Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review: “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn

Review: “The Journeyman: In the Stone House by Michael F. Flynn (Analog, June 2014) SPRP

Spoilers: This review does not avoid spoilers, so if you don't want to be spoiled, read it first.

This story is both a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy pick.

This is very much an Old Skool skiffy tale. It's a Viking Planet adventure, but with multi-racial warriors rather than blond ones because 21st Century. Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand and Sammi o’ th’ Eagles are two companions who are of different peoples, requiring Sammi to speak to Teodorq in a sort of pidgin. They reminded me of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, in space. They are traveling on a mission given to them prior to the start of the story by a talking ghost called Jamly who lives in a crashed vessel from the sky, possibly from legendary Terra. Teodorq is also trying to keep ahead of Karakalan Vikeram (Kal), of the Serp tribe. Teodorq killed Kal's brother and Kal is determined to get his revenge. They come across a stone village and hunker down in hiding, wondering who the people are and how they build in stone. They hear the sound of a crossbow bolt being placed behind them, and surprise! They've been captured, by a princess (and her backup).

They're taken to the First's (King's) throne room, which is not unlike Jabba the Hutt's palace except they have a dancing "Fool" rather than a Twi'lek. Guess who's also here? Karakalan Vikeram, determined to avenge his brother. Diverse questionings and intrigues happen, they're shown an artifact from the sky (this one doesn't talk), and eventually sent to train in the First's army. There's a showdown between Karakalan Vikeram and Teodorq but both survive, and the First's odd wording as he tells them to cut it out leads Karakalan Vikeram to believe he must now forgive Teodorq and kill the First instead.

Then it just stops.

I'm an Old Skool person myself, and so I've read many iterations of these Old Skool stories before. I think early Poul Anderson could have written this one, with the only newish element being the talking Princess-Leia-Hologram Jamly who lives in the crashed space shuttle. (And she's completely off-stage anyway.) But my own cynicism isn't necessarily shared by everyone.
First sentence: "The Great Escarpment edged World along its northern marge, from the Hill Country in the far west to the eastern verge of the shortgrass prairie."
Got it. The world is called World, the escarpment physical feature is called the Great Escarpment and the hill country is called Hill Country.
"It was no great surprise to Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand…"
Oh, so that's where their stock of names got used up.

I couldn't help thinking that there must be more to the words they used than I was able to figure out. The pidgin is called "plavver" – evidently from 'palaver', and a kind of speech is called "Sprok" – either from German or the Yiddish 'shprakh' (language). (Or maybe Afrikaans, since people live in "kraals".) But on the other hand, the First's hammer is said to be full of "schmuck" (value). I don't think you can repurpose a word like 'schmuck' (Yiddish for 'a dick' or 'a fool') by accident, so is it a joke? Or has it been/will it be explained in another installment? The stringed instrument someone plays is called a "yuke". And the sky-artifact that the First kept in his local temple – I won't spoil what it seems to be (I can only read three out of four of the 'rune types') – certainly seemed planted to get a laugh out of we Terrans.

As for the story's treatment of women – or more precisely, the woman – the story definitely shows its pulp roots. Remember the woman who captured them is a princess, so the First evidently lets her go out soldiering, but once she's back in the palace, our heroes (even while captive) call her "babe" and she is at one point described thusly:
"The girl frowned and a small crease appeared in her brow just above her pert nose."
She doesn't do much else other than hang around being a girl/babe, occasionally prompting info-dumps in the grand skiffy tradition of the scientist's beautiful daughter, and watching the manly warriors at fight practice.

The story itself is quite interesting but as you approach the last paragraph you get the sinking feeling that it's not going to end at the end. After the last paragraph, Analog helpfully tells us that these characters have appeared in a story before. So, not so much a novelette as an installment. On his own site, Michael Flynn explains, "It is part of a series that began with "...On the Shortgrass Prairie" and continued in the issue after this one with "...Against the Green." Pending acceptance, it will continue next year with the recently submitted "...In the Great North Woods.""

I say "quite interesting" because the fight-training and fight scenes were real loooong. It's just not my kind of thing. I assume pages-long descriptions of two men taking up named fighting stances and getting under each other's guard and blocking each other's swords is gripping stuff for swordy types. Given that, it's not surprising that so many people hated If You Were a Dinosaur My Love. The difference between the two types of story make the difference between chalk and cheese look like the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Lastly: "Sammi mutter sotto voce, “That can’t be good.” Teodorq ignored him." 
Hello, editor?

I enjoyed this but it's not really standalone, and doesn’t break new ground, so I probably wouldn't vote this #1 in the Hugos. I may have to get those other installments, though, to find out what happens.

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