In Which A Man Displays His Lack Of Clue As Though It Was A Precious Gem

Also known as Kate reviews Damien Walter’s Twitter review of Opera Vita Aeterna by Vox Day. Yes. That Vox Day. You know, the Evil Lord of Evil himself, who for reasons known only to himself spends most of his time incognito writing interesting blog posts that are only offensive if you can’t sort out the difference between facts stated bluntly and insults or doing his thing with writing, software, and whatever all his other dozen day jobs entail (I haven’t asked, but I can tell he’s a busy man. How? He makes time for other people while apologizing for not being able to do much because he’s juggling too many other commitments).

As those who haven’t had their heads firmly buried in the sand will know, Damien Walters recently covered himself with… something… in an article about the future being queer. I had a bit to say about that last week. You can imagine my surprise when I found this giant of literature had elected to read and comment on Vox Day’s piece – which is, for those with their earholes and nostrils stuffed with sand, one of the nominees for this year’s Hugo awards (and yes, that noise you hear is indeed the sound of innumerable panties full of glitter (from all the feminist glittery hoo haas) spontaneously wadding themselves to combustion point. Be warned. It’s dangerous out there with all that glitter catching fire.

Anyway. After taking a look at the rather sad spew of so-called insults on Mr Walters Twitter feed, I took it upon myself to read Opera Vita Aeterna and actually, you know… comment on it a bit. Even sort of review it. Only sort of, because I’m not a proper reviewer like Mr Walters.

Anyway, you know it’s going to be a fair, unbiased review when it starts with “Well, I guess I better read this Vox Day novelette then. If it’s better than Mein Kampf I’ll be mildly relieved.” Now aside from the little question of which translation of Mein Kampf he’s using (because I guarandamntee you the translation matters – a good translation can lift a dreary work and a bad one can coat a gem with raw sewage) this really is a remarkably low bar for relief. Perhaps the gentleman needs to get himself some satisfaction somewhere outside his job?

Anyway, his next tweet smacks the piece for adjectival overload in the opening paragraph which strikes me as kind of odd because what niggled me was overuse of “He was” when the same impression could have been made without those two words. Still, stylistic niggles quickly become invisible if the piece works well enough, and that was the case here.

Moving on, Mr Walters appears to have trouble with atmospherics, since his next Tweet reads, “The sun is pallid, the dark is incipient, promises are whispered. Never make your meaning clear to the reader. Clarity is weakness.” Funnily enough I had no issues with the meaning here, so I guess he was looking for some kind of racist code words buried in here that he couldn’t find.

This micro-rant is followed by one on too many topics per paragraph, which tells me he’s not seeing the actual topic – although since I don’t know which paragraphs he’s talking about I’m not going to make a guess here. Let’s just say I have my suspicions and they have to do with the way the world building is unfolded.

After a few more micro-rants that miss the point, we get to this: “Have you a hostel in which a traveler weary may rest for the night?” THAT”S HOW THEY TALKED IN YE OLDE FANTASY TIMES.” Well, no. Aside from the actual text being “weary traveler” this is clearly polite formal speech from a noble (of sorts) to a person of a much lower class. It’s also got a teensy bit of deliberate archaism in it to give the feel of belonging to a quasi-medieval time frame. What did you want, mate, “Hey, dude, can I, like, hang out for the night?”

The next few tweets are largely rants about slow-paced narrative (because apparently he expected Vox to leap straight into evil racist action or something) while utterly missing the point. The really screamingly obvious point that we have an elf – a being widely held to be soulless – at a monastery because he wants to find out if the deity the monks are dedicated to (who is, yes, the Christian deity) is real. In short, we’re being shown that this elf, from a culture that is shown in a few sentences to be utterly at odds with Christianity as is currently understood, wishes to learn more about the faith and may be convinced to convert if what he learns satisfies his (largely implied) yearnings.

Good grief, man, I’m barely even nominally Christian (having been raised more or less lapsed with occasional interruptions in the general direction of the Australian Uniting Church – which is the bastard offspring of a merger between the Presbyterians and Methodists and a few of the evangelical denominations) and I can see it. How blind are you?

Anyway… Some time after this Mr Walters sort of gets it. “Oh fuck god no…it’s all just a set-up for a tedious exegesis on catholicism, isn’t it?” Well, no. It’s not. Oh, and wonderful job of not being biased and all that.

So, he throws a lovely little Twitter tantrum (unless he deletes it it’s all there at https://twitter.com/damiengwalter – just keep scrolling down) before proving once again he doesn’t know what the farouk he’s on about with “Enter a magic fox, stage left. #VoxRead Because when you can’t develop a plot, bring on a talking animal.” Gosh. Totally missing yet another point, not to mention a teensy wee bit of foreshadowing.

Anyway, I’ll skip the rest of the Twitter tantie and move on to Mr Walter’s inspired summary: “I have judged the work not the man, and found it to be an incoherent rant disguised as an unconvincing non-story.” Leaving aside that in a shorter work such as this it’s acceptable to have a thin plot around an idea, it’s clear to me that our esteemed literary critic here completely missed a subtle and rather elegantly understated story encapsulated by the title (which, I might add, becomes rather less subtle and understated when you run the title through Google Translate (because I can recognize Latin when I see it but be buggered if I can read it) and realize that yes, the story is about an elf devoting at least a human lifespan to create an illuminated manuscript in his attempt to understand Christianity and that a good chunk of it occurs after the murder of his human friend. Oh, and Vox leaves it to reader imagination whether or not the elf did in fact come to understand or not.

It’s not perfect. There are flaws in the flow of the piece and the opening could use another round or two of editing (that or the version Vox has made available for download isn’t the final published one), but it’s hardly something to be denigrated with “Imagine a 12 year old geek with the pompous voice of a 45 year old fascist parroting Thomas Aquinas, and there you have Opera Vita Aeterna.”

It’s certainly a good, thought-provoking story, and a damn sight better than some of the nominated pieces from prior years.

54 comments

      1. According to John C. Wright’s putdown of him, he took government money to write a novel. Not sure if it ever got released.

        1. I hear Larry Correia likes to shoot little girls’ puppies and then eat them raw. Does that make me a writer? 😉

    1. Given that the only things Damien’s written which I’ve read are whiny articles and even dumber tweets, that’s a really low bar.

    1. Please do. With the way certain parties are tripping over themselves to abuse the piece, honest commentary will go a long way.

  1. Not a fan of Vox, but man, his critics aren’t covering themselves in glory either. Me, I tend to ignore authors I don’t like, and read the ones I do, and go on with my life.

    1. No, they’re not, are they? What Vox’s critics are covering themselves with is rather more… earthy. And smelly. And they claim it’s ambrosia.

      1. ​What you’re probably thinking of is probably more honest and useful than anything the critics can come up with.​

        On Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 5:03 PM, madgeniusclub wrote:

        > Kate Paulk commented: “No, they’re not, are they? What Vox’s critics > are covering themselves with is rather more… earthy. And smelly. And they > claim it’s ambrosia.” >

  2. I found the story to be a compelling look at what makes a man, a soul, a friend, and immortality. The background issues related to a parallel “Summa Theologica” were framing to explain what was going on and why – not the point of the story.

    A quest to create beauty being found worthwhile even if one in the end doesn’t truly believe (as Kate said, that is left to the reader) The line about that alone was worth the story.

    And the title is a clever play on both latin and italian that very much frames the story it leads you into.

  3. “who for reasons known only to himself spends most of his time incognito writing interesting blog posts that are only offensive if you can’t sort out the difference between facts stated bluntly and insults

    um … to the leftoids, facts are insulting.

  4. I’ve been thinking about buying a membership so I can read a bunch of the novels, but it’s kind of steep at $40 (though the entire WoT does pad out the word count). Looks like it would be worthwhile also reading some of the shorter works too so I thinkI’ll spring for it. Which means Oh gosh I gotta vote too. Hmmm…

    1. In my opinion the only way the entire WoT is worth anything is if it has nice, soft paper… I’m not fond of that series.

      There are some gems on the ballot though – mostly from the Sad Puppies 2 slate, but hey, stuff like that happens sometimes.

      1. I really liked the WoT when I was an adolescent male. I’m tempted to get the membership for the voter packet – as well as the voting rights – and mostly I want to see if the goat-choker brigade measures up to my sense of nostalgia. /shrug

        1. Fair enough. I’m not arrogant enough to think that because I don’t like it it shouldn’t be on the ballot (there should be a category for series, but that’s a completely different argument).

  5. I really need to read something by Vox Day. In my experience, opinionated [redacted] are very often excellent writers. They put a lot of energy and emotion into the words.

    1. Someone or other… it might have been in the comments to Walter’s original article about the horror… made the statement to the effect that evil people were incapable of art.

      Which, of course, defies all of History, reality, and the Universe.

      1. evil people were incapable of art

        Amusingly, my mom holds the same view, but in a different format.

        She taught us that someone who makes something of beauty must be drawing on something from inside them– even the most horrible person that makes beautiful music must have something good in them.

        Works just fine if you don’t believe in “totally evil” type people. (And do believe in actual evil, rather than “do stuff I don’t like, thus they’re evil people” things.)

        1. I keep it rather simpler, and somewhat Pratchettian. People are people – capable of the most stomach-twisting evil and the most astonishing grace and beauty, sometimes at the same time. It’s part of what makes us human.

      2. There’s a minor Austrian artist who rather disproved that theory. Which is why he’s now known as something other than an artist (his art is actually not bad, if somewhat banal).

        1. I don’t think that he was entirely evil. Very evil, yes, but the fact that one of the last things he did in life was make his mistress happy by marrying her (before they carried out their murder-suicide pact) makes me suspect that even Hitler had a good side.

          Too bad for everyone, especially the people of Germany, that it was not his good side which was dominant.

    2. Opinionated [insert expletive of choice] are often willing to say what others will not, too.

    3. I found a very good place to start is his short story “A Magic Broken”. Takes place in the same world as the novella that’s nominated.

  6. As a practicing Catholic, you made me want to go read. One of my favorite SF books of all time is A Canticle for Leibowitz, and it is always nice to see fiction well done around actual ideas. Even if you end up disagreeing with the resolution, or don’t like the writing or whatever, if it makes you think, it’s worth it. Unless it’s terribly written, or a blatant promotion of some agenda with no subtlety, of course.

    Thanks for the very nice fair review.

    Alicia

    1. Thank you. Good “idea fiction” is rather rare, I think because it’s so easy to go off into bludgeoning the poor reader. It’s nice to see it well done.

    1. You’re a brave man. Suffering through those tweets in order to write this post was bad enough.

  7. How blind are you?

    Elves don’t consider becoming Christian.

    Elves are better than that, and Nasty Evil Christian Monk Monsters would hunt them and kill them, unless you have a girl priest to protect them.

    *twitch*

    Argh, the tropes drive me nuts.

    1. I was telling my husband about this this morning and I explained that if I ever wrote elves in anything everyone would hate me. He’d mentioned that in Elder Scrolls Online there are female elves that talk about their wives (I guess the pretend distant past was queer, too) and I thought… elves… maybe every elf considers him or herself the “husband” and any “wives” that they have are likely human servants. (A husband, husbands, after all… it’s a verb.) So every elf is head of his or her household of servants and slaves, with perhaps a “wife” who runs things… Because elves don’t have “partners”, they have associates and subjects.

      (My wood elves are mean little carnivore with sharp cat teeth.)

        1. Heh, I know. Somewhat seriously, though, to the extent that pretend fantasy people can be a serious subject… it makes sense to me that elves who live for millennia might not form, er, binary households… or any other sort of household where they are not personally the boss, so no group marriages either. Living for thousands of years ought to change their behavior from a human norm to something very inhuman. It’s not just, why would they have same-sex mates, but why would they have “mates” at all? It makes more sense that they’d have various alliances… and cattle.

          1. Couple of different ways it could go from there, too– lack of family ties would explain the lack of children and thus why they’re dying off….

  8. I am nearly sold on buying this book, which would make it the first new fantasy in over a year– one question, does the Church end up being evil? If no, I’m buying it. (Just got to the obcene whining about Catholicism tweet, so if you don’t have a link to the book yet– do it!)

    1. No, the Church does not end up being evil. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover for yourself.

    1. I wouldn’t call that a spoiler, either. There’s a lot more depth to that thumbnail description, after all.

    2. But that would lack the delicious irony of a negative review giving Vox a sale from someone who can’t stand his rhetorical style.

  9. ” I would suggest that anyone who is genuinely interested in excellence in SF/F literature simply read the work and judge it on its merits. And for those who are more interested in thought-policing the genre, they can simply do as some have suggested, “rank a nominated work below “No Award””, and thereby provide us with an accurate measure of the degree to which SF/F fandom is influenced by the politically correct Left.”
    VD

    Having just downloaded it, and not yet read it (I’ve been thinking I need to try some of Vox’s work for a while now) I won’t comment on it. But I really do like that quote from Vox.

  10. Whenever I see the phrase – or equivalent – “I judged* the work, not the man” it makes me look sideways at them.

    Nine times out of ten, the person was driven to review the work at all because they or their friends violently dislikes “the man” responsible for the work. They go in with an eye to tear down and reaffirm their position and get to parade around the nice shiny laurel of, “And I was able to do this by not bringing in outside influences. So it’s perfectly legitimate and I’m quite a wise, big person for doing it.”

    I had no particular interest in Vox Day, but stuff like this makes me want to go out and buy stuff out of spite.

    *In the past tense. When people use it as a general admonishment to judge the work on its own merit, I’m for it.

  11. I remember reading this story — a while back… It was a good read imho. So is Walter unable to understand the subtleties of story? Sounds like Walter can’t read well. 😀

  12. It’s interesting to see what folks who haven’t read Mr. Day’s other works in which Bessarias (the elf) appears make of Opera Vita Aeterna. What happens in the end, the conclusion Bessarias comes to, is apparent near the end of Summa Elvetica, and the story before is Master of Cats, which I have at the end of the e-copy of Summa Elvetica. If, of course, you like the character and wish to read more. I haven’t read all of the Selenoth body of work and don’t know if there are other places Bessarias appears, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did, as he is, as far as I can tell, immortal or extremely long lived, and has an . . . occasionally unfortunate sense of curiosity.

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