Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Parliament of Beasts and Birds

Well, here's an early indication that this year's Hugo nominees will be different from past years'. I just read "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds" by John C. Wright (it's short; you can, too). The writing is stilted and awkward, inconsistently jumping between levels of tone and diction (high-level, multi-claused sentences are mixed in awkwardly with things like all-caps "NO DOGS ALLOWED"). The story is told with the timelessness of a parable (each animal represented by one capitalized example: Fox talks to Lion talks to Worm, etc.) but with some weird references that break the tone and make it seem modernish. A few things stand out as weird burrs of writing, which I would prefer to see sanded smoother: the past tense of "shine" is "shone" (esp. to match the fancy tone of the rest of the story; the technically-acceptable "shined" really stands out as awkward); Google tells me that gopherwood is the substance of the ark, but why bring it up so specifically? It doesn't serve any purpose but to make the story more Bible-sounding.

The entire story comes off as a heavy-handed parable, although an unclear one; the morals are scattershot all over the place, up until the oppressive series of rhetorical questions that finishes the story. Overall, I'd say this story is not unredeemable, but it is a prime example of showing-not-telling and needs rework to become more engaging and purposeful. Maybe this is what other nominees' stories looked like, before editors and other advice-givers helped to reshape them.

This post's theme word is atavism, "tendency to revert to ancestral type (or something ancient)". The atavistic format of the story did not belie its apparent moral.


Ernie said...

Your criticism is on fleek. This was a pretty boring read and thoroughly unengaging. I've found more compelling stories on

Lila is a complex system. said...

On fleek!