Sunday, September 17, 2023

Bookpost 14

Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7, 8, 9, 10 , 11, 12, 13


The Wizard Knight, Gene Wolfe

DNF 524/909

It feels like something impossible has happened. But I guess they can't all be winners, and while it pains me to drop a book that I would in most respects consider better than Urth, the opening act of Wizard is an absolute slog.

The book has a lot to commend it: the world is fascinating, the quality of the prose is Wolfe-standard excellent, and there is certainly a lot of stuff I am ignorant of that can be dug into. Unfortunately, Alzabo Soup has not covered this book, so my main resource is of no aid and I haven't looked into finding another.

My main issue is Able. He's basically just boring Severian, and I mean that as the greatest insult I can muster. He's the same character except less engaging at every opportunity: he's a teenager from an abusive living situation, is sexually abused by an older woman, has a way of looking at the world utterly disjointed from reality, and will do whatever anyone tells him to do with absolutely no second thoughts. But he lacks the...entertainment value? that Severian has. Able is a cipher, and while I grok that yes, he's clearly a kid from a bad home life who has been transported to a world where he is rewarded for random acts of violence, it's not really fun to read. Severian is a dunderhead and we know how his background informs his fucked up behavior and you can have loads of fun catching him in lies or laughing at how dumb he can be about basic things. Able is amnesiac and tight-lipped about what he does remember, and so when he randomly beats a ship's captain into submission for the crime of doing his job or his bizarre cruelty to Uri and Baki I just tune out because there is no coherent reason for why that I can discern.

The opening of Wizard is terribly dull and terribly slow, and when Able finally re-appears we get a scene that boils down to:

"Do you, Baki, reject Setr? Specifically you, Baki, and not me, Able, who is still going to kill Kulili because Setr told me to, I don't have to reject Setr and I not only don't have to give anyone a reason, but there is no reason. There are no thoughts whatsoever in my head."

That's what killed it for me. It's such a bizarre episode of hypocrisy and I didn't have any faith that it's be resolved, let alone even addressed.

Delta-V, Daniel Suarez

DNF 34/340

A novel about the first asteroid mining mission, or more properly the lead-up to the first asteroid mining mission. Didn't care for the prose, didn't care for the pacing. Skipped ahead and saw that most of the novel takes place on Earth.

Sacred and Terrible Air, Robert Kurvitz

The prequel of sorts to Disco Elysium and absolutely incomprehensible without having played the game. Honestly it's barely comprehensible even having played the game. But that doesn't matter, because it is incomprehensible in the way of dreams, or of certain modes of poetry. It's experiential. It is wild and vivid and beautiful and bizarre and grotesque and when it works. I can't properly recommend it to people unless they are in for the experience. But if you are in for the experience, it's a wild ride and once I came to grips with what it was offering it was incredibly engaging in the back third.

Goddess of Atvatabar, William Richard Bradshaw

DNF 35%

Public domain hollow earth novel from 1892. It's not a good novel by any standard we'd have today, not really, but it is charming in its absolute and utter sincerity at every step. Bradshaw was, to put it bluntly, extraordinarily ignorant of how the world worked (or very good at giving that impression), and yet somehow, in a book from 1892, this never manifested as virulent racism or sexism. Like still grading on a curve but getting a full third of the way through a book of this genre from this era without getting an eyeful of that is remarkable in the extreme. Sure it's more than a little orientalist but that seems to have manifested mostly in long descriptions of how pretty the buildings are.

In its place there's a sequence where, in spite of there being absolutely no evidence to support this whatsoever, a scientist boldly declares that the language of the Atvatabari is a letter substitution cipher of English, and he is 100% correct. It's so ridiculous that it goes right back around to being charming. Also the author was apparently chair of an anti-vivisection society so that's a gold star.

Shards of Earth, Adrian Tchaikovsky

DNF 125 / 548

Another bust from a favored author, what a bummer.

It's competently written and the setting is a nice, if played rather straight to the tropes modern space-opera. FTL, aliens you can talk to, space gods, all that good stuff. Nothing revolutionary but it does for a time scratch the itch. The prologue features more or less an exact description of one of my Celestials appearing to ruin everyone's day, it's very neat.

Unfortunately, I have reached the end of my ability to stomach rustbucket spaceships with found family crews full of gold heart-bearing rogues. I get the desire to go back to Bebop, but Bebop still exists. You can watch it right now! It's still good! It's still better than all the shows and books trying to capture its magic because, here's a secret, those shows and books are imitating Firefly, which is to Bebop as the shadows flickering on the demiurge's cave wall are to the numinous.

Tchaikovsky is not able to escape this. the way characters are presented as actors in the world, the way they talk to each other, there is a Whedonish tinge to it, which had been absent from Children of Time. CoT is also one hell of an act to follow so I can be understanding to an extent, but Shards of Earth is just...plain and kinda boring. All the components are there to be great, and Tchaikovsky is more than capable of it, but it just didn't work. I wonder how much Orbit editorial dictated the tone?

Scud: The Disposable Assassin, Rob Schrab

In progress

Hell yeah let's fucking GO! Great comic. Masterclass of motion and action. Positively dripping with style. Never lets up with the bonkers, keeps everything rolling with some very sleek "yes, and"-ing. It's great! There's a universe where a tv adaptation of this comic filled the niche of Invader Zim. There is one scene of a (mostly elided) sexual encounter that has definitely not aged well and it was a major swerve from the rest of the comic but besides that, aces.

Update 9/18: Reading further, there is a noteworthydrop in quality in both writing and art after volume 15. Sussudio bears the brunt of being a woman in late-90s early-aughts alt comics, and hoo boy has that aged like fine milk.

Monday, September 4, 2023

7 Grimoires and Lost Texts

Libri Pontificales
Latin, ~290 BCE

A record of the names, prayers, and sacrificial rites of every god known to republican-era Rome. This copy contains 2155 entries, many of which are written in shorthand and contain nothing beyond name(s), altar type, sacrifice, and holy day. Language is obtuse and archaic, with some older passages lapsing into Etruscan.

  • Make Contact - Regardless of deity, the rituals follow the same transactional outline of sacrifice and request. The difficulty lies in deciphering the procedures, procuring the correct offering, and correctly identifying the subject.

Monster Manuela
English, 1977

A copy of the Monster Manual for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. "Happy 12th birthday, Manuella!" is written on the inside front cover in faded blue pen. Book contains copious marginal notes and annotations, most of which are the mundane but enthusiastic commentary of a teenage dungeon master.

  • Door to the Roots of Zan - It works best on cellar doors, basement doors, on doors unused or long-locked. Doors to rooms that have no windows. The passage was always there, you just lacked the means to see it.

The Dzyan Dissection
English, ~1990s

A 3-ring binder containing several hundred pages of the writings of Helena Blavatsky; the text has been annotated with terse, matter-of-fact commentary pointing out every contradiction, inconsistancy, unsubstantiated claim, logical fallacy, historical untruth, and theological misconception in the text, leading to a commentary several times longer than the source text itself.

  • Null - Fully laid bare by the anonymous redactor, the combined ontological weight of the source text's inaccuracy will dissipate any true occult workings it comes in close contact with. Rituals will fail, enchantments will fizzle out, the anomalous will be rendered mundane. Mild effects will occur within 3 meters, substantial effects at 1 meter, and total obliteration of the unnatural elements when touched.

Last Great Dangerous Visions

English, 2037 (alleged); 1985 (first documented copy)

Short story collection of trangressive science fiction. 28/47 authors are extant individuals, though none have any record or memory of writing the stories contained within. The remaining 19 authors are of unknown ontological status.

Only the copyright page, index, and titles are readable: the rest has been redacted. Still, those who have come into contact with the book or learned of its existence will vouch for the contents' status as haunting, grotesque, transgressive, taboo, and other such adjectives. When pressed about the contents, reponses will be vague; those that contain any meaningful description of the contents will bear no correlation with any other account. Reconstructions of the stories remains unlikely.

  • Anomalous properties unknown. 

Book of the Waters
Ge'ez, ~1410s

Fragmentary apocryphal text regarding a vision delivered to an unnamed hermit, wherein an angel elaborates in great detail the spirits of the abyssal oceans. The hermit, not believing these claims, demands that the angel show him; the angel does so, again in great detail. Multiple sections of the text are repeated word-for-word. The hermit comes to deeply regret his descision, a repentence that the angel has no intention of acknowledging (not while there are yet more varieties of horrific snaggletoothed fish to catalogue)

  • Abyssal Familiar - A spirit not entirely unlike a gulper eel is bound to the text. It will act as typical for a bound familiar, though its cunning and appetite are a measure more than most.


Itadakimasu, Kyoko-chan!
Japanese, 2019

A slice-of-life story about teenagers starting a cooking club which, upon close reading, contains detailed subtextual directions on the creation of a philosopher's stone. Only known copy is an omnibus edition of the first three volumes, leaving the remaining nine steps unknown.

  • The Great Work (Partial) - The first three steps are sufficient to create a lesser homunculus. It can only follow basic commands, and will dissolve into a slurry of its component materials within hours, but it will suffice.

Meat and Honey
Akkadian, ~1600s BCE

Series of clay tablets containing an incomplete translation of the Homestuck epilogues. Creative liberties have been taken with the text, including a diatribe by Karkat about his negative experiences with the copper merchant Ea-Nasir and a lengthy aside describing an argument between scribes over Vriska's moral status, inserted in a section that did not contain the character in question.

  • Anomalous properties unknown.