Monday, December 24, 2012

Aslan, Conan, and the Creepiness of A Song of Ice and Fire

A few nice long links to occupy my readers' time while I complete the next installment of my Hiero's Journey review:

1. Ana Mardoll has been working on a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and their cruel governing philosophy for much of the past year. She has posted her book-length review of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in .pdf and .doc form here (scroll down a bit), and it's a very engaging read. One hopes she will do the same with Prince Caspian, which she recently finished giving the critical thrashing it deserves.

(Apropos of this, Mardoll reminds us that Prince Caspian ends with Aslan sending most of the Telmarines back to the Pacific Island where their pirate ancestors were shipwrecked. He doesn't warn them that things on their home world might have changed a bit since the Days of Sail - and one of Mardoll's commenters notes that the deportees would have arrived in the Pacific region right at the start of the Second World War. Now THAT would be an interesting premise for a story...)

2. Ms. Mardoll also provided her readers with a link to this extraordinarily well-written essay on the horrific racism and misogyny of Robert Howard's Conan stories. While the piece is over 20,000 words long, it provides a thoughtful, humorous, and suitably horrified summary of the Conan oeuvre.  Here's an example of the reviewer's prose: 

Having fulfilled his titillation quotient, Howard has his tribe of undomesticated homosexuals try to sacrifice Livia to a giant bat, because that is totally what lesbians do to nice straight white girls who fall into their clutches, and Conan charges in to save the day.

Plus, the author provides a summary of the Silmarilion, for the benefit of those of us who A) haven't read the book, and B) never plan to do so.*

3. Speaking of misogyny, it seems to have been an important component of George R.R. Martin's "gritty," by which we mean "creepy," fantasy novels, A Game of Thrones et al.  So sayeth Good Queen Sady, in last year's excellent blog post, "Enter Ye Myne Mystic World of Gayng-Raype."  Sady wrote shortly after the publication of the fifth novel of the series, so her review only covers volumes 1-4, but I don't think she misses much by leaving out A Dance with Dragons, which in your humble blogger's opinion was a waste of everyone's time.

* (Update, 21 Aug. 2015: One can also watch this short video.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Captain Exposition and the Water Weasels

Hiero's Journey, Chapter Two:

For a chapter-by-chapter index to this series, click here.

(For the previous chapter, see here.)

The second chapter of Hiero's Journey, "In the Beginning," contains, as one might expect, an expository flashback, but this only takes up about half the chapter. A more descriptive name for these 24 pages might be "Flashback, with Weasels," since they end with another knockdown fight, this one between Hiero & Klootz and a pack of ravenous mutant mustelids. (I take no credit for the fancy vocab, by the way; the last term is Lanier's.) The fight in question is partly Hiero's fault, since he had decided to follow a stream down to the marshes on the northern fringe of the Inland Sea (which is what the swollen Great Lakes have become in this era), and the water proved an ideal attack corridor for the weasel-oids in question. Having heard the attackers well in advance, and having detected their "blind, ravening appetite" (45) with his Psychic Canadian Priest powers, Hiero at least manages to avoid an ambush.

Lanier has fun describing the five giant "water weasels" (possibly mutant mink, but let's call them weasels) who attack Hiero, Klootz, and Gorm "like streaks of dark, undulating lightning," their faces "grinning masks of fury" (46). Our author isn't the most gifted wordsmith, but one must give him credit for decent action scenes. The fight that closes the chapter is brief but intense, and gives Hiero and Klootz an opportunity to show off their combat skills. (Gorm seems to have spent the fight in the underbrush, sucking his paws.) By my count, Hiero dispatches three of the mutant beasties with his spear, cutlass, and a shot from his gun, which apparently shoots explosive rockets (not exactly overkill when one is beset by 10-foot-long weasels). Klootz squashes two water weasels with his hooves, catching one of them off guard by "minc[ing] up to it" like a baby morse (aww...) before breaking its back.  Klootz may be a giant mutant moose, but he ain't stupid. Hiero suffers a bad leg injury and chapter's end sees him treating his wound and pumping himself full of narcotics.

Lanier could as well have begun Hiero's expository flashback here, as our protagonist drifts into a drug-induced haze. The scene takes place in Sask City, capital of Hiero's Metz Republic and one of the few centers of civilization on the continent. Father-Abbot Demero, Hiero's mentor and boss, tells his star pupil that the Republic's efforts to expand the pale of civilization are failing, apparently due to coordinated attacks by the Evil Unclean Conspiracy. Among other outrages, the Evil Mutants have destroyed a convoy carrying scientific equipment from the nearby Otwah League, have killed or captured all the members of a huge colonial expedition to "Huzon Gulf" (the expanded Hudson Bay, I assume), and have sunk a ship of "yellow-skinned people," presumably travelers from East Asia, off the "Beesee" coast. Apparently, the Evil Mutant Conspiracy doesn't like science or immigrants. Comparison to a certain modern American political party I leave as an exercise for the reader.

To break this "deadly tightening web" (29) is the purpose of Hiero's journey: he was sent south to the lost cities of the old "American empire," a land of "endless marshes...vast tracts of poisoned desert" (32), and ginormous mutants, to search for old technologies that might aid the Good Guys in their struggle. This is where Hiero's mission most clearly resembles that of a swords-and-sorcery hero: travel into a dangerous land full of monsters and find powerful magic treasure in the ruins of a lost civilization. The specific McGuffin he seeks is a computer (cue portentious music), an ancient device which will help his Abbey analyze its enormous files of information. Following the mid-20th-century assumption that a computer's power varies directly in proportion to its size, Lanier has Abbot Demero observe that some were so powerful they were "larger than this building we're in" (34). The very largest of these computers, I imagine, were almost powerful enough to run an app from my iPod. Okay, enough cheap shots. For now.

Up next: At the dread hour the Mind-flaying Mist Dweller comes.

Picture credit: The above illustration, "H is for Hiero," is by Andrew Neal and is used by permission of the artist.  The original image may be found here.