Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Proxima Centauri by Farel Dalrymple

Some creators use a single universe, or multiverse, for all their stories. Sometimes it's on purpose from the beginning, sometimes they just tend to accrete together over time. I'm coming to think Farel Dalrymple is one of those creators - this book has a minor character who was one of the main characters in It Will All Hurt, and Dalrymple's foundational Wrenchies (set substantially later in time, I think) characters are referenced several times.

I also should admit that I find Dalrymple's stories interesting, and I do seem to keep coming back, but I don't seem to really get them. When I wrote about Wrenchies, and Hurt, I said that, and I'll say it again here. Darlymple makes stories about damaged young people in landscapes filled with elements of fantastika - both SFnal and fantastic - but I tend to think they are all really inner landscapes, personal worlds or collective unconsciousnesses or something more complex than that. What they do isn't that important, not even how they change. What matters is how they feel about the world, in an endless, timeless now that keeps them adolescent eternally to cycle through the same few (wrenching, uncomfortable, jagged) emotional states.

So the point of a Dalrymple book is not the story. It's not even the characters, who seem to be avatars of the same ideas coming up in different shapes and names. It's the pain and the raw emotions of those central characters, the ones who hurt and are inherently unhappy.

That's how I came to Proxima Centauri, the story of "teenage wizard adventurer Sherwood Breadcoat" - that's another thing; they all have names like they're in some tabletop RPG that the players care deeply about and yet can't quite take seriously - who is trapped on some kind of space habitat in the star system implied by the title. It is much less SFnal than that makes it sound, though: Sherwood uses "magic and tech," and the tech is just as much "wave a thingy so that stuff happens" as the magic is.

What Sherwood does is wander around, brooding adolescently about the girl he wishes would pay more attention to him, his personal failings, the search for his missing brother Orson (who we see in inset scenes, and who seems to be a massive jerk), and how much fun it is to slaughter random creatures and people. What he does not do is take any serious action to actually solve his problems or do the things he claims to want: he is very, very adolescent, in the worst possible ways.

Luckily, I guess, the rest of the cast mostly calls him on it: this isn't a book that's on Sherwood's side. In fact, there's darkly ominous mumblings about how he will inevitably destroy everything good and wonderful - not, as far as I can tell, because he's a sulky undisciplined adolescent, though they do complain about that, but just because he's fated to destroy everything and so there's nothing anyone can do about it.

That cast is medium-sized, and varied in look and supposedly in who they are, but they really just serve as a Greek Chorus around him, all saying more or less the same things in different ways and all there to serve as comparisons to show how adolescent and self-centered and unpleasant Sherwood actually is. (Dalrymple draws him as a very young adolescent - I'm a big guy, and my sons were big guys, so my meter may be off, but I pegged him at core middle-school years: maybe twelve, maybe thirteen at best.) 

There's a lot of activity, and a lot of moments in Proxima Centauri, but it's all circling: the same kinds of events, the same emotions, over and over until the big ending in which Sherwood does or does not destroy everything as fated. As I said above, I'm still not sure if I really get what Dalrymple is trying to do here: it seems like a really long trip around something that's not all that exciting, new, or different. But the moments are interesting, and he has a way with adolescent angst, which is always popular.

So I guess I'll come back for another Dalrymple book eventually, and see if that gets me any further into understanding.

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