Number of Reviews: 7
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Elves are Racist, December 20, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
In reviewing some IF works, I’ve grappled with poetic language that clashed with my own sensibilities. I seem to have a heightened sense of "ehhh that's trying too hard." Superficially, this should have tripped my hair trigger, but somehow the language here just sung for me. It was consistently evocative and surprising and carried a rhythm that was somehow both measured and propulsive. When I tried to figure out how this succeeded for me where other works did not, I think the best I came up with was EfG minimized the use of extravagant simile and metaphor, and just straight up described stuff. Elegantly, evocatively and beautifully. This offhanded passage early on was just so precise in its socio-political observation, its multi-syllable employment doesn’t end up diluting or obfuscating it. (look at me! so many multi-syllable words of my own!)
"to the glittering glitterati of the donor class, those brahmins of the City whose funding feeds the fringe-work (performance, poetry, painting–even it turns out, mythohistoric research), fattening it up until it can pass as avant garde, or perhaps–if you’re lucky–even 'cutting edge.' "
For the first chapter or so, it's all narration, and the language rolls like a manuscript from the protagonist - its half-academic half-poetic tone seems about right for the background they’ve presented to us. Quickly they meet with a poet they’ve idolized, let’s call her Didi Joanion. Just pulling syllables out of thin air here. The rest of the work is a dialogue between the two about Didi’s time among the Elves. Settle down spoiler-police, it's in the title.
Let me break for a moment to talk about the interactivity - it's kind of inessential. There are some exclusive choices early that shade how the protagonist understands the world. I was a bit put out at those, because every option I selected had text that thrilled me, and I wondered how much MORE thrilling the choices untaken might have been. I wanted to select them all! Later though, when choices stopped being exclusive and I had to select all (or just most) of them I was like “why am I even selecting here? shouldn’t these just be page breaks?” You can’t win with me game, ask around, that’s just how I am. A lot of the time, the interaction was straight-up page turning, but even when it wasn’t, it was. Every now and then there was a nice pacing effect in the interactivity, but very much the rare exception.
So back to the text. As soon as Didi started talking things jarred for me. She spoke in the same evocative, deliberate, erudite voice as our narrator. And she did it describing things from decades ago, with a precision and clarity that … eeehhhhh. Here:
“[…] hanging from every horse-drawn troika and gondola poling its langorous streams, […]”
“Poling its langorous streams”? “POLING ITS LANGOROUS STREAMS???” Does that sound like something one human would say to another human in human conversation? I want you to try something: work the phrase “poling its langorous streams” unironically into any conversation with anyone in your life, and report their reaction back here. Some homework for you.
Something about putting quotation marks around it shifts the way the words work, and it drew the wrong kind of laughter. I considered, “maybe this is the protagonist’s recasting of her words in flowery manuscript as they’re being written down” except that previously they made a point of how diligently they were capturing her exact words. Then I thought, “well, she is a renowned poet in the text of the piece, maybe this is less an authentic conversation, and more her slipping into some well-rehearsed bit.” Which the story later outright confirmed! Ok story, you got me!
It did it twice more. Once, it noted there are 20,000 elvish words but only 3 for hello. (Is that the number? It was presented as a lot more than we have, but that feels super low.) I’m like, “c’mon that doesn’t make any sense, we have more in English.” Story was like “yeah that’s weird, hold my beer, let me tell you about ‘Goodbye’.” Elsewhere they’re talking about her silk flooring in her fabric house and I’m like “fr reals story? Doesn’t it rain there?” Next scene, rain! I felt like an overconfident amateur chess player realizing the unassuming player across the table was actually a prodigy.
So yeah, the language in dialogue never really felt ‘real’ but it was cool. I mean, I really liked reading it even if it wasn’t ‘believable’. So if I’m sluicing through this joyful, vibrant literary rapids why am I not Engaged? Why? Its about Elves. (IT'S IN THE TITLE, IT'S NOT A SPOILER.) Elves are racist bastards, that’s just facts. You see how they treat Dwarves in those Rings/Hobbit movies? Screw those Elf Supremacist dickheads.
Wow. That got away from me. There’s a possibility that was not about Elves.
So this work is about a gloriously conceived fantasy city and culture whose inhabitants are not important. And it's basically a long, super-evocative and thrilling to read description that only kind of barely crests to a dramatic resolution. It’s a beautiful artifact that doesn’t do much, consistent with its unnecessary interactivity. Is there a place for beauty? Of course! I just need a little more to get Engaged. That may be on me.
Playtime: 30min, finished
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Seamless
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless