In August, Codex and I formed the Tempest In A Teardrop Book-of-the-Month* Club. We have no friends, since everybody hates cartoonists, and with only a bit of fuss, agreed that Somewhither, written by John C. Wright, would be a great inaugural club choice. We recently sat down to review it together.
Codex: Remember when you were a kid, how everything your family did was “normal”? Even when it wasn’t. If you’re home-schooled, living out in the back-end-of-nowhere, Oregon, so that you don’t have TV, and the parents won’t spring for cable, satellite, or some other form of internet connection, you might not have a handle on what the wider world considers typical for most of your childhood.
Which is why Ilya Vseslavyevich Bessmertniy Saint Mitrophan Muromets is 17 before he even begins to question the fact that his dad goes off on business trips (like some parents do) but he does so armed to the teeth and kitted out in camouflage paint, bayonetted rifle, flasks of holy water, reliquary crucifix, and body armor.
Q: I don’t remember that part.
Codex: How is that even possible? It’s pivotal to the story! It helps build the tension: Who are the Muromets?, and defines the nature of the protagonists and the conflict that will arise later in the story!
Q: Oh. Right. Now I remember it.
Codex: Anyhoo. Peculiar, right? But still. It’s just what his family does. It’s been tougher since his mom died. Ilya’s sure she’s dead: there was a funeral, for Pete’s sake, but his dad acts like she just left on sabbatical.
And it’s all very weird, but it’s his weird, and there’s lessons, and learning to drive, and Boy Scouts, and a summer job down at the town museum of oddities.
And having a massive, overwhelming crush on a gorgeous, clever young woman who clearly thinks of you as a greasy kid, if she even thinks of you at all. (Teenage boys are incredibly romantic.)
Which is how Ilya ends up speeding down the mountain in a Jeep with his granddad’s katana, half-dressed and ready to do battle against the unknown terrors of another dimension. Penny, the girl he’s crazy about, is down at the Haunted Museum, where the Moebius Field Coil that her mad-scientist father devised, is running unchecked. So any minute now a door might open up into to another reality made of monsters. Every guy secretly dreams of being the knight who fights dragons to Save the Girl, right?
Q: What? No, not necessarily. Sometimes it is just your duty. For example, is he going to throw himself into battle to save a shriveled old termagant? Like Hillary.
Codex: Let me restate. Every guy secretly dreams of being the Knight who fights Dragons to Save the Girl of His Dreams.
Q: Well, maybe. Just because you do doesn’t mean she’ll be interested. I mean, it puts a heavy obligation on her, doesn’t it? It isn’t like buying her dinner. It might just be better to let her get eaten by the tentacle monsters.
Codex: There are no tentacle monsters. Nada. There are psychic-killer-Ooblecks, headless-man-eaters, Babylonian ninja-girls, and Latin vampires. Q, you didn’t read the book, did you?
Q: You know I spent the summer in a fetal position reading Dr. Seuss books.
Codex: Sigh. To continue: Even Ilya Muromets knows that THIS is crazy-weird stuff. And just when you, dear reader, think you’ve figured out the way the plot is going to go, it turns sideways and takes you (and our hero) to the dimension-spanning Tower that will eat all worlds, and consume all the races of man in every reality that ever was.
Parents of teens and older kids who read above their grade level should know that although the main character is a teenager, this novel takes him through a baptism by fire into young manhood. Horrific monsters do horrible things, and powerful ruthless people torture the individuals over which they hold absolute rule. This is definitely a fairy tale with dragons made of nightmare stuff.
Q: Are the lessons as poignant as what we can learn from Hop on Pop?
Codex: Oy. For me the only problem is that it ends on a complete cliffhanger. Frankly, if it weren’t a John C. Wright novel, I’d have tagged it as “buy now, read when book two comes out.” But it is, and his books being compulsively re-readable, means I just give it another go-round when book two comes out.
Q: Wait, let me see if I understand this. Somewhither ends on a cliffhanger, but was still nominated for and won the inaugural Dragon Award for Science Fiction?
Codex: Yes, it was just that good.
Q: But it still doesn’t compare to Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.
Codex: How could it possibly compare to that-?!
Q: Well Thidwick warns about the dangers of socialism. It doesn’t sound like Mr. Wright is aware of the dangers of socialism.
Codex: For the love of heaven, his blog talks extensively about the dangers of socialism! This is a scientifictional story adventure meant to entertain!
Q: Oookay. So you’re saying it’s more like Bartholomew and the Oobleck.
Codex: Gah! Who’s even heard of that one?
Q: Look, there is no reason to be insulting. Why don’t we call this meeting a draw. What book are we reading next month?
Codex: Another John C. Wright novel! It’s even better than Somewhither! Swan Knight’s Son published by Castalia House.
Q: Castalia House… is that the one that calls their customers Nazis?
Codex: No, that was Tor.
Q: I’ll give it a try, but I doubt it will be more poignant than the lessons taught to us by the star- and plain-bellied Sneetches.
Codex: Meanwhile if you want to join an intelligent, thoughtful book discussion by people who have ALL read the book, visit the Puppy of the Month Book Club. Right now they’re reading Nethereal, another great Dragon Award winner by Brian Niemeier.
*For values of month + or – several weeks. Possibly.
Don’t listen to the haters. “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” is a great book.
Yes! Someone who understands!
I am now conflicted… I know too much of the Russian folk lore. This may interfere with the story. But it does sound awesome. I wonder if this version buries himself under a mountain out of hubris, too?
More like falls off. Repeatedly
But… spoilers. It is made of awesome, though.
I shall have to try it. 🙂
Moses Lambert said:
What kind of evil parents would name a helpless baby “Ilya Vseslavyevich Bessmertniy Saint Mitrophan Muromets”?
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I do wonder about the “Bessmertniy” bit… especially given who that is in Russian mythology (their stand in for the Devil)
Then there’s St. Mitrophan…
Super sekrit Vatican ninja holy-warriors?
John C Wright said:
Actually Oobleck appears as a character in this book.
Ilya Muromets is not THE Ilya Muromets. He is just named after him by the crazy Dad.The reason for naming him “deathless” ( if I got my Russian correct) she be clear from the middle of the book onward.
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I knew that (the Oobleck) even if Q didn’t. It was suuuuuuuuper icky!
On the other hand, my first thought on “bessmertniy” was “Koschei” but I leapt to the wrong conclusion right away.
(comment updated: the original posting ate the last half of the above sentence)
You did get your Russian correct. The term is just most commonly associated with Koshchei the Deathless which is why it surprised me.
Orvan Taurus said:
I have actually read Bartholomew and the Oobleck once upon a time, though it was a while between (re?)hearing about it and discovering the book’s genuine existence. Pa mentioned the title, and only the title a few times, without any explanation, long after I was a bit older than the usual Suess book supposed target audience (which is admittedly a Dubious Concept as so many adults eagerly watch the annual re-airings of the Dr. Suess TV specials – even if they already have them on tape, er disc, er DVR, er $NextBigThing.
That is, adults of a Certain Age. The younger… well, I’ve seen some react with horror to “that terrible 1970’s music” (even when it was 1960’s music) and claim it ruined the books.
With the exception of the Grinch, (because the wahoo-song and the puppy are both so cute) I’ve always thought that animating a Seuss book is like adding sugar to root-beer.