Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

Title: Eaters of the Dead
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Knopf (1976)

Okay, now I can say it: btw, Michael, last day before The Slide, are you ready? :-)

In my part of the world the weather is finally (finally!) changing, along with the clocks, and I am ready to welcome summer with open arms and long horse rides. In the meantime, I must admit that this month's review might be a little askew. You see, I could not find this book anywhere in town! I mean, anywhere (and yes, I did wait too long so shipping was not an option)! And then, sadly, its eBook availability is nil for NZ (wtf???). That meant my only option was to load up my US Amazon account and get the Kindle book. However, I have said my goodbyes to Amazon due to their lame book selling practices and I just could not bring myself to give them any money. So, my strategy was to do some online reading and refresh my recollection: it's been a few years since I read this one. (Previous visitors will probably have twigged to the fact that we're Crichton fans here. This is our second this year and fourth overall.)

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of The 13th Warrior
at It Rains... You Get Wet

From the author's website:
The story behind this novel appears in an essay in the paperback edition. The short version is, I wrote Eaters of the Dead on a bet that I could make an entertaining story out of Beowulf.

It’s an unusual book. Readers either like it, or they don’t. I’m quite pleased with the movie (13th Warrior), which I think captures the feeling of the novel very well.

I very much recommend visiting the above webpage as I thought a lot of cool information was available for the book. I actually haven't read Beowulf so can't comment on how well Eaters of the Dead does as an "entertaining" retelling (or if, in fact, the original is not entertaining) but I quite clearly remember thinking it was unlike anything else of his I had read. At the time of reading I wasn't quite the connoisseur of historical fiction that I am now so I think a re-read with that new aspect of my personal taste could be interesting. I do quite clearly remember enjoying the POV of a non-European as, again at the time, so much of my reading would have American or European POVs.

That being said, the narrator, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, consistently struck me as a little too quick to sympathize with his Viking compatriots. He was coerced into a quest he didn't seem to have much interest in and was often slightly appalled at the cultural norms. Yet still these men and, by extension, their societal mores became more and more something ibn Fadlan could readily sympathize with. This even included his participation in pre-battle frenzy rape!

The narration is very much of the observational variety. The main character is an ambassador for his country and thus has a vested interest in recording what he sees of other peoples and countries. His personal reactions are an integral part of the narrative and really what holds the entire thing together. Straight observation would have been a tad dry but if Crichton had used his usual suspenseful style that too would probably have short-changed the intent of this book.

The greater part of Crichton's work is science fiction but I would put this one in the fantasy camp due to the adversaries in the quest of the 13 warriors. I won't include details as I can't remember how soon they come up in the book (don't want to do any spoilers) but suffice to say they are not quite like one would expect from a straight real world scenario. Any Beowulf readers want to let me know if that is their origin? 

I'd recommend this one to historical or fantasy readers who like something a little off the beaten path but it is one that I know many have not finished despite its compact size.

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Zodiac by Robert Graysmith


  1. Wow, didn't know you couldn't get your hands on this. Good to know you had read it before, Rachel. When I first got this, I kinda doubted I'd finish it, so different to what I'd come to know of Crichton's flair with the sci-fi/techno material. Still, the history, culture, and mannerisms drew me. I guess that was the author's intention to put the reader in the observer position of both Ibn's and Viking's awareness of the period.

    Certainly, he got me going with the manuscript and footnoting he'd throw in. Convinced me at the time he was actually novelizing and piecing together an actual chronicled event. Course, later, looking at the afterward did this register as pure fantasy with its take of Beowulf, which I tried my utmost to get through for a high school class.

    And for that, along with entertaining me, I've always remembered it fondly. Glad you could piece something together for your review. Wouldn't been hell I suppose, if you'd not read it. ;-)

    Thanks, Rachel.

    1. It was a surprise to me, as well! Truly did not expect to have trouble
      finding a Crichton novel (incidentally, it's one of two Crichton books not
      carried in my local library).

      It is very different from his other stuff. I always think of it as having more
      in common with the train robbery one he wrote but, even so, it's not exactly the
      same as that one either. I remember really liking the structure and layout.
      Made it a lot easier to immerse yourself in the "history."

      So you're not recommending Beowulf then? ;-)

      Glad we did this Crichton 'oddball' since we've done so many of his 'standard' fare.

      Thanks for suggesting this one!