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The Inferior by Peadar O'Guilin
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This being a full disclosure type of livejournal that puts great store in the faith our readers place in our integrity and objectivity, it behooves us to point out that the author of today's object of reviewage is none other than whatsisname on that other livejournal with whom I have exchanged much witty banter and good natured badinage. We here at uglychicken livejournal inc wish to reassure whatever readers we might have that this will in no way affect our assessment of said object, and that had we found said object to be a vile excresence, less comely than the most pus-ridden pustule poised atop Lucifer's own knobbly nose, we would not hesitate to pretend that the whole thing never happened and never bring it up again in any converstion whatsoever, polite or otherwise.
Fortunately, it's not quite that bad.
What it is, is readable. Now listen, I grew up in Ireland. In the seventies. The eighties. The Irish literary scene of that vintage did not do science fiction, fantasy or even crime for that matter. It just didn't. There was high-falutin' literary miserabilism, or romance. That was it. We were too poor for anything else. Any attempts to make brave forays into other genres were, by and large, anything but readable. This is why I do not read Irish science fiction, fantasy or crime. That will probably have to change.
So: readable. Very readable. You know that smooth way of writing that just slips through and goes down easy and carries you along? That kind of readable. Halfway through the damn book before you even realise it kind of readable. It's not just style, of course, it's plot and character and pace and all the things that go into making a book clicking together and running like a smooth machine. The fiction equivalent of class. You either got it, or you don't.
The Inferior is a bloody tale of a human tribe stranded in a world full of alien tribes competing to see who can eat the most of all the other alien tribes because they are yummy, and because there isn't that much else to eat.
To hero Stopmouth and his family, of course, this is the normal natural way of things. You go out, you kill something, bring it home and eat it. Occasionally something kills and eats you, and when you're too old to go out killing things, you're sent off as meat on the hoof to a tribe with whom there is a more or less peaceful arrangement. It's not natural, of course, as the white eggs buzzing around near the roof will indicate to the savvy reader. It's some sort of horrifying prison/entertainment arrangement, and it soon becomes apparent that for all the ugliness of their situation Stopmouth's people retain far more of their humanity, in their loyalty to family and tribe, than those who watch them. When the eggs go to war and a mysterious woman arrives amongst them, their fragile existence is threatened, and the truth begins to emerge.
There's an old-fashioned sense of bravura to the whole adventure that reminds me of Philip Jose Farmer. Riverworld, Dark of the Sun and World of Tiers all featured humanity thrown into conflict against hosts of strange creatures across vast alien, and sometimes artificial, landscapes. So with The Inferior as our hero contends with one bloody alien horror after another. It'd make for grim reading if the characters weren't so engaging that the reader empathises with their situation rather than recoils with disgust at their actions. As it is it's a rollicking, breathless adventure full of unexpected twists and an amazing menagerie of alien monsters, though, of course, they're generally no more or less monstrous than human. With one or two exceptions.
It reaches a satisfying conclusion, but obviously there's more to come. If only there was some way to communicate with the reclusive author to find out whether or when there might be a sequel due...

We here at uglychicken livejournal inc were going to post the whole 'train ticket story' as part of the review, but we have wasted enough time at work already, so maybe in comments.

The train ticket story:

Well, let's see. In those days we had these things that we called trains and we used them to get round. They were like, I dunno, really long snails that crawled along these things like the bits you get on a fork? Only there were two of them instead of four and they were tied together with these big matchsticks. The matchsticks kept catching fire and exploding and the snails would get scared, thinking flaming Frenchmen were coming to eat them, and they'd fall over and retract into their shell and everybody'd get squashed until France dropped below the horizon and the snail would get moving again.

To travel on the snails you had to have a ticket. Tickets could be tricky enough to come by because when the conducter came round to sell them he'd just wave his baton at you and the orchestra would run in and start playing, and if you were lucky it was just a short piece like a madrigal or a detumescent and we'd all clap delightedly and say oh, how baroque, but sometimes they'd play an entire symphony, and if the snail fell over and retracted all their intruments would get mixed up and you'd have the percussonist playing the bassoon and the oboe playing the cellist and then they'd have to start all over again and sometimes Robert Wagner would come along and they'd do the entire Ring Cycle, which takes three years and a cast of five thousand, half of them castrati, about a millionare husband and wife detective team and their loyal dwarf who must solve murders, rescue cursed gold and contend with a pantheon of neurotic Norse gods. Frankly, by the time they got to the passengers, we were lucky if they had any tickets left at all.

So we used to make our own. Couldn't go on a trip by snail without your own design and print booth. Everyone was expected to chip in. Some brought trees for the paper, others brought squid for the ink and others brought distraught, lovelorn artists, shot them up with heroin and lsd, and forced them to run up a series of attracive but functional designs. Later, the valkyries would ride them for the big finale of Gotterdammerung.

So we ended up with tickets of our own for travelling on the snail. Sooner or later, usually during the third act of Siegfried which just gives everyone a headache, the conducter came round and punched the tickets. We would weep quietly to ourselves as he battered our poor tickets into oblivion, jumping up and down on them, calling them mean names. At last I had enough, so I hit him over the head with a copy of The Inferior and he fell down, and all the passengers jumped up and started hitting him with their copies of The Inferior and then the orchestra came running up and started hitting him with their copies of the libretto, which turned out to be the German translation of The Inferior, then a hundred hungry flaming Frencmen descended from the sky and ate the snail and I alone am returned alive to tell thee. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Stopmouth has always deeply admired and envied his older brother, Wallbreaker, for his hunting skills, his ability to speak without stuttering, and the love of Mossheart, one of the prettiest girls in the Human Tribe. Stopmouth's chances of a good match are low, because everyone assumes something's wrong with him because of his stutter. He didn't mind so much when he had the love of his mother and brother, but, after his mother Volunteers herself to be traded to rival creatures for food so that Stopmouth may live, and his brother becomes jealous of Stopmouth's friendship with Indrani, Wallbreaker's second wife, a mysterious woman who came from a Globe, Stopmouth's world begins to change.

Okay, I did my best to summarize this book, but, honestly, it's a really difficult book to explain, because it's so much not like anything else I've read. Basically, somehow the human race has descended to the level of cannibalistic monsters that live off of no food but flesh. Not only do they eat all of the creatures that live within hunting distance of them (Armourbacks, Hairbeasts, Hoppers, etc.), but they also eat other humans. To be eaten by one's family after death is seen as an honor.

Weirder still is the fact that none of these different kinds of creatures can understand the language of any other. Even more curious is the fact that, even if they try, they cannot learn to understand these other methods of communication. All of the different tribes of creatures live in the same ways the humans do, hunting and trading the species nearby.

On the plus side, this is very original. On the downside, I found it nigh impossible to relate to the characters, because they're just so incredibly different from anything I know as 'human.' The way their society functions is completely awful, with the death lottery and the role of females. Caring about Stopmouth and Rockface and Indrani was difficult at the best of times.

Up next on my tbr pile is the second book in the series, which is finally being published five years after book one (weird!). I'm not particularly excited about it, but I'm not giving up on it either. I would like to learn more about how the heck humanity became like this. There were some hints in The Inferior and I think a lot more should be learned in The Deserter about the Roof and the history of humans. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
Superior dystopian story. ( )
  MarkTJones | Mar 30, 2013 |
I had been warned by book friends and enthusiasts that I had to give this book 100 pages, because the first chunk was full of WTFery and I would be really confused, but then after that it was amazing. I am pleased to say that it didn't take me 100 pages -- I really did like this from the start. Granted, the reader is -- as the author mentioned at the reading I recently attended -- cast into the story in medias res and thus has no idea what's going on for a little while, but that ends up being part of the book's engaging spell. The limited perspective of the narration may make the reader reread a few portions, just to anchor herself in the distinctly alien landscape and plot, but the whole package is worth the effort.

O'Guilin has asked several interesting "what if" questions in order to set up the premise of this science fiction novel that is at once futuristic and paleolithic. What if there was nothing for you to eat but meat, but the meat you could get came from intelligent creatures who were also trying to eat you? That is the place the author begins and his extrapolations result in a novel that is both brutal and thoughtful. Also, what if you were a militant (as in culturally ingrained for generations) vegetarian and you landed in the midst of this world of carnivores? See, you're intrigued already. I can tell. And that is best part of this novel -- the sheer intrigue of its questions and creations. And boy, let me tell you, there are more creations -- including some remarkably imaginative monsters -- by the boatload here.

I'm not saying this is a perfect book. Among its flaws are sparse prose that occasionally stumbles and deductive leaps that don't always land on their feet, but like other sheer-power-of-story YA novels, this book carries one along at such a clip that there is hardly time to notice. And the swift pace of the novel works both within the story and without -- I finished the book in the equivalent of an afternoon, from early lunch to tea time. I'm glad I picked up this book and I think others who enjoy science fiction with a bit of dash, or adventure with a side of speculation, will find it worth their time. Also, I'm already reading the sequel, which might tell you something.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS: This is a book largely about carnivores; there is much talk of consuming organs, butchering kills, and people of all kinds getting eaten, sometimes alive. Not really a book for the squeamish, and even those with solid stomachs might look twice at their BBQ ribs right after reading this (though I ate mine with relish. No, really). Also, this is the first book in a trilogy and it ends on a cliffhanger. You have been warned. ( )
  beserene | Sep 8, 2012 |
Stopmouth and his family have known one fact all their lives; fight or be eaten. In a world where flesh is necessary to survival, you either hunt other species or get traded to them as food. The arrival of a strange woman who falls out of the sky adds to the chaos, but as Stopmouth learns to communicate with her he begins to discover some strange truths. ( )
  ShellyPYA | Nov 16, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385751451, Hardcover)

STOPMOUTH AND HIS family know of no other life than the daily battle to survive. To live, they must hunt rival species, or negotiate flesh-trade with those who crave meat of the freshest human kind. It is a savage, desperate existence. And for Stopmouth, considered slowwitted hunt-fodder by his tribe, the future looks especially bleak. But then, on the day he is callously betrayed by his brother, a strange and beautiful woman falls from the sky. It is a moment that will change his destiny, and that of all humanity, forever. With echoes of Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian, and The Truman Show, Peadar Ó Guilín’s debut is an action—and idea-packed—blockbuster that will challenge your perceptions of humanity and leave you hungry for more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:58 -0400)

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In a brutal world where hunting and cannibalism are necessary for survival, something is going terribly wrong as even the globes on the roof of the world are fighting, but one young man, influenced by a beautiful and mysterious stranger, begins to envision new possibilities.… (more)

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