Unconquered Countries
Geoff Ryman, 1994

This is a collection of four novellas. A Fall of Angels is about the discovery of a lifeform inside a star. Fan is about a woman with an AI version of her favorite pop star. O Happy Day! is about a world where women are subjecting all heterosexual men to a holocaust, and gay men have to clean up the bodies. The Unconquered Country I gave up on before finding out what it was about.

And that last bit should tell you how I felt about the whole book. I checked this out of the library because I loved Ryman's novel Was, but it turns out that, despite the copyright date on the book, this is all juvenalia. Ryman writes at the end of Was that "I am a fantasy writer who fell in love with realism"; these stories were written before he did so, and since realism is what I like him for, I disliked them:

  • The first one alternated between technobabble ("the platform was oriented around a core chaoli eruption") and an alien who says things like "Ticklethoughts! Leapsniff! Snuffletaste! Play!" Makes you want to go pick up a nerd and throw him at a hippie.

  • The second one was a too-earnest take on Max Headroom. Considering that Max Headroom was already a too-earnest take on Max Headroom, this isn't a good thing.

  • The third one's premise is offensively stupid.

  • The fourth one I dropped when I got to this part: "'House,' she called as she ran. 'Old house. Kneel down! Kneel down!' She jogged backward beside it, jumping up and down, trying to reach Third. The house was too panicked to notice, and Third was clogged with terror."

    What does that even mean? This was actually a recurring theme in the class I took in college on "the fantastic in literature": fantasy as embodied by strings of words that don't immediately translate into anything. But I can't stand that sort of thing; it's the verbal equivalent of the stereotypical avant garde movie full of montages of images that add up to gibberish. In fact, I guess I'll add that:

30 Pattern 1 indicates that the prose in a written work need not be transparent. Heck, clever phrasings are a big plus. But the meaning of each sentence should be transparent. No colorless green ideas sleeping furiously. If the world of the story is sufficiently surreal that some strings of words might need a bit of setup, do the setup first.

Return to the Calendar page!