cover image The Arms of Hercules

The Arms of Hercules

Fred Saberhagen. Tor Books, $14.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87776-7

Mutant livestock such as mastodroms and cameloids roam a land very like Greece, where Saberhagen places a mild retelling (with obligatory debunking from the hero's viewpoint) of the Hercules legends. Our hero here has admittedly superhuman strength--being an acknowledged son of Zeus--but is humble about his prowess, leadership skills and even appearance. His famous first task, the killing of the Nemean lion, occurs in the course of a normal chore assigned to troublesome youths: guarding remote herds. Other tasks he stumbles into by even greater chance, while more are assigned by Hermes, the messenger of the gods. But Hercules regards the codified list of his 12 Labors as ranging from misinterpretation to complete fabrication by his fans. Saberhagen, the veteran author of some three dozen novels, including a series featuring Count Dracula and the SF Berserker books, sticks fairly close to familiar territory, offering a classical fantasy with centaurs and rare but convincing appearances by the gods. He drops a few unsatisfying hints that magic and divinity are based on an unexplained technology (one word, ""odylic,"" describing this mysterious technology, dates from 1850: briefly, this seems to be a clue, but goes nowhere). This tale will satisfy those who like hero stories, but the book, third in a series (The Face of Apollo; Ariadne's Web), lacks the frisson possible to SF with plausible explanations, as well as the power of some other retellings. (Dec.)