There are many ways I could try to tell you how much I enjoyed this book. The easiest one is this: I was done with it in a week, and it felt decidedly shorter than Under Asian Skies, which it is not. I checked.
Distant Suns is the 3rd book Sam Manicom’s round the world adventure series, and follows the 3 year trip through Africa and South America. From the start, it’s easy to tell that this book is different from his first two, the way the story is told, and even the way the ride is done are significantly divergent from Sam’s usual way of doing things.
It quickly becomes apparent that even though the story is written by Sam and narrated by him, it’s Birgit Schuenemann who’s the protagonist in this one.
If you are patient enough to go through the prologue of this book, he makes it perfectly clear that Distant Suns is written based on Birgit’s diary. For someone who’s familiar with Sam’s work, it’s quite obvious. The stress is gone from people and onto places, the pace of the ride slowed dramatically.
As with any adventure of any scale, the ride has its highs and lows. However, when compared to the relative peace of Under Asian Skies, Distant Suns feels like a 60s cowboy movie plot. That might seem to be in tune with the media image of South America, but the reasons for all the chaos are mostly the travellers, rarely the natives.
There are many firsts in this story for both Sam, Birgit, and their bikes Libby and Henry.
- First time in the entire series I’ve ever seen Sam get a ragegasm, thanks to Mr. Carlos the Nazi art collector.
- First time that Sam and Birgit travel on a luxury cruise liner, rather than the usual rocking ferries that they are used to.
- First time that Libby sets itself on fire and tries to burn them both down, while Sam keeps riding.
- First time that Henry the Frankenstein comes to life, gets shipped to Africa, is ridden by a newbie till the exhaust starts to burn away and the newbie becomes a seasoned biker.
For me, the entire charm of this book was Birgit. As someone who’d travelled with Sam through his last 2 books, it kinda felt weird to watch him ride with someone else. He’d always been a solo man, much like me, even if he sometimes made mistakes like Jan, someone whose presence I never enjoyed, and chose to ignore completely in my review of the book.
Birgit is a whole other story. I already knew her from the time she and Sam met up in Nepal, and she commanded my instant respect. When this book began with her riding an old piece of metal built by playing Tetris with broken BMW parts, the respect went up even further. Then as she slowly took over the front, started navigating, started managing border crossings, and handled dire situations like a fucking Ninja, I was ready to carve a wooden figurine of her and start worshipping it like the heathen God she is.
As fortunate as a guy Sam is, it’s clear that he treats his luck like athletes treat their muscles. The only way he seems to be able to maintain his smiling fortunes is by pushing the shit out of his luck.
Slipped discs? Why not ride through the windiest, roughest terrain around? A country reputed for drug lords and their violence? Must ride through it! Man collects Nazi memorabilia and promises to get you on a cargo ship? Gotta trust that guy.
I am convinced that Birgit is the reward for someone who exercises his luck muscles so well.
With his last book, I had made no secret of how disappointed I had been with the start. The music had rattled me, so had the narration. I got used to them both with time, and things only got better with this one. I noticed a few more quirks of Mr. Manicom’s presentation. Every chapter starts with a quote, some of which are famous lines from famous people, others are bizarre words from obscure ones.
His narration is also improved since the last one, the best part being able to hear him smile. The music was there in this book as well, changing with the chapters and the countries, always soothing and upbeat. And his storytelling skills were also better. You listen to a chapter and think, alright, this is enough for a day, and then he ends it with “What happened next almost killed me” and you are like fucking shitballs, I gotta listen to just one more.
One thing that I noticed while reading other people’s reviews of this book is that the physical book has pictures and illustrations by Sam. As expected, the Audible book has none, which is not a fair bargain for the ease of listening to an audio book. Looks like I’ll need to buy the damn paperbacks as well, should make for nice collector’s items though.
This book has added to the knowledge that Sam already gave to the world.
- Keep your knife sharp.
- Brothels aren’t bad places to stay the night.
- Travellers insurance quite literally gets your back.
- Always send a woman to do a man’s job.
- Easiest way to find a good hotel is to get lost on a jungle trail, get stopped by Police, and get escorted by them.
These are some of the things that I found interesting from his vast collection of experiences. As always, it was a treat to see the world through his and Birgit’s eyes, and I wish them many more adventures in the future, mainly so that I can read and review them.