Friday 18 January 2013

Book Review | A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder

My name is Aiden Fleischer. I was forced from my home, moved among the victims of Jack the Ripper, was tortured by a witch doctor, and awoke on another planet. Throughout it all, my assistant, Clarissa Stark, remained at my side.

On Ptallaya, we were welcomed by the Yatsill. The creatures transformed their society into a bizarre version of our own, and we found a new home beneath the world's twin suns. But there was darkness in my soul, and as the two yellow globes set, I was forced to confront it, for on Ptallaya...


...and with it comes an evil more horrifying than any on Earth.


It's one thing to follow in your father's footsteps; another, I dare say, to follow them all the way to the grave. Alas, this is very the life laid out for Aiden Fleisher, the only son of a revered Reverend:
"My predecessor had been a dynamic sermoniser. He was compassionate, engaging, funny, and popular. I was none of those things. I may have been doing the work of Our Lord, but it was immediately apparent that I wasn't very good at it. Crippled by nerves, I stuttered through each Sunday service while my flock first snored, then strayed." (p.2)
In this way, "in a parochial little vicarage in Theaston Vale with its dusty library and stultifying dullness," (p.234) Aiden basically waits for age to take him. Yet destiny has other designs on our dear unbeliever. Indeed, he will travel to another planet entirely, accompanied by a hunchbacked vagabond called Clarissa Stark. There, trapped amongst the strange beings populating Ptallya, their mettle is to be truly tested. Aiden and his faithful friend will find themselves just in time to lose one another—and all against the alarming backdrop of a darkening environment, over which a red sun also rises.

Taken together, this deeply weird but unambiguously wonderful world, alongside the odd assortment of aliens which inhabit it, can be hard to grasp at the outset of the fourth novel from the author of the Burton & Swinborne trilogy. The following explanation, from one of the natives - who overnight, as it were, take on the behaviours of their unsuspecting saviours - should in that sense set you in better stead:
"Once, long ago, Ptallya was [...] a place of savagery and conflict ruled over by the wicked creatures we call Blood Gods. Then the Saviour's Eyes opened and looked upon it and found there was nothing pleasing to see, until, eventually, the Yatsill wandered into sight and were judged to be good. So the Saviour cast the Blood Gods out and made the Yatsill the new rulers of Ptallya. However, the Heart of Blood itself could not be supplanted, so a balance was established. When the Saviour's Eye are open, the world is ours. We journey to the Forest of Indistinct Murmurings to recover the Servants who are delivered here from your world and to milk Dar'sayn from the fruit of the Ptoollan trees that our Magicians might be strong; and we take our children to the Cavern of Immersion to be made Aristocrats or Working Class. But when the Saviour's Eyes close, the jealous Blood Gods return to Ptallya. They possess the Aristocrats and attack Phenadoor — for they want to destroy it." (p.140)
Note that I didn't say this potted history would make A Red Sun Also Rises easy to understand... just a little less difficult.

Luckily, this question of accessibility is only an issue in the beginning: perhaps a few chapters pass before author Mark Hodder figures out what he's about, however he settles in soon afterwards, and we do too — albeit into a place that changes outrageously over the course of A Red Sun Also Rises, and a populace which reinvents itself equally frequently.

This feeling, that the ground beneath our feet might be removed at any moment, has to be half the fun of Del Rey UK's dizzyingly inventive debut. The remainder of A Red Sun Also Rises' appeal comes courtesy of its central character, whose crisis of faith plays out against a fantastic canvas which serves to articulate every one of Aiden's angels, and doubly demonstrate his demons.
"Faith is to have conviction and, and gain comfort from, a hypothesis, despite there being no empirical evidence to support it. In my father's case, the premise was that all existence is created by a single supreme being, and that its meaning cannot be truly understood until a life has been lived and the actions taken during it have been judged by the creator. [But] if that's true, why is existence so flawed? Why does the opposite of good exist — conflict and suffering and injustice — the things we term 'evil'? Are they to test us, so we might be judged. Are we, then, nothing but an experiment? Why has a faultless creator fabricated something so unsound that it requires evaluation?" (p.186)
To a certain extent, Clarissa Stark is interesting as well - which is more, I'm afraid, than can be said for Hodder's host of supporting characters - sadly even she stands in the shadow of our protagonist, whose journal A Red Sun Also Rises purports to be.

I sincerely doubt that I'll read a weirder book than A Red Sun Also Rises this year, but be assured, there is method to its madness, and a curious sort of beauty, too. I can hardly imagine a more fitting beginning for a new genre fiction imprint than this marvellous meeting of the weird and the scientific romances of yesteryear, with which Mark Hodder demonstrates himself every inch the Philip K. Dick Award-winning author he is.


A Red Sun Also Rises
by Mark Hodder

UK Publication: January 2013, Del Rey
US Publication: December 2012, Pyr

Buy this book from /
IndieBound / The Book Depository

Or get the Kindle Edition

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  1. Very interesting book. I'll have to buy if you give me a discount hehehehe :D

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