Weeding Womb

Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel

Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel by Michael Moorcock. The last time I reviewed one of Moorcock's stories ('London Bone', last one on my book review page), I asked why it was considered SF. As if in answer to that, this is SF to the point you want to scream.

Correction: it isn't SF as much as it's sci-fi, that disparaging (in SF circles) term that includes - but isn't limited to - Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon-esque fare, where the men are either men or scientists, the wimmens is wimmens, shoe polish on your forehead makes you an alien, human/alien hybrids are common, and a guy named Ming stands a good chance of ruling an empire.

Now that I reread that last paragraph, I wonder if I'm describing camp SF or the original Star Trek.

Those weren't good stories. We watch them today for the hokey effects. They've stopped being a source of wonderment at 'future technology' - Though were they ever really like that? - and are now just camp entertainment. No one watches Flash Gordon and starts talking about what parts of the Freudian id/ego/superego trichotomy Flash and Ming symbolize. Hell, no one even says that was a good story, since the 'story' was the two seconds going from cliffhanger X to cliffhanger Y, in which Ming sends yet another minion to crush the pathetic human who, despite being pathetic, seems to be winning.

That being said, Moorcock seems intent on reviving that genre in this story. It turns out that, without the hokey effects and B-list actors, you're left with something like bad fanfic of a series you don't watch: It has some of the elements of a Mary Sue story, but you can't place the environment.

This, of course, could be a flaw of Moorcock's, as well. In 'London Bone', the main character (first person) spent more of the story telling me how great he was than I cared for, sometimes bordering on hubris. Here, the main character's (third person) praises are sung by the author. He's only one of four men to not die while using the enigmatic life-stealing Banning gun. Why? He just knows how to use it. He didn't learn, he just knows. Like magic. He's the ONLY person to survive the use of some wondrous ship that poisoned all other people who tried to so much as touch it. Why? I guess it liked him. After all, how could you not like him? He's survived savage battles on most of the inner planets. Despite a childhood of barbarism, he's well-educated; but he's still wild and wooly and has more testosterone than the sum total of hormones in every other man who's ever lived.

And Moorcock doesn't just dump this pile of wonders in the first five pages of the story in a big expository lump and then get on with things. Oh, no. He spreads it throughout the story, as small expository lumps. Perhaps the idea is to smooth the lumps out, but it instead makes it feel like lumpy soup. Every time you hit a lump you gag a bit. Do I really need to know about his neat-o ship? Well, since he spends all but the last page or so on Mars, no I don't. Do I really need to know much about his childhood? Well, since he's not a child and doesn't meet a foe from his past, no I don't. Do I really need to see all the fancy do-dads on his custom-made power armor? Well, since he only uses the anti-grav and air-filtration features, no I don't. Do I really need to know the names and origin legends of the other three people who can use the Banning gun? Well, since they aren't in the story, no I don't. Do I really need to know why the Martian grass is man-eating and who made the local ruins, and how many families died in said ruins? Well, since he just flies over the grass and runs through the ruins without stopping.... You get the picture.

But it isn't just the spasms of being told how wondrous the main character is that hurt the story. The story hurts the story. He takes - on some odd whim, For He Has No Use For Money - a job to go into the tunnels of the nasty mutants and rescue a girl.

There, he meets the titular Lost Sorceress, who's nothing short of a goddess, spends five pages confusedly lusting after her (against his will, it's a mind control thing) before the scene ends abruptly and the author spends a few pages explaining what happened (along with an odd discourse about how rich people abuse their wealth, for some unfathomable reason) instead of just having it happen, which might have been a slight bit more exciting. It's like the author was trying to deliberately siphon off what little excitement the story built in spite of his best attempts to keep it excitement-free.

That, or narrating it as it happened would require him to explain - as he has explained everything else - in tortuous detail. You see, he painted himself into a logical corner: The main character knew all this would happen before he even went into the tunnels, yet kept this knowledge so deeply buried - away from the All-Knowing Gods, one presumes - that even he was surprised by the events of the story. He might be using the point of view shift as a smoke screen to avoid a scene where the main character does something he'd been planning for but somehow didn't remember. Instead, he just says it's done and that's it.

Then there's a few pages of wrapup, and we get to see that the main character's gone from taking down mere demigods to hunting the 'big game'. I say he's going after Cthulhu, because this whole story reads like an expanded character sheet of an RPG munchkin, and making Cthulhu beg for his life is one of those things munchkins like doing.

How to summarize this story.... Imagine you watch the first three and a half quarters of a football game, a game featuring all the greatest titans of the sport. It's actually not a good game, because both sides are so strong defensive-wise that no one makes any headway. For every cunning play, the other side has a powerful defense. It's sort of what Pong would be if Pong had been a football game instead of a tennis game. Back and forth, back and forth.

The commentators spend more time talking about how great the players are than how great the game is, because the game isn't worth talking about. You hear more about all these people's awards and trophies and injuries than you ever wanted to.

Then, with mere seconds left to go and a 0-0 score, there's suddenly signs that one side is going make the Play of the Ages and score a touchdown! And at that instant a fuse blows in your house and the TV dies. By the time you get the fuse changed, the game's over. To find out what happened, you have to phone a friend and get him to tell you what happened.

Okay, so that football game, in space with aliens and weird sexual desires and long overbearing sentences and an uber-hero main character, is this story.

The Archon

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