Pick Your Battles
2007 Award Category: Genres: Alternate Universe - Third Place
Story Type: Story ✧ Length: Short Story
Rating: Teen ✧ Reason for Rating: Language, adult themes.
Summary: A quasi-postmodern riff on a few hours in the Houses of Healing during the Siege of Minas Tirith. A spinoff of "Fallen," a longer (and more traditional) work in progress.
Reviewed by: EdorasLass ✧ Score: 10
Huzzah! Another one of Aliana's wonderful Gondorian Neo-Surrealism creations! This story has a great, weary feel to it, but somehow, it's not as claustrophobic as Fallen (a tone which I like very much, by the way). Maybe it's because it's Valacar's perspective, because he tends to seem a little less constricted by the events of the War, appearing to take them in stride, or perhaps just that fact that he's older than The Narrator makes it feel that way. Or perhaps it's the loosening of the language;obviously if you stay in canon, everything's got to be more formal, and even to an audience familiar with Tolkien's world and style of writing, formal is more constrictive. This is a fabulous mix of canon and modernity, without skidding into Way Too Modern - the references to Hemingway, wondering if Mordor has machine guns or tanks, Valacar's smoking, the deft turns of phrase that I've come to expect from Aliana, but with a modern twist that somehow makes both her characters and the events of the War even more accessible, and interestingly, on some level more gritty. Perhaps it's just that this portrayal is closer to our actual time-period. I also am not sure if the dynamic between Valacar and Fíriel would come across quite so well in a wholly-canon context; here, it's very clear that they're old, comfortable friends, almost to the point of siblings, and their interactions are lovely. Honestly I could read this version of Fallen forever.
Reviewed by: Dwimordene ✧ Score: 10
I have been greatly enjoying Alian's "Fallen" so anything relating to it will certainly get my attention. The promise of postmodern riffing is a great way to end a day that's been filled with that most modern of moderns whose name I cannot print as it is a four letter word. In any event, this stylish AU has all the hallmarks of Aliana's touch - the language is spare where it needs to be, finds humor in the peculiar or in the peculiarly phrased, plays on the incongruous, and brings out the absurdity of war. Things fall apart - the world is coming apart, or rather, being blown apart, and it's a thin line between madness and knowledge. Most of the character prefer to keep their pockets of ignorance as to what precisely is happening down below (Valacar's refusal to learn anything of what weapons are being employed, save by what he sees in the wounded and the thought that surely the enemy would go for more style than the simple overwhelming force of machine guns). They have their little desperately scooped out distances (the narrator's headphones). Valacar's perspective, suitably updated, plays out very well indeed. I can all too easily envision him hanging out in a cafe in postwar France, smoking and not quite able to bring himself to wear the beret. The appearance of the narrator from "Fallen" was also a nice touch - functionally illiterate and totally defined by her occupation. "Narrator" as a name was a nice, ironic touch. Despite all the black humor and desperation packed into an ashy Minas Tirith in the middle of a siege, despite the Warden's warnings on cigarette packs, the ending hits just the right note. Something breaks through that's an echo of another kind of life where one can lose something with grace and small acts of kindness do not immediately refer back to the sense that tomorrow, they might all die. Lovely story as always, Aliana!
Reviewed by: Imhiriel ✧ Score: 7
The transformation of time and language works surprisingly well. The realities of the horrors of war, of death and wounds and helpless perplexity of the people living in such times is, after all, eternally unchanged in essence, unfortunately. In using modern language, it was also perhaps easier to really describe the realities of it bluntly and unvarnished. I like how the story just seems to be an excerpt, with no real beginning or end, how things repeat themselves: it gives a sense of how even the reality of war can have its banalities and boredom and petty episodes. The characterisations are very poignant, the emotions and thoughts of the protagonist evocative and engaging. I liked how he wasn't that interested in news of how the siege developed, but just did his job and picked up details by hearsay or by the odd means of interpreting his patients' wounds. The narrator of "Fallen" actually appearing in the story as ["Narrator"], complete with a declaration of what her meta-function was - too funny!
Reviewed by: dkpalaska ✧ Score: 6
I'm always amazed that you can turn out something that is so relevant and irreverent at the same time. Despite the post-modern twist, the characterizations are right out of ["Fallen"] and add (in an odd sort of way) to my further understanding of them in their original context. It reads like a casual, humorous story on the surface, but there are so many wonderful bits scattered throughout that invite much deeper reflection. Like Valacar's not-losing/not-saving musings, and his thoughts on his patients, and how he distances himself from the battles but picks up clues from the wounded men's injuries. Or how the newspaper (with its horrible lists) ["comes apart like a thing of little consequence."] Or how, tying it all together from title to finish, Valacar picks his battles at the end. Really a delightful sideline to your other work!
Reviewed by: Marta ✧ Score: 4
I'm really enjoying this series of post-modern vignettes! The touch of the functionally illiterate orderly was truly inspired, especially the way she defended it. But there's the dark undercurrent that characterizes all of these, and the sort of plodding-along spirit that seems characteristic of Gondor, even if it takes a very different form than what I might expect in a more traditional work. Good job, Aliana!
Reviewed by: Larner ✧ Score: 2
Now, if the siege of Minas Tirith had taken place as did World War Two, it could have been like this indeed. And Narrator? Humorous, but blackly so. An interesting read indeed.