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Journey To Fusang
William Sanders
Stone Dragon Press, 278 pages

Journey To Fusang
William Sanders
William Sanders characterizes himself as "a 56-year-old redbone hillbilly who lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (yes, there really is a Tahlequah; Letterman didn't make it up), in a little old rock house, along with a hostile cat named Billie and his computer Gwendolyn, with which latter he has a very strange and not entirely healthy relationship." Some of his other books include Pockets of Resistance, The Hellbound Train and The Wild Blue and the Gray.

William Sanders Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Are We Having Fun Yet?
SF Site Review: The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan
Stone Dragon Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Back in 1988 I read a rave review by Algis Budrys of a book named Journey to Fusang, by an author unknown to me, William Sanders. I hurried out to my local bookstore and obtained a copy, a fortunate decision, as the book didn't see outstanding distribution. Not too much later Sanders published another SF novel, The Wild Blue and the Grey, which knew even worse distribution. But I had loved Journey to Fusang and eagerly snapped up the second book. Then Sanders seemed to disappear. It turns out he was still publishing in other genres, and sometimes under the name Will Sundown, but I knew nothing of this. Then in the mid-90s he returned to SF with a number of very fine short stories, many on American Indian themes, such as "Elvis Bearpaw's Luck," and (probably most notably), "The Undiscovered," which was nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula Award. His most recent novel, The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan, was published in 1999, and despite being self-published (through Yandro House), attracted enough notice to earn an honourable mention on the SF Site's Reviewer's list of the best SF novels of last year.

But what are readers -- attracted to Sanders' work by his new novel or his short fiction -- to do if they want to check out his earlier books? One of the less compelling features of the current publishing industry is its relative lack of attention to the backlist, especially in the case of books like Journey to Fusang, which for all its excellence wasn't a commercial smash back in 1988. (Especially as the imprint which published it was long ago absorbed in one of the various industry mergers.) Happily, at least for this book, new technologies are providing an alternate route to republication. Stone Dragon Press, a print-on-demand house (but not a vanity press) is now offering a nice large-sized paperback edition of this novel. Even better, it's expanded over the original book publication, restoring some scenes that were cut for the first edition.

That's all very fine, but what about the book itself? I've already said I loved it, and I think I liked it even more upon rereading. It's an Alternate History (a genre with which Sanders is very comfortable), the historical divergence in this case occurring in the 13th century when the Mongols continued into Western Europe and laid it to waste, leaving a century or so later. As a result, Europe remained a backwater, and North America was separately colonized on the East Coast by Islamic people, and on the West Coast by the Chinese. (Also, Islamic weapons helped the Aztecs forge a more powerful Empire in Mexico.)

This book is set in the late 17th century. The hero and narrator is an Irishman, Finn of No Fixed Abode, who has to leave Ireland in a hurry, having knocked up the High King's teenage daughter. Finn is an appealing rascal, with the expected inconvenient (to him) sense of morals which messes him up just when he doesn't need it to. He ends up on an Arabic slaver, headed for Kaafiristan (the Arabic name for their portion of North America), upon which he meets a Jew named Yusuf and an Englishman named Alfred. Escaping the slavers, the three find their way (along with a beautiful redhead named Maeve) to the Great Plains, and decide to head for the Chinese colony, called Fusang. But fate, as it were, has different plans for them, and Finn and his friends first have to deal with a mad Cossack bent on taking over the Continent.

The plot is clever enough, involving and nicely worked out, but it's not the point of the book. The book is simply a pleasure to read: very funny throughout. Sanders has a great raconteur's style, such that each individual scene is a story within a story, and fun to read, as well as humorous and clever. Finn's misadventures are believable, arising sometimes from his own mistakes, and either good or bad luck, and sometimes from his attempts to do good. But even while the general tone of the novel is very comic, the horrors of life at that time, especially the specific horrors of slavery and the mad Cossack's war, are not painted over, so that despite the comedy there is real passion and the reader is quite moved on occasion.

Sanders also makes much of the opportunity to compare the standard prejudices of his alternate history with those of our real history, to the detriment of unthinking people in both timelines, and demonstrating once again what silliness racism is based upon. Finally, Sanders takes delight in cute pop culture references, such as his alternate Will Shaxpur's version of the Tempest, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Gilligan's Island, or Finn's mule, which looks like it could almost talk, and which he calls Francis. These bits are interlarded throughout the story, but they do not become intrusive. They are just extra fillips.

I enjoyed this novel immensely, on my original reading, and rereading it now. Highly recommended for those who haven't encountered it yet. Even if you have the original book, this is a good chance to reread it in a larger edition, with some extra scenes.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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