Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

Harlan Ellison wrote a short story/novelette a long time ago called A Boy and His Dog. From what I understand, the movie adaptation was horribly mangled, but the general idea of both was that in a post-apocalyptic world, the boy and his dog roamed the world, trying to survive. In the end, he had to make a choice between the love of a girl, and the life of Buck, the dog. Ellison left the ending deliberately vague, and you had to go back and read it a couple of times to really figure out what had happened, but the tag line was, approximately "sure I know what love is. A boy loves his dog."

Anyway, Ariel, by Boyett, is eerily reminiscent of that Ellison story. It takes place in a post-technical world after The Change, when the physical laws that allow gunpowder to explode, airplanes to fly, and electricity to power the world have failed, and magic and its creatures have returned. The copy I own was published in 1984 (the image in this post is a 2009 reprint), and aside from one other novel I possess, Boyett disappeared from the scene, only to reappear with a new novel of the world of Ariel called Elegy Beach. Of course, I bought a copy and went back after almost thirty years to re-read Ariel in preparation for the new story.

When the world as he knows it ceases to exist, Pete Garey survives on his own for a while, using his camping skills and things he learns from abandoned libraries to get by. One day, while bathing in a lake, he spots a unicorn with a broken leg near the shore, and swims over to investigate. As he is a virgin, the unicorn allows him to touch her, he plays Androcles and the lion, splinting the leg, and they travel together from that day forward. Several years later, a group of people, having heard that the horn of a unicorn is a very powerful and valuable item, try to take Ariel away from Pete. Pete acquires a couple of stray allies in this battle, one of the Star Trek red shirt variety, the other called Mordecai Lee, who is as close to a samurai warrior as one will find in this day and age. They dispatch the first group of attackers readily, but when the minion of the Necromancer who controls New York City shows up on his griffon to make his play for the unicorn and horn, things start to get really serious.

After the griffon rider is barely sent packing, Mordecai decides he needs to head to New York with his canine companion to try to do something about the menace there, and tells Pete and Ariel to run and hide. They decide instead to follow him surreptitiously, reasoning that they may be able to help him, and if he fails on his own, the Necromancer and his forces will track them down eventually. As they travel, they accumulate a couple more refugees, a young boy with a broadsword who has been sent on a manhood-proving quest by his father to slay a dragon, George (The Dragon and the George, anyone?) and a young woman named Shaugnessy who becomes entranced by Ariel and follows them on her own until they finally give in and let her accompany them.

The novel has a bittersweet ending, after a good bit of travel adventure and action - one of the best bits is when a force attacking the Necromancer, who has made his headquarters at the top of the Empire State Building, hang glides from the top of the World Trade Center (wonder if the 2009 version changes this to some other nearby building?). It's not as wonderful now as I thought it was when I first read it, it's pretty much a young adult novel, and I was a lot younger then. I am, however, ready to "hit the Beach".

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