Opera Vita Aeterna by Vox Day (hugo nom)
Posted July 20, 2014on:
I’m really not sure what to say about this story, so I’ll start by discussing the plot:
In a generic western European low fantasy world, a lone elf pays a visit to a Dioscurine monastery. Abbot Walderan can’t figure out why a soulless elf (a high elf from the royal elven city at that!) would be interested in the simple lives these monks live. Turns out, the elf Bessarias is one of the most talented sorcerers at the elven Collegium. A monk of the Tertullan order had visited the collegium, and before his death the man made a profound impression on Bessarias, who has been searching for the monk’s God ever since.
Walderan allows Bessarias to live in the monastery and study with the monks, with the promise that the elf won’t use his magic. Bessarias finds peace in the library, learns how to do illumination, and offers to create a complex illuminated manuscript for the order. The years pass, and Walderan soon finds it hard to see his elven friend as a soulless savage. The two men have countless conversations on the nature of faith, religion, corruptibility, and the like. I think deep down, Walderan is thrilled to have a friend who challenges him, who forces him to think, instead of just agreeing with everything that’s already been written.
Many generations later, an older monk and his young charge are admiring manuscripts and codices in a library. They come across a complex illuminated manuscript that was penned over decades by a single hand. The illuminated letters feature human faces, all of them different, and it’s believed these faces are those of the artist monks friends and brothers. No one knows who created this manuscript, but everyone agrees it is a unique work of art.
I’m trying to figure out the point of this story. That writing something down allows it to live longer than you? To show religious people that someone they think is a heathen can help them gain immortality? That over time, all sins are forgotten? I missed a lot of the military jargon and references in “The Exchange Officers”, so no doubt I missed much of the religious jargon and references in this piece.
Regardless of what it was supposed to be about, or what I completely missed, I found it to be completely trope-tastic. Elves are tall and beautiful, with long straight hair and pointed ears. Non-believers are evil, soulless heathens. shape-shifters, and anything not human, are by default, demons. The worldbuilding is quite light (sure, we know the names of the forest and other villages, but that’s not worldbuilding, it’s map building), and I kept feeling like I was missing entire chapters. It was like Tolkien fan fiction written by a religiously enthusiastic church camp teenager. Leaving the religion stuff alone, it was very surprising to come across a piece on the Hugo ballot that didn’t contain a single female character.