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The Island Snatchers

The Island Snatchers by George H. SmithThe Island Snatchers Front
DAW Books, 1978
Price I paid: 90¢

HIBERNIA HIJACKED!

Flying machines had not yet been invented on Earth’s dimensional twin, Annwn. So Dylan MacBride thought it would be a good idea, even if a bit on the crackpot side from the viewpoint of that world’s somewhat backward Victorian viewpoint.

But when Dylan and his witch wife Clarinda tried out the machine by flying to Hibernia to attend a wild Irish wedding, they came a-cropper. For the Emerald Isle was not where it ought to be. Instead it was drifting rapidly westward under some strange power.

Now who would hijack a whole land of legends and fair lassies? And how was it done—and why?

THE ISLAND SNATCHERS is a wonderful, whacky, and adventurous tale, replete with Little People, lost races, and super-scientific perils.

That cover art ranks among the best things. It really does set the tone for the rest of the book in a way that, while not entirely accurate in detail, is good enough in principle. There’s an arena and somebody who is essentially Conan. There’s also that big monster with a lightning bolt. He’s the part that wasn’t in the book. Everything else was, though, down to the enormous sword. I’m not sure if our hero was wearing those cuffs at this point in the book, though. Still, that art is by Josh Kirby, and this is the second cover of his I’ve seen on a reviewed book that I know of. I’ve seen a lot more of his covers in my other reading, though, since he did the art for a lot of the early Discworld novels, as I think I’ve mentioned.

This book ended up being one of my more unintentional mold-breakers. I do like to try out something new every once in a while, whether it be fantasy or X-Men or if I spend too much money on it. Usually I know in advance when I’m about to do that, though. This book broke one of my other rules, one I stand by out of convenience more than anything, and I didn’t know it until I was a good way into the story.

See, the thing this book did for the first fifty pages or so was bring us up to speed. It turns out that Earth has a sort of “dimensional twin,” as the back of the book puts it. There’s some kind of gateway between Earth and Annwn, which I know just enough about Welsh to figure is pronounced Ann-oon, and people sometimes go back and forth between them. One of the people we meet at the outset is from Earth, and it seems that he’s been on Annwn for a while, so there’s no mystery or anything about him and everybody just sort of accepts it.

We learn about some other people who have crossed back and forth (including a pair known only as “Mr. H and Dr. W” because the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are still under copyright), and that there were some major adventures due to it, including one that I’d rather have read because it seemed really interesting. Apparently at some point the Martians from War of the Worlds jumped over to the Annwn universe and tried to take it over by using their analogue of Mars, Thor, as a home base. “I wish the book had been about that,” I thought as I read references to it.

Eventually the references got a little thick on the ground and I started to get a sinking feeling, so I looked up this book on the ISFDB. My suspicions were confirmed. I was diving right in to the third book in a series.

I really do try to avoid that. It’s not fair to the book, the author, or me if I don’t start a series with the first book in it. There are, of course, some series where that’s not the case, the aforementioned Discworld being one of them, but even then if I were unaware of Terry Pratchett and decided to be the biggest goober in the world and try to review one of his books for this blog, I’d really want to start with The Colour of Magic. It just seems right.

Once I realized this fact about The Island Snatchers, though, I started to get a little mad. Nowhere at all does this book suggest that it’s anything but a standalone novel. The back cover synopsis would have been a good place to say “And now another adventure with Dylan MacBride and his puppet pals!” The front cover might have said “A Novel of Annwyn” or, heavens forbid, “THE THIRD BOOK.” How about just putting a big red 3 on the spine? What’s the freakin’ deal, then? Why not do any of that?

I expect someone with a deeper insight into the publishing industry will come along and tell me otherwise, but here’s my figuring: If you’re trying to induce someone into buying a book from an author they’ve never likely heard of, it would only hurt sales to tell them it’s a sequel. I imagine that the first book (Druid’s World or Kar Kaballa depending on if you want to start the series with the world or the recurring protagonist) didn’t really sell all that well. Probably about as well as any other DAW book. If the book had been a slam dunk, people would have been drawn to a book that said it was a sequel or a return to the series. Instead, since probably only a few people read that first book in the first place, they would have been turned off by a book if they hadn’t read the previous titles, as I would have. So DAW decided to make it a stealth sequel and maybe sell a few more copies that way.

Does that make any sense? Is there any truth to it?

The other thing I learned about this book, which made me laugh when I noticed it, is that it’s by an author I’ve read before. In fact, I’ve reviewed him before. George H. Smith wrote The Doomsday Wing, a novel I barely even remember reading, so I guess it’s not entirely surprising that I forgot the author as well. Nary even a tickle of recognition when I looked at the cover of this book.

This is also the same George H. Smith who wrote a lot of erotica, including this little piece of sci-fi sexiness that I’m just going to have to be on the lookout for.

So how does The Island Snatchers score as compared to The Doomsday Wing? To be honest, now that I’ve gone back and refreshed myself on that other book, this one stacks up pretty well.

Our hero, Dylan MacBride, hails from somewhere or another on the world of Annwn. We’ve been over that part about how it’s the other leg of the Trousers of Time, and I think I just scored a Terry Pratchett reference hat trick. Annwn is all about magic instead of technology. There are gods and goddesses walking around causing trouble, and every civilization is based on ridiculous and insulting stereotypes.

Take these Hibernians, for example. Dylan’s not one, he’s more of a Scotsman-analogue I think, but his wife Clarinda is one. The plot of the book is that they get a summons to go visit the in-laws. Hijinks ensue on the way there, mainly due to the fact that the island isn’t where it’s supposed to be and is in fact floating away at about ten knots. Dylan and Clarinda (as well as a few other folks they brought along that disappear as soon as they arrive) finally catch the island with the help of the Loch Ness Monster and then all the stereotypes hit us in the face like an Asian trying to drive.

See! That stereotype is insulting and mean-spirited! I hope you were all offended at my use of it. It hammers home my point.

See, the people of Hibernia aren’t Asians trying to park, they’re Irishmen trying to, well, be Irishmen. That is to say, all they do is drink and fight and yell and pray and use magic and fight some more. Hardy har har har.

I’m not any more Irish than most American mongrels, nor do I have any particular feelings toward the Emerald Isle other than appreciating things like limericks, William Butler Yeats, and the sheer distance from here to Tipperary. I do own a shillelagh because I like saying the word (also when it gets really cold out I sometimes need a bit of help getting around and it makes a damn fine walking stick), and once Duolingo finishes its Irish Gaelic course I intend to learn a little because it’s a beautiful language albeit completely insane.

You will note that my appreciation of Ireland does not extend to such things as wanton violence, liver damage, and fundamentalist Catholicism.

So Dylan and Clarinda set about convincing everybody that their island is moving for no particular reason. Everyone is basically too drunk and fighty to care, so they have to figure out what to do about it themselves. They end up meeting two bards, Lludd and Llefelys, a boy-girl set of twins who also claim to be Tuatha, an ancient and powerful underground race that predates man’s arrival in Hibernia. They tell our heroes that they know how to figure out what’s going on, and so the adventure begins.

Clarinda stays behind with her family while Dylan and the L-Crew (my new hip-hop group) head out. Llefelys, the female twin, sets about trying to seduce Dylan, but he’s committed to his wife, not least because she would kill him if she ever found out he’d cheated on him, which she absolutely would because she can communicate with him telepathically. Trust is a wonderful thing in a relationship. Dylan turns Llefelys down, who gets all sulky about it. I guess women in this world are really stereotypical too.

The trio find the ancient home of the Tuatha and it seems that things have gone a bit wonky. Everyone there is under a sort of spell, or geas as the book puts it, that renders them docile and obedient to some “queen.” This queen turns out to be Clarinda’s distant cousin, Tethys, daughter of the god of the sea. She throws everybody into a coliseum and the winner gets to marry her, as you might expect.

Also involved in this situation are Formorians, some lizard people with four arms that appear to be completely subservient to Tethys, but in a different way from the mind-controlled Tuatha. This is all very confusing to everybody, because by all accounts Tethys is a sweet girl who would never enslave people and make them fight for her favors.

Well it turns out that Tethys herself is mind-controlled, or perhaps possessed is a better word, by some goddess. As soon as I read this goddess’s name my thought was “Oh no I’m going to have to type this.” Muileartach. There, now it’s in my clipboard and I won’t have to worry about trying to spell it again.

I have no idea how that’s supposed to be pronounced but based on my infinitesimal knowledge of Gaelic, I’m betting it’s something like Mook.

Muileartach is also a sea deity, but not like Tethys or her father. Muileartach is the goddess of storms and that sort of aspect of the sea. She talks like a pirate, all “avast” and “yar” and “matey” and whatnot. Everyone in the book has some kind of stereotypical speech like that (Clarinda’s Irish brogue tends to come and go in its intensity), but Muileartach really takes the cake. With cutlasses and grog.

Clarinda and her magic-wielding drunken praying Irish Hibernian family show up and save the day while Dylan is having to fight some kind of giant octopus. They and Nessie manage to fight it off and win the day just long enough for everybody to remember that Hibernia is moving and maybe it has something to do with this whole situation.

Oh, I think the Tuatha had some giant engines in the heart of the island that had been modified to move it. I’m not sure why they were there in the first place but I do think there was some sort of reason.

It turns out that the real plan has to do with the Formorians. Apparently the island is moving so that it can go pick up a bunch of them from the western continent and bring them back to not-Europe and fight a big war. The reason for this is that Muileartach feeds off of strife and anger and hate and stuff, so this will give her enough energy to enact her final plan: global warming.

Yeah! I kid you not! She will use her storm powers to make it really hot at the poles and then drown the entire planet, rendering it entirely ocean and thus her domain. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work but honestly I kind of like it.

There’s a big battle scene with Formorians trying to board the island, but the Hibernians are either sober or drunk enough to hold them all back. Clarinda and her family enact their own final plan to stop Muileartach. Since she feeds on hatred and strife and anger and all that, her very form is power to her. See, she’s ugly. So the plan is to change her form magically to being pretty. And it works. Muileartach becomes young and hot, which means that people end up liking her, and that takes away her power.

You know, it’s kind of funny, but I’ve now read two books in rapid succession that involved making an evil witch pretty and thus stripping her of her powers. The other was The Suiciders. That’s a bit weird. Is there a common source for this plot twist? Some fairy tale or myth that I’ve missed? I’m a bit of a folklore nerd, but I obviously don’t know all of it from everywhere, so now I’m curious.

And that’s pretty much the end. There’s a parting jab about how the Hibernians are fighting in the streets over where to put the island now that they can move it back, because of course there would be a joke about fighting Irishmen, but that’s the end.

You know, as mad as this book made me for a lot of reasons, I honestly kind of liked it. Even though it derived a lot of humor from hurtful caricature, that wasn’t all it was. There was a good bit of wordplay and some intentionally anachronistic talk that got a chuckle out of me every so often. It was a light-hearted romp with some decent adventure and, oddly enough, a hero that wasn’t completely useless. Sure, he relied on his wife to get him out of the worst scrapes with her magic, but he held his own with his gigantic claymore more often than not. And a good marriage is a partnership, after all.

On the flip side, all of the women were judged on their attractiveness first and other attributes second. Even Clarinda, arguably the most powerful protagonist in the book, was described based on her looks more than anything. And since the solution to everyone’s problem was to turn an ugly woman beautiful, that leaves me with a gross kind of feeling. The message seems to be that good people are pretty and bad people are ugly, which is probably a more hurtful lesson than Irish people like to fight and drink. It’s also a fairly common lesson in fantasy, which is one of the genre’s downfalls. Plenty of other genres do it too, but I feel like fantasy tends toward doing it the worst. Science fiction is almost as bad about it, though, so don’t feel all superior just yet.

Compared to The Doomsday Wing, this was a sign that George H. Smith can actually write a decent enough story to keep me entertained. I’m actually quite happy to see that. I’d be willing to check out the previous three books set in the world of Annwn if I get ahold of them. The one with the Martians seems quite intriguing. Smith’s other works, mainly the erotica, are a bit less appealing to me, at least for the purposes of review, but who knows? We might all be surprised.

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1 Comment

  1. Joseph Nebus says:

    It’s a shame the book’s plagued with the problems you describe. The setup sounds promising enough; I particularly like the notion of Martians giving our Earth a pass and going after Parallel-Mars for some reason.

    Like

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