|Doktor Bizarro's Bookshelf of Horrors
Author: Jave Harron PM
Your future overlord Dr. Bizarro shares his opinions of horrible books. From the trainwrecks of modern writing to the gutters of history, no standard is too low. Now, Herr Doktor gets to slice and dice an awful, Orientalist piece of sword and sorcery fantasy written by a master of trashy novels.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Parody - Chapters: 41 - Words: 70,471 - Reviews: 87 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 05-21-13 - Published: 03-08-09 - id: 2644814
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Doktor Bizarro's Bookshelf of Horrors
The Sunbird: Flying into the Sun
Hello, fleshlings and meatbags of all shapes, colors, and sizes. You know what you all have in common? You're subconsciously biased to exclude people on superficial traits. Because of this, you've constructed all manner of social orders built on racism, sexism, and other harmful "-isms" that are quite moronic. Now, racism was certainly common in Africa during the European colonial era. From slave trading to apartheid, European colonialism left its mark on the continent. Today, colonialism is called "humanitarian" interventions, but the end goal is the same: keeping local resources under the control of a foreign power.
Racism is quite relevant to today's experiment, "The Sunbird" by Wilbur Smith. Smith himself was an English settler raised in the colonial period of Africa, and boy does it show. His latent and overt racist manifests in often awkward ways, despite otherwise superb writing. You see, despite his upbringing and racist themes, Smith can actually write well. Does this mean we'll be going easy on him?
Of course not, worthless humans. This is the Bookshelf of Horrors, where sanity goes to die and your worst tomes are my favorite tortures. Now, the novel Sunbird is actually a combination of two smaller segments. One is a contemporary adventure novel, and the other is a historical sword-and-sandal epic that may or may not be a fever dream or a remembrance of what "actually" happened. Like other works in the adventure genre, a lost world in an exotic location is required. In this case, the lost city in question is a lost Carthaginian colony called Opet located in East Africa. More on that later.
The story opens with three modern main characters looking at aerial photos of what appears to be outlines of ancient ruins. Our main cast includes an archeologist, his obligatory love interest, and a successful businessman. The main characters head out, and discover cave paintings and interesting artifacts nearby. They meet a local bushmen tribe who had a legend of a lost location called the City of the Moon. A character speculates that this lost city was the "inspiration" for other African ruins, such as those at Great Zimbabwe.
Further excavation reveals more evidence of a lost city, as well as the implication that lots of ancient treasure could be nearby, including old records. The interesting archeological history is awkwardly interrupted by other plot threads, such as the stereotypical and poorly inserted love triangle between the three main characters (an archeologist, businessman, and female scholar). They get the token ethnic sidekick in the form of a bushman with nigh impossible tracking skills. There's also several action scenes involving African rebels. The rebel leader is a former associate of the main character who dramatically betrays him. The rebels, while communists and rather nasty, are sneered down upon with contempt by the main character for merely seeking equal rights (or even less unequal ones). There's a total lack of political correctness, but given the writer's upbringing, it's understandable. Don't worry, though, as there's more obvious racism yet to come.
The main characters eventually find a stash of all the city's lost treasures. However, they get exposed to a toxic fungus and fall unconscious. The next segment of the book details the last days of Opet, with writing shifting from first to third person. The city itself was founded by refugees fleeing the destruction of Carthage who settled in southeast Africa. They established a racist monarchy fond of human sacrifice and slave labor. And these, friends, are the "good guys." The nobility are all "pure white" (and likely inbred), while the commoners are racially mixed. Below them are pure-blooded native slaves. Somehow, Carthaginians are probably darker in complexion and more dusky Mediterranean than "white" as the author seems to think. Whether the Opet half of the book is just a hallucination, psychic flashback, or something else is never established, but by this point, you've probably stopped caring. Given how nonsensical "pure white" Carthaginians with individuals analogous to the main characters seems, I'll bet on fungal trip.
Whatever the case, parallels of the main characters are the last warrior king of Opet, the girl as the Oracle, and the axe-swinging high priest of Baal. They get ill omens during a ritual, and creepy references to a "great black beast" going to bring about their ends. There's also a helpful bushman, who somehow has near-supernatural tracking abilities despite being raised as a slave. The bushman even has the same damn name as his contemporary counterpart. He's simple minded and "doglike" in his obedience to the white main characters, as opposed to the uppity "bad guy" blacks.
A black slave is given an education by the high priest, but wages a slave uprising. His wife gets dragged to her death behind the king's elephant, his hand gets chopped off, and he gets sentenced to work in the mines for the rest of his life. And guess what? This is the bad guy for the historic segment. He already seems more sympathetic than the designated protagonists. The bad guy replaces his severed hand with a metal claw (of course), becoming the "great black beast." From now on, I'm going to assume that this fellow is the real protagonist. Remember all the excessively cruel punishment that happened to him? That was wanton cruelty by the designated "heroes."
So, our story continues the quest of Mantissa to avenge his lover and liberate the slaves from the cruel yoke of Opet, its tyrannical inbred king, and its wicked, bloodthirsty gods. Now see? Doesn't that sound like a much more epic pulp adventure saga? So, Mantissa the black Spartacus rallies an army (somehow comprising tribes from most of sub-Saharan Africa), and besieges Opet. The writer describes Mantissa's soldiers as soulless insects, willing to sacrifice themselves without question. To make a long story short, they burn the city down, chuck every trace it existed into a sinkhole, seal up the cave the main characters found in the present, and Mantissa dies anticlimactically. His army splinters, and all that is left are a few legends. Remember the bushman? The nobles sent him off on a bogus mission far away "for his own good." So, just about everyone dies in the historic arc.
At the end, we get a couple of newspaper articles detailing what happens to the modern protagonists. The businessman dies from the fungal infection, while the two archeologists survive and get married. Thus ends "Sunbird," and you might feel a slightly racist aftertaste in your month. Let's see what themes we've covered: magical negroes (in the form of the servile bushman sidekick), "white man's burden" (the idea that the poor blacks need to be kept in line by the whites rather than treated as equal under law), the implication that blacks are uncivilized brutes seeking to annihilate "superior" cultures by crudely copying their tactics, and that inbred, racist oligarchies must use harsh punishments to stay in power at all costs. Even racially mixed characters are shown with contempt, such as a unit of racially-mixed warriors that betrays the city of Opet near the end.
Now, there is some (probably unintended) poetic irony in all of this. All of the problems of the historic arc (including the annihilation of the city) were caused by their failure to adjust or give more rights to the underclass. If they avoided the incessant cruelty (which even the king gets called out on), they'd probably not have created such a foe. The same goes for the present, where giving blacks greater political recognition would isolate the deranged terrorists politically. Given this book was written before the fall of apartheid in South Africa, it is even more embarrassing today.
Themes aside, the book was rather enjoyable. The writing was rather solid. The characters were well developed and interesting in both the modern and ancient arcs (even if the antagonist of the ancient segment was one of the more sympathetic characters out of the whole lot). The problems of this tome come from hamfisted drama created by the love triangle and the racist themes burdening it like so much worthless chaff. The romance subplots ruin the otherwise solid pacing and thorough research. Not to worry, though, as racism will soon be a thing of the past, as your minds and bodies become fused into zomborgs. I'm Dr. Bizarro, and dare you to return to the Bookshelf of Horrors, where your worst tomes become my favorite tortures.