East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Letting someone else read Deathstalker for me

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I have always appreciated the work of Simon R. Green – of the many, many books of his that I’ve read so far, there is only one that I found less than entertaining. I discovered him through his Hawk & Fisher books, that kept me company for a long, lonesome summer many years ago, and I took it from there. His Blue Moon novels, his Nightside stories, his Carnacki ghost stories…

I also like what transpires from his interviews and articles: his work ethic, his craft-oriented approach to writing. He’s an entertainer, an author of escapist fiction that does not need to make excuses for what he does admirably well. Probably nobody will have their lives radically turned around by reading Simon R. Green, but maybe we’re not looking for a life altering experience… we’re just looking for good, old-fashioned fun. And really, an author that cites among his major influences Leigh Bracket and Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard and Roger Zelazny, Norman Spinrad and Harlan Ellison… of course I want to read his books! It sounds like we went to the same school together!

I read the first Deathstalker novel when it first came out in 1995. It was big and brash and cheeky, and it was the sort of wild space opera that I still enjoy to this day. Many compared it to Star Wars, because it features an evil Empire and a bunch of Rebels, but Green’s roots go deeper than that. In the story – apparently conceived after watching Casablanca and Star Wars back to back and wondering who was paying for the Rebellion’s hardware – there’s a lot of Golden Age spirit, the sort of big canvas space adventure that was the stuff of the pulps, in which whole worlds got smashed, suns were turned off and vast fleets clashed in the void of space.

Last of a line of superb warriors, the main character Owen Deathstalker is a typical reluctant hero, and looks nothing like the jacked-up blond barbarian in black leather on the covers of the ROC editions – the French actually did a better job of portraying him (Deathstalker is Traquemort in French – which sounds mighty cool).
Owen is a guy that would rather enjoy good food, playful female company and a good book, a man that willingly left power and politics behind to avoid complications, and instead finds himself involved in a galaxy-spanning plot in which he’s the unwitting central figure. Luckily he can count on a few not-so-loyal but resourceful companions.

In a far future in which every trope in science fiction, from psionics to human augmentation to hackers and AIs and sinister aliens is alive and well, Owen Deathstalker and his companions move with the nonchalance that Flash Gordon showed on Mongo, and Buck Rogers sported in the 25th Century.

Many critics were not kind to the books when they first came out – too pulpy and simplistic and derivative. Green has all the amps turned up to eleven, and throws in everything and the kitchen sink, but that’s the game he’s playing, and he plays it like few others.
His prose is functional, his dialogue is solid, and the ideas keep coming at the reader faster than the speed of light.
This is the equivalent of a summer blockbuster or a garish-colored Heavy Metal comic from the 80s.

Also, this is pulp SF but it’ snot my grandfather’s pulp SF: Green is smart and savvy, cynical when needed, and has no problem pushing on the scene characters that go against type.
There’s a thoroughly modern sensibility underlying the old school adventure-for-adventure’s-sake spirit.

There’s a whole bunch of very thick books in the Deathstalker series (eight plus three prequels), that ends, and then picks up again 200 years later (because… well, because why not?!), and also features a trilogy of fast and fun novels as prequels. It’s probably the most massive of Green’s works, and has always left me a little bit intimidated.
I loved the first novel, I really enjoyed the prequels, but never got around to reading the sequels.
But now I’ve got it in audiobook, thanks to a gift from a friend.

So I’m going through the first novel, to re-acquaintance me with the characters, and it’s absolutely a smash – with a cast of a handful of actors and a modicum of sound effects, the thing plays out just like an old radio drama (and without commercial breaks to sell me cigarettes or shaving soap) . I can turn off the lights, wrap myself in a blanket, and have a cup of hot tea while somebody else reads Deathstalker for me – and I enjoy the ride.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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