Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Dragon Never Sleeps re-read (Glen Cook's masterpiece)

(Originally posted on Saturday, 23 May 2015)

My original rating: 9/10
My final rating: 10/10

The Dragon Never Sleeps is Glen Cook's masterpiece. Period.

I loved it the first time through, but only during the second time I was able to follow and understand everything. At least I think I understood everything. Maybe. Anyway, the novel has an extremely high re-reading value. There is a huge amount of cool things happening. The book is simply awesome!

This novel would be a blockbuster movie hit, if it were filmed properly. And this is the exact reason why it is so hard to follow the story. Apart from the story being very complex, it is written from a movie-camera perspective. While re-reading the novel I realised that some scenes are described from an angle that doesn't show everything. Moreover some things are left unspoken, just like it is done in some good movies. Sometimes “the camera” zooms out and suddenly some things that were spoken or that happened just a moment before get a whole different meaning. Cool.

This movie-like narration makes the story hard to follow, but ultimately it is extremely rewarding. A warning: lazy readers, fast readers or people with little imagination should avoid this novel. You can't read it casually or quickly. You have to analyse, deduce and imagine your way through the story. Otherwise you will end up lost in space. Literally.

I suggest to take notes about everything connected with the Tregesser family. For example: Nyo and Tina Bofoku are brother and sister who are sidekicks of Blessed Tregesser. Or: Tregesser Prime (the capitol planet of the Tregesser House) is called P. Benetonica 3 in the Guardship/Canon terminology. Such things can become important more than a hundred pages later into the novel and I had to search back the novel looking for them, even during the re-reading. I'll give you one last info that is simply missing in the early part of the novel: the headquarters of Simon Tregesser (the head of the Tregesser House) are NOT on the Tregesser Prime, but somewhere in outer space. It's clear later on, but I got confused at first.

OK, I have to point out that there is one scene (that can be found in the quotes below) that seems to be a little inconsistent with the rest of the book. Or maybe I missed something? At one moment a small traveller is forced out of the Web by a Guardship that moves much faster, but even though the traffic on the Web is heavy and such situations should occur regularly, there is no other reference to such dangers for commerce travellers. And there is an additional question: can a Guardship pass a traveller going the opposite way on the Web? That should occur regularly, too. I can imagine some solutions to these potential problems, but they were not explained in the novel and this the ONLY gripe I have about the book.

Here are some spoiler-free quotes that give only a hint what the novel is like. Please notice that I use italic type the way it is used in the book. It is used mostly to distinguish telepathic communication, but it is also used for some proper nouns. This is the reason I can't quote everything using italic type, like I usually do.

    Midnight was afraid.
    Fear was a new feeling. Fear was not part of her design. She had been made for the salons and bedrooms of high society. Fear had had to be learned.
    Lady Midnight savored new things. But this fear she did not like. It stole the color from her wings. It gnawed her innards like cancer. It took away sleep and robbed her of appetite. It was an assassin that butchered the rhythm of her dance-in-flight. It knotted her muscles till they ached.

    Is there no chance for the Concord? Amber Soul asked. Just the edge of that thought was enough to make Midnight's head buzz. Amber Soul almost never communicated with anyone. When she did she knocked you down.
    “None”, Turtle said. “The thing is one of those jackstraw rebellions that come along every human generation. I have seen a hundred. They don't last. The Enherrenraat did not last a year and it was five hundred in the shaping.” He paused, then asked rhetorically, “How old are the Guardships? They were old when I was young. Sometimes it seems the stars themselves are younger and the Guardships were created old and wily and deadly and there was never a moment when they were not invincible.

    No one knew Turtle's true age. Turtle would not say. They joked that DownTown had been build around him.
    Turtle seldom talked about Turtle. Whence had he come? What was he? The last indigene of V. Rothica 4? There were ruins in the deserts. Unlikely that he was of the precursor race, though. Nobody was that old.

    “(…) We must assure our own safety. Precautions never taken are the only sort that leave one with regrets.”

    Third WatchMaster observed, “The pod is in the outer atmosphere already, WarAvocat.”
    Meaning the batteries' beams would lose coherency, that projectiles would be inaccurate, that the fighters would be wasted because they could not go down into atmosphere.
    “Missiles? No. Too late.” They accelerated so swiftly they would hit atmosphere like hitting a wall. “Perfectly timed. The thing is crafty.”
    “Probably too late for them those, too. But they'll make an exemplary display.” WarAvocate spoke to the shimmer. “Access, Weapons. Hellspinners, loose. Access, Hall of the Soldiers. Soldiers, warm one battalion of heavy infantry data-prepped for a search-and-kill in Cholot Varagona.”

    “(…) I suspect a manipulation by some House.”
    “They wouldn't stir rebellion against themselves, would they?” Midnight protested. She remained as naive as Amber Soul remained mysterious.
    “They would, and they have done. The Enherrenraat was born from a greed-fever dream in Cholot and Merod. The dream grew up to become a nightmare. Cholot and Merod are paying still. The fury of the Guardships was so exemplary that it has not been challenged since, but the universe spawns fools and insects in numbers beyond all reason.”

    Jo Klass drew a frigid breath of medicine and machine, open her eyes. She felt eager, curious, a touch of trepidation. What would it be? Warming was like wakening to a day guaranteed to be exciting.
    How long had she slept?
    Not that it mattered. Nothing changed.
    As always there was a mouth flutter of panic as the air grew hot and humid. The cell walls pressed in. Its lid opaqued with moisture. She scrawled an obscenity in the condensation.
    The lid opened. Beyond lay the familiar white overhead of the warming room. How many times had she wakened thus, staring up at the sky of pipe and cable? Too often to recall.
    Air swirled in, chilled her.
    What was it? Another Enherrenraat? Fear stroked her. She had died that time. It hunted her, though the bud had detoured her around it.
    Sometimes she thought she dreamed about dying while she was in the cell, but she remembered no dreams once she wakened.
    A face drifted into view. “Off and on, soldier.” No relief at finding her alive instead of a shriveled blue-black mummy. No expression at all. Just on to the next cell and next check.
    (…) Eyes roved old comrades, seeking remembered scars. Unmarked skin could say a lot about last time out.

    City work. Jo hated it. Cities were treacherous. You never knew who would hit you with what from where. The system was not great at detecting non-energy weapons.

    “(…) Suppose you were dealing with IX Furia?
    Timmerbach blanched.
    IX Furia's style was to shoot first and forget about the questions. Or, some said, to shoot first and then shoot the survivors.

    The brightest object in the nighttime sky, after the moon, had been the station, stationary above the equator south of Merod Schene. But now there was a brighter object. “The Guardship,” Turtle said.
    It must be huge.
    “It's bigger than anything you can imagine humans building.”

    “Deified? You wish to examine these... people?” It was hard to regard them that way.
    Ansehl Ronygos suggested, “Relax the silence.”
    Strate reiterated the request as an order. The system would have responded to Ronygos directly, but the Deified liked to nag the living for having introduced unbreakable routines that prevented them from issuing edicts and making decisions without the consent of the living.
    VII Gemina was trying to avoid troubles that had befallen other Guardships. XII Fulminata, without restraints upon its Deified, had gone cold and weird, ruthless, merciless, and almost suicidally fearless. IV Trajana was the spookiest of all Guardships, having subsumed its crew completely. Afterward, it had climbed onto the Web and been heard from again only briefly during the Enherrenraat incident.

    It was the thing that was the sum of all that the Starbase builders had wrought, all the Guardship had learned, and all that had been input by Deification. It was the thing that made the Guardship so fearsome. It was the thing that, vaguely sensed, made all Canon shiver in dread and overrate a Guardship's terrible might.
    Turtle knew the Guardships were not invincible. Not yet.
    In short, learn to think like the enemy, then outthink the enemy – instead of going on trying to outgun him and outfight him.

    “We can't hold it any farther off the centerline, sir. We're risking premature breakaway now.”
    Jo grimaced. If they dropped off right now, they would be almost a light year from the overly hot J. Duosconica. Climbing back on might be impossible. Misty as the strand was, instruments might not locate it.
    “Chief!” someone shouted. “We got something coming up behind us. Fast! Gods! It's a big mother... Saldy. What the hell is that? It's going to run us over!”
    Timmerbach ran around, cursed, shook a fist at a secondary screen. “Take us in to the core! Maximum ahead. That's a Guardship! That's a goddamned Guardship, and it's going to smash us right off the Web!”
    Timmerbach continued to rage, demanding more speed. The Guardship closed. Features became distinct. Jo blurted, “That's IV Trajana!
    Hadget gulped air. For the first time he was rattled. “Can't be. Nobody's seen IV Trajana since the Enherrenraat incident.”
    “More speed!” Timmerbach fumed. “Damned Web, you can't go anywhere but in a straight line. Seligo! Calculate a cut course to the nearest away strand in case we get knocked off.”
    Jo guessed they were two light weeks from the anchor point. Seconds on the Web. Months in starspace.

    Sometimes someone spoke to Blessed. Always he replied courteously but coolly, cultivating an image of distance that, tempered by warmth in private, might lead some to think they had wormed their ways into his confidence. Those would be the people he used.

    “It works for VII Gemina, Kez Maefele. Other Guardships evolved other directions. They've gotten strange.”
    Strange. “They say nothing ever changes. They blame you. You are wonderful devils. But I have lived every minute of several thousand years. The entire universe has gone strange. You may not have noticed.”
    “Why wouldn't we notice?”
    “You do not look outside as long as Outside does not fracture the rules you enforce. Canon has changed, WarAvocate. I mark the watershed when the rage for tier cities swept Canon. Before that there were few nonhumans in Canon space, except along the Rims and on Closed Treaty and Reserved worlds. Artifacts were rare. Like me, they were created for noble purposes. Now they are everywhere, nonpareil toys, to be played with, abused, and discarded. Humans' worlds were choked with people. The Web was acrawl with ships. Trade was brisk Outside. Where have the trillions gone, WarAvocate? There are thousands more worlds now. But they should be filled. They are not. Few are more populous than that pesthole where you found me. Why? Your normals are not breeding.
    “These days those held in deepest contempt are the glue binding what is left. Humans own Canon, but nonhumans and artifacts keep it going.”

    The screen withstood the salvo. But the Twist Master had permission to loose at will. No screen could absorb Hellspinners long.
    The Outsider finally grasped the gravity of its situation. It began to move.
    Its assailants moved with it.
    Here, there, soft spots in the screen yielded. A one-meter gap opened and persisted for seven seconds. An interceptor put one hundred rounds of 40mm contraterrene shot through the hole. The Outsider's skin blossomed, a garden of small fires.
    Other gaps opened. Some attack craft chose marksmanship, gunning for specific installations. Others just blazed away. None trying running the gaps. A screen shielded both ways. A fighter inside would become the target of every Outsider weapon otherwise unable to fire.

    There were six completed replacement Guardships in the construction channel and a dozen more being completed at leisurely pace. They amounted to a macro-exemplar of the process by which slain soldiers were replaced. If a Guardship was lost, a replacement would be impressed with data left during its last visit to Starbase.
    VII Gemina began updating its file when it broke off the Web. That would continue throughout its stay. All crew would register a current personal file.
    VII Gemina might be destroyed, but there would always be a VII Gemina.
    Those who created the fleet had faced a problem as old as idealism: how to keep the fire burning. Children reject the dreams of their parents, and grandchildren hold them in contempt.
    Their answer was to preserve the founding generation.

    He told Midnight, “Just pretend you're too stupid to understand their questions.” There were advantages to belonging to the underclasses. One was that you never disappointed the master race by being stupid.

    (…) They were beyond terror now, into that dulled, accepting, bovine antihysteria that grips the victims of great disasters and atrocities, glazed eyes becoming one-way glasses keeping reality at bay. Wake up some day and find it all a bad dream.

    WarAvocate finally understood. (…) Nothing else explained the mysteries so neatly. He had not seen the obvious because it was not supposed to be there.
    The fleet desperately needed newer, more flexible minds. His own generation had brains set in concrete.

1 comment:

  1. I first read this back in 87 and it turned my sci fi perspective upside down. Glen left things unanswered especially about the first ones and the purpose of the web. He upset the usual idea of my view of a human empire with these self supporting mobile legions called Guardships and from my point of view is literally what it might turn out to be some where some when. Did you know that he described the Masterchief Spartan 117 with those powered battlesuits war crew used? The ships A.I an actual organic intelligence and the self replacing system for lost soldiers. For me the best ive ever read.