Friday, June 26, 2015

One Bright Star to Guide Them

In many novels, the plot reaches a point where the main character(s) must explain everything that has happened so far to a new character who is unfamiliar with the plot. Usually it happens like this: "Then Mary-Sue told Robert about the entire adventure,  focusing on important plot details X and Y. 'Wow!'  Robert said, 'Let me help you achieve Z!'" That is, the novel usually excuses the novel-reader from re-reading a description of the previous chapters of the novel.

"One Bright Star to Guide Them" by John C. Wright consists almost entirely of characters reporting what has just happened. Sometimes the action chapters are themselves excluded from this novella (another 2015 Hugo nominee), so that one chapter of a character summarizing action can be followed by another chapter of the same character summarizing the actions he did after the last time he summarized them.

This is torture to read. It's a novella, but it took me several weeks to force my eyeballs across all the pages. A torturous horror, an affront to the literate English-reading portion of the world's population.

What, in particular, was bad? Aside from the lack of action, the prodding prose, and the completely shallow and unengaging two-dimensional hero and villains? Those elements alone certainly made this an atrocious nominee. In addition, the author at various points demonstrates a baffling lack of knowledge about basic things, like: how boats work, basic anatomy, and physics.

Outward appearance exactly mirrors standing on the good/evil axis: "good" characters and items are infused with light, warmth, intelligence, honesty, truth, Capitalized Nouns, and well-tanned muscular good health; "bad" characters and items are dark, black, shadowy, gaunt, hollow-eyed (oh, so hollow-eyed!), hunched, draped in black robes, blind, lying, devious, clever, evil, and unhealthy. Nothing plot-relevant combines traits from both lists; good is turned up to 11, and bad is turned up to 11, and the entire story careens madly from 11 to 11, with no smaller integers available. The laziest sort of storytelling and symbolism, relying entirely on stereotypes, abounds. The level of diction ranges from painfully "street"-wise to archly ornate, often within the same sentence, although overall the story tends to be written as if it is Bible verse (which is to say, has been translated through many languages with no care for the fluid readability of the resulting sentence). The author cannot decide if the main character is "Thomas" or "Tommy", even within a single paragraph. Overall, the prose is so stiff it is mentally painful to read.

After the hero achieves his objective (defeating Evil on Earth! not bad!) and Catholically feels guilty rather than relieved, the (sigh) expected god figure (basically Aslan) descends from on High to make the hero feel a little better. This talking, golden-light-exuding giant lion gives all kinds of Good News about redemption, future heaven awaiting, etc.... and inexplicably mixes in some bits about how terrible suffering also awaits some of his Good friends, the main character accepts all this news (wretched future suffering!) with a Glad Heart, and so on. Elsewhere in better literature, Gollum is also stolen to appear in one (largely expository) scene, then be immediately defeated.

At some early point, I added a margin note that "all this summarizing had better be a joke, or else this story is a garbage attempt at an outline of a novel." Unfortunately, the entire story was straight and no ironic wink waited at the conclusion to acknowledge the horrible, trite sentences, the boring tropes, the unexciting fight scenes, the painful non-scanning rhymes which were necessary to do any Good Magic.

In conclusion: yuck.

This post's theme word is obtest, "to invoke as a witness, to implore, to beseech" (transitively), or "to protest, to plead" (intransitively). I obtest thee, read not this abominable collection of concatenated sentences.


G said...

Are you aware that a group of anti-diversity trolls sabotaged the 2015 Hugos? Here are the ones they pushed with their voting block:

One Bright Star to Guide Them is one of the things the troll voting block was able to get nominated. In general, I would expect 2015 Hugos supported by the gamergators to be far, far below the quality of past Hugo nominees.

G said...

I see now that you are well aware of this and are soldiering on and reading them anyway. I had forgotten your earlier post on the matter. I am sad you have to wade through so much crap in the Hugos this year.