April 28, 2015

The Hugo Project: "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds"

(Note: this is the third in my ongoing series to review as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can, and explain why I will or will not vote for them.)

Out of all the short fiction nominees this year, I have run into John C. Wright's style before, and did not view it favorably, to say the least. This was an excerpt of his forthcoming novel on Tor.com, and if there ever was a sample to turn a prospective reader off the entire book, it was that one. Overwritten, purple prose, laden with pretentiousness and shot through with 'as-you-know-Bobs'. I actually left a comment asking if this was a parody, because I couldn't believe what I was reading.

Needless to say, I tiptoed into this story slowly and hesitantly. (Once again, linked through Do Not Link, as it's published on Theodore Beale's site and I won't bump up his search rankings.) It began, not in media res and with dialogue as I usually prefer, but with a long-drawn out description and setting. It soon becomes clear that this isn't a science-fiction story, but rather a religious allegory, a rip-off of Aesop, and a ham-fisted Biblical retelling. The Christian imagery (Wright, from what I understand, was once an atheist and is now a born-again Catholic) is well-nigh suffocating, including a story subtitle of "The Feast of Pentecost." The animals gather to discuss the fall of Man, suddenly realize they can talk, argue about choosing a ruler, and are uplifted (at least some of them) to sort of hybrid man-animals to take Man's place--by archangels, no less--and, gaining a bit of Man's hubris, run gleefully off into that dead city to repeat the same cycle all over again!

The writing, at least, is competent, and distinctly less purple than the novel excerpt--only a mild shade of lavender, well suited to the story it is trying to tell. The story itself, however...bah. It's a twisted, convoluted, senseless, unholy mess. It certainly doesn't have the moral one might expect in a fable, or if it did, it was buried so heavily beneath the Biblical references I couldn't find it. It carries no emotional weight, has nothing but the most rudimentary characterization, and as far as I can tell, it has no point.

Near the end, we get this.

Fox said, “I hate to admit it, but I do not understand what all these things mean.”

You damn betcha, Fox. I don't know what it means, and I'm not the least bit interested in finding out. I'm not the least bit interested in giving it a Hugo, either.

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