So this is the story of a cute and plucky girl, and a tough and handsome guy. She wants to prove that she can Make It On Her Own. He wants a home and kids. Remarkably, the script doesn’t sell either of them short.
Before Charlton Heston’s hero star took off, he was in a number of low-key A- or B+ movies in which he played a variety of roles, ranging from slightly scummy (The Dark City, Secret of the Incas–BTW, Heston was really quite good at those kinds of roles and it’s kind of a pity he didn’t play more villains) to merely romantic (Ruby Gentry). Here, he’s still mostly just the romantic lead, but it’s still a role with some characterization, and internal as well as external conflict. Also, Charlton Heston was really dang fine when he was young. Dayum.
So anyhow, he plays Casey Cole, initially a cattleman near the oil-fed boom town of New City. New City is drilling new oil wells as fast as the companies can move in, and is packed to the gills with noveau riche Texans–and their wives–who don’t quite know what to do with their money. Casey doesn’t actually strike it rich until about half-way through the movie, but he acts like he’s got it made the entire time. He’s just one of them type of guys, ok?
I am not nearly as familiar with Jane Wyman, so her role in this movie was a pleasant surprise. She plays the titular Lucy Gallant, a New Yorker who gets temporarily stranded in New City with four suitcases of designer clothes–and proceeds to turn a profit by selling every stich she owns. There are a lot of suddenly-wealthy women in town with nothing to actually spend it on. Not to be stopped there, Lucy promptly secures a loan and sets up a boutique–Gallant, Inc. Casey, meanwhile, is hanging around, being handsome, fielding offers from oil companies, and dropping hints to Lucy. He’s not exactly as
thicc sorry I got carried away there, ahem thick as a post, though: he’s able to figure out quite quickly what Lucy’s angle is.
You see, those clothes Lucy had with her? Those were her trousseau. Her childhood friend and fiance abandoned her at the altar–because her father had just committed suicide–because he’d been caught embezzling money. So Lucy is neither ready nor yet willing to settle down again just yet. She wants to Make It On Her Own, and prove to everybody–and herself–that she can.
Casey is vaguely supportive (he secretly strong-arms the banker into giving her a second loan after the store burns down)–but as time passes, and he gets rich enough to provide for them via his own oil company, and it’s clear that Lucy has succeeded (Gallant, Inc is getting the red ribbon cut by the governor of Texas), he’s starting to get a little bit impatient. After all, homemaking and children are a full-time job in and of themselves…
Both Lucy and Casey are well-drawn and well-portrayed characters with distinct personalities and a very distinct set of goals–so much so that I was worried they wouldn’t be done justice. Either Lucy would have to sell out on her journey to self-actualization, or Casey would be a thoughtless lunk who didn’t respect her need for that journey. This isn’t what happens. Lucy, while she does want domesticity and kids, and is willing to sacrifice for them, isn’t going to be bullied into it–and definitely not going to be talked down to, insulted, or dictated to. Casey, meanwhile, needs to appreciate what he does have and make it really clear that he values her and respects her wishes. We already know that Casey supports Lucy’s dreams and values her happiness when he twists the banker’s arm into giving her another loan–but he carefully makes sure that Lucy will nevah, evah, know of this. (His exact words, in that inimitable Heston drawl: “–and if you ever let her know it was my idea, I’ll nail your hide to the door of that brand new bank of yours.” Banker, completely cowed: “…sure, Casey.” Heh.)
Buuuut–that still leaves the problem of how these two incompatible set of goals do get resolved.
Quite satisfactorily–(“You’re the tallest Eagle Scout I ever saw,”)–but rather abruptly (the plot elements within the last ten minutes of the movie and the emotional part within the last three. But it’s funny–the poor banker finally gets fed up with these two crazy kids and starts blurting it all out indiscriminately, so we can forgive a little hastiness.
Rated: Well…I mean, I’d prefer ranching to storekeeping anyway, so I’m not complaining.
– There’s a bit where Casey carries Lucy to his truck through some mud, sparing her expensive and unsuitable shoes. A few scenes later, he offers to do it again to keep her feet dry. “I can do that too,” Lucy grins, and pulls out a pair of boots. A few minutes after that, she advises Casey on the correct color boots to wear with gray pants (black, not brown. ’cause that’s how it be done). Casey is next seen wearing black boots. That’s a pretty clever and moderately subtle way of setting the playing field and keeping score: showing, not telling!
– Thelma Ritter–you know, the older, kind of sarcastic lady in Rear Window–is the heart and acerbic conscience of this movie. “I’d like to get you and that lucky cowpuncher in a room together. Somehow this fight between you two isn’t getting refereed right.”
– Casey looks much, much better in a cowboy hat than in a suit. I’M JUST SAYIN’
– The war montage is kind of cheesy.
– The ’50s fashion show is incredibly ’50s but kind of neat.
Stick around for my notes and revisions of notes at the end. (You are, um, still reading my blog, right?)
So, so far I’m quite liking this. There’s been a lack of despicable antagonists (a plus) but unfortunately also a minimum of plot (a slight minus). The heroine hasn’t been browbeaten and has as much as declared that she won’t be the kind who turns into a weepy, useless mess (Man, I hope she’s telling the truth here), the hero is intelligent and kind of a bad boy without being totally irredeemable, and the two of them have really excellent chemistry (and comedic timing) together.
So! On to the episode!
When last we left our intrepid heroine and handsome hero, he had her backed into a corner and was leaning ominously in.
And, lol, she just ducks under his arm. And! Hua Rong is not defeated! She spots a parchment with inelegant writing on it, susses out that Chang Sheng is illiterate (…is he, though?) and offers to teach him to write. Not only, she boasts, does she write beautifully and read perfectly, she can memorize works at a glance! She then proves it! You go girl! So he agrees to her terms. (Hah, turns out the illiterate writing is actually Shaggy Bro’s. Blue Bro is supposed to be teaching him to write properly. Chang Sheng then threatens them with a fine if Shaggy Bro’s writing doesn’t improve, heh. He also sets them to keep an eye on Throat Cutter. For all the good that will do.)
Throat Cutter is listening to the insinuations of Creepy Lipstick Guy/Hu Er. He speaks for the old-timey type of pirates, who just want to cut throats and steal treasure, none of sissy taking prisoners stuff. Throat Cutter has to consider.
So Hua Rong arrives to give the first lesson. (Blue Bro makes a hasty exit). The map is tucked into Chang Sheng’s belt. Hua Rong does not succeed in getting it off him.
SO SHE”S ATTACKING WHILE HE’S IN THE BATH, AHAHAHA. Chang Sheng, considerately, puts his robe on before confronting her. Hua Rong hides her face anyway. Chang Sheng, considering that he’s pretty decent, merely flicks his hair back with sexy impatience, LOL. And it turns out that the map is hidden in his bed, anyway, so that was a waste of time. Funny, though.
Onwards! Little Bro wants to try building a ship of their own. He does believe that he can do it, if she gets the chart. But! Throat Cutter sees Yue Feng practicing his handwriting. Throat Cutter shows up to question Yue Feng. And, when he learns that Hua Rong is Big Sis, decides that Little Bro will pay the debt–a beating.
But he didn’t cry this time! And he didn’t beg. Hua Rong is proud of him. But still demands he tell her who beat him. He doesn’t want to. She figures it out promptly, anwyay. He tells her to let it go, they have to escape. She doesn’t want to. And she has a(nother) cunning plan. Hua Rong’s cunning plans only work about fifty percent of the time, but never mind. Also, lol: while she’s on good terms with the cook, the steward still holds a grudge.
So. A pirate council of war engages. Throat Cutter wants them to attack a government ship carrying vital military supplies! Chang Sheng doesn’t want them to. Throat Cutter points out that, excuse me, they are THIEVES, not HEROES, and they are SUPPOSED to steal from people, also SHUT UP WHILST I AM TALKING TO THE BOSS, HERE. Throat Cutter’s nacent staredown with Chang Sheng, however, is cut off by….a sudden urgent call of nature.
Well done, Hua Rong.
Now, if only there weren’t a freaking surfeit of witnesses to the fact that she gave the tea to the cook. She does, however, have an alibi: the tea was given to both Throat Cutter and Chang Sheng. (Only Throat Cutter also had lobster, ahah.) Hua Rong “sweetly” apologizes, and promises not to reveal that Throat Cutter wants the leadership position. In front of everyone in the room. Throat Cutter, predictably, tries to murder her then and there. You know, I really kind of like this heroine.
FIGHT SCENE WOO! (Oh, and now it’s over in the time it took me to type that.)
Hua Rong then starts pretending to cry. What’s worse, it works. OH COME ON GIRL, STOP BEING SO MANIPULATIVE AND GO BACK TO BEING INEPTLY CUNNING. So Hua Rong armtwists an apology out of Throat Cutter. Not that Chang Sheng is particularly happy about this, either. He knows what was up….which, she points out, also makes him culpable. But, she did it for her Little Bro and is willing to take the consequences!
(“Three months’ pocket money.” “Just that?”) And she’s starting to actually notice he’s both handsome, and nice to her.
Meanwhile, Throat Cutter has been pushed over the edge completely–he’s ready to take action that night.
Meanwhile, Hua Rong has probably set the kitchen on fire in order to more effectively snoop in Chang Sheng’s rooms.And! She found it! Finally! So, instead of taking it, she just memorizes it! Smart girl! And sneaks out victori….
But lol, Chang Sheng is resorting to strategems now, because he knows that if he doesn’t catch Hua Rong at something completely red-handed, she’ll wiggle out of it somehow.
And, red-handed they are caught, trying to launch their boat. So. To punishment! …he’ll let them go. If they get safely out, they’re safe. If not, no more escape attempts.
(KNOWING THE WRONG CHART. DAMNIT, CHANG SHENG THAT’S NOT FAIR AND YOU KNOW IT. NOT COOL BRO.) And stop looking so skeptical, this was your damn idea.
Naturally, it doesn’t work, and did he just drag her out of the water only to leave her on the beach on that same island? Not cool AT ALL, dude. So presently Hua Rong is squealing for help and running through the woods being menaced by CGI wolves. And Chang Sheng–who is enjoying this altogether too much–“helps.” He tosses her a knife to cut a hornet’s nest down from her tree. (And then the hornets come back up and she falls out of the tree. Aaaaaand he does catch her before she hits the ground.) Dude, it doesn’t count as saving a life if you’re the one to put it in danger IN THE FIRST PLACE. SHEESH.
Also, Hua Rong only likes chivalrous, noble, and fair-minded heroes! Not dirty pirates! So there! Hmph! Meanwhile, Chang Sheng is walking away with a “so you want the wolves to eat you, then?” and refusing to share his food unless she either begs or steals it–and then smirking to himself while pretending to sleep and letting her steal it from his fire.
Yeah. OK, at this point–and I knew this was going to happen–the plucky heroine has lost a good deal of her self-motivation and spunk; she’s reduced to following at the hero’s heels and no longer has plot relevance in and of herself. She is now automatically about eighty percent less interesting and ninety-five percent less relevant. Damn. I really did like Hua Rong for her first two episodes. She was funny without exclusively being the butt of the joke, she was clever and sometimes came ahead ahead and sometimes didn’t; she was–or at least aspired to be–strong and resilient. And she was compassionate, friendly, and stood up against injustice when she saw it. Now? Chang Sheng is permanently two steps ahead and she’s being repeatedly humiliated, given no opportunity to show her backbone, and running around squealing for help. Oh well. Maybe it’ll improve. My previous CDrama experiences, however, indicate not.
UPDATE from several episode ahead: No. I was totally wrong. Hua Rong never does lose her spine or her wits, she’s always totally cute and totally smart, AND THE WRITING IS ALSO SMART AND FUNNY AND NON-CLICHE! OH MY GOSH THIS MAY BE MY NEW SECOND FAVORITE CDRAMA OF ALL TIME! (Nothing’s ever going to top Chinese Paladin 3, but this one is really good.)
Also, Chang Sheng gets bitten by a snake trying to pull it off of a sleeping Hua Rong and then falls on top of her.
I am–because I do like the characters and I do want to trust the writers–going to acquire episodes four to however many I can load; but it’s with the hope that Hua Rong will regain her former status. Damn it, CDramas, why do you always do this? Gr!
Also, now that the romance has reached Phase 2, the actual plot elements are starting to appear. I’m assuming that Chang Sheng is going to get forced out of the pirate king business and take up a totally convincing disguise as a chivalrous jiang hu warrior wearing a very small mask. Hey now, if he and Hua Rong do end up fighting evil together, I’ll be one happy Riders.
UPDATE FROM THE FUTURE: I luv this show.
Please, please, get good again and stay good! I really want to like you! Don’t let me down! Fighting!
Thank goodness! Fighting!
Instead of a square-jawed space hero–such as the impetuous ex-military second in command DeWitt–or a square-jawed, reluctant yet capable science hero–such as the commander, Christiansen–this one stars (geddit? Stars? Sleep deprived me slays me) a nerdy academic without even the past background of baseball or football scholarships. He’s not even a physicist or a mathematician or an engineer–he’s a linguist: Robert Fairlie.
Why has a linguist been lured out to Washington under the pretense of headlining a conference at the Smithsonian, greeted by military security, and then slapped on a supersonic jet to New Mexico, at a time when it appears the greatest problem of the age is diplomatic?
The Other Side has been complaining about the American moonbase in Gassendi Crater–complaining that no neutral inspections have been allowed and it is obviously therefore a military installation.
It is a military installation.
It was not built by the Americans.
Thirty thousand years have passed since Gassendi Base fell, in the midst of a doomed evacuation; and after it was broken, it was stripped, the machines destroyed, the weapons confiscated, the dead–removed. Only words remain, spoken–or sung–and written. And, naturally enough, it turns out that at least one of the written texts contains, presumably, the entire instructions to build a functioning starship. Well, progress was fast during the 1950s. And, as youngest and most successful of the linguists, Fairlie is on board when it ion-beam propels off for Altair.
He’s not a space hero; he’s not a soldier or an adventurer or even just lacking in imagination. He’s scared stiff. But he’s going to have to find it in himself to stand up, not only for the sake of Earth and the crew, but for the (SPOILER, yeah right, as if) all too human Vanryn of Altair. You see, the commander, Christiansen, is a level-headed and thoughtful man, who has considered the impacts of their recent discovieries to men–to America–to Earth. He also has a weak heart (literally, not metaphorically.) Meanwhile, the second in command, DeWitt, is a fanatic, single-mindedly obsessed with the fact of this new technology and the thought of the stars. But DeWitt is also a strong man–strong enough at every stage of the plot to push through objections, to decipher, uncover, build, to aim for the stars, and–at almost every stage–to hit them. Is he, however, strong enough to throw his weight around against the Vanryn? When the weight of thirty thousand years’ traditions, an ancient fear, and the merciless prohibitions of the ancient enemy are against him, will DeWitt conquer? Or can he be stopped–in time?
The Vanryn were once a proud people, whose dream and aim and thought were the stars. But the battle with the Llorn broke their ambition and their will. They are a peaceful–an aimless, and passive–people now, without technology, or weapons, electricity–or spaceships. Over the millenia, they have even convinced themselves that this is what they always have and must desire. For the fear of the Llorn still resides among them. And now the Earthmen have come through the stars and broken the commandment of the Llorn!
So, not even the nubile star girl is particularly friendly, this time.
Will DeWitt succeed? Or–will the Llorn come again to Ryn, cloaked in their cold shadows and fear? And when they come–what will they do?
Authors usually have a stable of character types that they rely on for their stories. The barbarian warrior. The laughing, dangerous minx. The tall, laconic, green-eyed man with an unspoken past and enormous strength and hidden powers. The Competent Introvert. The superman whose powers place him apart from humanity, who loves and values people but cannot join them.The despicable SOB who exists to be despicable and provide catharsis by being disposed of horribly, either by chance if the heroes can’t get their hands dirty, or more satisfyingly by them if they can. (This one in particular is a pet peeve of mine.) Note that none of these are actually bad, if your skill level is high enough to make the plots interesting and the characterization flow naturally within the structure of that plot. I don’t think I’ve ever complained about a Zelazny hero being really tall, really strong, and extremely sarcastic.
But to continue: some authors can create many, complex, varied characters with each new book. Some, on the other hand, are bound to stick strictly and only to their little repertoire of archetypes, which can sometimes work just fine but sometimes also be wearying and predictable; it just depends on the skill level. Some authors, however, have or develop the ability to use their repertoire in a different way–to tell stories from non-standard points of view (such as the love interest narrating in The Grey Prince), or to make a putative hero into the villain, or something of that nature.
Something of that nature is done here–in fact, it’s a twofer. The book is not only narrated,as mentioned before, by the quiet, peaceful academic Fairlie rather than the starseeking DeWitt–[SPOILERS AHEAD] but the ultimate villainy is that same starseeking, glorious ambition that both DeWitt and the ancient Vanryn held–to conquer the stars at any cost, to place the imprint of the hand (boot?) of Man on every world in every system. The Llorn have no problem with other species’ space flights or colonizing other worlds; it’s the fact that men came on as though they had a right to those worlds that disturbed them.
Hamilton is critiquing the basis of his own genre and own work, and it’s an interesting thought. Can we trust the secrets of the universe to the impetuous heroes? Are immediate results all that matter? Is one man’s vision all that matters? What good is the will and the determination to crush opposition if there is no foresight or humanity beside it? Most of these questions are left open-ended in Fairlie’s mind, as the book ends with the party regrouping and preparing to attempt the return to ship and home.
The Llorn, meanwhile, are able to state their position in very straight terms: expand all you like, but mess with us or any other species, and we end you.
Humanity semper excelcior (or, in this cruder age: Humanity F*ck Yeah!) it is not–not really.
…they’ve got a point.
Highlights: Fairlie packing for the trip….what does one pack for a trip to Altair? Well, to start with, a shaving kit, toothbrush and aspirin. Better make it a big bottle….
– There’s a nice nod towards verisimilitude–the effects of unknown bacteria on a distant planet are considered and antibiotics are being administered. (Although really, pro-biotics would be a better choice, you’d think. Less chance of having a deleterious effect on the taker, not to mention how incredibly broad-spectrum these antibiotics would have to be to be useful.)
– Aral being the one to stab DeWitt, after he has forced her and her boyfriend into a number of dangerous situations and is trying to make them stay and face what for all she knows are the devils themselves–is appropriate but also a bit sad, given that at this point everyone realizes DeWitt is slightly crazy.
– Kipling is always appreciated.
Rated: These are the four that are never content,
that have never been filled since the Dews began–
Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite,
And the hands of the Ape
And the Eyes of Man.
And we find out why Hua Rong is so confident!–because her father is the righteous general Hua Man Tian…who is also a government official and therefore hugely important. And also! She has inherited the Hua family secret power! With just her fingertip, she can defeat seven men! (Shaggy Bro Lieutenant is completely bamboozled, but Chang Sheng is smart enough to figure out the trick….meaning Hua Rong is due for twenty lashes.)
WHICH HE ADMINISTERS HIMSELF, dang! At least Blue Bro is sympathetic. And Chang Sheng, naturally, administer the lashes in order to go easy on her. After all, she can still walk…
Meanwhile, in typical fashion, Hua Rong gets pulled into (trying) to solve an injustice…which does get solved…when Chang Sheng shows up to back her up. So a young man is being bullied by other servants. Hua Rong chats with him and tells him to stand up for himself. He then tells her about the river grass that make people itchy. Shaggy Bro marches past with a consignment of slaves who will be going off the island to the mainland. Blue Bro then shows up with Chang Sheng’s clothes.
(It don’t work.)
However, Hua Rong won’t confess. There is, naturally, no evidence. Chang Sheng threatens to cut off her arms and legs then….leading to Hua Rong taking desperate measures. Such as trying to convince Chang Sheng that his blisters make him look friendly and approachable, lol.
So she is condemned to be tied to the discipline stake for three days. The defiant one must be taught a lesson! Also Chang Sheng has noticed that Bullied Kid is paying close attention to his savioress; and also orders that the guards leave that night. Shaggy Bro is pretty much at a total loss here, but Blue Bro explains that it’s a hawk training tactic. (and charges his Bro for the lesson, lol.) Meanwhile, somewhat hilariously, Hua Rong is shouting abuse at Chang Sheng the entire scene.
She’s more or less wound down by that night, however–that much screaming would parch anybody. But Bullied Kid is fortunately johnny-on-the-spot with water and food. He urges Hua Rong to beg for mercy and cry. It works for him, after all! Hua Rong points out the problem with this strategy: it only encourages them to keep bullying you.
Tears are neither a weapon, nor a fundamental way to solve problems.
OH YOU TELL THEM AND PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND LATER YOURSELF. If you don’t want to get bullied, the only way is to get stronger. She also counsels Kid to be strong and also to have confidence in himself. Good girl. He hugs her…while crying.
AND LOL, at this point Chang Sheng, watching from a discrete distance, gives a loud AHEM. But, being the hot and cold hero he is, when he does saunter up, he merely tells her to hang on two more days. Cut to: Blue Bro rushing up to report that “that kid” fainted. The fact that all three of the top pirate leadership rush off to respond to this is of mild interest to Throat-Cutting Second In Command Guy.
Buuuut at this point Hua Rong’s secret is out. The Bros. Minds. Are. Blown.
Awwww no, she’s all in girl clothes now. Dangit, I have a feeling it’s all going to go downhill from here. Stupid Chinese gender roles. (But Chang Sheng psyching himself up to try and cover up her exposed….wait for it…shoulders…was pretty cute.) But at least Hua Rong comes up swinging (literally) but figuratively as well. She declares that she is a jiang hu heroine! And it’s totally not a matter of physical ability but heart and courage! “Do you really believe that?” Of course she does–not that he’d know, because it’s something that a dirty pirate would lack!
Chang Sheng, annoyed and insulted, leaves. But at this point it’s also confirmed that Hua Man Tian does have a daughter, who is the same age as “that kid,” and who disappeared a while ago and hasn’t yet been found. Blue Bro and Shaggy Bro, meanwhile, are trying to add A to B and come up with Why The Boss Is Acting So Weird?
Bullied Kid comes by to check on Big Bro–I mean, Big Sis. It turns out that he doesn’t really have a name–only a surname. Hua Rong offers to give him one–and teaches Yue Feng (Carefree Wind) to write his own name. And then pinkie-swears to protect her Little Bro. Awww. And now to business! Escaping the island!
Now, there is a rumor that there is a map of the island, currents, reefs, and channels. They can use that to escape, even if they don’t know the seas themselves.
But it’s in Chang Sheng’s room. Oh boy.
BUT NOW! Throat Cutter has arrived. He wants her.
Hua Rong protests that she belongs to Chang Sheng. And also headbutts him, lol. For all the good that does.
AAAAAND CHANG SHENG ARRIVES WITH A FLYING SIDE KICK JUUUUUST WHEN MOST NEEDED. Can that boy teleport? Because he’s done that a lot this episode.
AND LOL. Hua Rong takes instant advantage of the situation by trying to get Throat Cutter into the most trouble possible: that he planned to betray and usurp Chang Sheng the Pirate Lord’s position. And LOOOOL, also says he told her about his (gesture) tiny plan. “YOU!”
Chang Sheng sentences him quietly to fifty lashes.
And then picks her up and carries her off in turn. Turns out, he knows perfectly well she was lying about Throat Cutter, who might be thinking about such things but is too cowardly/intelligent to actually say it out loud. Hua Rong is, meanwhile, wondering if they are in Chang Sheng’s fabled quarters–and if the map is there.
They squabble over who gets to apply medicine to her bruised (lol) forehead, and romantic music starts playing. And kid, if you haven’t noticed that he’s kneeling before you to do you a service…well…
Actually, though, Hua Rong has noticed that Chang Sheng is pretty kindhearted towards her and discusses whether or not he should let her go.
He says no. She says yes. It’s a bit of an impasse.
(And he blows on her forehead to dry off the medicine. You know, I do that to the dog to annoy her, so I’m not seeing the romance there.)
But now the medicine-annointing is finished and Hua Rong is bumbling about the room in search of a) the map, b) an excuse to be in the room looking for the map. She settles on: “You saved my life! I must repay you!”
“Repay me how? Repay me…with yourself.”
CUT TO BLACK!
So this is my play by play recapping of recent CDrama The Romance of Hua Rong. It’s not deathless literature, it’s not high drama, it’s not brilliant or deep or (thank God) heart-wrenching or tearjerking or really hugely meaningful. But it’s something that is consistently clever, completely entertaining, heart-warming, and wholesome.
It makes me happy, and so I’m going to inflict it on all of you lovely
bots readers, too. Please check it out (I found it on Youtube: The Romance of Hua Rong) and also enjoy.
This is the story of our bumbling but well-intentioned heroine Hua Rong who enters a brothel (unconvincingly disguised as a male jiang hu warrior “Hua Hua”) to rescue a young woman. Hijinx ensue, especially after the handsome young man in black (who is an actual master fighter of the kung fu kind) catches her lifting the madam’s keyring. He’s there for….something? There’s also an old guy (Pei Yong?) who is trying to steal something, or maybe he’s the guy Handsome is after.
Meanwhile, there’s a(nother) (moderately) handsome Young Master Scholar and his servant walking by outside. They’re after the Longevity Pill. There is the inevitable slow-mo collision and Hua Rong ends up with the scholar’s papers while he ends up with her pilfered treasure.
Meanwhile, everyone is trying to make a break from the brothel, but Old Guy Pei Yong escapes and Our Heroine accidentally knees Our Hero in the groin after he accidentally touches her boobs while they’re both hanging off the side of a ship. Ladies and gentlemen: C-Dramas.
But MEANWHILE, Handsome Guy has to go rescue his buddies, which he does with aplomb, and Hua Rong clambers aboard the ship to hide out.
The switched parcels, meanwhile, have been discovered, and uh oh, Hua Rong is burning the scholar’s papers for warmth! That’s not good. Not to mention, she’s a stowaway on board a ship going who knows where except that there are also, suddenly, pirates.
So! Handsome guy is actually Qin Chang Sheng, the pirate king. Also, this ship is loaded with silver bullion.
Hua Rong, meanwhile, gives herself an adorable little pep talk: she is Hua Hua the warrior hero! And warrior heroes do not let pirates steal money from the government! So while the pirates (turns out this the second-in-command pirate, not Chang Sheng, who takes prisoners) are cutting the throats of the surrendered crew, Hua Rong is busy hauling wine jugs up to the deck (“What is that guy doing?”) and then threatening to burn the ship.
And she actually does set it on fire, except Kung Fu Master Chang Sheng pulls her out of the flames and off the ship.–this girl has already been involved in too many coincidences, caused too much trouble, and also is totally cute. Although, at this point, no one else other than Chang Sheng realizes she’s a girl. Lol. I love CDrama conventions.
So “Hua Hua” is sent off to the quarry, but promptly manages to talk her way into an easier assignment from Chang Sheng’s more intelligent lieutenant, Blue Bro. Lol. I like this heroine. I really hope she doesn’t end up completely hogtied the way most plucky-girl CDrama heroines do. But! Chang Sheng declares that she will be given the strictest assignments! To the kitchens with her!
Oh LOL: after she’s assigned the kitchen, she not only defends the other servants from the cook, she salvages the meal with her superior knowledge of recipes. And apparently produced a pretty darn tasty dish to boot.
Aaaaand then does the same more or less to the cruel steward. But this time, Hua Rong goes too far, and ends up having to admit fault to spare everyone in the kitchen being beaten twenty times. (The steward does get thirty lashes.) Chang Sheng asks why and Hua Rong explains–the steward is cruel and she was making sure justice was done.
Chang Sheng takes offence and also grabs her by the throat: So you used me to get your own way? No one uses me.
Hua Rong, completely fearless: Because I did, you won’t dare do anything to me.
RATED: Man, I hope this one doesn’t start to inevitably suck the way most CDramas do…
Like all really good epics, this one starts off small, with the concerns of ship navigator Jim Horne. He has to listen to their Federation agent passenger complain about the absurdity and danger of his mission–tracing and stopping the enslavement of nonFederation humanoids on unallied Fringe worlds–wonder vaguely about the politics of the passengers they are picking up on the also non-allied world Skereth, and try to find a replacement for their second nav/pilot after the kid gets beaten up in an alley.
Fortunately, a replacement is directly at hand: Ardric, who is Skereth-ian but has some piloting experience, and….what, you guys didn’t do any background checks at all? Not even checking references? Not even checking on his prior listed voyages? Hmmm.
And it turns out that they very much should have done this, because Ardric proceds to steer the Yoga Queen (yes, that’s the ship’s actual name) directly into an asteroid field, laying the blame on the drugged and unable to defend himself Horne. You see, Skereth is bitterly divided between the party of Morivenn, who wished to join the Federation, and the Vellae, who don’t. Ardric happens to be the son of a Vellae leader. And Morivenn was one of the ninety-eight casualties on board the Yoga Queen.
But with the frameup being as perfect as it is (and trust me, it’s not all that great. The only evidence against him is circumstantial, two empty bottles of brandy in his cabin and him in a stupor. Does Horne have a history of drinking, on or off duty? Does he have any record of negligence or habitual mistakes? What was the exact timeline of the incident and how does everybody’s actions match up? Horne blames the replacement navigator–who is someone hired at the last planet, who admits he has a political grudge against the very politically important passengers, and who, I repeat, did not have any kind of background check before he was hired. Are you not allowed a lawyer in Ship Kangaroo Court?) Horne has no choice but to go on the run to clear his name.
And what are the Vellae doing with the slaves torn from the many worlds of the Fringe–worlds which the Federation cannot protect–slaves who, when they come to Skereth–disappear forever? (There is indeed a satisfying answer to this question, rest assured.)
There is also the statesman’s beautiful daughter (who is in the planetary equivalent of the Coast Guard and can handle an airship’s guns as coolly and competently as any hero or heroine should.) She also ends up helping lead the slave rebellion while dressed in an off-world priestess’s bikini-top-and-skirt combo, which is really masterful writing on Hamilton’s part, when you think about it.
I think my overall favorite character is Fife, the humanoid escaped slave who leads the other escapees: his cool calculations laid over a deep and ferocious hatred of any aligned with the Vellae–but who maintains his reason and fairness through it all. I liked the young kid navigator who got his arm broken, even though he’s only there for two chapters: he shows some good spirit and I was hoping that he’d come back.
The villains are a bit flat: Ardric is mainly the spiteful type who sneers and spits at his lower class (in this case nonhuman) inferiors and would twirl his moustache if he had one. (If he’d manage to capture Yso and there were railroad tracks in the Great Project, then you know what would have happened.–that sort of villain. Slightly more human, but mostly just a straight antagonist, is Horne’s ex-captain and bitter accuser, Wesek (?). But that gets wrapped up well, too.
Presented in roughly the order I read them in.
Birthplace of Creation
This is a short story/novella starring the cast of the Captain Future cycle, but it’s got more of a serious tone, more space-opera sensibility, and less comic-bookish wackiness than the next example reviewed below.
Only four men make their homes on the lifeless and motionless surface of Earth’s Moon–Curtis Newton (née Captain Future), Grag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright, the brain in a jar. They have just returned from repairing the great machines–which they also designed and built–that replenish the waning Venusian atmosphere when Grag notices that a chair has been moved three full inches from where he had left it.
Further investigations of this alarming happenstance then reveal that the tape record of the Birthplace has been disturbed. Moved, handled–copied–which all four know means risks utter disaster.
What is the Birthplace of Creation? What is the still center to the hideous power of the galaxy-spanning storm, shrouded by cosmic dust that veils the light of the whirling suns? And what was the warning left by the long-gone Watchers–the creatures whose powers to resist temptation was beyond that of men?
Rated: Sensawunda and square-jawed space heroes never go out of style.
Calling Captain Future
….this one, on the other hand, is right up there with Doc Savage and The Spider–pure pulp. It’s okay in its time and place, but at the moment, slightly too much for me.
Earthmen No More
ENM is a Captain Future story, but fortunately it’s one told in the space-opera genre, rather than the pulp-fiction. John Carey was lost in space–in 1931, pioneering flight towards Jupiter–but has been rescued and revived by Curtis Newton and the Futuremen, at a time so far ahead that dates aren’t really relevant and the frontiers of space have expanded to the stars themselves.
It’s a bit of a shock to him.
Meanwhile, the one called Captain Future is angry, and it is no mere passing rage: the low-down stock trader Lowther has established a monopoly on fuel production–and raised prices to the point where spacers on Pluto are irrevocably stranded. There is nothing to be done on Earth about it–legally–so what is the trick that Curtis Newton has up his sleeve for the trip he and Lowther are both taking to Pluto….?
– This is a solid adventure story of the type Talbot Mundy would write, with spaceships taking the place of camels or horses, and the voyage to Pluto in place of a caravan or convoy to Samarkand–or Shangri-la.
– Having a pretty-okay-himself protagonist describing the totally-awesome pulp hero from the outside is a time-honored and useful tradition.
– As mentioned, the genre and style are space-opera: laconic and evocative, with a sense of wonder and plenty of adventure, and the subdued but still deep emotional sensibilty of Tall Spacemen Heroes(TM).
– The fish out of water protagonist is interesting in and of himself, and his dissociation from Earth echoes the dissatisfaction of the readers, the people who may not be in Curtis Newton’s league, but who still long for other skies and far horizons.
– Rated: Calling Captain Future!
How exactly did multicellular life evolve from the original protoplasmic blobs that first appeared on Earth? How did the awesome changes that brought us, men, the pinnacle of the long march throughout time, spiraling ever higher and higher from one evolutionary branch to another, occur? And where did the original blobs come from, anyway? And what is the fate of the men to whom the awful truths are revealed…?
It’s all a great and awe-inspiring mystery, really. One for the ages. Science can only explain so much. The truth may never be known.
This is a short and clever little story which begins when the narrator, observing his SF-writing friends a-socializing, remarks: “How hard we work at the business of acting like ordinary good guys!”–which is a remark that could be uttered to any group of SFfians ever, really.
Rated: Well….I kind of resemble resent that remark.
Moon of the Unforgotten
I’m going to have to study up on Captain Future, aren’t I? This is another CF story, and despite my not hugely loving Captain Future or the Futuremen cycle, it’s a darned good story. This is a short story, and it’s fast moving, sketched out in stark black and white–yet a simplistic plot and fairly simplistic characters still can’t detract from sheer sober skill of Hamilton at drawing the lines.
We get throwaway descriptors such as:
They walked swiftly toward the slope of the low ridge beyond which lay the city. The thin dust blew beneath their feet and the old wind sang of danger out of its long, long memories of blood and death.
-And in just a few words, we know of the world Europa, which has stolen the aged of Earthsystem, stolen the friend of the Futuremen, knows now of the Futuremen’s presence and is prepared for their coming!
Rated: Youth is wasted on the dumb.
– foreshadows or repeats the device used in his Starwolf second book: what need of spaceships when your mind can range the stars–the galaxy–the universe–freely? What need of bodies?
– The titular godlike men are the Vorn, and they are, as seen in their brief appearance, quite something.
– The villains are again quite weak.
– The hero is the Competent Everyman, but nothing special, and after he’s bamboozled by the villains, he’s overshadowed by the Vorn without being able to really redeem himself against a worthy foe. That’s a tad disappointing.
– Pulp romances are usually kind of flat, but this one takes the underwhelming cake.
Rated: Starwolf did it better.
Monster-God of Mamurth
– Below-average camelpunk.
– It’s a giant spider in an invisible temple.
– And it ends with the narrators deciding that they are not going to investigate themselves, not them, no way, no sir. Which kind of undermines the whole point of the genre.
The Monsters of Jotunheim / A Yank in Valhalla
This story is so cheesy it’s probably banned in California as a health hazard.
Rated: I’m a Loki fan myself…