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Read July 30th, in a hallway at Otakon, while B. and Mobiuswolf played Race for the Galaxy. This 1975 novella is available by itself as an ebook and I read it on B.'s Kindle.

I confess that I have never read Bram Stoker's The Lair of the White Worm, so I don't know how much of a riff on it this is, but I suspect there of being a connection. In an unthinkably old Earth, a warren of interwoven passages too old for anyone to tell whether they are natural or artificial, the yaga-la-hai live at the top, and once a year they look out at the dying sun. They are at war with, and feed on, the night-sighted grouns who live below, but they are dependent for groun meat mostly on the Meatbringer, who travels suspiciously easily back and forth between the two worlds.

This is science fiction disguised as Lovecraftian horror: there is nothing supernatural in it, but miles and miles of dark and decaying tunnels filled with worms genetically engineered as the food source, and predator, of the end of days. It's also not a book where you are particularly meant to like the characters; the viewpoint character is a shallow, selfish beast of a spoiled teenager, and learning how his world really works does not improve him any.

No, this carries itself almost entirely on atmosphere, and there it does work. There's an amazing sense of deep time here, beginning with the opening image of the dying sun and carrying on through all those miles of pitch-dark lost technology. The yaga-la-hai, who worship the White Worm, are barbaric and cruel in that way people are who never think about anything, and decadent in the way people are when there is no goal even possibly worth consideration. The plot is fairly conventional and expected, really, but the emotional climax for me was effective, when the young protagonist, to give himself strength, recites the litany that is his people's deepest creed, and it contains the line 'all the ships have left long ago; therefore let us dance'. It hits that these are the ones who chose to stay when the world ended. They'd only like to be Wells' Eloi, and that's who they think they are. In fact, they are disturbingly human.

This is an odd piece, and I'm not sure what its goals are, except to provide a string of indelible images. Well, Martin certainly succeeds at that, and if you like Lovecraft, or Tanith Lee, or watching people disguise science fiction as fantasy, this is the sort of thing you may like. But I do not think I would call it a major work, because it is a world-portrait more than a story, and a mood piece more even than a world-portrait; and while major work is possible in the fields of both world-portrait and mood piece, this one is a kind of thing that, though it is well done here, I have seen before.
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Via Papersky-- I'd read many of Martin's short stories, and also The Armageddon Rag, but hadn't even known of the existence of this one. (No, I have not read A Song of Ice and Fire. Asking me when I'm going to read it won't help anything. I have now bounced off the first one very hard twice, so it only gets one more shot, and I'm saving it for a time that feels propitious.)

There are some writers I love, and race through, and sit down with and look up six hours later and have no idea where the time has gone. There are other writers I love who take a bit longer, because they are denser, and I have to work to get everything they're saying into my head.

There are still other writers, and Martin is one of them, whom I respect and admire and enjoy terribly in the abstract and after I've read them, and then when I am trying to read the actual book it requires a physical act of will and effort to get my eyes to remain focused on the paper. I have no idea why, unless it is that they think so incredibly differently from the way that I think that I am having to translate as I go, to find some way of construing and contextualizing each and every sentence because it goes so against the usual way I see things that it barely makes any sense. (The principal other writer I have this issue with is C.J. Cherryh. I have come to the conclusion that she literally thinks perpendicularly to the way I do and that even when I do understand what she is trying to say, I probably do not get anything out of her remotely resembling what she intended me to. For instance, people keep telling me her novel Rusalka is depressing, whereas it is one of my comfort books.) This is why I bounced off A Game of Thrones: it's very long and I was getting a nasty headache from having to think about it so hard and I haven't the endurance and so I found that I was making excuses to go clean the bathroom instead. B. says I should try the audiobook. Maybe so.

At any rate, I consider this kind of reading good for me; it expands the inside of my head. When I finally did click with Cherryh's Foreigner series, it changed the way I think about some things involving logic; the way I think about logic now would not have been comprehensible to me before reading those. So when I heard that there was a Martin novel I didn't know about, and which is short, it went on my list. Yesterday I read four hundred and ten pages of Mette Ivie Harrison (who is, granted, easy) in an hour and a half. Today I read two hundred and fifty-four pages of Martin in just under seven hours. That will tell you.

As to how the book is? The book is great. )


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