The Earth Lords by Gordon R. Dickson (1989, 311 pages) – When I first started reading this “fantasy” novel (I was fooled by the cover), I was surprised to find myself reading a western set in the late 1800s. However, the writing was so good and the hero so interesting, I immediately became involved in his adventures. He’s a half-blood with a Cree mother and a white father, an interesting and well-educated background, and a powerful physique. I was sucked in even more when his girlfriend’s brother sends him to a mine in the mountains where he’s clamped in irons and forced to work as a slave.
Our hero, not content to waste away in the dark and die like his comrades, escapes and almost makes it to freedom when he’s abducted by aliens. Yes, aliens. This fantasy novel turned western has suddenly become a work of science fiction. The aliens are humanoid creatures with small bodies and big heads. They hate humans and have built themselves an underground civilization beneath Canada. Bart goes from being a slave in the mines to a slave Steed, one of the muscular men who carry the tiny Lords and Ladies around on their backs in special saddles. Understandably not happy to be yet again forced to serve others, he discovers his girlfriend is also a slave in the underground city. She and her brother have been duped by a militant group (the miners) into becoming slaves in the Inner World.
The story moves along briskly (as if it’s been dull up to now!) as our hero learns his father may have been an alien. Two sympathetic Old Ones, a man and his wife, are intrigued by their Steed and admit they knew his father. While learning as much about the new underground world as he can so he can escape with his girl, he must contend with meeting his brother, power struggles amongst the classes, a giant machine capable of ridding the world of humanity, and a belief that every slave died in the surface world and was resurrected by the Old Ones.
An atypical hero, a wild adventure, and a complete lack of predictability makes this one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. I fully expected dragons, vampires, and Brad and Janet to show up at any minute. Although the hero takes a backseat in the last third of the book, I still wanted to find out how he was going to get out of this mess.