Saturday, 14 January 2012

Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel (2011)

Edward M. Erdelac's demon-hunting Hasidic gunslinger of the Weird West returns in the third novel of the series, Have Glyphs Will Travel. The first book of the series, Tales of a High Planes Drifter, introduced our hero and the author's vision of the Biblical West. In this New World frontier straight out of the Old Testament, demons, succubi and heretical cults tempt many to sacrifice life and soul. The second book, The Mensch With No Name, cast most of this unique vision aside to involve The Rider in the oncoming "Hour of Incursion" by the Great Old Ones, and all the attendant doubts this would inspire. If temptation was the theme of the first and doubt the theme of the second, then the theme of the third is exposition.

The Rider was both saved and cursed at the end of the previous novel. Thanks to the work of another member of his sect of Jewish mystics, he has once more become invulnerable to the attacks of Lilith's invisible demon spawn. Names are power and Lilith learned his name, making all of his abilities and talismans useless. Kabede, his new associate from Africa wielding the power of the Rod of Aaron and the Book of Life, figures out a quick and easy solution: rip The Rider's name out of the Book. He is now an anomaly, a literal mensch with no name. This restores his power but will cost him his life, for if he reaches the Day of Atonement a few months hence without having a new name written into the Book of Life, he will die. Oh, and any guesses which day is going to stage the Hour of Incursion?

Given a new lease on a cursed life, The Rider is out for answers. He finds quite a few of them as well, whether he can trust them or not. The first episode brings the fleeing Rider and Kabede to a US Army fort to hold off an assault by members of Adon's Creed. Adon, you may recall, was the turncoat teacher of Rider who betrayed and slaughtered the Sons of the Essenes. Our dynamic duo picks up a third in The Rider's old pal from the US Civil War, and this action-packed opening interlude deposits us in a major fight against another Great Old One. A Native American army is gathering in Mexico under the wing of a war shaman preaching the hour when the white devils will be cleansed from reality.

In Mexico we get our first big chunk of exposition. For the first two novels, it has been established that The Rider was about as alone as alone could be. The Sons of the Essenes had been destroyed and The Rider was just about the only person who was prepared to face down the forces of sin, death and the Devil... and worse, the forces of nihilistic chaos. However, a peacock dandy in a gaudy gypsy cart pulled by camels and an Apache warrior met in a previous episode expose Rider to the wider forces around the world (and beyond) who are aware of the Outer Gods and are fighting against the Hour of Incursion as well.

Erdelac ably channels the spirit of Lovecraft in casting depraved tribes of savage cannibals and lycanthropes as the servitors of Nyarlathotep. Still, opting not to hew too closely to the notoriously racist creator of the Mythos, he makes the Apache warriors of real history into the heroes of this episode, including Goyaałé the legendary Geronimo. In the process, The Rider learns the reassuring news that he is not in the fight alone while at the same time and for the same reasons suffering the demoralizing news that the metaphysics taught to him by his sect are not the whole story.

Later, The Rider ends up in a prison in Yuma, which gives us our second dose of exposition. Better yet, this dose is applied to us by the stage entrance of Adon. In this encounter, Adon is posing as the acting superintendent of that same prison and The Rider is at his utterly weakest, shorn of his beard, payot sidecurls, mystic weapons, talismans, and ritual purity. Understandably, such weakness is orchestrated by Adon, who proceeds with his psychological attack by the most insidious method known to man: telling the truth. At least, the truth as Adon believes it to be... The truth about the Outer Gods and Great Old Ones, the truth about God, the truth about reality, the upcoming Hour of Incursion, and his own Thanatos motivation for turning against the mystic order to herald cosmic annihilation.

Rider has been inundated with information. He received plenty from Lucifer at the close of The Mensch With No Name and more from his extradimensional ally Faustus and Adon in Have Glyphs Will Travel. Will he be able to transform this information into genuine wisdom? After all, one hopes that the treasure of wisdom is what one will gain from suffering temptation and doubt.

Right smack in the middle of this volume is a delight, pulling aside from that overarching theme. Rider takes his leave of his associates to repay a debt and perhaps fulfill a lustful fantasy. Way back in that whorehouse run by Lilith and her succubi daughters, one of those said daughters helped him escape. Now she is being punished for her deeds and Rider is set to be her white knight. The drama that unfolds in this episode is worthy of the writings of C.S. Lewis, whose Screwtape analysed the twisted moral inversions under which evil operates. Once again we see the same sensitive and insightful reflection on spirituality that drove the marvelous first novel of the series. It is a welcome respite from the cosmic nihilism of the Mythos-inspired saga.

When last I heard, the next novel of the series was slated to be the final chapter. Despite my misgivings about Erdelac's reliance on Lovecraftian themes (not for lack of appreciation for Lovecraft, just a weariness at seeing them used again when a really interesting concept is seemingly shunted aside), the whole Merkabah Rider series transcends the Weird West genre ghetto. Too often, Weird Westerns are graded on an axis of how enjoyable they are rather than how objectively good they might be. The Merkabah Rider manages to supply us with both.

1 comment:

Gotthammer said...

I've been considering getting into these books for awhile - they're now on the "must read" when the dissertation is put to rest.