Book reviews by author Jeffrey Round
A Bard on Hercular – Felice Picano’s latest novel is a surprising and entertaining blend of science fiction and pop culture
In “A Bard on Hercular“, a 23rd-century spaceman drifts through deep space at the mercy of an AI that keeps sedating him during troubled periods, only to finally awaken on the planet Hercular. Who is he? Where does he come from and where is he going? This is the start of Felice Picano’s new work of fiction, the final volume in a three-book-long adventure known as “City on a Star”, published over a quarter of a century in real time.
The opening scenes are in line with the sort of images—some haunting, others enlightening or amusing—that spring readily from the pages of this book. Picano engages readers on numerous fronts, whether it be straight-on adventure, society gossip, political shenanigans, sexual peccadillos, or other. Humour is a constant, as it always is with this author.
As we soon learn, the wandering spaceman is none other than Holt Ib’r Sanqq, AKA Prince Holt, the much sought-after refugee son of an illustrious, mega-wealthy family. As word spreads of Holt’s arrival on Hercular, the list of contenders for his betrothal grows and competition ramps up aggressively, including an offer to become the wife and future mother to the children of a claimant to the title of emperor—this despite Holt’s outwardly masculine appearance, now much altered by 23rd-century bio-medical engineering.
Along with Holt, much of the story focuses on Eisenstein Syzygy Kell, AKA Ice, protagonist of The Betrothal at Usk, second in the series. Now an intergalactic singing superstar, Ice is none other than the eponymous bard of the title, scheduled to perform on Hercular. Escaping a bombing and kidnapping attempt by cyber terrorists, he is whisked off to safer places by a gang of winged youngsters who come to his rescue. More fun follows.
Picano is on fire here, reimagining the universe from daily life through to warfare, with a surprising and entertaining blend of science fiction and pop culture. It’s not just technology he reinvents, but also the intricacies of social evolution, both human and non, that co-exist at times uneasily in highly codified and regimented societies on seeded-world projects, aka colonies. He achieves this handily, whether digging up inter-galactic feuds, revealing the reproductive secrets of royals or describing the nuances of body language—younger males greet by touching fingertips while the older ones clasp arms.
It takes a bit of adjusting to the unusual names and invented languages, not to mention species, but things settle in quickly as the adventure takes off and we follow the interplanetary power-mongering while at the same time learning intriguing secrets about the supposed physical makeup of the universe.
From its beginning with Dryland’s End and the fall of a corrupt matriarchal system at the galaxy’s centre, through The Betrothal at Usk, the tale now reaches its epic conclusion in A Bard on Hercular on planets at its outer reaches. In a career with many mountain peaks, Picano’s now complete trilogy should prove one of his crowning achievements. It’s a whirlwind of fun and whimsy on an uninhibited romp through the galaxy.
Available from REQUEERED TALES
Felice Picano is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, fiction, memoirs, nonfiction, and plays. His work has been translated into many languages and several of his titles have been national and international bestsellers. He is considered a founder of modern gay literature along with the other members of the Violet Quill. Picano also began and operated the SeaHorse Press and Gay Presses of New York for fifteen years. His first novel was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Since then he’s been nominated for and/or won dozens of literary awards.
About the Author
Jeffrey Round is an award-winning author, filmmaker, and songwriter. His breakout novel, A CAGE OF BONES, was listed on AfterElton’s 50 Best Gay Books. LAKE ON THE MOUNTAIN, the first of seven Dan Sharp mysteries, won a Lambda Award in 2013. His latest book is the poetry collection THREADS from Beautiful Dreamer Press. His fifteenth novel, THE SULPHUR SPRINGS CURE, will be published by Cormorant books in 2024. www.jeffreyround.com