Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt

Doesn't come close to capturing the book
I just finished reading The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt, and I wanted to dash off a quick review. The quick summary - if you haven't read it, read it. Now. I'll wait.

Here's the lowdown - and I'll throw in SPOILER ALERT just in case I give anything away.

You don't want to read The Metal Monster for the plot or characters, mainly because the characters are mostly stock, though Norhala, the alien-science-goddess-prophet of the Metal Monsters has a little depth and almost grows as a character, kinda sorta. The human characters are pointless - I even kept getting two of them mixed up because they were blank slates. I couldn't even form a picture of them in my mind. Worse than having no personalities, really, they only existed as observers with absolutely no impact on what was happening around them. If you don't believe me, read Lovecraft's assessment HERE.

We looked upon a vision of loveliness such, I think, as none has beheld since Trojan Helen was a maid. At first all I could note were the eyes, clear as rain-washed April skies, crystal clear as some secret spring sacred to crescented Diana. Their wide gray irises were flecked with golden amber and sapphire—flecks that shone like clusters of little aureate and azure stars.

Then with a strange thrill of wonder I saw that these tiny constellations were not in the irises alone; that they clustered even within the pupils—deep within them, like far-flung stars in the depths of velvety, midnight heavens.

Whence had come those cold fires that had flared from them, I wondered—more menacing, far more menacing, in their cold tranquillity than the hot flames of wrath? These eyes were not perilous—no. Calm they were and still—yet in them a shadow of interest flickered; a ghost of friendliness smiled.

Above them were level, delicately penciled brows of bronze. The lips were coral crimson and—asleep. Sweet were those lips as ever master painter, dreaming his dream of the very soul of woman's sweetness, saw in vision and limned upon his canvas—and asleep, nor wistful for awakening.

A proud, straight nose; a broad low brow, and over it the masses of the tendriling tresses—tawny, lustrous topaz, cloudy, METALLIC. Like spun silk of ruddy copper; and misty as the wisps of cloud that Soul'tze, Goddess of Sleep, sets in the skies of dawn to catch the wandering dreams of lovers.

Down from the wondrous face melted the rounded column of her throat to merge into exquisite curves of shoulders and breasts, half revealed beneath the swathing veils.

But upon that face, within her eyes, kissing her red lips and clothing her breasts, was something unearthly.

Something that came straight out of the still mysteries of the star-filled spaces; out of the ordered, the untroubled, the illimitable void.

And that's okay.

Why? Because the book is about the Metal Monsters. And they're worth it.

Merritt did a very fine job of presenting aliens with an alien point of view that you can grasp, but probably not accept. They aren't like klingons and vulcans, just adopting one human facet and turning it up to 11. They're wholly alien in thought and in their goals, and humans are just in the way. In this regard, it reminds me of Lovecraft - humanity getting trod on like a bug, the trodder not even knowing we were there.

Closer ... closer ...

What every OSR player will want to read the book for are the descriptions (and they go on and on and on, so be prepared) of the lair of the Metal Monsters and of the monsters themselves. The book is a veritable thesaurus of color words and, frankly, is the only book I've ever read that made me wish it were turned into a CGI spectacular on film. Except, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize it couldn't be. Aside from the fact that Hollywood couldn't get a book right if they had a gun to their heads (yes, Pixar too), the Metal Monsters and their world are just too much to animate. The only way you could turn Merritt's vision into a film would be if you could project the visions inside the mind of Jack Kirby while reading the book directly onto a big screen. I'm convinced Kirby read this book and was influenced by it - the cosmic grandeur of it all struck me as very Kirbyesque.

A new world? A metal world!

The thought spun through my mazed brain, was gone—and not until long after did I remember it. For suddenly all that clamor died; the lightnings ceased; all the flitting radiances paled and the sea of flaming splendors grew thin as moving mists. The storming shapes dulled with them, seemed to darken into the murk.

Through the fast-waning light and far, far away—miles it seemed on high and many, many miles in length—a broad band of fluorescent amethyst shone. From it dropped curtains, shimmering, nebulous as the marching folds of the aurora; they poured, cascaded, from the amethystine band.

Huge and purple-black against their opalescence bulked what at first I thought a mountain, so like was it to one of those fantastic buttes of our desert Southwest when their castellated tops are silhouetted against the setting sun; knew instantly that this was but subconscious striving to translate into terms of reality the incredible.

It was a City!

A city full five thousand feet high and crowned with countless spires and turrets, titanic arches, stupendous domes! It was as though the man-made cliffs of lower New York were raised scores of times their height, stretched a score of times their length. And weirdly enough it did suggest those same towering masses of masonry when one sees them blacken against the twilight skies.

That's more like it! Well, almost.
And the Metal Monsters. The fact that these things have never been given D&D stats on par with the modrons, slaad, demons and devils is a crime. They're fascinating, extremely powerful, and would make wonderful foils for a band of very high level adventurers. Reading the book, one could imagine, with the monsters' power level turned down a bit, a band of Mentzer D&D characters on the path to immortality tangling with these fellows. A cursory list of the monster entries would be (and yeah, I'm doing these guys - I call dibs):

Tiny Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Small Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Medium Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Large Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Advanced Metal Monsters - Discs, Crosses and Stars - maybe large and huge

The Keeper (Unique)

The Metal Emperor (Unique)

Of course, Norhala will need stats as well.

Listen, I couldn't do justice to his book if I tried. It drags in a few places, and it will absolutely bend your brain in half a few times trying to picture what Merritt is describing, but for folks in fantasy and sci-fi gaming, it is indeed a must-read book.

"I saw a world, a vast world, Goodwin, marching stately through space. It was no globe—it was a world of many facets, of smooth and polished planes; a huge blue jewel world, dimly luminous; a crystal world cut out from Aether. A geometric thought of the Great Cause, of God, if you will, made material. It was airless, waterless, sunless.

"I seemed to draw closer to it. And then I saw that over every facet patterns were traced; gigantic symmetrical designs; mathematical hieroglyphs. In them I read unthinkable calculations, formulas of interwoven universes, arithmetical progressions of armies of stars, pandects of the motions of the suns. In the patterns was an appalling harmony—as though all the laws from those which guide the atom to those which direct the cosmos were there resolved into completeness—totalled.

"The faceted world was like a cosmic abacist, tallying as it marched the errors of the infinite.

"The patterned symbols constantly changed form. I drew nearer—the symbols were alive. They were, in untold numbers—These!"

He pointed to the Thing that bore us.

"I was swept back; looked again upon it from afar. And a fantastic notion came to me—fantasy it was, of course, yet built I know around a nucleus of strange truth. It was"—his tone was half whimsical, half apologetic—"it was that this jeweled world was ridden by some mathematical god, driving it through space, noting occasionally with amused tolerance the very bad arithmetic of another Deity the reverse of mathematical—a more or less haphazard Deity, the god, in fact, of us and the things we call living.

1 comment:

  1. I thought this book was totally inspirational as well and look forward to your adaptation of these critters!


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