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The First Heroes, edited by Harry Turtledove Book Review | SFReader.com
The First Heroes, edited by Harry Turtledove Genre: Fantasy Anthology Publisher: Tor Published: 2004 Review Posted: 4/2/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10
The First Heroes, edited by Harry Turtledove
Book Review by Jeff Edwards
Have you read this book?
The First Heroes is an anthology of fourteen Bronze Age stories, neatly book-ended by
opening and closing tales of time travelers witnessing history in the making. In the first story,
Gene Wolfe's "The Lost Pilgrim," the narrator has trouble with his Chronomiser, so instead of
boarding the Mayflower as planned, he joins the crew of the Argo and sets off on an adventure
full of legendary figures such as "Hahraklahs" and "Persefonay." Although the pilgrim's final plight
is no laughing matter, the tale is otherwise full of humor: for instance, he refers to "Pukz" (images)
throughout his journal, and after becoming intimate with two women, he notes that the
accompanying Pukz are "infrared." In Poul Anderson's "The Bog Sword," the last story in the
collection, a kind of mental time travel allows an archaeologist to experience the Scandinavian
Bronze Age first-hand.
While not all of the characters travel through time in this anthology, many take trips down memory
lane. In "Orqo Afloat on the Willkamayu" by Karen Jordan Allen, a would-be ruler flees from his
half-brother, remembering the events that landed him in the river instead of the palace. And a
Great Overlord loses himself in reveries, recounting past battles fought for the glory of his King, in
Noreen Doyle's "Ankhtifi the Brave is dying."
Battles and quests are commonplace in The First Heroes. In "The God of Chariots" by
Judith Tarr, a kingdom is besieged by raiders from the desert, and the king's sister - the goddess
Inanna - sets off across the mountains to seek out a legendary chariot-builder. In Harry
Turtledove's "The Horse of Bronze," centaurs sail to Tin Isle for a fresh supply of the metal.
Unfortunately, by casting mythical creatures as his main characters, Turtledove is unable to
achieve the same compelling human drama found in Tarr's story.
The anthology proves time and again that humans - be they Orkney shepherds or Hittite farmers
- share the same concerns regardless of geography. Deaths follow stunted crops under dark
skies in "The Sea Mother's Gift" by Laura Frankos. In the story, a man's wife tells him, "You
spend so much time gazing at the heavens, I sometimes fear you will forget what happens here
on the ground." Those words could apply equally well to Hupasiya in Josepha Sherman's "A Hero
for the Gods." With "[n]ot a touch of softness to the biting air, not a hint of greenery poking up out
of the frozen fields," Hupasiya is recruited by the gods to defeat a dragon so that spring can
return to the earth. After succeeding, the mortal falls under the spell of the goddess Inaras for a
time - but finally realizes that a goddess does not need him like his family does.
According to one character in the anthology, "We view the world through a bamboo stem, a
narrow circle of the picture, but it's all we can take in." In The First Heroes, Harry
Turtledove and Noreen Doyle have skillfully gathered fourteen new tales of the Bronze Age to
bring that "narrow circle" into sharp focus.
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