Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hiero's Journey

Hiero's Journey (Hiero, #1)Hiero's Journey by Sterling E. Lanier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre for many, many years. I'm such a fan that I actually co-host a podcast about post-apocalyptic roleplaying games (if you're curious to hear what I sound like on a microphone, if not in person, follow the link). So Marc, one of my co-hosts, had started reading Hiero's Journey and was so excited about it that he bought me and James, the other co-host, a copy of the book. So, grateful for the fine gift, I read the book. I'm finished. Marc isn't even done, which shows that he has more of a life than I do, I suppose. That's okay. I enjoy my reading addiction.

Hiero's Journey is one of those books hallowed by nerds as part of the "Appendix N" canon. This refers to an appendix in the original Dungeon Master's Guide for Dungeons and Dragons, which lists several books that influenced the creation of D&D. So as I read, I had my brain wide open, hoping to find some snippets of pre-D&D lore.

And I did.

It's clear that Hiero's Journey influenced Gary Gygax's optional psionics rules. That said, like may other "gygaxisms," Lanier's system wasn't lifted wholesale. For example, I do like that there are consequences to Hiero's psionic scrying. It's a two way window if you try to scry through the wrong eyes (rhyming unintentional). That isn't the case, so far as I can see, in the first edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe someone else can point out where I'm wrong.

One thing that surprised me is that it is clear as day that this book is where Gygax (or maybe it was Dave Arneson) got the idea that certain slime and mold creatures might have a latent psionic ability. I thought they just made that up for giggles, but, no, it's right there in Lanier's book!

Unfortunately, the slimy, moldy chapters don't happen until one is very close to the end of the book. And they are, by far, the best chapters. There's a whole lot of infodumping that comes before this, with a few necessary obstacles in the way along the way. This book suffers from being written in the time it was written. Precursors were the old pulp novels and, unfortunately, the New Wave of '60s avant-scifi/fantasy (read: Michael Moorcock, M. John Harrison, et al) didn't quite affect the mainstream speculative fiction writing market in the US and Canada, at least not by that point. So there wasn't a whole to build on. Sorry, but when your baseline is E.E. Doc Smith and John Norman's [fill in the blank] of Gor, your starting at a low point. Add to the incessant infodumping some very clumsy auctorial decisions, and you've got a poorly-written work with some interesting ideas and a bang up good ending. One way around this would have been to allow the infodumps to be spread out and introduced via narrative and revelation-through-action. Another way would be to throw all the infodump into an introductory piece, a "chronicle," maybe, then cut the first nine chapters down to about six chapters. Yes, there's that much chaff in it.

But I didn't hate it. No, there was a lot to like here. As a historical artifact, it's interesting and provides some insight into the creation of one of the greatest games ever created. As a post-apocalyptic science fantasy, it is quite good, with a surprisingly progressive bent to it, especially as regards the characters. As a piece of literature it's . . . quaint. But still recommended to those hungry for a decent piece of post-apocalyptic fiction.

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1 comment:

  1. Absolutely agree with this. The book presents some interesting ideas without being particularly well written. It's readable and light. The setup would make a great post apocalyptic campaign.