built as a refuge
before the collapse of civilization. The apocalypse thinned out the
population (killing nine in ten) and eradicated central authority,
leaving behind vast catacombs of uninhabited space which small,
spontaneous societies have repurposed in a variety of ways.
In short, Sign of the Labrys reads
like a strange hybrid of Dungeons
& Dragons and Metamorphosis
Here we find a clear predecessor of Castle Greyhawk: A multi-cultural,
subterranean menagerie laid out in a pattern of levels and sub-levels
connected by both the well-known thoroughfares and a plentitude of
secret passages and hidden ladders.
This, by itself, would have made Sign of the Labrys
a fascinating and worthwhile novel for a D&D afficionado like
myself. But I also found the novel to be very entertaining in its own
right. Addictive, in fact. It's got a page-turning, pulpy pace mixed
together with some nigh-poetic language and a strange, enigmatic
mystery that leaves you yearning to know the answer.
Stylistically Sign of the Labrys
reminds me quite favorably of Henry Kuttner and
It possesses the strange, otherworldly, and fantastical approach to
matters of science fiction which characterizes the best of their work.
Particularly Moore's. Like Moore's classic Jirel of Joiry
stories, Sign of the
Labrys reminds me of Alice
in Wonderland smashed through the broken mirror of another
genre's conceits and set pieces. If I were to say that Sign of the Labrys
periodically reads as if the author had taken a tab of LSD before
sitting down at her typewriter it would not be wholly inaccurate. (It
would, however, be rather less than charitable, as St. Clair's writing
is not merely a drug-induced rambling. In fact, it works consistently
towards a larger stylistic and revelatory purpose.)
In the end, I found Sign of the Labrys
to be delightfully entertaining. And since, like me, you are unlikely
to encounter it by chance, I shall pass on the same recommendation that
was given to me: From Gygax to AD&D to Grognardia to me to the
Alexandrian and thus to you...
Find a copy if you can.