Just one book this time - David Savakerrva (and some new Cubicle fun)
I recently finished another book that has jumped ahead of the many others in my queue, David Savakerrva (this is another that was read at the behest of the author who provided me with a physical copy). I would have mentioned it weeks ago, but I've been having major PC issues for the past several weeks (which seem to have all begun when I installed the new version of my anti-virus, but that could just be a coincidence). I can't do much of anything that touches the filesystem without the computer pretty much going into limbo (though the non-filesystem applications are working fine - no browser issues unless I'm trying to download files).
David Savakerrva was a satisfying read, but took a long time to get through (see my earlier laments about spending less time reading recently). It was equal parts steampunk Alice in Wonderland and Dune, and had a little bit of a Lord of the Rings flavor. I also remember feeling some serious RA Salvatore vibes (more Saga of the First King vibes than Drizzt Do'Urden). There were a bunch of other impressions I picked up as I was reading, but by the time I'd reached the end, many of those had faded from my barely-functional memory.
David Savakerrva, Larry Brown
David Savakerrva Volume 1 is a pretty massive tome - over 600 pages - and took me a while to finish. I found myself thinking that the editors should have done what they did to Tolkien's opus and insisted on splitting this huge book into multiple shorter books just to make it feel less overwhelming. I later discovered that Volume 1 contains books 1 and 2, which are each pretty lengthy books in their own right. Funny enough, After reading my Lord of the Rings paperbacks (I went through a few sets) multiple times, I finally picked up a Lord of the Rings hard cover with all three books lumped together as Tolkien originally intended. Lord of the Rings is definitely more overwhelming to read in a single-volume format, as is David Savakerrva.
The main protagonist in David Savakerrva is a young, very unremarkable, boy named Garth. He's very Bilbo Baggins-ish (who wasn't exactly "young" in man-years) or Harry Potter-ish. He's equally annoying in his immature floundering as either of the aforementioned characters. He comes across as whining and incompetent and all his successes are seemingly accidental. But he does grow on you over time.
As I was reading, the similarity of Larry Brown's alien language and his completely foreign/alien character names reminded me a lot of Dune, the more recently read The Rage of Dragons, or even Tolkien's Adventures in Middle Earth. It took me a while, as it did with each of the aforementioned works, to translate the unfamiliar words as I was reading. Early on, I struggled a little to translate the unfamiliar verbiage.
Here's a really long excerpt (a few pages) filled with names and alien words to give you a feel for the . It's also one of the scenes that reminded me of a demented Alice in Wonderland. But first, a little background: the "Soot" character is an alien who has kidnapped our young protagonist to curry favor with the other aliens who have invaded the alien world. Garth has escaped and his doing his best to evade capture in the alien landscape.
Misery, every crackling branch and prickly stem.
Snagged and clawed, scratched and pierced - Garth nearly missed the underworld's hot, windy gale. Fear raked like every thorny bough, but so did thoughts of what next? Soot had taken him for a reason, and though what awaited seeded terrors and plowed up dread, Garth wondered about the Kavahl.
Did they still need to stop it?
Yes! Dahkaa's presumed response. The recent past seemed a blur, but before the Cave of the Beast, Dahkaa had said the G'mach would finish the Kavahl in just seventeen moons. So, what was it now, fifteen or less? And if Dahkaa had died, then what about his plan to unite with the tribes? Was that dead, too?
Garth plowed on. Battling every barbed branch and vine, he perceived he no longer felt Soot's blows and kicks. In fact, by the occasional shouted "Feehj!" Soot sounded like he trailed at least ten feet behind.
Not much separation, not in the clear. But in the briars? A foot or two more, and the brush behind Garth would block Soot from view.
Garth surged ahead. Ducking and weaving, he weaved and bulled with all he had left. He plowed forward for a solid minute then, gasping and spent, looked back.
No sign of Soot, the branches and vines blocked like a wall.
Garth bolted like a hound. Staying low and running fast, he careened left and right, whatever opened up. No other sound penetrated his cacophonous thrash, so if Soot was shouting or shooting, Garth couldn't tell. He flew into thistles square in his path then, squirming and clawing, he broke from the forest and tumbled down a hill.
Garth slid to the edge of a creek. A mirror-smooth blue, the water reflected a face he barely knew. Soot blackened his skin, blood seeped from scratches and welts - and he didn't care. Lurching into the creek, he splashed cold water into his mouth.
Electric, the slaking, every gulp jolted and charged. He drank and gulped and drank some more, then started to cough. Hating the interruption, this need to breathe, Garth lifted his head. And watched, vaguely concerned, the passing of a sock.
Garth looked upstream. Ragged shirts and pants, knitted socks and skirts - clothes from both sexes soaked in the creek while tied to a line. But as for a washer?
Garth saw only water, a stream about thirty feet wide. Cattail-size weeds shouldered its muddy banks, and for hundreds of yards to either side, the blue-green flora stood dense and tall. Thrilled by the cover, he wondered if the water and weeds heralded a change, some break in his chain of relentless bad luck.
A branch cracked in the briar woods behind.
Garth sprang to his feet. Avoiding the mud, he sprinted on riverbank stones, then dove into the chest-high weeds. He stayed low and crawled, but compared to the forest, progress came fast. Restored by water and free of the thorns, he reveled in escape, his sanctuary of weeds.
He stopped. Squinting through the weedy stalks, he discerned a wild brown mane framing a shadowed, staring face.
Garth didn't move. But the weeds did, and as a breeze teased the stalks, the waves of sway revealed a second shadowed face, then a third. Advancing with a quiet, well-practiced stealth, the shadows crept his way.
Garth reversed course. First at a crawl, then in a crouch, he sprinted until he reached the creek.
He stopped and looked. Still no Soot; the brushy treeline looked clear.
Garth splashed across the creek. The far side mirrored the weeds just left, but halfway across, he spotted a wind-rippled tangle of long brown hair.
Shadows and hair ahead and behind, Garth stood mid-stream while heads rose from the stalks. They showed no weapons, but...muddy and grungy, they looked like hunters in ambush waiting for prey.
Garth spun around. Shoreline weeds quivered, and a woman emerged. Some primordial ideal of the feminine mystique, she wore only mud. And perhaps just an afterthought, the makings of a skirt.
"Yai ahh," she sighed. Her greeting confounded, but not as much as her smile. No shyness or fright, it perfectly suited her languid advance. She slid her toes into riverbank ooze, and with easy undulations, sloshed toward Garth. Not knowing where to look, too shy for her eyes and more so the rest, he focused on her hair. Some thistles weaved her long shocks, but unlike her skin, her hair had the gloss of clean. The dark tresses snaked into her cleavage, then tucked under a skirt flap, some iridescent shimmer spun, best guess, from dragonfly wings.
She circled Garth. Slowly closed in. Shin-deep in creek, yet basting in sweat, Garth felt the tug of her gaze. The light off the creek lit the green of her eyes, but depending on the angle, the shade shifted from muted moss to fiery jade. A moth to her flame, Garth knew he shouldn't stare, but he couldn't stop. He felt an inescapable tug to this primal she, and as this Woman of the Weeds circled in, she playfully turned.
The spell of her gaze momentarily checked, Garth noticed what she'd done with her hair. Routed around her waist, it dangled to the creek in a long, braided tail.
"Ta lef!" she shrieked, and spinning around, the woman yanked two spikes from her hair and lunged for Garth.
A gunshot banged.
The woman arched back.
"Rohf!" shouted Soot. One muzzle smoking from his two-barrel gun, he stepped from the forest and gestured toward Garth. "Sha rohf, Savakerrva!"
The Woman of the Weeds looked back at Garth. Her smolder gone cold, she peered at the boy in the creek with skepticism, the squint of a cook inspecting strange meat.
"Savakerrva?" asked a gruff voice. Heavy with authority, heavier still in the gut, a middle-age man parted the weeds with - a mace? A spiked-steel ball topped a jeweled handle, and the weapon flashed more carats than a crown. This Man with the Mace wore a long coat, and though its squarish cut had a military look, his quick, rattish glances and scraggly hair cast him more as a deserter, someone forever on the run.
"Savakerrva!" Soot answered, pointing to Garth.
The Woman of the Weeds snickered, then doubled up with laughter. Nothing refined, no lilting feminine peals, she snorted with the abandon of a sow in fresh mud.
"Der kek!" scolded the Man with the Mace.
The Woman hacked back her laughter and, slipping her fingers deep into her hair, slid back her spikes. Then wiping her eyes, this woman who bewitched one moment and nearly butchered the next just sat on a rock.
The Man with the Mace looked at Garth, then nodded toward the Woman of the Weeds. "S'lek," he said.
Still infected with smirk, the woman - S'lek, her apparent name - feigned a bow toward Garth.
"Kahbahk," said the Man with the Mace. He gestured to himself, indicated his name was Kahbahk, then nodded to Garth. "Savakerrva - oove?"
Startled by the word - oove means yes? - Garth realized these people of the weeds sounded like Eylahn and the herd. They spoke the tongue of the Worms, but if he answered their question and confirmed who he was, would they kill me right here?
"I - " Garth tried to brace himself in the creek-bottom mud. "Savakerrva, oove," he said, touching his chest.
Kahbahk's eyes narrowed. He stroked his patchwork goatee, then eyed Garth's dirty fur vest. He clicked his tongue.
A little boy and girl ducked out from the weeds. Cute, the pair, their golden curls reminded of greeting-card angels. Straining angels, for each dragged a heavy leather bag.
Kahbahk opened the girl's bag first. He dug through a clatter of jewelry and gems, then retrieved a metal square the size of his palm. Knowing he'd seen such a thing before - didn't Logaht use that in the cave? - Garth watched Kahbahk snap it open and aim it at the creek.
Rays of light swept the creek's surface. But instead of Garth's grades, the rays formed an image of Garth. Front view and side, the same picture projected to the Worms by Atta Ra now shimmered the creek. Trying to keep up, Garth recalled the General of Blood: didn't he say the G'mach had offered a reward - passage to another world - for whoever brought me to Elka?
"Vel!" Soot descended to the edge of the creek. "Cho Savakerrva, choi vel!" he declared, his scabbed lips in a grin.
Kahbahk gestured wait! He turned to the boy's leather bag, then opened it to chunks of - coal? It resembled coal, but yellow veins marbled each black chunk. Garth knew he'd seen the stuff before, but too distracted to recall, he watched Kahbahk pull out a shiny silver chest. He unlatched the lid, then lifted out a glass vial.
"Vel!" exclaimed Soot. He charged into the creek and splashed toward Kahbahk, but his gaze fixed on the vial, on the blue liquid within. "Skoh vel, skoh vel!" he repeated. Soot dropped his gun while grabbing the vial, but apparently not caring, he popped the top and shook blue drops into his palm.
Kahbahk swiped the vial back. Soot didn't care, he had his precious drops. He rubbed the honey-thick substance into a steamy foam, then slathered his face.
Soot screamed. Riveted by the sight, caught up in the drama like everyone else, Garth watched the lather dry, then slough away like old snake skin.
Soot grabbed the small silver chest. His scream receding into intermittent gasps, he peered into the mirror-like finish and checked his face.
Still a boiled-crab shade of red; that hadn't changed. But as Soot gaped and Garth looked on, no quiver animated his skin, the squirms had gone. Soot hooted and hollered, splashed a fine jig, and a happier man, Garth had never seen. Soot tossed up some water and exulted once more, then turned to Kahbahk and went still.
His arm cocked and ready to throw, Kahbahk gripped his mace.
"Ah - Savakerrva?" asked Soot, nodding to Garth.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Here's a good excerpt to illustrate why I envisioned a "steampunk" Alice in Wonderland as I read. This excerpt features the most steampunk of all the characters in the story: Torgen Betugen.
Torgen burst through the door of his high-tower room.
Fast but quiet, he leapt down a narrow stairwell. But with every quick turn, the bazooka-like tube strapped to his back scraped the tight walls.
He jumped to a corridor landing and charged a wall. A brick wall, by all appearance. But when he lowered his shoulder and leapt, he crashed through a plaster facade.
Torgen fell three feet, then landed on a platform in a dark, vertical shaft. Already descending, the platform quivered as it dropped, some unpowered freight elevator plunging straight down. Pulleys whined with increasing speed, and Torgen braced for the plummeting end.
The elevator slammed to a stop. Torgen tumbled off, then rocked to his feet in a cellar's quiet gloom. Hurrying through near-darkness, he splashed through puddles and ducked leaky pipes while approaching the only light: two grimy windows in a wide pair of doors.
He stopped before an inclined cargo ramp. It led up to the doors, but Torgen focused on the base of the ramp.
A dozen blankets draped a large, bullet-shaped mass.
He whipped off the blankets. Staring a moment, he watched the weak light gleam the object's sleek copper-colored skin.
Torgen crouched beside its cylindrical form. He inspected the rope tread on the centerline wheel, then checked both wooden skids. The tire showed rodent bites, and the runners some rot. The long wait had taken its toll, but it should hold together. At least, long enough.
Torgen slid his hand across her smooth ceramic skin and tapped the reinforced nose.
Solid, no give.
He moved to the control nozzles - one pair in front, the other aft - and tested each swivel and mount.
No binding, no kinks.
Torgen peered into the big, horizontally-mounted drive nozzle, then blew it clean. Dust swirled, he coughed and fanned, but when he touched the nozzle interior, he felt no syrupy residue, no fuel had leaked. Lucky, he knew. I'll need every ounce.
Pulse increasing, he ran his fingers over the rigging, the exterior lines to the four control nozzles.
Acceptable tension, no frays.
Torgen grabbed a handhold. He swung up his leg as if mounting a horse, then settled onto the narrow saddle. Rock hard, but they always were, at least until things got warm. He stuffed the bazooka-like tube into a leather holster, then lifted dark goggles off the throttle lever. He blew dust off the lenses and strapped them on, then grabbed his helmet. Torgen pulled it over his head, but it felt a little tight.
Well, he mused, at least I'll die with more hair.
Torgen checked the faceplate that shielded the right half of his face. He swung it open and shut, then eyed the leather bag beside his left knee. He reached in, removed a spiny gourd, then shook it - gently - near his ear. Three shakes later, it rattled, so he eased it back into the bag.
Torgen pulled on his ragged gloves, then grabbed the orange cord near his right knee.
He took a long breath. Should he ignore the message, pretend it never arrived? Could he just sleep through the end of the world?
Torgen yanked the cord.
Sparks firefly'd the four small control nozzles and the big drive nozzle behind. Air hissed, seeping fuel flash-banged and smoked, and after years of slumber, the sand rocket awoke.
Torgen wrapped the nozzle control lines in his ragged right glove. His machine now reined, he grabbed the throttle lever with his left. Then, looking up, he eyed the cargo ramp, the twenty-foot incline to the pair of closed doors.
A trip wire waited halfway up.
Torgen rotated the control nozzles with deft tugs of his lines. Gripping the throttle, he felt the motor shiver. Disaster loomed, he knew, his violent end waited ahead. But what was the saying, what had he always told his men?
A Sand Phantom lives with a scream and dies in flame.
Torgen sighed. And missed, with an ache, the days he believed it was true.
He slammed up his throttle. Combusting fuel boomed, the drive nozzle bellowed, and as the fourteen-foot rocket blazed up the ramp and tripped the wire, the doors sprang apart.
Riding the fire into Elka's blue twilight, Torgen Betugen screamed.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
There is a very early reference to Frank Herbert's Dune in the story, but more Dune-like are the residents of the brutal scorched sub-side culture of the alien planet, who are very similar to Dune's Fremen culture. They're maybe even a little less compassionate than the Fremen. The Dune reference is near the end of this lengthy excerpt.
Dahkaa sat alone. Brooding between boulders on the wind-whistled peak, he ignored the auroral elations high overhead, the fleeting greens and flitting blues. Unmoved by the Northern Lights, the Man of Scars pondered, instead, the still, gray moon.
"So." Garth shivered near the cave. "That's it, we're done?"
Dahkaa didn't respond.
"I mean," Garth continued, "now what; you'll just - take me home?"
Dahkaa exhaled. "I must."
Wanting to holler and punch the air, Garth pulled back to a nod. "Okay," he said, trying to sound subdued. "Then whenever you're ready, I'll be inside." The nightmare unwinding, he turned back to the cave.
"It's always the same?" asked Dahkaa.
Garth looked back.
"Your moon," said Dahkaa. "Its face never changes?"
"Never," Garth answered. "At least, not to us."
Garth waited for acknowledgement, but heard only wind, Dahkaa seemed as distant as the stars. Places, Garth realized, he would now never see.
"And you?" Garth asked. "Your world, you also got a moon?"
"We have two."
"Yeah?" Garth moved a foot closer in. "Amazing, that's - well, this whole thing's amazing, even just our talking, you know? I mean, how come your English is so good?"
The answer irked. Cut to his indifferent quick, Garth turned back to the cave. But curiosity persisted, and wouldn't every unasked question bring a lifelong regret?
"Your moons," said Garth. "They look like ours?"
"Oh - " Dahkaa rubbed his eyes. "In some ways. But just as our world is different, so also our moons. And while the larger marks our months, the lesser counts our nights."
"You mean, days?"
"I mean nights, we have no days," said Dahkaa, pulling out his straight blade knife. "Not on my side, and because our planet refuses to turn, because our cold side freezes while the hot side burns, we call our world Corrahg."
A fricative clash rippled with brogue, Corrahg boxed the ears. "Huh," Garth managed, suddenly grateful for a world smart enough to turn. "Sounds nice."
"Corrahg means 'cursed.' Our climate kills both man and beast, and nothing about it has, is, or ever will be nice." Dahkaa stabbed a snow drift. "And though a thin strip of green divides our world, that agreeable exception has caused uncounted wars. So we call it, our lovely swath of grass and trees, the Bloodlands."
Intrigued by a place more dangerous than Detroit, Garth waited for more.
"Though in truth, all of my world has bled." Dahkaa carved a 20-inch circle into the snow. "The Tribes of the Greater Sand have battled our Great Ice Clans since the first throw of a stone, and we only have peace when there's too few to fight." Carving complete, he scooped out the snow and set it on a rock. "But your world's different, I suppose? Your Tribes and Clans get along?"
Garth wondered where to start.
"If they do, they'd be the first." Dahkaa rounded the corners of the chunk of snow. "From what I've seen and regardless of the world, men fight for the best reasons and also the worst. And sometimes, even none. So by the evidence? We seem to be the work of some very angry gods."
The word surprised. "Gods?"
"Listen to Logaht - and wherever you find humanity, you also find gods. Not the same ones, of course, the gods of the stars seem as varied as us," said Dahkaa. "Which is certainly true in my world, for though my Clans of the Ice have five, the Tribes of the Sand worship seven. Then, of course, we have the Worms."
The word sprung thoughts of Frank Herbert novels, miles-long monsters with crystalline teeth. "Worms from the sand?" asked Garth. "They're huge?"
Dahkaa scratched his nose with his knife. "The Worms, David, are people. Who lack, like their namesake, any semblance of spine." Resuming his work, he smoothed the snow into a sphere.
"Sorry, I don't understand."
"Nor do I, because once long ago, they were our best, our most promising sons and daughters from both the hot side and cold. But - " Dahkaa pulled out his flask. "Tired of the wars between Tribe and Clan, the Worms made a home in the Bloodlands, a place where everything old would die to the new. Can you guess the result?"
"They prevailed. Ancient oaths were buried, men of the ice married women of the sand, and never again did they fight. Instead, the Worms built their dream; Elka, they called it, the City of Peace." Dahkaa sipped another drink. "And while Clans and Tribes continued to war, Elka prospered, never bled. But then - "
Footsteps scraped the cave floor.
"Then came the G'mach," said Dahkaa.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
So, to sum it all up, David Savakerrva is a well-written science fiction epic that delivers. And it's definitely primed for future sequels - the ending is satisfying and equally unsatisfying (if the story ended here).
Further Adventures in Cubicle Decor
I've had the Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic comics (#1 was signed by Terry Pratchett himself way back in 2005 at a Mysterious Galaxy book signing many years ago) on display on my cubicle wall, along with two issues of Doctor Who (with the exact same photo of Amy Pond/Karen Gillan superimposed on different backgrounds that I hadn't really picked up on when I bought them), for the past few weeks. I included the Doctor Who comics to finish filling up the six frames - The Colour of Magic is just a 4-issue mini-series (as is The Light Fantastic, which I had planned to display next).
I decided to display Peter M Hsu's Elf Warrior series instead of The Light Fantastic since I'd already had a month of Terry Pratchett awesomeness in my cubicle. Elf Warrior is also a 4-issue series, so I chose a couple of other Peter Hsu books from my collection: Quadrant #7 and The Adventurers #1 - to round it out since Elf Warrior is another 4-issue series from the 80s). I was also tempted to go with one of the workplace-friendly The Gauntlet covers or his Ninja Elite cover, but...well, I didn't.
Peter Hsu has been out of the comics game for a few decades, but his stuff is still worth seeking out and Elf Warrior is still pretty affordable...the Quadrant books are pretty pricey, though. And I suspect they're also much more rare.
I brought in a few of my older toys from my many toy bins, a How to Train Your Dragon concept art print I picked up at the ComicCon in 2009, an R2D2 card Emeli made me just because she's so super-sweet, and I also decorated the not-home-away-from-home for Christmas. Oh, and I bought some awesome tiny magnets from Amazon that are super strong. They've made the cubicle-decorating much easier.
There's plenty more to ramble on about, but I'll never finish this thing if I keep adding to it...