Book Review

Book Review: Mortu and Kyrus in the White City

This short story by Schuyler Hernstrom came to my attention as I wandered through the Mad Genius Club, I believe, or one of blogs of one of its contributors. It caught my eye because it addresses one of the more disturbing classic sci-fi short stories out there.

Mortu and Kyrus in the White City is clearly based on Those Who Walk Away From Omelas by the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin. To call Omelas a short story is generous. It’s more like the introduction to a large story, because it sets up…well, it sets up the problem encountered in the White City.

I admit I never really got Le Guin. I read the Earthsea books and they’re very good, and yes, Harry Potter is a juvenile rip-off of them that is far, far, far, far, far, etc. worse written.  I read The Left Hand of Darkness and it is good, and I enjoy its clever weirdness, but I read a good sci-fi political thriller, not a book that said something important, which I guess it did to many people. Le Guin is a truly great author and deserves all the accolades she receives. I just don’t connect with her writing on the level that many do.

Those Who Walk Away From Omelas probably gets to the crux of why. Le Guin writes it from the perspective of someone whose sense of morality is far more passive than that of a certain set of sci-fi fans, hence the existence of Mortu and Kyrus in the White City as well as many similar stories, discussions, and role playing game sessions. I am among their number, though I have yet to write a response to Omelas.

Anyway, Mortu and Kyrus in the White City is more than just a response to LeGuin’s short. The world has been deeply altered after an alien invasion destroyed civilization. Mortu is, well, a neo-Viking descended from neo-Vikings who hail from a union between one of the aliens and a great human warrior. Kyrus is an academic and chatty Christian monk who has been turned into a monkey by a sorcerer who he helped overthrow. They are riding a motorcycle through the wasteland looking for a way to return Kyrus to human form, when they run into a strange caravan under what ends up being an even stranger attack from nomads.

Our pair escort the caravan to the titular White City, a city built by the invading aliens and now inhabited by a small community of humans, contrary to the traditions of the rest of the world. The White City is a paradise, but there are little odd touches here and there noted by our heroes. Mortu’s neo-Vikingness catches the eye of the head priestess of the White City, while Kyrus overhears something the locals would prefer he didn’t.

This is a very short story, which is a shame, honestly. The heroes are likeable, the villains are quite real, and the world is intriguing. Clearly it’s science fiction, so how did a sorcerer turn Kyrus into a monkey? What’s the story with that? Can he be changed back? What happened to the alien conquerors?

However, it is a nice little read. You can easily read it in parts if you’re waiting somewhere and it is a satisfying answer to Omelas.

Pick up Mortu and Kyrus in the White City from Amazon.

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