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Sign of the Labrys

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  174 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Like others who withstood the pandemic, Sam Sewell lives in a subterranean shelter. The vast catacombs were built before the military's biological weapon leaked out, killing nine out of ten people and leaving the survivors so traumatized that they can barely tolerate each other's company. So it's quite peculiar that some government agents seem to think that Sam lives with ...more
Mass Market Paperback, Catalog ID: #J2617, 139 pages
Published August 1963 by Bantam Books (first published 1963)
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Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So why on earth did I read this particular book? Short version: In the back of the original 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary Gygax provided a list (Appendix N) of recommended and/or inspirational reading -- most of it being the Usual Suspects (Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.), but some of it being a bit further out there ... And over the years, I'd managed to read almost all of the authors (even if in some cases I hadn't read the spe ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
A pleasingly unique--indeed, possibly sui generis--combination of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and (of all things) Wiccan magic and craft, "Sign of the Labrys" initially appeared in 1963, as a Corgi paperback. Its author, Kansas-born Margaret St. Clair, was 52 at the time and had been writing short stories (well over 100 of them) since the late '40s. S"ign of the Labrys" was her fourth novel out of an eventual eight. And lest you think that the novel's Wiccan elements were merely a passing fancy of i ...more
It's easy why this made it to Gygax's Appendix N: an evocative and enthralling physical setting of a half-abandoned subterranean complex with purpose-built levels, with stranger and more dangerous contents--traps, adversaries, weird stuff--as one descends.

St. Clair structures the story as a sort of transformative underworld quest, similar to what she did with The Shadow People, but far more successfully. This is not to say 'particularly well': the reader is expected to accept that magic works a
Timothy Mayer
Oct 24, 2010 rated it really liked it

Sign of the Labrys seems to be the one Margret St Clair novel people remember. Although the cover art has little to do with the book itself (big surprise there), the blurb on the back proudly proclaims: "Women are writing science fiction!" And we are told that it is "Fresh! Imaginative! Inventive!" Just like a loaf of wonder bread. I do hope she got some mileage out of this book, first published in 1963. At least some fame would compensate for the covers.
Written from the point of its protagonist
Apr 27, 2014 rated it liked it
"There is a fungus that grows on the walls that they eat."

Love that opening line! What a strange book. It plays out in a non-linear dreamlike fashion. A lot of deus ex machina that didn't seem to bother me because I enjoyed the oddness of it all. Wiccans as heroes, post apocalyptic cave civilizations, unexpected magical/mutant powers, a very interesting dog, etc. The revelation at the end had me a bit flummoxed. Ultimately not really the novel it could have been, but makes me interested to look
Unusual early-60s sci-fi story about witches in a post-apocalyptic (killer yeast outbreak) subterranean world. What might be typical pulp (it's basically formatted as such) is made more memorable by the strangeness of the underworlds, and the fact that Margaret St. Clair converted to Wicca three years after this was published. She's clearly already an initiate here, as she dumps in Wicca details as if they're already self-evident to all involved, which makes for an uneven but intriguing reading ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
OK, yes, Sign of the Labrys is old, but it doesn't read like it's old. And yes, I read it as a kid, and re-read it, and re-read it, as we all do with books we love as kids. But I still don't understand the low rating. Now that I have re-read it all these years later, it still holds up.

The setting is a very creative dystopian Earth. Dystopias being popular, you'd think people would like this book more. Also, although it's futuristic with some technology, there are also fantasy elements, so every
Oct 05, 2020 rated it liked it
She shrugged. There was a scurrying noise. It sounded like leaves falling, like rain, like big particles of mist blowing against a window.
I said, ''what's that''
''The rats. They come every four hours.''

Psychedelic, baby!

At its best, Sign of the Labrys is a twisty, hallucinogenic tale of underground civilisations, mould spores that make you incapable of love, strange technology, magic, and a post apocalypse where the earth is covered in body bags filled with bloated corpses.

At its worst it's get
Nov 01, 2017 rated it liked it
The Sign of The Labrys by Margaret St.Clair is well written, and starts out in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, but turns out it's fantasy, not science fiction, with Wicca and magic. Normally I wouldn't read something like that, but it was written so well it was as easy to keep reading as to put down. The Wiccan protagonists explore underground survivalist-city levels and caverns, trying to keep ahead of a new would-be police-state faction. If you like that sort of thing you'll probably enjo ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: appendix-n
I was a little disappointed in this book - it was nowhere near as good as The Shadow People, by the same author. And it is truly weird fiction - part post-apocalyptic sci-fi, part fantasy, part Wicca . . . very strange. Enjoyable, but strange.
I bought this 1963 novel from a used bookstore almost entirely because of the back cover blurb, which reads:


Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, th
Jan 17, 2022 rated it liked it
This bit of 1963 sci-fi craziness starts with a cool, overly relatable premise -- a plague of viruses has wiped out 90% of the population of the U.S. (maybe the world, we don't know) and many survivors live in huge, empty underground bunkers built for survivors of a nuclear war.

Now they're empty, but they have stockpiles of food and water to last centuries. Power, water, and other necessities are basically free, if you can find them. And you don't have to work, but some folks do out of boredom.

Jun 24, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
This book came out in 1963, the same year I was born. I came to read this through appendix N. Appendix N was a reading list in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide that outlined the books and authors that had most influenced Gary Gygax in his creation of D&D. Someone brought it up on Facebook the other day, and I looked back over it for the first time in decades. I had read every author listed at least a little, most I'd read deeply. Save one. Margaret St. Claire. So I picked ...more
Sep 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: appendix-n
In a world devastated by yeast plague, Sam Sewell is caught between the forces of the old world of magic and the remnants of the technological government, the FBY. This is one of the many inspirations from the infamous Appendix N that influenced Dungeons & Dragons, especially its early focus on dungeons and friendliness to a combination of technology and magic. It is definitely a strange world, where there is such an abundance that nobody counts the cost, even in lives.

It is also very much a rel
Printable Tire
Witches in a post-apocalyptic underground world? Something like that. I read this one Halloween when I was visiting Salem.
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
Fantasy, Wicca and fungus. What’s not to like??
Oct 21, 2020 rated it liked it
This novel is very interesting for a few reasons: it's the first fictional work with Wicca as a major theme; the plot and tone document how profoundly the pessimism of the early nuclear era permeated people's minds; and the resonance in 2020 of the plague setting where people can't bear to be near each other.

Unfortunately there are at least as many marks against it. I find the pulp-style writing hard to wade through; the narrator character is both bland and inscrutable in a way that doesn't real
Anthony Emmel
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting read. A post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in which 90% of the human race was wiped out by a fungal infection. The survivors live in various underground shelters and the last surviving government agency is the FDY (yes, Y, not I). The religion of Wicca plays an interesting role in the plot, and the male protagonist is, unuusally for the time, not a square-jawed, two-fisted hero but a rather plain, likeable fellow.

The author writes in what I call a stream-of-consciousness style
May 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Ultimately confused on what I just read...a post-apocalyptic story where humans live underground due to a fungal plague, and the heroes of the story are witches who are trying to hide their identities from the current government and their police-state organization called the "FBY." What was St. Claire on? Wicca, apparently. Anyway, there are portions of this wholly original plot where her writing is suspenseful and terrifying even today, and those parts made the book worth reading. Then there wa ...more
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: appendix-n
Enjoyable for the first 55 pages, this book then becomes a boring slog. Pointless and lacking any impact, a generic messiah story tells place with some people doing something and then bravely facing the unknown bla bla blah.

And tell me this: why does a book featuring a society of female Wiccan practitioners need a male protagonist? Why is the Chosen One for this all-female society a dude? Why is he the most powerful magician they have, when he is only fueled by raw talent and confidence? This is
Joachim Boaz
Jul 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Full review: https://sciencefictionruminations.com...

"Margaret St. Clair was one of a handful of prolific women SF authors who started publishing short fiction in the late 40s—her first SF story was “Rocket to Limbo” for the November 1946 issue of Fantastic Adventures. From the late 50s to the early 70s she published eight slim novels, mostly Ace Doubles (paired with authors such as Philip K. Dick and Kenneth Blulmer). Regardless of her earlier publishing prowess—by the publication date of Sign
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A well written 1960's SiFi book. Short at only 139 pages, but fun to read. The cover has very little to do with the story, but it is a great cover. The characters are all very unique and stay true to who they are. If you enjoy the older SiFi books, I would recommend this book. Plus, the story fits today, a pandemic whips out 90% of the world and the government is lying to the public, creating people to not trust each other with social distancing and corruption. ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi, dystopian
It was fine. A strange dystopian story set in a world after strains of yeast have killed 9 out of 10 people (plus most animals and plants).

The main character, Sam, is approached by the FBY who want information about a girl. He has no idea who she is but they keep asking and eventually he gets curious and goes to find her.

The end of the book seems to believe that a lot of information was provided in the middle, the end is wrong. It sort of feels like a few chapters got lost somewhere, the ones
Mike Snodgrass
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it
What a bizarre book. While I love the author's short stories, this sci fi post apocalyptic / Wiccan witchcraft novel was hard to follow and enjoy. I did like the world she created, and felt immersed, but the events in the story just made no sense many times. I had to google the Wiccan religion to understand what was happening to the main characters. ...more
Justin Howe
Apr 06, 2020 rated it liked it
The faster I read this, the better it was. That's not a complaint, but it's a book that gains power through momentum. Reminiscent of Fritz Leiber's Gather Darkness except there's dungeon-delving involved. ...more
Patrick Martin
Jan 01, 2022 rated it really liked it
A very strange book. The premise was very interesting but the execution was odd in some places. I wonder if one of the reasons for that was the amount of content in such a short book caused it to lose some of the explanation
Bobby Durrett
Sep 05, 2022 rated it liked it
Interesting book. Kind of frustrating to read because so much is unclear all the time. Seems born out of 60’s era fear of a nuclear holocaust. Not sure if the Wiccan stuff ties to any modern day Satanic cult or if it is purely fictional.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
Completely baffling tale of witches, plagues and fungus.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
This pagan post-apocalyptic tale from the 60s is unique, but quite readable, and still relevant.
Jason  Schoenleber
Jul 13, 2020 rated it did not like it
Started off good, but quickly turned into some crappy Wicca proselytizing. The ending was all over the place and poorly written. Don't water your time on it. ...more
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Margaret St. Clair (February 17, 1911 Huchinson, Kansas - November 22, 1995 Santa Rosa, CA) was an American science fiction writer, who also wrote under the pseudonyms Idris Seabright and Wilton Hazzard.

Born as Margaret Neeley, she married Eric St. Clair in 1932, whom she met while attending the University of California, Berkeley. In 1934 she graduated with a Master of Arts in Greek classics.
She s

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