A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder (book review).

Mark Hodder’s ‘A Red Sun Also Rises’ pays homage to the planetary romances which were quite popular a while ago. It is presented as the journal of one Reverend Aiden Fleischer, found by a diving expedition and given to the author who removed most of the boring bits like descriptions of the fauna and flora of the alien world at its heart and edited the text to make it suitable for a modern audience.

The tale begins late in the 19th century when Aiden Fleischer, son of an Anglican clergyman, succeeds his father and becomes vicar in a small town in Hampshire. He soon realises that he does not fit well into the community and begins to question his faith, becoming increasingly lonely and reclusive. Until, one day, fate knocks on his door in the form of a very disreputable-looking woman asking in a surprisingly cultivated tone for something to eat in exchange for some work. Surprised. Aiden takes her in and soon realises that first impressions can indeed be deceptive. Clarissa Stark reveals herself to be a very intelligent, resourceful and highly-educated young woman. He offers her a position as his sexton.

After being blackmailed, Aiden decides to become a missionary. Clarissa accompanies him to missionary school in London. Their first and inevitably last assignment leads them to Koluwai, a small island off the coast of New Guinea, yet untouched by civilisation. Over the course of six months, after their arrival, the local witch doctor teaches them the islanders language, they try to fit in, build a cabin and Aiden does his best to spread the word of Christ. He isn’t very successful, partly because of his own lack of conviction and partly because of profound disinterest by the islanders.

Aiden starts to notice some strange occurrences like people disappearing and peculiar storms brewing over Koluwai. When he tries to follow some natives one evening, he stumbles over the dead body of an outlandish creature but tries to convince himself that it must have been a hallucination.

The witch doctor is the only one attending his first sermon. When Aiden tries to convince him of God and his existence, the witch doctor responds by telling him that he will take Aiden to meet the god of Koluwai, a real god that isn’t just a tale. The witch doctor drugs him and tricks Clarissa into aiding the preparations of a ceremony supposed to help a feverish Aiden which turns out to be a sacrifice to the god of Koluwai. In its course, Aiden (again) and Clarissa lose consciousness. They awake on an alien world called Ptallya, as they later learn. Ptallya has four moons and a flora and fauna both have never seen before. What happens to them on Ptallya, how they influence its civilisation and how it shapes them you should read for yourself.

Mark Hodder’s ‘A Red Sun Also Rises’ is characterised by a vivid and interesting premise and conjures the illusion that you are reading a novel based on a journal from a 19th century priest, written with his authentic voice and viewpoint. The two main characters are very identifiable and likable people. A minor problem can be found in the rather sketchy characterisation of the minor characters but that does not really distract from the entertaining read.

The world-building is complete and very well-imagined so that you can easily believe that a world like Ptallya with its bizarre ecosystem can exist. This being a first-person narrative, we perceive the world of the novel through Aiden Fleischer’s eyes, which lets us discover it with the eyes of a new arrival without knowing everything that happens and why. This ignorance concerning Ptallya builds up a sense of wonder and is a big part of the appeal of this novel for me.

Mark Hodder’s writing style is equal to his wonderful imagination, witty dialogues reminiscent of Charles Dickens loosen up the action, right alongside the scientific and philosophical ideas that are entrenched in the narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would love to read more adventures of Clarissa and Aiden. This tale should be right up the alley of readers of H. Rider Haggard or Edgar Rice Burroughs or fans of the movie ‘John Carter’.

Sven Scheurer

December 2016

(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books, 2012. 276 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-694-8

pub: Ebury Publishing/Random House, 2012. 273 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-091949-81-5)

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