Monday, July 14, 2014

[Rogues] Phyllis Eisenstein: "The Caravan to Nowhere"

Another story in Rogues has been devoured. This one, written by one Phyllis Eistenstein, who I suspect is the person who made Martin put the dragons in A Game of Thrones, is a well-written and mostly interesting tale of Alaric, a minstrel with the ability to blink himself to wherever he wants in an instant, a powerful teleportation ability. Yet, Alaric decides to join a ponderous camel caravan across a deadly desert, but I suppose the story does a good job of painting this decision in a believable way. Toward the end, Alaric does have to use his power to escape death, and this sudden burst of powerful magic kind of changes a story that so far has felt more like a low fantasy vision of a world and set of characters reminiscent of pulp fantasy - a touch of Conan, a hint of Elric of Melnibon√© (not just the similarity of main character names) - without ever actually being pulpy. It just has the same tone or atmosphere, I suppose. The author introduces early on a mysterious character, the son of the merchant heading the titular caravan, which is a device that kept my interest. I wanted to know what made this character tick, why he behaved so erratically, but in the end the story kind of petered out and the intriguing possibilities both with the character and a "phantom city" (is it a magically moving city, using an ability similar to Alaric's - or is it just a fata morgana?) were never explored much. It is kind of the whole point of the story, as it plays with illusion and reality, also introducing a powerful drug which the author uses as a device to further blur the lines, but I had hoped for a stronger resolution to the tale. Alaric himself was fun enough to read about, if a little bland, and I can imagine him existing in a hundred different adventures, much like Conan the Barbarian wandered about the world seeking adventure. Maybe he already does; I had never heard of Alaric before reading this story.
At any rate, I am getting closer to Martin's latest addition to his own canon, but I am not yet sufficiently curious. To be honest, I find a lot of the fan ramblings on the Internet (articles at Tower of the Hand, discussions at Westeros, madness at Is Winter Coming?, comments at Winter is Coming) more interesting than another dry historical, and a lot of it should be collected and published as a book unto itself. The Fandom of George R.R. Martin: In their Own Words, Volume I. A sort of archive of interesting things written by fans, during all the years of waiting for new Ice & Fire novels. I bet you could make a great read out of it, if properly edited.

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