by Stephan Grundy
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Much of the fantasy which resides on the shelves of bookstores, libraries and collections is based on Celtic or Anglo-Saxon legends. Other branches of European mythology follows in terms of numbers. While this might be understandable given the ethnic background of the majority of authors and readers of fantasy fiction, it ignores several rich mythological cycles which could provide a fertile ground for fresh fantasy. Several authors have mined the non-European tradition including such notables as Barry Hughart, Janny Wurts & Raymond Feist and Mike Resnick Stephan Grundy joins this fraternity with his third novel, based on the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh.
Grundy has historical training, which shows through in his successful attempt to marry the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, its belief system, and the modern world in which the novel is published. Gilgamesh offers unique problems for the author because Grundy allows the title character to retain his Mesopotamian sensibilities. This means that Gilgamesh has several qualities which will not endear him to modern readers. Grundy balances this by presenting Gilgamesh against the background of his time and surrounding him with more sympathetic, although not modern, characters such as Puabi, the Shamhatu.
The events in the novel follows the events of the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh closely, although expanding on them and putting them into a cultural context which the original listeners to the epic would have had. This is the area where Grundy's knowledge and understanding of the period shines. His city of Erech is as alien as any world in science fiction, but he explains it in terms of the humans who built the city and lived there.
The book isn't a total success. At times, the action moves slowly as Grundy focuses on building his characters or the setting. If he could have integrated these features with the action a little more, the novel would have had a smoother flow. Fortunately, much of this occurs in the opening chapters of the book and the pace manages to increase.
Grundy manages to bring the period, its civilization, ethics, beliefs and characters to life. Even when they would be vilified in our own culture, he manages to demonstrate that the attitudes fit into the society in which they were formed. Gilgamesh asks the reader to put aside the European viewpoint engendered by our society and attempt to understand an alien, albeit human, point of view.
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