BOOK REVIEW: “Ariel” by Steven R. Boyett

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison
 

When I was a teenager and first realized my desire to become a novelist, the very first book I went out and found was at a bookstore in Parmatown Mall in Parma, Ohio called B. Dalton’s Booksellers. That book was called Ariel by Steven R. Boyett. I didn’t know it at the time, but Steven Boyett is only 5 years older than me. He wrote Ariel when he was still a teenager too. I’m glad I was blissfully unaware of this fact or it may have been horribly intimidating to know someone so young had written something so fantastic.

Originally published in 1983, although it is not a very well-known book, Ariel is credited by many as being one of the very first true urban fantasy novels. This wasn’t a book sending characters from our world into a fantasy world. This wasn’t a book mixing magic with the real world. This was a book that actually transformed our world into the fantasy.

The story takes place in our world after an event known as “The Change” and follows a young man named Pete Garey who befriends a unicorn he names Ariel. The Change happened spontaneously and inexplicably, one ordinary afternoon, and thereafter all devices using gunpowder, complex mechanics, or electricity suddenly stop working. Cars stopped in the streets. Planes fell from the sky. Weapons ceased to fire. And magical creatures reappeared and began to roam the towns and countrysides of earth.

Ariel has always held a special place in my heart, because it was the first novel I ever discovered on my own. Before Ariel, every book I read was recommended by a teacher, or based on a movie, or was something a friend told me about.

Ariel was unique.

Ariel was the first time I ever walked into a bookstore and found the book on the shelf and bought it.

Something about that made me feel grown up.

Mature. Responsible.

With Ariel, for the first time in my life, I was choosing my own adventure (not to be confused with the Choose Your Own Adventure books). I was taking command of my path. Picking my destiny.

Because of that, I’m also grateful I picked a great book. Would have sucked if my first foray into reading had been total crap!

The youth of Steven Boyett shows through in Ariel. The story itself has a darling innocence and naiveté about it. I’ve seen some reviews of Ariel wherein people claim you need to be of a certain age to appreciate the story. Insinuating it’s just for kids.

I disagree.

To fall in love with the purity of a unicorn, you need to have kept your own innocence. Most people develop a particular sort of cynicism that makes a book like Ariel difficult to enjoy. When that veneer of too many disappointments, too many betrayals, too many vices, encases your soul, you start getting angry when you see people who are running around without being encrusted in the same tainted shell. Those bitter people won’t understand talking unicorns. Those people are dead already, because they have lost the part of their soul that used to dream.

That’s not to say Ariel is all rainbows and unicorns. Necromancers and unicorns in a dark dystopian post-apocalypse, sure. But there are no puppies or lollipops. There are demons and samurai and griffins. Maybe some Brach’s Peppermint Candy, but no lollipops.

Ariel is the kind of story with characters that become your friends. You go on that road with them. Pete is a little cynical. Ariel is a little sassy. And I think those traits are the ones we love most in our friends. No one likes some phony happy-go-lucky jerk who pretends to always shit sunshine and strawberries. We all like someone with a little sarcasm and snide.

Ariel had such a strong effect on me as a teenager I kept on forgetting it was only a book.

At one point, in junior high, I remember thinking I didn’t really need to worry about picking a high school because once The Change happened, I wouldn’t be going to school anymore. I’d be fighting to survive in the post-apocalyptic aftermath.

Awakening from that recurring daydream kind of freaked me out.

That was the first moment when I realized I may have been taking the story a little too seriously.

But isn’t that what all great books do to us? Make us get so lost in their world, we start to forget where the dream ends.

The first time I read Ariel was in one marathon sitting, from about 7 at night to 7 in the morning. The book does have a bit of sex and violence that was totally appropriate for me to read as a 13 year old boy in 1984. But, since most parents in 2013 are completely disgusting and deranged in your perverse coddling and overbearing protectiveness, you might want to wait until your children are 25 years old before you allow them to read a book where a character dreams about getting fellatio from a succubus. For those of you with no vocabulary and who are too fucking lazy to grab a dictionary, that means getting your dick sucked by a demon.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful story about first love, and magic, and the tragedy of losing the soulmate you can’t have, so you can be with someone you can. Damn, I never knew I’d have to learn that lesson for real. Bet you never expected that one to happen to you either, did you? There are many other lessons to be learned from the novel as well. Other morals and themes, to be sure, but I refuse to wax philosophical on them by cramming my head too far up my rectum like most critics, because that just puts a crimp in my neck I don’t need.

Ariel was out of print shortly after the 1983 debut, but came back into print in 2009. I suggest you pick up a copy as soon as possible. After all, you don’t want it to go out of print again. You need to make sure you have your own book as both a survival guide and as a history of the world, once The Change happens. Pays to be prepared. You never know. The Change could be coming any day now.