(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts about the 2015 Hugo nominees, explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)
Holy shit. I swear, John C. Wright is going to be the death of me.
I think this is the worst of his three nominated novellas, and that's a damned low bar to clear. I forced myself to slog through it, mainly because I couldn't believe how bad it was. It couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be; is it a noir detective story, or a ghost story, or a faery story, or a dead-man-seeking-absolution story, or was it, at the very end, a religious allegory of this same dead man being hustled off to the gathering of the first Christians at Pentecost (Wright is obsessed with Pentecost, for some reason) to have his sins forgiven?
It's all of these. It's also a freaking mess, and makes no sense whatsoever. I know this is fantasy, but every story should have its own internal rules and stick to them. Wright discards his rules left and right, or doesn't bother to set them up in the first place.
It's also just badly written, with juvenile mistakes. To wit:
I looked around again, this time with my eyes closed. I could feel the beat of life inside him, like heat from an unseen campfire. I finally understood what drove vampires crazy: Being able to feel being alive, but not being able to truly be alive. Drinking the living blood and feeling it inside you, just for a moment. Almost like the real thing. Undead onanism.
And with those final two words, the reader's suspension of belief crashes and burns. Undead onanism? There aren't enough heads and desks in the entire goddamned world for that. It's the most ridiculous metaphor I've ever heard. The definition of onanism, according to Merriam-Webster: 1. Masturbation; 2. Coitus interruptus; and 3. Self-gratification. What in the hell do any of those have do with vampires and drinking blood?
Onward we go, more's the pity.
It might have been a cluttered museum closed for repair, or maybe an abandoned antique shop. Here were masks on the wall of long-nosed creatures with spiked chins, or bat-eared creatures with curving fangs, or albino foxes smiling sweetly; next to the masks were braided whips on hooks with bits of bone and metal woven into the lash; next were staples in the walls from which dangled chains with manacles and gyves.
A wall niche held a blue-faced idol of a many-armed goddess. One leg was raised in a dance-step, each of her hands was holding a bloody weapon or severed head, while a necklace of skulls was draped across the outrageous metal balloons of her breasts. She was stepping on a kowtowing dwarf.
On one shelf were knives with serrated brass-knuckles built into the guards; other shelves held Coptic jars, or bottles filled with pickled meats or eyes or organs; in the back corner loomed an iron maiden, gently smiling, complete with channels in the base for the blood to run into a water bowl for the cat.
And this royal purple puffery, which is lacking only the slime and tentacles of Nyarlathotep, runs on and on and on for the next freaking page! Dude! Has anybody ever told you that LESS IS MORE?
The characters also have, shall we say, unique methods of speech.
"Your will is of no matter," he smiled, keeping his lips together.
Doesn't this flout Dialogue Writing 101? How, pray tell, can someone smile words, especially through pressed lips?
Also, Heaven forbid that John C. Wright ever write an actual sex scene. This is bad enough.
"He will be as you are now. Is that so bad? And do you know, ah, do you know why he is here? He forgot his hat. In the room, in the dark, when he clutched her beautiful and sweating hot body in his arms, when they rutted like swine in heat, grunting, and he poured his sperm into her in a vast, hot, stiff explosion, a joy lost now to you forever. He took no pills. He remembers. And with your death, he is free to enjoy her and use her and spew his seed into her as he might spit into a spittoon on the floor, until the amusement of plundering you of yours is weariness to him. Is this not cause enough to kill? It is justice. The scale is unbalanced. Strike! Strike the flint against the steel! And you shall be whole!"
You know, Mr. Wright, there's this little contest called the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. That's where this crapola belongs. Not on the Hugo ballot.
Here came images from the mythic memory of mankind. But in one and one place only, they were different. The images of a mythical and timeless events were linked by rays of light like a tree to specific events that happened at specific places in the mortal world. It was like a road or a path or a tunnel reaching from the deep parts of eternity, far too far for me to reach, up to the mortal time. It was a pathway or pillar spanning the whole deep of the sea from the surface to the bottomlessness depths.
That isn't even a comprehensible paragraph, never mind its use of words that have never existed in any dictionary.
The story ends with a poem by William Cullen Bryant, "Thanatopsis," from which the title is taken.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves,
To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Now there's a piece of writing. And every single line of it is better than this bovine excrement.