Monday, October 3, 2016

More Hernstrom: Thune's Vision

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There truly is no writer working today who better exemplifies the Pulp Revolution than Schuyler Hernstrom.  I know what you're thinking, but talking about what we're reading lately is the point of this exercise, and I've been reading Hernstrom, so I'm talking about Hernstrom.  I wanted to see if the high quality of the couple of stories of his that made it into Cirsova were a fluke or not, and now that I'm half-way through Thune's Vision, I can happily report that they most definitely are not.

Thune's Vision is a collection of his short stories, and you should already know this because you should already have read them because they are that good.  Hernstrom writes with a dreamy lyricism that reminds me of Zelazny at times and Poul Andersen at his fantasy best at others.

I already told you about the first story in the collection, The Challenger's Garland, and it's epic feel.  The remaining stories, though still strongly Hernstronian, have a character all their own.  The second story, Athan and the Princess, feels more like a Howard story, and not just in the subject matter of a barbarian wandering the wilds.  He departs from that mold by making the titular barbarian the leader of a tribe who sets out, not in an aimless wandering, but on a specific quest to save his people.  Hernstrom imbues this story with a timelessness both in the prose he uses and in the epic sweep of history that both precedes and follows the action of the tale.

The third tale in the collection, Movements of the Ige, is the first wholly science-fiction tale in the collection.  Most of Hernstrom's stories take place in that odd twilight where science-fiction sticks its snout into the fantasy tent, but this one is a straight astronauts and aliens tale.  It is told from the point of view of the aliens, and here Hernstrom plays coy to good effect.  He presents the reader with impressions of the characters and action more than descriptions, and somehow this makes the alien culture and its response to humanity's intrusion into their world all the more strange.  Although the aliens would clearly be considered the 'bad guys' were the tale told from the human point of view, here we sympathize with them even as we curse them for their alien warlike assumptions.

Moving on to The Ecology of the Unicorn, we get the closest thing to a fairy tale style fantasy featuring a sorcerer, pursued by death himself, travelling into the land of fey to stave off death for a few more millennia.  The sorcerer's tower, the land of the fairies, and the inhabitants of each almost fit the typical clichés.  They could be the carbon-copy characters and places of hundreds of forerunner stories, but Hernstrom scatters just a few little details here and there to put a unique spin on each that gives them more depth and character.

The last tale in the book is The Saga of Adalwolf, but as a novella, I'm going to save a review of that for later.  For now, there are a couple of points that need to me made.  This book reads like a first time self-published author.  That is both a strength and weakness.  The upshot is that he is free to experiment, and those experiments generally pay off.  The downside is that each story contains a few clunky sentences that jangle against his normal fluency.  Working without a net is a tricky business, and though he does it well, any editor worth his salt would have called out a sentence like this:
The sorcerer made himself comfortable in a low slung chair made from the bones of a wyvern as he pondered his predicament over a goblet of mulled wine.
There's way too much going on in that sentence, and it sticks out in contrast when surrounded by passages such as this:
Molok rose from his resting place in the damp earth.  He mounted his black warhorse and rode through gray mist, past broken tombs and stunted trees.  Before a cliff's edge he brought the mount to heel.  Tendrils of fog coalesced in the heavy air, weaving themselves into a bridge of sorts, leading away into the void beyond the sky.  Molok snapped the reins and crossed over, entering the realm of his lord.
Now that's what I'm talking about.  That short and sweet cadence that sounds almost poetic, the light touch of detail that speaks volumes.  That's this book's strong suit.  While Thune's Vision is a step back from the flawless quality of Herstrom's edited works, it is at most a baby step, and shouldn't be off-putting to the potential reader.

Hernstrom's work meets that impossible to describe, but wonderful to behold dream of production companies everywhere; it's the same, but different.  He works well trod ground - fantasy lands that incorporate the ruins of great technological empires long crumbled into dust, or fairy tale-esque fantasies with wicked sorcerer's and tricksy little fey creatures.  But in Thune's Vision, he's doing it on his own terms, and adding a strong voice and just the right mix of new ideas, and new blend of old ideas, to give the reader the sort of sf/f that is in such short supply these days.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds very interesting. Perhaps I will check it out after I read his stories in Cirsova.