"Gary Jennings is the best among our historical novelists." - The New York Times

"I'm a writer. I write not only for a living, I write because I'm a writer." - Gary Jennings

Gary Jennings - Aztec

Aztec, one of Gary Jennings's best-known historicals, is a multi-layered story about the native response to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. "In rubbing the myths of each race to their common bones, Gary Jennings has produced in Aztec a monumental novel," noted Nicholas Shakespeare in the London Times. Gary Jennings unfolds the story of the overthrow of the Native Mexicans through the voice of an amiable but wry Aztec adventurer named Mixtli. Judith Matloff observed in the Saturday Review: "In picaresque fashion, Mixtli travels the length and breadth of Mexico, working as scribe, merchant, warrior, and ambassador to Montezuma," thus becoming involved in various aspects of the war against the conquistadors. In addition, the novel contains an abundance of details about the Aztecs--their culture, their religion, their customs, their daily life.  In preparing to write the novel, Gary Jennings lived for twelve years in Mexico while conducting research on Aztec culture and the Spanish conquest. He read many accounts about the wars but found many of them biased against the Indians. So, as Gary Jennings told John F. Baker in a Publishers Weekly interview, "I learned to interpret the ancient pictures and codices and read Nahuatl, the Aztec language...it shows them as people who had a sense of the bawdy, and who had all sorts of human reactions. I wanted to bring them alive as flesh-and-blood people." The author traveled about the country, seeking primary sources and "trying to get a sense, from living Indians, of their legendary past," recounted Baker. Gary Jennings's research paid off, for the voice of his narrator Mixtli is filled with resonance of the Nahuatl speech. As Times Literary Supplement contributor Gordon Brotherston commented, "Much of the novel's power stems from Nahua sources transcribed into the alphabet after the Spanish invasion, not just the direct quotations from Nahua poems and of set pieces . . . but the whole range of devices used by Mixtli to keep his audience alert." "Historical novels are most often praised or dismissed as novels," observed Thomas M. Disch in the Washington Post Book World, "but surely it is their power as narrative history that is their main strength, the power to evoke the feel of ages lost to memory. . . . So it is with Gary Jennings's Aztec." The novel "has everything that makes a story vulgarly appealing, in the best sense of the phrase," remarked Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times. "It has sex--my goodness, does it have sex! . . . and it has violence." While these elements may be appealing, "the violence usually serves a constructive storytelling purpose . . . and the sexual passages almost always relate to the book's most fascinating and subtle aspect, which is the way the hero, Mixtli, unconsciously re-enacts the life of the Indian god Quetzalcoatl," continued Lehmann-Haupt. "It is this particular dimension of Aztec which raises it above the level of a mere historical potboiler."

Gary Jennings - The Journeyer In The Journeyer, Gary Jennings relates the "other half" of Marco Polo's adventures, the half the famous explorer supposedly withheld so as not to offend European sensibilities. Part of its appeal lies in its authenticity. The author recreated much of Polo's route for his research, traveling through Italy, the Middle East, and central and southeast Asia by various modes of transport--including camel and elephant. "Thus he enlivens his picaresque story with wonderfully detailed descriptions of the landscape, climate, flora and fauna Polo encountered along the way. The real energy of Gary Jennings's narrative is devoted to those old standbys lust and bloodlust. His zeal for clinical description of sexual practices is matched only by his enthusiasm for the minutiae of Oriental torture. Pound for pound, 'The Journeyer' is a classic." wrote Gene Lyons in Newsweek. "As Gary Jennings did for pre-Hispanic Mexico in Aztec," commented Grover Sales in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "he has enriched The Journeyer with an anthropologist's knowledge of diverse lands and cultures." Added the critic: "Gary Jennings combines inexhaustible research with the yarn-spinner's art, drawing indelible portraits of Marco and his companions on the long journey." Chicago Tribune Book World contributor Jack Dierks similarly found the novel engrossing, explaining that "employing both great sweep and meticulous detail, Gary Jennings has produced an impressively learned gem of the astounding and the titillating. As pure travelogue it is impeccable, and the adventures that befall our heroes come like tales spun out by some erudite and prurient Scheherazade, heaping wonder onto oddity." Sales offered the opinion that "with astonishing speed and consummate skill, novelist Gary Jennings has capped his 1980 Aztec," while Dierks considered the book an "even more compelling work of derring-do."
Gary Jennings - Raptor For Raptor, Gary Jennings pressed further into the past than ever before. Set in the fifth century A.D.--and framed by Theodoric the Great's conquest of Rome--Raptor tells the story of a wily hermaphrodite named Thorn and his/her adventures in Theodoric's employ. Styling the work "a ripping yarn," New York Times Book Review contributor Joe Queenan noted: "In `Raptor,' Mr. Gary Jennings successfully demonstrates that a person who could make a very fine living in Las Vegas in the 20th century really had to have both his and her wits about him and her if he and she wanted to survive in the sixth." Thorn's response to his/her situation is to become a predator--a raptor like the hawk he/she has tamed--in order to protect himself/herself and his/her interests. "Thorn is a memorable character, and unique outside of science fiction," wrote Judith Tarr in the Washington Post Book World. "Raptor is a splendid entertainment: a historical novel of the old school, impressively researched and remarkably accurate--and above all, a roaring good read." In the New York Times, Lehmann- Haupt declared that Gary Jennings's "latest boisterously imaginative historical extravaganza . . . recaptures some of the magic of `Aztec.'" The critic concluded: "If you loved `Aztec,' then you'll love `Raptor.' And if you haven't read `Aztec,' then prepare yourself for astonishment."
Gary Jennings - Aztec Autumn Aztec Autumn, the long-awaited sequel to Gary Jennings's bestselling Aztec, is another assiduously researched, richly detailed and robust re-creation of an epic ancient historical era.  New York Times writes "Offered in the form of an as-told-to first-person journal, Gary Jennings's fascinating if often gory novel is guided by exhaustive research into practically every facet of life in 16th-century Mexico." With his vigorous prose and clearly visualized details, Gary Jennings brings readers back in time to that world. Descriptions of landscape and culture, gruesome battle scenes and executions, have convincing immediacy. This is riveting historical fiction written with wonderful force."
Gary Jennings - Spangle For Spangle, Gary Jennings traveled with nine different circuses in America and Europe. The novel follows the adventures of "Florian's Flourishing Florilegium," a nineteenth-century performing troupe, and Zachary Edge, a Southern Civil War veteran who joins it after the war. Like the author's previous works, Spangle contains the same elements of spectacle, sex, violence, and detail that mark most of his historical fiction. "Yet for Gary Jennings," noted Lehmann-Haupt, "the formula seems to work uniquely. There is something mesmerizing about the world he creates." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor MacDonald Harris felt that Spangle "is impressive in its sheer mass and richness, in the enthusiasm and energy of its telling, in the obvious pleasure the author takes in the work." This enthusiasm, asserted Harris, "is contagious. Before the novel is over we develop, along with the characters, a contempt for non-circus people and a conviction that the only sensible and reasonable thing to do . . . is to run away and join a circus." Spangle has been serialized into three paperbacks: The Road Show (Spangle Part One), Center Ring (Spangle Part Two), and Grand Promenade (Spangle Part Three). The Road Show: Spangle #1

The Center Ring: Spangle #2

The Grand Promenade: Spangle #3

Gary Jennings is a well-known author of epic historical novels, each one set in a different period but all sharing the theme of survival by wit and chance in violent times. These sprawling works, sometimes reaching 500,000 words, are packed with violence, braggadocio and vivid sex scenes. Gary Jennings usually structures his historical novels around a narrator who comes of age in the vicissitudes of the story and then takes his or her life lessons into an adulthood fraught with danger and sexual escapade. Carefully researched and possessing a wealth of period detail, Gary Jennings's novels have earned him praise as "a historical novelist of the first order," according to Christian H. Moe in Twentieth-Century Historical Writers.

Born September 20, 1928, in Buena Vista, Virginia; son of Glen Edward (a printer) and Vaughnye May (Bays). Education: Gary Jennings attended little formal school after graduating from Eastside High School (of Lean on Me fame) in Paterson, New Jersey, and was mostly self-educated thereafter. Copywriter and account executive for advertising agencies, New York City, 1947-58; newspaper reporter in California and Virginia, 1958-61 Military: U.S. Army, Infantry, 1952-54; served as correspondent in Korea; awarded Bronze Star, citation from Republic of Korea Ministry of Information. Member of PEN International, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Screenwriters Guild, Pocaliers Club. Died February 13, 1999, in Pompton Lakes, NJ

Favorite Novel by Gary Jennings

  Aztec
  The Journeyer
  Aztec Autumn
  Raptor
  Spangle
    

Book Reviews and Commentary
The Aztec World of Gary Jennings / "My Indignant Response" by Gary Jennings

Mysterious Vanishings (And Grunting Sounds)

A Nice Place For Mastodons

On Language; Old and Novel

Trodding to Military School

Critical Review by Gary Jennings on Michael Crichton: "Pterrified by Pterodactyls," in The New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1990

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