Saturday, December 7, 2013

Family (e-novella) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Family is a self-published soft sci-fi story. It's 25,360 words long.

After reading several Jahir and Vasiht'h short stories and vignettes, I was happy to see that this was novella-length – I seem to like Hogarth's longer works more.

Jahir and Vasiht'h have now been working together for 10 years or so. Their partnership is a comfortable one, but, because of the Veil and Eldritch xenophobia, there are lots of things Jahir has never been able to tell Vasiht'h. In Family, this changes. One of Jahir's cousins is getting married, and Jahir's mother specifically asked that Vasiht'h come with him as a guest. Aliens are not welcome on the Eldritch homeworld, but Jahir figures his mother has her reasons, so he and Vasiht'h set off to attend the wedding.

Like Vasiht'h, I was excited at the thought of finally getting to see the Eldritch homeworld. All I knew for sure was that it would be technologically backward – no showers, horses used for transportation, no medical technology to speak of. I figured that meant it'd be some kind of pseudo-Middle Ages Europe.

Life in the Galare manor was much like I expected it to be. There were a few mentions here and there of servants, although I never got to learn as much about them as I would have liked. The real surprises came when Vasiht'h visited a town near the manor. It was...worse that I expected. While this new information certainly put Jahir's desperation to leave his homeworld and learn something that might help his people in a new, starker light, my suspension of disbelief was strained. I honestly don't understand how Eldritch civilization has survived for as long as it has, and I'm still not sure I can wrap my brain around what an Eldritch commoner's life must be like.

The primary reason I picked Family up was because of Jahir and Vasiht'h and, in that area, I was rewarded. Their relationship in Mindtouch was, for the most part, amazingly smooth and easy. The events in this novella put more strain on their relationship than I've seen in any other work they've been in.

First, there were Vasiht'h feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment around most of the other Eldritch. He didn't know how to act, he didn't know what they were saying unless he was near enough to Jahir to make use of their mindline, he was under-dressed compared to them, and his very existence was looked down upon. Second, Jahir himself made Vasiht'h feel awkward. He was painfully aware of Jahir's wealth and status, in a way he'd never been before. Third, there was a lot going on that Jahir hadn't given Vasiht'h any warning about, and Vasiht'h being there made some of it worse. And fourth, there were repeated reminders that Jahir would likely outlive Vasiht'h by hundreds of years. Vasiht'h was forced to think about their partnership in the long term and how he wanted things to go past the point of his own death.

Some of this was stuff that had occurred to Vasiht'h before, but that he hadn't sat down and really thought about, and some of it came as a shock. In any case, all of it kept Vasiht'h unsteady, and Jahir couldn't do much to help him and comfort him, because he was busy being an Eldritch noble about to attend a wedding scattered with political eggshells. They spent more time separated than I expected, although it did make the “you and me, we're still okay” moments even sweeter.

While it was nice to recognize bits and pieces of other Jahir and Vasiht'h works in this one, it was also distracting. My brain kept looking for inconsistencies and continuity errors. The most jarring moment was when it was revealed that Sediryl, Jahir's cousin, probably played a part in Jahir's decision to leave his homeworld, because of his intense, secret, and forbidden feelings for her. She was passionate, fierce, and fun to read about, but Jahir's reaction to her inspired vague continuity unease in me. I remembered Jahir desperately wanting to get away from his homeworld's stagnation, but that was it. I did a quick keyword search of Mindtouch and found several mentions of Sediryl that I had forgotten, but none of the depth of emotion I would have expected the name to conjure up in Jahir, considering his reaction to her in this novella. I'm not sure if this is some kind of character continuity issue or not – I'd have to reread Mindtouch to be sure – but it bugged me.

Although I felt it had some issues, I still really liked Family. It had several of the elements I've come to love in Hogarth's works: fascinating details about alien cultures, characters I care about, and great conversations.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding (live action movie) - It feels odd to add this to the list, but the wedding + culture clash aspects of Family made me think of it. The tone is completely different from Family, though, much lighter and fluffier.
  • Cordelia's Honor (book) by Lois McMaster Bujold - I haven't read this omnibus yet, although I've read several of Bujold's other Vorkosigan Saga books. I think Bujold would work for Hogarth fans in general, because she peoples her science fiction with wonderful, well-drawn characters. I listed this one because it came up during a search for science fiction featuring culture shock.
  • Freedom's Landing (book) by Anne McCaffrey - The first book in McCaffrey's Freedom series. It's been ages since I last read it, but I think it might appeal to those who'd like another soft sci-fi story featuring culture class, in this case between a human and a member of an alien race that has conquered humanity. If I'm remembering right, the Catteni look down on humans the same way the Eldritch look down on all non-Eldritch.
  • Elfquest (graphic novel series) by Wendy and Richard Pini - You can read the series here for free. If you choose to buy print volumes, I highly recommend shelling out for full-color editions - I've seen the black-and-white releases, and the original color versions are way better. I think this may have been the very first non-superhero comic book series I ever read. I was entranced. Gorgeous elves with psychic powers, who bonded with wolves - my teenage self was thrilled. The Eldritch reminded me a little of the proud and stagnating group of elves that Cutter and his people come across later in the series.

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