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Arslan [by M. J. Engh]


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For those of you who don't know, Arslan is a brilliant science fiction novel that was published sometime in the 1970s. I purchased and read it rather recently, after learning that it's one of Orson Scott Card's favorite books (Mr. Card wrote Ender's Game, another sci-fi classic).

This novel deals primarily with the rise and fall of an Asian conquerer named Arslan, who basically takes over the world and attempts to break humanity down into small, rural, self-sustaining communities. He may be a brutal dictator, but his ferocity shows the most in the strength of his idealism and the hopeless grandeur of his plans for the future. I went into Arslan expecting it to be a book about war, but it's actually based primarily on human relationships. It's written in the first person, and the point of view alternates between two important characters; this makes Engh's prose feel very real and very personal.

In fact, the author's hauntingly lovely prose is the main reason that Arslan stands out. Unlike most sci-fi novels, it has no space travel or advanced machinery; there is no technical jargon, no bounty hunters, no brave hero.

Here's a short sample of Engh's writing:

[quote]I did not know, until he turned away from the four corpses, that I would not be the fifth. Until that moment I had waited, with anxious anticipation and a hollow sickness in the gut, to learn whether I would fight him--and how, if I did not, he would destroy me. But as he turned, slack and satiated, sheer joy bubbled within me, and I trembled like a fountain. Rusudan was dead, and I would live. Nights afterward, when in my agony I dared to tongue Rusudan's name, he leaned the heel of his hand upon my mouth, saying for all time, "That case is closed," and I read in the jet transparence of his eyes that I was absolved of my own sin, called only to suffer for others'.[/quote]

I can't even describe how amazed I am by the sheer clarity and beauty of his words. Since I'd never even heard of Arslan until I bought it on a whim, I'm not terribly sure that anyone else here has read it. However, I strongly encourage all of you to do so.

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