Friday, April 25, 2008

On a Pale Horse

On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony
ISBN: 0345338588
Science and fantasy fictions have made a place for themselves on the literary map. The works of such early writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs and J.R.R. Tolkein have spawned a thousand imitators and a host of Sword of Shannara type clones.
The novels of Piers Anthony are among the most original, creative, and entertaining. He's best known as the author of the lightly comical Xanth series. This is the first of seven novels in a series called Incarnations of Immortality.
Our hero is a man named Zane, who for a variety of reasons, has 
been a spectacular failure in life in spite of many positive characteristics. When he attempts to commit suicide, his soul is about to be harvested by the Grim Reaper himself. In a moments of blind panic, he shoots the reaper in the face, killing him on the spot.
Because he has murdered the incarnation of death, he is forced to take its place; and so Zane begins a career collecting the souls of the departed, measuring their sins and virtues to commit them to hell, heaven, or purgatory.
The novel takes place at some undetermined time in the future, when technology has progressed alongside mankind's knowledge of magic. Zane's world involves both high-tech laser beams and magical incantations and fights with dragons.
It's really cool.
During the early part of the story, Zane is just getting the hang of his new job. There are a few snafus, which can be pretty serious if they take place during someone's agonizing demise. Before long he's forced to deal with some sticky situations. Some people are judged "evil" by technical standards, and condemned to hell when they don't seem truly deserving of this fate. The climax comes as he learns the true power of his position, and takes a stand to correct an injustice.
Most of this book is about Death, but we do get to meet the other Immortals: Time, Fate, War, and Nature. Even Satan himself, the Incarnation of Evil, makes a few grand appearances. Zane also gets a horse which can turn into a car. The two develop an odd chemistry and are quite funny when they communicate.
This is an impressive and highly imaginative novel which has had a cult following for many years. It captures the reader from the first chapter, and wraps up in a sensible 336 pages. Best of all, it's about death, but it's not too heavy or depressing.
Absolute first rate work by an outstanding and distinguished author.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would heartily agree with you synopsis. I read these books a long time ago, before I even knew he wrote the trashy Xanthe Novels. The themes they present are very basic (i.e. what is good/evil?) but enjoyable, nonetheless. I'm surprised that you didn't mention that this is the first book of a five (some say seven) book series. The entire series is certainly recommended for all ages, but I believe they're especially poignant for young adults. My personal favorite is the second in the series, about the incarnation of Time.