Posted by: Matt Y | 05/28/2015

Review: The Parliament of Beast and Birds

This is the first story I read of the nominated works of John C Wright, who is nominated all over the Hugo awards, three times alone in the best Novella category!  I hope Castalia House gets more authors to join them just so that at the very least if they continue to ballot stuff they’ll have a more diverse selection. I’ll be grading all the work using the scale from Kate Paulk, who helpfully provided an outline from a Sad Puppy supporter on what she expects from Hugo worthy material.  This scale looks like this:

  • Early immersion – Story immerses the reader quickly
  • Immersion is maintained until the last word – For whatever reason the prose disrupts immersion.
  • There is a plot – Seems self explanatory
  • There are characters – Specifically non-ciphers layered characters versus 1 dimensional characters
  • There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t jump up and scream “Look! I’m foreshadowing something.”
  • There are no gaping plot holes.
  • The prose is invisible. – The prose needs to be polished enough and reflective enough of the content and pacing that it helps maintain reader immersion instead of having clunky phrasing that throws a reader out of the story.  (this appears to be able to just be included along with Immersion is maintained so I’m not including this)
  • The pacing is appropriate. – Pacing mismatches lead to either “It’s boring” or “There’s too much going on”.
  • The piece has an emotional payoff.- Meaning it has a satisfying conclusion.

Those are good metrics!  I don’t think they should be set in stone for every story, but that’s a good baseline. Parliament is a religious parable.  In it Man has moved on to a higher plane or has been Raptured, leaving the animals of the world to sort out what happened on what the new pecking order is.

Early Immersion – Wright in the first few paragraphs does a good job with delivering an interesting setting with creating details of the abandoned city of Man.

Immersion is maintained – Thrown out right away once the animals appear.  Each animal appears to be a representation of all of its species, like Dog, but Raven represents a specific type of bird and doesn’t stand in for all birds.  Lines like ‘Prometheus gave Cain fire’ knocked me out of the story due to the sheer WTF nature of it.  The animals don’t appear to realize that they’re speaking in a human tongue and when they do they lose that ability, yet they never question how they were suddenly able to prior.  Then they’re suddenly able to again.

There is a plot – The main story is the mystery of Man being gone but there’s no real struggle to find out what happened, Cat tells them and then they get to either become Man or remain Beasts.  It’s not much of a plot at all.

There are characters – Nope.  There are one dimensional characterizations of animals whose motivations are not explored or unclear.

There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t suck – There’s foreshadowing, the Lion, Raven and Wolf characters are all described as being black, super redundant in the case of the Raven, and it’s clear they’re meant to be bad so when they get the option to accept the divine gift of becoming Man instead of Beast it’s not surprising that they decline and make little villain speeches before flouncing.

There are no gaping plot holes – No real plot so no real gaps.

Pacing is appropriate – It’s slow and boring but it’s comparable to the pacing of other religious parables.

The piece has an emotional payoff – Not really, it ends just as it starts to ask interesting questions.

I found the story to be amusing in a way I don’t think was intended by the author, like when the Orangutan shows off his opposable thumbs by throwing a stick or when Horse confirms Cat’s story by saying that their the only creature who wears shoes.  So at the very least I was entertained.  The end puts forth the idea that Christ sacrificed Himself for Man to be allowed into Heaven but that deal was a one time use only so something different will need to happen for the newly minted Man, which sounds like if that had been explored would’ve made for a far more interesting story than the one we received.

Using the Paulk metric of Judgement: Unworthy.



  1. Immersion: the blatant politics in para 5 are where it breaks down for me. Other than that, you’re entirely right that the animal representatives knock me right out of the story. I could accept that the animals had been reduced to a single platonic individual, given some reason or explanation, but none is forthcoming.
    Some of the opening exposition had a certain appropriately mythic quality, but Bull’s para lurched right into “As you know, your father the king….” territory, and after that I couldn’t recover.
    Prose: nowhere near Paulk’s standard. The occasional piece of knowing prose, such as “Opposable thumbs”, “poopflinger”, or the characterisation of the cat, really threw me out of the story

  2. I liked the Cat, but cats I expect cats to be superior holy creatures who mock the ineptitude of other animals. It’s consistent with the cats whom I am a servant for. If anything I was expecting Cat at the end to say ‘If one of us has to die for the sins of the rest, it sure as fuck ain’t gonna be me.’

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