Untitled Novel, Teaser

  • by Gitabushi

The McCoy’s Story, Chapter 1: Beverly

Beverly woke, feeling groggy, not sure where she was for a moment.  Her bleary eyes blinked the world into focus.  Metal, glass, tile.  People hurrying past.  Voices over an intercom: “Flight 262 to Washington Dulles International, now boarding Zone 3.”

Beverly pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes.  Zone 3?  That was her boarding group.  She stretched, picked up her backpack and purse, stifled a yawn and stood up.  She shuffled over to the line, then fished her boarding pass out of her purse.  Another yawn rose, and this one would not be denied.  She covered her mouth, but despite her best efforts, this one was audible.

The man in front of him turned around at the sound.  “Tired, huh?  Well, you’ll get some sleep on this red-eye, as long as there are no infants near you.”

“Yeah, I just flew in from China.  I’ve already been traveling for 22 hours.  I couldn’t sleep on the plane earlier, but I just caught a nap there in the waiting area.  I think it made me feel worse.”  The line moved forward a step.

“Wow, long trip!  Where are you headed?”

“DC is my last stop.  Good thing.  I feel like a zombie or something.”  A few more steps forward.

“You’re not sick, are you?”  The man looked like he wanted to sidle away.

“No, I loaded up on vitamin C before the trip.  I’m just tired.”

They reached the flight attendant, and the conversation died.  As he was looking at Beverly’s boarding pass, she heard some yelling down the foyer, maybe 10 Gates away.  The flight attendant glanced past her shoulder, a puzzled look on his face.  The sound of commotion increased, and Beverly turned to look.  She couldn’t see anything at this angle, and she wasn’t willing to step out of line to see better.  The attendant motioned her to go on, and she smiled faintly at him as she walked past.  Just as she entered the jetwalk, she heard what sounded like a scream, and a loud report like a firecracker.

A gunshot?

No way.  Beverly shook her head.  Guns aren’t allowed in airports.

20 minutes later they were in the air, and Beverly was fast asleep.

***

She woke again as they were making the final approach into Dulles, then dozed until they pulled up to the gate.  Lack of sleep and disruptions to all the normal biological cycles made her feel groggy even after she gathered her purse (no carry-on, for the win!) and staggered off the plane and up the walkway.

Her luggage would be arriving at the very last turnstile.  Before walking down there, she stopped off in the Ladies Restroom.  She sat in the stall, staring at nothing, trying to will herself fully awake.

She heard someone stagger in, then stumble over and push at her door.

“Taken!  Try the next one.”

More pushing at the door.  The groans sounded a little urgent.

“Hey!  Taken!”

Whoever it was seemed to take the message, and stumbled into the stall next to hers.  She could see the woman’s feet, rather large in tennis shoes, in the 12-inch gap.  She saw a hand reach through and paw in her direction.

“Out of toilet paper?  Okay, hold on a second.”  Beverly unwound a big wad, reached down and held it out.  The other person knocked it from her hand.  Fine, I don’t care, Beverly thought.  Some people just have no gratitude.

She closed her eyes and put her head in her hands, took several deep breaths.  She pulled out her cellphone and held the button until it began to turn on.  She stood up and had just gotten the door open when she felt her foot grabbed.  She looked down in time to see a man’s head stuck through the gap between the floor and the stall divider, and saw him sink his teeth into her ankle.

blinding pain–

“SON OF A BITCH!” Beverly yelled, and dropped her phone as she yanked her foot free.  She aimed a kick directly at the side of his face, heard his head bounce off the base of the toilet.  She opened the door and ran out with her purse.  She heard the man struggling to get out of the stall behind her.

Out of the restroom, she picked out a security guard a few dozen yards away.  She ran up to him.

“A man just assaulted me in the ladies restroom!”  She pointed back the way she had come.  She had to repeat it again before he understood.  He looked grim and began to walk in that direction, lifting his radio to his mouth as he went.

Beverly hesitated a moment.  She didn’t really want to wait around and see the guy.  Just thinking of him gave her the creeps.  There was something funny about his eyes.

She also didn’t want to wait around to repeat her story a dozen times to the police.  She knew that she should do her part to get a jerk like that off the streets…but she was exhausted, and just wanted to go home.  At least she could pick up her luggage first.  That would also give her more distance from the bathroom.

She walked another couple hundred yards to the luggage turnstile, which was already turning with a few pieces forlornly waiting for owners.  Hers was already there, too.  She grabbed her suitcase, then heard a scream and turned to look back at the bathroom entrance.

A struggle was ensuing between two security guards and the guy.  It looked like one of the security guards was down with the guy on top of him, and the second security guard trying to pull him off.  As she watched, the second guard pulled the assailant off of his buddy.  The guard on the floor wasn’t moving at all.  The creep turned in the second guard’s grasp.  It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked like the guy was winning!

Beverly felt a bolt of terror in her heart.  She turned and hurried toward the exit.  She looked back as she reached the door, saw the guard fall to the ground and saw the man stagger in her direction.  She pushed out the doors as fast as she could, scrambled out onto the sidewalk.

She looked for the economy parking lot bus stop.  There!  And her lot color was already there.  As she ran toward it, dragging her suitcase, it started to pull away.

Then the driver must have seen her, because it stopped and the doors opened.  She clambered on board, yelled, “Go!” and collapsed into a chair.  She looked back at the baggage claim door but didn’t see her assailant emerge.

Her ankle throbbed.  She pulled her foot up to the seat, looked her ankle over.  She winced as she pressed and explored the bite area.  Was the skin broken?  No blood, at least.  That seemed impossible with as bad as the bite hurt, but maybe her jeans got in the way?  The way it hurt, she was going to have one hell of a bruise.

When the bus reached her stop, Beverly raced to her car, jumped in, and locked all the doors. She sat, shivering with reaction, for about 15 minutes.  She transitioned directly from panic to exhaustion, however, and woke herself when her head lolled forward.
She shook her head to clear it, glanced at her watch, and estimated she had lost only about 20 minutes dozing.
“Better I get back home as soon as possible and crawl into bed for some good sleep,” she said out loud, trying to wake herself up.  “I just hope I don’t nod off on the road home.”
Not many cars were on the road.

At one point, she saw someone walking across the freeway ahead of her.  She slowed slightly, until she saw that he would pass safely across before she reached him.

Within about 40 minutes, she was turning the key of her Eckington neighborhood townhome.  Three levels, 4 bedrooms, all hers.  Well, after another 27 or so years of mortgage payments, as she liked to say to friends.

She stripped her clothes and showered as rapidly as she could.  She checked out her ankle, rubbed some soap on it, but no sting of an open would.  Sure enough, though, it was already turning purple. The sky was just beginning to lighten as she stumbled into her bedroom and slipped into bed.  And then out of bed again to close the heavier curtains, to make sure sunlight drifting in between the slats of the blinds after daybreak didn’t wake her.

She set the alarm for a little over 6 hours later, pulled the covers up to her chin, and waited to fall asleep immediately.

35 minutes later (as confirmed by the bedside clock), she was still waiting.  She started the self-hypnosis technique she had learned back in college, and before the second set (backwards from fifty), felt that curious falling sensation that accompanied entering sleep when completely exhausted.

***

Untitled Novel, Teaser

Walking Dead, Season 7: Far-Right Tutorial

  • by Gitabushi

There are plenty of spoilers in the following piece.  If you aren’t caught up on the story, well, at some point you have to take responsibility for being weeks behind.  There has been plenty of time for everyone to catch up on the storyline, so I’m not even going to try to avoid spoilers.  I’ll put it below the jump, however.  And the spoilers will be minor, I think.

Continue reading “Walking Dead, Season 7: Far-Right Tutorial”

Walking Dead, Season 7: Far-Right Tutorial

The secret formula of Kells

Some months ago I watched the Secret of Kells (2009) on Netflix and meant to share some thoughts about it. Actually I was hoping to pester Kaiju into making one of his rare appearances to talk about it (he being more qualified to opine on religious symbolism and whatnot than I), but alas.

Animated by Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, the Secret of Kells is a Christian fantasy story crafted around the abbey at Kells, in Ireland, during the 9th century. Although I wasn’t initially impressed by stills I had seen of the movie, it’s actually quite beautifully animated in a style that reminded me of Samurai Jack.

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Kells incorporates many of the themes and elements that I and others have waxed about of late, regarding the shift in fantasy storytelling. The film weaves Christian history, dogma, and myth together with pagan Celtic legend in a thoughtful and effective manner. I won’t go into detailed analysis of the plot right now, but suffice it to say the setting – a secluded abbey surrounded by mysterious, magical woods, during the fearful age of the viking raids into England, is the perfect backdrop for the exciting, moving tale told here.

A young boy being raised by his uncle, the abbot of Kells, finds himself drawn to literary illumination and the legendary Book of Kells. Meanwhile the abbot is consumed with a burning drive to erect a great wall around the monastery to protect the monks and refugees from death at the hands of the invaders from across the sea.

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Aside from some breathtaking art and music, one of the things that impressed me most about Kells was the amount of research and thought that must have gone into the story and that was so skillfully incorporated without feeling forced.

For instance, the story involves a certain artifact belonging to St. Columba, the founder of Kells and at least in the film the originator of the Book. So far as I can tell, there wasn’t actually a myth about such an artifact, but Columba was the subject of other legend. St. Columba is credited with having spread Christianity to Scotland, and was said to have banished a great water monster to the depths of River Ness.

The abbey at Kells and its namesake book are real, the later currently residing in Dublin, and at some points the film shows us some animated versions of actual illuminations from the tome.

The observant watcher will also note the name of the dark Celtic god Crom, which was likely the inspiration for Robert E Howard’s Conan deity. There’s also some interesting imagery to be observed, including that of the ouroboros.

Perhaps my favorite “Easter Egg” or whatever you might call it, is a feline character belonging to one of the monks. The cat is named Pangur Ban, and was inspired by an actual 9th century poem written by a monk about his pet cat.

There’s an excellent song at one point in the film, where the character Aisling uses magic to enlist the help of the small animal. The Gealic lyrics of her singing invoke James 4:14. One theme of the story seems to be the giving way of the pagan powers to the Christian God, as perhaps reflected in Aisling’s song.

The Secret of Kells is a wonderful movie, though I wouldn’t show it to young children due to some emotionally intense scenes. It’s uplifting to observe that though many mainstream entertainment media shy away from Christian SFF storytelling these days, there are smaller outlets that do not, and they’re capable of some fantastic work.

-Bushi

bushi

The secret formula of Kells

Three Thoughts on Three Hearts and Three Lions

I finished up my second Anderson novel over the weekend. While I don’t think I’d rank Three Hearts and Three Lions among my favorite fantasy stories, I continue to be astounded at the state of the genre in relation to these older writings. Maybe it’s mostly due to the constant flow of new works and the pace of writers like R.A. Salvatore and Kevin J. Anderson, who seem to be putting out a new book every few months. But reading Poul Anderson and his seminal tales like Three Hearts leaves little doubt as to the towering influence he’s had not only on fantasy literature, but throughout the many spheres of nerdom. Why are we not seeing republications of this guy?

I’ve got three major thoughts I’d like to explore here. *Minor spoilers follow.*

 

1. Origin of the species

Jeffro wrote a great analysis of Three Hearts a couple years ago and the part it played in inspiring, in particular, the Paladin class, the concept of the troll, and the alignment system in D&D.

I’ve written before about the paladins and their origins, and I was pleased to see that Anderson drew upon the Matter of France in his own development of the Holger character. I feel like the Carolingian legends have never enjoyed the same degree of popularity as the Matters of Britain and Rome (the Arthurian and Ancient Greek and Roman myths, respectively), and yet there is so much to draw from the tales of Charlemagne and his knights. I must admit I was surprised to learn that “Cortana” is the name of another powerful sword forged by the legendary blacksmith Wayland (who is sometimes credited with having forged Durandal and even Excalibur). And here I had never given any thought to from whence Microsoft may have taken the name.

As for the Paladin, Jeffro notes:

Of course, a number of people are going to be reading and recommending this book because it is the literary antecedent of the paladin class from the first edition AD&D Player Handbook. Certainly, the laying on of hands, the warhorse, and the “Holy Sword” are all here.

There are a number of other fantasy traditions established or reinforced by Anderson here, but I’d like to focus for a moment on the concept of “Law vs Chaos.” Although those familiar with his works may credit Moorcock and his Eternal Champion saga for the trope, Anderson’s employment of it predates that of Moorcock. And indeed, in Elric of Melnibone‘s acknowledgement Moorcock gave a shout-out to Anderson as one of his inspirations.

Law vs Chaos has been done in different ways; sometimes it’s just a slightly more ambiguous label for Good vs Evil. Sometimes there is more nuance. But especially in the gaming scene, it’s certainly become a popular system for fleshing out alignments or dividing factions.

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The fact that Anderson and Three Hearts put so much of this subsequently widely-adopted material out there may actually be its biggest weakness in the eyes of modern readers. I’m by no means saying that the story is a let-down or unworthy of a read, but some people may perhaps be bored by what they see as yet another serving up of common fantasy tropes.

 

2. Talking the talk; walking the walk

As Rawle Nyanzi recently observed in his own first reading of Three Hearts:

Anderson also shows that he knows the old folktales on a very deep level, interweaving them into crucial plot points throughout the entire novel — it made the tale feel deep and full. It was nothing at all like the fantasy stuff I was used to, where a legendary figure’s name would be used without capturing any of that character’s substance. It did not treat European folklore as a grab-bag of powers and names to use simply because they sounded cool; I could tell that this story came from the pen of someone who truly loved these tales.

That rang true as I read through the story, as well. Although I wouldn’t describe the plot as seamless (certain parts of the story did feel a bit jerky or disjointed to me), I thought Anderson did a masterful job incorporating elements of older fantasy and fairytale, Christian mythology, and real history to color this rich yarn. I especially enjoyed the attention he put into characterizing his fey folk, and the tradition he drew upon in the process. Elf Hill, for example, was probably a Fairy Mound of the Celtic sort.

He was also up on the works of his contemporaries – in a nod to Tolkien, Anderson included mentions of wargs and Mirkwood. I also noted that there was a minor character in the book named Frodoart, and wondered whether Tolkien may have liked the name poached a part of it for LoTR (Three Hearts predated Lord of the Rings). Or maybe it was pure coincidence.

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I also credit Anderson with putting a lot of work into his characters’ dialogue. Like in the High Crusade, the people in Three Hearts speak in a way reminiscent of older times. Hugi the dwarf and Alianora the swan-may speak with Scottish accents (dwarf trope, anyone?), Holger the Dane at times uses flawed “ESL” English, and the denizens of the fantasy setting all make use of older, more archaic language. This adds a little bit to the effort required in following dialogue, but not so much as to require intensive labor on the part of the reader. I imagine Anderson must have studied quite a bit to pick up the right words and phrases for this kind of endeavor.

 

3. The old ways

We’ve already talked about Fantasy’s shift away from Christianity, and greater critics than I have analyzed the trend. In light of that movement, there’s something satisfying and almost fresh (old is new again) about fey folk who cannot stand the touch of iron and who are vulnerable to the cross and the invocation of the Lord’s name. Rather than brute force, the Middle Worlders must rely on cunning and guile. At one point the Three Hearts protagonist reflects that given their weaknesses, the fey can really only harm or ensnare those who wish to be taken. Given how many times they get the drop on him, though, I’d probably amend that theory to venture that a properly prepared Christian Man in his proper frame of mind can withstand the eldritch powers of the Middle World.

Incidentally, I noted that Anderson’s tale equated Pan with the Devil. One of the characters exposits upon the original fall of Chaos to Jesus Christ and mentions the death of Pan. Rather than a mostly harmless imp, the hircine pagan god is depicted as a much more sinister being. I only raise this point because I know it has been another topic of discussion within critical circles.

Further reading:

In addition to checking out Jeffro and Rawle’s (linked above) takes on Three Hearts and Three Lions, there’s also a worthwhile post-read analysis over at Tor.com.

 

Next:

I’ve now gotten to work on the first of Zelazny’s Amber books, and having already enjoyed one of his (mostly) fantasy tales, I’ll also be sampling one of Dickson’s scifi stories. I really should jot down some thoughts on the Dragon and the George before memory fades and a revisitation becomes necessary. We’ll see!

-Bushi

bushi

Three Thoughts on Three Hearts and Three Lions

Steve McQueen, Jack Vance, and revenge

I’m a little ways into Star King now, with a couple of initial thoughts. *Light spoilers ahoy.*

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First, I continue to really admire Vance’s writing. Simultaneously intelligent and accessible, he seemed to know how to provide enough description and exposition to flesh out characters and worlds without going overboard. My only gripe so far has to do with the prefaces at the beginning of each chapter. Much like Herbert in Dune, Vance starts each part with one (or more) quotes from books, speeches, people, etc. within the literary world. These provide context for events, locations, or peoples in the story, usually just as the reader is about to encounter them. I do like the use of these in general; I just prefer it when they’re are a few lines long, as opposed to a page or more. When they’re short, they can give a little break as the story progresses and provide some useful insights. When long, it feels to me like they upset the pacing somewhat.

Second, there’s something about the way that grandmasters like Vance, Howard, and Burroughs crafted their characters that makes them likable for me, despite coming close to Gary Stu status (as opposed to some R.A. Salvatore characters I can’t stand). Conan and Carter are charismatic, strong, brave, and honorable men who conquer foe after foe and have to beat off the hot ladies with a stick. Perhaps they’re acceptable because they suffer defeats and setbacks, and they know how to win and lose like men. Invariably it means they keep on keeping on, no matter how grim the situation.

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I didn’t note much description of Gersen’s physicality and I haven’t read anything yet to make me believe the womens are swooning all over him, but he is a master fighter/poisoner/killer. It’s also clear that he’s a pretty bright chappy. So he’s brave, strong, and smart at the very least. Relatively early on he proves his fighting prowess by overcoming an Earthman of considerable fighting skill, but Gersen doesn’t feel like an invincible (dark elf) killing machine. Though you know he’s going to survive at least for quite a while (after all we’ve got 4 more books in the series after this), he feels vulnerable and fallible.

Ok, so that’s Star King. That’s where my mind is these days, at least a part of it. On the classic SFF.

Last week I decided to watch something light on Netflix and it seemed time to knock Nevada Smith off my list. This one is a western from 1966, starring Steve McQueen as half-Indian Max Sand as he quests for revenge. That’s not so unusual in and of itself, especially for a western. But man, immediately I thought to myself – “Holy cow, this is the Demon Princes writ-small, except in the Wild West!” And only two years after the publication of Star King!

Well, I’m not so sure there’s any connection, but the general setup of the story sounds pretty similar. Max’s parents are tortured and killed by three outlaws, and so he sets out to seek revenge.

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Along the way he experiences a few hard knocks but eventually runs into a gunsmith who mentors him on how to hold his own with a firearm. Some time passes, and Max becomes more competent and prepared for his task.

One notable aspect of Nevada Smith is that the story is as much about revenge as it is the struggle to give up on that hatred and forego revenge. The first appeal to this end comes from his gunsmithing mentor, Cord. Cord offers for Max to come with him and give up on his pursuit of the outlaws, to no avail. Max passes on the offer of a new life and meaningful employ by his new friend.

The second appeal, presented twice, is new life and a family. During a period of convalescence, he is taken in by the beautiful Indian woman Neesa and her tribe. Max is asked to stay but refuses. Later on he uses the Cajun girl Pilar’s feelings for him; he recruits her to help him and his second target escape from a prison surrounded by swamp (at this point the outlaw doesn’t realize Max’s true identity). Pilar begs Max to “treat her nice” when they escape, but it’s obvious that although he bears her no ill-will and perhaps does care for her, he has no intention of giving up his mission. As his second target is getting into their escape boat, he tips it and Pilar falls into the water, where she is bit by a venomous snake. A short while later she succumbs and dies. If he had left the outlaw and his vengeance behind, he could have escaped with her. She would have lived and he perhaps could have found peace building a family with her.

The third appeal follows a while later. Injured once again, he is found by a priest, who takes him back to his mission and introduces him to Christianity and the Bible. Several times he asks Max not to pursue his final mark. Max mentions that his favorite part of the holy book was “an eye for an eye” and that the priest can’t understand. The good father reveals to Max that he too survived after watching his family tortured and killed, and knows of that hatred and lust for vengeance. But he took a different path. This shakes Max, but does not dissuade him.

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In the final moments of the film, Max has the third evildoer at his mercy – in a river at gunpoint. Max shoots his arm and both his legs, but struggles internally as the outlaw taunts him and exhorts him to end it. It’s at this point that our hero finally realizes how hollow his pursuit has been, and that killing his parents’ murderers will not gain him peace. He tells the dastard that he’s not worth killing, and walks away as the wounded bandit curses him, calling him a coward and yellow.

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I’m not sure how the Demon Princes saga will progress and ultimately end, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a different course. In many revenge flicks, the bad guys are paid back for their evil ways, though often the hero pays a toll as well. It was a nice twist in Nevada Smith that after finding religion (though perhaps not the only decisive factor), the protagonist is eventually able to give up on revenge.

 

-Bushi

bushi

Steve McQueen, Jack Vance, and revenge

Benign werewolves and dog men

It’s it funny how often you learn a new word and then almost immediately spot it in use somewhere. Who’d have thought this would be the case with a word like “cynocephali” though? I guess if you expose yourself to enough fiction and fantasy…

I noted this tweet in my timeline the other day.

And then while playing a little Witcher 3, I came across this text:

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Cynocephalus is the catch-all term for dog-headed beast men. Apparently throughout history there have been reports across civilizations of such creatures. St. Augustine even mentions them in City of God, apparently, discussing their existence and if real whether or not they would be considered descendants of Adam (aka human).

If I were to venture a guess, I’d wager that the reports of these kinds were based on some mixture of folklore, hearsay, and observed anatomical deformities. Rare diseases like Proteus syndrome can cause bizarre, monster-like skin and bone development.

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There have been documented cases of people with horns and such, so why not hound-like facial features?

My reading on cynocephali lead me to related information about dog-man variants (God bless Wikipedia). Of course we’re all familiar with werewolves, but I did come across something interesting in the vein. Some of us have expressed consternation with the contemporary tendency to subjectivize everything, including good and evil. Gone are the easily distinguishable heroes and villains of yore, replaced by tormented anti-heroes and woefully misunderstood only-kinda-bad guys. We attribute this to secularization, the rise of the self, relativism, etc. And I don’t believe this to be untrue.

But it is interesting to see that there have been benevolent wolfmen long before the emergence of the sparkly, emo, good vampire.

The wulver, for instance, is a mythological wolfman of Scottish origin. Unlike the traditional werewolf, it was not once a man and was not cursed to change shape. Instead it was a solitary spirit that lived alone and would not bother people unprovoked. The wulver was known as a fisher and would sometimes leave fish on the window-sills of poor folk.

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Illustrated by Tess Garmen and Teagan Gavet for Werewolf Calendar.com

Another “good” wolfman is the Faoladh, of which I’ve been unable to find much information. Apparently it was an Irish guardian, though, which would protect children and wounded men.

Now I’m not saying that if confronted by a beastman of the canine nature one should warmly greet it with bread and salt. But who knows? Maybe it’s a non-hostile cynocephalus of some kind. Still, faith and silver are worthy safeguards..

-Bushi

bushi

Benign werewolves and dog men

The highest of crusades: some thoughts

Perhaps the highest of the crusades that I know. Jihad is another story. Now that I’ve finished my first Poul Anderson book, The High Crusade, I can share a few thoughts. *Some medium-mild spoilers to follow.*

First, allow me to point out that there are some other great reviews parsing different aspects of this story.

I was initially going to write a long post a little more focused on the serious societal points raised by this one, but I don’t think there’s much for me to say beyond what Jeffro highlights about “savagery” and “primitive civilizations.” If you’re coming at this from the perspective of someone who does some gaming, he also lays out a nice bit of musing about the “cleric” class and how stories like this make the case for the fighting man and the cleric as really being the most fundamental archetypes.

Jo Walton’s review at Tor.com does a great job praising the story’s narrator, who really is a wonderful element of Anderson’s writing here. Walton also makes a few astute remarks about the technology of the High Crusade.

So far as recent reviews go, H.P. over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday beat me to the punch by a few days (fancy that we should both have chosen this as among our first Appendix N subjects). H.P. does a great job describing Anderson’s skillful use of language and the centrality of Christianity to the story.

On that note, I always appreciate being taught new words. Among the gems I was able to extract from this book was “virago,” which can mean either a woman of virtuous strength and courage, or else one who is a shrew. Also “amanuensis,” which basically seems to be a scribe or personal secretary.

After having a little time to digest, the High Crusade makes me think of another literary universe and also a video game that I’ve talked about before. There are similarities to be found in the worlds of Anderson’s High Crusade and Herbert’s Dune. In both stories, we see highly advanced civilizations with futuristic technology – laserguns, force shields, interstellar travel. And yet we see no computers, as Walton points out at Tor. In Dune, this is explained by the mention of something called the Butlerian Jihad, which saw the outlaw of AI and “thinking machines.” In Anderson’s world, the closest we see is the autopilot present on the alien starships. This is probably in large part due to the time at which these stories were written. In some ways it feels weird, but it also made me think that were we to encounter alien civilizations, who knows what kinds of technologies they would have developed and what they would have skirted, for religious, societal (taboo) or whatever other reasons.

Revolt

The tone of the story also reminded me of Star Control 2 – comical yet bleak, with a style of humor that may induce chuckles without rendering the subject matter absolutely silly or breaking the tension of the plot (which is what turned me off to the Hitcher’s Guide books).The idea of human strangers thrust into a an alien world where they must quickly adapt to new technology and learn how to woo allies to defeat a common foe aligns very closely with the story setup of the beloved PC game.

Both Dune and SC2 feature large “worlds” made up on many different planets and civilizations. Herbert’s imperium has already organized into the Landsraad, a representative council of sorts, to serve as a check to the power of the emperor. Despite this representative body, the imperium operates under a feudal system (which turns out to be the formula for relative peace and balance in Anderson’s story).  I am loathe to say much about SC2, for its story is a masterpiece and the joy of it comes through discovery, but we find many different alien worlds with complex relationships and diverse species.

Given that Herbert was a contemporary of Anderson and that the Star Control 1 manual includes Anderson in its list of inspirational authors, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dune and SC 2 had drawn upon the ideas of the High Crusade.

As I mentioned briefly, and has been pointed out by better critics than I, the High Crusade is a humorous book. This isn’t because Andesron bandies about funny jokes or absurd characters, but because of the story’s implausible and ludicrous progression of events. Yet at the same time, there is a weight to these events.

Perhaps the best example comes in the form of the Englishmen’s showdown with the alien ground forces of the colony they land upon. As part of his plan, the protagonist Sir Roger orders an artillery assault and raid upon a remote fort known to be storing arms and supplies. As the main battle ensues, many are temporarily blinded by a gigantic explosion in the distance and the rise of a billowing mushroom cloud. The narrator feels that something terrible and contrary to nature had been triggered.

Yes, the English knights used a trebuchet to lob a nuke and level an enemy alien fortress. When you say it like that, it’s funny. But the devastation subsequently described by Brother Parvus brings us back down.

With that, I once again offer praise of Anderson’s skillful rendering of Brother Parvus as narrator. He is an interesting character in and of himself; insightful, kind, and quick to learn. His compassion is evident in how he speaks of the other characters – even the villain who betrays Sir Roger.

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that although you may be able to tell where things are going, there are some twists, and I was very satisfied with the conclusion despite expecting it to be a bitter one.

So that’s it. I’ll be reading more Anderson in future days, but for now I can wholeheartedly give this one a strong recommendation.

TL;DR – Good stuff, knights and aliens, 10/10

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

 

The highest of crusades: some thoughts