Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Perhaps "Lithe Ankles" Sounds Better in French

The Mountains of the Sun
Christian Leourier
Berkley International Science Fiction, 1973
Rating: -3.6 (Scale: -12:12)

With a breathtaking cover that prefigures the punk haircuts of slightly later in the decade (though perhaps it would be more punk if the dude in the spacesuit was safteypinned to the... ummm... sphere) The Mountains of the Sun enters the cosmology of Elfstar Industries, LLC, as the first example of French Postapocalyptica that we have had the honor to tear to pieces.

This piece of dreck starts with the wondrous phrase "I am Cal, the man with the long hair and the lithe ankles." Any book that starts with a phrase like that is going to be worth the long haul, and no mistake.

There are three major social groups that this book lampoons describes, two tribes on the recently drowned European mainland, and the stranded Martian settlers who are now coming back to Earth. None of these groups are particularly interesting, laudable, or worth writing a book about; needless to say, the interaction between them is about as fascinating as the interaction between three types of clay.

So, there's Cal's tribe, who are scared of the valley next door because the ancients say that there's a river of fire there. Then there's the rampaging nomads who push them into the valley next door (duh). Then there's the Martian scientists. Surprisingly, these disparate groups interact. There's the manly Cal, the crippled An-Yang of the rampaging nomads who Cal befriends, and then a bunch of forgettable scientists who want to "study" the nomads. Study includes medical experimentation - but "good" medical experimentation. The main baddie is the warmongering nomadish leader T'ong-O, immediately rechristened B'ush-O by your snarky friends at Elfstar Industries.

The best part of all this is that the "good" tribes are obviously French, and the "bad" tribes are obviously Spanish. Obviously, because the scientists talk about their languages' lingual roots. I love inter-European rivalries.

While I was hoping for some good radiation burns from the river of fire, that was just hyperbole. However, there's some nice destruction of tech for scrap metal, and some really insipid native discussion on the purpose of the crucifixes that "are found in all their villages."

Then there are the other problems. The Martian computers: Intelligent? Check. 3-D monitors? Check. Punchcards? Check. Dammit, you try so hard not to make fun of the technology and it's just so easy. I mean, it's right there! There's some plastics that have lasted since the apocalypse. Then there's the 100+ meter floods that the caused said apocalypse; perhaps the earth was pounded by comets? Or God left the tap in heaven on too long? There's not that much water on the earth. There just isn't. It's the same reason Waterworld is so funny - you just can't do it. The math doesn't work.

And finally there are the different tribes' formal speeches. B'ush-O always refers to himself in the third person; Cal refers to his ankles as "lithe" at least ten times throughout the book. An example of B'ush-O's speech: "Such was the affront sufferend by T'ong-O, [sic] mighty chief of the steady-handed warriors." Whew.

The nicest thing about this book is that we Americans get to see that even though the French pretend to have all the best writers and novelists in the world, the best of their published SF is only marginally better than most of the bottom-of-the-barrel American SF, and far worse than the rest of the barrel. France, baby, you've come a long way since Verne.


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