A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder
Published by Del Rey (UK) January 2013
ISBN: 978 0 091949 81 5
Review by Mark Yon
A Red Sun Also Rises is a cracking planetary romance that involves many of the tropes of Victoriana adventure-romp, whilst also managing to involve an intelligent plot and complex concepts.
Much of the start of the book has an HG Wells feel. The tale begins with the story told by Aiden Fleisher, who whilst as a parish vicar in England, develops a friendship with crippled engineering genius Clarissa Stark. When Aiden is forced to leave his parish and become a missionary in Papua New Guinea, Clarissa goes with him as sexton, and together the two of them have significant difficulties in attempting to persuade the indigenous tribes to convert to Christianity.
After a voodoo type ritual, they find themselves transported on the alien world of Ptallaya. This is a strange place, a planet lit by double-yellow- suns called The Eyes of the Saviour, and populated by the Yatsill, a telepathic alien race who, rather like parrots, mimic things they see. We spend much of the book at this point travelling, hunting strange living things with the Yatsill, hallucinating on strange foods and being immersed into the Yatsill culture, which gives us a strange insight into this unusual world.
A submersion and ‘rebirth’ of Clarissa in the pools of the Cavern of Immersion means that the Yatsill absorb her life experiences. Consequently, they all speak a rather class-conscious English language peppered with Hear Hear!’s and ‘Harrumphs!’, rename themselves with inappropriate English-sounding names (so that aliens such as Tsillandra Ma’ra become Crockery Clattersmash) and rapidly build Yatsillat, a caricature of Victorian London (one depicted so well on the UK cover) with British idioms such as teashops and the House of Lords. Like writing often found in HG Wells’ novels, it is funny and yet also rather biting, a satire of British Victorian class and society.
However, things are changing. Whilst Aiden and Clarissa begin their exploration of Ptallya beneath the light of double suns, Yatsill stories tell of the coming of a red sun, and with it a time of evil, one dominated by the Blood Gods…
Summarising this book as a planetary romance may give some readers an impression of frenetic activity with little depth, a legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other Golden Age pulp writers. perhaps. Whilst there is a definite speed to this novel, this is also an intelligent book, with complex ideas riffing off past genre tropes. Like in HG Wells’ stories (First Men in the Moon, for example) or perhaps CS Lewis’ Perelandra space opera novels, although on the surface there is an exciting and quite breathless plot, the real interest in the book is in the sidetracks along the way, rather than the endpoint.
The tone of the novel is suitably appropriate. Like writers in the time of the Victorian British Empire, there’s a lot of imperialistic mannerisms that Mark has used that capture a sense of time and place that so many similar novels need to grasp, yet don’t.
The book is actually more of an exploration of the concept of evolution, as Mark clearly points out in an interview given at the end of the book. The alien people, plants and animals live in a complex interconnected life-cycle pattern, which is altered as a consequence of unintentional interference.
There’s also a lot of discussion of rather esoteric issues, such as the ideas of faith and absolute evil, as Aiden clearly struggles with some of his basic beliefs before reaching a satisfactory conclusion for himself. This initially rather naive character has a number of rites of passage so that by the time he reaches the end of the novel, he has grown and matured as a result of what happens.
The ending is a conclusion of sorts, although it is clear that other books could follow. This is, for now at least, standalone and not part of a series.
Although the book is similar to the author’s own Burton & Swinburne Adventures, it is not as much of a steampunk tale as the other novels. But overall this is a really entertaining book, by turns, engagingly amusing and then exciting, managing to juggle the scientific romance style of HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs with a knowledge of contemporary SF ideas.
One of the better Victoriana fantasies I’ve read.
Mark Yon, January 2013