Normally I would hold off on saying anything about the Puppy Short Fiction until I do my full “Short Stories and Novelettes” post after my bookclub discusses them all. But that won’t be for another two months, and I keep seeing a ton of people saying John C Wright’s “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” is terrible. I haven’t read any of the other shorts yet, but I want to speak up and say that perhaps people are reading it wrong.
I assume that, due to Wright being super-Catholic and a darling of Vox Day, people are presuming that this story is meant as some sort of Christian allegory, and are reading it as such. To that I say: Death of the Author! Wright’s intent doesn’t matter, the story should be judged as it’s own work, and I think it is a really damn good work. I, too, had to struggle to get past my Puppy antipathy, but it’s worth it! Because yes, the beginning is really slow and quite boring. But if you push past that, it keeps getting better and better, and ended absolutely fan-fucking-tastic!! I think I’m a much bigger fan of religious horror than I thought I was.
For starters, the writing style is well done. It’s a throw-back to the old Talking Animal fables, which come with a very distinctive voice, and Wright does an excellent job of speaking in that antiquated, fable-style voice. It’s not amazingly difficult to do, but it certainly isn’t easy (as anyone who’s tried to mimic that archaic style without sounding ridiculous can tell you – eg Ren Faire actors), so it deserves to be noted that he did it well. Both the voice and the structure call up those olden tales skillfully.
But more importantly, try not to listen to it as a preacher delivering a sermon, but just as a story. It soon becomes clear this is a horror story.
Echopraxia kinda cemented in my mind the concept that “If a God existed, it would be necessary for Man to kill him.” Parliament pushed those same buttons for me. Cat’s brush with God is of an intrusive, alien, ever-watching eye, like that of a Lovecraftian Elder God. Then the minds of the animals are altered against their will, changing their personhood (the grossest violation of personhood that there is IMHO), and it isn’t even a change made FOR THEIR BENEFIT. They are given an aversion to nudity that imposes costs on their existence and makes them feel bad. It is a purely malevolent act, and smacks of species-sabotage. Plus the body-horror scene of everyone being twisted into upright grotesqueries. Then they are denied any way to improve their own existence, being put entirely at the mercy of alien minds (the uplifted humans) who may not give a damn about them. Finally, their only way to opt out of this is to literally destroy their intelligence and agency, reducing them to rutting beasts. Possibly a fate worse than extinction, I’m not sure.
The only ray of light I see is Fox. If I was writing this into a novel he would be the cunning trickster, lying just below God’s radar, finding a way to undermine and eventually overthrow the Hosts of Heaven.
It’s a bleak and horrifying tale, and if it wasn’t for the bad taste that the Puppies’ tactics have left in everyone’s mouths it might be easier to acknowledge that its really quite good. So I’m encouraging everyone to try to overlook that unfortunate fact and read the story like you’d read anything by Watts or Gaiman. I don’t have any comment on Hugo Voting – since tactics are a big part of what’s happening in that game this year it would be silly to tell people “don’t consider the circumstance when voting.” Take everything into account when voting. But when reading, or discussing the piece as a work, it’ll make life much more enjoyable to focus just on the story, if only for one day.