The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 18 review

I’m currently reviewing chapters of War of the Encyclopaedists by Gavin Kovite and Christopher Robinson. As a Dune novel it’s pretty awful. This is pretty great reading material if you want to start writing fantasy novels. I feel like I’m learning a lot about the craft of writing just by obsessively pouring over these chapters.

Look forward to my own upcoming novel tentatively titled The Guy from Earth on the Razor Planet.

A great commenter caught something I missed and put it in great terms:

I think you missed the point of Corderoy’s disillusionment here. Corderoy naively thought the whole point of being an academic of his stripe was to generate brilliant insights into literature. Sort of how physicists think the whole point of their work is to determine better models for how the real world actually functions.

Lo and behold, it turns out that’s not actually the case. Corderoy discovers, instead, that it’s his job as a grad student to learn how to jibber-jabber properly with other dudes who spend all their time doing the same thing in order to make tenure. Academia is essentially the party he got schooled at a couple of chapters ago, forever. For somebody who aspires to do something real, like Corderoy, this is a pretty big blow.

Basically, that guy is now better than me at this.

Chapter 18 is still Corderoy’s Adventures in Boston.

Thanksgiving has rolled around, Tricia and Smokey have left for New York leaving replacement bedsheets in their wake. That’s a pretty good move in roommate terms. She leaves a note inviting him out to Thanksgiving with her family.

He’d read the note, but he didn’t have the energy to open the sheets and put them on his bed. As hard as he tried, he was unable to read that invitation as anything other than a calculated nonvite, an offer designed to be declined, one that would give Tricia social credit for her unfailing hospitality.

I kind of assume that Tricia has way more social credit than Corderoy. I mean she has friends. Friends that annoy her, sure, but that’s a real step up from Corderoy.

So he’d passed the days until Thanksgiving, alone in the apartment, skipping class, watching South Park episodes, and masturbating.

I’m starting to think that Corderoy really needs to join a gym or something.

He wallows and his parents call him and he just falls down a wikipedia hole for a while. His dad sends him an email about family history he had been researching.

Corderoy skimmed a long paragraph about his great-great-great-grandfather, some dude named Elroy who’d fought for the Confederates, got captured in 1861, and tunneled out of a jail a few years later. His son, Meriwether, fled St. Louis after a botched robbery and rustled cattle through Kansas and New Mexico, nearly got hanged a few times, then made his fortune in Dawson City during the Yukon gold rush.

Huh. These guys don’t sound like Corderoy at all.

He “fell heavy into drink,” in his father’s words, bought a saloon, took an Aleut wife in Anchorage, beat his son, William, and died of cirrhosis in 1917.

Oh I see it now.

Turns out the Corderoys have a history of alcohol abuse.

After his grandfather, Frank’s, less interesting bio, Corderoy discovers that his dad had included the origin of Corderoy’s first name, Halifax.

Turns out a guy named Halifax injured his leg saving Papa Corderoy’s life. As a result of that injury he started drinking heavily then killed himself.

Like… that’s pretty messed up.

Some people name their kids Cain. So… go figure. I’m named after a guy who screwed over his twin brother, then ended up being tricked by a guy into working for like 24 years to marry the one daughter he liked (he had to marry his way through the other ones first). Oh, I mean that’s the Biblical origin of my name. My dad didn’t know any guy who did all that stuff.

Now that we’ve entered alcoholism and suicide, naturally Corderoy’s thoughts turn to himself.

The closest he’d ever come to suicide was after Tara, his college girlfriend, had dumped him the month before he went abroad, where he’d met Montauk in Rome.

Corderoy’s relationship ends so traumatically that he contemplated suicide, but luckily a new relationship saves him? Oh, his totally brotonic (like platonic only more bro, bro) with Montauk.

He’d moved out of their studio and into the living room of his friend Aaron’s basement apartment on the other side of the U District. Aaron’s girl had just split as well, and they’d fed on each other’s misery, smoking a pack of cigarettes each day and killing a bottle of Jack nearly every night.

I’ll notice that Aaron isn’t included in the Encyclopaedists. I guess their intense relationship, bonding over common grief, wasn’t enough to match two minutes with Montauk.

The novel goes on about Tara for a bit.

Tara had been immature and cruel, but she’d been perceptive: Corderoy didn’t need her so much as he needed to love someone, anyone. Blind to this himself, the unexplainable dissolution of their perfect union had grave implications for his future happiness: anything good could sour at an instant. Why go on living a life like that?

Montauk, Broderoy. Montauk.

One time Corderoy and Montauk puked in the same toilet.

It was the moment Corderoy knew that their friendship had evolved from superficial absurdity to something of substance.

I’m going to skip over the part where Corderoy, suddenly reinvigorated, goes out for sushi on Thanksgiving.

But I can’t let one thing go by.

Back home, he lay down on the couch and turned on the TV. The Last Samurai was playing on USA. He’d heard it was only okay.

That is the truth, man. Last Samurai, starring the unageabble Tom Cruise, is really just ok.

Near the end of the movie, when the emperor’s army had mowed down Watanabe’s rebels with their American-bought howitzers, only Cruise and Watanabe were left alive on the blood-drenched field. Watanabe was too weak to commit seppuku, Japanese ritual suicide, so he asked Cruise to do it for him.

Yeah, that is how the movie goes.

It didn’t seem honorable so much as pathetic. Cowardly. But the thing that really got Corderoy was that the reverse seemed cowardly, too. To simply go on living until nature or genetics or circumstance or God snuffed you out.

I’m hard on Corderoy but it’s really because of moments like this where I really feel like, “Hey, I’ve been there, man.” Because I’ve been right there, thinking those same thoughts and I’m not like super proud of it, ok?

The only answer I found for that conundrum above came from 1997’s Sylvestor Stallone movie, Judge Dredd. Armand Asante plays this evil dude who says something like:

Armand: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Rando: No.

Armand: It ends.

Wait, maybe that isn’t the answer. No maybe it is.

Is it cowardly to keep on living? My guess is nah.

Hamlet interlude.

He realized that, as an atheist, he did not fear the undiscovered country.

No man should fear Star Trek VI.

Boom. I went there. I was waiting for that.

He saw his life as a mediocre movie.

Like The Last Samurai. Which is about an outsider wandering into a foreign land to enjoy a lot of success going native. Which is exactly not Corderoy’s narrative so far. I mean sure, everyone’s life is a mediocre movie. The editing and music is horrible and the director is non-existent.

Corderoy thinks about suicide and I’m really hoping he won’t because that means 30 more chapters with just Montauk and that would probably get old.

But instead, he just lies there. Then wikipedia entry.

There’s one part I enjoy:

And there are plenty of people who don’t exist, Baron Munchausen, Don Quixote, Gavin Kovite, Halifax Corderoy, Mani Saheli, Mickey Montauk, Schrodinger, Sylvie/Selena, Christopher Robinson, Sir Baltimore Gosshawk Wakefiled III.

Sir Baltimore Gosshawk Wakefield III is like the greatest name in the world.

Also the authors’ self-insert here.

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