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Neither fish nor foul, uncategorically other, and perhaps the most abandoned book in the western fantasy canon, The Simarillion (1977) by J.R.R. Tolkien, published posthumously, continues to divide and muddle fans to this day.

When I mention this book to many fantasy readers, their response is usually, "I couldn't finish it." This book, this collection of stories, provides a detailed background and mythology to Middle Earth. Part history, part short story, part epic poem, part legend, part myth, the collection resembles nothing published before or since. For the reader, it either provides more of what they so desire, the details of Middle Earth, or provides what bores them to tears, the details of Middle Earth.

I first read this back in high school, 10th grade, and even back then, as earnest as I was, I found the work hard reading. I could toss off anything else, but I could not toss off this. By the end, I confess that I wasn't paying much attention as I pushed towards completion. Decades later, I came back to the work on audiobook, listening through it as I played endlessly with my then kitten, who needed lots and lots of string. I got more of it this time, but I forgot almost as much.

If you're a deep Tolkien fan, this book has what you want. This is distillate from which the literary tales were created. If you aren't a fan, this is exactly the part of the novels that lost you, concentrated.

While I appreciate many of the ideas and tales in the book, they lack the engagement of actual stories, the one that most fantasy readers enjoy, where they form attachments to heroes and learn to despise villains. Due to the structure of the tales, there's little to attach to unless it's Middle Earth itself. Because of this, all these stories feel a bit remote, far away, uncompellling unless its Middle Earth itself that you love.

Even though this book was published in the 1970s, it wasn't a product of the 1970s. In every way, this is an older work salvaged from Tolkien's life in previous decades, making the best of assorted and often inconsistent source materials.

In my most recent attempt to reread it,The Silmarillion escaped me. There are many who can sing their praises of this work, but I am not one of them. 
dmilewski: (Default)
The Well of Shiuan (1978) by C.J. Cherryh continues the tale of Morgaine and Vanye. Morgaine is an otherworldly sort, dedicated to the destruction of gates, and Vanye is the sword and sorcery minion who's out point of view character for most of the story.

This was her second publication, and here she addressed many issues that haunted her first work. In this book, she creates a much better feel for location and place, she better articulates goals, implications, and moral conflicts, and she generally keeps the through line of the narrative far clearer. In the sort of tale where moral ambiguity usually doesn't exist, this tale hinges on those ambiguities. However, even with all the improvements, there are still places where the tale feels muddled and ill directed.

Also gone is the stiff dialog of her former work. The dialog in this novel, while still not fully naturalist, has greatly loosened up, The characters no longer feel like they're always reading from cue cards.

Interestingly, Cherryh begins the story from a third character's view, that of Jhirun, a young woman that lives in the marshlands. I found her the most present and engaging of all the characters, and I wished that we had spent far more time with her point of view. She gives us the world and the complexities in a way that no other character does, with a vulnerability that no other character has. Because she's so unspecial, her actions have consequences where a hero's never would. To me, that made her a more interesting character than any other in the book.

Parts of the book still felt forced, while other parts seemed aimless. Cherryh still has a ways to go before she hits her stylistic best, but with this tale, I begin to see those traits that would make her later books so interesting.

dmilewski: (Default)
The Gate of Ivrel (1976) by C.J. Cherryh reads like something old and something new. The stiff writing style, formalized language, and dense narrative reminds me of mid-20th century fantasy and SF that was rapidly falling from fashion in the 70's. Written in the sword and sorcery style of the day, the tale primarily revolves around humans, and just how bad humans are to each other before any magic gets into the mix. We have all the prerequisite oaths, oath breaking, tribal codes, and exaggerated systems of masculine honor.

Stunning in this work is the introduction of a woman as the bad-ass of the series. Like the best of all action-hero women, she never compromises nor apologizes for her behavior. She's a woman on a mission that leaves thousands dead, but that doesn't mean that she likes it. With this 70's action hero goes a truly terrible sword, one in the tradition of Stormbringer, one that gives any honest reader pause.

Despite the surface narrative of two tough sword swingers, the story carries and undercurrent of imperfection and weakness, where the lead characters of Morgaine and Vanye show themselves humans underneath their layers of toxic-masculinity. If anything, the book works against the very notion of sword and sorcery, where the toughest and baddest win. Underneath all her layers, Morgaine is a woman on a mission that's too big to go forward, but impossible to go back. Vanye is a man who's lost his male honor, but which also gives him the freedom to roam free of the hyper-masculine narrative so tied to the genre. He's tough, not because of his hardened outside, but because of his well developed inside. When he becomes Morgaine's follower, he seconds himself to the woman without hesitation nor qualms, or is he so tough that he stands unbreakable before the world.

The book appears to be among her earliest works and it shows. The story has deep flaws. My biggest issue was with place. All the places of this tale blurred, one into another, until I didn't know where we were coming from or going to. There are places where characters seemed in the wilderness, yet other characters come out of the woodwork like they're in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon, a little too like the sudden twists and turns of a cheap movie. And like a cheap movie, the scenes between often prove dull and tedious, providing a little information, but mostly wasting your time.

Despite the appearance of being well developed characters, both Morgaine and Vanye often come across rather flat and dull, just going about their way while continuously stumbling into danger. Wandering about also describes the basic plot. We do learn what we need to know, but somehow the elements never come together into a cohesive whole, even at the end. All the plot lines feel like spaghetti.

While I did enjoy some bits, I mostly have mixed feelings about the book. As a novel, its not really strong enough to stand out on its own merits, its innovations mostly smothered by its mediocrities.
dmilewski: (Default)
A perennial low-key literary form is the photonovel. These area hybrid of comics books and TV shows. Laid out like comic books, complete with word baloons and captions, the images came from the associated film or TV show. In this way, a publisher could produce a child-aimed title quickly and easily. It would contain all the appeal of the actual show while also contain the appeal of a comic book. These were especially popular in the 60's and 70's when you didn't necessarily have cheap access to movies to watch over and over again. Although they're still around, they are not as prominent.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Prophet of Lamath (1979) by Robert Don Hughes, is a humorous Game of Thrones before there even was a Game of Thrones, with Pelman the Powershaper as the main protagonist and the main antagonist. (It's a noteworthy trick pulling that one off.) The book reads smoothly but not engagingly, plots along bumpily, offers stock archetypes who never really get to stay archetypical, with a narrative that bouncing about like a pingpong ball.

The work is a non-Tolkienesque fantasy, featuring no gods, elves, orcs, quests, or anything like that. It's pretty much humans running about mucking up each other's lives, and a two-headed dragon (mistaken for a god) that Pelmen gets into a rather vicious argument with itself.

The work is eminently skimmable, which I did as I found the finer description rather tepid.

A very unplotted book, the characters do their own things, bringing the story repeatedly into odd locations and dislocations. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes this didn't. In this respect, it's more like a fantasy narrative from the 40's to the 60's than anything like the 80's and beyond.

In terms of literary orthidoxy, it breaks many rules. The head hopping and POV slides about extensively, but rarely destructively.

The novel features a loose Christian theme, that being the Power. Don't worry about it beating you about the head. It's there, and it's part of the work, but stays rather low key through the story. Being published after Star Wars, it's like the Force, except not the Force, but does something of the same thing.

Refreshingly, the book contains little to no cynicism, and no flat-out "bwa-ha-ha" villains. If there's any villain, it's pride, vanity, sloth, gluttony, avarice, and wrath (the seven deadly sins sans lust). You won't have any problem figuring out which character represents which sin. For the most part, this works amazingly well.

While being no page turner, the book does have its fun moments. If you need a good change of pace, or need to get Game of Thrones out of your soul for a little while, this is a good pick.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman is a kick in the gut, followed by being drawn and quartered. This books grabs you by the throat and demands your full attention, sir, yes sir. A relatively short read by modern standards, it makes use of every word, no padding necessary.

Relativity is the name of the game, and as soldiers go off to fight a future war, the world they left behind becomes increasing strange, increasingly alien, until there is literally no difference between the aliens that they are fighting and the aliens that they defend. Everyone becomes a man out of time, living hundreds of years beyond any time known.

While this may be a war story, in no way does this story glorify war. As time and technology creep forward, so do the horrors of war, men in mechanical suits treated as disposable as any other piece of war equipment, their lives enslaved to an endless war. A forever war.

Is this book really that good? Yes, it really is that good.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Interview with the Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice catches lightning in a bottle, beginning the modern vampire novel by fiat. "Let there be darkness," she said, and there was darkness.

This novel predates the modern slasher film, so it's horror comes entirely from that which predates it, both the Victorian vampire novel and Edgar Allen Poe. Indeed, quite a few moments in the novel harken back to Poe.

The horror of this novel is multilayered and multi-fasceted, continually letting you grow used to the horror and the situation before you, only to turn subtly, exposing some new aspect that realienates you to the characters before you.

Forty years later, the writing in this novel still holds up, not yet fallen under its own cliches. Indeed, the cliches in this work still feel freshly buried, for this is the rotting soil from which the modern vampire cliche clawed itself.

Myself, I normally avoid horror novels. They just aren't my thing, yet I found Anne's writing solid, her characters well expressed and compelling, and the interrelationship of the characters continuously repellent. Indeed, at the character level is where the horror of this work best expresses itself. Told from a first person point of view by the vampire himself, his eternal anxiety provides the underlying angst of the work, but this is not the anxiety of a whiney-hiney, but the anxiety of self-loathing murder who has some sense of his own vileness.

If you're up for this sort of read, I greatly recommend this book. If you don't have the heart, then skip it.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Thieves' World (1979), the anthology edited by Robert Asprin, was one of the THE primary darlings of the early 1980s. This shared world anthology kicked off the entire idea of a shared world, and deserves a place in the history books just for that.

But was it really that good?

No, but it was fun and it caught the imagination of the public, and that's all that's really required for a hit. Given the option between being good and selling books, this anthology sold books, and that makes is pretty good. At a time when squeaky clean heroes were in, this anthology walked in with nothing but ne'er do goods and outright villains, no heroes to be seen, and lots of interesting stories to tell.

These stories fight right into the sword and sorcery ethic of the late 70's, drawing from Leiber, Moorcock, and the like. This stuff is literally what Dungeons and Dragons was made from. It's should be no surprise that this series appeared at the same time as the A-Team and the film "Conan the Barbarian." The fantasy market hungered for grit.

Most of the stories read well, with some working better than others. I won't call any story out as best or worst, because I think that these stories appeal to different appetites. The question is worth asking, but I'm not interested in answering it.

All these years later, the stories stand up pretty well, with only the misogyny smacking me in the face. I'd say that the stories were supposed to be more misogynistic just to be edgy, but having read other 70's sword and sorcery, the misogyny is par for that time period. The female characters prove overwhelmingly whores, concubines, rape victims, and common harlots. Having the women prove equally thieves, conspirators, smugglers, opportunists, and other assorted bas-asses would have been welcome.

While I can't call the book a classic, it's easily a good enough collection.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Glorianna (1978) by Michael Moorcock is one of those novels that refuses to let itself get stuffed into a box, even though, by the end, you absolutely feel like stuffing it into a box. Often feeling more like a 1800's serial with its effusive narrative and idyllic pacing, the tale sits atop vicious powermongering and overly perfect villains. The tale demonstrates why fantasy should take a right turn off the browbeaten path and the hazards of taking such a direction.

(As a mild warning, here be rape culture. If you want, I can point out the page and paragraphs, but when you get there, you'll not need me to point out a thing.)

The novel earns its lauds through Moorcock's chops and literary ambitions, because where this narrative works, it works unwarrantedly well. The vast bulk of the violence of this novel takes place off stage, with the players aghast at the bloodshed. Indeed, I know of few fantasy novels so acutely aware of the humanity of all the characters, even the minor ones, so that when they die, they other characters both mourn and miss them.

I quite enjoyed the court itself, which wasn't merely all characters orbiting the Queen. Not only did the court function, but everyone in the court had a job,

When this narrative fails, it fails in proportion to its ambitions. In many places, the narrative reaches a profuseness that demonstrates why we don't write like those wordy serials any more, where the text literally doesn't matter, providing no more than color. Likewise, the narrative often skims over developments should have been written out, instead summarizing what should have been interesting developments.

I suspect that the novel is operating on a level that I am too ill-educated to recognize, making me suspect that the whole things is a tragedy del arte, but with so many of the characters poorly formed, our view of the writer's vision is obscured by his own cleverness.

On the whole, I would compare this book to a wonderful looking building filled with frescoes and gilded furniture, but built ad hoc with shoddy materials. Walk through it, and the whole structure seems fabulous, but it's built on unsteady pillars and ill conceived hacks, that once identified, makes you wonder how the whole thing stands up in the first place. By all rights, this book should collapse under its own weight, and for many, I imagine that it does. For me, as story reach its final and happy conclusion, the entire tale imploded under its own weight.

I can't recommend the book unless you are particularly committed to reading it. It's a product of its time, leaping high, and landing on its face.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Compleat Enchanter (1975) by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt is a collection of the first three Harold Shea books from the 1940s. The book is most notable for its inclusion in Appendix N of the first edition Dungeon Master's Guide as an inspiration to that game.

The stories center around Harold Shea, a modern man and psychologist who travels to different literary adventure universes. "The Roaring Trumpet" is Norse myth, "The Mathematics of Magic" is The Faerie Queen, and "The Castle of Iron" is Orlando Furioso (a tale that I've never heard of before). The stories themselves are tongue and cheek, as Harold is a modern man in a highly stylized and not-at-all politically correct tale. If you've ever wanted to see cultural appropriation in its native habitat, this is it.

The tales themselves read dully. I had to take rests to actually read this book through.

These are sexist tales. There no denying it. Oddly enough, Harold is bored of all the "approved" women stereotypes and wants one that's spirited. Here's an indication that the requirements on women of the day were so restrictive that even men were wanting to loosen things up.

When it comes to D&D, this book is rife with source material. Verbal, somatic, and material components for spells originate from these tales. In there, we also see scaled trolls with pointed noses, the basic giant types, web spells that are burned with flaming swords, flying carpets, illusions, fool's gold, magic choking hands, random encounters, and a great deal of the tongue-in-cheek humor that pervades early D&D.

While it's not badly written, I can't recommend the book. It's not a total stinker, but aside from curiosity or raging determination, there's no reason to go here. I'll happily lend you the book if you do. You don't need to give the book back.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Sword of Shannara (1977) by Terry Brooks was a best seller of its time. I read this book back in middle school, maybe 9th grade, and to be honest, I didn't remember a word of it, other than a vague notion that I had thoroughly wasted my time. When the time came to reread this novel, I avoided it for two years, loath to wade through this a second time. On rereading it, I came to learn why I didn't remember a word of it and why I avoided it. There was nothing worth remembering.

This novel ought to be more memorable. It's a boy's adventure novel in every way, where the lead character is a chosen one who can defeat a terrible baddie. The prose's tone, the characters, the simplistic interactions, and character high-fives (all virtual) all contribute to the juvenile positioning of the work. If you don't like boy's adventure novels, with all their cliches and gee-wizziness and convenient happenstances, then you certainly won't like this. If you can accept the conceits of the genre, then the only thing really working against the novel is its own sheer length.

This novel is long. It's 700 pages long, but it tells a story that should only have take 250 to 300 pages, at most. Vast tracks of the prose can easily be skipped without hampering any understanding of plot, character, or world lore. Often, the characters stop and rethink their situations, re-explaining their actions for pages at a time. I made no attempt to read every word in this book, which made the work infinitely less annoying.

Skimming saved my sanity.

I'm not against long books, but I am against long books that don't need to be long. Those sorts of books irk me as a waste my time.

The prose itself is readable and practical. The writing is not a work of poetic genius, but it tells the story adequately, what there is of it, which is what really matters.

You'll find the plot familiar because Terry used The Lord of the Rings as his model for structure, character, and themes. Although many people dislike that resemblance, I don't begrudge Terry one iota for doing so. If you're going to steal, steal from the best. Terry's decision to model his novel after one of the most successful fantasy novels ever written sold him many, many books, and wound up paying his mortgage for many years. Smart man.

The first female character shows up on page 547, 3/4th of the way through the novel. While it may be sexist, boy's novels are written to appeal to boys. Gender favoritism just comes with the territory. Gendering stories sells books.

Now that I'm done rereading this Shannara book, I have no plans to reread any other books in this series. No more for a long time.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Spell of the Witch World (1972) by Andre Norton is a collection of three stories assembled into one slim novel, all taking place in Witch World, in an area called the Dales.

This was my first Witch World novel, and likely to be my last. Once again, Andre Norton has managed to bore me to apathy, even with a volume as slim as this one.

Witch World should be called Wicca World, because that's really where the magic and philosophy of the wise women derives. Identifying the Wiccan themes proved more fun than reading the stories themselves.

I found the prose thickish and mildly ponderous. The stories read like they're out of the mid-50's, not the early 70's. Although I applaud heroines doing good, especially in that era, I found all the heroines rather tedious and generally lacking in interesting character development. For the era, this was often par for the course, so I can't complain too bitterly.

Unless you're a Norton fan, you should give this book a pass.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Death's Master (1979) by Tanith Lee (#2 in the Flate Earth series) challenged my ability to review books. How do I even summarize this work? By all rights, this book shouldn't work, but it does, which makes it absolutely fascinating to me. Thinking through everything that I've read, I can't say that I've ever read anything like this book. It's not for everyone. This work can throw you just as easily as it can capture you. It requires something of you, the reader, if only the dedication to reach the end.

This book follows a biography model, following the life of Simmu, from the inexplicably strange circumstances of his birth, through his childhood, adventurehood, his crowning successes, and through to his final fate. While following this story, we also follow the story of several other characters closely associated with Simmu, such as Zharak.

Overall, the writing proceeded thickly and formally, feeling mildly archaic even for 1979. Fortunately, Tanith knows how to work with this thickish prose, pulling it like taffy to extrude the tale. And what an improbable tale it is, full of overpowered characters who successfully prove that overpowered actions create overpowered results, generating overpowered reactions, which generate more overpowered results, and so one. When the story centers around the fundamental powers of of the universe, such as Death and the Prince of Demons, overpowered ceases to be a meaningful term.

The book is also an "adult" fantasy novel, so sexual situations about. To be clear, the book is not explicit, but it is forthright. It contains sexual situations of all sorts, some of which are gender bending, and some of which are jaw-droppingly outlandish. Lee can and does push sexuality in new and unique directions.

This was my first Tanith Lee. I liked this well enough to read more of this series, but not so much that I'll rush out and buy some right now.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Starlost, Episode 4, "The Children of Methuselah" (1973)

Looking for the backup bridge, our trio breaks into an area designated "off limits." To their bad luck, it's inhabited by a group of overly serious, eternally young psychic children who are running the ship. Given the explanation that the Ark is off course, they believe that our protagonists are lying. Yet even as the boy Captain strives to deal with the intruders, the human culture that they bring with them infects the children, bringing a breakdown in order. In the end, Devon shows that the children aren't running the ship at all, they are merely in an advanced training simulator. The episode ends with the children sealing themselves back in their complex, potential helpers if the trio should ever find the backup bridge.

This script actually works. The writer of this episode did a bang-up job. The script relies on the time tested structure of television drama, often called the 45-and-5. You have three acts of build up and tension raising, one act of conflict, and a final act of wrap-up. At 40 minutes in, the conflict/breakdown between the trio and the children comes to a head, and at 45 minutes, the showdown happens. The last five minutes is cleanup and consequences.

The writer makes good use of all the characters in a way that demonstrates their basic strengths and their basic approaches as a character. Devon is the communicator and the explainer, the one likely to notice the details. Garth is the hothead, the pusher, the one with mechanical sense. He's the one with insight into the strange machinery. Rachel is the human touch, the one able to bridge the human gap where force or logic won't work. She's also the smallest among them, but no less able. Each expresses their role well through the episode, so much so that you can't switch their actions around.

The director did some nice things in this episode bringing out the humanity of our lead actors and the children. Rachel is particularly important in this arena, as its their humanity that the children have lost, and their humanity that will save them. Because she's a woman, she is seen as less of a threat, but her interactions prove far more disruptive than Garth's or Devon's. The children all have numbers, not names. Its she who gives them names. The children don't play. It's she who teaches them games. It's she who subverts the social order.

Time and again, the physicality of the staging brings a depth to the episode that the lines don't necessarily dictate. There no single example that makes or breaks this, but continuous small choices that build up to a coherent whole. There's one scene where the children as still talking as the meeting comes to order, just like kids in a schoolroom. The staging feels mildly chaotic at times, adding to the atmosphere rather than taking away from the story. These kids are machines, but they are not perfect machines. Even the way that the boy Captain slouches in his chair shows this humanity coming through despite the numbers.

This episode, more than any other so far, shows what this show could have been, an echo of what was imagined for the series. This episode shows that the parts are good, the concepts sound, and its ambitions reachable.

In terms of fashion, the Boy Captain had a zipper with a ring as the pull. I remember those kinds of zippers. I had one myself. Indeed, all the hairstyles of the children are early 70's children hairstyles. Nobody got a haircut for this show. What you see is the real deal. I know. I was was there. Those were my peers.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Stand (1978) by Steven King is tedious. It's really, really tedious. You wouldn't believe how massively tedious it is. You might think that the Lord of the Rings is tedious, but that's nothing compared to The Stand.

The book begins as a 70's style disaster film, with multiple people going about their daily lives as a plague slowly arrives, devastating America. These characters are likable and unlikable to various degrees, and to my displeasure, most of them didn't die. They lived through the world-wide plague. After about three hundred pages of this, King got bored with the story, killed off his developing villain, created a new villain, this one using magic, and rejiggered the story into some sort road novel with pretensions of being a fantasy novel. After that, the characters all converge on Denver to build a new government, and the tedium grew even more tedious. To my own good fortune, my copy was missing pages 1015-1078, which is where the finale happens. I didn't miss anything.

I didn't care for the first hundred pages, cared less for the second hundred, and my lack of care for the remaining book would require frequent repeated profanities uttered in absolute dejection.

A competent editor could have cut the book in half and nobody would have notice. A very competent editor would have rejected the book, thereby cutting its length by 100%.

This is not an indictment against King. He shows repeatedly what a good writer he is all along the way. The problem lies entirely in the rambling story. His characters which work well in horror novels, where people die for petty reasons, and somebody's got to die first, don't work well as apocalyptic survivor characters. I don't want to see these characters survive the world. There are times when their quest for survival goes from one TV trope to another. As for the fantasy element, that feels like an iron on decal, pressed onto the top of the story because he didn't know any other way to get his characters together. The story feels like a bunch of disparate elements pressed together into a mass, pretending that to be a whole, but constantly reminding you that it isn't a whole at all.

Curious about the ending, I went and read a summary, and that summary made me very glad that I was missing that part of the book.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) by Kate Wilhelm is an apocalyptic future where mankind's only hopes rests in cloning technology. A collection of three arcs, a triptych, the stories tell the history of this venture, where it goes right, where it goes wrong, and the implications that it makes real. The book itself is just short of hard SF, with minimal fancifulness. The book won the Hugo award and was short listed for many other awards.

The first story concerns one of the clone creators, how the world fell into ruin, the origin of the project, and how the new clone generation thinks differently from the older generation. The second story follows clones who leave the community to go exploring, and the psychological effects of being removed from all their identical brothers and sisters. The final story is that of a non-clone who grows up among the clones, and the challenges that he faces fitting in.

There's no one single explanation for the future. Weather goes wacky. Men go to war. A-bombs get dropped. Viruses get out. All of these together manage to mostly wipe out mankind. In unison, they make a grim future for the species. Its because of this that cloning becomes necessary.

With necessary comes uncomfortable moral decisions. When the species itself is hovering on the brink of extinction, what becomes justifiable? Over and over, we see those decision made, for better and worse, and the results of those decisions. In context, they make sense, yet they remain disturbing, as they ought to be. From those decisions come a new culture, and it both feels uncomfortable and makes uncomfortable decisions as well. Once you have clones, the very definition of human becomes questionable, and it's that question which comes up again and again, continuously challenging the easy answer.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Starlost, Episode 4, "The Pisces"

While hanging about the Ark, our protagonists are on hand to see a ship arrive. This ship, the Pisces, had left the Ark many years before, and failing to rendezvous in a timely manner, had hit relativistic speeds. For them, only ten years had passed.

How did they greet these newcomers on realizing that they were actually crew members? Did they reveal the accident immediately? No, they went along for a while, not asking questions, not providing answers, until the protagonists finally told the newcomers that they 400 years had passed.

Even stranger, the newcomers were hit with a relativistic dementia, whose only cure was to go back into deep space. In service to that, the two junior crew members, both women, hijacked the ship and set course for Earth because they didn't want to die when the Ark collided with a star. (And who could blame them? They tripled the number of available men on board.) Eventually our trio of tedium broke up the mutiny and got dropped back on the Ark, whereupon reset button was pushed and the Pisces left the Ark to preserve its crew members.

What did our protagonists learn? They had learned that a few reactors had blown up. That's it.

I'm pretty sure the navigator got some nookie. Given who her crew mates had been, a big strong blacksmith who could go for longer than 30 seconds must have seemed like an irresistible opportunity.

On the whole, this episode felt like an acceptable 22-minute plot stretched into 50 minutes. Almost every bizarre storytelling decision of the plot can trace itself back to this overstretched plot.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Starlost, Episode 3, "The Goddess of Calabra" (1973)

The journeys of our protagonists take them into a dome dominated by a military society. All the women died centuries ago, while the men have continued onward through cloning. It's an all male society, where the governor wins his position through mortal combat. If this doesn't sound bad enough, all strangers are immediately suspect as mutants. To make things awkward and slimy, Rachael is a woman, and is immediately declared a goddess for the political advantage of the governor. He plans to marry her to seal his position against all rivals. Rachel's companions fight free, taking sanctuary with the priests, who actually know something about the ark and its purpose. Deciding to end the charade, one of protagonists fights the governor in moral combat, winning the fight, but leaving the governor alive. They manage to escape.

The plot of this particular story seems straight forward at first, but that's only because I explained them well. As played out in the show, the plot resembles a demolition derby, where the various points crash into each other until all the plot points are fully broken, and even the sole surviving plot point is barely operational.

You'll recognize some familiar faces in this episode. Barry Morse played the chief priest. John Colicos played the governor. Not surprisingly, both went on to playing similarly toned SF roles in the future.

This particular episode took me three sittings to get through, the overall episode having the engagement of a minefield.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Starlost, Episode 2, "Lazarus from the Mist" (1973)

In the second episode of The Starlost, Lazarus from the Mist, our protagoinsts revive a cryogenically frozen man and learn pitifully little with their opportunity.

The episode picks up where 101 left off. The trio walks from the bridge to the main medical section. There, a group of people descended from guards protect the area, killing pretty much anyone who shows up. What lies in the medical area is sacred. Somehow our protagonists make it through, and there discover a hold full of people in suspended animation. Working things out, they succeed in reviving on such man, but as luck would have it, they revived a man with radiation sickness. He's dying even as they try to win his help. For some unfathomable reason, the ark builders thought it okay to send a dying man even in an emergency merely because his wife asked for this to happen. The man answers some of their questions, they beat off the guards again, and then they put the man back into stasis. As for the degenerate guards, they find a nearby dome and give it to them as their home, presumably locking them in.

Some things amaze me. The protagonists were unbelievably unlucky in finding the one person in the whole frozen section who was dying. Next, with the lives of everyone on board at stake, didn't try to revive anyone else. Given the literal life or death stakes, they should have revived everyone. Instead, they walk off after the episode is over and never consider the frozen people again.

Just as confusing, the security people didn't know about the other domes or didn't have access to them, so they became degenerates in the halls. If anyone would know about all the areas, and have access to them, it would have been the security people.

The episode concludes with the protagonists learning a few more tantalizing clues, then essentially hitting the reset button. This pattern will continue, frustrating so, as the series progresses. One is given the illusion of progress rather than actual progress.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Beginning Place (1979) by Urusula LeGuin was one of those books that I used to see in the library. Something about the title grabbed me, but I never quite got around to picking it up. I thought it was a young adult book, but in that, I was wrong. Now we would call it a new adult book.

This book challenges my ability to summarize it, or even understand it. Although pegged as part romance, it doesn't progress as you would expect a romance to progress. The man isn't strong. The woman isn't beautiful. Their destinies are not perfect together, if only they'd see it. Quite honestly, what we have is two normally hurt people trying to turn themselves into competent adults, and having a too few role models to fall back on.

Meanwhile, we have the fantasy world which is vaguely gothic in feel, always evening, yet usually pleasant and welcoming. The world itself seems to have rules rather than overt magic steamrolling the narrative. This is not a story of overt magic. This world feels substantially more whole, feeds our protagonists in a more satisfying way. And while they are they, time almost stops, but never completely enough to forget yourself. The responsibilities of the real world always pull them out.

Although I'd like to rate this highly, I found that the story left me, as a person, a bit emptier. The romance felt rushed and perfunctory. The ending felt out of character. The symbolism left me hanging. Whatever this book was supposed to be, or aimed to be, I feel that it went too far in too many directions to leave it much of anything. Like a hollow chocolate bunny, an outside layer of delicious can't hide the empty middle.
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