The Black Star by Linwood Vrooman Carter.
First of all, the author usually goes by simply "Lin Carter" but, fuck me, that's a name!
Second, the only reason I acquired this novel is because it was used as an example in "A Well-Tempered Plot Device by Nick Lowe.
This is the point to introduce you to the manual. In my experience, the book that has most to teach about the mistakes to avoid in good fantasy writing, and by that token the one that can tell you most about the rules of hacking, is itself a work of fiction. It's not one that's likely to be familiar to all, and I'd like to take this chance to bring it to notice; because while there may be other books I don't know about that could serve equally well, this is the one I've found to stand head and shoulders above all comparable handbooks of instruction.
It's Lin Carter's novel The Black Star. For all I know, every other Lin Carter book may be exactly the same. I don't know; this is the only one I've ever finished. But I've read it more times than I can say, because practically any point you could wish to make about techniques of hackwork can be illustrated from the pages of this remarkable novel, to which I'll be making quite a lot of reference in what follows. It's hard to give any idea of the flavour of this astonishing text from just a few short citations, but here by way of introduction are four passages about the same character from different parts of the book.
Niane fled down the jungle path on frantic, stumbling feet. Her gown was torn. Her slim white legs were scratched and bleeding. She panted for breath, young breasts heaving and straining against the fabric of her gown....
He hastened to untie the girl. She was in a sorry state; most of her clothing had been torn from her, although she did not seem to have suffered any injury save the insulting touch of cold, sly hands....
"Tush, girl!" the old fellow said, blushing a little at the warmth of her words and averting his keen old eyes reluctantly from the generous glimpses of her maiden flesh rendered visible by the sorry condition of her gown....
In the crude intimacy of the cell they had shared, the temptation to touch her, to allow a comforting, soothing hand to venture an overt caress, to permit his eyes to taste the soft slenderness of her body so artlessly revealed through the sorry condition of her garments, had often been well nigh irresistible. Where another man would have yielded, perhaps reluctantly, to his need – which she as well felt – he but stiffened and grew colder, wrenching his thoughts aside from this insidious channel with distaste....
Lowe does not speak favorably about this novel, and with good reason. It was supposed to kick a new trilogy but the following installments were canceled, likely due to poor sales. But reading it was educational. It is said you can learn more from bad fiction than from good. If that is so, the Carter's Black Star is an excellent teacher.
As you might tell from the quotes, a more fitting title would have been The Black Star That Is Black Yet Also a Star But Still Black. Yes, the prose is redundantly redundant in its redundancy. Look at this:
The old sorcerer was in a vile mood, and he turned to snarl a rude query at the inquisitive, but inoffensive, blossoms.
"What are you fools staring at?" he snarled, as he clumped within.
He tells us the sorcerer snarled and then tells us he snarls again. Two one-sentence paragraphs from one snarl. Wow.
Carter started writing in the late forties and the tentpole of his career is finishing some of Robert E Howard's Conan stories. He either worked for a penny a word or picked up on Howard's style which was penny a word. I am temped to edit the damned thing. I suspect I could get it down to half length.
Often I encounter padding like this in writing by new, inexperienced writers who are still learning their craft. That sin thus because they are unsure how to convey the scene in their head to the page, and to the reader, so they overexplain everything out of a fear that the reader won't get it. This is not what Cater is doing. Every piece of padding is there because he intended it to be there. It's kind of unnerving to realize this. I have learned a more concise and direct method of writing, but to realize that Carter is using so many adverbs, adjectives and redundancies on purpose just blows my wee little mind.
The plot, as described in Lowe's article, is simplistic.
We begin with the mighty warrior of Celtish descent Diodric-- that's "Dio" as in Ronnie James and "Dric" as in "That guy is such a dric that he'll probably die a virgin."-- standing atop the battlements of the imperial palace crying. Diodric cries again later in the novel. I guess it's supposed to be manly to weep, but jesus christ, what a crybaby. This opening also hold the first major narrative redundancy. Diodric is about to commit ritual suicide because the palace and the capital are lost to the enemy. Carter goes on for about two pages on how doing this is an honored tradition when a vetern soldier nearby that was not quite dead yet but soon will be tells him to pack that shit in and live, dammit, live! So Diodric doesn't kill himself but he doggedly stays at his post when his captain comes by and tells him to leg it because there's nothing left to guard and he should live, dammit, LIVE!
These two characters do basically the same thing: tell out lunkhead hero to stop being an idiot and stay alive because he's young and shit. A better writer, or maybe just a writer concerned with writing better, would have combined these two into one character, but then it might have taken half the number of pages to get past this opening.
Oh well. No sooner than this business is over, Diodric rescues Niane from assassins and stuff and the two manage to escape in a flying boat thing. No, really. Niane is a typical female character in this kind of fiction in that she is completely fucking useless. When shit goes down, she just panics and screams and cowers and gets her dress torn in a PG-13 manner. More leg. More cleavage. No nipple or butt crack.
The only thing important about her is she happens to be carrying the fucking Black Star of the title. Lowe explains what the hell it is better in his article linked above. Suffice to say, everyone acts like it's fucking important for no goddamned reason. This means the bad guy that took over the capital is after them now to get that thing.
Anyway, the two turn out to be shit at flying boats because they are captured by troglodytes because they moored on a mountain peak during the night. A confusing amount of time passes before the sorcerer rescues them using magic and shit, even redoing the "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" bit from Lord of the Rings, although he doesn't fall too. The sorcerer, incidentally, is named Nephog Thoon. I shit you not.
As they simply travel via airship, Niane reflects on their time in captivity with the troglodytes and that Diodric did not take advantage of her. This was good, but then she wonders if he doesn't find her attractive.
Did you get that? She basically thinks "Wow. The entire time we were stuck in that cell, he didn't try to rape me. Wait a minute. Why didn't he try to rape me? Doesn't he think I'm pretty?" This is prefaced with the line "Niane would not have been a woman had not this occurred to her also."
Linwood Vrooman Carter, ladies and gentlemen. Champion of the people.
Anyway, the bad guy uses magic to permanently ground the air ship and they have to try to reach a friendly city on foot with the bad guy's henchmen in hot pursuit. They eventually make it to a river and float down on a hastily-constructed raft when suddenly the bad guys are right in front of them. Turns out the river in its meandering doubles back on itself and the bad guys just hoofed across the land instead of following the river's course like our idiot heroes. They are saved when the Nephog Thoon shoots a spell at the chief henchman only too late to see he has a wand of some kind. The magic cancels itself out in a massive explosion that pretty much saves the day.The goodies are then rescued by soldiers from the city they're trying to reach and all is well, except that the Black Star got lost in the commotion.
It turns out Nephog stole the Star because he was enlisted by some counsel of wizards to do so for reasons of sequels. This was a nice bit of intrigue that help keep interest up. I could tell he was going to steal the Star. I just didn't quite guess why because that was too easy.
All in all, everything gets wrapped up nicely at the end the way the first Star Wars movie did. Plenty of room for a sequel, but a tidy enough ending if those do not come. And they didn't. The sequels would have picked up with Niane and Diodric's grandchildren, supposedly. So none of our heroes would have been able to do anything anymore. It's an enjoyable enough story, I suppose even if nothing much happens in it.
The weird thing is that the novel seems to be just shy of having a comedy angle to it. When Thoon is given his mission, the guy does this by whispering in his ear while Thoon rolls his eyes comically. many of the other scenes could also be made to have perfect comic timing. If this were ever made into a film, I hope they go that way with it.