Review: The Heirs of Babylon

Posted: July 12, 2023 by in Books We Like (4.4/5 single_star) Meta: Glen Cook, Post Apocalyptic, Speculatively Lite

I haven’t read near enough Glen Cook.

I keep telling myself this, and yet my penchant for continuing to push his books down my TBR pile is, quite frankly, fairly embarrassing. I actually received this book quite some time ago, and only recently took the chance to read it. Mainly because it was short and I needed to get to something short. One of these days I’m going to figure out how to get ahead of the review game again, and have these things scheduled out. Until then, one foot in front of the other.

THE HEIRS OF BABYLON is Glen Cook’s first published novel. He details some of it’s beginnings and influences in a new Foreward, and the reading of it is time well-spent.

Kurt Ranke lives in what used to be Germany with his expectant wife. Life is hard and miserable, the earth in an ever-present war that has dragged on for centuries, and there seems to be no end in sight. The rulers of the paltry population of survivors, the Political Office, hearken to something similar to the KGB or the Gestapo, telling the people what they must know and what they must do. As it happens, their soldiers have been called off to the Great Gathering in Gibraltar, from where they will launch a massive offensive against the evil Australians, in their boats run by steam and with their archaic weapons. The only thing worse than getting killed by the enemy is being outed by an undercover political officer… and then killed for being a traitor.

As I mentioned, this was a quick read. Fewer than two hundred pages and not particularly dense writing. Even though the first few pages start out beyond Kurt’s PoV, it quickly settles in and sticks with him for the duration. Despite his familiarity with life on a boat from previous work, there is still plenty to learn. Some of the crew are known to him–a friend, a relative–but by and large they are strangers. This makes for some good mystery as individuals begin getting picked off. Along the way he meets some few others and learns more about the world and were exactly they are going. And it seems less and less likely that he’ll ever be returning to his beautiful wife and new child.

An engaging post-apocalyptic tale of Earth told through the lens of a soldier of war learning that the truth isn't necessarily always true

Cook’s prose is approachable, but doesn’t always flow smoothly. We can easily chalk this up to him being a new writer, but it is still particularly impressive. Especially in light of the fact that it was written over 5 decades ago. Going back to similar books written in that time period, I think you’d be hard pressed to find very many in the speculative genre (largely Science Fiction at that time, yeah?) that were written half so well. This very idea was what spawned the author to write this book in the first place.

Overall, I found the read to be highly enjoyable. My only quibble being that so little of it included science fiction or fantasy at it’s core. Not particularly something I can hold against the author, however, given the time period in which it was written. If you’re a fan of Glen Cook’s writing, or near-future post-apocalyptic tales in general, you’d likely enjoy this one very much. Although, in the end, I find that I still have the same opinion I had before reading this book:

I haven’t read near enough Glen Cook.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Relatively mild and infrequent
  • Violence: Some large-scale war violence and a few dead bodies
  • Sex: A few brief references

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