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So, a long while back, over a year ago, I got a copy of a godawful book for free. This book was called Low Red Moon and it was a cheapo Twilight rip-off. Girl falls in love with Werewolf who may have killed her parents, but it turns out that he’s a prosecuted minority and – okay, that sounds a hell of a lot better than the book actually was.

 

In any case, reading this awful book gave me an idea for a blog. I would find books for less than $2, and read them, and review them. Every book that I got for free or almost no money, I would devour, and pick apart, and mock, in the hopes of getting Internets Famous, or at least of making someone laugh. (This would, of course, exclude books that I got for free because they were gifts, or ARCs. Low Red Moon was a copy that was damaged out by my place of employment, partly because they hadn’t ordered it, and partly because no one wanted to buy it.) So I went out to used bookstores and raided their discount racks for anything under $2. I found a couple of truly bewildering treasures – I still have to read the double novel by none other than Ed Wood. But much to my chagrin, I found that many of the books I got were actually…  Good.

 

Phoenix Without Ashes by Harlan Ellison and Edward Bryant is a brilliant book. The book is in fairly good condition. There are notes scribbled in a lot of the margins – illegible, inane notes, which, when readable, are only stating “this is what happen son this page.” But the cover is intact; the words are all readable.  The cover price is 95 cents, and I got it for a dollar. I feel like I should have had to pay more for it. Price variance over time is weird.

 

Phoenix Without Ashes was written by Edward Bryant, based on the pilot of the same name for a television show called The Starlost. The Starlost was meant to be a sprawling television series headed by Harlan Ellison. But between the network executives’ meddling and a writer’s guild strike, the project fell to pieces. The book opens with a vitriol and bile filled essay by Ellison about the whole experience, which is at least on par with the novel itself in entertainment/interest value.

 

The basic idea behind The Starlost was defined as the “enclosed universe”. It was about this huge spaceship with all of these individual bubble-worlds populated by particular cultures and sub-cultures. It was an ark, carrying the cultures away from a doomed Earth. They had communication with each other, up until some point 500 years before the story starts, when a disaster separated them, leading them all to, over the generations, forget that they had once been a space-faring civilization who lived on an actual planet.  The pocket worlds each think that they are the entirety of the world (though, with so many of them, I’m sure a number would have known the truth). The ship is also doomed to destruction in 5 years.  The show would have been about the efforts of those who accidentally came upon the truth to save the ship. They would have made contact with other pocket worlds, tried to convince them of the truth, and explored the ship.

 

Since the show only produced one reportedly terrible season, all we really have to go on of this original vision is this solitary book. (And, apparently, a graphic novel of the same name and plot released last March by IDW). And let me tell you, the show should have been amazing. It should have been LOST, except in space, and with actual plot-destinations in mind throughout the whole thing. It should have been the perfect sci-fi series. As soon as I had finished reading the book – whose prose is excellent, but overall unremarkable – I wanted to know so much more about the universe. When I found out that there were no more books in the series, I actually considered finding the television show, just to have a taste of the world Ellison had built. I’ll doubtless buy the graphic novel soon enough.  I want to know more about these characters. What side did Garth end up on? What were the other Enclosed Worlds on the ark? Where was the plot going to end up?

 

It’s not fair that such a brilliant concept got cut down the way it did. I had a little rant about how desperately I wanted more of The Starlost, but when looking for the links to populate this post with, I discovered something beautiful. Something killer. Ark, a 9-episode web remake on Hulu. Tears, guys. I have tears. The Starlost rose from its ashes, to produce a Phoenix.

 

I’ll watch it tomorrow.

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A while back, a friend asked everyone for lists of 5 books they should read. I kind of went a little overboard in making my choices and explaining them, and ended up with a list of the 5 books which had the biggest impact on making me who I am. This is basically the same list, though with a lot more explanation. It also took me about 3 months to write, so, ugh, dopey.   Spoilers follow, but I probably got a lot of details wrong. I only returned to the texts and Wikipedia articles to find names and such; In the process, I discovered that I got quite a few things wrong about some of them. I didn’t bother to fix those errors, because I feel like they reflect me best!

So in any case, here’s the short form list for those curious who don’t want to risk spoilers:

The Plague by Albert Camus

Nausea by Sartre

At Swim-Two Birds by Flann o’Brien

Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson

Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett

 

Read More »

I noticed today that, of the four things on my blog, 3 of them are fairly negative and the fourth I can’t remember at all.  Oh, right, it was “Cthulu: The Calling” or whatever. I wish that had been more memorable.  Sad day.  I think that’s because I think negativity is funny, and I am occasionally afraid to say anything unless I can hope someone, somewhere, will find it funny.  I actually don’t hate any of the things I reviewed – well, okay, I do hate Space: 1999¸ but in that special way where I actually love it.

To fix that, my next three “reviews” will be (mostly) positive! So to kick that off – I like Clifford D. Simak and I wrote a lot of words about that. A lot. Seriously, 3 people who will read this, so many words.  I just keep adding to them.  I cannot stop.  It is a disease.

——

I just [er, about, two weeks ago] finished reading City, by Clifford D. Simak, and I really enjoyed it.  Even though it took me at least a month to read.  And then another two weeks to finish “reviewing” I’ve been busy, shut up! Spoilers follow, but it’s fairly old, and only occasionally depends on suspense, so you should be okay.

City spans at least 12,000 years, chronicling the advancement and disappearance of humanity, and the development of its replacements: the dogs.  It follows, primarily, a family of the last name Webster.  The Websters are leaders among men, who initially lead the drive to remove Cities in favor of a global community; who lead humanity into space; who help humanity far along its path, and then occasionally hinder that path.  They constantly develop new technologies, teach dogs to speak, help discover that there is a paradise on Jupiter (and almost rob humanity of that paradise), and are just all around people. It’s pretty impressive, the way that Simak was able to generate this amazing, successful, and important family without making them perfect. One of them, a brain surgeon in the third or fourth story, sets both humanity and the Martians back by thousands of years.  Not because he was evil, or anything, or a coward.  Not because he was afraid to visit Mars, but because he developed a violent form of agoraphobia and couldn’t leave his own home.  (Whether phobias can develop without a trauma, of course, may be left to Simak’s literary devices.)

 

            City’s strongest point is its framing narrative.  City is structured as an academic collection of a myth cycle, produced, reproduced, and beloved by dogs. The “editor” compares varying interpretations of the myth cycle of the Websters and men, trying to summarize the debate over whether or not men had ever been real. Varying scholars that he “cites” argue that the lack of Doggish touches in the first stories suggest a non-Doggish origin, but the lack of any evidence of men’s existence beyond the myth cycle is used by other scholars to argue against this point. It’s a beautiful little reproduction and extrapolation of pre-history scholarship and a wonderful reflection on our understanding of our world’s history, and, most importantly, a great approach to telling the story.  I love academically based narratives, and would like more of them. (Any recommendations? The Third Policeman comes to mind, and I think I’ll have to read The Dalkey Archives next. Oh, Flann O’Brien <3)

Narratively, it does have one major weakness.  The first few stories depend heavily that old “as you know…” form, which is very grating most of the time. Because I had a suspicion that this book was going to be really good, it having been recommended by my dad, I went ahead and paced on through. I suppose that it can be forgiven by the fact that these stories are supposed to be myths, passed down only as dogs could remember them, but it also takes a second hit from that. If they have that much “as you know…” information, it’s kind of hard to believe that they only read these stories as myths.

City also has a few portions which may or may not be good, depending on how you look at it. In one story, an entire Martian civilization is introduced, which never appears outside of that story except for its one named member. That’s the story which introduces Juwainism, and is the other one that I’ve mentioned directly — where agoraphobia ruins a chance for Earth and Mars to shoot forward into the universe.  Juwain is a Martian philosopher who comes up with a way of thinking which would propel both races “a hundred thousand years in the space of two generations.” (Later, we find out that this philosophy is a semi-psychic ability to sense what others feel, saving it from the MacGuffin pile.)  Juwain dies, causing the incompletion of his philosophy for the next 3 or four stories, until the mutants suss out what he was trying to get at.

Juwainism exemplifies one of the primary themes of the book.  City is largely an examination of competing modes of thinking and competing natures, and how those modes and natures can be co-operative and additive rather than in competition. The Martians, in their one appearance, are philosophers, all of them subject to a certain version of fatalism which means that they haven’t even thought of the concept of medicine or seeking escape from disease. When the humans reach Mars, with their knowledge of medicine, it shoots the Martians forward. It’s suggested that the contact with the Martians also did wonders for humanity, but I don’t recall what advances these philosophers brought being specified beyond “new ways of thinking are neat!” There is a recurring subset of humanity called Mutants, long-lived super-geniuses who shun the company of other men and even of other mutants. They cleanse humanity from the planet by using Juwainism to make them realize that the residents of Jupiter live in a paradise of sensation. It’s cool, trust me.  Dogs, without men to guide them, are peaceful and investigative, where they had been subservient to men and constantly striving to be more like them.  Robots, without men to guide them, just explore and expand – except for Jenkins the Robot, who still does what the Websters would have wanted, by taking care of and encouraging the dogs.  Other animals gain intelligence, and have their own fairly predictable quirks.  Squirrels are jittery and act rashly and quickly; a wolf we meet is kind of snide and self-important/reliant, but doesn’t shun company or assistance.

The Science of the Sci-Fi is intriguing itself, although it tends to be glossed over in Simak’s poorest dialogue. Time does not flow the way we think it does; each moment continues on, changing.  There is no past, only other worlds – other moments which could almost be said to be a step behind us. A great concept, though I have heard it in other places, I think. Dogs have a psychic ability to sense “cobblies”, things in those other moment-worlds.  The only part which really fell short for me in this aspect is Juwainism. A philosophy that directly causes you to understand why other people feel the way they do, and directly.  While it’s a great concept, it just strikes me as poor terminology to call it a philosophy. It’s more of a developed psychic ability which, perhaps, could develop from a philosophy.  But Simak seems to insist on this ability as being the philosophy itself. While it is the Martian version of Philosophy (described in text as a variety of science), it still seems like poor terminology.

City’s the only thing I’ve read by Simak, so I don’t know if this is a common thread to his work, but it doesn’t really have a strong female presence. There are two significant female characters; one is a secretary, whose only purpose is to chastise her employer, and one is an ex-wife, serving only as a foil to her ex-husband. Both only serve as foils for the male main characters. There are one or two with lines in the 7th tale, but they only giggle (of course, all “men” are giggling dunces by this point of the story). Even all of the animal characters are the male of the species, and all the robots are masculine in the small aspect of a robot’s gender resemblance. “Humanity” is always referred to as “men” or “man,” which is certainly not his fault – except that I don’t recall him using the term “humanity” or “humans” to much effect.  It says a lot about the whole issue that I didn’t notice the lack of female characters until I sat down to write this review.  I was trying to think of more things to say about the book [which was really necessary, look at all these words], and only then did I think of women. I didn’t even notice it, because it just seemed like the default. And that’s terrible.

My favorite touch was right at the very conclusion, and was very clever and understated, easy to miss, and perhaps even just my imagination: Jenkins asks Jon Webster how the humans used to take care of ants.  Jon Webster says that men would put out poison, sweetened with sugar, in order to kill the ants. But it would be slow poison, which they would take back to the hive, killing the entire colony. This is exactly how Joe uses Juwainism to get rid of humanity; Jupiter is sweet, pleasing, and the risk is completely unrecognizable to them until they’re gone.

For some reason, google searches for “Juwainism” primarily produce ads for Viagra. What’s up with that?

I recently picked up a copy of Poets & Writers from my local Newsstand Store (it’s not actually a stand!), part of an ongoing effort to get myself being creatively productive. And since there’s a whole blogpost that follows from that one action, and reading an article, I think it’s working.

“Spilling Blood: The art of writing violence” is the article that caught my attention. Appearing in the section “The Literary Life,” it’s by Benjamin Percy and Aaron Gwyn and is an excellent review of violence in fiction, especially in ages past. It freely flips between cinematic and literary references, providing an excellent overview of the different ways that violence has been portrayed in popular media.  From the famous shower scene in Psycho and the lopping off of the cop’s ear in Reservoir Dogs, to Flannery O’Connor’s brilliant and chilling “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and the use of Gore in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, the two men do a great job of describing how violence best works as a literary and story-telling device.

But about midway through the article, I found my stomach churning. Not at any hardcore violence which they discussed, though a summary of a bit of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Guts” (pretty, eh, gorey, click with discretion and not at work) did that for me.  My stomach churned at the hardcore prescriptivism they were pushing.

They dismiss Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis with a comparison to an elementary school bully – dubbed “Cody” for reasons that I’m sure speak to trauma in either Percy or Gwyn’s past – who would threaten to punch you, then when you flinched away, shout “two for flinching!” They close this section with “Don’t be a Cody. Nobody liked him.” Saying, almost directly, “Nobody likes Chuck Palahniuk.”

Except that people do like Chuck Palahniuk. That’s why, as they say in the article, that his “latest blood-spattered, feces-smeared novel [is] on the best-seller lists.”  They are dismissing this entire genre (or sub-genre?) and, by extension, its fans, as no good. They are saying that Palahniuk’s style is wrong. The rest of the article is excellently balanced, explaining why cutting away from violence is more effective. But this section doesn’t say “Palahniuk’s work is less effective.” It doesn’t even quite stop at saying “Palahniuk’s a bad writer.” It’s saying “Nobody likes Palahniuk.” It dismisses the droves of people who buy, read, and adore his books as “nobody.”  It ignores the actual facts – that lots of people do like this, and that perhaps there is a place for it in our society – in order to say “do it this way, always.” And prescriptivism has little to no place in creative writing*. Had they left out the “Don’t be Cody” section, this article would have had me nodding solid all the way through.  Instead, I lost my focus on their “descriptivism with tips” and came away with nothing more than a distaste for prescriptive elitism.

That’s why I prefer this blog post over at Judy Black Cloud about the difference between “horror” and “shock”.  It doesn’t declare that no one wants to read about meaningless evisceration; it just says that this meaningless evisceration isn’t horror. (And that it’s probably going to be confusing to most readers.)

Huh. I found and read both of those in the same day. I guess the world wants me to write some violence! I’ll get to work on my “Ballad of the Berserker Poet”

*Prescriptivism does have a place, and fairly large at that, in learning to be a good writer; E.E. Cummings knew how to write traditional poetry.  I and my fellow writers of “free verse” back in high school, well, didn’t.

“He’s always been very…  flexible.”

Unfortunately, this line does not set the tone for Space: 1999, because every single other line in the premiere episode “Breakaway” is simply agonizing rather than hilarious.  Though the show as a whole remains hilarious.  From the insistence that the problems could be the result of a “virus infection” (when “virus” or “infection” could certainly have sufficed) to Dr. Russel’s wooden acting and silent voice, it is impossible to discover what is actually going on in the show.

Dr. Russel’s complete lack of emotions suggests that, at some point in the series, it will be revealed that she is actually a robot.  Her Data-like immobility, her electrically sparkling eyes (which, I must admit, afflicts all members of the Mooncrew)…  She is clearly just waiting to begin barfing milk through a newspaper.  Even the computer does not trust her; as she watches over a deceased crewman through a monitor, her face reflects eerily in the image of his shoulder.  She spins over to ask the computer a question, and appears to threaten it with a prop identical to the gun we saw used moments ago!  The computer is well aware that this woman cannot be trusted, and will only work when she forces it to with force.  We can presume that she also threatens it with utter obliteration should her secret be revealed.

The brain damage is the result of a radiation attack.  In a scene following Robowoman’s revelation of this, we see a massive Radiate consuming the screen!  — Oh, wait, sorry, that was just a dramatic closeup.  In fact, radiation does not attack.  It’s rather disappointing.

Apparently, in space, no one can here you talk.  Everyone is always whispering for no clear reason, or shouting for just as much clear reason.  They shout most often when speaking into the comms; my best explanation is that they don’t really realize that the comms are there, and believe that they are shouting across space itself to each other.  Considering the physics involved in the launch of the moon from orbit…

Martin Landau asserts that there was a time that the colonists had no centigrade radiation covers (oh noooooo, our temperature can be measured!  LIKE AN ATTACK!), which is followed immediately by a RADIATION ATTAAAACK.  We can tell that radiation is attacking the rainbow-flag-armed Redshirt because he twitches.  Twitching in space means certain doom.  Everyone knows this; it’s a shame that he was working alone.  After a commercial break, he remains alone, and begins sweating and apparently attempting to pull his own face off.  Yet, the slow-moving space-walkers who run gradually into their car confirm that there is no radiation to be attacking anything.  Unless the MAD MAN who has been ATTAAAACKED into TWITCHING is actually radiation.  He begins slamming his helmet against the window.

One would be disappointed to learn that the windows on the space station on which one works can be cracked by being smashed into by a space helmet.  Whether we want our helmets to have more integrity than our space windows is unclear to me; I suspect the preference would be to have neither able to crack the other.

The best moment may be when we discover that one of the station’s engineers is none other than hit musician Bjork.  She, as the other scientists, cannot understand how there can be heat without any radiation!  While in a very real sense this is true (heat moves from hot objects and locations to cooler ones), they are clearly referring to radiation radiation.  The kind that attacks.  WITH LIGHTNING.  ON THE MOON.  The lighting arcs at a ship which they send out to investigate for no clear reason.  During this sequence, our dear Dr. Robot wanders the bridge, clearly making everyone else uncomfortable.  Are perhaps the other crew members aware of what she is?  Or does she just make them nervous, with her vague sociopathic tendencies?

Our balding friend determines that the heat and brain damage was caused by magnetic energy.  Which goes a long way to explaining the lighting, I suppose, but we’re all quite disappointed that the magnets aren’t ATTACKING.  Our heroes discover that their bizarre attempts to determine what the problem is and fix it, with no real rationale behind them, have turned the moon into “the biggest damn bomb mankind has ever created.”    Or maybe it’s the situation itself which as done that.  It’s very hard to tell.  It’s not even clear what the magnetic whatsits are, except that while they are doing damage, they are not capable of attacking.

Finally, though, the magnetic junk does attack.  It attacks the moon itself, creating a jet flame (somehow!) which very slowly pushes the moon out of orbit.  Although mere minutes after the acceleration begins they begin to “decelerate” (well of course they actually just lose g’s, meaning that they have only ceased to accelerate), and the earth appears to be the same size as the moon from an over-the-moon’s-shoulder shot, there is no chance for the crew of Moon Base Alpha to return to home.

The shot of a news reporter describing the incident, and its repercussions on Earth, with no concern for the thousands of lives surely lost in Italy and other places particularly named, suggests that perhaps the robotism is a plague affecting earth somehow.

The credits which follow announce that Gladys Goldsmith was in charge of continuity.  If I bother to review or you bother to watch the very next episode, you will see why I prefer not to acknowledge that my ancestry contains Goldsmiths.  Curse you, Gladys Goldsmith.

In the show’s defense, it does have amazing set design and the occasional quality special effect.   Disregarding the fact that our hero, who is aware of the previous commander’s….  flexibility… has two giant glass, ahem, spheres on his desk, that is.  Other than that, everything looks very very sciency.  It had a massive special effects budget, which really only barely shows.

This weekend, happening to stop by a comic shop on my way home from failing to sign a lease, I discovered a new Lovecraftian comic book entiled “The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles.” Despite that rather ridiculous title with its awkward allusion to “The Call of Cthulhu” I was somehow… drawn to this dark covered tome before any others. Published by Boom! Studios, it’s an intertwining story of… Well, so far it’s not really clear. There are two primary perspective characters as of the first issue: Clay Diggs, a pharmaceutical rep who is slightly ruthless, though kind, in his trade, and seemingly a great family man. His sister has gone mad, due to some strange phenomenon which I’ll get to later. The other character, who is less important in the first issue, is Paige Brees. Her husband was on a boat called the Paradise, on which every single human being mysteriously died. But the main character is clearly the as yet unnamed child, spoken of so far only as “baby” by his mother and “her son” by some elderly people who appear to be her parents. He is also told he is chosen by some culitists. Clay Diggs’s sister, Azilee, has been stalked by a strange, hooded man, who seems to only appear in photos. She seemed unaware of him until well after he began whispering to her; her boyfriend’s Polaroid camera is the only source of his sight. The big twist at the end is that, dun dun dun! The investigating Clay is now being stalked by the strange man. So, the story is pretty basic fare. Quality horror, scary, unknown goings-on; yet so far, every single character is clearly human or humanoid. This is something that frustrates me about most Post-Lovecraft Lovecraftiana; the “enemy” is imbued with far too many human(ish) characteristics. If this review interests you, I am sure you are familiar with August Derleth’s recasting of Lovecraft’s “gods” as forces of good and evil. This seems, so far, to be what is happening in this comic. The cultists are not dark and spooky; they’re the sort of people who will kill a child’s loving mother right in front of him mostly just for the hell of it. Perhaps it’s essential to their Dark Ritual that he suffers so; but even that isn’t very much in keeping with Lovecraftian themes. We can only hope that it will turn out that they do not understand what they are truly doing; that they are merely sadists who want to summon something terrible because they have nothing better to do; rather like Ladd Russo’s gang, we hope that all of them are of the understanding that, sooner or later, they will all be killed by that thing they follow. The narrative is quite intriguing; the story winds in and out of itself, intersecting with elements which are clearly the main story, yet are shunted into the background, while the main story is also at the forefront. It’s intertwining stories, with clear focus points – though it is unclear which, if any, is THE focus point. Clay so far has great provenance over Paige, but their connection to the dead ship Paradise makes it certain that Paige will not simply fade into the background. Had lovecraft himself written it, we would get the whole of Paige’s story at once, without the ominous visit to the dying Paradise at the beginning. This is not an issue at all; simply a stylistic difference. The art is good. The dead bodies are suitably inexplicable, but there is a strange overuse of shadows. Deep sunken eyes are far too deep sunken; perhaps the Cultist Leader will turn out to be inhuman. The strangest is when Azilee’s boyfriend, the photographer, is suddenly veiled in shadow in his well lit living room. He isn’t even saying something particularly spooky, for his narrative. I also cannot help but note one police officer’s disturbing resemblance to Axe Cop, despite his lack of mustache, axe, or villain-genocidal expression. Overall, though, the art is rather non-notable. Good, I would like to see more, but ultimately… non-notable. In brief, then: I look forward to future issues of this series, but I am not ready yet to recommend this. If you are the sort of person who voraciously consumes all Lovecraftian work, regardless of quality, then this is for you. No that tI would need to tell you that. Same if you feel this way about horror or Strange Mysteries. But for most people, I reserve judgment.

It may seem distasteful for someone who has never been published to review the fiction of others.  Even I’m feeling rather antsy about it.  but I feel I have to start somewhere.  Fantasy & Science Fiction’s July/August issue contained, among other things which I would like to review or at least respond to, a little story by Rick Norwood entitled “Brothers of the River”.

F&SF usually, at least since I got a subscription, carries primarily quality work.  Of course, I’m in what I suspect is the minority who adores Ramsey Shehadeh’s “Epidapheles” stories (which I will review at a later date or hour!), so maybe I’m not the best universal judge of such things.  Then again, what is universal about taste in fiction?  Oh look there I go getting rhetorical.  The original intent of this paragraph was to say that, while the stories in F&SF are usually pretty awesome, or at least at the best end of mediocre, this one was at the worst end of mediocre.  I hesitate to say awful, because the writing itself was fairly skillful, though nothing to write home about.  Nothing to especially write a blog about, either, so that’s likely to be the last I’ll mention it.

The problem is that the story itself is so tepid and derivative.  It’s the story — not to spoil anyone on this gripping, wild story! — of two brothers who lived “[m]any thousands of years before the flood.”  They are twins with individual personalities; both good people but in different ways!  Tiger’s exceedingly kind (“if he had two honeycakes, he would give them both away to a stranger”) but also very vengeful; Shallow is “a shrewd trader,” rather selfish but also always keeping his word.  They have a perpetual rivalry, but a friendly one.  Everyone thinks they totally rock, and even moreso once they gain the “old magics.”    Later, they challenge each other to a race!

Norwood is clearly attempting to establish his own little corner of a myth cycle here.  The problem is that it feels so much like every other myth cycle ever that there’s no point.  Two brothers, become godlike, help people all over the world just because.   The only time the story nearly becomes interesting is when the brothers stop in a couple towns to help people out.  First, Tiger helps a small beggar boy with magic bread made of mud!  Then he hears rumors of a terrible winged lion, so he slays it and hands the credit to the same child.  Or, rather, hands the credit for being the one who watched Tiger slay the beast to the same child.  Okay, that wasn’t interesting.  Shallow hangs out in the same town with some prostitutes.  Still boring, for a god-like character.  But in the next city, Shallow gambles away all his money, then gets it back by telling them to become a casino city, so as to outdo their nearby Religious city which has super-hot temple prostitutes.  Are they Sodom and Gomorrah, maybe?  Who knows, because absolutely no character, location, or entity in the story is named save the brothers.  Which is a nice touch.  And this was almost a nice touch too, this event; it was an interesting little plot point, which was then moved on from within half a page of its introduction.

There is never any tension in the story.  Although I am sure that Norwood meant for the climax to be exciting and nervewracking, wherein the “Old Dark Gods” decide to punish the boys (at the end of their race) for thinking that they were on par with gods, it comes nowhere near.  Oh no.  How ever will Shallow stop being a dung beetle.  I can’t wait for this climax to be over in less than a page.  I was actually excited by the presence of “Old Dark Gods,” since I adore H.P. Lovecraft and thought that I was about to see something cool.  but the creepiest element of these hooded figures is that they (gasp!) spoke without their mouths moving!  Oh and they can turn god-like men into beetles.  Scaaaaaaaary!  Tiger arrives after Shallow and immediately figures out what has happened.  I half-expected him to just zap the nasty mean ol’ gods with his super powers before they could turn him into a beetle.  But no, Norwood opts for something even more tedious: Deux Ex Machina.  Tiger sees the situation and immediately…  prays.  He calls upon the “Young Bright Gods!” (oh my god uuuuuuuuugh) who….  come out of nowhere with absolutely no description and obliterate the Old Dark Gods and turn Shallow back into a guy.  How…  Exciting.  I sure am glad you didn’t put me on the edge of my seat, Norwood, because the whiplash from the shock of that solution would have given me cause to sue you.  Because wow, that was….  yeah, really exciting.  So exciting I lost my exclamation point key.

KJ Hannah Greenberg says in her review of  the entire issue for Tangent Online, “I experienced ‘Brothers of The River,’ as a chewy bit flavored by exquisite settings and wondrous actions, and as an intellectually nutritious morsel able to posit our needs to conquer our inner worlds. Well written to a word, this story delivers an important message.”  I would like very well to know what that message is, and how these boys conquered their inner worlds.  All they did was run around, help some people, and then ask the “young bright gods” (did I already say UUUGH?) to kill the “old dark gods”.  Then they turned into rivers.  What in the world is the message?  Pray to solve your problems?  Gambling is awesome when you have something that you can use to win back your losses, especially if that’s more gambling?  Brothers rock?  Rivers rock?  Were the dark old gods supposed to represent our inner worlds?  And for Shallow’s sake, how the Tiger did anyone in the story conquer their INNER worlds?

I am going to look for some other works by Norwood though.  I have this indefinite sense that there is a broader world behind Tiger and Shallow.  Plus, his writing style suggests that he could do some good things.  He just needs better stories and more tension.  Maybe he’s had such before; I don’t know!

(On another note, I’m noticing that a lot of responses for this issue of F&SF are from about a month ago.  Yet I just received my copy this week.  I’ll go ahead and assume that these are all from advance copies, but I’ve come across a small number of amateur reviews like mine as well.  Shall I forever be nearly a month behind on this magazine?  Oh, the drama!)