Starlight Mage

Volume 3, Number 08

Steve Marsh

2813 Montgomery Place

Wichita Falls, TX 76308

More Book Reviews

Recently read Alan Dean Foster's To the Vanishing Point. A family and their motor home take the off-ramp to hell and beyond. You've seen the Infocom games made into books? This novel is a book that would well be adapted to an Infocom game. It is perfect. Almost mainstream, almost fantasy and all the right elements for a game with combination puzzles, actions and quests. The best of Foster in creativity, humor and whimsy.

On the other hand, Joan Vinge's Catspaw would not make a good game but was a great book. (I've obviously been at the public library reading what I can grab). I don't know if you've noticed, but Cherryh's novels carry the weight of developing the plot of her milieu as well as character development. This book by Vinge detailed the milieu without adding it as a character (or four) in the story.

Catspaw is the story of a mentally crippled telepath functioning on drugs and loyalty as he becomes enmeshed in a larger struggle. Vinge keeps control of her character. He does not become an ubermench running wild throughout the plot, does not exceed his scope and is powerfully portrayed.

It got me thinking about psionics. (Not my rational model for psionics, but capacity). If a good chess player can play 300 to 400 opponents blind fold at the same time (in rotation) and win 3/4ths of the games against good opponents, a master level telepath should be able to maintain a constant scan of that many minds (regularly checking and following them for specific thoughts and feelings).

I've begun to think about analogues of telepathy and magic senses in terms of the mental loads and structures in our world. I use them to decide whether or not to object to suspending disbelief. Vinge passed solidly. Recommended. If you've the time and interest, read it. Vinge won a Hugo a while back so it'll be fennish. The novel is tight and easily one of the ten best this year.

Finished the last in the Drinker of Souls trilogy by Jo Clayton. Book two began and ended generations after book one. It was tight and very satisfying to read. You'll remember my favorable reviews. I really enjoyed it. The book satisfied.

Book three starts just a few years after book two. The Drinker and the Mage are growing bored in paradise. All the more so since it turns out he is 100% gay and she is getting suicidal while he works off his periodic sexual urges by visiting prostitutes. The twins are out wandering the world and having urges and problems that cannot be solved in this world.

You can get the feel as to why I was not as positive as I could have been as the novel began. The author developed the plot angles that led to plot movement and tension. Lots of them. Too many really. As a result there is a trilogy worth of relationships and development taking place inside one novel, milieu mechanics left unresolved and a heavy confrontation scene at the end that reads just a little rushed.

Way too many artifacts that all seem generic (their powers are similar in that they all seem to aid healing when described and all have positive traits when described), too many people and a more or less happy ending that has a feeling of pointlessness. The artifacts obviously suffer not from a failure of imagination but from a lack of details.

Quite the novel, including a complete lack of developed happy "normal" sexual relationships while gamely romping through various unhappy, violent, one-night-standish, etc. ones. Of course the characters all have the promise of more or less normal relationships with all the pairing and resolutions created for the book's happy ending. You might even see a spin-off novel involving Danny Blue in the Alytes SF setting. The springboard is solidly in place at the end of the novel.

Superior writing, great McMuffin (ok, a bad pun) chases, but not as satisfying as I would have hoped. (And in my heart of hearts, where I keep hopes for resolutions long deserved but unlikely, I hope that the artifact that the Chained God used will eat its way through his heart, wrapping up that angle and tossing in a bit of divine retribution <so to speak>).

Mark me up as dissatisfied, but recommending that you give the next novel (when/ if it appears) a chance.

Two gothic romance novels by Claudia J. Edwards. Bright and Shining Tiger and A Horsewoman in Godsland. Claudia shows ability to create settings and plots, but could use stepping off the gothic elements (marriage of convenience and domineering man who attempts to dominate strong-willed woman).

If it was written without the gothicisms, and with stronger plot structure (maybe after a good talk with Cherryh) I'd gladly read a sequel to either novel. Otherwise it is a pass on the novels and on further works by the novel.

And a bit of role-reversal gothicism in Joy Chant's When Voiha Wakes whose title has minimal relationship to the novel. It is more than a gothic, but is not fantasy. It is an unreal setting created to allow a romantic triumph/tragedy. So.?.

I'd just as soon the author took the extra effort and wrote historical fiction.

My patience has worn thin with setting plays. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood from Steinbeck's The Log From the Sea of Cortez which never leaves the narrative, pat-myself-on-the-back voice.

Tales of the Witch World I by friends of Andre Norton. Many copy her style, a few do not (e.g. Elizabeth Scarborough). Some are authoritative (A.C. Crispin -- Ann Crispin) and some are not. A nice collection of short stories. Makes for easy reading and some relaxation.

I was amazed that A.C. Crispin was female. Recently, publishers have been requiring female names to publish fantasy novels (a bit of reversal from when Mary North published as Andre Norton) and I just expected A.C. to be hiding a male name. Just as I keep expecting a published novel by G.A. Phillies when he finally gives in and submits his work under a neuter or female name.

Robert Bloch did a wonderful job in the volume (though I've been unhappy with the whining in much of the Kerovan storyline this was a welcome addition) and many of the others wrote solid stories.

I'll read the next, though what I would really like to see is a Sillmarillion/Unfinished Tales approach to Andre Norton's works. One Witch World, one SF. I think that the transcribed notes of a couple of weeks of fan questions by Crispin and others would do it. The corpus of Norton's writings is large enough that it has a life of its own and deserves all of the hooks that such a set of volumes might add.

It would also revive some of her Science Fiction novels -- many of which contain excellent settings and promise for the future. Elements from Andre Norton's science fiction are now standard in many novels. And she has several series that deserve to be wrapped together and tied together the way the Witch World has been wrapped together.

For an author on the other side, one whose work is rarely copied, Doris Piserchia writes the weirdest SF. She is the one who wrote of a future of telepathic humans and faster-than-light dogs whom the humans ride through the stars, of ... and ... (some delightfully strange writings). Earth in Twilight is extremely similar to another book with an Earth overrun by plantlife -- down to the sentient disease wandering around. The novel is ok, but not as good as some (by Piserchia or others).

Then, by Orson Scott Card, everyone's favorite, is Treason, a rewrite of A Planet Called Treason. I never read the original, but the rewrite is a very mildly toned work for all its tumult. The hero becomes a portable deus ex machina and then retires after stirring the pot but not making a stew.

I.e., he kills off the bad guys and destroys the evil outside influences without doing anything to replace them. And the outside influence doesn't come back (or so it is implied -- I surely would if I were the outside influence -- given the motivations that the author gives them). The hero either went too far or not far enough.

It is a nice attempt to write a novel concerning a hero who bumbles his way along and eventually stops the bad guys -- who may have been doing society a good at the expense of various ruling cliques -- but that is about all. The hero ends up "nice and mature" -- i.e. passive.

He doesn't really pass his knowledge along, doesn't pass his enlightenment along, doesn't do anything after resetting the world back to start and tossing in a random factor.

I admire Card, and more so for rewriting the book (it is about 10% new and has lots of minor improvements), but I was left unsatisfied. How I bumbled along and the world went back to the way it was with small changes.

The next novel is similar in having excellent technical execution, but leaving me unsatisfied. It is Hart's Hope, which I have been looking at since 1983. Finally read it. Such twistings. I wasn't happy after reading it though I must admit the author had his resolution and writing firmly in command.

It is the story of a lord who becomes a king and who is able to do great evil (he weds and consummates a marriage to the deposed king's daughter by force and in public) but not enough (he doesn't kill her afterwards) and so has great evil fall upon him (the girl masters dark magic powerful enough to enslave the three gods -- the Hart, the Sisters and the god -- and conquers her kingdom back).

It is a mixed story. Card sets up themes (such as the boy who unites the weak to protect them from the strong) and then abandons them when a reprise occurs. He has some violent and crude sub-episodes that do not add to the plot (such as one where young beggar lads play a game with sexual payments as the forfeits).

I was unhappy with much of it. I will note (as it isn't a secret) that the story in one sense is about the Hart's Hope who is a lad whose magical power is that he is a sink -- an antimagic source. The character is really a plot sink as well, damping and absorbing plot threads without much benefit.

For another, nicely written but not as satisfying as I would have liked, Mona Lisa Overdrive (by William Gibson) is modern Science Fantasy. Too many characters with minimal redeeming values (a few, just too many otherwise). Kind of cyberpunk but the world just passes by as the characters waltz towards each other and the resolution.

I'm getting tired of shattered books. You know, where the author scatters the plots of several stories and they fall together in a mosaic by the end. It was fun when John Brunner did it and won a Hugo, but it is getting old. Stand on Zanzibar and Jagged Orbit are old and cold. (Though, on the other hand, they do qualify as proto-cyber punk . . . think about it.)

Aliens novelized by Alan Dean Foster. I missed the movie but the novel was good. Tight, clean and well developed. Not a wasted word. Foster can really write better than most people appreciate. World class at times -- and on the sort of things you'd just expect hack work. Four stars.

And speaking of stars, The Star Scroll by Melanie Rawn. DAW "new worlds of fantasy" novel. 591 pages, $4.95/$5.95 Canadian. Part II of a trilogy. Lots of nice contemporary people. The characters reminded me a lot of characters played by nice college students (played, not role-played). If you've ever played Clue with wargamers you know what I'm talking about.

Interesting (heck, I bought it because a review described one of the heroines, Sioned, in terms that made her sound a great deal like my wife), nice people <mostly out to be reasonable, fair and share the cultureation and viewpoint of a civilized and civil college student living in a modern democracy). A little too much walking up and down the hall (the novel drags a bit here and there and there and there) but authors are under pressure these days to write long novels.

I suspect it will have great commercial success. It is one of the several "new worlds of fantasy" series by DAW (see above). If only the characters reflected their culture better. Deserves success more than many novels. And Sioned is a lot like my wife Win (beautiful, devoted, bright, mature, and wonderful) so that part gets stars.

I was mildly unhappy though. I'd like my characters to fit their cultures better.

Mort by Terry Pratchett, was a delight. A humorous romp. Pratchett has written a series of novels set on a discworld. Pure fantasy. Mort is best appreciated as Pratchett's answer to Piers Anthony's On a White Horse. It is a winner. Good enough that I'm interested in picking up the rest of the discworld novels (I've browsed the covers but never gone further).

Compare with Quozl by Alan Dean Foster -- a novel that should have been a hoot but that was too serious. It is a story of spacefaring, cultured and civilized vorpal bunnies come to earth by mistake. An example of why Foster still is treated as a minor author.

Structured with a background to provide a laugh every other line and then written as a pretty much serious novel. Gets funny about the last fifty or so pages (the Disneyland vignette had a cute ending). It doesn't connect -- perhaps because of the teaser promising humor and the author delivering and intelligent development of the theme. Imagine a serious novel about cultured vorpal bunnies.

Bloodstorm, recommended by John T. Sapienza, Jr., was interesting. Not what I'd expect from someone named Heather Gladney. And perhaps I missed some important parts when I missed volume 1 and the caves. I wasn't too excited as to how volume 3 was set up (after all that prophesying and all . . .).

The characters where strong and believable. The setting well conceived. I wonder as to how Heather will scrape a victory for Teot from it (the bad guys are rather too overpowering -- but then the thinking machines in the cave probably have a deus ex machina up their sleeve. Which would really be too bad).

I can see why John recommended it. I recommend waiting on it and Teot's War until the third book is out and we know if it justifies the series.

Compare with New Moon by Midori Snyder (what a pen name). Fits what you would expect from a novel with the same name as the periodical New Moon. Light stuff verses the serious writing of Gladney.

It also is an example of the new trilogy pattern. Which is:

Book One: Create a setting. Reveal your hero to be a magical or martial focus or and semi-portable deus ex machina. Instead of the old fashioned triumph at the end of the book, cut the triumph short (by flaw or other artifice) and have the hero and friends flee.

Book Two: The hero and friends continue to flee, meander about, grow up (make their assumption of power later more believable).

Book Three: The hero and friends return and triumph in power at the end. All disposable characters get killed off.

While the book fits this pattern, it is better than I make it sound. I just hit one martial arts cliche at the wrong moment.

I have folded up a man's nose and gotten good penetration on the strike. What happens is that the cartilage gets smashed flat, the target gets a horrendous sinus headache (that is what is behind the nose) bleeds like a stuck pig. As I was a young martial artist at the time (only ll or 12 -- this was the 60's after all) I was also embarrassed for hitting the guy so hard. He had picked the fight, had 6", two years and thirty pounds on me, and swung first <connecting, my blocks were pretty bad back then> but . . .

he sure did not drop dead from cartilage on the brain (and I did not expect him to -- I was aiming for a different target and he moved -- not to mention that even then I knew better).

Anyway, I react badly when an author has a character kill someone by bashing him in the nose. It doesn't happen.

The novel is the story of a magic focus who warred with the three others who made up the magic quadform that harmonizes the land. She overcame them and from her fear of death made herself semi-undead. With foreign allies she keeps control, ruthlessly exterminating magic talented children and preventing a new quad from arising.

The story is set two hundred or so years after the cataclysm and is about the rising of a new moon and a new quad. Starts them young, untutored, and obviously unfit to challenge the undying queen. Powerful enough to do so, but really not mature enough to run a country afterwards.

The first volume in the trilogy sets the pieces in motion and defines all the actors and settings. The queen could be a little darker, the setting a little better conceived (the author needs to sit down and work out just how many people live in the city, how large the city is, how large the country is, how far and how large the foreign allies are, etc. All the mechanics need to be rethought out as they were a little off balance novel one.) but all in all it was well done.

Light fantasy (not light humor) but good.

And finally . . .

Shadow Games by Glen Cook.

Ever wonder how the Taken could be so hard for the White Rose to take down, yet die so easily in their own wars? Ever wonder how Limper could come back and come back (and still not die)? Well, the rest of them have as much vitality as Limper. Maybe more. This novel explains where the Black Company came from, what really happened to a number of the taken and just where that budding romance between Croaker and The Lady went.

It also raises some questions. Just how old are the magic-users with the company? Why doesn't the Lady use the Taken's true names against them? Just what does naming a name do to someone (and how permanent is it?)? What innate magical senses or powers may Croaker develop (he is seeing things that others miss)? And what about the true names Croaker knows? Will he be able to trump with them?

The "first novel of the South" (to distinguish it from the Silver Spike and the rest to come about the North) threatens to be loose. I'm looking for a tight second novel. We all know Cook can do it. I'm really hoping he does -- and curious about that "Special Thanks" to "Lee Child" for historical research. And curious to know about the Lady's trunk full of magic.

I'm going to reread the first three novels, wait, reread Shadow Games and make some guesses. Then read the next novel. And make my guesses which of the Taken will come back. The Hanged Man for sure. Howler of course. Perhaps others. Not to mention some of the monsters (such as Toadkiller Dog). Lets see.

Recommended. Read the first three books over again while waiting for the next novel to come out.

[Heroquest] [Norns] [Diablo] [WingCommander] [e-mail] [©1996-1998 Stephen R. Marsh All Rights Reserved]