Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review of The Mongolian Book of the Dead by Alan Smale

The Mongolian Book of the Dead by Alan Smale is one of the novellas featured in the October/November 2012 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.  An American drifter is swept into the middle of PR China's brutal invasion of Mongolia when he is kidnapped by the followers of a mysterious Mongolian shaman.  The speculative nature of this novella stems from the paranormal ability of the shaman and the drifter to travel through astral planes.

Mr. Smale is either Mongolian, lived in Mongolia, is married to a Mongolian, or did some meticulous research on Mongolia.  I felt immersed in the unique culture and history of this enigmatic country from the outset.  The reader receives this interesting education from the POV of the hapless drifter John Tanner as he tries to figure out why exactly he was kidnapped.  It turns out, John has the ability to act as a conduit for travel to the astral plane, and, using him, the shaman can journey to the time of Genghis Khan.

In the end, using John, the shaman brings Khan's hordes to the present time, the Chinese are routed, Mongolia is freed, and everyone lives happily ever after.  I don't mind revealing this "spoiler" because it comes as no surprise.  However, Mr. Smale makes up for his predictable and painfully obvious plot by his fast pacing, impeccable research, and excellent story-telling ability.  Overall, I can't not recommend this one.

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