22 July 2010

J. Stanton, The Gnoll Credo. 2010: 100 Watt Press, Zepher Cove NV.

The Gnoll Credo starts with a fantastic assumption: Gnolls, intelligent humanoids descended from hyenas, live somewhere across the Ghamor Desert. Rumor is that one has even learned to read and write. Aidan O’Rourke, a scholar specializing in Alpha predators, sets out to verify the stories.

Upon reaching the frontier, O’Rourke is met by Gryka, who seems to be waiting for him. She tells him that Gnolls do not have a written philosophy, but if he waits, she will write it for him. Gryka and O’Rourke spend the rest of the summer translating the document she produces; this is the Gnoll Credo.

Building a story around an ethnographic document and using episodic character excavation rather than a traditional plot makes The Gnoll Credo seem more a political treatise, like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward or a Platonic dialogue, than the usual fiction. Stanton’s over-arching premise is that adopting agriculture was a mistake, that humans are hunters at heart and denying this has caused most of our collective misery. While we may disagree with this, Gryka is such a compelling representation of what is wild that it is easy to be swept along without considering the underlying argument and simply accept this alternative way of being. The end result is a hard to describe little book, but one that continues to demand thoughtful attention long after the final pages.