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Fires of Eden

Dan Simmons

G. P. Putnam's Sons

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-399-13922-2

$23.95;398 pages

Date Reviewed: 11-11-1994

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Horror, Fantasy

01-25-02,02-14-02, 04-15-02, 05-30-02, 10-08-02, 02-25-03, 04-30-03, 10-22-03, 10-29-03

Horror novels can derive a particular power from their setting. From Poe's House of Usher to Stephen King's Castle Rock, from H.P. Lovecraft's decaying Arkham to Dean Koontz's squeaky clean suburbs of Orange County, it seems as if every single square inch of this earth has played host to murderers, monsters and madness. In "Fires of Eden", the versatile SF/Horror writer Dan Simmons finds new grounds on which to breed terror -- Hawaii.

As you take the Dan Simmons tour, Hawaii shows itself to be a naturally horrific setting. "At first, only the wind is screaming." Set on the big island, "Fires of Eden" describes a harsh landscape of razor sharp lava flows frozen into grotesque statuaries, rough roads through military firing ranges and awesome volcanic activities. Simmons makes the dangers and ugliness seem intriguing as well as foreboding. Fortunately, against this backdrop, the characters are more than blips on the landscape.

Byron Trumbo is a Donald Trump-like millionaire who is trying to sell the Mauna Pele resort to a group of Japanese investors before they can find out about the disappearances of guests. He's a ruthless liar, followed by his soon-to-be ex-wife, the supermodel who led to his divorce, and his latest girlfriend, a black seventeen year old MTV singer. Still, Simmons manages to make him a sympathetic character by properly placing him in his environment. He's embroiled in a lifestyle from which there is but one escape, like a shark that must keep swimming and eating in order to live. [Relevant quote]. Simmons makes you want Trumbo to succeed, an essential but none-too-easy feat.

The guests aren't simply waiting around to become monster food, however. Eleanor Perry is a schoolteacher with time on her hands for travel and the diary of a distant relative who traveled to Hawaii, then the "Sandwich Islands" in 1866 with Samuel Clemens. [Relevant quote] The diary excepts effectively set up a story parallel to the one plays out in the novel proper, with a fascinating characterization of Samuel Clemens and Eleanor's Aunt Kidder. [Relevant quote] Eleanor is understandably intrigued by the events documented in the diary, and their relationship to the present-day disappearances.

At the resort, she meets Cordie Stumpf, a dowdy, dumpy, overweight contest-winner from the Mid-West who also has more on her agenda than rest and relaxation at a posh Hawaiian resort. She, too, has read about the disappearances and even when advised to leave, she decides to stay. [Relevant quote].

Simmons supernatural scenes of Hawaiian gods and demons reinventing themselves in the modern world are strikingly well-written. From the first chapter forward, they captivate the reader and propel the narrative forward with the proper page-turning propulsion.

Like most horror novels, "Fires of Eden" is at heart a mystery, a "what done it". Unlike most horror novels, "Fires of Eden" has a feeling of inevitability rather than coming off as a series of graphically decribed supernatural killings separated by slow segments where the characters try to figure out what's going on.

Simmons supernatural goings-on, based on native Hawaiian beliefs, are deeply researched, and have more in common with the lessons of the Greek myths than they do with monster-in-a-closet movies. But you can be assured that there are monsters here, and gods as well, walking the earth with the all-too-mortal characters.

In the end, in spite of the beautiful but deadly volvanic landscape, in spite of the daemons and gods, once we get a pretty good idea of "what done it" it's the characters who stand out in for the readers. Simmons skillfully interweaves past and present story lines, setting up parallellss that he goes ahead and shatters. It's a source of total delight for the reader, and yields such great lines as Byron Trumbo's description of a mythical pig-god that he's just seen on the golf course. "I know when someone's ready to deal, and that pig was ready to deal."