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Heroes Die Mass Market Paperback – May 29, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
After two fantasy novels (Iron Dawn; Jericho Moon), Stover combines fantasy and SF in this vigorous adventure story. Our world has developed a hyper-rigid, occupation-based caste system in which the reading of freedom-based philosophy, from John Locke to Robert A. Heinlein, is punished. For entertainment, people participate vicariously in recorded Adventures from the Overworld, an other-dimensional realm of sword and sorcery with its own repressive government. On Earth, Hari Michaelson is the most popular Actor in Adventures; in Ankhana, with its rich palaces and criminal slums, he is known as Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle, famous assassin and warrior. Tired of killing, Hari agrees to return to the Overworld, driven to save his estranged wife, Pallas Ril?Actor and sorceress, unable to return to Earth due to a powerful spell?and ordered by the Studio to kill the tyrant Ma'elKoth. Stover's writing throughout is unoriginal but vivid, and his story is well plotted (though relentlessly violent), with numerous noteworthy secondary characters, from Hari's father to Kierendal, the non-human manager of a vice-den in the Overworld's Alien Town. Hari begins as a stereotyped cold-blooded killer but develops credibly, gaining a sense of moral responsibility and realizing that his true enemies are not on the Overworld but within the Studio that directs his life for its profits. Stover's fans and those who like their fantasy/SF tinged red should enjoy this energetic tale. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Dubious sf/fantasy hybrid from the author of the paperback Iron Dawn. Stover's future Earth is run by and for the entertainment networks, with society locked into a rigid and unforgiving caste system. Coexisting with Earth but in another dimension is planet Overworld, with its stereotypical medieval sword-and-sorcery fantasy scenario. Entertainers from Earth can be projected into Overworld, their adventures then relayed back for vicarious VR enjoyment. So on Earth, Actor Hari Michaelson does what his boss, Arturo Kollberg, chairman of San Francisco Studio, tells him; on Overworld, Hari becomes Caine, a dreaded and highly successful assassin. But now also on Overworld, the Emperor Ma'elKoth, together with his henchman, the supernally skillful swordsman Count Berne, has achieved supreme power by mounting a successful pogrom against ``Aktirs,'' thus threatening Earthly profits and the engineering of new dramas. Kollberg therefore orders Hari back to Overworld, where his mission will be to kill Ma'elKoth and rescue his ex-wife, the Actor Shanna Leighton, trapped on Overworld in one of her two identities, as the revolutionary Pallas Ril or the resistance fighter Simon Jester. Unfortunately for Hari, Ma'elKoth is already aware of Caine and Pallas/Simon and has devised his own plans accordingly. So, can Caine kill his enemies, survive a voyage of painful self-discovery, and win back his lovely wife? Shallow and unsurprising, a furious, gory hack-'em-up witheven for this subgenrea high expletive count. Stover does, however, work hard to develop his characters. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It's mostly fast paced action adventure, with sci-fi elements, magic, and a really awesome "bad guy" (but in this book, who exactly is the bad guy?). The one thing that bothered me about the book was several torture scenes that turned my stomach a bit. It's nothing worse than you'd find in The Blade Itself (First Law Trilogy) or The Shadow of the Torturer (Book of the New Sun).
I recently read Altered Carbon and now I'm imagining a match up between Takeshi Kovacs and Caine. They're both super bad ass... I think I'd probably give it to Takeshi though since he has the special drugs/modifications in his brain. (less)
The action slows just long enough, and just often enough, to catch your breath, and grow to get to know the characters and world dynamics better before taking off again at break-neck speed.
Engaging characters, smart writing, and sophisticated sense of morality in which there usually is no simple right or wrong/good or bad makes every character relatable on some level, the violence purposeful, and the story intellectually engaging, in addition to just plain fun.
The story: the people of future Earth are divided into casts: Businessman, Administrator, Laborer, etc. One cast, called Professionals, includes Actors, who are paid to go on Overworld (a non-technological, magical version of Earth with elves, trolls, wizzards, warriors, swords, etc, accessible by altering ones frequency) to have dangerous adventures that are transmitted live to people worldwide. Naturally, some of these Actors become god-like figures and studios are getting tones of money by marketing them. One of them is Harri Michaleson (alias Caine) a 40ish man who has just separated from his wife (also an Actress, who on Overworld is an adept, a magician named Pallas Rill). Cain is the most famous action man, the most ruthless killer, he single-handedly has changed politics on Overworld on multiple occasions. But now, a new ruler appears in Ankhana, a god-like emperor named MaelKoth, and Pallas Rill disappears. Harry wants to save the woman he loves, but the studios want a new Caine adventure and he is forced to take a contract to kill MaelKoth instead (with saving her as an extra)
The characters: Harri/Cain is wonderful character and a larger part of the story id dedicated to bringing the two personalities together, with good and bad, while braving the odds and fighting the powers-that-be, both on Earth and Overworld. Pallas Rill holds her own, her bright spirit, her magic and her desire to help the innocent being beacons on light in an altogether selfish and grim world. All the other characters are painted with vivid colors, between brutal truth and survival duty, making a wonderful array of distinct individuals who try to accomplish their goals as best as they can: from MaelKoth to Majesty, from Elf Kaendere to studio Adminstrator and Lommar. There is also some very subtle analysis of politics at work, an intelligent and often sarcastic opinion on the value of entertainment as business and as way of life and a perceptive study on use of power both on modern Earth (through Corporations and Casts) and Overworld (through brutality, cruelty, poverty), all coming down to the old truth: bread and circus.
A real gem of a book I would recommend to anyone who loves a non-stop thriller magical action.
SPOILERS INBOUND: Probably the best instance I can think of this technique being used is in the finale of the book. As Caine is dying, after all his superhuman effort and emotional trauma of examining who he really is, you can't help but be rooting for him to win, to come out on top. Yet as Caine talks within his mind, and he realizes what drives him, as a reader your expecting, HOPING some glorious epithany will help him to victory. And then you read this.
"Now that it’s too late, now that I lie here dying on this bloodstained sand, I finally get it.
I understand, now.
I understand. I know what he meant. My father told me that to know the enemy is half the battle. I know you, now. That’s right.
All of you who sit in comfort and watch me die, who see the twitch of
my bowels through my own eyes: You are my enemy.
Corpses lie scattered around me, gleanings left in a wheat field by a careless reaper. Berne’s body cools beneath the bend of my back, and I can’t feel him anymore. The sky darkens over my head—but no, I think that’s my eyes; Pallas’ light seems to have faded.
Every drop of the blood that soaks into this sand stains my hands and the hands of the monsters that put me here.
That’s you, again.
It’s your money that supports me, and everyone like me; it’s your lust that we serve.
You could thumb your emergency cut-off, turn your eyes from the screen, walk out of the theatre, close the book . . .
But you don’t.
You are my accomplice, and my destroyer.
My insatiable blood-crazed god."
When I first read that, and for a moment actually felt genuine horror directed at myself, I knew this writer is truly genius. READ THIS BOOK.