I first gave up on the paperback edition of Fires of Eden in August 1995. (Thanks to habits formed under decades of undiagnosed autism, I have probably given up on more novels in my life than I have completed).
But powerful images and scenes from Fires of Eden stuck with me, particularly a legion of night-marching spirits filing through the wilds of Hawaii. Similar to the staying power of scenes of devouring lampreys in Simmons' Summer of Night or the vampiric stomach siphons of Romanian orphans in Children of the Night.
Like trend-setting 1970s horror novels, early Simmons gives us third person, multiple character perspectives and action in alternating chapter subsections. He keeps the ball rolling without an excess of gore or - most mercifully - melodrama.
Fires of Eden alternates between the present day and 1866.
In the present, New York City real estate tycoon and all-round egomaniac Byron Trumbo is trying to sell his Mauna Pele Resort to a Japanese billionaire before bankruptcy destroys his reputation. Mauna Pele is in the crosshairs of not one but two erupting volcanoes. Trumbo juggles this with the imminent arrival on the Big Island of an ex-wife, a girlfriend, and a mistress. A perfect storm.
Eleanor Perry and Cordie Stumpf are also present day protagonists. Both are guests at the Mauna Pele Resort. Eleanor is a college history instructor revisiting sites mentioned in the 1866 diary of her Aunt Kidder. Cordie, among many other things, is a widow and retired business woman learning to live with implications of resurgent cancer.
The 1866 chapters of Fires of Eden are excerpts from the acerbic Aunt Kidder's diary. She is on a tour of Hawaii with an assortment of missionaries, do-gooders, and journalist Samuel Clemens. Fireworks between her and the future Mark Twain begin cute and do not relent.
In both periods the gate to Milu, the Hawaiian underworld, has opened, disgorging black dogs, shark men, and a very nasty hog. It's hell on the tourists.
The character Byron Trumbo is clearly Donald Trump. In 1994 this was probably funny, when Trump was a New York Clinton Democrat with a rich and famous lifestyle. In 2019 it is hilarious. I wonder what Simmons thinks today? He gives his Trumbo center stage and let's the character march to victory over every obstacle, financial and supernatural.
At the climax Trumbo and Cordie beard the Milu monsters in their underworld den:
"Byron," said the hog, "so nice of you to drop in." Its snout thrust in Cordie's direction. "Is this an offering to me?"
Trumbo glanced at Cordie and then back at the pig. "Sure," he said.
The hog made a sound in its massive throat. "I'll eat it in a moment. First, we have business to do."
"I see you helped yourself to Sunny's soul," said Kamapua'a.
Trumbo shrugged. "It seemed to be self-serve."
The growling from the monster hog's belly might have been a chuckle. "Fine, fine," it said. "But there is still a price."
"My soul?" said the billionaire.
"Fuck your soul," said the hog. "I'm talking a trade."
Trumbo's eyebrows twitched, but he remained silent.
"When I best that bitch Pele and regain my control of this island," continued Kamapua'a, "I plan to take on human form for a decade or two. I will be free to roam the earth again. I have been watching from my underground cell as things have changed on the surface. In mortal form, I could be a chieftain of one of these tribes again, but I have other plans."
"A trade," said Trumbo.
The hog smiled more broadly. "Precisely." It took two steps closer, its trotters echoing on the hard basalt. Cordie could see the moisture on its broad snout and feel the warm bellows of its breath. "We can do a deal, Byron," it said in a conspiratory, male whisper. "You and I."
"Why should I?" said Trumbo.
The giant hog took another step closer. Its breath was unbelievably foul. "Because otherwise I will chew your guts and bones and set your miserable soul in the foulest reaches of this cave for all eternity," said the hog, its deep voice rising.
"OK," said Trumbo. "I'm listening."
The hog took half a step back. "You take Sunny's useless little uhane back to the Japanese, do the deal, and get your three hundred million dollars," the creature said. "You return here and we do a trade."
"What kind of trade?" asked Trumbo. "You want the money?"
The hog grunted. "The miserable kahuna summoned us to destroy you," it said. "But we had no intention of doing so. It is Pele whom I wish to destroy. You and I are alike, Byron. We were born to dominate. Born to subdue…women…the land. I understand your urge to bulldoze and rape. I understand it well. I don't want your money."
Trumbo nodded thoughtfully for a moment. "I still don't see what we'd be trading," he said at last.
Kamapua'a showed his grin. His eight eyes were bright. "We trade places for a while, Byron my friend. I become you. You become me."
Trumbo's face remained expressionless. "Let me get this straight…the deal you're offering me is that we trade places? That you get my body and I get yours?"
The hog nodded.
"You get to be a handsome billionaire with homes and women on three continents," continued Byron Trumbo, "and I get to spend a couple of decades as a giant, smelly pig living in a cave in Hawaii. Is that the deal?"
Kamapua'a's grin remained in place. "That's the deal, Byron."
Trumbo nodded. "And why the hell should I be interested in a deal like that?"
"First," grunted the pig in the voice that seemed to come from his belly, "you will be allowed to live. I will not devour your guts and bones. Second, I guarantee you that in my fifteen or twenty years in your body, I will enlarge your financial empire to a scale never before seen on this planet. You came down here as a man on the skids…desperately trying to shore up your tumbling empire by selling this miserable hotel for a few hundred million dollars. When you return to your body, you will own the world, Byron Trumbo. And that is not a figure of speech."
"I'll end up owning the world if I stay in my own body," said Trumbo.
The hog grunted. "Thirdly," he continued as if Byron had not spoken, "while you are King of the Underworld, you will have unlimited power over the ghosts and demons in this world. You will have power over the elements above, commanding the lightning, the tide, and the great tsunamis. You will taste power the likes of which you currently cannot dream of."
Trumbo rubbed his cheek. "Will I have all the powers you have now?"
Kamapua'a shook his great, bristled head. "I am not a fool, Byron. If you assumed all of my powers, you could cancel our deal anytime you wished and establish yourself as king of the world above. No, I will need the majority of my powers while in your body, using them to make you rich and famous beyond your wildest dreams. But I assure you that being Kamapua'a, lord of the Underworld and of all he surveys, will be the high point of your life. And—as I say—when you return to your mortal form, you will inherit the riches and powers I have amassed for you."
"What if you decide to stay human forever?" asked Trumbo. "No, no, no," grumbled the hog. "Your mortal form is acceptable, but it is mortal. I have no wish to die. I am a god."
"That's another point," said Trumbo. "My body will be old if you sublet it for two decades…almost sixty."
The hog's teeth gleamed slick in the dim light. "At the height of your powers, Byron. I will treat your mortal form with greater care than you do now. It will be fit, tuned to a fighting edge…after all, I would be disappointed if you wasted the empire I will earn for you. And you should be reminded that your brief stint as a god will prepare you for greater things than any mortal has ever achieved on the earth above."
"So that's it?" said Trumbo. "That's the deal?"
"That's the deal," said Kamapua'a. "If you say no, you die here and now and your soul will rot down here forever. If you say yes, you gain illimitable power and wealth and taste the magnificence of being a god. What do you say, Byron Trumbo?"
Trumbo seemed lost in thought for a long moment. When he looked up, his face showed resolve. "Well," he said, "since you put it that way, I say fuck you."
Cordie would not have imagined that a hog's face could show amazement. This one did.
"Fuck you and the sow you rode in on," said Trumbo for good measure.
The giant pig actually bellowed, its roar echoing from the lava tube ceiling. "Why have you cast all away to deny me, mortal?" Byron Trumbo shrugged. "I was never that fond of bacon," he said.
2 May 2019