Living in Omelas

Spoilers ahoy!  You’ve been warned.  I was holding out for today, but Emperor Ponders ain’t got no time for people who wait too long to read the good stuff.  His summary of “Law of the Wolves” is note perfect.  He compares it to Dunsany, and he ain’t wrong.

His summary of the flaws in Mortu and Kyrus is also note perfect, and if you’re any kind of a fan of sf/f and you read the title of this post, then you already know what story Ponders references when he says:

Without going into spoilers (that will come later,) the problem is that the story [Mortu and Kyrus] attacks is so dumb, that some of that nonsense, like it or not, gets stuck to the person doing the counterargument. Once I had realized that, I went over my mental list of the issues I had found and I realized that pretty much all of them existed because of the other story.

You can go read the rest, and then come back here, because in fine Puppy of the Month style, our analyses go off in very different directions.

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.

Turning our attention back to Mortu and Kyrus, here’s a story with a much more satisfying ending.  A much more engaging mystery and plot.  A fun character duo who spend as much time arguing about the nature of their post-apocalyptic world as they do fighting the evil denizens of the white city.  It also has a brutal protagonist one step removed from barbarianism, but that one step makes all the difference in the world.  It’s the difference between the wisdom of low time preferences and the foolish savagery arguments about when it’s okay to abuse children.

The world needs more works by men like Hernstrom and less by women like Le Guin.  No matter what strange destinations Mortu’s motorcycle carries them toward next, you can be they’ll be as rich and meaningful as this first fantastic adventure in the white city.