by Ben Bova
Science fiction author Ben Bova offers a novel of straight historical fiction with The Hittite. Lukka is the leader of a troop of Hittite soldiers who arrive home in the Imperial capital city of Hattusas only to find the city in chaos after the emperor's sons have staged a coup, killing their father and are now fighting a civil war. Rather than get involved in the internal politics, Lukka takes his band of men and tries to find his wife and two sons who seem to have been taken by traders. Lukka decides that the most likely place to find them would be the coastal city of Troy.
The men begin their journey and arrive at Troy at the height of the Achaian siege. Acquiring a servant, the storyteller Poletes, and taking service with Odysseos, Lukka hopes that his service will help in freeing his wife, Aniti, who has become the slave of the Achaian High King, Agamemnon. In this manner, Lukka insinuates himself into the action that would be related in Homer's Iliad. Bova is able to present the rough and tumble existence of the Achaians' camps and culture and contrast it with the more sedate civilization within the walls of Troy by having Lukka acts as a messenger between Odysseos and King Priam. This also allows Lukka to meet the nurse Apet and her charge, Helen.
Upon meeting Helen and Apet, Lukka learns of Helen's history from Apet. Bova's method of relating this, as an infodump lasting several chapters, stops the momentum of the novel, but at the same time provides a more full backstory for Helen, from her youngest childhood in which her father, Tyndareus, entertained a series of suitors, many much older than Helen, in an attempt to make a match for her and an alliance for himself. Bova's version of Helen's youth serves to make her a much more sympathetic and complex character than simply the abducted wife of Menalaos. The action begins again with the Achaians adopting a plan Lukka suggests to Odysseos which will gain them access to the city.
While Odysseos is traditionally portrayed as the wisest, and wiliest of the Greeks, in Bova's work, his main abilities are to serve as peacekeepers among the Achaians and the recognize the good advice he gets from Lukka, who represents the recently fallen, but long successful Hittite empire. Odysseos borrows from the Hittites and figures out a way to adopt and adapt their methods into terms which will work for the Achaians, and particularly Agamemnon. Other Achaians, including Achilles, Menalaos, and Agamemnon, are portrayed much less sympathetically, with Agamemnon being written as a spoiled despot.
Following the sack of Troy, Lukka and his Hittites decide to part ways with Odysseos and make their way on their own. Bova also provides for the fate of Helen, who survives the fall of the city and seeks to avoid a return to Sparta, where she is convinced Menalaos will kill her. Bova handles the aftermath well, although, perhaps, a little too briefly. His characters, notably Helen and Lukka, are well defined and throughout, whether Lukka in Hattusas or Helen fleeing Menalaos' wrath, are shown with attitudes which are not modern, but rather more akin to those of a time long past.
The Hittite is not the first time Ben Bova has explored the world of the Trojan War, although his previous visit, in Vengeance of Orion was a science fiction novel. Lukka, Poletes, and the Hatti appear as characters in Vengeance of Orion, but The Hittite is a separate novel without the science fictional elements of Vengeance of Orion and The Hittite is not a retelling of that earlier novel. Instead, Bova returns to characters he has already created, in a situation they were created for, and allows them to live their lives without any science fiction or supernatural interference.