A Bit of Background Reading

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The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson

Originally published in 1912, The Night Land is, by any reasonable use of the phrase, a classic.  Like many classics, it both straddles and defies genre.  It is a mix of horror, fantasy, fairy tale, and, almost by definition of the setting, science fiction.  Of course, all these genres were still in flux in 1912, so it makes assigning this novel a little more difficult.

The novel makes odd use of a framing story, although the framing story is part of what lets this novel keep a foot planted in the world of the fairy tale.  Briefly, it opens with the unnamed narrator describing (in almost excruciating detail) how he met and fell in love with the love of his life.  Or, more correctly, The Love of His Life.  This goes far, far beyond love, beyond even soul mates.  This is an endless love; a love for the ages.  And, as we see, calling it a love of the ages is exactly right.  After the tragic death of his love (and we are still in the first chapter here), he has a vision.  A vision of the future.  The far future.

And when I say "the far future", I mean the far future.  A future the likes of which only The Time Machine or The Dying Earth can appreciate.  The book jumps from a vague 17th century setting to, quite literally, millions of years into the future, to a point after the death of the sun (when this was written, it was assumed that the sun would dwindle and snuff itself out, as opposed to swelling into a red giant and absorbing the earth).

Allow that to sink in for a moment.  Just imagine the world he has created for his narrator to live in.  A world of, more or less, perpetual darkness.  A world where the last millions of people live in a massive structure called the Last Redoubt.  It is in this world that the bulk (and the novel has considerable heft) of the story takes place, with the narrator attempting to reconnect with his love.

This novel is staggering.  For one, the Last Redoubt is possibly the first use of an arcology in literature, and is simply colossal, a true and fine example of super-architecture: 
...when the humans had built the great Pyramid, it had one thousand three hundred and twenty floors; and the thickness of each floor was according to the strength of its need. And the whole height of this pyramid exceeded seven miles, by near a mile, and above it was a tower from which the Watchmen looked...
Of course, much of the novel doesn't take place in the Redoubt; it takes place in the titular Night Land, which is, essentially, the rest of earth.  A dark, deadly place filled with monsters and living testaments to pure, true evil.  Beings simply waiting for their chance to destroy, slay, and consume the last humans, body and soul.

In addition to physical sizes (a nearly eight mile tall four sided pyramid, massive creatures and giants), the time scale is also tremendous.  Frequently, the narrator will pause to go off on a historical tangent, that will involve ancient (for him) events, but he will also mention how a certain situation or standard would continue for "mayhaps an hundred thousand years," just casually blurring through huge gulfs of time.  Of course, when you've given yourself twenty million years (give or take) to play with, what's a couple hundred thousand between friends?

However.  There's always a however.

This novel was written in 1912, emulating, sort of, earlier story-telling styles, which makes this something of a difficult read.  The language is very formal and very stilted at times.  The narrator (forever unnamed) will often go off on long digressions, often going on and on for pages about some esoteric thing or bit of history.  There's also an almost utter lack of dialog.  All of this can make for a bit of a slog to get through this story, wonderful as it is.  For example:
And by this means did I eat thrice in that time, and have six hours of sleep.  And this seemed very good to me, and I did strive always to manage thus in all my great journeying in the Night Land.  Yet, as may be supposed, there were times oft and many when I must watch without ceasing, and leave my slumber unto the future; for the Land was full of grim and dreadful Perils.
While is certainly isn't as circular and over-enamored with adjectives as, say, Paul Clifford, it can't be said that this story isn't taking its time.  Then again, this isn't exactly a brief review either, so perhaps I should be careful in my glass house.

But still... still... it is compelling.  This is the kind of story Lovecraft wished he could write (and he all but said so in Supernatural Horror in Literature).  Rather than Paul "Dark and Stormy Night" Clifford which wore out its welcome rather quickly (no matter how fun it was to post hundred-word sentences to Facebook), The Night Land enchants.  It sucks you in.  While this makes the digressions all the more infuriating as you want to get on with it, you can't stay irritated, because who knows when that five page tangent about what some people did a couple million years ago might become important.

Personally, I liken it to the novels of Lord Dunsany.  Like, say, The King of Elfland's Daughter, it takes its time, slowly building the world, slowly progressing the story.  In many ways, they are literary examples of "it's the journey, not the destination".  And while the journey may be bumpy and your tour guide might be overly flowery, it's a journey that's more than worth it.

Which is not to say it isn't without its faults.  At times, the narrator is an impossible idiot.  He sets off on his quest, only knowing that his destination lies to the north.  Or maybe the northwest.  But very likely in some northish direction.  Picture that for a moment.  Unless you're in the Arctic Circle, "north" isn't especially useful.  And yet, he expresses dismay that he hasn't found his destination after a couple weeks of walking.  But at least he gives updates about when he eats and drinks and when he feels he's deserved an extra ration, "as you shall understand."

At times, this feels very much like a classic -- in the bad way.  Like the kind of book you were forced to read in high school, and thus would resent for the rest of your life.  And it feels like that even now, even though I'm reading this because I want to.  And the thing is, even though there are times that I feel like yelling at the narrator ("Yes, yes, you ate and drank every 6 hours, you don't need to tell me this every day for a month!") or yell at the author ("Get on with it!"), I can't help but want to know what happens.  Perhaps it's a sort of Me vs. It contest of wills at this point, but I also think it's because the story, buried deep under a pile of expository gilding, is still worth it.  But still, even though I devour Lovecraft and Poe and Dunsany, I think I might have gotten more enjoyment from reading Stoddard's rewrite of the novel to make it less archaic (or Hodgson's own abridged version which cuts, literally, 90% of the story).  But then, there's something for reading the original, even if it feels like a contest of wills at times.

And, the kicker is, he knows how to write.  I skimmed a couple pages of one of his other books (The House on the Borderland), and it was fine.  Early 20th century styling, but fine.  Unfortunately, he's aping a bizarre Victorian style which leads to:
And in this place I will make explanation why that I speak somewhiles of fire-pits and otherwihiles of fire-holes; for the holes did be those fires that burned nigh to the brim of the holes; but the pits were those places where the fire was deeply in the earth.  And this thing I give for your enlightenment, even on a small matter; so that you shall have a clear knowledge to abide with me all the way; and you to agree of this for wisdom, and I to be pleased that you so agree.
That passage is eight hundred pages into this almost 1300 page novel.  800 pages in and he finally decides to explain the difference, more or less out of nowhere.  It's the phrases like this that make the entire book read like it's a rambling story being told by your drunken uncle Earl after Thanksgiving dinner.  Even still, I can't hate this book.  God help me, but I enjoyed it on the whole.

So why did I call this a bit of background reading?  Simple.  I read this 197k word tome as groundwork for the collection I had originally intended to read.  But after getting about five pages into that, I decided I needed to read the source.  So now that I've read the source, I can go on to John C. Wright's Awake in the Night Land.

And surely all this to be plain to you, and to be over-plain; for, in verity, I tell to you, and over-tell, until that I should be weary; and mayhap you to be the more so.
 Hit the nail on the head, buddy.


Well... I thought it was funny...


Let's Be Frank

Cover art by Alan Pollack
Monster Hunter Nemesis is the fifth book in the Monster Hunters... cycle?  It seems there's at least seven planned, so I guess this is a septology?  Anyway, it's the fifth book by Larry "International Lord of Hate" Correia and is published by Baen Books.  It doesn't come out until the first, but the digital versions dropped early, so here we are.

Briefly, the Monster Hunter series largely follows the adventures of one Larry Correia Owen Z. Pitt who ends up in a world where monsters are real and people make money by hunting them.  Three of the books are first person from Owen's point of view as he's introduced to this world and the ever crazier events.

Nemesis, like Alpha before it, break that pattern by being presented in third person, tethered narrative.  I believe the proper description would be "non-omniscient", but either way, the narrative is connected to a specific character.

In the case of this book, we're following the infamous Franks.  Like with Alpha, the narrative is split between the past and the present, in this case it's from an interview/debriefing with Franks, where we get a lot of backstory, including what he actually is.

I'm going to keep this review short because I honestly don't want to spoil anything.  Furthermore, this isn't exactly a deep story.  Don't get me wrong, this is fun as hell, but it's light reading.  Correia is fully in his element here.  He's come a long way since Monster Hunter International, and he continues to improve.  The Monster Hunter books are like good old fashioned action movies; the kind that give you all the thrills you could want without insulting your intelligence.  I think his Grimnoir Trilogy is far more solid, he's got a good thing going here.

The book doesn't really stand alone.  I mean, you could read it without the previous books, but a lot of things wouldn't make much sense, and really, you'd be missing out on a lot of fun, and spoiling things from the previous books. But the story does stand alone in that it tells a complete story as well as teasing the grander over-plot.

All in all, a very solid entry into this fast-paced and fun series.


Go go, Godzilla!

Guess what I saw the other day.  Here's a hint:

A good time was had by all. 

I had heard mixed things about director Gareth Edwards's Monsters, but regardless of the quality of that movie, it's clear he understands the character, and the genre, unlike certain directors who shall remain unmentioned.  Ahem.

Regardless, this is a movie that not only understands the entire concept, but deeply loves it.  You can see the love of genre in general, and the big guy in particular.  Like Pacific Rim, this movie knows what it is and revels in it, not afraid to wallow in the glory of it all.

A few things have been tweaked here and there to, I guess, make the movie more contemporary, such as making the Kaiju creatures from an earlier age, as opposed to atomic mutations.  Indeed, the opening credits sequence (which is actually rather clever) shows that the Bikini Atoll tests didn't create Godzilla; they were an attempt to kill Godzilla.

Sadly, after those tantalizing glimpses, Master G all but vanishes from the picture until much, much, much later.  It's a deep loss.

And that's my main complaint with the picture.  While it's fun playing, "Oh Hey, That Guy!" during the beginning of the film, it can be horribly plodding.  Yes, yes, it sets up motivations, and it puts things in motion, and it establishes Important In-Movie Information for later, but it feels long.  I can't help but think the movie could have benefited from having a good 10 or 15 minutes cut, especially from the first hour.  The movie clocks in at just over two hefty hours, so the King of the Monsters isn't the only one looking a little bloated.

And yes, this Godzilla seems a little on the pudgy side.  But it's the weirdest thing.  There are scenes where I could swear they decided to have the CG try to emulate a dude in a rubber suit.  The skin seems to be wobbling above nothing, like it would in a rubber suit, as opposed to if the skin was wrapped around blubber or whatever Kaiju have.  I suppose an in-movie explanation would be that, since Godzilla lives on the bottom of the ocean, leaving that extreme pressure has caused him to expand, but that seems like I'm over thinking things.

Mild spoilers to follow, but this information is revealed towards the beginning, so it's not much of a spoiler.

Had this movie taken a more traditional naming scheme, it wouldn't have been called Godzilla; it would have been called Godzilla vs. MUTO.

Say what you will about the creature design for Godzilla, the design for MUTO is fantastic.  It's a weird bug/bat/monster thing.  It looks like it was somewhat inspired by Gyaos, truth be told.  Regardless, it's still an original beastie and is wonderfully crafted.  The thought given to its design and life cycle was actually pretty neat.  I like that they took the time to make these creatures seem like real things instead of just giant engines of destruction.  I mean, they are giant engines of destruction, but they have... biology.

And we see a lot of MUTO.  After the opening credits teases of Godzilla, MUTO is the only Kaiju we see for about half the picture, and there's a lot of running around trying to figure out what's going on and so forth and so on.  While it's nice to see Bryan Cranston (looking more Hal Wilkerson than Walter White) and Ken Watanabe, we don't care about the humans.  In fact, there was a point in the movie where Godzilla was starting to fight MUTO and they cut away to the human characters running around and I almost cried out, "Oh, come on!" in the theater.

Still, even with all those missteps, it's a ridiculously fun movie.  Even though it teases us with Godzilla for far to long, it's not afraid of the money shot: when we get that first shot of Godzilla roaring right at the camera, you just want to cheer.  It's utterly amazing.  Well worth the price of admission.


Skin Game (Dresden Files 15)

Skin Game is the fifteen book of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  Before I go any further, I just want to congratulate Mr. Butcher on getting this far.  Fifteen books in a series is a lot of writing, and he continues to keep it interesting.

Of course, being fifteen books in means there has been a lot of stuff going on up until this point, and writing a truly spoiler-free review is more than a little complicated: "After being on [REDACTED] for a year, waiting to hear from [REDACTED] the new [REDACTED], Harry has spent his time in the [REDACTED] yelling "Parkour!" like a lunatic.  That finally ends when [REDACTED] arrives and tells him that his next job as [REDACTED] is to team up with Nicodemus on a job."  And that's just the first couple chapters.

But, setting aside specifics, we can talk about the book in a general sense: Jim Butcher decided to try his hand on a heist story.  Make no mistake, this is a heist story through and through.  I wonder if Butcher was reading Raymond Chandler or watching Mamet's Heist.  It's all there.  The pacing, the episodic story telling (I didn't even realize it at the time, but Nicodemus is all but putting up title cards with his folders), the questionable loyalties, the twists...

Butcher keeps the pace going, managing to avoid bogging things down, while also keeping from leaving you exhausted.  It's a delicate balancing act, especially when everything goes to Hell (heh).  He brings in some familiar faces and some new ones, and pulls a couple really unexpected ones out of his hat.

Essentially, at this point, reviews are mostly pointless.  We're fifteen books in.  You should know if you'll like the book or not.  Hell, you've probably read it already.  So without further ado...

Spoilers to follow