Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fish, House, Boots, and Sword

Hiero's Journey, Chapter Nine:

(For the previous entry in this series, see here.)

Brother Aldo opens this chapter by donning his Captain Exposition hat, telling Hiero and Luchare of the terrible time before the great Apocalypse, speaking with horror of twentieth-century skyscrapers and aircraft and the “poisonous wastes” (200) that the benighted pre-war humans and their machines produced. I suspect this struck me as tedious liberalism when I read this book in my teens, but on reflection it's easy to see why someone in the early 1970s, when the Great Lakes were dying and leaded gasoline was the norm, would hold this view. Eventually, Aldo continues, overpopulation and stupidity produced the final war that so dramatically altered the planet. His own order, the Eleveners, originated around that time, as a few ecologists (Good Scientists) banded together to prevent a repeat of the ecological devastation and madness of the past. Another group of biochemists and psychologists (Bad Scientists) bred mutants to be their servants, and became the Unclean Brotherhood. The Evil Unclean Mutant Conspiracy has now become so dangerous that the Eleveners have decided to ally themselves with the Kandan Confederacy, and sent Aldo to track down Hiero because the EUMC is afraid of his awesomeness.

After having his ego fluffed by Brother Aldo, Hiero and his companions, now joined by the itinerant ecologist, proceed out of the ruined city (which I persist in thinking is Toronto) and along the shore of the Inland Sea. Hiero decides at one point to consult his seer stones for guidance, and draws the ever-popular Fish-Boots-House-Sword/Shield combo. This foretells travel and combat and possibly something happening indoors. Or a walking fish with a sword defending a fortified blockhouse. Or an aging hoarder puttering through his house full of fishing trophies, antique weapons, and Nazi footwear. The reader may draw his/her own conclusions.

Shortly after Hiero's casting, he and his retinue arrive at a small, wooded cove where one of Aldo's allies, Captain Gimp (no, really), is waiting in a carefully camouflaged sailing ship. The vessel is covered in tree branches lashed to its mast and a camo net, a detail interesting enough to distract your reviewer from the author's goofy nomenclature. While reluctant to take Gorm and Klootz and Luchare aboard the good ship Foam Girl (what did I tell you?), Captain “Bring Out the” Gimp eventually yields to Aldo's persuasion and takes the whole party aboard. During the voyage that follows, Gorm gorges himself on maple sugar and honey cakes, Aldo grooms and tries to soothe the fretful Klootz, and Hiero and Luchare shag incessantly in their cabin, with “no complexes” (211) to hold them back, in Lanier's charmingly antique Freudian terminology. Aldo discreetly provides Hiero with birth-control medicine, proving once again that Hiero's church is not your father's Catholic Church, nor your first cousin's either.

(Aldo, we should note, needs at this point to re-earn Hiero's trust. Earlier in the chapter, he admitted to Hiero that one of the assistant priests of the “white savages” (210) back in Chapter 4 was a member of his own Elevener order, but that the Elevener agent was prepared to let Luchare die in order to avoid blowing his own cover. It's an alarming revelation, and one which suggests that the Eleveners and Evil Unclean Mutants have been fighting each other so long that their conflict has turned into a kind of Cold War, fought by espionage and deceit.)

Five days out, just as Hiero and company are beginning to relax a little, the Foam Girl is overhauled by a massive pirate ship, black flag and all. Scanning the crew with his mental mojo, Hiero detects a collective “aura of power and evil” (213), suggesting that the pirates were investment bankers in their past lives. He also determines, to his alarm, that four of the leaders have mental shields, a skill they must have learned from the Evil Unclean Mutant Conspiracy. Say what you will about evil conspiracies, at least they draw in enough villains to keep one's heroes' overall Enemies List tidy and well-organized.

And say what you will about Sterling Lanier, but he knows how to pack a lot of detail into a single chapter. This one's only halfway done, and already your humble narrator has written a long enough exposition of it that he will have to break this blog entry into two parts. Damn you for your competence, Lanier!

Coming next: Pirates!

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