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The First Heroes: New Tales Of The Bronze Age
edited by Harry Turtledove and Noreen Doyle
Tor, 368 pages

The First Heroes: New Tales Of The Bronze Age
Harry Turtledove
Harry Turtledove was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1949. In 1977, he received a Ph.D. in Byzantine history from UCLA. In 1979, he published his first two novels, Wereblood and Werenight, under the pseudonym Eric G. Iverson which he continued to use until 1985. In 1991, he left the Los Angeles County Office of Education, where he worked as a technical writer, to become a full-time author. He won the Hugo Award for Novella in 1994 for "Down in the Bottomlands" and "Must and Shall" was nominated for both the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Novelette and the 1996 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.

Harry Turtledove Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The First Heroes
SF Site Review: Through the Darkness
SF Site Review: The Center Cannot Hold
SF Site Review: Ruled Britannia
SF Site Review: Colonization: Aftershocks
SF Site Review: Walk in Hell
SF Site Review: Darkness Descending
SF Site Review: American Front
SF Site Review: Household Gods with Judith Tarr
SF Site Review: Colonization: Second Contact
SF Site Review: Into the Darkness
SF Site Review: How Few Remain
SF Site Review: How Few Remain
SF Site Review: Between the Rivers

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The fantasy genre has its roots in the oldest legends of mankind. From Gilgamesh defeating Humbaba to the fall of Troy and Odysseus' journey back to Ithaka, these early stories of civilization have long held a fascination for mankind. Harry Turtledove and Noreen Doyle have commissioned fourteen stories set during the Bronze Age for the anthology The First Heroes. Given the length of the Bronze Age, however, the stories span a vast period of time and point out that the Bronze Age didn't end simultaneously across the world.

The anthology is bookended by time travel stories by Gene Wolfe ("The Lost Pilgrim") and Poul Anderson ("The Bog Sword"). Not only are these stories connected by the crosstime aspect the authors bring, but while Wolfe looks at the end of the Copper Age and the introduction of bronze, Anderson's story is set when bronze is beginning to give way to iron. In both cases, the characters must deal with similar situations arising from the introduction of a new technology.

Other technological advances are shown in Brenda Clough's Chinese story "How the Bells Came from Yang to Hubei" and Judith Tarr's "The God of Chariots." Both these stories have elements of fantasy as well as the feel of science fiction for their manner of dealing with technological advances. S.M. Stirling's "Blood Wolf," which is part of his Nantucket through time series, also looks at the introduction of technology, although Stirling is more interesting, in this tale, with the clash of cultures.

The book contains several straight fantasy tales, perhaps the most obvious is Turtledove's own "The Horse of Bronze," which details a world of mythical beings. In this tale, centaurs are trying to find the secret of tin so they can make their own bronze, and discover something much more alarming. Gods also play roles in many of the fantasies, for the indigenous stories from the period provided a large role to deities.

Tarr's aforementioned story incorporates the gods on earth in a realistic manner, and Josepha Sherman's "A Hero for the Gods" looks at the gods and mortals in a very human light.

Noreen Doyle's tale is of the life of a man, Ankhtifi the Brave, who looks back on his life in Egypt with great nostalgia, which is weakened only by the unsympathetic manner in which a younger Ankhtifi is portrayed. Similarly, the characters in Karen Jordan Allen's "Orqo Afloat on the Willkamayu" are not particularly likable, but the story serves as a reminder that while the Bronze Age may have ended throughout Europe and Asia, it clung on in the Americas for much longer.

The two most experimental pieces both work well, although also both benefit from multiple readings. Gregory Feeley's "Giliad" is set in the modern day and somehow successfully ties in a computer simulation, September 11th, life in Mesopotamia and writing a novel. While it first appears disjointed, subsequent readings more clearly show how well everything fits together. The other experimental piece is Larry Hammer's "The Myrmidons," which is a humorous take on the great warriors of antiquity and is given its power from the fact that Hammer has returned to the form of epic poetry to relate the tale.

The stories which make up The First Heroes are well written and interesting. Most of the authors manage to successfully capture the magic of the epic poems which inspired these stories, whether the works of anonymous Mesopotamians or the more famous Homers and Vergils. These new tales of the Bronze Age also provide a nice change of pace from the Medieval based fantasy so often found in the genre.

Copyright © 2004 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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