Earlier this year, around $1 million worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County. Sgt. Arley Terrence with the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says it was a "beehive chop shop." [...]
"This is the biggest bee theft investigation that we've had," Terrence says. Most of the time, he says, beehive thieves turn out to be "someone within the bee community."
That was the case in the giant heist earlier this year. The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, was a beekeeper from Sacramento who used the stolen bees for pollination and then stashed them on a plot of land in Fresno County. He was arrested and could face around 10 years of jail time. And authorities say he didn't act alone. His alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, has been charged and a warrant is out for his arrest.
Steve Godlin with the California State Beekeepers Association says the problem of hive theft gets worse every year. "There used to be kind of a code of honor that you didn't mess with another man's bees," Godlin says.
Six years have passed since the failed uprising of the High Holders, and the man behind the conspiracy is where the rex and Maitre Alastar can keep an eye on him.
Charyn has come of age and desperately wants to learn more so he can become an effective rex after his father—but he’s kept at a distance by the rex. So Charyn sets out to educate himself—circumspectly.
When Jarolian privateers disrupt Solidar’s shipping, someone attempts to kill Charyn’s younger brother as an act of protest. Threatening notes following in the wake of acts of violence against the rex and his family, demanding action—build more ships or expect someone to die.
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Assassin’s Price is the eleventh book in the Imager Portfolio, and the third book in a story arc which began with Madness in Solidar and Treachery’s Tools. Available July 25th from Tor Books.
“Good morning, sir,” offered the duty guard to Charyn as the heir approached the door to the rex’s official study.
“Good morning, Maertyl.” With a smile, Charyn held up a hand. “Not until the glass chimes.”
Maertyl raised his eyebrows.
“He doesn’t like it if I’m early.” Or late. As soon as the first chime of eight sounded, Charyn nodded.
Maertyl turned and rapped on the door. “Lord Charyn, sir.”
Lorien’s response to the guard was inaudible to Charyn, but Charyn had no doubt it was short and perfunctory.
“Thank you,” murmured Charyn as he opened the study door and stepped inside. He closed it quickly and walked toward his father.
“Waiting until the last moment, again, I see,” growled Lorien.
“You did say, ‘as the chimes strike,’ sir.” Charyn smiled pleasantly as he took the middle chair of the three facing the goldenwood desk.
The rex’s study was dark and gloomy, with the only real light coming from the two oil lamps in the bronze sconces on the wall behind the goldenwood desk. The light did not carry except faintly to the large oblong conference table at the west end of the study, where, occasionally, the rex met with either the High Council or the Factors’ Council of Solidar, if not, occasionally, both of the councils. The wind continued its low moan outside the chateau. From where he sat behind the desk, Lorien lifted the sealed envelope that rested on the desk, likely delivered earlier that morning by a guard or a courier. “This just came. It can wait… for a bit.” He set the envelope down. “I received the accounts on your Chaeryll lands. Minister Alucar says that over the past three years, you’ve done well in managing it. He doesn’t know how.”
“I went up there and talked to the tenants, sir. They suggested I let them try potatoes. Alucar had limited them to maize or wheat corn. I did. Because everyone else around there is growing wheat corn, potatoes brought more.”
“How much more?” Lorien’s question was almost a formality, as if he didn’t really care, but felt obligated to ask.
“Around two parts in ten more.” That was conservative. In two out of the three years since Charyn had been gifted the lands, the increased return had been more like four out of ten parts. He’d not only collected the rents personally, but kept track of the harvests. Some of the extra return might have just come from his closer oversight, but he had no way to know. He’d only put half of rents into the strongbox that was his in the family strongroom, since Alucar kept ledgers on each property. Even so, he’d had to use considerable ingenuity to keep a rather significant amount of golds hidden, and that was worrisome. At the same time, he didn’t like the idea of being totally beholden to his sire, not when Lorien might live another twenty years… or at least ten.
“That’s good, but don’t start to think like a factor.” Lorien coughed hoarsely, covering his mouth with a large kerchief. “Half of those that grow things spend more time at their exchange or whatever they call it than in doing what they should. Speculating on what price wheat will have three months from now? Or maize or flour? Ha! Not even the Nameless knows that. And the High Holders are worse in their own way, always moaning about how the weather makes it hard to pay their tariffs.”
Charyn nodded, then watched as his father, with hands that had come to tremble more and more over the last months, opened the envelope. Just from the silver-gray sealing wax even Charyn could tell that it had to have come from High Holder Ryel.
Lorien, without so much as another glance at his son, murmured, “Yet another trial,” and offered a heavy sigh as he began to read. Several more sighs followed.
Knowing that his father would only snap at him if he asked the nature of this particular trial, Charyn kept a pleasant expression on his face as he waited.
Finally, Lorien looked up. “The absolute gall of the man.” He glared toward the window to his right.
Charyn wondered why he bothered, since neither of them could see it, frosted as it was on the inside, even behind the heavy hangings. Although the sun had come out, it wasn’t that warm, even if winter was almost a month away, by the calendar, anyway.
“You read it,” said Lorien, handing the letter across the desk to his son.
Charyn took it and began to read.
8 Erntyn 408 A.L.
I trust that this missive finds you and all your family in continued good health as we approach Year-Turn, and I offer my best and heartfelt wishes for prosperity in the coming year.
You had asked that I request another year’s extension of my current term as head of the High Council. As you well know, I have already served in that capacity for a full six years. During that time, I have seldom left L’Excelsis and then only for the briefest of periods because of personal travails, notably the early and untimely death of my only son Baryel from the red flux. These past years have been a time of change and of great stress for all, and in consideration of the difficulties we have faced, especially at your suggestion a year ago last Erntyn, I requested from the other councilors a year’s extension of my term as head of the Council, because I did not wish to be considered for another five-year term. They were gracious enough to grant that extension.
What were they going to do? thought Charyn. Deny it when both the rex and the Maitre of the Collegium wanted him to stay?
Much of my family has scarcely seen me for the past six years, and this has placed a great burden on my lady in dealing with Baryel’s children and all the duties of administering the holding. I trust you can understand my desire to return to Rivages.
Charyn had forgotten that Baryel’s wife had died after the birth of her daughter Iryella, and that Baryel’s death left the High Holder and his wife as guardians of the holding’s heirs.
Also to be considered is the fact that another extension of my term would be seen as very much against past practice and tradition, and might well generate unrest among those High Holders who have already expressed great concerns about the changes that you and the Collegium Imago have implemented and continue to pursue…
Charyn knew what Ryel wasn’t saying—that the High Holder had no desire to be associated with the additional changes, and that if he stayed he would be forever marked as a tool of the rex and the Collegium. But then, isn’t Father already a tool of the Collegium? Why should he alone suffer that burden?
…and for these reasons, I would suggest that it would be best for all concerned that you allow the High Council to choose another head of the Council for the next four years, either from the remaining members or from other qualified High Holders.
If not before, Doryana and I look forward to seeing you at the Year-Turn Ball, as do, I am certain, all the other members of the High Council.
Charyn lowered the missive.
“Well?” asked Lorien in a tone that was barely less than a bark.
“He doesn’t want to preside over another increase in tariffs and over any more limits on the powers of the High Holders. He also likely does truly want to leave L’Excelsis.”
“So he can plot from the relative safety of Rivages? That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s always wanted. He doesn’t want to tell all those High Holders who complain every time the weather turns bad that the weather’s always bad part of the time, and that they still need to pay their tariffs.”
“You don’t think that he worries about his grandson?”
“The only worries he has about those children is how he’ll use them to gain power. Karyel is fourteen, and Iryella is eleven or twelve… something like that. If it weren’t for your mother, he’d have been making overtures to marry her to you.”
“Why not Bhayrn? He’s closer in age.”
“Because Bhayrn won’t be rex. Ryel’s always been after power. He was behind pushing my late and unlamented brother to lead the High Holder revolt because he could influence Ryentar.”
Charyn wasn’t about to let his father rage on about his ungrateful brother… or more about Ryel, who was, unfortunately, his mother’s scheming brother. At times, it was hard to reconcile the warm and seemingly kindly Uncle Ryel who had once presented him with new-minted golds on special occasions when he had been barely old enough to remember those events. “You haven’t told me if you and Maitre Alastar talked this over and if the Maitre had anything to say about Uncle Ryel leaving the High Council.”
“No, I haven’t. As you could see, if you even thought, I just received the message early this morning.” Charyn again had to suppress his desire to snap back. “I have a thought… just a thought, sir.”
“Spit it out.”
“His missive emphasizes that he doesn’t want to be Chief Councilor any longer. He also says that it would be a bad idea for him to continue in that post and that he would like to see his family more, doesn’t it?”
“He just wants to go off and plot.”
“But that’s not what he wrote. You can act in terms of what he wrote, rather than what he may have in mind. What if you agree that his time as Chief Councilor should come to an end—”
“Sir… might I finish before you make a judgment? There’s more that you might find to your liking.”
“I doubt it, but go ahead.”
“You agree that his time as High Councilor should come to an end, but… but in order for there to be continuity and a smooth transition, he should serve the next year as just a councilor, and that he and the other councilors should choose the new Chief Councilor from the current councilors. That way, he would be free to occasionally travel to Rivages and see his family… but his options for plotting would be limited and much more likely to be discovered while you still have him under some measure of scrutiny. That way, you also can portray yourself as somewhat sympathetic to his concerns.”
“I don’t know…”
“Why don’t you talk that over with Maitre Alastar? Tell him it came up in a family discussion.”
“Why not say you thought it up?”
“Because it’s better that it be seen as… less specific. Either Mother, me, Bhayrn, or even Aloryana could have suggested it. If you do it that way, rather than suggesting it was your idea or mine, the Maitre is more likely to consider whether it is a good idea or not on the idea itself, rather than whether you came up with it or I did.” Charyn smiled self-deprecatingly. “He might think it a bad idea, but how he answers might suggest other possibilities.”
Charyn had the feeling that was about as much of a comment as he was going to get on that, and he eased the missive back onto his father’s desk. “When do you meet with the Solidaran Factors’ Council?”
“Not until the eighteenth of the month. That’s when I meet with both the High Council and the Factors’ Council. That meeting will be little more than a formality. The meeting in Ianus will be where everyone tells me what’s wrong and what I should do that they don’t wish to pay for. That’s soon enough. Too soon.”
“Are the factor councilors still opposed to the High Council’s proposal to forbid excessive interest rates?”
“No one has told me. Since factors will do anything for gold, and hate to pay even an extra copper for anything, I imagine they are.”
Charyn nodded. “What about the expansion of the regial post roads?”
“I almost wish that Maitre Arion hadn’t disciplined the imagers in Westisle by making them build roads.”
“Weren’t the roads to Liantiago in terrible shape? Didn’t they need rebuilding?”
“They did, but now the factors around Estisle want better roads, and the imagers building the new branch of the Collegium there aren’t established enough to do that yet. The High Holders away from L’Excelsis and Liantiago are complaining that they can’t get goods and crops to markets quickly, and that they’re suffering from an unfair situation.”
That made sense to Charyn, because in the years immediately after the failed High Holder revolt, the Collegium Imago in L’Excelsis had improved and widened the post road all the way to Kephria, as well as sections of the river road from the capital to Solis and the roads north from L’Excelsis to Rivages. “I thought the stone roads in old Telaryn were still in good condition.”
“They are. Most don’t lead to the larger cities or ports.”
“Aren’t the regional governors supposed to supervise post roads?”
“They claim I don’t give them enough golds for all the work that needs to be done.” Lorien shook his head. “There probably isn’t after what they pocket.”
“Maybe…” Charyn immediately broke off his words, then added smoothly, “Perhaps, as you replace each regional governor, you should make it clear that certain roads need to be repaired and improved, and that such repairs will determine in part how long they serve.”
“They’d just steal more until I caught them.”
Charyn was afraid that was true as well, but wanted to keep his father talking, in hopes of learning something he didn’t know. “What about an additional tariff on the banques… the exchanges… ?”
“A plague on the banques and exchanges—they’re what led to the revolt. Trading crops and debts and everything instead of producing. Speculation! Bah!”
Charyn nodded, but did not move. He’d learned early that patience was a necessity in dealing with his father… and most people.
Close to a glass later, he left the study, nodding again to Maertyl as he did.
He was headed toward his own chambers before his other appointments when he passed Aloryana’s door, just slightly ajar.
“Oh, no! Noooo!”
Charyn was struck by the distress in Aloryana’s voice, and since her sitting room door was indeed ajar, he knocked and pushed it open. “Are you all right?” Aloryana was straightening up as he stopped in the doorway.
“Oh… it’s you. Thank the Nameless it wasn’t Father. Or Mother!” Aloryana’s eyes did not meet Charyn’s.
“Oh?” Charyn could see that Aloryana held something silver in her hand. He thought he saw bluish gems as well. “Did you drop something?”
“It didn’t sound like nothing.” Charyn waited.
“It’s just a hair clasp.”
“Is it broken? Maybe I can fix it.”
“Thank you, Charyn. I’ll take care of it.” Aloryana immediately turned away and hurried into her bedchamber, closing the door behind her, and leaving Charyn standing alone in the sitting room.
Charyn couldn’t help wondering what she had broken that she didn’t want him to know about. Finally, he stepped back into the corridor and gently closed the door to the main corridor. He thought he heard sobbing, but he was far from certain.
Excerpted from Assassin’s Price, copyright © 2017 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Check it out at http://www.wildcardsworld.com/
It has zombies. Everyone loves zombies.
(FWIW, Hoodoo Mama is my own pick for "My Favorite Wild Cards Character That I Created But Have Never Gotten to Write Myself").
A collection of my assorted nonfiction, Sleeping With Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, is about to hit bookshelves and electronic retailers this July. It’s being published by Aqueduct Press, but—as the title implies—much of the material is based on my “Sleeps With Monsters” column here.
Today I’m here to try to convince you to read my book! Or at any rate, to read things that might surprise you.
Writing “Sleeps With Monsters” for Tor.com has shaped basically shaped my career as a critic. Week to week and month to month, I learned more about the science fiction and fantasy genre as I wrote on it—and as I stuck my foot in my mouth, on occasion. I’ve always tried to focus on women’s writing, and as I learned more, I tried to expand my knowledge of the writing of people who experience multiple marginalisations. (I don’t know that I’ve always quite succeeded!)
Learning to read critically is an interesting process. You find you can’t turn it off unless you try really hard: you’re always paying attention to what kind of work the narrative is doing, and what sort of thing it’s setting itself up to be. You learn to recognise what particular works are interested in, and the shape of the story they’re telling. In many cases, you can tell what sort of book any given volume’s going to be—good, bad, indifferent, actively offensive; whodunnit or military-focused or romance or thriller or coming of age—within the first few pages.
You’re always making mental notes and looking at comparisons, and looking at the way that sometimes comparisons fall short: nothing is ever exactly like anything else, but the elements that any given works have in common can be very revealing. C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series shares almost nothing in common with Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, but they are both concerned to some degree with domesticities and with relationships between people who are alien to each other, relationships across cultures that extend beyond romantic or sexual relationships. (Though Cherryh is far more concerned with cross-cultural politics.)
There are always layers in a book. The complex—at least, when it is complex, and not marginally competent dreck—interplay between plot and theme, worldbuilding and characterisation is really fun to tease out, to admire it if it all (or at least mostly) comes together in support of the same ends, and to shake your head at it if parts of it sit at odds. To take an example: Say you have a story whose plot involves finding justice for a murder, but in order to bring the perpetrator to justice, the main character commits a few murders themselves, and the narrative doesn’t do anything to acknowledge that this is, at the very least, dubious as all get out as a moral choice. Maybe you missed something. Or maybe it’s just not there.
If it’s not there for you, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t see it: but this fundamental subjectivity in the experience of reading does mean that every piece of criticism is as much about the critic as it is about the work.
As much as. We all bring pieces of ourselves to our reading. But the book remains an object created by someone else, received by the reader. Reading is an act, almost, of translation.
(…which makes criticism really a rather recursive past-time, come to think: the reader-critic and the critic-reader, the writer-critic and the critic-writer.)
Which brings me to Sleeping With Monsters. It’s a journey through the science fiction and fantasy where I learned—as much as I could be said to have learned, and not still be learning—to read and write critically. It’s a journey through science fiction and fantasy with a lot of yelling about the politics of representation.
It’s a journey through reading.
So whether you read it or not, I hope you go read things that startle and delight you, that open your eyes and fill up your heart.
Because I did, and I am.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is published by Aqueduct Press this year. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.
Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.
Today we’re looking at Lovecraft and Hazel Heald’s “Winged Death,” first published in the March 1934 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.
“The Orange Hotel stands in High Street near the railway station in Bloemfontein, South Africa. On Sunday, January 24, 1932, four men sat shivering from terror in a room on its third floor.”
In a stifling hotel room in Bloemfontein, South Africa, four men sit shivering around a corpse. What inspires their fear isn’t the body, but a strange fly floating in a bottle of ammonia, an ink-scrawled message on the ceiling, and the notebook held by the coroner’s physician. The dead man checked into the hotel as Frederick Mason, but his notebook’s titled “Journal of Thomas Slauenwite, M.D.”
The physician reads aloud:
Slauenwite declares up front that he intends this as a posthumous record concerning the punishment of Henry Moore, entomology professor at Columbia. Moore was Slauenwite’s college friend and a fellow researcher in Africa. But as Slauenwite’s work on remittent fever was about to earn him fame and advancement, Moore accused him of deriving his theses from another physician’s unpublished papers. Slauenwite’s career stalled–what a return for all the guidance he gave Moore on his well-received text, Diptera of Central and Southern Africa!
From exile at a “hole” of an equatorial trading post, Slauenwite plots revenge. He’s heard from Africans about a “devil-fly” whose bite causes sure death from sleeping sickness, after which the victim’s soul enters the fly. Slauenwite pooh-poohs the latter as superstition, but is interested in the disease and its vector. A crocodile hunter guides him into a “pestilential” jungle of green-scummed lakes and Cyclopean ruins. Locals say the ruins are older than man, a former outpost of “the Fishers from Outside.” There Slauenwite obtains devil-fly specimens. They appear related to the tsetse fly. He decides to crossbreed them, hoping the hybrid that will intrigue Henry Moore. To give his hybrids a still more exotic look, he dyes their wings blue. His experiments on his black African servants prove the hybrids as deadly as he could wish–just ignore how the servant-biting fly battered itself to death in its cage after the man expired. Slauenwite will send the “unidentified” flies to Moore–Moore’s rash carelessness is sure to get him bitten, and dead. Punished!
Slauenwite mails the flies under a false name and in disguise. From friends in America, he learns Moore has sickened after a fly bite on the back of his neck. His correspondents’ increasing coolness makes Slauenwite wonder if Moore suspects foul play. Moore dies. Authorities seek the man who sent the blue-winged flies. Spooked, Slauenwite flees to Johannesburg under the alias Frederick Mason.
A couple months later, he begins to receive “visits” from a fly that looks just like one of his wing-dyed hybrids. The creature’s behavior baffles him. It hovers near his copy of Moore’s Diptera. It darts at him and evades swatting with great cunning. It dips its feet into his inkwell and crawls across the white ceiling, leaving an inked scrawl that looks like a question mark. Or is Slauenwite just imagining things?
Next visit the fly “writes” the number 5 on the ceiling. It beats its body against a window screen in series of five strokes. Is Slauenwite going mad, or has the fly really “inherited” human intelligence? From Moore? How did it get to South Africa from New York?
All his attempts to kill the fly fail. It communicates new numbers on successive days: four, three, two, one. Is it counting down Slauenwite’s time before delivering a deadly bite?
He runs to Bloemfontein, barricades himself in a sealed hotel room with plenty of food and necessaries. But on day zero the fly appears again, having smuggled itself in with the food! Now it crawls on the clock face, stopping on the figure 12. Noon, the hour at which Moore was bitten!
Slauenwite fumbles out chemicals from his doctor’s bag, hoping to gas the fly. His journal ends with the acknowledgement that he shouldn’t be wasting time writing, but it steadies him as the fly grows restless and the minute hand ticks toward 12…
Back to the coroner’s party in the hotel room. We learn that Slauenwite never did mix his gassing chemicals. Cause of death? Well, there is a fly bite on the back of his neck, but though later tests will show it introduced the causative parasites of trypanosomiasis, he died instantly of a heart attack, probably brought on by sheer fright.
What continues to frighten the coroner’s party is the ink-scrawl on the ceiling, which reads:
“SEE MY JOURNAL—IT GOT ME FIRST—I DIED—THEN I SAW I WAS IN IT—THE BLACKS ARE RIGHT—STRANGE POWERS IN NATURE—NOW I WILL DROWN WHAT IS LEFT—”
In that ammonia bottle, where a strange fly still floats, the blue dye still clinging to its wings….
What’s Cyclopean: Ruins in the pestilential Ugandan jungle.
The Degenerate Dutch: Slauenwite is a white South African in 1932, and talks and acts precisely as one would expect. Unpleasant company, much improved by being turned into a fly.
Mythos Making: The cyclopean ruins used to belong to “The Fishers From Outside”—Outer Ones/Mi-go?—and are sacred to Tsadogwa and Clulu. Do flies get mind-snatching powers by feasting on Mi-Go blood?
Libronomicon: Slauenwite conveniently leaves a journal detailing his revenge against Moore and vice versa.
Madness Takes Its Toll: Am I going mad, or is this fly mocking me? (In fact, the fly is mocking you.)
Well, “Winged Death” was a fine finale for Hazel and Howard, my favorite collaboration team. It features a chillingly sociopathic narcissist of a villain and one of nature’s least loved creatures, the fly. Even when they’re not spreading pestilence and throwing up on our food and biting the hell out of us, flies are annoying. They buzz, they bang into screens and windows (shoulda stayed outside in the FIRST place, sucker), they die all legs up in a blatant attempt to milk sympathy. Annoying!
And potentially terrifying. Because not only are sleeping sickness and river blindness and leishmaniasis no joke, but the humble nonbiting housefly comes loaded with nasty pathogens like those that cause dysentery, typhoid and cholera. Too scary. Let’s talk fictional flies. One of the great TV events of my childhood was the more-or-less yearly showing of The Fly (1958). This is the one starring “Al” Hedison, who was really David Hedison, who was really Captain Crane from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, another childhood favorite, especially when the monster of the week would storm through a port and swat poor Seaman Kowalski to the deck for the hundredth time. Kowalski, the redshirt who would not die. But he’s a story for another day.
This is the movie that most scared the crap out of me until Night of the Living Dead came along, and I loved it. The wonders of science! Reasonably mild-mannered inventor builds a disintegrator-reintegrator machine! First horror of science! He tries transporting the cat, which does the disintegration part just fine, but not the reintegration, oops. Its phantom mewing tells inventor, “Um, not ready for life forms yet, jerk.” Second horror of science! After a bit of twiddling, inventor transports HIMSELF! Unaware that a housefly has gotten into the disintegration chamber with him! They both reintegrate, BUT OMG WITH THEIR ATOMS MIXED TOGETHER! Now there’s an inventor with the head and foreleg of a fly, a fly with the head and arm of an inventor! I found this cross-species merging deliciously shocking. In my innocence, I never wondered why both the man-fly and the fly-man retained (or gained) human intelligence. In fact, the monster with the fly head was way smarter than the monster with the human head, which ended up in a spiderweb.
Maybe they switched heads but not brains?
“Winged Death” scares me consistently, too. As I remember my first read years ago, the fly was the most terrifying element. This reread it’s Dr. Slauenwite. Given the nonchalance with which he “experiments” on any convenient African, his own servant included, I wonder whether these were his first “experiments” in murder. The Dr. Sloane whose remittent fever work Slauenwite purloined? Did Slauenwite just happen to come across his papers, or did he off Sloane to get hold of them? Because, you see, everything needs to be about Slauenwite. Moore should never have outed him – where was his gratitude, after Slauenwite made him, down to practically ghostwriting Moore’s career-making text on flies? Truth is, it’s not only the Africans who are woefully inferior to Slauenwite because superstitious black savages–it’s everybody!
Nerve-twisting thing? Slauenwite strikes me these days as too pertinent and realistic a character study. Yeah, there are people like him. Yeah, and maybe they can fool too many people too much of the time. Including themselves.
What’s a fly with a human soul to that? I’m all like, you go, fly! Only bite him right away, before he can catch on!
Wait, what’s that you buzz? Whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad? All right, something in that. Not that a fly’s a god, even with a human soul, but maybe the devil-flies of Lake Mlolo are the latter-day minions of the gods. Tsadogwa (Tsathoggua) and Clulu (Cthulhu), that is. The “Fishers from Outside.” Fishers of men?
Lovecraft and Heald sneak a little Mythos into the story with their miasmal Cyclopean ruins and the deities mentioned above. Do they do it just for fun? To give an evocative though vague explanation for why the devil-flies are so weird (echoes of alien magic)? The story could have gotten along without Mythos references, substituting plain old jungle-variety legends from the dark heart of the Dark Continent. Interesting to consider, though, how the transfer of soul or consciousness is so central a concern in Mythos canon, from the consciousness-canning of the Mi-Go to intimate body-swapping a la Ephraim Waite to body-swapping on a cosmic scale with the Yith.
What would be the point, for any kind of god, to install a human persona in a fly? To punish, to torture, for the cheap giggles? What would be in it for the fly? Does its consciousness get shoved out by the human or augmented by it? What would be in it for the human? Cheap transportation, for one thing. Free, in fact. Fly onto a steamer from New York to Africa and feast on the best scraps from the kitchen. Hop a train to Bloemfontein, and who’s to know? Sneak into sealed rooms in a sandwich!
Talk about super spies, and with the help of some microbes, super assassins!
Then again, as we saw in 1958’s “Fly” movie, seeing the world through compound eyes could be a bit daunting for the human mind. People turned flies sure commit suicide a lot, as we see both in “The Fly” and “Winged Death.” It’s probably the compound eyes thing, yeah. Or the thought of having to throw up on food for the rest of one’s life, a nastiness explored in full in that other “Fly” movie by David Cronenberg, ergh, don’t remind myself.
In so carefully saving the last of the Heald collaborations for a rainy day, I forgot that I had, in fact, already read it—it’s in the “Best of H.P. Lovecraft” collection where I first experienced his work. I’d also therefore forgotten that it’s not among the pair’s most cosmically thrilling stories.
Mind you, it’s an excellent read. Heald, as usual, has a talent for bringing out Lovecraft’s talents. But it certainly wasn’t the comfort read I was yearning for. The n-word/cyclopean ratio (3:1) is not ideal. The vicious racism is saved from unreadability by virtue of the narrator being an unambiguously villainous white South African. Lovecraft almost certainly sympathized with that barbarous culture—but readers from more civilized climes, while they may wince at the language, can rest secure knowing that Slauenwite’s unfortunate servant gets ultimate revenge along with his professional rival.
“Winged Death” was written several years before the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment came into the harsh light of public scrutiny. It’s no coincidence that those experiments were suddenly “discovered” at a point when American culture generally condemned such things; they were not a tightly held secret in earlier decades. Had Lovecraft heard casual mention of such things from family friends, or did deadly and non-consensual medical experiments simply seem like an obvious thing for a supremacist twit to do? Either way, the resonance is probably more effective than intended.
Other unintended horror: releasing a large quantity of chlorine gas in your hotel room is an excellent way to kill your neighbors, or at least make their lives miserable if the ventilation is good. Small quantities accidentally produced are the major cause of toilet-cleaning accidents. If a train carrying the stuff derails, they evacuate everyone within a 30 mile radius. Moore is a big damn hero. (PSA: As far as I can tell, an ammonia-soaked handkerchief won’t protect you from chlorine gas at all, though it will fill your final moments with the aroma of cat pee.)
In addition to the unintended horror, the intended horror is legitimately scary. It doesn’t quite meet the standard of “Out of the Aeons,” which still gets the award for Least Desirable Lovecraftian Fate, but getting your mind stuck in a fly still sounds pretty unpleasant. Magic or no, there can’t be much room for higher thought. On the other hand, judging from Moore, focus and determination are unaffected. If you wanted to write a scientific treatise rather than a death note, you’d be good to go.
In addition to the inherent creepiness of getting yourself insected, Moore has a fine flair for the dramatic. Ominous countdowns, mocking bows, hounding your victim into heart failure—all excellent ingredients in the dish best served cold. I suppose he had a lot of time to think everything through on his transatlantic flight.
Lovecraft often obsesses over forced re-embodiment, an interesting choice for a materialist. In some cases it’s as much blessing as curse: Yith bodies may be hard to learn to navigate, but they’re the epitome of Howard’s oft-quoted claim that he can easily imagine lifeforms superior to humanity in every way. (And then he can easily be terrified of them, because after all what do humans do to those they consider inferior? Apparently, that’s not one of our qualities that he could imagine an improvement on.) Getting turned into a girl is no fun if you’re a misogynistic twit like Ephraim Waite—or if Waite is then locking you-as-a-girl into the attic for future sacrifice. The Mi-Go offer a shot at the stars, and perfect helplessness. And Ghatanothoa just offers perfect helplessness.
Another repeating theme: people who take “primitive legends” seriously from the start… rarely play a starring role in horror stories. Slauenwite’s a pretty deserving unbeliever, but he won’t be the last person to dismiss extraordinary evidence long after he should have accepted the extraordinary claim as a working hypothesis. Lovecraft’s protagonists at least have the excuse that their ignorance preserves the thin veneer of sanity protecting human civilization. Your average non-genre-savvy horror movie character, less so.
Next week, we’re taking a break for the holiday. Then, for post number 150 (really!) we’re trying to get a hold of Kishin Houkou Demonbane, recommended by RushThatSpeaks way back at post 100 as a truly epic Lovecraftian anime. Several sites seem to have it, but also seem to drain the sanity from our malware detectors. We’ll share the link if we find a curse-free copy, or come up with an awesome/weird alternative if if we don’t.
Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian stories “The Litany of Earth” and “Those Who Watch” are available on Tor.com, along with the distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” and “The Deepest Rift.” Winter Tide, a novel continuing Aphra Marsh’s story from “Litany,” is now available from Macmillan’s Tor.com imprint. Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Dreamwidth, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.
Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story. “The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her young adult Mythos novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.
By now you’ve probably got a sweet tooth for Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, which begins with the Nebula and Locus Award-winning Every Heart a Doorway and continues with the dark origin story of Jack and Jill in Down Among the Sticks and Bones (out now in ebook and print worldwide). This January, the series returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children with Beneath the Sugar Sky, an irresistibly fun tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do that sees the return of fan favorites and the introduction of Rini, Sumi’s daughter. We’re excited to share the new illustrations by Rovina Cai that will be included in the book!
Take a look at the images below, and read selections from the story!
Beneath the Sugar Sky is available January 2018 from Tor.com Publishing. From the catalog copy:
When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest—not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)
If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests…
The girl in the pond rose up sputtering, with algae in her hair and a very confused turtle snagged in the complicated draperies of her dress, which seemed to be the result of someone deciding to hybridize a ball gown with a wedding cake, after dyeing both of them electric pink. It also seemed to be dissolving, running down her arms in streaks, coming apart at the seams. She was going to be naked soon.
The girl in the pond didn’t seem to notice, or maybe she just didn’t care. She wiped water and dissolving dress out of her eyes, flicking them to the side, and cast wildly about until she spotted Cora and Nadya standing on the shore, mouths open, gaping at her.
“You!” she yelled, pointing in their direction. “Take me to your leader!”
Rini shuddered, stepping a little closer to Kade, like she thought he could protect her. “How can they hold so still?” she whispered, voice horrified and awed. “I’d twitch myself into pieces.”
“That’s why this was never your door,” he said. “We don’t go where we’re not meant to be, even if we sometimes get born the wrong place.”
“There was a boy,” said Rini. “When I was small. His parents mined fudge from the northern ridge. He didn’t like the smell of chocolate, or the way it melted on his tongue. He wanted to be clean, and to follow rules, and to understand. He disappeared the year we all started school, and his parents were sad, but they said he’d found his door, and if he was lucky, he’d never come back, not ever, not once.”
Kade nodded. “Exactly. Your mother and I were born in the same world, and it wasn’t right for either of us, so we went somewhere else.” He didn’t ask what sort of lessons would be taught at school in a Nonsense world. His own world had been Logical, and what made perfect sense to Rini wouldn’t make any sense at all to him.
She was in her element: she knew exactly what she was doing, and was content to continue doing it until the job was done.
It’s the third book! Things are about to get weird…er. Yeah, they were already weird. And we get another decade-jump!
Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.
Summary (up to “I hear the wind blowing across the desert and I see the moons of a winter night rising like great ships in the void.”)
Stilgar is watching Paul’s children sleep—they are nine years old. He thinks of what his planet used to be like and the many ways that it has changed, and he thinks of his hand in all of this. Stilgar wonders if he shouldn’t kill Paul’s children, if that would put an end to this new way. He thinks of dissident groups against Muad’Dib that he has brought down, even when he did not want to. Leto and Ghana dress in Atreides colors and clasps to meet their grandmother, the Lady Jessica, for the first time. They are both nervous about it, and Alia clearly is as well; this is the first time that Jessica will visit Arrakis since she left when Paul took power. Alia cannot figure out why her mother would want to come now, and cannot see the future to understand how things will go. It is rumored the Jessica has gone back to her Bene Gesserit roots.
Leto and Ghanima are still young enough that they have difficult separating out their previous lives from their own persons, and Alia is determined to lure Leto into a spice trance even though he and his sister both believe that they are too young. Gurney is arriving with Jessica and there are rumors that the two are lovers now. Alia wonders what he would think if he knew that they were related to the Harkonnens. Duncan told her that Jessica arrived to claim the twins for the Sisterhood and educate them herself. There are Sardaukar secretly training under the Emperor’s grandson Farad’n to eventually remove the Atreides and restore the Emperor’s house to its throne.
Jessica arrives and knows that Alia has become the Abomination that the sisterhood feared just by looking at her. Everyone is uncertain of how to behave around her, and Irulan does not trust Jessica despite their common sisterhood. Jessica meets a priest named Javid and finds the whole reunion disturbing. She wants to see her grandchildren, who are still at Sietch Tabr. Leto breaks through to an understanding about the history of Arrakis, that it was once a planet with water and the sandtrout were brought there and eventually got rid of all the water so that they could morph into the sandworms. Leto knows that if the sandtrout go away, there will be no more worms, and he knows that Alia knows it as well and is keeping it from the tribes. The twins know that no one will believe them if they say so. Leto wants to meet the man in the desert at the legendary Sietch Jacarutu, the one people call The Preacher. They both wonder if he might be their father, not truly dead, but they also fear it.
Gurney warns Jessica of the dangers about them. He has questioned some Fremen and found that under interrogation, they brought up the name Jacarutu and instantly died. The Preacher himself is a man who is led around by a young Fremen without a tribe of his own. He has burned out eye sockets as Paul Atreides did. He wandered one day through the many believers and cursed at them for being idolaters, and his commanding presence led many to wonder if he was indeed Muad’Dib, but he would only say the he was speaking for the Hand of God.
Princess Wensicia, mother of Farad’n, the daughter of Shaddam IV is plotting to get back the throne of House Corrino for her son. She has her Sardaukar working with Javid against Alia, and then she wants her mean to embrace the religion around Muad’Dib to better dismantle it. She is also training Laza tigers to hunt the Atreides twins. She talks to the head Sardaukar, a man named Tyekanik, who is uncertain of her methods. Wensicia tells him to send a planned gift to their cousins, plotting on Farad’n’s behalf without his knowledge; the Emperor’s grandson is a sensitive young man.
Jessica meets with Ghanima alone; she excludes Leto because while she does not perceive Abomination about the twins, she believes that he is concealing something. After realizing that she fears for her grandchildren and having a moment of connection with Ghanima, she lets her guards down completely for the first time since Duke Leto was alive, and Ghanima knows in that moment that her grandmother loves her. But she also knows that if they do not bear out “human” in the Bene Gesserit sense, her grandmother would still destroy them. Jessica admits that she believes that Ghanima is human, but that she is not sure about Leto. Ghanima insists that Leto is not… yet. Then she shares their theory that their decision not to enter the spice trance is what prevents them from going down Alia’s path to Abomination. They talk of the Preacher and the possibility of him being Paul, and their mutual distrust of Javid. Ghanima admits that she worries because Leto keep studying Alia and may empathize with her too much. She tells her grandmother that he has mentioned Jacarutu, and thinks that Alia wants Leto to look for it. Jessica sense a sweetness to Ghanima despite her concern for her grandchildren, and thinks that the twins must be separated and trained as the Sisterhood wants.
There is a new status quo in this empire, and it didn’t take us long to get there.
This is an interesting point of contention I find often when I talk with fellow fans; how long should it take the universe to change? Because it has been a little over two decades since Paul Atreides assumed the throne, but everything is new. It prompts very interesting questions about cultural memory and how easily change can sweep over us. When you read Lord of the Rings, you’re told point blank that generations upon generations pass before history is legend and legend is myth and we forget things that we shouldn’t. It’s been literal ages.
Then you get a narrative like Star Wars, where people think that the Jedi are fairy tales a mere two decades after their destruction. The Emperor’s rise to total domination is a plan that only really takes him about fifteen years. It’s all so quick. Or seemingly so.
With both Star Wars and Dune, I think it is important to remember that you’re looking at vast universes where collective experience is a scattered thing at best. People will not have a unified version of events no matter what you do or how good your information systems are. But moreover, I think that both stories—Dune more consciously than Star Wars—are deliberately drawing attention to how short cultural memory is. In the opening of this book, Stilgar laments the change in his people already, the water discipline that has grown lax over this short span of time. Twenty years is long enough for a new generation to be brought up, one that has never known a world without Muad’Dib, never known an Arrakis that was totally devoid of water. That’s long enough for everything to have changed.
We have some of Herbert’s favorite tropes here, in that the twins are like Alia; children that both are and are not children. It’s almost as though he wants to make up for not writing enough of Alia as a child in Dune, and I find myself enjoying it because there are some genuinely fascinating concepts about the isolation of self that they embody quite well. Their ability to be their own people, only to get that lost in the mire of their ancestry and mental inheritance is a great place to begin with these characters. In many ways, I find it more interesting than Paul’s fight with prescience. This is even more true when you take into account the ways in which the twins are finally separating out as individuals and how confusing that is for two people who have essentially always been mentally connected to one another—Leto’s concern over how to explain something to Ghanima that only he has experienced speaks to a completely different form of communication.
The rest of the opening of this books is devoted to placing the players on the board and giving us an idea of what the trials of this story will focus on. So we know that the status of the twins is up in the air, we know that Alia is considered largely lost by those around her, we know that Jessica is reattached to the Bene Gesserit and hoping to bring her grandchildren into the fold. We also know that House Corrino is hoping to regain their throne due to the scheming of one of Shaddam’s daughters, Irulan’s sister Wensicia, but we also know that the son she wants to install is not the scheming sort. Stilgar is becoming disillusioned more and more each day, but is still undecided for what he will do. Then there is the relationship between Jessica and Gurney, which is an excellent turnaround from their journey in Dune itself. Being two people who loved Duke Leto so dearly, it makes sense to see them hanging on to one another.
There are a few things here that don’t ring quite true, and Irulan is the biggest glare coming off this opening. As I said at the end of Dune Messiah, the idea that she suddenly realized that she loved Paul just seems like a very convenient device for the story to do what it will with her. It still sits awkwardly.
The Preacher is brought to our attention, as is Jacarutu, which are both issues that will be expanded upon later. We’ll have to wait and see what they bring.