Podcast Review #47: Peace Lord of the Red Planet

Title: Peace Lord of the Red Planet
Author: Steven H. Wilson
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Released: 14 June 2010 – 12 September 2010
Located: iTunes, Podiobooks
Formats Available: Podcast, Dead Tree and electronic versions (Amazon)
Rating: R for sexual situations and violence

I wrote the following as an intro to Steven H. Wilson’s Taken Liberty back in Podcast Review 38:

Occasionally, I listen to a podcast for no apparent reason. This is one of those times. After having listened to the first couple of eps, I was interested enough to continue with it, but I’m not sure who recommended this story to me. If YOU did, please let me know and I’ll be sure to give you credit.

Well, the credit for that recommendation was my good friend Dan Sawyer, author of Down from Ten and the Antithesis Progression books. I like Dan and I think of him as one to push boundaries of mainstream thought and perception (what he thinks of himself in this respect, I have no idea). I didn’t really care for Taken Liberty, but not due to content, but rather lack of it. I wanted more backstory. I felt the characters were much to rich to not have got to know them better. So, when Dan recommended another book by Mr. Wilson, it was unnecessary to persuade me, as I was eager to see if the characters were able to grab me this time.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Shepherd Autrey is a Quaker, a physician, and a man deeply disturbed by the madness around him as the War Between the tates bears down on his America in 1863. Dared by a friend to take an active role, Shep volunteers to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of Sherman’s scorched earth campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. There he runs foul of a Confederate recruiting drive and fi nds himself hanged by the neck from a tree. Awakening in a strange land which can’t possibly be earth, Shep is plunged into battle and saves the life of an alien warrior prince. Hailed by bloodthirsty killers as the bravest man alive, Shep combats his conscience, his fl agging faith, and an ever-growing number of people who want him dead.

Production: It is apparent that Mr. Wilson knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting together a podcast. There really is no need to worry on this account. All aspects of the production, audio quality, consistent use of musical themes, appropriate audio levels, etc. Now, I’ve said before, production is probably the area that I most easily give a pass on. However, I have recently realized that is simply because so many of the podcasts I listen to do a completely adequate job of production. (Stay tuned in weeks to come for an exception or two.)

Cast: The story was a straight read by the author, Steven H. Wilson. He does a nice job and does a good bit of differentiating the voices both with modulating his tone and inflection. Well done indeed when you figure a good number of his characters are women. I like straight reads, and this is a good example of one well done.

Story: Peace Lord of the Red Planet seemed to me to be a purposeful attempt to give the antithetical account of Edgar Rice Burroughs Princess of Mars Barsoom stories. In both cases we have an Earth man transported, at a moment of impending doom, to an alien world (Steven H Wilson’s Red Planet is purposefully explained to not be Mars, however.) Instead of a valiant fighter and lover however, we have for our hero, a Quaker.

Verdict: I have a feeling regardless of how I rate this one, I’ll have someone eventually disagree with me. Oh well, i’m up for it!

Okay, so the good: Mr. Wilson has really strung together an interesting mythos here. I enjoyed listening to Shep Autrey make one discovery after another while trying to reconcile his beliefs (which are diametrically opposed) to the inhabitants of the red planet. Although here is yet another example of placing your character in a new world to see him squirm (WHY am I hearing so many of these lately?) it is a good example.

The bad: Some of the things Shep holds to be repugnant and unable to be justified within the bounds of his belief system, he much to quickly comes to grips with. I found this to seriously detract from the story to some degree.

The observation: I found it interesting that Mr. Wilson did a very decent job in copying the writing style of Burroughs. Of course, this observation might be totally off the mark and something my fevered mind conjured up, but it made the story even more interesting to me.

And finally, the Verdict: I liked Peace Lord. It isn’t going to be for everyone. If you can’t take your Christian theology as a device to look at other possible mythos, then stay away. I have no problem reading/listening to a work of fiction without it threatening my belief system, so this didn’t really bother me. But again, I do suggest you use caution if you can be offended by fiction tampering with the Christian scriptures. If this doesn’t bother you, or perhaps you don’t subscribe to the Christian belief system to begin with, then you shouldn’t have a problem with most of this story. Give it a try. I’m glad I did.

As an aside, as I prepared to write this review, I realized there was an additional chapter and an epilogue from where I thought the story ended. Yes, I stopped at chapter 16, and when you hear chapter 16, you’ll understand that the story actually ends much differently than I originally thought. Even if it had ended at chapter 16, I would have written basically the same review, although I’m glad to have heard the rest.

Disclosure: I do not believe I know Mr. Wilson, or follow him on Twitter . I was not paid or asked to write this review, although after having listened to it, I am even more convinced that Dan Sawyer has a deviant mind. And of course, that isn’t always a bad thing.

Comment Pages

There are 11 Comments to "Podcast Review #47: Peace Lord of the Red Planet"

  • Glad you liked the book, Odin! I was wondering how it would strike you.

    My experience with this book was an interesting one — I remember thinking several times, particularly through the first half of the book, that I would have liked it better when I was a believer than I did now, as I’d have found the more evangelical aspects of it much more moving rather than merely interesting and occasionally annoying.

    However, sometime around episode seven a wheel clicked in my head, as so often happens to me with Steve Wilson’s more philosophically inclined stories, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t quite cottoned on to what was he was up to.

    I came to think that, rather than being a Christian (TM) book as one comes to expect from folks like Peretti, LeHaye, or all but Lewis’s best (where the narrative is a thin veil for grinding a doctrinal axe), what Steve wrote here is a spiritual epic. The central concern is, as with Lewis’s “Till We Have Faces” or Heinlein’s “Job,” the spiritual and moral maturity of the main character. In facing challenges to his faith and worldview, he’s forced to sort between his underlying moral principles and the rules that he’s accepted as their legitimate expression–and, kudos to Steve for choosing a Quaker of that era, as the journey the main character goes on is very believable for a man of integrity raised on the writings of George Fox.

    I really don’t have a lot of patience any more for evangelism–enough years in seminary and many more of intense personal study have made me a curmudgeonly cuss when anyone talks to me about the surface aspects of their religion (yes, I know the gospel, and the five pillars, and the eightfold path–been there, done that), but what I do have an abiding fascination for is integrity in the midst of ambiguity and contradiction. The thing about Steve’s works that can still bring me down in tears is the sublime manner in which he navigates this territory, in one way or another, through his novels and some of his longer serials. I was lucky enough to listen to the final episodes of Peace Lord on my birthday this year, and it was a hell of a birthday present that kept me chewing on it mentally for a good week afterward. This is, by my lights, exactly what science fiction is for, and kudos to Steve for diving in with both feet in a way that is guaranteed to court offense and discomfort for everyone in the audience. That was my experience with Taken Liberty (which is a much richer book if you have the context of his Arbiter Chronicles series), and it was my experience with Peace Lord. I sincerely hope he’s working on another one.

    By the way, anyone looking for Down From Ten or The Antithesis Progression need only click on the links in this sentence, if you’ll forgive the shameless self-linkage 😉
    -J. Daniel Sawyer

    • odin1eye says:

      I’m sorry not to have moderated your comment earlier, but it seems that you and Mr. Roche share a unique distinction in being “slightly spammy” according to Askimet. Great comment and I’m glad you commented.

      I had guessed from the beginning that this was going to be an evolution of character story, but Mr. Wilson took that evolution in a different direction than I had anticipated and i greatly enjoyed it.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Katharina says:

    Okay, i have to admit that the reason of listening to another book of an author just to see if his characters grab you this time – given that is your #1 criterium to judge a book – is weird to me.

    This is why I was wondering if it was just JD’s recommendation that really made you listen to it. If not, I am curious to find out how many chances you give an author that doesn’t fulfill your character-criterium the first time around.

    • odin1eye says:

      Lol. Seriously, I liked the characters and the writing enough in Taken Liberty to give Mr. Wilson a second try. If I like your characters and dislike your story, I’ll probably give you a second chance. If your characters are poorly fleshed out and your story is poor, I’ll probably pass on any further efforts.

  • Scott Roche says:

    Okay, looks like I’m gonna have to check this out. Given the themes and a recommendation from you and Dan I don’t think I could pass it up.

  • A very nice review that went into just enough depth to keep me reading without giving things away or boring me with too much length. Your review has convinced me to give it a listen. I really liked his last podiobook for his production and narration quality, but I couldn’t finish it because of its content. I am very excited to see he has another book out now, and although I’ll probably go back and finish his other someday, I’m definitely going to listen to this one very soon. I’m putting it in my que 🙂 Thanks for the great review Odin.

  • MickB says:

    Another great recommendation – thank you, Odin, for bringing this story to my attention. I mainlined this one on a road-trip today and got home with one episode to go, which I had to sit down and finish.

    Though I enjoyed the whole story, it did feel to me to be split into two, with the second half being somewhat less engaging than the clash of moralities that Shep struggles to deal with in the first half. Perhaps it was just that the personal level of the issues faced until the turning point really brought the characters to life, but then there was a feeling of being somewhat disengaged by the introduction of a whole new set of characters who were not as interesting as they might have been expected to be (basically a bunch of squabbling children with powers).

    That minor niggle aside, it was a well crafted world and a well-told story, as well as giving the listener plenty to think about in terms of the view of morality seen from several different perspectives, the literal or figurative interpretation of religious texts and how faith and personal values can change under the influence of love.

    • odin1eye says:

      Thanks Mick! I’m really glad you were able to find something here you hadn’t heard and were able to give it a try. There were definite issues I had with disagreeing with the philosophy of the characters, but isn’t that what a good story should do is make you think? I enjoyed it for that very reason.

      Thanks again!

      • MickB says:

        What made those philosophies ‘acceptable’ to me was that no matter what the lead character’s thoughts were or the reader’s own views, for those characters it was not sordid or strange, but their way of life. They had known nothing else and there were historical reasons within the world of the story for those lifestyles to be acceptable. They were doing nothing wrong according to their own laws and belief systems, no matter how strange they may have seemed to the Quaker or to the reader/listener.

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