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Mourners, Abednego, Persistence by ElliottThomasStaude


Sebastio the Effulgent has been Lord of Pennat Gate for more than a hexadecade following the events of that day called the Western Sunrise. In the pyres that lament the many deaths of that tribulation, the place he has worked to turn into an asylum for the downtrodden has prospered. Some of the Yrdkish peerage, and some of those far removed from such status, disagree with Pennat Gate’s position, politics, and rulership. A few are not satisfied merely with seditious talk. A few possess frighteningly capable means with which to undermine causes of questionable nobility. A few want to see the experiment flourish, so that it might be ripped out roots and all. A fiery furnace awaits, and it hungers for both metal to shape and tinder to reduce to dust. When strange intelligent Beasts begin to appear on the lidar, they become the Toledo steel that will either straighten the extrafacetary territories’ spine, or leave it forever hunchbacked.

Note: Mourners, Abednego, Persistence contains some graphic violence.

A serialized novel, updating sporadically

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Listed: May 14, 2019

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Beware the Purple

By Pyrocardiac, member

May 3, 2020: The Sebastio Artaxerxes saga, of which Mourners Etc. is part two, isn’t so much a story as an artifact, the enjoyment of which lies mainly in exploring its details and peculiarities. I’m tempted to judge it on its considerable merits as such, except that it clearly wants to be a story. And credit where it’s due, it improves on its predecessor The Simulacrum of Dread in this regard, with a more consistent plot, sustained tension and mystery, and characters whom I’ve at least spent enough time with to care what becomes of them and their noble mission.

This tale lives in the Thomas Generalized Recountings Library, whose unique flavor I tried to communicate in my Simulacrum review and won’t be expanding on here. Quick plot rundown: Sebastio, armed in the most literal sense with a godlike superweapon, has taken over the domain of Pennat Gate and established it as a kind of refugee asylum for the omniverse known as the Gem, a move which earned him some powerful political enemies. Thanks to shenanigans ex machina at the end of part one, a group of hitherto purely destructive Beasts from the chaotic interstitial realm of the Purple have become rational (and kind of adorable) and are making their first foray into the civilized world. Now Sebastio and crew have to deal with the consequences of integrating their monstrous new guests while fending off various conspiracies and power-hungry neighbors.

All the pieces are here for a cerebral and outlandish ethico-political drama, but too many of those pieces are stifled, truncated, or not quite strung together so as to create a greater whole. (I realized belatedly how many “buts” there are in this review. That’s the most frustrating part: there’s a lot to like in the TGRL and it all comes with caveats.)

Mourners sets up promising potential plot threads and conflicts only to either leave them by the wayside or resolve them with baffling abruptness. We’re convinced for all of two scenes that our overpowered hero’s existence might really be in danger and/or that he can’t protect his people from something. We’re reminded that the quirky cosmic beings who facilitated his rise to power have their own agenda for him, then left wondering ever after what it might be. We get a genuinely suspenseful battle that by all rights ought to be some kind of significant setup or turning point but turns out to be basically a self-contained episode. The many mysteries left unanswered serve their purpose of establishing that we’re only seeing a tiny slice of an infinitely bigger world. But the least readers deserve for persevering through labyrinthine wit, diplomatic doublespeak, and combat that only a programmer could write is a satisfying payoff to the mysteries we’ve been following within that tiny slice.

Much of the drama of speculative fiction lies in confronting the mind with possibilities beyond its ken, and yes, Mourners does this. It introduces big, fertile ideas: what if a society with effectively infinite resources still wasn’t willing to make room for everyone? What if some of the most fearsome creatures in existence miraculously gained sapience and just wanted to be friends? These ideas are fun for us readers to think about, but it’s hard to feel their impact on characters who already live in a world of impossibilities. This is a major reason why the Earth-born character Louis feels thoroughly squandered until too late, to say nothing of Sebastio’s relationship with Caladhbolg, his talking WMD of a passenger. It might also be why Seven, the viewpoint character for the uplifted Beasts, is my favorite of this installment.

The prose hasn’t changed since last time: still leagues more polished than most, still entertaining and evocative at its best, still weaving drunkenly down the line between clever and maddeningly prolix. If good writers strive for clarity, conciseness, and courtesy, the author’s style is discourteously self-indulgent. I can admire the nerve it takes to casually use calculus terms to tell me that an aircraft’s ascent is slowing, but I can’t enjoy it as literature.

For those who are just searching for something different, I still say the TGRL is worth a look. Whatever else one can say about it, it’s a labor of love, imagination, and talent on an internet full of mediocrity. I believe that with a little more labor and less elaboration for elaboration’s sake, a cult audience could love it almost as much as its creator does.

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