Fiction Reviews

A Red Sun Also Rises

(2012) Mark Hodder, Del Rey, £16.99, hrdbk, 273pp, ISBN 978-0-091-94981-5


Well, this is fun, a total steampunkish, sword and science mash-up from the author of the steampunk trilogy featuring Burton and Swinburne. But there are no Spring Heeled Jacks here, or Clockwork Men, or trips to the Moon, instead we have the tale of a socially inadequate, self-doubting priest called Aiden Fleischer who is befriended by a woman called Clarissa Stark who is opposite of him in body and spirit. Due to an accident that almost killed her, she has been turned into a homeless crippled hunchback, but a person whose spirit soars free despite her limitations. However, despite their burgeoning friendship, things do not go well for the vicar. He and Clarissa make a very welcome retreat to Papua New Guinea and the cannibal island of the Koluwai people. On a night when the lightning flashes, the two friends find themselves transported to an alien planet called Ptallya where two suns shine in the sky and the aliens called the Yatsills use their telepathic powers to reshape their world in the thoughts and memories of these two strangers. And so a new city is borne, based loosely on the London they have left behind, complete with its social strata (including the aptly named Aristocrats and the Working Class) and the adoption of silly names and even sillier ways of speaking, with sound like a spoof of the upper classes. Clarissa and Aiden must make their own very different ways on this strange new world: one as a scientist, and one as a swordsperson (no guessing which of our travellers assumes which role). But the twin suns are about to set and, as the title suggests, a red sun will rise and with it will come the time of the Blood Gods.

All in all A Red Sun Also Rises is a romp, a rollercoaster ride, a social satire, a tale of really strange derring-do, that echoes masters of science fiction from the Victorian age, though the pulps, and the golden and silver ages of science fiction. It is Wellsian, or Burroughsian or Moorcockian, or H. Rider Haggardian, but it is very definitely Hodderite, with firm roots in the past, due to the central planet-hopping conceit and also the fact that the Hodder is merely the conduit for the story, with the events coming straight from Fleischer's acquired journal.

Taking a step away, and minding the gap to step off this rushing adventure, will possibly give you a better, more considered look at what lies within the covers. Sure, it is over-written in places, and Hodder does egg the pudding a little bit and try to do to death some of the humorous aspects, and its probably fare to say that he doesnít develop the supporting characters as well as they could be, but given the confines of a self-doubting, unreliable narrator, perhaps it is to perhaps to be expected, given the unbelievable circumstances that Fleischer is almost overwhelmed by, and the continuing developments that happen within his alien surroundings, and he is mightily distracted by Clarissa, of course. Mention must be made of Hodderís descriptive strengths at conveying the alien backdrop to the story, and visually it would make for a great film, TV series if need be, or graphic novel if thatís all we can get. But my real quibble? The chapters were a bit long. Over 30 pages in places, nightmare, yet despite that hardship I look forward to the sequel that Hodder has neatly set up, my only forecast for book two, based on book one: expect the unexpected.

Ian Hunter

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