Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover

heroes-die-by-matthew-woodring-stover coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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I liked Heroes Die a lot, and that bothers me for two reasons. First, this book could be considered little more than a glorified Chuck Norris movie translated to an SF/F setting. Second, it is full of many disturbing elements such as gratuitous extreme violence, including violent sexual fantasies, depictions of torture, and infinite profanity. Anyone who reads and enjoys this too much is probably going to wonder if he is bit of a sicko himself. Nevertheless, I found it hard to put Heroes Die down. This is the first book in a while that I found myself staying up late into the night to finish.

The setting is a future version of our own Earth where civilization has developed into a global caste system with a handful of Leisurefolk at the top and the mass of Laborers at the bottom. Modern science led to the discovery of alternate universes and Earths out of phase with our own. One of them is Overworld, a typical medieval sort of place with low technology and magic. Rather than exploit this place for its mineral riches or some such, the Earthlings instead use it as a sort of gladiatorial arena where Actors from our world are sent to perpetrate mayhem as part of the bread and circuses routine that keeps the lower castes in check. The Actors are transferred to Overworld with a mental transmitter that sends full sensory, emotional, and thought data back to earth as a type of simsense feed.

Our protagonst is John Rambo, er, Caine, who is the badest ass Actor of the all. And more importantly to the all powerful Studio that employs him, the highest rated. He’s grown disillusioned with the acting life however, and is ready to get out of the business. As with the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles, he must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. Plus his wife dumped him.

But when the local Studio chief tells him that his estranged wife, also an Actor, is in danger in Overworld, he can’t say no to one last acting contract. When he transfers to Overworld, however, Caine quickly discovers that all is not as it seemed and that he is really facing powerful enemies from both worlds.

This book is nonstop action and excitement. Tons of fighting and death. Lots of shouting and cursing. Magic firebolts flying. But it also has characters more interesting that what you would expect from this type of book and a plot that builds towards a suspenseful and satisfying conclusion. I loved it.

I classified this book as fantasy, though it could just as easily be classified as SF. It has strong elements of both, but in the end, I felt the fantasy element was more prevalent.

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