The Immortal Cure: Chase After Chase

Chapter 10

My review so far has been a litany of small complaints, and that’s never a good sign. It could be worse. Small complaints, at least, are not large complaints. There’s no Zuula moment here where there’s a scene so horribly, self-righteously self-indulgent and counter-productive that it becomes a massive black mark on the entire book. It’s theoretically possible that the book will suddenly start to take off and I’ll be quite positive on it overall when we come to the end. But as I’ve said many times before, even though the book can recover, it’s not very likely that it will recover, because if CJ Olsen can write a great second half of a book, why can he not also write a great first half of a book? Why would he wait this long to start trying? Probably he is trying, and this is just the best he’s got.

Not to say the book has been devoid of interesting ideas. There’s some reasonably interesting setting work going on in the background, with the golems and chimeras and airships. But while that is reasonably interesting, it’s not the kind of Morrowind-style wild and imaginative world that makes me happy just to walk through it regardless of how bland the characters I’m following are. This world is a decent foundation with just the most boring house in the world built on top of it. The story needs its characters to be propelling it, and they’re not. There’s no chemistry in the budding romance that’s meant to be at the heart of this story, nor to the friendship with Tatiana that Charlotte left behind – that friendship being her driving motivation to assassinate Harthum rather than just walking away. And that lack of chemistry means that I don’t much care whether or not Charlotte succeeds in her quest, nor am I happy to have any excuse to watch her and Alister go on a wacky steampunk adventure together.

What I’m getting at, here, is that part of the reason this review has been delayed is because of how much I’m not especially excited to get back into it.

So anyway, Alister’s new pet golem crashed through the wall of the pirate tavern where they’ve just recruited Giovanni to the party. Everyone escapes, but Alister does so by firing a little grappling hook from his techno-gauntlet to latch onto the fleeing golem, and ends up getting dragged along the ground long enough to end up badly shredded. He’s unconscious by the time they reach the ship, so Giovanni flies while Charlotte plays nurse. She leaves him in his cot to go and grab a canteen, and that’s when the ship is attacked, presumably by pirates. Charlotte is below-decks and can’t tell. The book really tries to sell me on the romance here, though.

Another whistle echoed down the corridor. Charlotte tucked her head between her knees as The Ephrait shook from an explosion, this one on the opposite side. The Ephrait pitched and the canteen rolled to the wall with a metallic ping. Charlotte squeezed into a tight ball. Her knuckles were white as she held tight to the ship. She suddenly recognized where she sat. It was the same pipes she had clung to her first time boarding The Ephrait.

Alister had sat there, she looked to her right. He promised I would be safe.

She looked up at the canteen.

…I must help him.

The little scene where Alister convinced her not to be so afraid of heights isn’t doing nearly the work this book wants it to, and worse, it doesn’t even particularly have to. Humans have a natural instinct to protect their in-group, and Charlotte and Alister are very definitely in this together. She doesn’t need a special reason to help her allies survive, she just needs to not be a sociopath. Hell, even a sociopath would want to keep what few allies they have in good condition in Charlotte’s situation, provided they were smart enough to think that far ahead (which, granted, many of them are not).

Anyway, there’s another escape scene that doesn’t really bear commenting on because we just did this. Maybe some of the things it establishes are going to come up later, but we just escaped from Callan, escaped from Prawle, and are now escaping from the airspace around Prawle. Every other scene in this book is an escape scene, and every effort at character interaction during or in between has been interminable.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Chase After Chase”

The Immortal Cure: I Guess We Care About Gregor Now

Chapter 7

Alister is distracting the chimera in a manner that just so happens to require Charlotte to take her clothes off. Probably we’ll see how Victorian her undergarments are at some point. For now, Alister is swearing poorly.

This is the most eternally damned thing I have ever done.

Trying to adapt swears from regular English, where they’re largely religious, to worlds with different religions or none at all can be tricky, but it’s not just that “eternally damned” doesn’t roll off the tongue very well. Translate that into regular Earth swears and look at it:

This is the most goddamned thing I have ever done.

Clearly, CJ Olsen is just continuing his tribute to Brandon Sandersen by imitating his inability to swear from Sandersen’s early career.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: I Guess We Care About Gregor Now”

The Immortal Cure: Escape From Megacity One

Chapter 5

It’s tomorrow and Charlotte is heading to the library to speak with Jonathon. Look at the way it’s framed, though:

Traumatized, Charlotte had decided that in the morning she would speak to the only person she thought could help.

Jonathon.

Now, I’ve read the back of the book and I know that Alister and Charlotte both get name dropped in capital letters and Jonathon is not even mentioned. Plus, in Jonathon’s previous appearance, he assumed that Charlotte was researching alchemy out of a desire to better understand and be closer to Harthum. What I’m saying here is that while it’s possible Jonathon is arranging to have her smuggled to safety, I’m not gonna be as shocked as the book wants me to be when he instead turns out to be evil. The whole “Jonathon is my only friend” thing not only gets dropped here, but emphasized again on the next page. There’s really only one place this could be going, dramatically. If Charlotte were all “is anyone in this city trustworthy? Is Jonathon in on it, too?!” then I’d actually be uncertain, ’cause that one could go either way.

“Do not be afraid Lady Lotte,” he interrupted with a reassuring smile. “This is a time to celebrate. The Lord Eternal has chosen you as his next consort. I knew he would!”

Charlotte straightened in shock as Jonathon kneeled in front of her and took her hand. “You have been blessed,” he said excitedly. “You have been chosen by the Hero of Eternity.” He looked into her eyes. “He deserves you,” he said with the same sickening smile Lindris had given her the day before. “You will make him so happy.”

…I am alone

At least it was more subtle than I thought. I was bracing myself for some stunning moment of betrayal where Jonathon does a Hans-from-Frozen sudden reveal that he was a villain all along.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Escape From Megacity One”

The Immortal Cure: Dinner With Sauron

Chapter 4

Charlotte is getting all gussied up for her evening with Daddy Sauron. Servants are compressing her body into that universal symbol of Victorian oppression of women, the corset.

Charlotte let out her breath as the three servants standing behind her pulled the corset strings tight. Charlotte felt her rib cage squeeze together, her breasts forcibly spilling out the top. It was extremely uncomfortable and she could barely manage to take a breath.

I wonder sometimes if the reason the references to Charlottes breasts stand out to me is just because A) I had come relatively recently off of a story where it had been a noticeable problem not long before I picked up the Immortal Cure, making me unusually aware, and B) I’d written about it in that first post, which fixed the hyper-awareness in my mind. Definitely it’s a common criticism that books often bring up a woman’s breasts often enough to distract from the narrative, but corsets were actually designed to accentuate breasts (as well as minimize the waist), and it’s not CJ Olsen’s fault that corsets became the universal symbol for Victorian oppression.

Then paragraphs like this bail me out.

Charlotte turned to the side, then twisted to see the back. She had told herself that she would control the outcome of this meeting. She had to show Harthum that he did not own her. But now, standing in a gown likely hand-picked by Harthum himself, Charlotte’s confidence wavered. The dress was gorgeous and, despite the fact that it’s design drew attention to her breasts, Charlotte loved it.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Dinner With Sauron”

The Immortal Cure: Immortal Incest Sauron

Chapter 2

Charlotte left the marketplace, spotting a trolley stopped on its rails taking on passengers. She hurried over, holding to the strap of her satchel, and stepped up into the cramped compartment, brushing past passengers who stood, holding onto leather handholds hanging from the roof. Men and women filled every crevice of the trolley and Charlotte had to shove her way past two arguing men. She finally spotted an empty seat near the center.

Funny enough, this is actually two separate paragraphs in the print version, but is a single paragraph in the Kindle version.

The main question here, though, is what is Sauron’s princess doing on public transit? It’s hopefully not an “I just love to mingle with the commonfolk” thing, considering the neighbor she ends up with:

A slumbering man in a worn, filthy suit lay beside her. He cradled a bottle of Dresht Rum in his arms as he slumped over the seat, snoring like a starved mist-hound.

And it’s not like this book can’t be judged by its cover. Dude tries to grope her later on, something that provokes no reaction at all from Charlotte, so apparently this Stalker that’s following her around either has a mandate to only intervene if Charlotte faces some kind of existential danger or else it’s just asleep at the wheel.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Immortal Incest Sauron”

The Immortal Cure: Sauron’s Princess Saves A Cat

Our author today is CJ Olsen, whose previous work on Amazon is almost entirely non-fiction stuff, which is almost entirely about the LDs church, because Utah. He sold me a copy of the book at the Salt Lake Comic Con, and since I have no idea if it’ll be any good, I figured it fit well into the whole “let’s find out how good this book is together” theme I have going on this blog. The book also came with a free bookmark, which, like, I didn’t realize people still did that. I thought we’d reached the point where the idea that free bookmarks aren’t really effective in advertising your book had reached total saturation. It’s right up there with “begging book stores to let you host a signing” on the list of cliche things authors do to feel more successful that don’t actually help. I guess I just read ebooks so often these days that it doesn’t come up.

I think if CJ Olsen ever reads these blog posts, he might regret selling me a book.

Prologue

That’s never a good sign.

People following these as they come out will be aware that this came out a couple of days late. I bring this up because the fact that this prologue has kind of a boring opener definitely isn’t the reason why it’s late. It’s late because my Sunday video was late, and my schedule slipped from there. But this book does have an opening line that could’ve used some more workshopping:

The cool morning breeze blew through a narrow canyon ruffling light green weeds protruding from the hillside.

Hold onto your hats, this book has light green weeds in it. I’m compelled to read on.

The first line of the second paragraph gets us to the part of the scene we care about:

A bulky airship rested anchored close to the canyon’s side, its slightly rusted, dull iron exterior a sharp contrast to the naturally formed rock to which it was tethered.

Nothing about this airship leaps out as particularly special among airships or anything, but there’s an audience for “this book has airships in it” in a way there is not for “this book has weeds in it.”

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Sauron’s Princess Saves A Cat”

Conan the Cimmerian

This is a wrap-up post for all the stories covering Conan’s early years, which I am assembling under the banner of “Conan the Cimmerian,” not to be confused with “Conan of Cimmeria,” a collection of short stories only one of which was actually covered by the reviews linked in this post.

Conan the Introduction
Let’s Get The Conversation About Racism Out of the Way
Conan of Venarium is Aimlessly Meandering
Conan the Barbarian (2011): Parenting the Conan Way, Again
Conan the Barbarian (2011): The Battle of Venarium, Again
Conan the Viking: The Frost Giant’s Daughter
Conan the Viking: Lair of the Ice Worm
Conan the Viking: Legion of the Dead
Conan the Viking: The Thing in the Crypt
Conan the Bold Was Ruined By Ancient Aliens
Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Ordinarily these posts gathering up a bunch of reviews in one place are accompanied by an overall review of the complete work (Conan of Venarium and Conan the Bold, linked above, get such reviews). This is not one of those posts. This is a collection not of posts all referring to the same work, but of reviews of multiple different works (two of the posts do relate to the same work, because Conan the Barbarian (2011) is not getting a full review until we come to the point in the timeline where its main plot occurs). There’s not anything to sum up here, except that the quality and tone of the writing vary significantly from one story to another, which should surprise no one, on account of their having lots of different writers.

As such, these are listed not in the order they were reviewed, but rather the order in which they more or less fit into the Chamomile Chronology I’m haphazardly constructing. This project could pull itself apart under the strain of its incompatible objectives at any time, but so far it’s worked surprisingly well, despite Lair of the Ice Worm’s stringent objections.

The basic conceit of the Chamomile Chronology so far is that Conan was left aimless and meandering after Venarium, his ties to Cimmeria cut, and began raiding with the viking Aesir until he was captured by Hyperboreans. After making his escape from there, he briefly cut across the Brythunian and Border Kingdom wildernesses on his way home to Cimmeria, where he soon grew restless again, heading into the Pictish wilderness. After stumbling from there half-dead, he was rescued by some Cimmerians he were then tragically put to the torch while he was out hunting, leading him on a hunt of the slavers who’d attacked them that took him across most of Hyboria. At this point Conan had firmly left his home behind and no longer even used Cimmeria as a home base for his wanderings, but instead became completely unmoored.

This chronology makes a couple of assumptions:

  1. Conan the Barbarian (1982) is tossed from the chronology completely, because it conflicts not only with other early Conan stories, but also my recollection of many Conan the thief stories. When I come back to Conan for the thief era, I may find that this recollection is incorrect, at which point I may swap in Conan ’82 to replace all the other stories from this era, since it is superior to basically all of them. This will also almost certainly require tossing the latter two-thirds of Conan the Barbarian (2011).
  2. Conan of Venarium and the early chapters of Conan the Barbarian (2011) are mutually incompatible. Conan the Barbarian (2011) is way better, therefore Conan of Venarium is getting junked.
  3. The Frost Giant’s Daughter, the Lair of the Ice Worm, the Legions of the Dead, and the Thing in the Crypt happen in that order. After the Lair of the Ice Worm, Conan returns to Cimmeria for a time, but returns to Asgard soon afterwards to raid the Hyperboreans (rather than the Vanir, the target of his first excursion). Three of these four stories are mostly unmoored in time and can occur anywhere, but make sense as Conan’s early travels due to their proximity to Cimmeria. The Lair of the Ice Worm really badly wants to remind you that its authors intended it to occur much later in Conan’s career, but usually because Conan is older and more cunning than he was in earlier stories – even though they also constantly take pains to make it clear that the Frost Giant’s Daughter occurred immediately before Lair of the Ice Worm, and one of Conan’s stupidest acts occurs in the Frost Giant’s Daughter. The constant insistence that Lair of the Ice Worm occurs later in Conan’s career does not affect the story at all and can be excised without losing anything.
  4. Conan the Bold occurs last of the set, and initiates Conan’s aimless wandering, as it takes him too far from home for him to keep to his until-then usual habit of using Cimmeria as a home base from which to make excursions into nearby countries for adventure.

With Conan’s early years wrapped up, I’m going to be taking a break from the Conan series for a bit to instead engage in some blatant nepotism. Well, not really nepotism, since I only briefly met the author at the latest Salt Lake FanX. So, nationalism? City-ism? I’m going to review a book I bought at FanX for no other reason except that I bought a book at FanX, is what I’m getting at, and that book is CJ Olsen’s The Immortal Cure, a steampunk book about the plucky daughter of an immortal overlord teaming up with a sky pirate to try and find a “cure” for the overlord’s immortality and commit patricide. The author said he’d be back at the Salt Lake Comic Con in September with the sequel. We’ll see whether or not I care to drop by his booth by the end of this book.

Conan the Viking: Lair of the Ice Worm

I’m going to review one more short story, this one written by de Camp and Carter for the 1969 collection Conan of Cimmeria. It takes place in Asgard, but naturally follows the timeline of de Camp, and is thus well into Conan’s career according to its italicized prologue. Most of the time, however, the only thing placing one of these de Camp stories into any particular place in the timeline is the italicized prologue, with the story itself utterly devoid of any particular temporal markers. We’ll see if the Lair of the Ice Worm can’t be fit into a chronology that sets Conan’s northern adventures earlier in his career. The main question there is whether Conan actually leaves Asgard, which would conflict with his leaving Asgard via Hyperborea and then escaping Hyperborea during the Legion of the Dead and the Thing in the Crypt.

Chapter 1

Conan has come to an evil glacier, and scoffs at the idea that glaciers could be evil. Probably all the people who died up there just sucked at mountaineering. In fairness, a mountain is perfectly capable of murdering people without supernatural aid. On the other hand, Conan refers directly back to his recent encounters with the supernatural:

Conan was eager to descend the pass into the low hills of the Border Kingdom, for he had begun to find the simple life of his native Cimmerian village boring. His ill-fated adventure with a band of golden-haired AEsir on a raid into Vanaheim had brought him hard knocks and no profit. It had also left him with the haunting memory of the icy beauty of Atali, the frost giant’s daughter, who had nearly lured him to an icy death.

You just barely had a run-in with a frost giant. Why are you so skeptical that this glacier might be haunted? Or just, y’know, home to frost giants?

The story does firmly set itself after a time when Conan has been south of Cimmeria:

Altogether, he had had all he wanted of the bleak northlands. He burned to get back to the hot lands of the South, to taste again the joys of silken raiment, golden wine, fine victuals, and soft feminine flesh. Enough, he thought, of the dull round of village life and the Spartan austerities of camp and field!

You could make an argument that this fits as well for Conan having briefly raided Aquilonia post-Venarium as it could be referring to his thief years further south, but that’s kind of a stretch. It seems like it’s going to be an ongoing theme and not just a stray paragraph, too. I’m happy to assume Conan of Venarium’s last chapter just never happened and equally happy to ignore a stray paragraph of Lair of the Ice Worm, but in the first case only because that last chapter served no narrative purpose, it was just the final vignette in a series of disconnected vignettes, and in the latter case I’m only willing to discard that paragraph if it ends up being trivial to the story. If “I’m sick of the northlands and want to go back south, a place with which I have extensive experience” is meant to be an ongoing theme, then the whole story is set firmly later on in Conan’s career.

I’m writing a lot more about the timeline than I anticipated.

Continue reading “Conan the Viking: Lair of the Ice Worm”

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Admin note: I’m filing this under “book review” because it’s part of my review of Conan as a series, which is mostly books. We are, however, reviewing the 1982 movie and not its novelization, which I was unable to find in digital format.

The 1982 Conan the Barbarian doesn’t fit into any timeline at all unless you completely excise every other attempt to depict Conan’s early years. That said, it is quite possibly the best depiction of Conan’s early years of all. Michael A. Stackpole’s depiction of Conan up to Venarium is the only one that’s even giving Conan ’82 any competition, and even then it’s not exactly a close race.

Conan ’82 is not flawless. Several of its flaws can be filed under the header of “fuck the 80s.” The two most prominent examples:

-Early on, Conan very probably rapes someone for basically no reason. I mean, in-universe the reason is that he’s been enslaved since childhood and is now an obedient dog doing pretty much whatever he’s told, and he was told to breed with another slave. Out-of-universe, though, you can excise the entire scene and nothing is lost. If you really need some tits at that point in the runtime, you could’ve just had the woman be less clearly scared of Conan.

-One of the priests of Thulsa Doom’s evil cult is a predatory gay guy, whom Conan lures away from the rest of the cult by pretending to be shy about his body, then kills him and takes his clothes. Killing people and taking their clothes is something Arnold Schwarzenegger does surprisingly often in his movies.

The second one is actually significantly less bad in a modern context than in the era it came out in, at least. Back in the 80s, this was part of an overall trend in which all gay people were depicted as predatory and evil. These days, there’s a growing library of films, tv shows, books, video games, etc. etc. with gay people who aren’t necessarily evil, which means that this movie having a bit part where one specific gay guy is a predatory priest part of a predatory cult is less of a commentary on all gay people and more a way of depicting the predatory nature of Thulsa Doom’s cult. That isn’t really to the filmmakers credit, because it’s not when filming the scene they were thinking “okay, sure, this scene is harmful now, but with our clairvoyant superpowers we can predict that forty years from now cultural context will change and make it better,” but cultural context has changed, will probably continue to change, and eventually this scene won’t even be a problem.

A more enduring problem (and one that can’t simply be completely excised with no harm to the rest of the film) is the shoddy pacing of the first hour. The movie actually begins with really good pacing, and is easily my favorite depiction of the violent destruction of Conan’s Cimmerian roots. Rather than trying to build up our attachment to Cimmeria first, the movie just cuts to the chase and burns the village to the ground. Conan’s parents’ futile defiance of the invaders made me like them more than Harry Turtledove managed with an entire book (or John Maddox Roberts managed with one chapter, but at least it was just one chapter).

After that, however, the movie loses itself in vignettes for a full hour. This isn’t nearly as bad as it could be because all of the vignettes are individually good (except the one where he meets the witch who tries to eat him, that one was terrible, but it at least serves the purpose of establishing Conan’s vengeance quest). From the death of Conan’s parents in the first ten minutes to the one hour mark, Conan wanders from one vignette to another, finally getting a lead on Thulsa Doom and bringing the first act to a close. In between he meets two valuable allies and punches a camel, but you could’ve completely rearranged the order of the scenes in the script and changed nothing. With some clever editing, you might even be able to rearrange the order of the scenes in the existing movie without affecting the flow of the plot at all. Scenes don’t build on each other, they just happen in sequence.

Continue reading “Conan the Barbarian (1982)”

Conan the Barbarian (2011): The Battle at Venarium, Again

Chapter 5

The chapter opens with Conan forging a sword, and mostly consists of Corin dispensing more fatherly wisdom. I’m often baffled by people highlighting seemingly random passages from these books, but the highlights here are reasonably good lines:

[“]Men learn in one of two ways. Some observe, ask questions, think and act. Others act and fail, and if they survive their failure, they learn from it.[“]

 

[“]We all disappoint others. If we never do, it’s because we never take a chance, we never live.[“]

 

“If you remember nothing else, my son, remember this: it’s not the man who slays the most who wins a battle; it’s the man who survives who wins it.”

You can’t chalk this up to living in the age of widespread internet access expediting research. Michael A. Stackpole is just way better at this than Harry Turtledove.

It’s not completely perfect or anything. Corin’s font of wisdom schtick is pretty incessant, and it’s beginning to grate. I’d be a lot more forgiving if so much of the book wasn’t from Corin’s perspective. Corin is a pretty good parent and is teaching Conan skills he badly wants to develop, so it makes perfect sense that Conan would idolize him like this. Children naturally idolize their parents, usually even when those parents are terrible, and Corin has done nothing that would dissuade that in Conan. The problem is that the narrative is often written from Corin’s perspective, giving us Corin’s thoughts. Rather than an idol to Conan, Corin comes across as though he is literally an incessant font of fatherly wisdom, some kind of weird Platonic ideal of fatherliness with no other qualities.

The whole “temper fire with ice” theme gets laid on pretty thick in this chapter, but it doesn’t seem to be sticking to Conan. Taking a whole chapter to make the point that the “be colder” lesson isn’t taking is a questionable use of pagespace. If this is setting up a major theme of the entire story, or even if just learning this lesson is some kind of critical turning point for Conan early on, that’s fair enough. On the other hand, if Conan just takes a while to learn because he’s stubborn, that may be perfectly realistic, but it’s still wasting time on a lot of repetition that ultimately amounts to nothing.

Continue reading “Conan the Barbarian (2011): The Battle at Venarium, Again”