The 70s are my favorite era of cinema. There was a lot of great visual storytelling (Star Wars, Vanishing Point). It was the decade of the car chase movie (Gone in 60 Seconds, Smokey and the Bandit, Mad Max, Vanishing Point). Movies openly mocked racist hick sheriffs (Live and Let Die, Smokey and the Bandit, Vanishing Point). Everything was haunted by at least a bit of nihilism (Deliverance, Mad Max, Vanishing Point…I really like Vanishing Point). And it was weird in the best of ways. Hiero’s Journey is very much weird and very much a product of the 1970s.
Hiero’s Journey is a very old fantasy novel that is both very bizarre and very traditional at the same time, but nonetheless stands up extremely well today. Don’t believe my first assertion? Hiero’s Journey was originally published in 1973 (ok, many of you won’t think that is that old, and that’s downright new by Throwback SF Thursday standards). Don’t believe it’s bizarre? It’s about a man with psychic powers living in a post-apocalyptic Canada who rides a psychic moose and has a psychic bear companion and fights man-rights and mutants called Hairy Howlers while traveling through deserts of atomic blight and flooded cities. Don’t believe it’s traditional? Well, the subtext of the title “Hiero’s Journey” (Hiero is our hero’s name, full name and title Per Hiero Desteen, Secondary Priest-Exorcist, Primary Rover, and Senior Killman) is pretty thinly veiled. As to the final assertion, you will have to take my word for it.
We’ve cleaned up our act quite a bit, but the environmentalist subtext remains relevant. We may have gone quite some time without anyone dropping a nuclear bomb on anyone else (it is quickly apparent that is the source of the apocalypse deep in the past of Hiero’s Journey), but new, shadier countries keep getting the bomb, one president thinks it’s fine if Iran gets the bomb so long as it’s after his term, and our next might be a man who doesn’t understand why casual use of it might be a bad idea. Lanier is talented (and wise) enough not to be preachy about either. Except maybe for the ecologists good/physicists bad, part. A lot of the tropes—the mutated animals, the psionics—have been rarely enough done, and are done well enough here, that they feel fresh. It is also refreshingly a product of the early 70s: it is a bit nihilistic, but black is beautiful, mustaches are sexy, and love is sort of free.
Gary Gygax namechecks Hiero’s Journey in his famous Appendix N to the original D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Jeffro on Hiero’s Journey at Castalia House.
James Maliszewski on Hiero’s Journey at Grognardia.
Tim Callahan on Hiero’s Journey at Tor.com.
EarthKnight on Hiero’s Journey and The Unforsaken Hiero at Reading Science Fiction.
(Sterling Lanier is better known as the editor who took a chance on Dune—perhaps bonding over a shared love of ecologists—a book I read and bounced off in college, but that I will return to eventually for Throwback SF Thursday.)
 Hiero’s initial description of Luchare is explicit and unabashed:
She was totally unlike anyone he had ever seen before, but in spite of that, lovely, in a rather wild and untamed way. Her skin was far darker than his, a warm chocolate, as contrasted with his copper color, and her great, dark eyes were no lighter in shade than his own black. Her nose was moderately long and very straight, her nostrils quite widely flared out, and her dark lips very full and pouting. The great mass of her hair was a tangled, uncombed heap of tight, almost screwed, black curls, each of which looked like black wire.
It’s raw and a little uncomfortable (and, really, it gets worse from there when he turns his attention to her age and perceived comfort level with nudity). But it’s also a reminder that yesteryear wasn’t so backward as we might pretend. It’s hard to imagine a writer being so open about it today. Even Hugo Award winner N.K. Jemisin isn’t comfortable enough to say black is beautiful without suggesting the reverse isn’t true.
Her skin is almost as white as Hoa’s, although thankfully her hair is simply yellow and her eyes are a nice normal brown. She’s petite, small-boned and poorly fleshed and narrow-hipped in a way that would prompt the average Equatorial to make snide remarks about bad breeding. . . . The blond woman speaks quietly with one of the guards; this emphasizes even more how tiny she is, a foot shorter and probably a hundred pounds lighter than the smallest of them. Her ancestors really should have done her a few favors and slept with a Sanzed or two.