Patricia A. McKillip’s Fool’s Run

cover art for Fool's RunSome folks really shouldn’t write science fiction. If my reading of Fool’s Run is a fair indication, Patricia McKillip is one of those writers. Now before you send me any angry email saying I’m a cruel, heartless reviewer who obviously doesn’t ‘get’ Patricia McKillip, I love her fantasy writing. Really. Truly. Harrowing the Dragon, her recent collection, was, as I said in my review, worthy of a master storyteller: ‘Do any of you remember The Storyteller series? It was where a storyteller — one played by John Hurt, one by Michael Gambon — introduced and narrated tales of greedy princes, misguided giants, and changelings, to name but a little of what stories were told in that wonderful series. Well, Harrowing the Dragon has tales every bit as good as The Storyteller series.’ And Solstice Wood, her most recent novel, was one of the best reads I’ve experienced in a very long time.

Fool’s Run is (mercifully) long out of print. I purchased a copy online for a amazingly cheap price — less than the cost of a latte at your favorite coffee shops where the seats are ever-so-comfy and the music playing is ever-so-cool. The sort of place that beckons to you to settle in with a good novel for a few hours of reading while sipping great coffee and perhaps a bit of that carrot cake with sour cream frosting. Sound good? Not with this novel, as no amount of caffeine and sugar will keep you awake. It’s that boring.

The School Library Journal, as quoted on Amazon, reviewed Fool’s Run this way

YA Master of fantasy McKillip has turned her considerable talents to science fiction, fashioning a riveting tale of romance and mystery. The beautiful golden-faced musician known as ‘The Queen of Hearts’ hides her past and her identity from her mentor, the Magician, and from her lover, Aaron Fisher, while her notorious twin sister Terra remains imprisoned in the Dark Ring of the Underworld, an orbiting prison colony, for mass murder. A rock concert on the Dark Ring provides the means for Terra to escape; the ensuing pursuit forces each character to confront the reality of her vision: not madness but a very real alien form struggling to be born somewhere in the universe. The strong emphasis on music and the rock group that plays it will appeal to YA readers as will the language that amazes and delights at every turn.

It sounds like there might be something interesting here but there isn’t. Not in the least. Oh, there’s very occasional glimpses of the brilliance one sees in damn near everything else McKillip has written, but otherwise the prose in Fool’s Run is as turgid as anything I’ve had the horror to read elsewhere. The characters are uniformly both sketchy and boring, the settings are hardly worth mentioning, and the plot is so badly done that it borders on being just plain silly. Any of you remember a Stephen Brust novel called Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill? Jack Merry summed up his review of that novel by saying ‘Badly drawn characters, badly thought-out plot, and bad use of a promising idea. That sums up Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill. You’ve been warned!’ Well, it’s possible this novel could rival that one for the worst novel we’ve reviewed.

I can’t even blame it on Fool’s Run being an early novel of hers, as she wrote quite a few fine fantasy works before this, including The Riddle-Master trilogy, which many of us here at Green Man consider a true masterpiece of literature. All I know is that I read it. All of it. I didn’t gouge my eyes, nor did I lapse into a coma, but I came close to doing both. To paraphrase the narrator of The Grinch, The three words that best describe this novel, are, and I quote: ‘Stink. Stank. Stunk.’

Oh, there’s a great novel hiding deep within the narrative here, but it never even shows itself in the least. The Magician would make an interesting character, as would The Queen of Hearts. Hell, Terra Viridian would have been interesting if McKillip had bothered to flesh her out. She didn’t Even the vast orbiting prison, the Underworld, feels less real than the set for the original Star Trek series did.

If you want to experience McKillip at her finest, read anything she’s written except for this. I see no indication that she’s written anything else of a science-fiction nature, so I assume you’re safe. Certainly none of her fantasies I’ve read are this awful. Now excuse while I go read a few chapters of something good to cleanse my gray cells of the memory of this reading experience.

(Warner Aspect, 1987)

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. I do the Birthdays and Media Anniversary write-ups for Mike Glyer’s, the foremost SFF fandom site. My current audiobooks are Simon R. Green’s Jekyll & Hyde Inc., Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues and Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time. I just read Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s Ten Little Fen which was most superb. My music listening as always leans heavily towards trad Celtic and Nordic music. I’m watching my way though all twenty one seasons of the British forensic series Silent Witness. Yes, twenty one seasons. And I keep adding plants to my flat here, up to nearly thirty now including a miniature banana tree which is growing nice and my first pineapple bromeliad.

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