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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 394 Response


by Bewildering Stories

with Bill Bowler, Berti Falk, Gary Inbinder,
Harry Lang and Don Webb

In Challenge 394, Danielle L. Parker asked for feedback on “Shallalu.”

[Harry Lang] The relationship between Blunt and the Asp is the strongest aspect of the story.

I don’t think the Blunt stories are being posted in chronological order; maybe they should be. This one has all the characteristics of the others but seems just a little less developed.

[Don Webb] Danielle says that “Shallalu” is indeed a very early Blunt story, perhaps even the first. Our author’s bibliographies normally list titles in chronological order of appearance. A few list some titles in thematic order. This is the first case we’ve had where the order of composition might be of some interest.

[Bertil Falk] The framework of the story is very similar to Leigh Brackett’s “The Sword of Rhiannon.” It is a very powerful story, and Leigh Bracket was a follower of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In that story, on the dry deserts of Mars, the hero goes back in time to the days when Mars was a flowering civilisation. At the end, he returns to the dry deserts, and the existential strength of that end is also very powerful and definitely sad.

Danielle has written a similarly powerful story but the ending lacks something. The time tunnel is not a bad idea, but I think that the story loses momentum when the strange lady picks Blunt up as her lover. The love story is a little bit silly; at least that’s how I experienced the story.

What could be done? I thínk that what happens when the two interesting friends — their friendship is fascinating — return in time should be enhanced in some way.

[Bill Bowler] I enjoyed it. It has a real Edgar Rice Burroughs ethos to it. I’m working on a spaceman visits alien world story now, myself. It’s interesting to note the conventions of the genre, which the reader willingly swallows. Oxygen, water, normal gravity and temperature — all are conducive to human needs, however “alien” the world may be.

Our hero must conveniently speak the various alien languages. And the alien life forms are reptiles, furry animals, modified elephants, etc. They carry swords. It’s as if the elements of Earthly life were shaken and stirred.

But in Danielle’s case, it’s all such fun, and done with such panache, and so skillfully plotted, with such vivid and memorable characters that we buy it all, sit back and enjoy the yarn.

“Clasped in the Asp’s thin digits was a round electronic handheld, and the reptilian creature studied the mysterious display avidly.” — An iPhone 4, no doubt?

“Shining slaver flew from foam-flecked jaws.” — You GOTTA love that!

[Gary Inbinder] I think the “Greed is eternal” theme was developed and carried through to the end. And since “greed is eternal,” Blunt and the Asp can keep on adventuring in search of that elusive something or other that each of them wants.

The “Greed is eternal” theme can be softened by adding a redemptive battle between good and evil and putting your treasure-hunting protagonists on the side of goodness.

Spielberg raked in super bucks by involving Indiana Jones in a crusade against evil Nazis and pagans. In other words, boost your sales/box-office big time by tacking on a “money isn’t everything” feel-good moral to your grave-robbing tale. Ironic, isn’t it?

[Don Webb] We seem to have covered the waterfront. “Shallalu” revives the space opera, which is a hallowed tradition in science fiction. And by following in the footsteps of the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, one can hardly go wrong.

The Mars of Burroughs, Brackett and C.S. Lewis may or may not have seemed vaguely plausible as a setting to those authors, but they didn’t care whether it was or not, and why should anyone else? When another planet than Earth is needed, Mars — or Cyrano’s Moon — is quite convenient and better than most. When the Moon and Mars become too familiar, well, we’ll just have to find some other world as a mysterious setting. That will never be a problem.

As Bill says, literalistic realism is not at issue. The story is what counts. And Bill’s two quotes as well as the number of compound adjectives in “Shallalu” will immediately show any reader that the story is an exercise in descriptive style.

The suspension of disbelief carries over into the plot, as well. Gary’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek allusion to Steven Spielberg’s cashing in on the semi-Grail quest motif of Indiana Jones is a point well taken — but not for the money. Spielberg had obvious personal reasons to pit his hero against evil Nazis and heathen pagans — and viewers sympathize. But what is going on in “Shallalu”?

Now, I don’t entirely share Bertil’s skepticism about the romance, but I do agree with him and, probably, Harry if they feel the love interest between Blunt and Estee (is that an encoded name of a real person, Danielle?) is where the story is trying to go.

Do fangs, claws and poison sacs get in the way? Hah! Shades of Gromei Shawloo! Sophisticated readers won’t let physiognomy bother them, just as they won’t raise an eyebrow at the extra pair of arms on Danielle’s four-armed Houri.

As Bill’s deliberately far-fetched examples of space aliens clearly indicate, Estee is a human being, no matter how alien she looks. What could be more natural? Blunt’s and Estee’s romance is both created and doomed by their differences, and those differences are made literally visible.

If Estee — or the four-armed Houri — were human in all outward respects, the focus of the story would shift to external circumstances, and it would lose the physical symbolism of the characters’ relationship. Unless and until we can communicate with a non-human species, all stories are human stories; they’re what we are and all we have.

Can Blunt find happiness with an older, foreign woman? Yes, indeed — as long as he allows himself to do so. But he seems to have a hurdle of self-awareness left to leap before time inexorably closes the door on his idyll and returns him to the desert.

Copyright © 2010 by Bewildering Stories

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