ASH: ASH #69 - Manifest Destiny 5: Beetle Battle
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 27 23:25:03 PDT 2006
With the exception of my musings on the nature of true love, my
comments on Dave's ASH stories tend to be short, sweet, and to the
point. And I think the reason for this is that Dvandom is a solid
It's easier to be verbose when I have advice to give; there's not much
I can really give Dave. It's easier, also, when there's something
unusual enough to get my litcrit-sense a-tingling: the approach to
fetish in SUPER-STOMACH GIRL, for example, or the wish fulfillment vibe
in GODLING. My recent spat of LNH essays gets its "heat" from looking
at the very personal styles of its authors, from Phipps to wReam to
Wilcox to O'Callaghan to, and so on.
But the thing about Dvandom (at least as far as ASH is concerned), is
that his actual writing style is very efficient, clean, and seemingly
effortless. Much like Jamas Enright's Alt.Riders, the thrill of an ASH
story comes not from adjective-acrobatics or unusual sentence
structure: it comes from the characters, the dialogue, and plot. The
Which, if the above three paragraphs of filibustering is any indicator,
is much harder to write about than the style. And, since Dvandom's
plots are usually crackerjack, the character development is not doled
out in shaggy-baggy long-form, but rather in well-orchestrated and
tightly-controlled dollops that also serve to grease the gears of the
What this all comes down to, then, is that since Dvandom's work is of
good quality, and since it doesn't really call attention to itself,
there's not really much I can offer other than a plot summary. And
since that's something that Stalwart Saxon Brenton provides (in
addition to his excellent and precise commentary) in End of Month
Reviews, I've chosen to take a different tact, and to talk, briefly,
about Dvandom's structure in this issue of ASH.
Hell, in every issue of ASH! Dvandom's very, very good at juxtaposing
scenes, and each shift from scene A to scene B seems logical.
It's not just a stew of sub-plots thrown together willy-nilly and let's
call it an issue. I did that myself a number of times, and the end
result is Teenfactor. The problem is, I didn't understand how vitally
important structure is. It wasn't until I sat down with a pad of paper
and mapped out the Godfather, scene-by-scene and sequence-by-sequence,
that I realized why the damn thing holds together so well: the
structure is impeccable.
So let's do the same for this issue of ASH.
ASH # 69 starts right on the heels of # 68's cliffhanger ending: the
Q'Nos ambassador has just announced that Khadam has recognized Q'Nos's
claim to the planet of Venus.
We then move from discussing Venus to Venus itself, where we find
Peregryn wondering about the whereabouts of an Anchor. He sends out an
invisible wave in hopes of triangulating the child's position.
Claudette feels the ripples of Peregryn's invisible wave, and this
prompts a discussion of the Anchor child amongst the Khadamites (I
We then shift BACK to Earth, taking up the thread from scene one. Arin
and Aaron discuss the continuing fallout of the Q'Nos/Khadam treaty.
Arin tries, with little success, to steer the discussion to Aaron's
love life. Aaron says that not much is happening on that account, but
that Gene Clark is available. Unfortunately, she's been spending a lot
of time in Manhattan, and Aaron's not actually allowed to be in
Manhattan, thanks to Rex Umbrae.
We then shift the scene to Vancouver, where that very same Rex Umbrae
is asking Julie Silvestri, via telephone, for some assistance with his
wedding. You may recall that the Julie-Scott breakup is the one that
prompted my musings on the nature of true love; for some reason, in my
first, casual reading of ASH # 69, I conflated Gene with Julie. But,
since Julie is in Vancouver and Gene is in Manhattan, there's no real
need for confusion. Which brings up something else:
Dave's use of place-time loglines at the beginning of each scene is a
fantastic tool for clarity; when one is working on a large scale and
with a large cast/number of locales, I really think the use of these
loglines will save the casual and new reader a lot of headaches.
Another thing Dave uses to help the reader is the ASH rollcall;
however, there are many characters who aren't part of ASH and so aren't
part of that rollcall. I'm not talking about the villains; I'm talking
about characters like Gene and Julie. I'm not suggesting that Dave
include them in the rollcall (it wouldn't make any sense) or that he
include a second rollcall of supporting characters (it would be a bit
too much), and he's pretty good at letting us know, in a Colbertesque
fashion, All We Need to Know.
But I think a Who's Who document or roster would be a welcome addition
to the already fine ASH resources page, just to help us newbies feel up
to speed. Again, it's not necessary-- we pretty much know what we need
to know when we need to know it-- but just a thought.
But, moving on--
We switch back to Venus, back to the Anchor child, who is being
papoosed (is that a verb? it is now) by Kim when an alarm goes off.
Watch out, because-- it's GIANT STONE BEETLES! Hurray!!! Geode tells
them to go away, and so they go. (Awwww....)
Conflicto and Mantissa discuss the giant stone beetles, and are
disquieted by the possibility that the big one-- whom we all know and
love as Heraclius-- might be heading their way.
Heraclius is actually heading for Falcon Bay-- and our heroes! It
turns out that scene six was actually a recon mission by Heraclius's
young. And that is the cliffhanger upon which this issue ends.
(Somewhat disappointingly, there is no actual "Beetle Battle" as
promised in the title.) But, let's recap:
(1) sets up one thread-- the Q'Nos/Khadam alliance and its fallout;
(2), linked by the all-important Venus, sets up a second thread-- the
(3) continues the Anchor Child thread _and_ the Q'Nos/Khadam thread;
(4) continues the Q'Nos/Khadam thread;
(5), linked by Rex Umbrae, sets up a new thread, probably for a later
issue: namely, Umbrae's wedding;
(6) brings back the Anchor child thread and pays it off (even if
Peregryn hasn't found her yet) and introduces (at least as far as this
episode is concerned) the giant monster shit-kicking thread;
(7) continues GMSK;
(8) pays off the GMSK for this issue, giving us an explanation of (6)
and answering Conflicto's question in (7).
It's just very good, very simple structure, and yet, it's complex
enough to develop three different threads, introduce a new supblot, and
encompasses, by my count, twenty-three separate characters. And it
does all this in a way that's fairly accessible to new readers.
THIS is why structure is important. This is why _where_ you put the
scene is as essential as what's in the scene.
ASH is a fairly subplot-and-intrigue heavy universe, and at first
glance any one issue of ASH might seem like any one episode of a soap
opera (albiet with diplomats, super-powers, and Venus); sure, something
happens, but there's not much to distinguish one episode from the next,
they all just kind of advance the plot incrementally.
And I'll say, that's just not true. Each episode of ASH is carefully
put together, and each episode delivers a certain pay off before
advancing to the cliffhanger; and, more often than not, that payoff is
the culmination not only of a subplot thread developed over time, but
also of the development of that thread in the issue itself. That is,
most episodes of ASH could, concievably, stand on its own two feet as
an independent reading experience.
I am a bit miffed, however, by the misleading title for this chapter of
Manifest Destiny. I suppose "Beetle Battle" has a better ring to it
than "Beetle Recon", but this better be one hell of a giant monster
shit-kicking to justify not only the lengthy (but welcome) build-up,
but also the misleading advertising. :-)
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