Recension: Gudasagorna

Böcker nuförtiden tenderar att vara tjocka, ofta alltför tjocka för sitt eget bästa. Då blir det trevligt att som omväxling få en tunn bok i sina händer, en som jag kan läsa ut på en sittning. Daniel Lehtos Gudasagorna är en sådan volym, en kortroman för ungdomar i högstadieåldern.

Lappland, hjortronmyrar, rollspelare, övernaturligheter — jodå, det här är en bok för svenska fanboys och fangirls. Huvudpersonen är en tonåring som gillar att spela Mutant med kompisarna och som har en cool farfar. Familjen hamnar i ekonomiskt trångmål och därför tycker farfar att han och lillgrabben ska ut och plocka hjortron för att dra in lite extra pengar.

Men vildmarken är också ett gränssnitt mot det Okända och hux flux går huvudpersonen in i folktrons värld där en omstörtande sammansvärjning nalkas sin fullbordan. Jag ska inte orda mer om just detta, eftersom jag inte vill lägga spoilers här, men författaren skildrar denna verklighet väl — jag får känslan av att den fungerar som en parasit som suger näring ur vår värld.

Språk och händelseutveckling passar målgruppen yngre tonåringar. (Jag ska sätta den här boken i händerna på de av mina barn som är i rätt ålder.) Slutet är delvis lyckligt, delvis sorgset, vilket jag uppskattar. Folktrons väsen har då hunnit visa sig vara obehagliga figurer i vars agendor människorna är redskap, inget annat. Vi har definitivt inga schyssta bundsförvanter på andra sidan.

Daniel Lehto har talang för nära-verkligheten-fantasy och han är en god skildrare av norra Norrlands inbyggare och natur. Jag hoppas att han finslipar sin berättarteknik och ger sig i kast med mer komplicerade intriger än i Gudasagorna; dess svaghet är nämligen att jag känner igen händelseförloppet alltför väl.

Dieselpunk — its virtues and vices

Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.

Eleanor Roosevelt

This web article (link >>>) at The Daily Dot gives an introduction to dieselpunk and points at both its appealing and its troubled aspects.

However, I have already picked up the challenge of writing stories from the minority perspective. My dieselpunk spy-adventure The Ice War has two protagonists: a mixed-race man and a working-class woman. They face the prejudices of that era and have to find ways of sneaking around them. That approach gives me more interesting challenges when writing. The “-punk” designation, after all, indicates that the stories ought to have an underdog perspective.

Picture by giacobino/deviantart

Review: “Jane Carver of Waar”

The title Jane Carver of Waar was irresistible when I spotted this book in a friend’s bookshelf. A few subway journeys later (I read when commuting between home and office) I had reached its end and arrived at a clear conclusion: its author Nathan Long delivers the goods, i.e. a successful parody of the classical John Carter of Mars genre with plenty of well-established tropes:

A weird distant planet — check
Unexplained interplanetary journey — check
Six-limbed barbarians — check
Humans of unusual coloring — check
Swashbuckling — check
Airships — check
Pirates — check
Honor before reason — check
True love™ — check
Dastardly deeds — check
Damsel in distress — check
Slavery — check
Gladiators — check
A hero with extraordinary strength and leaping ability — check

However, several Carterian tropes get subverted. The protagonist Jane Carver is a tall and muscular working-class biker, a petty criminal with a few jail stints and a former private in Airborne Rangers. She is uneducated, streetwise and crude, which is reflected in the language of the story, told in a rough first-person prose. Sexism and the associated shoddy treatment of woman are handled in ways that would have been impossible in earlier works of the genre; the author does not mince words when he describes a pre-industrial society in which commoners are treated like dirt by nobles and becoming an outlaw appears to be the best escape from oppression.

While being chased by Californian cops for man-slaughter, Carver stumbles over a small device that teleports her to the distant world of Waar. How and why is never explained (and in this kind of story it is of little importance). She arrives in the middle of a kidnapping scene (in which strange-colored humans fight with swords), rescues a survivor, gets captured and enslaved by a steppe tribe of “tiger centaurs”, escapes, gains other allies, gets embroiled in some aristocratic power-struggles, serves as a gladiator, and performs many acrobatic deeds to rescue a hapless damsel in distress, over whose hand in marriage several high-ranking men fight. “Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” appears to be Carver’s motto. And there is a neat reference to the “War God”, a John-Carter-style terrestrial character who had spent some time on Waar 150 years ago, causing much havoc and turmoil before he vanished.

An amusing twist is that Carver, being solidly plebeian, frequently gets annoyed with the nobility’s code of honor and pretensions. Her speech, peppered with 21st-century popcultural references, is on the other hand equally frequently incomprehensible to her two aristocratic comrades-in-arms. Carver is a competent low-level superhero, whereas the two Waarian men that accompany her are foppish and notably less effectual. Their chief adversary, fortunately, lives up to the reader’s expectations: a blackguard straight out of the pulps.

I give Jane Carver of Waar four red planets out of five. It is exactly the adventure it claims to be. The sole shortcoming is that the plot never surprised me.

There is a sequel, Swords of Waar, and I will be happy to read it in the near future.

“Not to predict, but to warn!”

Many years ago I read a summarizing statement about the underlying purpose of the science fiction genre: Its intention is not to predict, but to warn.*

This blogger (link >>> ) takes a look at ten misconceptions that are commonly associated with SF by poorly informed journalists and critics and why they are wrong. She also says a few pertinent words about what our beloved genre actually has to say about the chaotic era we currently live in.

*Unfortunately I do not remember what writer made that accurate observation.

Mercator — the Roman Traveller RPG

The original Traveller role-playing game had a characteristic “style” or “mood”, emphasizing traveling, “geography” and trading like few other games. My old game group spent many happy hours going from planet to planet in its far-future cosmos. It was a best-seller in 1980 and it is still around today in its fifth reincarnation. Traveller has also served as an inspiration for other role-playing games.

The Mercator RPG
Here is a 60-page PDF with Mercator (link >>>), an amusing pastiche of Traveller. It takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean in the early 1st century AD. Its rules, campaign background and minimalist layout are accurate reminiscences of GDW‘s Traveller booklets with black covers that were published in 1977.

The players ply the waves instead of the star lanes and have to deal with the intricacies of the Roman Empire instead of the Third Imperium. The many Hellenistic realms of the East have recently come under Roman rule and a lot of inhabitants resent that. The adventurers thus have to make their hazardous living in a restless multi-ethnic region. The potential for high adventure is certainly there.