17 May 2011
This book is so bad I must bring it to your attention, valued couple of readers. The book is Messenger by Frank DeMarco.
The first problem is that the story is told in the first person. This can work, and a lot of old writers knew how to weave complex and intelligent narritives in first person that let the reader in on an experience not otherwise possible. Today, however, about 99% of amateurish writers do this, I guess, because they think it's expected or that it looks cool or whatever. Messenger is not among that 1% that does first person right.
In this book a US pilot named George Chiari crashes his U-2 spy plane on a mission from Pakistan to China in November 1962, one month after the Chinese invasion of India, when the United States was still good friends with Pakistan (the invasion prompted an about-face in foreign policy). George's plane crashes somewhere in the mountains after his engine flames out and he denies for maybe 20 whole minutes that he can't restart it (the U-2 is shaped like a glider, so it descends slowly from 70,000 feet). Surviving relatively unharmed he runs from his plane before it explodes. It doesn't. When he decides to go back to salvage stuff from the wreck he's met by *click* hello (in movies nobody ever has their gun cocked, even when they are in hostile territory or being persued by someone, because the sound of a gun cocking is really cool and must be saved for the moment you put it up to someone's head). He turns to see a man with an antique rifle. He hears another click and turns to see he's surrounded. They tie him up and lead him to a misty valley. They climb down the valley, back up the other side, and to a bunch of old buildings that have grown together over time as the inhabitants didn't want to be caught outside when going from one to the other. It's not revealed until later that the floor of the valley is TWO WHOLE MILES down, and it's nearly impossible for him to climb down safely when he tries to escape later, yet he can do it with his hands tied no problem. He climbed nearly 11,000 feet with his hands tied after surviving a plane crash with a gun to his back all in a single afternoon! Climbing 11,000 foot Mt. Etna is a nine hour climb, and it's not four miles up on the Tibetan plateau, and the climbers aren't tied up either.
When we get there everything has been retconned!
*The fabulous buildings of Hilton's novel are now old shacks (the piano is still there, though).
*The man who recounts the story of Lost Horizon, Rutherford, was really named Kallen.
*Henry Barnard really is Henry Barnard and the name Chalmers Bryant was made up in Lost Horizon.
*The plane wasn't refueled. The Maharaja had equipped it with extra fuel tanks because he didn't like to stop unless he had to.
*The valley itself doesn't save anyone from aging, it's a drug that magically only works inside the valley (because everything's better with drugs).
Excuse yourself there, but I don't want to know what really happened, or what's believable, I want Lost Horizon!
Nothing happens for pretty much 97 pages. We find that ALL the people from the first book and indeed everyone in Shangri-La are assholes. They capture George AT GUNPOINT, take him to their monestary, show him EVERYTHING and then say "now we can't let you leave or the Chicoms will know we're here." Why the fuck did you bring him there in the first place, just to make him prisoner for the next two centuries when he most likely would have died of exposure in a few days? In my expert opinion (I'm no expert but I happen to think my opinion is expert) living as a captive for two centuries while everyone you care about thinks you're dead, grows old, and dies up to four or five generations, is far far worse than actually dying in the mountains after two days of struggle, but that's just me. George want's to see his family again. He wants to go home to his fiancee before she inevitably marries that jerk from school who will get her as a rebound when she's depressed. Tough shit. The Shangri-La mafia kidnaped him and now he's stuck there. This. Does. Not. Make. Sense.
When he finally does get around to escaping, on page 99, I had to skip ahead. I had to find out if he made it so as to put the assholes in their place. Nope. They keep him there for 17 years. Then another pilot crashes there who is working for the Chicoms and the folks at Shangri-La say "oh shit, we need to get the US to save us from the Chicoms so we can keep our asshole village safe!" They're all too old and would die if they left, so they have to send George out. He has to make it back to the US and write a book about his experience, telling the world about the existence of Shangri-La so it can be protected from Chicoms AS IF THE WHOLE REASON FOR KEEPING HIM THERE THE PREVIOUS 200 PAGES DIDN'T HAPPEN! "Sorry we wasted your life, but we have to go back on our raison d'être just because we can't fight the Chicoms on our own." Well damn, if that's not a kick in the teeth I don't know what is! Boo hoo. Cry me a river, build me a bridge, and get over it. If you ask me there is nothing worth saving in Shangri-La. In Lost Horizon Shangri-La was a time capsule for preserving civilization from a future world destruction. In Messenger Shangri-La is like a cocoon from the movie Cocoon where old folks get young again, only instead the old folks are assholes and they need to stay in their valley to smoke cigars and eat tsampa and thumb their noses at the world.
If I were George and my escape plans failed and I was kidnaped by assholes, I would burn the whole monestary and the valley to the ground. We all die together or you let me go. These are not noble people whose way of life should be preserved. These are monsters who should be vanquished.
When he does leave he has Stockholm Syndrome. He doesn't care about his fiancee or what happened to her. He doesn't care about his brother and sister, or his parents (who he says are probably dead). Nope. He pines to return to Shangri-La! He loves his captors because in those 200 pages I skipped there was something about a drunken monkey (like Stoic philosopher Chrysippus, who died laughing watching his donkey get drunk, I guess Frank DeMarco added this WHOLE CHAPTER for laughs or something) and some new age fluff about coincidences like in the Celestine Prophecy (which has piss poor writing and nothing follows logically since it's about impossible coincidences, all by the author's admission because he didn't want to write a believable novel but wanted a venue to rant about his beliefs).
And that's the book. It sucks. It sucks worse than the other "sequel."