Heroes Die

Earlier this year, I was having dinner with Stargate: Universe Consultant (and, oh, by the way, bestselling author) John Scalzi when the topic of conversation turned to my online book club. I asked John if he could recommend an underappreciated gem for an upcoming discussion. “Heroes Die,”said John before I’d even finished my request. Then, off my look: “Matthew Woodring Stover.” I filed away the recommendation and we moved on to the crispy duck main course. Months later, I was considering selections for September’s Book of the Month Club when I recalled that memorable title: “Heroes Die”. I did a little research on Matthew Woodring Stover and discovered that, in addition to his original works in the SF and Fantasy field, he’s also written four novels set in the Star Wars universe which have won him a fair amount of praise from both fans and critics alike. I was intrigued.

I’ll admit to being surprised when I picked up the book. The cover depicts a warrior armed with twin blades standing before some medieval ruins. Given that the recommendation had come from John Scalzi, I’d assumed I’d be reading a scifi novel, yet the cover art suggested something in the Fantasy realm. Which was fine – simply unexpected. But as I sat down to read Heroes Die, I quickly realized that while, yes, it was Fantasy, it was also Science Fiction. And provocative. And darkly humorous. Incredibly violent. Action-packed. Surprisingly topical. And enormously entertaining.

In a future (alternate?) Earth under the yoke of a rigid caste system, the populace finds escapist entertainment in the form of broadcast/recorded adventures. Beyond mere television, beyond even Virtual Reality, it’s a high-tech diversion in which audience members join actors in their travels to and exploits through Otherworld, a medieval realm of magic and mayhem located in an alternate reality. The fact that what the actors experience is real and potentially deadly makes for a highly popular form of recreation. And the most popular of actors in this most popular of pastimes is Hari Michaelson, better known by his screen name of Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle, storied warrior, mercenary, and assassin.

But following years of success in the field, Hari has wearied of the role of Caine, grown tired of the killing. He believes he has left it behind – until his estranged wife, a fellow actor, goes missing in Otherland. Driven by his desire to rescue her, under orders from the studio to kill the tyrant Ma’elKoth, Caine returns to his former (quite literal) stomping grounds. The home audience rejoices, the Studio cashes in, and Hari begins to uncover deadly dissimulations and machinations in both realities.

This is a book that explores the notion of duality. We have two worlds – one firmly rooted in science fiction with its high-tech gadgetry and AU concepts, the other rooted in fantasy with its medieval mettle and mythical mysticism. And yet, while they may seem fundamentally contradictory, Stover manages to marry them quite effectively, drawing out parallels yet playing up their contrasting facets to great effect. On the surface, the appear to be very different but scratch that surface and similarities are revealed, similarities that the ruling caste on Hari’s homeworld would just as soon no one noticed. Like, say, the authoritarian rule that holds sway in both.

Stover does a wonderful job of world building, creating detailed and well thought-out histories and social structures for both realms. Again, despite the apparent contradictions in their very nature, Hari’s SF homeworld and Caine’s Fantasy kingdom are equally believable – which makes the twin track mysteries/adventures doubly rewarding.

Then there are the characters, some of who play double roles, that of their true selves and that of their Otherland counterparts. Again, we can compare and contrast, most notably Hari and Caine, very different on the surface and yet, at heart and perhaps not at all surprisingly, very similar.  He is a man fraught with contradictions – averse to battle and a return to Otherland yet an accomplished warrior prepared to use force with little prompting, motivated by love yet ruled by anger and brutality. It’s these contradictions that make him a memorable character. And it’s his encounters and relationships with the various supporting players, all nicely fleshed-out and colorful in their own right, that help build him into the sort of memorable character you’d happily follow into another adventure (or, say, the sequels Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife, His Father’s Fist).

Fans of swashbuckling swordplay and furious combat will love Heroes Die, with its breakneck pace and neck-breaking panache, its visceral violence conveyed in a narrative so richly detailed one suspects the author has majored in some big league beatdowns of his own. And yet, for all its battle and bloodshed, the novel has something interesting to say about our society as well – specifically the role of the media, entertainment, and, most importantly, own contradictory roles as consumers, quick to judge the likes of reality television and the diminishing quality of big screen products and yet just as quick to tune in or contribute to the box office take.

Heroes Die combines the best of both worlds in a novel that challenges our preset notions of not only the fantasy and scifi genres, but contemporary entertainment and our contribution in its continued evolution/devolution. It’s a novel with remarkable depth, multi-layered and thought-provoking. I could go on – and fully intend to. But, for now, I’ll leave it at that and turn the floor over to those of you who read the book. Thoughts? Praise? Critiques? Let’s hear ’em and start the discussion.

Well how annoying. I use Internet Explorer (don’t ask me why) to surf the net and have been sailing along no problem UNTIL this afternoon when I tried to access my blog. An “operation aborted” message flashed up and then the dreaded “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage” page. I tried rebooting my computer, clearing out my temporary files folder – no go – then switched over to Firefox which is all well and good but gives me all sorts of problems when I attempt to upload photos. After spending about an hour searching online forums for answers, I finally found the solution to my problem: I switched over to Safari.  Anyone else experiencing IE-related problems?  Seriously.  Does Microsoft want me to buy a Mac that badly?

Allow me to dedicate the remainder of this blog entry to testing out Safari’s pic-posting potential…

Check out the Destiny crew checking out something truly amazing (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Check out the Destiny crew checking out something truly amazing (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Desert Planet Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Desert Planet Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Destiny Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Destiny Gate (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Dr. Carson Beckett - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Dr. Carson Beckett - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Teyla Emaggan - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)
Teyla Emmagan - Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5, The Seed (photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television)

Oh, hey, spoke too soon.  I just discovered something Safari won’t let me do.  Publish my blog entry.  After numerous attempts to click the Publish button, I’m going to save the entry and try to publish it using Firefox.  I foresee a very long and complicated future for this blog.

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ytimynona
ytimynona

Actually, IE has been “unexpectedly quitting” all week for my family. On our BRAND NEW computer. They called me and said “Fix it.” I told them to use Firefox. And I also threatened not to help my mother with the next computer if it’s not a Mac. Seriously, it’s had three severe viruses (that I had to go in and fix, because Norton didn’t catch them) since we got it in July!

I’ve never had a problem with Safari, except for bugs when they upgraded it. But Firefox is my favorite.

Patrick
Patrick

Safari is a great browser on Mac OS X, but not so much on Windows. Perhaps you should give Opera a try, or better yet, buy a Mac! I made the switch a couple of months ago and haven’t looked back since. I hate to sound like an Apple fanboy here, but OS X makes Windows look terrible.

May I ask what’s holding you back? I admit Macs are horribly overpriced, but surely a TV producer can afford one? wink

iamjohn
iamjohn

Try Chrome, it’s supposed to be the fastest anyway out of any of the browsers.

What exactly is wrong with firefox? It’s what I use, mainly for the adblock and bookmarks synchronizer add-ons.

Angelus
Angelus

Awww man, That Destiny Gate picture would’ve made a great wallpaper if that bald dude wasn’t in the picture.

Got any more pictures of the gate lit up like that? (Only without people in the way?)

Elminster
Elminster

I have both, XP and Ubuntu, and both run just fine. Though now and then IE does act up a bit. Never had any problem with Firefox on the Ubuntu.. and the software is (almost) all free.

Bailey
Bailey

Emaggan?

kabra
kabra

Wow, I am so far behind! I think I missed reading the blog since last Friday? The weird food purchase made my day. I have been dealing with a husband with acute bronchitis, but thankful it ain’t the dreaded flu, a feather plucking bird – and $304.00 – vet bill. Joe, there was a dog in the vet’s office that looked just like Jelly(smiled like her too), thought of you guys, hope she’s doing well. Y’know what it’s like keeping after a feather plucker? OY!! The bird don’t get it.

Oh did I mention we bought a 05 Mini Cooper that doesn’t hold a charge? But we haven’t been able to drive it until Sat. afternoon, with the husband being sick and all. Now that’s it labor day…we called our dealer… hopefully he’ll call tomorrow. Oh and a computer that has stumped every tech at CompUSA. The ones that haven’t quit and changed professions are now in therapy. 3 mother boards and 3 processors and the dang thing wouldn’t boot. We practically started from scratch all to find out it was one of the harddrives. I could have bought ma MAC by now.

Anyway the Atlantis pics…ahhh… the good ol’ days and the weird food purchase..yeah!!!!!, can’t wait for you to go to Tokyo, Joe! Would it be ok to show my hairdresser Teyla’s hair from today’s blog??? I’m getting ready to cut it to donate it. Thanks for posting a groovy blog and going thru all that trouble to post it : )

Sparrow_hawk

My Internet Explorer quit about 9 months ago. I even had a tech person come in to work on my computer, but IE just won’t work on this machine any more. I have been using Firefox ever since. And I am actively shopping for a laptop, most likely a MacBookPro since I need my own computer now – my daughter has taken over the desktop for school, etc. I’m seriously considering a Mac for my next desktop, too. I just don’t want to have to deal with the viruses and crashes any more. And I don’t want Vista.

I did read Heroes Die and I’ll do my commentary tomorrow. But for now, I’ll say that I did enjoy it but the visceral violence got to be a bit much for me at times.

dasNdanger
dasNdanger

Nope. I hope you didn’t pick up a virus or malware along the way…

Perhaps run something like Malwarebytes, or Spybot…just to make sure. Otherwise, I have no idea.

Hope all is well. I’m not too happy that I just learned cortisone shots elevate your blood sugar…which might explain why I haven’t felt 100% today…kind of had this gnawing hunger. Why don’t doctors mention this when they know you have metabolic issues? I probably would have opted out of the shot in favor of something else. Since my sugar levels are usually low, I don’t test…but now I’m wondering if I should. I’ve been reading horror stories about people whose blood sugar shot up to 300-600 after a cortisone shot, and they were unable to get it back to controllable levels for quite a while. Ugh. If I don’t feel better in a day or two, I’m going to have to find some way to test my sugar, to see if that’s the problem.

Or, maybe I should just stop reading medical sites on the net. It’s almost as bad as watching an episode of House. But, hey – at least it’s NOT Lupus! grin

das

Charlie's Angel
Charlie's Angel

I pretty much use Firefox exclusively. Our computer is ANCIENT (and not in a good way), and Firefox loads faster than IE. The only time I use IE is when I run into a site that doesn’t work correctly with Firefox (a rare occurrence).

Gen
Gen

Something that gets me kind of curious about SGU is what you see in pictures like the one above…that the Destiny seems to be populated by a great many ordinary people.

Gen
Gen

Hm. Maybe “ordinary” isn’t the right word. Do you know what I mean though?

dasNdanger
dasNdanger

@ Airelle – I really enjoyed Wallander, too…though I only saw one episode. And of course Agatha – I LOVED the two recent Poirots! Ms. Marple was good, too…but I have a soft spot in my heart for that little Belgian detective.

Still…Lewis is winning out right now because I really do love the interaction between Lewis and Hathaway, and am enjoying how each episode is ending with the two of them unwinding together, having a chat or a beer, or a little of both. Good stuff.

@ Joe – Though Lewis is probably a bit too lowkey for you (as Mr. Das finds it to be), I’d love for you to see just one episode, just to understand what I mean…to see how the professional relationship between these two becomes something a bit more personal every now and then, in a most satisfying way. For me, the stories are secondary to the character development and interaction.

Another thing I like here is the atmosphere of the show. I am all for down-played emotion/reaction, because when you need it to be something more it really hits home. That’s why I disliked BSG, because it was all intensity, all the time, and just a few episodes in I was totally worn out. Everyone always seemed aggitated. Lost is basically the same way. It’s too draining to watch (just as it’s too draining to be around people like that in real life).

But here – as in many British detective series – you have this even pace, subtlely played show, with just occasional flashes (and not drawn-out moments) of intensity, like when Hathaway put on his evil face and ‘intimidated’ the jumper to hold on. For me that was such a powerful moment because it was a side of the character never seen up to that point, suggesting that behind that proper, reserved exterior lurks something much darker.

It’s the sort of thing I hope for in SGU, though I am expecting something more along the lines of of BSG, intensity-wise. It seems to be the thing Americans want…as if we don’t have enough drama in our lives already. razz

das

dasNdanger
dasNdanger

Still catching up on things…

@ for the love of Beckett – Sorry to hear what your dad is going through. *hugs* It takes its toll on everyone…I know, having dealt with my own father’s illness (infection around his heart after bypass surgery) back in ’00-’01. What a rough time. Hang in there…and wishing you and yours the best.

das

Thornyrose
Thornyrose

I’m heistant to state my view of Heroes Die after your eloquent review, but what the heck. No point in being in the book club if I don’t participate… There’s nothing like full immersion to pull the reader into the story. The opening scenes definitely establish violence of Caine, as well as laying the first brushstrokes of the world we’re drawn into. the shift back to “our” world is all the more jolting for the opening. And it takes almost no time at all to realize that the world of Hari is not a utopian one. As you point out, it’s a caste based world where those in the higher castes make the most of their power, authority, and privileges. Even though Hari comes from one of the lowest castes, I was a bit suprised we didn’t see a bit more of that part of this world. But this deficiency was more than made up for by the Hari’s eye view of the machinations and manouverings of his “betters”. Kollberg in particular is a villian we love to hate. His creep factor is actually intensified by his sheer pettiness. One of the bigger payoffs of the book was the frisson generated each time Hari found himself in close proximity to Killberg. One of the things about the “real world” side of the novel that most fascinated me was Hari’s relationship with his father. I find it interesting that such a society would allow a dissident as Hari’s father to live, even in a maximum level security prison. I also found it a stretch that a person subjected to that level of confinement would manage to hold on to any sanity at all. yet Duncan manages at times to come across as the sanest person in either world. He not only manages to hang onto his ideals, but he is canny enough to recognise the weaknesses of his enemies, not to mention his son’s untapped strengths. Of all the characters, including Hari himself, it’s Duncan I found myself wanting to have some happy resolution for his current state. Otherworld was painted in appropriately broad stroakes of the brush, giving us the outlines of a “typical” fantasy world and allowing us to imagine the fine details, without bogging the reader down. Berne was a nice counterpoint to Kollberg as the nemesis to Caine. The action was as graphic as anything not rated X, though it took awhile to build up to the wholesale gorefest. Ma’elKoth is an enigma for much of the book, though I have to admit to being slightly disappointed to his origins/identity. In the parts involving demonstrations of his and Pallas’ powers, I got the feeling I had picked up the fifth or sixth book of the lensman series after glancing at the chapters of the first one. The sheer jump in magnitude of powers by Pallas smelled somewhat of a deux ex machina. Still, a minor point. The final action sequences were very satisfying. Hari’s steadfast dedication to… Read more »

Narelle from Aus

Hi Joe,

I haven’t read your review of Heroes Die as I’m still reading it.

For some reason, because I’m a software programmer, those near and dear assume I can fix any electrical device.
Example:
Ring, Ring.
“Hello.”
“Hey Sweet.”
“Hey Dad.”
“The TV’s doing something funny.”
“Funny in what way?”
“It’s just doing strange things.”
“Strange and funny huh?”
“Do you know what it is?”
“Details would be helpful and also if I was a TV repairman that would probably be helpful too.”
“Oh. So you don’t know what it is?”
“No Dad.”
“Ah. OK. Can you have a look at it when you’re over next?”
“Sure Dad”.
The extent of what I can do to fix a TV would be turn it off and turn it back on. It works for computers! And smacking the side of it to see if that fixes the problem.

And why is it that when it comes to calling someone for technology advice the only criteria is as long as they’re younger than you?

The only problem about people jumping on the MAC bandwagon is then those that have fun targeting Microsoft will then turn to targeting MAC. They do it to effect the greatest number of users. It’s not always a personal vendetta against Microsoft.

Sometimes I’ll get a call that their (and “their” can be relative, friend, friend of friend, friend of relative, someone who knows someone who knows me) computer has cracked it, they don’t know what’s wrong and could I pretty please come and see them to at least work out what it is (even after I explain that hardware is definitely not my speciality). Always the first place I go is Internet History. Why? Where people surf on the web is the most common cause of problems. Internet History is an interesting insight into a user’s mind. Then, depending on what I find, I may have to broach the awkward subject with the wife of why their Husband’s PC is full of viruses or broach the subject with the person themselves. Also a note, when I come over for the second time to fix a PC and I find an empty Internet History and Temp folder, you’re not fooling anyone. I now have a policy (as I help friends/relatives at no charge), if I have to come out and fix your computer because of porn, I’m sending you a bill.

So Joe, yeah, um, not that I’m suggesting anything here, but watch where the dogs go on the Internet. You know I’m jesting here right? wink

HBMC
HBMC

I made the horrific mistake up upgrading to IE8 a month or so back. I’ve been using Internet Explorer since it was invented and never saw the need for Firefox or any of the others.

So, I got IE8, and found it to be the most buggy, slow and intrusive program ever. Just shutting it down is a nightmare as it stays in your RAM and doesn’t actually shut down. Force quitting it just makes the program thinks it crashed and it starts up again.

After fighting with it for a week I gave up and downloaded Google Chrome. Smooth, fast and perfect are the ways I can describe Chrome. I’m ashamed I didn’t try it sooner.

Psychotic_Carp

Im not sure why firefox gives you issues when trying to upload photos it but I try to use firefox all the time, The browser by itself is ok but when you start getting addons it becomes a much better browser!! You may have already found this but some people have issues uploading photos on firefox when google gears is installed.

Psychotic_Carp

meant to say

Im not sure why firefox gives you issues when trying to upload photos on it, but I try to use firefox all the time.

sylvia
sylvia

Heroes Die This was fascinating for the remarkable weave of future, past and present both in Hari’s world and in the “reality world” of Caine’s assignments in Ankhana. I loved the science fiction aspects of the future world he lived in. It was very interesting in how the caste system was structured. And, the way magick, spells of sorts, invoking protective cloaks to prevent discovery – were introduced was very interesting and one just wants to know what happens next. The discovery of truth with regard to some was nicely woven; Lamorak turned out to be a real jerk however, he was doing what was directed by those in power. The bottomline of some people’s true agendas – those who were in essence “writer/producer” was annoying in that the story was not unfolding naturally. The plotlines were directed by powerful people. Funny in that there was almost a “Prime Directive” not to interfere with the politics and yet that was what they did. I liked the character Talann, who ended up being killed, but who seemed to be acting of true heart and yearning to be close to Caine. The actors were almost like gladiators being sent to battle with the emperor (Chairman of the Studio – Administrator) having the key to their life or death. Yet, there was also the “Saturday matinee” feel of the adventures complete with cliff hangers. When the first emergency transfer occurred – right at a good part where Caine was learning of the truth of Lamorak – I was annoyed because they stopped the action. The story telling was superb in that even with countless mentions of the emergency button, I totally forgot about it until it was pressed. And, this was the basis for the cliff hanger for when Hari/Caine would be returning to the Overworld. One thing that was a little off balance was what appeared to be Hari/Caine’s sudden “change” where prior to the first emergency transfer back he was much like a soldier of fortune who did not plot, plan, strategize in minute detail. He was someone who appeared to be an accomplished fighter, but very basic otherwise. In fact, one statement was that “…he’d always been a better tactician than he was a strategist.” When he was returned to the Overworld, he was a brilliant strategist – a very accomplished chess player in positioning people and situations to achieve a desired outcome. And, given the politics, etc., a brilliant chess match was needed to result in Hari/Caine achieving the goal. I have to admit I did not see that transfer of Ma’elKoth back with Caine coming. The end was fitting in how Hari became Administrator and the prior one got his just reward. Question for Michael Woodring Stover: Thanks for joining us for the Questions and Answers. By the way, the interview at the end of the book was rather entertaining as well. 1. I hope I did not miss a crucial detail in the book, but I wondered… Read more »

sylvia
sylvia

Oops would help if I had the author’s name right.
Matthew Woodring Stover…
sorry bout that.

Question for Matthew Woodring Stover:
Thanks for joining us for the Questions and Answers. By the way, the interview at the end of the book was rather entertaining as well.

1. I hope I did not miss a crucial detail in the book, but I wondered about the change in Hari/Caine to become such a brilliant strategist when he was returned to the Overworld to complete his mission to rescue Shanna and kill Ma’elKoth. He played, very well and nicely, a risky and wicked chess game with the bad guys. What happened to make the change – besides meeting his father?

I very much enjoyed the book and will get more of the Caine books.

Bailey
Bailey

thank you

Janet
Janet

I may be old fashioned but I use IE all the time and have no problem. Have tried Firefox and Google Chrome but i just prefer IE. I just love it. (Fangirl moment) Sometimes i have the dreaded ‘Page will not load’ page and then I remember to turn the modem on.

dasNdanger
dasNdanger

Been looking through some pictures, and came across some from a Ren Faire a couple years back. I don’t want to post them, seeing as how it was a hot day and I’m a bit sweaty :P, but I found a semi-decent video of the reason I was at the Faire (not from the same event, but you’ll get the idea…)

Though it’s hard to appreciate the drums in this video (live they’re AWESOME!), can I tempt any of you ladies to watch this (in HQ for best results)…??:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3vcEPj65_Q

Albannach. It is why I’m proud to be part Scottish. Plus, I’ve had the long-locked Jamesie sweat on me. grin (He’s always good for a hug!)

http://www.albannachmusic.com/about/index.html

das

Greg D
Greg D

Hi Joe- are you using IE6 or 7? Supposedly the “operation aborted” issue was fixed in IE8:
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/927917/

–Hope that helps