Friday, June 10, 2011

In Favor of Khan: Why I Put Down Glenda Larke's The Last Stormlord

My goal this last Christmas was no different than any other goal (that's right, my Christmas list has a goal): procure more books. Having acquired more than nine this year, it was my honor to peruse them at my leisure. After rapidly consuming Cathryn M Valente's Deathless and Gail Z. Martin's The Sworn, having moved onto Elric and Hawkmoon, it was finally time to pick up The Last Stormlord. In my haste and anticipation, I failed to heed some of the mixed reviews following the release of Glenda Larke's first novel in the Stormlord series..

Stock photo,
I am usually a good judge of character when it comes to books, but in this regard my instinct has failed me. My frustration began upon opening the book. One of the main characters, Terrell, had almost a sixty page stint before moving onto the next character, someone I thought could have used less exposition. For me, the true beginning of the book came almost seventy pages in, when we finally meet Shale, a boy with what we suspect could be some kind of water sensitivity (the allure of Larke's novels is the basic structure of the dessert economy and magic). I felt like this was what I like to call "the natural beginning" of a story. Basically Larke could have taken the first seventy pages of the novel and cut them, moving pertinent information into dialogue and action rather than through narration and pointless characterization. Sorry, but to me villains get fleshed out later, since their psyches tend to be somewhat complex. You cannot sum up an entire character's motivations in one chapter in a single conversation with childhood friends and parents. Action and introspection often define a villain, as for all characters.

Since I had no further intention of finishing the novel at the time, I took the liberty of skipping ahead in the novel and scoping out how long it would take to get to the main plot. Sadly, in a book of 800 pages and counting, the main plot does not appear until halfway through the novel. I read incredibly long books (the book I'm currently reading 520 pages. Gail Z. Martin's novels are longer than that.), but the task of having to read so much extemporaneous plot and sub-plot, in addition to weak characters, made my head hurt a little. I should probably back off a little. After all, its not like I've ever written a fantasy story that's been critiqued by several groups of people or submitted a bad story that got rejected...oh wait, yes I have. Sorry, Ms. Larke. I have a strikingly different opinion about what an exposition should do, even in a long work. I am a technical writer by trade and a creative writer by choice. I strongly dislike novels of length that could easily have been shorter.

In exchange for the weak-sauce, I chose a slightly heartier dish, though still fundamentally bellow my reading level. Also, I traded fantasy this month for science fiction. *Gasp* Did she just say that? Yes, yes she did. The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh has proven to be an excellent read despite its slow start and paltry attempt at espionage fiction. I've read good espionage fiction: this just doesn't qualify. Supernatural espionage fiction reads with a slightly more serious tone, though the character of Roberta Lincoln definitely takes the edge off of a what is, in reality, a dark future. Towards the end of the novel, not even her optimism for the future can stop the careening ball of chaos that is young Khan.

Star Trek Wiki
The story is essentially Khan's (the Khan's) origin story. Events of the story begin after he is born and include a strong portion of his mother. In fact the best part of volume one of this trilogy is the events at the Chrysalis genetic laboratory in India. We get a great idea of the mind and matter behind the tragically hostile personality of Khan. Turns out he came by the militant attitude legitimately. The genetically superior offspring of a certifiable megalomaniacal extremist knew without a doubt that he was meant for greatness, and the education at Chrysalis did nothing for his personality. Fundamentally good, Khan is, and has always been, lawfully evil in alignment. For anyone that plays D&D, essentially the end justifies the means. The willful torture and murder of anyone could easily justify Khan's sense of honor, vengeance and righteousness. First presented to us by "Space Seed" and expounded upon in Wrath of Khan, the character of Khan has been enhanced and the horror of what he unleashes on the planet in order to turn Earth into a sparkling utopia for himself and his superior brethren is made real by juxtaposing Khan's influence on real world events, including the fall of the Soviet Union.

I disagree with the press surrounding this novel: I don't think this novel was so great as to make The X: Files look "unsophisticated". However, there are more good qualities than bad to this book, which is why I'm ready to start the second volume and looking forward to the penultimate story, To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan. Anything that uses a line from Milton as the title can't be all bad, and Greg Cox puts a great deal of research into his novels. Not as much, say, as Dan Simmons or Elizabeth Kostova, but enough to truly ground the work in a foreseeable reality, should eugenics be followed to its logical end. The truly frightening part of the story is not Khan himself, but the fact that fundamentalists really do exist, and that major support for eugenics programs comes from people who truly believe that we can build a master race. Even without the use of molecular science, there has always been a society on this planet trying to build a better humanity. For some, the belief that the world will only truly be safe when it is occupied by an elite group of superior men and women is a true sentiment. The Third Reich tried and failed, but who will be next to try again? It just goes to show us, for some people, evolution simply isn't enough.

I will give Glenda Larke another chance just as soon as I don't have so many awesome books to read first. 

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