Heroes Die by Matthew Stover

December 13, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

If I think it is likely I will read a book I usually do my best to avoid all details before I read it. This is supposed to leave me open minded, but occasionally it backfires and I get a set of expectations that are completely mismatched to the book when I eventually read it. Stover has been on my radar for a while after I read a number of surprisingly positive comments on his mercenary work for the Star Wars licensed books. It’ll be a rainy day indeed when I go back to reading that kind of stuff, but I figured I’d give his original work a try. So far so good, but somehow I got the impression that Heroes Die was some sort of grim deconstruction of the Ultimate Warrior cliche. I mean, look at that title!

Alas, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, Heroes Die is a celebration of the procedural beat-em-up. Reading through the opening scene, which tries too hard for that Stephensonian edge and loses itself in the minutiae of the choreography, I thought I might be in for a pretty bad book. This impression was just as wrong as my initial one, however. It turns out that Heroes Die is about as a good as a fighting procedural can possibly be. It’s got a couple flaws, namely the aforementioned lapses into scripting stunts for Hollywood and the overly metaphysical ending, but in spite of them it is a very solid pageturner. In fact, I finished it in one sitting. Amazon claims it is 200,000 words, so I really don’t recommend this. But I couldn’t help myself, since if the ending had been executed better I might have given it five stars. As it stands, it very much deserves four. What seperates Heroes Die from the shelves of similar books you can find at any Borders? For starters, the writing, once Stover hits his stride, is pretty sharp. Second, I found the setting to be extremely impressive. It’s wholly unbelievable in every respect, from the alternate universe angle to the castes of Earth society, but man, it’s fun. It’s a little too complicated to do justice to here, so you’ll have to go to the back cover or someone else’s review, but I was really impressed by the whole Actor thing. Finally, by virtue of his dual nature, the protagonist is a little more self-aware than your typical sci-fi or fantasy Ultimate Warrior type. Don’t get me wrong, Caine is no FitzChivalry, but the book avoids the trap of just letting ethics slide because this is an “edgy” story about a guy who can kill you eighteen ways with his bare hands.

If you like novels that mix hand to hand combat with political intrigue, don’t miss this. If you are sick of that sort of thing, then give it a pass.

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  1. […] plenty more to like about Heroes Die. For elaboration, albeit not much, you can see what I wrote about it five years ago (lacking the term choreographist, I went with “fighting […]

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