Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chthon - Piers Anthony [1967]

The Blurb
Aton Five's chance encounter with the hauntingly beautiful minionette named Malice as a boy comes to define the rest of his youth and adult life. The exact circumstances which lead to Aton's imprisonment in Chthon, an inescapable labyrinthine prison, are muzzy, but the reason for the imprisonment is certain: his love for the minionette. What's unclear is why it's an unpardonable crime to love her. In order to find out, Aton devises an escape from Chthon. Among the many problems he faces are the deadly creatures in the tunnels of Chthon, his fellow prisoners, and of course, the small fact that no one actually knows where Chthon is located. But is the terrible truth Aton learns about Malice worth the years of agony she has caused him? I guess you'll only find out if you read the book! (Or cheat and Google the plot...)

The Review
Yes yes, we're once again back in the sixties, but I promise some more recent books are well on their way to being reviewed!
Now, Chthon is told in a non-linear fashion, but do not despair of the fact that we know Aton escapes successfully within the first two chapters! No surprise is ruined here! In fact, Anthony pulls this technique off beautifully, pulling the tension away from "Will he escape?" and instead turning it into, "Is all his effort going to be worth it?", which (in my opinion) works much better with the obsession he has with Malice. Furthermore, Chthon blends elements of scifi and fantasy quite well together. While Aton's journey takes him across the galaxies, since a good half of the book is set in Chthon with man-eating beasts and the rest of the book has him battling waking dreams of the minionette, the "science fiction" definitely takes a back burner to the fantasy elements in this book, so hardcore scifi lovers, be warned! To sweeten the disappointment some might feel however, I will say this: Chthon has zombies.
I repeat, Chthon has zombies. And yes, he actually calls them that. But I digress.
Now I don't mean to sound sexist, but Chthon also definitely illustrates the difference between male and female scifi/fantasy writers when it comes to romantic subplots. Maybe it's because I'm female, but I'm always left a little unsatisfied with romantic subplot development by male authors. Everything always seems a little abrupt, and Chthon is no different, though I'm willing to allow that it may be because Aton is so obsessed with Malice that, naturally, any other romance must seem hurried and unsatisfying at best. Still, the juicy secrets of the minionette were so worth it (to me, as a reader) that any drawbacks of the romantic subplot are not enough to unrecommend this book.
Since Chthon was written in the sixties, it seems to follow the trend of being on the shorter side in comparison to the newer Nebula nominees. (This might be because they hadn't yet placed a lower word count limit for "Best Novel", perhaps?) The pacing is quick enough, so expect things to be happening all the time, especially near the end where Anthony seems to get frighteningly fast with events, so don't space when reading!

The Recommendations
-Phthor: This is the sequel to Chthon and follows Aton's son, also in the tunnels of Chthon.
-The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee: This doesn't have scifi in it at all, but if you enjoyed the gradual progress of unraveling the secrets surrounding the minionette, this has a very similar thing going on in terms of finding out the true identity of the main character. It's also features battling demons, both internal and external.
-If you're into space opera, hard scifi, or fantasy involving magic, this is probably not for you.

Aton Five is sent to an inescapable prison colony for loving the minionette Malice, and stages an impossible escape in order to find out why loving her has doomed him. More fantasy than scifi, though it has elements of both.


Here is the Nebulog's special Thanksgiving review! (If only because the timing happens to coincide.) Happy Turkey Day to all our readers in the US, and to those of our readers who don't celebrate Thanksgiving, Happy Nebulog Update! Also, Daniel, your lead is getting smaller as I update! Muahahahaha. (Now if I can only maintain this updating.....)

1 comment:

  1. I think novels were shorter because of the limitations publishers placed on authors. They were expected to turn in x-number-of-word length novels...not much longer and not much shorter. I think Dick had several of his early novels cut by publishers because of word length. I still like a novel under 300 pages, myself. Seems the perfect length for a decent story, well told. And it forces economy on authors, makes them more creative. I'll take any novel of the 60s and early 70s for quick, deft characterization and plotting over the surplus of bloated, multi-volume epics we have to endure to get a simple story these days. (I'm being quite curmudgeonly today, sorry. But I do love your blog and appreciate what you're doing - it's great fun to read).