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Eaters Of The Dead (2006)

Eaters of the Dead (2006)
3.61 of 5 Votes: 4
0060891564 (ISBN13: 9780060891565)
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Eaters Of The Dead (2006)
Eaters Of The Dead (2006)

About book: In a time when history was an infant, any traveller from a far off land would have been treated a curiosity. To imagine Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta at a place I know of in a time far ago would have been a most amusing thing. This story speaks of one such seemingly unnatural pairing : an Arab in the land of the Vikings. In a time when Baghdad was a shining gem, the Arabs were sophisticated and erudite. They were travellers, warriors, traders and poets and this was built on the intensely fertile intellectual landscape that the country nurtured. On the other hand, the Scandinavians were primarily a war like group. While they attained great highs in culture, literature and the arts they were treated for a long time as barbarians. This was partly thanks to the adventures of the sea faring Vikings. An Arab among the Vikings would have been a peacock in the land of penguins and it is exactly one such scenario that Crichton uses here.Do not let my earlier paragraph fool you for this is no cultural study. Right from the onset of the tale, it is abundantly clear that this is a light read in the vein of a historic action thriller. Crichton relies on the travels of a man Ibn-Fadlan into the lands of the Vikings and mixes into it the soul of Beowulf. What comes out is a small but swift story of sword fights and a hero-quest. I quite liked the rather crazy idea that there might be still a small tribe of feral and cannibalistic band of primitives in the last outposts of humanity who can wreak havoc in the psyches of a yet evolving culture. The mist monsters that Crichton conjures up here were to me equal parts Grendel and humanity's fear of the unknown. There is also the fact that the narrator Ibn-Fadlan is a very prosaic and pragmatic narrator and at times his exploits read more like a trade agreement than a dramatic rendition of a bloody conflict. Such a dry-as-dust style in fact works to the benefit of the story and was quite enjoyable.On the flip side, there is hardly any character development. When the story finishes you don't even know an inch more of the characters than when you began reading. The author speaks of the antagonists, the Wendol as something equalling the ancestors of man and yet they fight on horseback and a convincing argument about their cannibalism is not given out. They are left to us the readers as an enigma and not a fully explored force of primeval terror. All factors considered it is a decent enough thriller and at the hands of someone like Crichton, the pace is fast enough to deliver a good read.

Michael Crichton novels are like delicious delicacies that one must ration lest he or she eat the whole batch and have none left. Since his passing, I have rationed his novels even more carefully. "Eaters Of The Dead" sat on my shelf begging to be read for years. When I watched the film, "The 13th Warrior," and realized it was based on this novel, the element of surprise was gone and I knew it was time to blow the dust off the red top stain of the first edition and eat my fill. It did not disappoint. Stylistically, Crichton had a ball with this novel understating in a subtlely hilarious fashion an amazingly fun action novel. The genius of Crichton was always to take the academically or scientifically inaccessible and present it in layman's terms without dumbing down the content. It is a rare tight rope to walk and he mastered the form repeatedly throughout his life. A multitude of themes emerge in the short novel and all are worthy of prolonged discussion or debate. I'll not spoil any of it with too much erudition. Suffice to say, it is worth reading. As for the movie... not bad. Hollywood was notorious for taking great Crichton books and turning them into silly movies. "Congo" being the most egregious example with "Rising Sun" not far behind. To read a Crichton novel is to enjoy one of the most brilliant and energetic minds of the century. I doubt there is a writer alive who can match his unique skillset. Pity. I miss the dude a lot.
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About 20 pages into this book, I planned to stop reading it. The style was very dry, written from a historian/documentary viewpoint. About 50 pages in I realized "wait a minute; this is the same as the 13th Warrior." Man, I hated that movie.What I also remember about the movie is that it's a top 10 for one of my best friends who just loved the psychology of warfare and the mystery of the unknown as it was back in 1100 AD.As I decided whether to continue reading or throw the book out, I recalled how much I liked the movie Jurassic Park for how it went about explaining how that could happen (the mosquitos with dinosaur DNA getting preserved in tree sap et al), and I began to see, based on that revelation and what I'd read so far, that Crichton pays attention to storyline details. He assists his readers in a leap of faith by giving them facts, anticipating questions, and answering them within the context of the story.Turns out, he does that with this book too. Things that made no sense in the movie were explained in Crichton's novel. It became fascinating to me as I walked in the shoes of these warriors and came to understand how superstition, lore and tradition can twist perception of reality.And in that way, this novel is so much more than a story of Antonio Banderas and a bunch of idiots fighting imaginary creatures for no reason at all.I liked the book, and I've set my Tivo to record the 13th Warrior when it comes on next, July 24.
As much as I love the movie adaptation, The 13th Warrior, I found that the nature of this book became boring and tedious after about the halfway point. The delivery of the story is done as an observational recounting: "I saw this, and it was weird; they did this, and it was weird; this was believed, and it was weird. Verily, verily, verily, do I say unto you." That about sums up the entirety of the story's telling.The premise is great, a fictionalized historical observation that provided the basis for the epic Beowulf. The historical and cultural observations (of which, not doing the research, I wonder how much is accurate) are fun to see but it gets tired when your main character, Ibn Fadlan, does nothing but watch. He interacts on occasion, barely learns the language of the Norsemen, and sits around watching and recounting what they all did. And let's not forget, it was all weird and contrary to the ways of the cultured and advanced Muslims of Baghdad (I understand the point but I tired of it being constantly slammed home that he was an outsider looking in).That was the entirety of this book and, rare as it is, I find the film version did a better job of this. Though, I think the movie would have done well to add some of the more graphic portions of the book that weren't possible with a PG-13 rating. Hell, most of the stuff the Game of Thrones TV show does is tame in comparison to what happens in this book.
I have to confess, the first time I read this book I thought it was a real manuscript, and that Crichton was just putting it for us in book form...until I got to the epilogue. That was when I understand that Crichton is an amazing story teller.Digging around, I found out that Crichton did the book out of a bet that he could not make Beowulf interesting. And what a book he came out with!The book tells the story of an Arab ambassador Ibn Fadlan, as he traveled from Baghdad and hooked up with a bunch of Vikings trying to rid a land of a monstrous terror. Basically Beowulf.What I found truly captivating was that it was written as a manuscript. The whole thing reads like a travel journal of an extremely observant man. Written matter-of-factly with no attempts of embellishments or even attempts to make the story more dramatic. Its a great book.5/5.
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