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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