Ulysses was anything but exhilarated at his conquests. The bloodshed depressed him. Millions of years of sentiency had passed, perhaps four hundred thousand or more generations, perhaps twice that many. Yet the sentients, the users of speech, the lords of the beasts, had learned nothing. Or was that their lesson, that fighting and bloodshed were inevitable and would last as long as life lasted?
|The reference to a "recent" Hugo win is|
presumably to Farmer's Hugo for
Best Novel for To Your Scattered
Bodies Go, the first Riverworld novel,
though Farmer also got a '68 Hugo
for the novella Riders of the Purple Wage
Before we explore The Stone God Awakens, here is a list of the eleven books I have already read from Joachim's donation, complete with handy links to my rantings and ravings about them:
Slave Planet by Laurence M. Janifer
Three Novels by Damon Knight
Dark Dominion by David Duncan
New Writings in SF6 edited by John Carnell
Tama of the Light Country by Ray Cummings
Tama, Princess of Mercury by Ray Cummings
A Brand New World by Ray Cummings
Ultimatum in 2050 A.D. by Jack Sharkey
The Power of X by Arthur Sellings
The Enemy of My Enemy by Avram Davidson
The Bright Phoenix by Harold Mead
I have observed in the past. On the second page of The Stone God Awakens we see a cat person, but we don't spend much time with him, as he is stabbed to death by a raccoon person! We SF readers don't see too many raccoon people, though I guess there is one in movies now and Chad Oliver did offer some up in his 1972 story "King of the Hill."
SF is also full of 20th-century dudes who wake up in a crazy future world. We just read a story like this by Keith Laumer, and, not too long ago, novels on this theme by Edmond Hamilton and Charles Eric Maine. The Stone God Awakens is yet another of these tales of people who go to sleep in the century of Lenin, Hitler and Mao and wake up in a century full of weird politics and terrible violence and dangerous characters!
Biophysics grad student Ulysses Singing Bear, like so many of our most prominent academics, is part white, part Native American--in his case, Iroquois. One day in 1985, in a Syracuse, New York research center, he was working on a device that could preserve a living thing by freezing it down to absolute zero, a state in which none of its molecules or atoms would even move, turning it into an invulnerable statue. An accident occurred and Singing Bear himself was thusly preserved while sitting at his desk. Millions of years later, a tribe of cat people with a stone-age level of technology discovered his frozen body, pulled him out of a dried lake bed and installed him on a stone throne in a wooden temple with columns like totem poles, where they worshiped him as a god. Centuries later still, as the novel begins, a lightning bolt strikes the temple, setting it on fire and revivifying Singing Bear. Our hero awakes during an attack on the cat people village by a tribe of raccoon people and soon finds himself in the middle of a tomahawk-swinging, assegai-flinging melee.
Like so many members of the SF community (but not Robert Silverberg!), Farmer loves Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the set up of this novel is in some ways like the first John Carter book--in an impossible manner a 20th-century guy appears among a bunch of primitives, learns their language (Singing Bear is an expert linguist, which comes in handy) and starts teaching them how to behave. The cat people haven't invented archery, so Singing Bear makes a bow and some arrows and trains them in their use. The cat people want to practice their shooting on a live target, a captive raccoon man, but Singing Bear stops them from committing this atrocity, as he does other of their murderous cultural practices.
The raccoon people also consider Singing Bear to be their god, and our hero sets out to end the warfare between the felines and the raccoon folk and unite them under his rule. Then, he leads a multi-species company of a hundred or so warriors on an odyssey across the country. They cross plains, ride rafts, and, most remarkably, penetrate a dense jungle, the main component of which is a single colossal tree thousands of feet high that occupies an area the size of a European country or small American state! This tree has a myriad of twisting winding curling branches, each hundreds of feet thick--the fissures and wrinkles in its bark are so huge that over the centuries they have filled with dirt and regular-sized trees are growing out of them. Singing Bear's party marches along these more or less horizontal branches, hundreds or thousands of feet above the surface, crossing from one branch to another via dense networks of lianas.
The company of cat men and raccoon men has overcome various monsters, and do battle against other tribes of intelligent species, among them some dog men and the aforementioned tree-aligned leopard men. Singing Bear's party has an edge over these adversaries because he has not only provided them with the science of archery, but taught them to ride horses and how to make gunpowder; the primitives have no metal, so Sleeping Bear can't make muskets, but he does produce wooden hand grenades and even wooden rockets fired from a bazooka-like tube.
Farmer adds a little interest to all these adventures with developments in Ulysses Singing Bear's relationship with the natives of this far future. For one thing, there is the nerve-wracking need to maintain his status as a god, a challenge because he lacks the kind of omniscience and invulnerability the cat and raccoon people, perhaps, expect of their god--for example, his followers assume Singing Bear knows all about the local geography and flora and fauna, and of course he knows very little. In addition, and perhaps as we expect from Farmer, who is famous for including unusual sex in his fiction (who could forget "The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol"?), Singing Bear is slowly falling in love with Awina, the cat woman who taught him the languages of her people and acts as his trusted servant and friend. But can Singing Bear really be sexually attracted to a fur-covered person who licks herself clean and in the process ingests furballs?
Accompanying the feline and raccoon expedition is a person Singing Bear calls a batman--a short hairless guy with wings of bone and membrane jutting out his back who goes by the name of Ghlikh. This flying dwarf makes his living by performing the role of diplomat, journalist and merchant, travelling all over this weird future world, conducting negotiations, exchanging news and gossip, and facilitating trade among the many stone age tribes of animal people. Singing Bear badgers this slippery character into acting as his air force--Ghlikh somewhat reluctantly conducts reconnaissance and even tactical air strikes for Singing Bear's expedition, providing them yet another advantage over their foes. But around page 70, in the middle of that jungle, the batman betrays them to a tribe of ogres, men eight feet tall who eagerly devour some of Singing Bear's followers raw. Maybe this is Farmer's commentary on how far we should trust ambassadors, journalists and merchants--also, the scenes of the ogres eating people reminded me of the cyclops scenes in The Odyssey. Anyway, Singing Bear comes to believe that the bat people are in charge of the tree, though they present themselves as its foremost servants.
I had hopes that the expedition being captured would radically change the course of the narrative, that Singing Bear would be hauled before the secret masters of this future world or something like that, but Singing Bear and Awina quickly engineer an escape and the party gets right back to marching through the elevated jungle and riding rafts and fighting tribes (now they have to fight the flying swarms of Ghlikh's countrymen) again. By coincidence Singing Bear even comes across Ghlikh and captures him, so he is once again a member of our hero's party, though he is tied up and carried around instead of being sent ahead as a scout. Maybe I should note here that, in the same way that John Carter improves Martian behavior but doesn't go so far as to abolish slavery on Barsoom, Singing Bear ends practices like human sacrifice among the cat and raccoon people, but is happy to make use of information gathered by torturing bat people.
|This massive omnibus includes not only|
The Stone God Awakens, but The Green Odyssey,
which I read back in 2014, and
Lord Tyger, which tarbandu read in 2018
The Stone God Awakens lacks a strong sense of narrative drive; during all the many pages of marching and climbing and rafting through the forest I sort of forgot why Singing Bear had launched this perilous expedition instead of just hanging out with his worshipers--I it was guess to investigate rumors of the tree and the possibility of there being a tribe of humans for him to make a family with. But when Singing Bear finally meets what appear to be real humans (in fact, the humans living as second-class citizens among the elephant people are a different species than homo sapiens and Singing Bear cannot have children with their women), Farmer doesn't convey any excitement on Singing Bear's part. Instead we are told Singing Bear has become determined to destroy the tree and its servants. (I guess Ghlikh, who is actually probably the most interesting character in this book, and escapes from the elephant people's incompetent gaolers, really pissed him off.) Singing Bear helps the elephant people develop new weapons--among them explosives and blimps--and much of the last sixty pages of the novel is concerned with war preparations and plans and raids and aerial battles.
Singing Bear is also allowed to visit the ancient underground city where the elephant people got their technology. Accessing a sort of computer, Singing Bear learns something about Earth's history over the last few million years, including much about the origins and growth of the tree and of his own existence as an indestructible statue honored by many civilizations as they rose and fell. Singing Bear is further enlightened when, at the head of his own elephant-financed air force, he fights his way through a Luftwaffe of bat men to the inner sanctum of the tree, where he has a tense conversation with that self-aware product of ancient genetic engineering. In brief, mankind used up all the metal on the Earth and developed plants for use as machines. The tree was bred as an environmentally-friendly, "be at one with nature," city. Despite these efforts to embrace a green lifestyle, environmentalist aliens from Andromeda arrived and exterminated the human race because we were too mean to the environment; the Andromedans spared the animal people, in hopes that they would be of better character, but those people turned out to be almost as corrupt and violent as human beings, so the tree has been trying to get all intelligent life under its control via persuasion or by force.
Perhaps in keeping with this downbeat tone, the novel ends inconclusively after a huge battle featuring dozens of pages of explosions, stabbings, ambushes, traps, and people being burned alive and drowned to death. The tree is not destroyed and the batmen are not exterminated, so the war is doomed to continue. In fact, any progress made in weakening the tree is mitigated by the fact that while Singing Bear and Awina and many of the elephant people's fighting men were away with the airships launching the inconclusive attack, the subordinate humans back at the elephant people city launched a rebellion, throwing Singing Bear's base and supporters into turmoil. On the last page of the book Singing Bear reflects that he will have to make peace between the elephants and their former slaves if any of them are to survive the war against the tree and the batmen, and maybe he should also just make peace with the tree, if possible.
I like the plot of The Stone God Awakens and am willing to give it a mild recommendation, but there are plenty of problems with the book. It is quite long, 188 pages of quite small text, and it feels long, in part because it is just one big chunk of words--there are no chapters to physically break up the wall of text and to organize it thematically or set off important plot developments. The book can be a little wearying, and I think could have benefited by being separated into chapters with snappy titles like "The March to the Jungle" or "The Battle with the Elephant Monster" or "Captured!" or whatever, each chapter ending with the conclusion of an episode that gives the reader a sense of progress or a cliffhanger that spurs the reader's desire to find out what comes next. Farmer could also have just left out some episodes or descriptions--the battles in particular can be pretty complicated and pretty repetitive, with each maneuver and operation being presented to us in detail.
As I have hinted when I talked about the novel's lack of narrative drive, The Stone God Awakens is kind of bland, lacking in passion and emotion. Singing Bear is not a very exciting character and his motivations are a little vague, and when Farmer talks about his emotions he doesn't sound like a man of feeling writing a novel but like a psychologist writing a textbook:
There was also the problem of finding a suitable permanent mate, one who could father his children and be an enjoyable companion.Clinical and boring! And just like the war plot, the love/sex plot isn't really resolved. Does Ulysses Singing Bear ever declare his love for cat woman Awina and have sex with her? He doesn't over the course of this novel, but maybe he will after it is over?
Above I referred to Edmond Hamilton's The Star of Life and Charles Eric Maine's He Owned the World, two other books about guys who wake up in a strange future. Hamilton and Maine fill their books with war and adventure, just like Farmer, but they also try to say something about human freedom and the relationship of the common people to elites, and to integrate those ideas with their plots. In comparison, The Stone God Awakens feels a little light in the ideological department. With the exception of his portrayal of the elephant folks' war preparations, Farmer's environmental and misanthropic goop here in The Stone God Awakens isn't very well woven into the novel's plot or the relationships between the characters, much of it feeling sort of tacked on to his rambling and inconclusive tale. And while I get the impression from the media that millions of people are apoplectic with fear that the world is going to end if I don't stop driving to the grocery store and flying to my in-laws' weddings, I personally find environmentalist stuff mind-numbingly boring (and I am also not seeing much evidence of people abstaining from driving to Grandma's house or flying down to Disney World.)
So, I've got a lot of complaints, but the idea of a guy being turned into a statue and being revered by a long succession of societies is a cool idea, and Farmer does serve up some fun monsters and weirdos, so I'm giving this one a mild recommendation.
*My big disagreement with tarbandu regarding The Stone God Awakens has to do with the length; while I found it too long and too detailed, he thought its style "unadorned" and found it "a quick read." Maybe I am getting impatient in my old age!