S. Andrew Swann
God's Dice (1997)
Reviewed: 1998-04-05

There are books I like to call fantasy with an alibi. It happens when an author with a strictly scientific worldview decides for whatever reasons to write a novel set in a fantasy world with all the typical clichés of working magic, elves, dwarves, etc. Suspension of disbelief requires a sound basis for such a universe, and this is obviously difficult to come by. In God's Dice, S. Andrew Swann plays with alternative realities that may be effects of quantum mechanics or figments of the mind.

After the death of her mother, Julia Brandon learns that she has an older brother Richard who after a traumatic accident 26 years ago has lost all touch with reality. In another world, Dr. Richard Brandon is a psychologist conducting sensory deprivation experiments that might bring him into contact with alternate realities. There is Rocky, a military veteran and now a down and out cop; Richie, a petty criminal and lowlife; Rick, a journalist desparately trying to keep his small newspaper afloat; and Richard, a dreamy poet and literature lecturer. They are different Richard Brandons in different worlds.

In a flurry of events, Rocky, Richie, Rick, and Richard find themselves transported to the city of Quinque in Midland, a fantasy world they all dreamed of in their childhood. Quinque is in grave danger. One of its five gods has become insane, turning into the Adversary. The four Richards are entrusted by the other gods with a mission to recover four relics of power before facing the Adversary in order to save Midland. As one of the characters puts it:

How fucking original. The gods send us out on a quest. This was getting old before Odysseus was born.

Hunted by demonic Thralls, wondering about the reality of their companions and this strangely illogical world they have been cast into, the four Richards set out to accomplish their mission. As usual, Swann presents very readable, fast-paced action, and obviously enjoys playing with eccentric gods, elves, gnomes, a dragon, and less easily named creatures in a constantly shifting reality. Faithful to Swann's own advice to writers, the heroes start out by getting into bad trouble and steadily progress from there to worse kinds of trouble until the very end.

Much like Philip José Farmer's Red Orc's Rage, this books refuses to obey the SF convention of clearly dividing what is real and what is imaginary in the world of the novel, making it difficult to attach a narrow genre label to it and probably drawing the dislike of more conventionally inclined readers. Along with Raven this novel suggests that Swann is quite comfortable writing in varying, well-crafted settings but really needs to invent a new plot structure rather than reusing the current one forever.

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