Heroes Die: Testosterone-driven guilty pleasure

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Matthew Woodring Stover Heroes DieHeroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science has discovered inter-dimensional travel and the other-dimensional world of Ankhanna, which we call Overworld. And like all most discoveries, it’s not long before someone figures out how to cash in. Big corporations create the ultimate reality entertainment by sending “actors” to Overworld on adventures for the masses to experience via cyber linkups for the elite who can afford them or by just watching through good ol’ fashioned video. Harri Michaelson, as the ruthless Caine, is by far the most popular “actor” on Earth and the most famous assassin in Ankhanna.

But when his ex-wife Shanna, the actress Pallas Rill, disappears during an Overworld adventure, Caine/Harri takes on the most powerful rulers of both worlds to save her. Equally as thrilling is the strategic and social struggle Caine must face on Earth against the all powerful corporation he’s contracted to work for. In the strict caste system of the future, a slight breach of the rules can land someone of the lower classes in prison, or worse.

Heroes Die is an interesting blend of futuristic Phillip K. Dick–style science fiction and Sword & Sorcery. Not only is it an exciting story, but it’s also refreshing to read a straight-up adventure tale with an old-school badass hero (and one who’s middle-aged like me rather than the ubiquitous coming-of-age adolescent).

In an interview transcribed in the back of the book, Stover says that Caine’s fighting style is realistic — he’s not necessarily the greatest fighter but he just has the mule-headedness to keep going. Thus, according to Mr. Stover, Caine is not a Bruce Lee/Remo Williams type of hero.

I understand what Stover meant, but about four pages into Heroes Die (before reading the interview) I thought to myself, “This dude reminds me of Bruce Lee, The Destroyer (Remo Williams), or Mack Bolen,” which to me is a good thing — or, more accurately, a great thing. I thoroughly enjoyed Caine’s authority-problem attitude, action-hero skills, and his just flat-out coolness. He reminded me so much of the 70’s-80’s martial arts movie-heroes or a character from back in the day when bookstores still had a Men’s Adventure section. Plus, I just have a soft-spot for a character who considers it easier to kill than to lie.

On the surface Heroes Die is a testosterone-driven guilty pleasure of gladiatorial bloodsport that, at times, borders on cheesy. But there are deeper themes questioning the definition of good and evil, and how people can control their fates despite the cards they’ve been dealt.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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  1. Kernos /

    How come playing the testosterone card is PC, but using the estrogen card is not?

    This sounds like a welcomed relief from the estrogen-driven fantasy that haunts the new bookselves today.

  2. “How come playing the testosterone card is PC, but using the estrogen card is not? ”

    Because your testosterone implies power, aggression, and strength, but my estrogen suggests that I’m going to pout, fold my arms under my breasts, stomp my little foot, and perhaps even collapse into a chin-quivering heap because you’ve hurt my tender sensibilities with your cruel and heartless remarks. Hmph.

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