Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Assassin and Other Stories

Title: Assassin and Other Stories
Author: Steven Barnes
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction
Price: $30
Publisher: ISFIC Press
ISBN: 978-09759156-4
Point of Sale: ISFIC Press
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I routinely attend Windycon, my local science fiction convention. As part of the convention, ISFIC Press publishes a book of stories from the convention’s author Guest of Honor. This year, Steven Barnes was the guest, and so I picked up a copy of Assassin and Other Stories. As usual, I’m glad I did.

The bulk of this book consists of the previously-unpublished novel Assassin, which is the story of Abdul-Wahid, a child of a Christian mother and Muslim father living in a small village in what is now Syria during the Crusades. Very early on in the story, Abdul’s life is upended by those Crusades, and he becomes Haytham, a member of the cult of Hashashiyyin. This cult gave English the word “assassin” and, some say, the word “hashish.” At any rate, the story, told mostly from Abdul / Haytham’s point of view, is a very sympathetic portrayal of a group of Islamic fundamentalists.

When the original manuscript came out, shortly after 9/11, the market for sympathetic Islamic fundamentalists, not a big market to begin with, dried up. However, Barnes kept the story on his hard drive, and eventually produced the book I reviewed. This is a good thing, because it allowed me to enjoy a wonderful and action-packed story. There’s really very little to say about Assassin, as the novel is note-perfect. All the characters, Christian and Muslim, are well-developed, and the assassins are not without their flaws. Steven Barnes, the author, is a martial arts expert, and so the combat is portrayed realistically. Although written for a science fiction convention, Assassin is almost completely historical fiction, with a small bit of mysticism regarding the Holy Grail.

The rest of the book consists of four short stories and one screenplay (unproduced). Three of the short stories are science fiction, and the remaining works are fantasy. A few specific thoughts:

The Woman in the Wall – a short story reflecting on what people do to survive, involving a science fictional plague. It’s rather grim but riveting.

Trickster – War of the Worlds from the point of view of a primitive African tribe.

The Locust – written with Larry Niven, this science fiction story takes a new view of human evolution.

Father Steel – a screenplay starring a young Hannibal, as recounted by the older Hannibal while crossing the Alps.

Danger Word – a really scary zombie story, written back before zombies were cool.

As always with ISFIC Press books, I highly recommend ordering your copy of Assassin and Other Stories today.


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