Ariel: post-apocalyptic sword-and-sorcery adventure that rocked my world

I first read Steven R Boyett's novel Ariel in 1983: I was twelve years old, and I was absolutely, totally hooked.

Here's the premise: one day at 4:30 PM, the world Changes. Complex technology (anything beyond a simple machine) stops working. Magic starts working. Planes fall out of the sky, dragons take wing. Chaos wracks the world. Riots. Starvation. Murder.

Pete Garey was an adolescent when the Change hit, and he found himself on the road when his family disappeared in the chaos. He's been wandering ever since, joined now by a unicorn named Ariel whom he met and befriended while bathing in a pool. He and Ariel are more than friends: she's his familiar, his companion as he wanders the by-ways of Changed America, looting sporting goods stores for equipment, fighting off marauders, befriending other loners.

That's the setup. An adolescent hero and a unicorn and their retinue (a failed ingénue, a little boy whose father has sent him to slay a dragon, a martial artist who has figured out how to put his Society for Creative Anachronisms skills to work) get embroiled in a series of adventures, culminating on a raid against a black magician who has ensconced himself in the Empire State Building and is set to destroy the world.

The telling is flat-out brilliant. It never lets up. The characters are likable and vivid, the storytelling fast and non-stop, the tale filled with adventure, bravery, betrayal, swordplay, magic, and eleven kinds of coming of age.

I've read Ariel a good 20 times since 1983, and it's one of the few books I brought with me across the ocean when I moved from Toronto to London -- even though my copy was broken-spined and stained, I couldn't bear to part with it. For one thing, I wanted to read it to my daughter in eight or nine years.

Today, an expanded reissue of Ariel hits stores, and this is some goddamned great news. Boyett (who's been more focused on being a DJ and a podcaster of late) has added in some new material and (mirabile dictu) has written a sequel, Elegy Beach, which will be released in November.

There's a whole generation that's grown up since Ariel left print, and another generation besides, and it's good news for the future that this book is once again available to them. It's got swords and sorcery, it's got road-tripping, it's got post-apocalyptic adventures, it's got gang-war, bravery, the Smithsonian, hang-gliders, martial arts, romance, sailing and seacraft -- what more could you ask for?


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  1. “It’s got swords and sorcery, it’s got road-tripping, it’s got post-apocalyptic adventures, it’s got gang-war, bravery, the Smithsonian, hang-gliders, martial arts, romance, sailing and seacraft”…

    I heard that in my brain in Peter Falk’s voice.

  2. This reminds me of S.M. Stirling’s ‘Change’ books, but with magic. Clearly this pre-dates Stirling’s series – and I notice he’s contributed a cover blurb :)

    Sounds fascinating!

  3. Woo Hoo! I’ve been waiting for this for years. I still have my copy (Ace Fantasy 1983) too. Fantastic news!

    Does this mean he’s possibly going to finish up the sequel(s) to The Architect of Sleep?

  4. It predates Shadowrun by 6 years, I wonder if the players/design team that created Shadowrun are fans of this book?

  5. Don’t you just love to comparison between the original cover (on Cory’s copy) and the newer, dare I say ‘Post 9-11’, depiction?

  6. The Architect of Sleep was awesome. very unique. I was always disappointed that there was no conclusion to the story.

  7. Cory, your write-up sounds exactly like S.M. Stirling’s ‘Change’ novels. What gives? Did he completely rip this guy off?

  8. I loved this book as a kid, fantasized about myself as the hero. I still love the book, even though I recognize that it’s fundamental Mary-Sue-ness is why I like it.

    Gotta say I like the new cover better than the original though.

    -abs can’t think of anything clever to write here, sorry

  9. Ha – I remember that book – A good read. Maybe I’ll have to find it to pass on to my stepdaughter.

  10. sounds interesting. but the name is quite ridiculous because in my home country there’s a washing powder called “Ariel” that claims to wash your clothes cleaner than every other detergent.

  11. I pre-ordered it as soon as I saw it, and the sequel, on Amazon.

    I wonder if I’ll find it as depressing as I did when I read it 25 years ago.

  12. So THIS is where Ringo got the idea for the Council Wars….ordered…thanks again for increasing my to be read bookcase :)

  13. I haven’t read it, but as an SCA greenhorn I’m intrigued by the character.
    They’re really easy to make fun of from a distance, but when you run into an SCA combat competitor they often serve a good reminded of what it means to “get medieval”. It makes you glad that the big weapons are rattan.

  14. The authors mentioned above must have been reading Peter Dickinson’s Changes Trilogy, which predates them both (1968-70). I read those as a child and they immediately plugged into my early childhood “backhoe comes alive and comes after me” recurrent nightmare. It’s a rich conceit and worth many explorations.

  15. @8 Yes, I know, Cory’s post is very clear about the dates.

    That was my point. Until seeing this post, I didn’t know of the existence of Ariel. Now I’m forced to conclude that Stirling’s work is heavily derivative, which disappoints me. So I’d like to know if there’s anything else to the story.

  16. @lodela

    Yes, the description immediately made me think of Peter Dickinson’s “Changes” trilogy. (“The Weathermaker”, “The Devil’s Children” and “Heartsease”) The books were beautifully written, and deserves to be better known. If my memory serves, “The Weathermaker” was the only one in which magic is explicitly present. In the other two books, modern technology has simply stopped working, but the reason is not made clear.

  17. Great book! Many fond memories of this one. I often wondered what happened to Mr. Boyett. I also enjoyed “The Architect of Sleep” which, if I recall, involves an alternate earth where Raccoon-like creatures have evolved intelligence.

  18. I *loved* Ariel when I was younger, can’t tell you how many times I re-read it. The fact that it’s been re-released & has a sequel on the way is music to my ears.

  19. I’m not familiar with Ariel, read The Architect of Sleep years ago and loved it, and I’ve marched through all the Stirling ‘Change’ books that have come out so far; I’ve also read his earlier ‘Island in the Sea of Time’ series. I’m wondering, how is ‘derivative’ being defined, since it’s being used here in a negative fashion? Is anyone who explores the theme of people dealing with the sudden collapse of technology ‘derivative’ of whoever wrote about it first? Flat-out plagiarizing is one thing, but if just using similar situations and themes to some earlier writer is a crime, you’d have to lock up most of the authors out there …

  20. Oh, I agree, there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by others’ work and writing something similar-but-different. I was just struck by the degree to which Cory’s write-up of Ariel could stand in for a write-up of Stirling’s books — take out the unicorn and you’re pretty much there.

  21. Elizabeth Bear was telling me about this last week. Now it get namechecked by Cory, too?! Then I gotta get it!

  22. So it’s Stirling’s Dies the Fire WITH magic and WITHOUT the annoying fundamentalist Wiccans.

    I’m down with that.

  23. Holy cow, I haven’t thought about The Architect of Sleep in years! Very fun book. I hope he creates a sequel for it as as well!

  24. Why can’t you guys be satisfied with regular ol’ busted worlds, shit piled on shit, universal moaning and groaning among the wreckage? Why do you gotta have MAGIC? That’s not post-apocalyptic, that’s pre-adolescent.

    There sure won’t any unicorns on that field of broken dreams.

  25. This is weird. You guys know “modern world suddenly experiences a change in the laws of physics that turns it into a fantasy setting” isn’t original to Boyett *or* Stirling, right? Shadowrun, Simon Hawke’s _Wizard of 4th Street_ novels… It’s an old, much-used trope. Getting upset about it is like being indignant at the entire modern fantasy genre for ripping off Tolkien, or at the whole superhero genre for ripping off Superman. Sheesh.

  26. I read this book when it came out in 1983. I loved it and parts of it have stuck with me to this day.

    This is the book Stirling *wanted* to write but he lacked the balls to just come out and say the Dies the Fire universe was MAGIC. So instead, you get this really stupid universe that makes zero sense and is full of absurdity.

    I like the fact that Ariel never tries to explain why the Change happened. It just deals with it.

  27. The line about “technology stops” reminded me of the Dickinson books, too. The BBC did a pretty decent and very bleak children’s series based upon them in the mid-seventies called “The Changes.” I remember Paddy Kingsland’s electronic clanging and roars over shots of electricity pylons — monsters of the id that the now technophobic population are too terrified to approach, never mind destroy.

    “Ariel” looks intriguing; onto the Amazon list it goes.

  28. This is wonderful news!!

    I too have worn a copy of ‘Ariel’ to bits and the fact that not only is it being reissued (with bonuses!) but that there’s going to be a sequel is just gobsmacking.

    Now that Steven R. Boyett is back in the writing biz, could someone please, please, please get him to write the sequel to ‘The Architect of Sleep’.

  29. I have to agree that Stirling’s series of The Change seems less original than I had thought. Still, Dies the Fire gave me the same chills and worry over my preparedness for disaster that my favourite post-apocalyptic stories do.

    Maybe these stories are for people who like to own stuff. With my wife’s help, I’ve become more of a saver and have a relatively large amount (again, relatively) saved in a bank. It would be no use after a Change. Perhaps I need my wife to read these books to convince her to buy more stuff in the now, rather than all this saving.

  30. There’s an audiobook copy of this up on Audible as well, just snagged it for future listening. Thanks for the tip, Cory!

  31. This is the book that cemented me as a SF/F fan. I had the same edition as Cory (lost long ago, sadly). I am going to buy this book, and the sequel when it is available, for my 14 year old daughter to read. After I’m done, of course.

    At the risk of being flamed, IMHO Ariel beats Stirling’s books hands down.

  32. I remember buying this in 1983 when in high school, and going through it in one setting. I just finished reading my fist edition again today, and now I hear of the book’s re-issue, with expanded info-what an unexpected treat!

    I always liked how it was sprinkled with those literary and cultural references. At the time, it was a huge hit among everyone in Amtguard .

    Time to read it again!

  33. I’d never heard of Ariel and went right out and bought the eaudiobook from Penguin’s website. I had a problem with the download (possibly because I’m running Snow Leopard). Customer service was good about getting back to me when I reported this issue, but I was told that it’s a technical problem and it may take 8-10 days for tech service to get back to me. This is “customer service” at Penguin….

  34. Interesting I saw Ariel in the book store and I was angry that someone was copying off of Stirling Hah! Though now I know Boyett was before Stirling, and Dickerson fellow was before either. Though like some of the above posters added I am not going to get mad about it, so its been done before, alot. I found Stirling’s “Dies in the Fire” and “Emberverse” first and I much prefer it. Though if you have read the latest book things are getting interesting.

    Perhaps I’ll give Ariel a read too.

  35. I loved this book. Got it in 84, lost it in a move, and found it on amazon *used* a few years back.

    I have already emailed my mom and mother in law the hint for my birthday and christmas….i can’t wait to read elegy beach! means i’ll have to pull out Ariel and start reading it again.


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