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earlier burfling | later burfling

Title: One Bright Star to Guide Them
Author: John C. Wright
Publisher: Castalia House
Slates: Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies
Trigger warnings: assisted suicide

Synopsis: Tommy (who the author sometimes calls Thomas) is thinking that he should be happy with his upcoming promotion and the luxurious apartment in London that comes with it. Suddenly, he meets Tybalt, the black cat with whom Tommy and his childhood friends had had magical adventures in the land of Vidblain. Tybalt summons Tommy to fight "a knight of ghosts and shadows" who threatens all of England. Tommy resists, at first, but then journeys with Tybalt to meet with his surviving friends. Alas, Richard has turned to the side of evil, Sally is too cowardly to fight, and Penny has long since died; but Penny leaves a message for Tommy which gives him the clues he needs to find the Sword Reforged, the weapon he will need for his final battle with the Knight of Shadows. Tommy and Tybalt confront the Knight (Lord Wodenhouse, "minister" of the Admiralty) in the out-of-the-way museum where the Sword is hidden. Tommy grasps the Sword, but its magic appears dead. Tybalt suddenly calls upon Tommy to kill him with the Sword; Tommy again refuses at first, but finally relents and kills Tybalt. Tybalt's death empowers the Sword and Tommy banishes the Knight. Tybalt returns as a great winged feline, and gives Tommy a new mission, as the Wise Old Man of the world.

My reaction: I love the idea of telling a Narnia-style story from the point of view of the adults three decades later, and there are some nice touches at the story's beginning. Alas, Wright quickly starts throwing around the names of Things Which Must Be Important Because Their Names Are Capitalized, without actually showing anything important about them. He also doesn't seem to understand how the Admiralty works (there's no such thing as a "minister" of the Admiralty - does he mean the First Sea Lord or the Secretary of State for Defense?), and he doesn't know the difference between a "counsel" and a "council".

Worse, Wright keeps skipping over what should be interesting and action-packed scenes in order to get to Tommy's next conversation with an old acquaintance. In the most egregious case, chapter 3 ends with Tommy having been captured by Kicktoad the Faceless Warlock, while chapter 4 starts four months later, with Tommy meeting Sally. In the interim, Tommy: was packed into an airplane to be taken to the East and sacrificed to the Winter King; defeated the Knight of Shadows in hand-to-hand combat; leapt from the airplane without a parachute and still safely landed (in Normandy, of all places); snuck his way back to England with the aid of the French farmers; searched Professor Penkirk's old house; was hospitalized with an apparent case of epilepsy; and escaped from police custody. We, the readers, were shown none of those adventures; instead, we heard Tommy recite a summary of them to Sally.

Ironically, the same Hugo packet ebook containing One Bright Star to Guide Them also includes an essay from Wright's Best Related Work nominee, Transhuman and Subhuman. The essay's title is "John C. Wright's Patented One-Lesson Session in the Mechanics of Fiction", and Wright explicitly tells his readers that "the writer never tells the reader anything unless there is absolutely no other choice" - "Show, don't tell". Alas, Wright apparently didn't bother to read his own essay on writing. Neither, it would seem, did Vox Day, who "edited" this work and either did not notice or did not care how much action was skipped in favor of talking.

One Bright Star to Guide Them could have been an unbelievably good story; instead, it's an unbelievably bad mess. This goes waaaay below No Award.


Originally posted at http://edschweppe.dreamwidth.org/196826.html - comment wherever you please.

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