Saturday, August 11, 2018

Mortu and Kyrus: The Conversation Begins

With the floodgates now breached by The Frisky Pagan, the conversation about Schuyler Hernstrom's "Mortu and Kyrus in the White City" has been unleashed.

Jon Mollison had been holding his tongue for a week, but now no longer. The moratorium on spoilers is lifted, so beware.
If you’ve read Mortu and Kyrus, then you know that the classic pair of big burly barbarian and nimble little thief still has a lot of mileage left in it.  Especially when the barbarian is a hog riding, gene-enhanced warbeast whose people revolted against those who enslaved humanity, and the thief is actually a wise priest trapped in the body of a “harmless” little monkey.  You also know that, at its heart, it’s an answer to Le Guin’s Hugo Award winning short, er, story? called The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas. 
It’s been three decades since Le Guin’s revolt against decency revolted me, so take with a grain of salt that my memory is hazy.  If it serves, Le Guin’s story isn’t really a story at all.  It’s more of a travelogue where nothing happens except Le Guin painting the picture of a utopia maintained by the misery of a child.  I won’t reread the story to confirm it – I’ve better thing to do than wallow in the mud of the 60s and 70s world of sf/f.  Too many pedophiles running rampant there, you see… 
Speaking of which, just as a brief aside, has it ever occurred to you that Omelas is not just an example of the postmodern love of encouraging utilitarian thought through the use of narrow and impossible train/lever stories dressed up in sf/f clothing?  Consider for a moment what we now know of the scene in which Le Guin worked. 
Omelas may not be a hypothetical story – it’s Le Guin justifying her decision to live within the real world Omelas of science-fiction and fantasy. Published a decade after the Breendoggle, in which the big names of the sf/f world came together to defend the child raping predilections of Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley, here was an author who had been living in Omelas for years.  It’s no surprise that she should write a story about her decision, nor that the Hugo voters would issue an award to a story that so succinctly…well, it either captured their own experiences, or justified their choice to live in Omelas, depending on who and how the modern reader wants to look at it form the comfy perch of forty-five years down the road.
Jon's opinion is not hyperbole. Even as recently as five years ago, the story was used as a parable in SFF. John Ringo used the story of Omelas to explain the flight of many from convention fandom. Omelas became the approved moral response to many kinds of unpleasantness found at the heart of the SFF scene. That Sky Hernstrom offers an alternative to acquiescence and self-exile represents a rejection of those values. It might be polite accident, but it is telling that the characters to fling this rebuke at the empathy trap of Omelas are a pagan and a Christian. But more on that tomorrow.

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