So a little while back I read a book called The Rock Child, by Win Blevins:
Apparently this book was later republished under the title Of Love and Demons. The original title refers to a rock formation in the mountains; the revised title refers to … uh … well, I’m not sure, exactly. There’s not really anything supernatural here, but possibly the “demon” would be the book’s main villain, Porter Rockwell, an actual person sometimes referred to as “The Destroying Angel of Mormondom”, who spends most of the novel in pursuit of Our Heroes, consisting of the Mormon-raised half-Indian Asie, abducted Tibetan nun Sun Moon, and … Sir Richard Burton*?!
Yes, The Rock Child is another one of those books that dragoons actual historical figures into fictionalized narratives. To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of that particular literary conceit—it seems to be being done more and more often these days, and too frequently is an effort either, I think, to capitalize on its subjects’ enduring notoriety or to get shorthand characterization without needing to develop one’s own backstories—but I’m willing to give The Rock Child a pass on it, for two reasons:
- It was published in 1998, so it predates the recent glut of this sort of fiction; and
- It reunites Sir Richard Burton and Sam Clemens.
More on that second item after the (lengthier-than-usual) Teaser, in which Our Heroes meet Sam Clemens in a bar in a mountain village which, I have decided, is Julian, California, even though it of course is not. But it might as well be.
He turned and looked at us at last, his eyes full of mischief and devilment. And that is how I have after since thought of him, a man who sees the deviltry in life and revels in it. “I take it you gentlemen are new to Washo?” he says.The Rock Child
“Isn’t everyone?” says Sir Richard.
“Captain Burton, if I’m not misinformed.”
Sir Richard hesitates, and then answers, “There is truth in desk clerks. Sometimes.”
Bush Lip stood up and handed Sir Richard a card. “I’m with the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise,” he says. “May I interview you? My newspaper is interested in Washo’s distinguished visitors.”
“Of which I am scarcely one. I’m simply a British traveler.”
I suppose lying comes naturally to spies after a while.
“Our readers would like your impression of Washo land,” said Bush Lip.
“Why don’t you join us?” says Sir Richard.
Bush Lip grabbed a chair like a hawk attacking a mouse. Before sitting, he stuck out a big paw to each of us. “Sam Clemens,” he says. “I write a little.”
Now, I mentioned that The Rock Child reunites Sir Richard Burton and Sam Clemens. A reader of 1970s science fiction might already have realized that here I am referring to the Riverworld series, which is quite possibly the grandaddy of all novels that dragoon real-life characters into their fiction. In Riverworld, Philip José Farmer cheerfully plundered the entirety of human** history to populate his literary environment. In addition to the aforementioned Sir Richard Burton and Sam Clemens, we have these other major and minor characters plucked from various epochs:
- Alice Hargreaves (of “Alice in Wonderland” fame)
- Baron de Marbot
- King John of England (non-Lion version)
- Cyrano de Bergerac
- Tom Mix
- Jack London
- Lothar von Richthofen
- Hermann Göring
- Jesus (the Jesus ― not to be confused with that other “The Jesus“)
No doubt there are more, but those are the ones I remember, plus the ones I got off the Riverworld page on Wikipedia.
Anyway, as one might expect, in Riverworld, Sam Clemens end up creating a gigantic riverboat, which (spoiler alert!) King John promptly steals. Clemens spends much of the rest of the series attempting to catch up with King John and get his boat back, culminating in my favorite literary air and sea battle of all time***, as the two riverboats duke it out near the headwaters of the River that gives Riverworld its name. Sadly, the not-very-good Riverworld television miniseries never really went anywhere, so I we never got to see this epic riverboat battle put to celluloid. But if you’re looking for good cinematic naval battles, the recent destroyers-vs.-submarines film Greyhound is no slouch, such as in this scene, which is (spoiler alert!) the final duel pitting the destroyer Greyhound against two U-Boats, one of which is Grey Wolf.
Speaking of Greyhound, at the beginning of the film, when Tom Hanks spends a little bit of quality time with his—uh, girlfriend****, I guess it was?—I noticed something about her and pointed it out to my wife:
Me: “Is that … it is! That’s Elisabeth Shue!”
Wife: “Who’s Elisabeth Shue?”
Me: “What do you mean, who’s Elisabeth Shue? You know! Adventures in Babysitting!”
Wife: “What’s adventures in babysitting?”
Needless to say, Adventures in Babysitting (1987 version of course) is now in the queue, so that my wife can be belatedly brought up to speed on who Elisabeth Shue is.
Me: “Now keep in mind, I saw it in the 80s, so it may not be as good as I remember.”
But no matter how the rest of the movie holds up some 33 years later, “The Babysitting Blues” will always remain a classic. It’s also a pretty decent West Coast Swing once it gets going.
Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, I’m back to working on a new book, originally to be titled The Apprentice. I don’t have a new title for it yet, but I’ll come up with one eventually.
Aron looked at the piles of debris, then back at the tunnel. “It came in here and excavated the tunnels,” he said. “It was looking for something.”
“Something that crawled out after it was freed. Something that could still move under its own power after being buried for so long.” Kyrie looked at him. “What could that have been? Do you know?”
Aron nodded, slowly.
“Is it what you thought the creature might be looking for?”
“No,” Aron said. “It’s much worse.”
The ApprenticeWhatever the New Book Will End Up Getting Called
Now, unlike previous work-in-progress teasers, this isn’t an existing book that I’m editing, and so the scenes will tend not to be fully developed yet. Basically my approach is to get the scenes done in ways that move the plot along, which is how I find out what the plot is, and then flesh them out with more descriptions, characterization, etc., during the editing process. This sometimes means I have to rework earlier scenes to make them fit with where the story actually ended up going, but, oh well. The one time I actually plotted everything out in advance, I changed it as I went along, and had to rework the beginning anyway. So that was a big fat waste of time.
Just like the Riverworld television miniseries.
* The explorer, not Elizabeth Taylor’s husband husband.
** And some pre-human, too.
*** Possibly because I’m more or less incapable of functioning normally aboard a ship, I find naval battles fascinating. I even enjoyed the film Battleship (shocker).
**** AKA “The only female character in the entire movie”