I’ve really been enjoying Lester Del Rey’s fiction lately. He’s a great writer, with great characters and very original ideas. “Day of the Giants” is a short novel, and is borderline fantasy/science fiction in that the fantasy elements are explained with intentionally vague pseudo-science, or at least the intimation that there is some sort of scientific explanation that the narrator simply doesn’t understand, although one might conclude the narrator’s rationalism simply deludes him into this.
In any event the book’s cover, with flying saucers prominently depicted in front of shadowy giants helps obscure whether this will be pure science fiction or science fantasy, and Del Rey is not terribly concerned about such distinctions. Honestly I was expecting the Norse gods to be aliens or something, based on the cover, but was pleasantly surprised.
It is tempting to compare it to Poul Anderson’s Norse fantasies, although Anderson is much more faithful to the essential doom and gloom of Norse mythology. Del Rey’s story is a very American re-imagining of the Norse myth of Ragnarok.
I call it an American version of the myth because Del Rey’s narrator struggles with pessimism and barbarism of the Norse mythos, and uses ingenuity and optimism to overturn the prophesies of doom. It’s rather like stitching a happy ending onto the epic of Gilgamesh, and yet somehow it works. It shouldn’t, of course. It is a travesty. But a fun one!
Del Rey’s vision of slightly demythologized Asgard (Yggdrasil is a copse of trees, not a single giant tree; the regenerating goats eaten in Valhalla are actually just a large herd; and so on) is very appealing and would be a decent model of use in a D&D campaign where the gods are more human and interact with men. An interesting “magic item” is introduced, which the protagonist uses very creatively, and shows that even a fairly “weak” device can be exploited to good effect. The dwarves, giants, and a few other monsters are depicted in a fairly original way. So there is some gameable stuff too.