Editorial Review: Of Men and Dragons by Steve Hayden
Of Men and Dragons by Steve Hayden is an exuberant and easy-to-read tale of first contact, by a lone human explorer armed with the curiosity and fortitude of classic early sci-fi.
Unlike Captain Kirk, the hero in this tale lacks the backing of a massive starship and support crew. When Jack crashes into this unnamed planet on the distant edges of explored space, his only support is Angela, the AI who controls his spacecraft and worries about him like a younger brother who needs much care and supervision.
Jack makes first contact with the indigenous sentient beings when he rescues a local female who has been tied to the stake outside the cave after his crash landing smashed into a mountainside. S’haar is intended as a sacrifice to “the dragon” that flamed across the village skies.
Jack and S’haar form an uneasy relationship. She will provide cultural guidance, and Angela (who rather enjoys being a dragon) will provide a safe and warm home for the oncoming winter while Jack works to repair the spacecraft.
This is no easy task – and it involves engaging with suspicious locals who are eight feet tall, covered in armored hide, lethally fast fighters, and way tougher than a frail human being given massive claws, elbow spikes, and rows of pointed teeth.
While the book regularly refers to recent pop culture in the form of Jack’s nostalgia for Earth, he and Angela take a pragmatic approach to the prime directive as they expose the feudal culture of iron-spear wielders to both education and technological wizardry.
The science elements of this sci-fi adventure are simple plot devices – implant technology that permits Jack and S’haar to understand one another. The ability of the AI to create vital equipment from raw materials; or to manipulate robotic arms and stitch the accident-prone Jack back together.
Of Men and Dragons is more a youthful adventure than a sophisticated sci-fi tale of dark intrigue and advanced technology. It celebrates extreme diversity and resilience as S’haar and Jack overcome past traumas and find balance in their vastly different strengths which allow them to rescue a teenage female from a terrible fate, build a new outpost and face numerous deadly challenges.
Hayden’s tale is full of solid principles, and he seeks to impart valuable life lessons that would support those struggling with past trauma, battling with anxiety, or trying to overcome personal adversity. From a pure story-telling perspective, this occasionally overstated lesson giving can slow the pace in a tale of epic proportions.
But don’t be fooled – while the title might say “Of Men and Dragons”; this is a story with powerful female role models who can do anything from fight as fearsome warriors, lead a successful community or solve complex technical problems. It’s an enjoyable story of action and adventure which proves that the most important element for survival is strength of will and the willingness to take just one more step.