“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr.
Like its title, this story just meanders, from an uncertain beginning to a sudden conclusion. Once again puppies have fetched a fragment rather than the whole. The preceding installment is entitled 'Thaw'. There is alleged to be a sequel.
It goes like this. A small statured adventurer, from the Tharn Lands, ventures downstream, with traders bringing ice to the Warmlanders. The tale is told as a travelogue. The protagonist, Rist studiously notes everything about the adventure on totem cylinders, onto which he carves marks. I remember thinking that these totems must be pretty large or the coldlanders have a really advanced shorthand.
The story is told entirely in a male voice. Women are reduced to a contraction (wen), and have no voice in the story. They merely provide pleasure. The world built is a post industrial society in the midst, or end of a cooling phase. It is only broadly brushed, with information doled out by dint of Rist's inquisitive mind. There are relics of technology and a remnant religion. Humanity's stock seems to have diverged. Bring me your tall and your short, youur flat-chested and well endowed. Whilst the religious beliefs of the Warm Lands are described in some detail, and Rist is both repulsed and curious, contrasting them with his own, however, the changes in humanity itself are left mostly unexamined. Why are the denizens of the cold lands so short? Do the Tharn Land women suckle their young? The economics of the ice trade seem strange. Why would traders risk their lives piloting icebergs downstream merely for copper coins, since they cannot bring back basic trade goods? Did they not have currency of their own? More could have been made of these questions, and others. The story was not bad, but could have been better realised,
“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright
In which John C Wright channels a noir detective Matthias Flint, in his search from beyond the grave for his murderer. The identity of the murderer is not so important (and blindingly obvious on page 1), because, whilst this is a story of betrayal, it is also one of redemption. The writing is more controlled than the excess that is typical of Wright, Nevertheless the verbosity of the prose increases exponentially whenever the Jesus factor is turned up to eleven.
"The dreams grew thick about me as I approached the path of light. I saw two
trees, one white as chalk with silver fruit, one black as pitch with fruit luscious and
red, guarded by a freakish shape like an ever twisting snake with wings of bronze,
and along all its length, and in every feather, eyes that shot lightning. In the hands of
the snake was a two-edged sword that twisted and darted in every direction, but the
tip was broken off, so that the point was square and blunt. I saw a barge like a huge
box, covered over with a roof, wallowing in stormy sea, up and down waves that
passed like walking mountains, and uprooted trees, scattered roofs and livestock,
and endless acres of corpses, of women and children and giants, floated in the
waves. I saw an empty tomb."
Others have pointed our a couple of howlers left in the text as a consequence of lackadaisical editing. 'Coptic jars' indeed. This is not surprising, given the identity of the editor.
Because this tale is principally of the Christian mythos, encompassing purgatory, temptation and redemption, Wright cannot resist letting his islamophobia shine through in the glimpses Flint spies of the future fate of the ungodly world. Fallen skyscrapers. No Church Bells.
'Just thin, wailing cries from thin, ugly minarets'.
Wright's thesaurus app must have glitched at this point, because he barely repeats an adjective anywhere else.
I liked this story better than the other Wright offerings, but the bar was very low.
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright
Here Wright tries his hand at Narnia Fanfic, judiciously leavened with borrowings from other epic fantasy stories.
Thomas Robertson meets Tybalt, the magical cat of his childhood adventures beyond the wardrobe, sorry Well of the Nine Worlds on his doorstep on a cold and foggy October evening. Given that it has been a bad week at the office, Tommy immediately sets out to on a quest to find his friends Penny, Richard and Sally, and to recover the magical implements that allowed them to defeat the Shadow King thirty years before. Sadly it seems, they had not done it properly, and must to do it all over again, lest all England perish.
That said, Wright is no C.S Lewis. This shows. Whilst Wright is damn good at making lists of magical artefacts, creatures and the names of far off lands of whimsy, they are just that. Lists. Or incantations. One should be thankful that they weren't bullet pointed.
Prince Hal was crowned Halcyon the Tenth, yes, King of all the Realm
of Vidblain between Mount Whitecrown and the Sunset Sea.
The quest for companions does not go well. Richard has gone over to the dark side, Sally has lost her courage, and cannot remember if she is Sarah or Sally (bloody editor), and Penny is well, dead. So it goes. Fortunately, Penny has left a deus ex machina in the form of a magic book to help. And once Tommy has learned to always do what the cat says, all goes swimmingly. There is also a flaming sword (mandatory device in all JCW fiction). Tommy goes onward to bring fantasy stories with a derivative Christian allegory to the Galaxy.
This story was not engaging, though not overtly annoying.
“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright
In this complicated and ultimately unsuccessful time paradox tale, Wright has many simultaneous balls in the air, only to have them come crashing down as he singularly fails to nail the landing. The conceit of beginning at the end, and ending at the beginning is clumsily handled, and too often Wright's sleazy uncle persona creeps into his descriptions of the titular heroine, Helen of Troy/Marilyn Monroe.
The Time Wardens rule Metachronopolis, the city beyond time to which they bring historical figures, the better to mess with their minds and select the most corruptible to join their number. John Kennedy is one such importee. He hires detective Jacob Frontino to set up his death - or at least the death of a version of him, so that he will not fall to evil and mistreat Helen of Troy/Marilyn Monroe.
It all gets desperately confusing.
“No, I mean I am telling you now. This me version of me is telling the you
version of now-you to shoot the door. Now. This is me telling you. I am telling you
because the innocent parallel version of me told me to, and the older version of you
told the middle me to tell other me to tell now-me to tell now-you.”
The point of all this is to ensure the triumph of the GOOD Time Wardens, in their alternate timeline city of Transmetachronopolis, where I presume gender mutability of time travellers is respected along with all the colours and tropes of humanity.
Aaargh. This clunky story represents the nadir of the Wright contributions to the 2015 Hugos. I'll never get those 2 hours of my life back either.
My Rankings of the novella category:
- No Award
- Big Boys Don't Cry
- Pale Realms of Shade
- One Bright Star to Guide Them
- The Plural of Helen of Troy