This is a review of “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright
This is the second Hugo-nominated story from John C. Wright’s book called “The Book of Feasts and Seasons” that I have read. I am more convinced after having read this second story that this book is not a collection of stories meant to be in the science fiction or fantasy (SF/F) genre. I suppose they were written for some religious genre that somewhat resembles SF/F, but I can’t help lumping them into the “life is too short to waste it reading this crap” genre.
So this story gets zero stars, but these are zero “Hugo Nominated Story” stars. I suppose there is an alternate point of view or alternate universe where the number of stars this story received was multiplied a million times or more, but not here in this mundane world of personal Hugo idealism.
I picked up this book expecting SF/F, and I was disappointed. Imagine someone going to the store and buying a box of “Best NUTTY NUGGETS Ever” because they love “NUTTY NUGGETS”, only to find that they were so awful they might not even be “NUTTY NUGGETS”, and were quite inedible. Then imagine them going back to the store and buying another box of “Best NUTTY NUGGETS Ever” only to find out that they were similarly not even edible “NUTTY NUGGETS”. I’m sure they would be Sad, and maybe even Mad; some people might do things that were Bad.
“SAD, MAD, BAD” sounds like a children’s book, and so does this story. It has talking animals that start to walk upright because … God.
I had a hard time reading this story. I would run into something like this every half-dozen sentences:
Lion said, “How dare you raise your voice to me, Worm? You have neither stature, nor eyes, nor legs.”
And I could not stop my mind from wondering why Lion did not say something like
“How do you have a voice, Worm? You have neither lungs, nor lips, nor tongue.”
Worm probably has fewer neurons than letters in that quote.
And then my pesky brain reminds me that the parasite load of wild animals is sometimes shockingly huge. Do Lion’s intestinal parasites get a voice? What about the proglottids stuck to Lion’s fur? Do the dozens of tiny wormlets that each proglottid gives rise to each get a voice? Is that voice high and squeaky like a prepubescent child? Do they sing together like the Vienna boy’s choir until they go through adolescence and their voices change? What is adolescence for a worm? What songs would the prepubescent intestinal parasite choir sing?
Later Worm becomes a dragon because god liked Worm. That would be a much bigger problem for Lion than his singing poop.
At one point they all go and see Cat who has been to the city of Man to find out what has happened. Cat becomes ashamed of only being covered in fur. Cat tells them of being “led by an unseen hand”:
“to a street of tailors where I was given a robe exceeding white, whiter than any fuller could white it, ablaze with a purple hem, and bound with a golden girdle. And on my feet, which had never been shod before, were sandals.”
Cat is licking its fur and “admiring her own sangfroid” while telling this.
None of the animals asks:
“So what did you do with this fancy frock?”Or
“Sandals with furry socks, how gross!”Or
“Purest celestial white before memorial day? Really Gurlfren?”Or
“White with purple trim?… puuullleeeze!”Or
“If you are going to wear a golden girdle without earrings you might as well be naked!”
It is good that I purchased this on the Kindle. If I had borrowed a paper copy from the library I would have been tempted to scribble in my own immature ending.
“Rabbit and Beaver had been missing for several hours; ever since everyone became aware of their own nakedness.”
Instead prudish old Mr. Owl delivers the story’s punch line:
Owl said, “It is the first Sabbath after the Paschal moon following the Equinox of Spring! Not only Man, but all nature is redeemed! Rejoice!”
And that is why old Mr. Owl does not get invited to the really good parties. Well,… that and the fact that he pukes up pellets of fur and bones after a big meal.