I had intended to read some of John C. Wright’s fiction last year. I wanted to read William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land before diving into his stories based on that work. I was told that wasn’t necessary, but I just didn’t want to skip the original. That was a tough slog! And by the time I was done, something else had come up and I wouldn’t get back to delving into Wright’s work.
I read his “One Bright Star to Guide Them” earlier this year, though. I enjoyed it. I was going to give it three stars, but the final payoff was so satisfying it narrowly pulled down a fourth star from me at the conclusion. Still, there were occasions in the book where I became conscious of his craft. It took away from it somewhat… like that first time in your life when you are watching a magician and you see how it is that he’s pulling off his trick. Nevertheless, I was favorably impressed with the work overall.
I mention those things in order establish that (a) I’m not necessarily right in the sweet spot of his target audience and (b) I’m not one to just flat out gush over every single thing that he writes.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about his Hugo nominated short story, “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”.
This story… first it intrigued me, then it amused me, then it gripped me… then I laughed out loud. Once complete immersed into the world of the story, I next shared the creatures’ curiosity, their fear, and finally… their awe. I relished every transition, every change in tempo, every interaction, the precision in each characterization. And in the end when I finally understood just what was happening and what it meant… I experienced that rare joy that only the best science fiction stories seem to offer: that feeling of a gradually increasing cognitive dissonance due to my assumptions not quite matching up with where the story is going– and then the “aha” moment when I finally understood that the scope of this subcreation is larger and more nuanced than I first anticipated. It’s positively rapturous when all the parts that seem out of place just suddenly fall together.
In other words, John C. Wright played me like a fiddle.
I don’t expect everyone to have quite the same experience when they read it. I mean, there are people that will tell you straight up that they preferred “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love” to “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”. That’s fine. To each his own and all that.
But I have to say… I have just been calling for people to attempt to be more mythic in their fantasy gaming, to go back to the parts of Tolkien’s work that we have passed over in recent decades and see what can be resuscitated and translated into new contexts. I really did not expect to see anyone writing quite in that vein– and certainly not at this caliber. I thought that sort of thing was done for, but really… this is about the only thing I’ve seen recently that I can honestly say is even close to being on par with the best work of Lord Dunsany, Jack Vance, and Robert E. Howard. It brings to mind the sort of thing C. S. Lewis accomplished with Until We Have Faces… with maybe a bit of Tom Moldvay’s exuberance from his Lords of Creation thrown in.
This is easily the best thing I’ve read among the Hugo nominated works for this year that I’ve looked at so far. I can see that many of my friends that I enjoy chatting about stuff with will not feel the same way– and again, that’s fine. But for me… seeing what looks like a simple “beast fable” of Uncle Remus reworked into something that could not just answer answer the half cadences of Genesis but also give the impression of completing an untold portion of Revelation– all I can say is that I find it to be simply staggering. Thank you, Mr. Wright.