Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The SFF Year in Review

A few impressionistic notes on some of the big events in the sci-fi and fantasy scene this past year, before we shamble into 2014:

In 2013, Peter Jackson continued to squeeze the last drops of life out of the Tolkien literary estate. We hope he will not attempt a film adaptation of The Silmarillion. Ana Mardoll continued the week-by-week takedown of Voyage of the Dawn Treader that she began late last year. Worldcon trended white, male, and reactionary. Charles Stross started his new Merchant Princes trilogy (he's halfway done now). Charlaine Harris killed off Sookie Stackhouse (more or less), angering her fans far more than her admission that she'd been phoning it in since volume 8. Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga comic book retained its awesomeness. Neil Gaiman published about fifty books and the first issue of a new Sandman mini-series. Apparently a Sandman movie adaptation is in the works, which will probably star Benedict Cummerbatch in the title role; the DVD will then feature a 10-minute makeout session between Cummerbatch and Gaiman. The long-awaited film version of Ender's Game tanked at the box office, as sci-fi fans learned it was by Orson Scott Card, who is a wanker. The latest Star Trek movie demonstrated about as much respect for the franchise as Card does for gay marriage. (Rob Bricken's fantastic review of the film is full of spoilers, but the movie was pretty much spoiled to begin with.) An entertaining new book about Dungeons & Dragons revealed A) that Gary Gygax had a touch of logomania, and B) that he and the rest of the execs at TSR went even crazier when the money started rolling in. Doctor Who celebrated his fiftieth anniversary by turning into Malcolm from The Thick of It (warning: link NSFW).There may have been some interesting games produced this year, but everyone was too busy playing Candy Crush.

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!