Friday, August 23, 2013

Bow Chicka Wow-wow

Hiero's Journey, Chapter Eight:

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

Rafting around the site of the ruined, drowned city, Hiero and co. eventually find an island formed by the collapse of a skyscraper, where they rest briefly and Luchare has a crying fit. Hiero decides to quiet the princess down with a long snog, and tells Luchare he loves her, though this probably is a bad thing because “I have been set a task so important that the last sane human civilization may fall if I should fail to carry it out” (178). Modesty is apparently not one of Per Desteen's virtues.

Continuing through the city, the rafting trio comes upon a kind of grotto formed by several tall ruins and ruined walls, in which, below the water's surface, they see what appears to be the projecting spire of a sunken building but actually turns out to be a “giant fin.” Lanier builds up to this pretty well; he may be poor at other things but he knows how to build tension.

Evading the giant mutant fish monster, or whatever it was, Hiero et al. discover a sort of shangri-la – a small, sunlit island at the edge of the city, where one of the inundated city squares opens onto the larger lake. Here, amidst wild birds and tranquillity, the author indulges in a bit of mildly misogynistic romantic fantasy. While Hiero spends his time on the island making weapons, Luchare “arrange[s] her hair” and tosses flower petals at the warrior-priest, a symbolic gesture about which even Papa Freud would say “Nope, sorry, too obvious for me.” Eventually, after a languid conversation in which Hiero belittles Luchare's “barbarous” home kingdom and demonstrates his brilliance by guessing that the princess was escaping from an arranged marriage, the two humans surrender to one another's dubious charms, and Gorm grants them some much-needed...triracial isolation.*

In Lanier's defense, one might say he was characterizing Luchare as immature and a bit spoiled (which she necessarily was, given her background), and perhaps some women find insults and demonstrations of mental prowess appealing. I think they generally don't exist outside of geeky fantasies, but what do I know? I am reminded of a scene in the movie Owning Mahowny:

Frank: Hey, Dan, let me ask you something. Why do you always dress like a douchebag?
Dan: Some girls go for that, Frank.

Maybe so.

Since this is an action novel and not a romance, Lanier mercifully spares the readers his version of post-coital conversation, moving quickly to the next fight scene. A band of humanoid frog-mutants, apparently mistaking the adventurers for very large flies, paddles up to the island in small boats and attacks Hiero and co. However, the frog-mutants have a weakness: their flesh is mildly phosporescent, which makes it easy for the good guys to see them in the dark. They prove no match for Klootz, who charges into the Evil Frog People like a big moosy tank; Hiero and Gorm and Luchare easily mop up the survivors. (Lanier includes a nice detail here, of Klootz shaking blood from his antlers after the fight [188].) These were, in modern parlance, merely trash monsters, but the bosses aren't far behind.

Coming next: Campy villains and a deus ex machina or two.

* Only about five people would understand this double-entendre, but as Roseanne Barr once said, "Some jokes are just for me."

Monday, August 5, 2013

In Memoriam: Andrew Sewell (1971-2013)

Cliched though it may sound, the most important thing Andrew Sewell taught me was how to be myself. When we attended middle school and high school together, back in the 1980s, there was no cultural cachet attached to being smart, or nerdy, or to having an interest in science fiction or fantasy. My sister, who was a few years older than us, referred to such interests as “girl repellent”; they wouldn't necessarily lead to bullying, but they certainly wouldn't make one popular.

The most refreshing thing about Andrew, aside from the great breadth of his interests, was his cheerful insouciance regarding others' opinion of them. If he liked something, he would indulge in it and let others know, and what he liked was almost always intellectually stimulating, or entertaining, or funny, or all of the above. It was Andrew who introduced me to the works of Terry Pratchett, back when there were two Discworld novels rather than 30; to John Varley's Ophiuchi Hotline, still a breathtaking story 30 years later; and to the novel Marooned in Realtime, which first introduced the concept of a technological singularity. It was Andrew who accompanied me and my brother Patrick and several other friends to our first Doctor Who convention, and got to see Colin Baker's monstrous ego firsthand. Andrew had been watching the show since childhood, and I still remember him bellowing “Exterminate! Exterminate!” into an electric fan to simulate a Dalek's voice. Andrew also helped my brother and me crack some of the tougher text adventure games from Infocom, and spent a year helping Pat develop a text-based computer game centered around a Turkish taffy factory. And of course he was always a ready, if highly opinionated, player in any role-playing game my brother and I cared to host, be it Dungeons & Dragons or a more obscure offering like Call of Cthulhu.

If we grew out of these childhood interests, we did so only very slowly. Andrew and I still shared them after college, when we were both living in our parents' basements and figuring out what to do next with our lives. Having a fellow gaming and sci-fi fan living nearby helped make that otherwise dull and lonely time entirely bearable. Our interests by then inclined toward old-fashioned war games, which Andrew generally won unless he was unfamiliar with the outcome of the battle they simulated (a history degree is good for something after all), along with a new card game called Magic: The Gathering, which we played obsessively in the winter of 1993.

We stayed in touch for the next decade or so, and Andrew continued to demonstrate that he was a good person as well as a smart one. He congratulated me when I got my doctorate and my first permanent job, reminding me that he now knew two Dr. David Nichols in Indiana, the other being a licensed drug researcher at IU. Andrew also expressed his sympathies on learning of my parents' protracted divorce, comforting me with the memorable words “This too shall pass.” It was around this time I learned of Andrew's health problems, but in discussing them Andrew used the same phrase. Cheerful stoicism was another essential part of his character.

Now the obscure interests Andrew so enthusiastically pursued are the cultural currency of young people everywhere. Terry Pratchett is an international best-seller, Dr. Who is wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and fantasy role-playing games, or at least their online variants, have hundreds of millions of players. Being a sci-fi nerd is the new normal. If a time traveler from the 1980s were to ask me today “What does popular culture look like in the early twenty-first century?” I would reply “Go back to 1985 and ask Andrew Sewell what he's interested in.” Sometimes a nerd is just a visionary who is generous with his ideas and interests. I am privileged to have been one of the beneficiaries of Andrew's generosity..