The Book of the Week is Arslan by M.J. Engh, to honor Ms. Engh, named this year's Author Emerita by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Next week we will see this year's new Grand Master.
I'm mostly not crazy about the "Author Emeritus" award, since it seems a backhanded compliment: dear author, you're pretty good but not quite good enough to be a Grand Master. I think it is appropriate for Engh, however, since her science fiction is of the highest quality but too small in quantity for her to be named Grand Master. In a career that began with a short story (under the pseudonym Jane Beauclerk) in 1964, Engh has published only three science fiction novels, Arslan, Wheel of the Winds, and Rainbow Man, and a children's fantasy, The House in the Snow. Engh also publishes historical non-fiction under her full name Mary Jane Engh, notably In the Name of Heaven: 3000 Years of Religious Persecution.
The BOTW is the first printing, paperback original of Arslan, published in 1976. Written in the middle of the Cold War, Arslan tells the story of a dynamic, brilliant leader from a third-world country who schemes his way to control of both the Soviet Union and the United States. Most of the novel takes place after he has taken power, and shows his relationship with the small-town folks in Illinois where he randomly decides to settle. Disturbing and rather graphic for 1976, Arslan is best remembered for Engh's ability to simultaneously portray the title character as profoundly evil yet oddly sympathetic.