Thursday, 1 October 2009

matthew woodring stover - heroes die

Heroes Die is the first in the Acts of Caine series by Matthew Woodring Stover. Protagonist Hari Michaelson is better known by his stage name Caine - he's an Actor who travels to a medieval alternate dimension and participates in spectacular derring-do to entertain sheeplike Earth viewers. When his estranged wife is kidnapped by the bad guys, Caine lines 'em all up for one gory takedown mission: his studio bosses, an oppressive government and an amusing range of competitive bad guys are all standing between him and his girl. Hilarity ensues. And violence. And profanity. ("**** me like a virgin goat!" = new favourite epithet.)

This is a good book. My jaw dropped on several occasions. There are great set-piece battles, especially the climax, which functioned on so many different levels it broke my mind - I swear the plot could only be followed with a flow chart: I had to talk it out with my brother afterward. (Unfortunately, Caine's actual plan was a little disappointing compared to the head-exploding inspiring brilliance of his fake plan.)

I enjoyed the mixture of D&D-esque magic and real-world military tactics. I think the appeal is that it perfectly captures the D&D and MMO gaming experience. You interact with fake-medieval people in a fake-medieval world, using fake-medieval magic, but you bring modern ideas and tactics. Also, the politics of both settings within the book, plus the interrelation thereof, were pure gold.

Sociopathic protagonist Caine rocked. He's not quite Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs, but he'll do fine. I also liked the sociopathic antagonist Berne. Conversely, the lead female character was flat and cardboard. I got a twitchy feeling of gender stereotyping from her sweet, nurturing, protect-the-innocents nature versus Caine's rampant destruction. This feeling increased when the heroine has to surrender to and channel a greater, external force in order to match the (male) antagonist, which is just weirdly sexualised. Then I realised the only other female characters of importance are:
  1. who hero-worships Caine;
  2. a whoremistress; and
  3. her, uh ... miniature lesbian sex pet.
I feel much better about the gender roles now.

The constant homoerotic tension between the antagonists Ma'elKoth, Toa-Sytell and Berne (don't even try and figure out the naming patterns, there is no logic) was pure hilarity. Add all the jealousy re: who liked Caine better than who and I was holding my breath expecting a hot foursome of evil.

It was sweet deliciousness, and I have authorised the purchase of the second book. (Book-buying in the household of us is a complicated affair of figuring out which book will appeal to the most readers.)

Verdict = 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy Richard Morgan, especially if you enjoy both his SF and the fantasy, I suspect you'll like this. Just be prepared for the violence, swearing and gruesome torture scenes.

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