James E. Matteson's debut novel, The Beginning of This, the End of That
is one unique and ambitious mixing of a post-apocalyptic utopia with fantasy adventure--complete with those irritable and vindictive gods of yore, dual-edged magic potions, and elves, lots of elves--carrying with it an exploration of philosophical topics that range from spiritual paths to governmental rules. For the author's bravery in the telling, the story deserves 5 stars.
The fantasy adventure is presented as a series of legendary tales starring two college graduate students who step through a portal into what appears to be medieval Europe. If that sounds convoluted, just you wait, because the story of those students, who I suspect are from a time in our future, are also about 1000 years older than the book's principal narrator--a fictional editor who provides commentary and generally helps the reader keep the tales in perspective--which is no easy task.
But, it works--mainly due to how the story is framed: An iron asteroid hits the earth, wiping out civilization. A new civilization is formed and evolves peacefully. Story/legends/myths, as always, become the vehicle of history and ideas, as well as a means to ask questions, such as, was the Earth hit by an asteroid, or was the previous civilization purposely destroyed by an alien race? 1000 years later, from this new utopian civilization, a scholar at a university publishes a series of myths with illuminating editorial. One word of advice for those planning to read this novel--the footnotes are essential components of the story.
On the subject of the many tangled subjects explored by The Beginning of This, the End of That
--this is not a philosophy primer, but one that jumps directly into some of the more interesting nuances. Those with some subject background will recognize and appreciated the depth. One can tell the author has given his topics considerable thought.
This is not a lazy read, and if you try to read it when you should be dozing, I expect you could become quite lost. It's worth the effort however, as are most novels that are in fact, novel.