Hugo Nominated Short Fiction Works of John C. Wright by John C. Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
John C Wright received some of the most nominations for this year's Hugo ballots, ranging from related, short story, and two novellas. I intended to read all works from the point of view that everything ought to have a chance, no matter the stigma surrounding it. That being said, it was hard to miss that this came out of Vox Day's camp.
I read these, dutifully, and I even found a great deal about them that I liked. For one, the author has an otherworldly grasp of run on sentences detailing great long swaths of out-of-scene plot. A first glance this might seem like a bad thing, but I don't mean it that way.
It's lyrical and forces us to use our imaginations and wonder about all the great doings that were long past or in the personal history of the narrator and his childhood friends. (One Bright Star to Guide Them).
The secret histories of the animals and their relations with man, or lack thereof. (The Parliament of Beasts and Birds).
The twisty labyrinth of time travellers and how they must tell a story when things are so damn convoluted, including many instances of one character, be it John F Kennedy as an Old Letch, a murderous pre-time warden, a prevention of murder younger version, and an outsider JFK called the Innocent, or the many versions of Helen of Troy turned into disposable love-toys and her inability to break out of the cycle, narrated by a private eye. (The Plural of Helen of Troy).
A private eye as a ghost, unstuck in time, wavering between restless spirit and poltergeist, finding his way back to heaven or hell. (Pale Realms of Shade).
All of them had interesting ideas, and stylistically I have to admit I liked his command of myth. All of them pull from artists who had come before, in huge ways. One Bright Star to Guide Them was a huge riff of Narnia in every way that counts. It wasn't bad at all. I enjoyed the adventure and the characters quite a lot.
The Parliament felt like the old story of uplifted dogs that had inherited mankind's cities and reminisced about their old masters with helpful AI by Cordwainer Smith.
The last two took most of their hooks from detective fiction, but twisted into many odd and wonderful shapes by the end.
All good, so far.
Now for the bad, and the reason I had to knock the whole slate down to three stars.
Every Story Had An Agenda.
There's no way around it. Maybe all authors have an agenda to one degree or another, but most of them successfully bury it or have it flow smoothly into their fiction so hardly anyone can feel its bite. Not so with these stories. They don't begin this way, but by the time you get to the 2/3 point, you'll feel as if you're listening to christian rock or a falsely popular and overhyped Billy Budd story that's always an over the top Christian Ideal. All of them have the VERY CLEAR AGENDA emblazoned across every plotline, every character development, every resolution.
That's not to say that the author didn't have a damn fine command of other mythos, because he does. It's just that everything serves the dark master of the Agenda.
Each story was entertaining and well crafted. I just don't like being Pistol-Whipped with an Aaron Burr Handgun while I'm enjoying any tale.
It pulled me right out of the fine illusions, and I groaned so much that my dog thought I was talking to her, barked, and woke up the baby. Bad Story. Bad Story. Nah, I'm sorry story, you weren't that bad. It was me. Not you.
I find myself seriously wondering what wonderful tales might have been wrought out of the author if he hadn't had a hand made of iron under that glove. The complexity of the twisty tales and the worldbuilding in his fantasy were very, very delightful. I can handle a lot of christian imagery without it ruining a tale. I love Brothers Karamazov for christ's sake. Same goes for Paradise Lost. I'm not a hater. I just wish he'd TONE IT DOWN a notch. That's all.
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