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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

I recently read Ariel: A Book of the Change (New York: Ace, 2009), by Steven R. Boyett. The book is a re-issue. The original publication date of this, his first novel, was in 1983. Boyett was 21 when the novel was sold.

I don't really recommend this book, for several reasons, but it made enough of a splash that Ace has re-published it, with additional material by the author, and has also published a sequel. I'll get to the reasons in a bit.

The book is set in the 1980s, apparently. The Change is a catastrophic alteration, such that electricity, including telephones, no longer works. Neither do combustion engines, or guns. But, as Boyett points out in an epilogue, which, among other things, indicates some of the problems that he now sees in his own novel, fire still works, so why don't combustion engines? No explanation is given for the cause of the Change. Another part of the catastrophic alteration is that mythical creatures appear -- manticores, gryphons, unicorns, and dragons. Also, some people are now magicians. Even people with no apparent magical powers have familiars -- animals they share a special bond with.

The main character, Pete, has a unicorn as a familiar. Pete is a virgin. If he were not, he would not be able to touch Ariel, the unicorn.

Some of the book is exploring the ins and outs of the relationship between Ariel, who can read and speak, and Pete. But a lot of it is about martial arts, swords, blowguns, bows, which entails considerable violence, some described rather graphically, almost as if Boyett relished it.

Why don't I recommend it? There is a lot of unnecessary foul language in the book. Boyett has some trouble with geography. He also concentrates too much on cities, even when they have scarcely no population, and shouldn't have any particular significance. As he knows, himself, there are aspects of the plot that are weak. Finally, there is no evidence of worship, unless it be of demon beings that are summoned by some magicians, or any other religion.

There are two passages that I found to be of particular interest. One is on the nature of magic:
". . . I always thought of magic as unnatural."
"Don't be stupid. It it's unnatural it can't happen within nature. Magic is just a different set of physics laws than the one you're used to." She blinked and struck sparks. "But it still has to be consistent with itself, Pete; otherwise it wouldn't work. . . ." (pp. 136-7). "She" is Ariel, the unicorn. She has been describing the physics and chemistry of how dragons fly and emit flame.

In Chapter Fifteen, Pete and Shaughnessy argue over whether or not the earth is a better place to live after the Change. Pete thinks so, Shaughnessy, a woman Pete and Ariel are traveling with, does not.

It was a good effort for a man of Boyett's age, and, if nothing else, displayed considerable tenacity -- it's a fairly long book, and he says that Ace bought it, but required lots of cuts before the original publication. (At least one chapter has included which wasn't in the first publication.) Perhaps he is doing better now.

Thanks for reading. Don't read Ariel.

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