Those in search of atypical fantasy need look no further than Glen Cook’s The Black Company. It’s as atypical as it gets. Dark, gritty, at times overwhelmingly bleak, it’s a far cry from classic works of the genre with their prancing elves, noble wizards, and stalwart heroes. No archetypal struggle of good vs. evil here. The characters that people Cook’s novel range from dark as night to dark as dusk. There are no good guys here, only bad, worse, and the dissolute crew whose mercenary exploits we follow. The latter are, if not exactly our heroes, then certainly the best of a very bad lot.
Their story is told from the point of view of one of their own, Croaker, the unit’s physician and historian whose job it is to chronicle the adventures of the legendary Black Company. The first person narrative has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it allows for a sense of familiarity that immediately immerses the reader in the story; on the other hand, it can be confusing at times as this familiarity also assumes an awareness of certain background elements, forcing the reader to play catch-up through-out. But while challenging at first, the task becomes less difficult as events progress and pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Cook’s narrative style is straightforward and concise (to be expected from a member of this sordid troop), devoid of endlessly detailed descriptions about the local fauna or the scents and sounds of the surrounding countryside.
We are introduced to The Black Company as the bottom is falling out on their latest commission to the corrupt Syndic of Beryl. They are vastly outnumbered by the northern army about to overrun their position. The outfit may be made up of some very unsavory personalities, yet they adhere to a code of conduct that forbids them to break a contract. They’ve been contracted to defend the syndic and the city, so things look very bad for The Black Company – until someone points out if not a loophole then certainly an opportunity to exploited in their agreement. They’re beholden to serve the Syndic so long as their employer is alive….
Fortunately for Croaker and co., the Syndic meets with an unforeseen accident. Their contract null and void, they beat a hasty retreat and are offered a rescue of sorts from a mysterious, masked individual who introduces himself as Soulcatcher. He offers them a new contract under the service of The Lady who is warring with The Rebel in the north. The Black Company is thankful for the new opportunity but, as events unfold, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the bad guys from the badder guys and Croaker begins to wonder whether they’re fighting on the right side of the conflict, especially when he makes the acquaintance of The Lady’s generals – The Taken, a grotesque collection of undead wizard kings given to battling each other.
The Black Company is dark, military fantasy that punctuates descriptions of the soldiers’ downtime with sudden, grisly accounts of battle. Given what I’ve heard of real life combat experiences, this is an accurate reflection of what soldiers endure – the long waits and then the sporadic bursts of violence. Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that, despite the infighting that occasionally plagues the outfit, the loyalty of the soldiers who make up The Black Company is first and foremost to one another. When asked to comment on this book series’ popularity among soldiers, author Glen Cook said the following in a 2005 interview with Strange Horizons: “The characters act like the guys actually behave. It doesn’t glorify war; it’s just people getting on with the job. The characters are real soldiers. They’re not soldiers as imagined by people who’ve never been in the service. That’s why service guys like it. They know every guy who’s in the books, and I knew every guy who’s in the books. Most of the early characters were based on guys I was in the service with. The behavior patterns are pretty much what you’d expect if you were an enlisted man in a small unit.” (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20050117/cook-int-a.shtml). It should come as no surprise that Cook served in the U.S. Navy.
Although confusing at times and at times a little too sparse in its description (I thought the story would have really benefited from some insight into the cultural, socio-political or economic backdrop of the land they were fighting over), The Black Company was an engrossing read. And, at a little over 200 pages, a quick one at that.
Well, those were my thoughts. Let’s hear your opinions on The Black Company. And, of course, start posting your questions for author Glen Cook.
To those of you wondering about the wrap party – yes, Amanda was there and I did take some photos of her, but a combination of the camera flash and where we were standing resulted in some iffy pics so, rather than post them, I prefer to direct you to this
(http://josephmallozzi.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/dsc01057.jpg) much better photo I took of her the other day. In fact, I took three times as many photos as posted but only selected the ones that, in my opinion, so my apologies to whoever didn’t make the cut. No photos of Rachel as I missed her at the party. According to Marty G., she arrived late and left early. I didn’t take any pictures of Joe or David, but I did exchange “best wishes” emails with David this morning. And for those of you asking what I wore to the party – scroll down to the bottom of this entry and check out today’s installment of the Weird Food Purchase of the Day: Shredded Squid.
Hey, look! It’s the mailbag!
Ivon writes: “I have been waiting all day for this… I was having a tough time trying to remember the night (last night). Well, except for your speech… it brought tears to my eyes.”
Answer: Hey, what happened? I went home for a power nap and came back like I said I would but you’d already left! So lame.
Lcshepp writes: “Side note…sometime when SGA is long done, I would really like to know what your true feelings are/were about the cancellation. I can’t believe you are going quietly into the night. I also know that the ‘team’ concept, franchise politics, and career moves dictate many comments.”
Answer: I think I was pretty clear about my feelings. While I wasn’t necessarily surprised, I was very disappointed.
Kellyk writes: “What if when it comes time to do the movies the cast already have other jobs?”
Answer: We’re going to try to time the shooting of the movie to make it as convenient as possible for the actors to participate.
Mark Nicholson writes: “yeah, you should have dropped of those shirts, then the model shop might not have been forgotten, like it always seems to be J”
Answer: Damn. Shirts and socks. Of course, a huge thanks to the model shop!
Belouchi writes: “1. We found out in season 1 that there were 60 Hive ships or more in the Pegasus galaxy, now with so much that has transpired ( Our team taking out a few, the wraith civil war, the asuran-wraith war) approximately how much do you think are still out there and will it be adressed in one the season 5 episodes?”
Answer: We will not cite a specific number but it is strongly inferred the wraith have been greatly weakened by the time season five unfolds.
Belouchi also writes: “2. The season 4 episode harmony makay said that hes been looking for that place for months because it was where the ancients first developed drone technology. Well since the ancients didint go to the pegasus galaxy untill the whole plague thing that would mean that when they left earth, the outpost didint have any drones there and they didn’t develop drone technology until they got to Pegasus. Well if that is indeed true, then why would the ancients make thousands of drones when they got back?”
Answer: I actually answered this question way back after Harmony first aired. The reference was to, specifically, the testing of the mini drones. It wasn’t clear.
Belouchi writes: “3.What ever happened to the other three planets from Weir’s list in the episode Before I slept containing ZPMs?”
Answer: Checked out and came up empty.
Anais33 a ecrit: “S’il vous plait donner moi une adresse où je puisse vous écrire???!!”
Anna writes: “Way back when the network made you change the title of Red Shirt Diaries – was that because it’s similarity to Red Shoe Diaries?”
Answer: The network has never made us change a title. In the case of The Red Shirt Diaries, the story was spun in another direction, sans red shirts and/or diaries, so the script necessitated a title change. It became Prodigal.