REVIEW: THE VORRH
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B. Catling, The Vorrh
– July 21, 2014
In his forward to The Vorrh, Alan Moore (author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta) writes the following:
"By definition, surely every fantasy should be unique and individual, the product of a single vision and a single mind, with all of that mind's idiosyncracies informing every atom of the narrative. A genre that has been reduced by lazy stylization to a narrow lexicon of signifiers . . . wizards, warriors, dwarves and dragons . . . is a genre with no room for Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, arguably the earliest picaresque questing fantasy, for David Lindsey's Voyage to Arcturus with its constantly morphing vistas and transmogrifying characters, for Mervin Peake's extraordinary Ghormanghast books or for Michael Moorcock's cut-silk Gloriana. It is certainly a genre insufficient to contain the vegetable eternities of Catling's Vorrh."
The key word there is "insufficient." It is a word of attack and accusation against the admirers of fantasy.
It is a common complaint of the patrons of the genre that fantasy gets little respect within literary circles. It is works like The Vorrh that speak why such recognition is not offered because it is mostly undeserved. For The Vorrh stands head and shoulders — even navel and knees — above the common fare of fantasy. It reveals in its literary writing and its symbolic imagination just how banal, repetitive, poorly written, and indubitably un-literary most of the fantasy scene actually is, and how indefensible most fantasy works actually are. Indeed, this book, just as with Alan Moore's words, is itself attack and accusation against the admirers of fantasy. For this is a book that fantasy enthusiasts should be holding up at con panels to popular writers with an accusation of "why are you not writing works like this?" It is a book that they should be thrusting before the publishers and bookstores saying "We want more of this."
That is, we want the unique and the individual, that which cannot be found elsewhere. The Vorrh is such a book. Not only in its imaginativeness, but also in that it is of a literary quality that not only approaches but challenges the stature of the Tom Wolfes and the Don DeLillos, demanding that they too justify themselves as not being but one more iteration of culture clutter, as glorified bestsellers, as just another genre, as stylized in its content as romance, westerns, or fantasy (and popular fantasy is nearly of the same level as those two dead horses).
Small minds seek the safety and comfort of unchallenged and unchallenging repetition. It is unfortunate that fantasy is overwhelmed and restrained by such today, in both its readership and its writership, as it has been increasingly the last decades. It is a genre filled with the same stories told the same way — and usually as poorly — over and over, and over again. If this is what is fantasy is to you, if you cannot wait for the next loop around the track by the Jordans, the Goodkinds, the Salvatores, or the Butchers, or whatever fantasy series is now taking up space on the bookstore shelves, then this book is not for you.
Unless that is, you are willing to put childish things behind you and step up to adult literature, then this is an absolute must. (If after reading The Vorrh the difference between it and the Jordans of the fantasy world is not glaring, I honestly feel sorry for you.) Perhaps it can be said, The Vorrh is as good as it gets; though, I dislike and distrust that phrase myself. Better it is to say: this is what fantasy _should_ be like: unique, individual, brilliant. If you are truly a lover of imaginative fiction, then you will get your hands on this book. Because imagining a book store section filled mostly with works like this . . . . . well, a pipe dream, yes. But what a dream.
And, by the by, get your hands on the book. Yes, it is currently only published in the UK, and not available directly in the US. (Though I am told it is available through Kindle.) But it is a wonderful book even to hold — large sized, well bound, and of heavy stock.
Final statement: this is one of those "no questions asked, just buy the damn thing" books. Buy it. Read it. Explore it. Tell everyone about it. It is literature, not pulp, and if you are not used to thinking when you read it may be difficult for you. But give it a chance. More, give it the effort it deserves. It is imaginative. It is poetic. It is undeniably brilliant.