Thursday, September 23, 2010
Review of Mark E. Rogers’ Yark by Michael Critzer for NexGen Pulp
As I was walking through the guest hall at Balticon this past May, my eyes were drawn to a stack of pinup paintings on a table. Once I picked up a compilation of them, I could not put it down. The paintings, which I later learned were done with acrylics, sprung to life. The women’s expressions and muscle structure seemed to writhe on the page. Upon purchasing the book the artist told me he was also an author. I’m ashamed to admit that I had not heard of Mark E. Rogers before then, and that was certainly my loss. Many of our NexGen Pulp readers will recognize the author of the famous Samurai Cat series. But there is much more to his repertoire. The recent rerelease of his zombie novel, The Dead, has been received with much acclaim, and his fantasy stories are not to be missed.
I walked away from his table, however, with Yark, his most recent novel. It bills itself as a parody, but that is a gross reduction of the witty and well crafted story. It is better described as a reimagining of the The Lord of the Rings universe, where instead of hobbits, salvation to Middle Earth and the downfall of Mount Doom comes from within, from the efforts and conscience of an Orc, or Yark, gone bad, or good, as the case may be. The story begins with Snash, a Yark, who is about to be harvested from the fruit they are grown in. The reader is introduced to the world of Mount Adamant through Snash as he calls forth the knowledge of his surroundings that was bred into him. But Snash is not like other Yarks; he is in touch with a deeper hereditary line that keeps him from the more diabolical attributes of Yark nature.
Yark is, in fact, filled with parody, but is far from a point by point, tongue in cheek retelling of Tolkien. The storyline is drastically altered, and any events that are reinvented are well integrated into the plot. The Tolkien-esque universe serves as a platform, rather, for satires of government, philosophy, and social responsibility. Serpentar is a totalitarian who rules with a form of collectivism propagated by the department of Inspiration and Exhortation with slogans like, “Abasement IS the Answer” and “The Inevitable is Inexorable.” Each Yarks’ pay is held in “perpetual trust” to “invest in the future,” and submission is enforced by the department of Burning Curiosity. Snash, however, encounters various groups of rebels who favor forms of government ranging from democracy to constitutional monarchy.
In hindsight, the real action of the plot takes a long while to get started, but the reader does not mind it in the least. The atmosphere that Rogers weaves, Snash’s minor exploits and the growing friendship between him and his motivator, charm the reader so that when the big action picks up, the slower pace is almost missed.
Rogers’ illustrations add to the experience as well. They provide incarnations that somehow match exactly what the reader has already pictured mentally from the text. They are interspersed just frequently enough so as not to appear random, but not too frequently to interfere with the flow of the narrative.
I highly recommend this book and its author to any genre fiction fans who would like a bit more substance than the assembly line franchise novels that often fill up the limited genre shelf space in bookstores. I’ve never encountered a book quite like Yark. Fantasy and Tolkien fans will be thrilled, and even one who has never been exposed to The Lord of the Rings will appreciate the well-told tale. Rogers’ style is addictive. It’s unpredictable but integral – philosophical but whimsical. I’ve already begun The Dead, and I look forward to reading The Nightmare of God.
Yark, Nothing but a Smile (his collection of pinup art), and other works from Mark E. Rogers can be ordered on Amazon.com. His website is www.merogers.com, and he has a facebook and a youtube channel displaying much of his artwork and illustrations: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBigLebbowskii .