Dueling Novellas: The Witches of Lychford vs Sorcerer of the Wildeeps


Dueling Novellas: The Witches of Lychford vs Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Diese Kolumne ist nichts für schwache Nerven, denn hier wird geblutet und geschwitzt: Nicolette Stewart lässt die Novellen von Tor.com gegeneinander antreten. Heute: Kai Ashante Wilsons Sorcerer of the Wildeeps gegen Paul Cornells The Witches of Lychford.

Welcome, welcome, and thank you to everyone who showed up for today's exciting boxing match here at the Tyrell Center, where we can build you! Today is the first match in a tournament of Tor.com novella on novella action, words against words against my quickly lapsing judgment! Flying fists!! Cheap shots! Ripped pages! Etc!

In the ring today we'll see The Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell, weighing in at 87 pages* go up against Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson, weighing in at 137! Sound like an uneven match? FUCK IT! What do they say about mice and men? NO IDEA! Today it's all novellas all the time, broadcast live on Tor-Online, your 24-hour SFF novella review service, boxing channel, and bookie. Place your bets now, folks, as the match will be starting in just a few minutes.

But before we begin, a short message from our sponsors:

The first batch of Tor.com novellas came out in September 2015. It included: Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson, Sunset Mantel by Alter S. Reiss, and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. You can get a hold of them digitally—look, ma, no DRM!—or on paper, though the physical pricing was steep initially. (Prices have since dropped on US Amazon. In Germany a paper copy of Binti will still set you back 9 euros, while the Kindle version is, as of this writing, just 2.)  But your best bet is to buy bulk and get the four e-book pack for 7.32 euro on amazon.de.

I am currently reading every Tor.com novella, chronologically, and when I finish I'm pitting them against each other in what I hope will be the most violent book review series of all time. (Bam!) The curious will find background information right over here. (LINK FIRST POST) But why read a review when you could watch a fist fight? How about we do both? We now return you to our announcer ringside ...

It looks like Paul Cornell's Witches of Lychford has just entered the ring. Now this is a little ditty that pits science versus magic, magic versus faith (in god, experience, community, and faeries), and small town independent business versus big box chain store. Strengths include: humor, well-realized characters, and a pleasant mix of page-turn factor and depth.

Witches of Lychford is strongly written urban, no wait, suburban – no wait still too big – small-town fantasy set in England. The conflict is classically banal: a box store wants to come to town, and the town is all like, hey, cool, we like jobs, but also, fuck off mother fuckers, we also like our independent family business businesses and small town values. The box store is set up as the classic villain and because this is SFF, it is an actual, literal center of demonic evil, against which a witch and a priest must join forces to fight. *cue dramatic music, so much dramatic music*

The concept sounds ridiculous. It is. It is also a total success. A solid novella: entertaining, immersive, and occasionally insightful. The writing doesn't stand out, but is good at its job, and I finished the book interested in looking into more of Cornell's work.

Oh! Oh! But here comes Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. Who's going to land the first punch?

It's Sorcerer, with the densest language I have seen since the 1800s. Wow. That looked painful. Lychford is on its knees under the weight of over a hundred pages of language you will need a dictionary and several read-throughs to follow, and Lychford's understated prose doesn't stand a chance against these literary pretentions. But this isn't going to make Sorcerer popular. Pretension may win out against well-constructed entertainment at university, but we're in the ring now, and here that shit don't fly.

Oh! Lychford is back up before the count. This one is light on its feet, if only because its concept is just deep enough to keep you engaged and turning pages without creating any lasting memories of its contents. This is popular entertainment folks, an afternoon's escape from your tedious, non-magical life, and that Cornell has spent time writing for comics and television appears to have prepared him well for a fight bound to favor fun.

But Sorcerer is sweeping back in – watch out Lychford! – this one is all fists, dudes protecting a caravan in a magical forest something something something I can't quite figure out what the fuck this book is about, it's so packed in wordy muscle. But that muscle appears to be weighing it down as Lychford dances circles around it, dodging and landing punches like a ballet dancing war god! Ooooh shit, that looked like it hurt.

There is a lot of life in Sorcerer, sights, sounds, smells, and intriguing characters that really make it spark with life. Lychford is looking a little flat next to it – is Lychford getting tired already? – and the language and the throw-em-in-the-fire method of world building of Sorcerer seem to have knocked Lychford off balance.

Both The Book Smugglers and iO9 have named Sorcerer a favorite for tonight – while IGN has called it »unnecessarily thick«. But Sorcerer isn't going to be able to maintain this fighting style for long. And look at that.  Sorcerer is tripping over its own verbosity, slowing down, stumbling on its own muddy language. And all the while Lychford continues to jump playfully around it, taunting it with a quick joke and a cheeky slap, just to piss that pretentious motherfucker off. Sorcerer is going down! Was that the knock out punch??!! Yes, yes it was. Sorcerer has fallen beneath its own bulk.

Turns out Sorcerer just looks like a heavy weight.  All puffed up. These two might have come from different fighting leagues, but one thing is clear: Lychford's style might look lightweight next to Sorcerer, but it is the one that will win the fight.

In case you're just tuning in, folks, it looks like The Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell takes the title this week. Tune in next time when we see Nnedi Okorafor's novella Binti duke it out with Sunset Mantel by Alter S. Reiss.

Post script:

Sorcerer is a difficult read. The format of this review has barely given it a chance to show what it can do, so I will add that there is treasure to be mined in its dense soil if you want it badly enough. If you don't want it badly, don't bother. I love me some experimental fiction, some dense, ridiculous, and yeah, maybe even pretentious writing, and I still barely managed to finish this one.

This review was brought to you by Tor.com short Traumphysik by Monica Byrne. May contain: dream experiments, scientists on islands, an unreliable narrator, and the sentence "Everything sounds more rigorous in German." Read it here.

*Page numbers reflect the digital copy I was sent by the publisher for review.


Tor.com ist nicht nur das führende Onlinemagazin für Science Fiction und Fantasy in den USA. Sondern auch ein unabhängiger Verlag für Novellen. Welche man davon wirklich gelesen haben sollte, verrät dir Nicolette Stewart in ihrer Kolumne - auf Englisch!

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