The Standing Dead by Ricardo Pinto
List Price
Hardcover – 300 pages (May 2002)
Bantam Press,  ISBN 0593045580
Review by Iain Emsley
Check out this book at:  Amazon UK

Richard Pinto Interview: Conducted By Iain Emsley

In a genre populated by endless Tolkien imitators, Ricardo Pinto’s The Chosen stood out in a blaze of colour, drawing from South East Asian cultures. The Standing Dead is a brave book in that it overturns much of what has happened and is far starker, though no less complex, than its predecessor.

Carnelian, son of Lord Suth, and Osidian, God Emperor elect, have been kidnapped and taken to be sold outside Osrakum, having fallen foul of Empress Ykoriana’s machinations. Held by one of the Earthsky tribes, Carnelian rapidly settles down into the rhythms of plains life. However, he must contend with Osidian’s contempt for the tribes and the low esteem that the masters are held in. On the journey to the plains, Osidian is opened up to the power of The Dark God and begins to take control of the plains people, leading them into tribal conflict, whilst Carnelian stands in opposition. However, neither of them can foresee what they are about to discover about themselves.

Pinto entirely inverts The Chosen in this follow up novel. What he does is a clear dissection of Osrakum, taking it to pieces from the barest essentials. Where the previous novel was bright and colourful, The Standing Dead is eerily dark and bare. Pinto shows the tip of iceberg as he reveals how the various social strata are laid bare and seen to be a pale reflection of the plains people’s own beliefs. Within this he also deals with differing perceptions of the Masters, as indicated in the very book titles.

Out of this come two very interesting characters. Carnelian is stripped of his role as the naïve fool and he undergoes a rite de passage normally placed in a first novel. Rather than continue as an ingenue, he takes control of is own life and begins to challenge that which is wrong, rather than accept the flow around him. Osidian, however, becomes increasingly darker, controlling the atmosphere of the book, and pulls a section of horror, akin to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

This latest chapter in Pinto’s series is a shock to the system but a most welcome one. Rather than delivering a pat sequel that initially looks as if it may force the series on, he turns the world around and points it into a new direction that leaves the reader wondering where it may go. Pinto is part of the bravura which has infested British writing, this sense of breaking rules and writing in a fashion that is counter to genre expectation. This book seals this series as one to be read by all interested in good fantasy.

Richard Pinto Interview: Conducted By Iain Emsley for SFRevu

SFRevu: You wowed many critics with first book and its rich world-building and colour. What particular influences influenced this moving away from most of the mainstream fantasy currently written.

“Fantasy, like good old fashioned British cuisine, benefits greatly from opening a door into the rest of the world. I definitely did write my book as a reaction to the endlessly derivative Tolkien-esque fantasy world variations with their compulsory elves, dwarfs etc. I have read perilously little Fantasy. What I have read, I mostly dislike. Sometimes it is because I do not actually like the writing itself but mostly, it is because I do not want simply to be presented with the work of others or of local history rehashed nor do I want to drown in clichés. I want something new. When I pick up a Fantasy book, I want to be plunged into a world which irradiates my mind with the kind of wonder that fairytales had for me when I was a child. Dune is one of my influences but only in so far as it is one of the few works that I have come across where world creation has been taken to a very high and original level. Writers that might have influenced me are, of course, Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Frank Herbert, H. Rider Haggard, Ray Bradbury, Lewis Grassic Gibbons, Robert Louis Stevens. Fundamentally, my influences are more from history and historical writing than anything else.”

SFRevu: You have steered clear of many of the fantasy tropes with a densely detailed and rich world.  Rather than stick to a pseudo-Medieval Europe, there would appear to be a drawing from world cultures.

“I reject that fantasy has to have anything whatever to do with Medieval Europe. Europe and it's history, albeit fascinating, are but one piece in the wondrous mosaic of world history. So much of what is written smacks to me as being the product of the Euro-centric views that were all about me as I grew up. I have always traveled further afield both in time and space and found much to excite me in history and other cultures. For too long, we have been satisfied to stay within the narrow confines of Western culture. Both books are influenced by an extremely wide-ranging series of cultures but none of them in any direct way whatever. The Masters could be seen as having vaguely Chinese, Japanese, Mayan, Aztec, Roman, Cambodian, Indian, Inca etc influences. Whereas the Masters are influenced by urban elites, the Plainsmen have many aspects which are those of the nomad and the hunter-gatherer. The situation here is as before, extremely complex.”

SFRevu: This second novel is much different from The Chosen. It would seem to be an inversion of The Chosen, where Carnelian moved to Osrakum in a colourful pageant. In The Standing Dead, Carnelian is placed in a matriarchal society which is closely involved in the land but much it is darker.

RP: “As my readers will find out, there is a particular reason for everything. You are right to see the contrast between the first book and the second. The titles reflect this contrast, with The Chosen being how the Masters see themselves: The Standing Dead how their subjects see them. Thus, the first book shows the world of the  Masters: the second, that of their subjects. The Standing Dead is, among other things, a study in power and how it can be used to corrupt. Osidian brings into the society of the Plainsmen the methods of manipulation which the Wise use on behalf of the Masters. The book shows how, almost effortlessly, these methods can be used to tear a society apart. I am fascinated by elites - they, after all, have always been the ones with the wealth and leisure to produce art. But, reluctantly, I have to put these pleasures aside to consider at what cost these are bought. In my first book, I show the world of the Chosen: in the second, the world of their subjects. In the third, well, we'll see. What can be seen by reading the book is like the part of an iceberg that breaks the surface  the great majority of what's going on is shadowy and beneath the surface. Not much help, but then I don't want to lessen the impact of the third volume.”

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu