To my shame and discredit I haven’t talked much about sci-fi books lately, so let’s rectify that by talking about Gabe Hudson’s Gork, The Teenage Dragon, a book I picked up almost solely on the concept alone: a romantic comedy centered around planet-conquering dragon warlords. I am so the target audience for that kind of schlock. Granted, Hudson skews the material along teen comedy lines where I would have tried to pen something more Austenian. But I guess a reptillian Lizzie Bennet is perhaps too much to ask.
Anyhow, the titular Gork belongs to a race of space-faring dragons whose idea of a honeymoon consists in the conquering and enslavement of another planet. And, as a high-school senior, Gork needs to win the heart of a dragonette to be his queen, lest he be consigned to slavery for the rest of his life. Naturally he has his eyes set on the most gorgeous gal in his class. The trouble is that Gork is something of a misfit, being a sensitive and dorky soul amidst a race that takes a pretty casual attitude towards violence, insanity and even cannibalism.
If you’ve ever watched a single high school movie you can easily chart the plot beats. It’s not a subgenre I’m particularly fond of, but if there’s anything that could ennoble it, it would be turning everyone into fire breathing dragons while throwing in a few fire breathing robot dragons as well. And, admittedly, the surreal, highly hormonal hellscape it paints is much closer in spirit to the reality of high school than anything related to learning or edification, so it gets points for honesty.
Even then, the premise itself can’t claim complete novelty: the furry fandom produces fictional mash-ups of this sort all the time. The real novelty is seeing this sort of story come from an apparently respected author and mainstream publisher, complete with blurbs written by people who likely otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead reading a story where the lady dragons are described as having rather, how shall we say, mammalian bosoms.
But of course, this is also the sort of book where a major character’s name was likely chosen solely for the opportunity it gave the author to slip this Nabokov reference into the text: “Run-ci-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three taps down the palate to tap, at three, on the fangs. Run. Ci. Ta.”
The real success of Gork lies not in its plot or characterization, but in how it just so totally commits to its own essential weirdness. Obviously there’s going to be the standard sci-fi time travel and multi-dimensional antics, but also stuff like time travel addiction, semi-organic tentacled space ships, visits to the underworld, mind-swapping machines, and sword-acupuncture, to name a few. And I realized in reading it just how much I missed that sort of high-octane weirdness that you can only get from an eccentric sci-fi novel (the movie industry largely being too cowardly and complacent to envision such things).
But admittedly I would have liked to see something a little more interesting in the way of character and dialogue, and could only imagine what someone like Jack Vance could do with the material. There are only so many times one can read the phrase, “my scaly green ass” before it begins to feel like a refrain along the lines of, “when the young Dawn showed again with her rosy fingers…” And the end of the book gropes towards, without ever really arriving at, some sort of statement about the power of literature.
I suppose I could dig a little deeper and note how a story where singles are ultimately consigned to slavery can’t help but reflect upon a culture that has elevated romantic fulfillment to the highest pedestal even if it never bothers to say anything interesting about it (although another part of me can only say that comedies are supposed to end in marriage, you nitwit). And, I suppose the craven nature of the dragon polis can’t help but call to mind the increasingly nonexistent veneer of civility cast over the naked power worship and vindictive spitefulness that defines much of our political discourse.
Anyway, this was a fun book.