Starlight Mage

Volume 3, Number 09

Steve Marsh

2813 Montgomery Place

Wichita Falls, TX 76308

I thought I would ease back into The Wild Hunt with some book reviews. Here they are.

The Fortress of the Pearl, Micheal Moorcock, Ace Fantasy $16.95 231 pages/

A new Elric novel. Better, a good novel, tightly written with technique and style up to modern standards. This novel has no appearances by Lords of Chaos, few demons and just a taste of the trademark Stormbringer.

The entire Elric series needs a good re-write/housecleaning, from beginning to end, and could benefit from three or four more novels like this one. I've been trying to think of a co-writer I could recommend to Moorcock and from this novel the answer is obvious -- Micheal Moorcock.

The author of this book has just the perfect feel and balance, combined with solid writing style, to be the one to re-write the Elric series.

I was impressed by the mildness of the magic, the twist on the concept of dream thieves, the small (but natural) expansion of the Young Kingdoms setting and the mild personality development of Elric. All-in-all very well done.

Note, a Moorcock fan club has finally been created. Nomads of the Time Stream P.O.Box 451048, Atlanta, GA 30345-1048.

Man from Mundania, Piers Anthony, Avon $4.50/343 pages. The beginning of the second XANTH "triology" -- this one with titles from 1 to 7 already selected. Not much to say. If you like the XANTH novels, you'll be delighted with this one.

Piers Anthony really needs a fan club charged with the duty of answering his correspondance. That way the fans can take care of each other and Piers can take care of his writing. He's starting to have the same problems Robert Heinlein had (and which he complains of bitterly in Grumblings from the Grave) with fans who take up too much time and whose letters prevent him from writing more novels.

Heck, in spite of a "your letter wasn't one of the time waster" type response, I've not written Anthony again to leave him more time to write. If he'd just dump the corresspondance on some insane fans that could take care of the entire problem.

Seven of Swords, Carole Nelson Douglas, Tor $4.95/408 pages.

This book is billed as volume three of the "sword and circlet trilogy" (which I have not otherwise seen). Nowhere is the reader warned that it is also a continuation of the juvenile romance novel The Six of Swords and its follow-up Exiles of Ryenth. (The books are not listed in the author's credits which is unusual for a series), books that were widely reviewed in FRPG circles.

Which is just as well. While Carole Douglas writes romance novels (and began in that genre), this book is not a romance novel and has none of the trappings. Except for sharing the same two individuals as characters, there is little to link the unlisted and uncredited books with Seven of Swords.

Unfortunately there is not much stylistically to link the series to the teaser, the first chapter of the book or the jacket descriptions. Which is not necessarily bad, but it is distracting. Instead of the haunting, fey and intense work the teaser and first chapter promised (and I thought I was purchasing) the novel is straightforward (in writing style), a touch uneven and mild.

I'm still not certain if I like the book or not. I feel the same for the cover, which is an extremely well executed picture of a beautiful young woman in wet (teddy style) underclothing, armored cloak and two handed sword.

A good book, but not the book I was expecting to read when I purchased it. It is the story of young adults/older children discovering themselves and of parents facing their own mortality. At the same time, it wraps up the author's earlier works and puts a good cap on the series.

A Multitude of Monsters

A Night in the Netherhells

A Disagreement with Death

Craig Shaw Gardner, Ace, $2.95/185 pages, $2.95/201 pages, $3.50/185 pages. The finish of the Ebenezum/Wuntvor series.

I recently took up Gardner's side against a fan reviewer who downgraded the series. I then stopped and realized that when I had decided to finish reading the series I'd read only three of the last five books and skipped the rest. That revealed something to me.

The books are fun light reading. Interesting enough that you'll be curious to know how they end, but wearing if you do not alternate the novels with some other reading. I'm curious if his newest series is better or worse. (A normal review won't tell a reader what he or she needs to know. If you've read one of these books, you don't need to know how good/bad the humor is, you just want to know if the latest is better or worse.) "Lightly" recommended.

The Unwilling Warlord, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Del Rey, $3.95/309 pages.

Lawrence Watt-Evans latest fantasy series is based on an idea that more fantasy authors ought to use. The continuity of the series is provided by the setting and not by the characters. You see this device used to great success in Cherryh's SF novels (or by Heinlien and Poul Anderson for the older set out there), but it is rarely used by fantasy authors.

Each novel has detailed an element of the world as well as telling a story. The latest novel details more about Warlocks, leaving the reader hungry for more on the subject. Reviewing the structure, the novel appears to have been strongly plotted and well thought out. While the author's effort shows on review, the plot's continuity and structure do not always read like just one novel for the casual reader. (The book seems to read as a novel and a half).

Enjoyable, good Watt-Evans style characters, fun to read. Even non-SF types seem to enjoy it. Recommended.

Borders of Infinity, Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen $3.95/311 pages.

Not a humour work in spite of the cover and teaser. A rather serious work that could have been written by a young Cherryh, but with a slight twist to the style.

Good Science Fiction of the old school, the sort Poul Anderson wrote. Space ships, some feudalism, heroics, and all. Well done, rational, and mature. Nicely mixed and cleanly executed.

Tower of Fear//Glen Cook

Hardback, still on waiting lists at the library. Browsed, it looks good. Yet another stylistic variety for Glen, a little less gloom than normal, but not much.

Thieves World, Book 12, Stealers' Sky, ACE $3.95/240 pages.

If you hadn't noticed, the entire Thieves World melieu was taken over by a sub-group of writers who really put some dire and unpleasant twists on the entire setting. It seemed the magic-users were always giving others strange and latent venerial diseases, pulling souls up from hell, or engaging in weird sexual tangles. Added to this was a haze of Krrff (coincidentally spelled, described, and handled like Qrrf, a middle eastern arab drug similar to hashish, often cut with tobacco, and smoked on Air Saudia flights by passengers and crew).

The "triumphant conclusion" (book 12's sub-title) is a much lighter, brighter and happier collection of stories. In it, the series returns to ground zero. The entire cast is reshuffled, the decks cleared, and the setting is placed back at start.

A number of central characters (and their respective authors?) leave town and the state is set.

I really feel as if two things are warranted. First, a new series in the setting with a different name and a different editor. Second, a new gaming source pack. This one with a different editor. (I remember the last one with some irritation.

The last editor cut sections out of all of my write-ups to provide for a physical description section that had been left out of the original pack design. While it enhanced the set, it left my write-ups looking rather tattered as the edit was hurried and sloppy. I still wince when asked about the D&D part of the original scenario pack).

The new setting is fleshed out and shaken down and ready for use. It is also a better setting for adventure, play and enjoyment. I wish all of the old authors well if they continue in spite of the fact that a number of the books read like campaign write-ups (which is what they were -- free form role-playing and gaming, written up as later short stories) and all of the new authors as well.

The White Raven, Diana L. Paxson (who "started the Society for Creative Anacronism"), hardback. A retelling of the Tristan and Isseult story.

This is a very well executed re-telling of the story with minimal deviation from the classic story-line (you can check it against Bullfinch). Instead of the Age of Chivalry, Paxson has set it in the historical melieu the story actually occured in and with fantasy elements related to the religions of the early Celtic times.

The book was good enough that I'll be checking out the Westria series. My only problem was that I really detest the mind-set and attitudes common to those times, the slave-holding and the acts of vengance. Similar to the vikings (who would raid you and then come back for vengance if they lost), the lesser and greater britains were a crude and fullsome people.

Still, I'm glad Paxson took on a "new" re-write rather than joining the tired ranks of those attempting to recreate King Arthur one more time in their own image.

Grumblings from the Grave, Robert A. Heinlein, Ballantine/Del Rey $19.95/283 pages. This book was written almost twenty years ago when RAH almost died and decided to collate some of his letters for a book to be published after his death in order to provide some support for his widow. It was written as a gift to his widow, but in reality is a gift to all of his fans.

I finally finished Expanded Universe this year. Grumblings is a factor of ten better. The writing in consistent, tight, and interesting. It is also very sympathetic, human and rewarding. I very much desire to see a second volume.

90% of Grumblings is a collection of excerpts from letters from Robert to his literary agent. The remaining 10% are letters back from the agent, John Campbell, a nameless fan, etc.

The book was amazing in its ability to evoke my feelings and memories of earlier Heinlein books. (with the exception of Rocket Ship Galleo) I began reading Heinlein in 1966 as a ten year old, and Grumblings brought that back.

Grumblings erased many of the ambivalent feelings that Heinlein's later books created and gave me an immense sympathy for the man. The book also answers a large number of questions I had about RAH and fills in a number of gaps.

E.g. RAH's disabling disease was TB -- which was cured. Imagine the frustration that a Naval academy graduate must have felt to be denied military life, and participation in two major wars (WWII and Korea), over a disease that he had overcome.

E.g. Virginia was RAH's second wife. His first appears to have left him in a manner that caused him a great deal of grief. (Though other readers conclude from Grumblings that RAH left his first wife after an affair with Virginia. The book could have been clearer. I appreciate RAH's sensibilities in not disparaging his first wife, but he's given a number of people the wrong impression about the second).

E.g. the original Podkayne of Mars had a dramatic and much different ending. (The full text is included in Grumblings.)

E.g. The nature and reason for RAH's complete distance from fandoms and most fen activities and the difference between RAH and Asimov in their relationships with John Campbell, fen, etc. Basically, John Campbell was the weak (and needing to be heavily edited) writer's friend, but the good writer's (and not wanting heavy editing) nightmare.

Reading Grumblings brought home to me just how far ahead of his time many of his novels were. Starship Troopers could be printed today as a new novel and be current. He was a powerful writer well ahead of his time.

I'd really like to see a second volume of Grumblings. The structure I'd prefer is alternating chapters of letter excerpts with chapters and excerpts of unfinished and/or unpublished works. Many of RAH's non-fiction works were unfinished.

The unpublished non-fiction works are now old enough to have entertainment value not only from the quality of his writing but from the historical impact of the era. The works are substantial in number and would aid page count.

Aside from generating a larger page count, including excerpts would also satisfy the curiosity and interest of the fans that RAH still has. Look at the later Middle Earth volumes which were merely compilations of J.R.R. Tolkien's notes.

And rather than answer fan mail, Virginia Heinlein could address and answer the themes she sees in the mail in a second volume. The rare responses to fan mail in the Grumblings answered a number of questions I would never have written, but that I enjoyed reading.

Finally, I am grateful that the agents and editors prevailed upon RAH to change the end of Podkayne of Mars. The points he wanted to make with the original end are points I got in the first couple of chapters. The point that a child reader receives from the death of a likable and lovable character easily identified with is far different that the point an adult receives. I was a child and am grateful that Podkayne had a child's ending.

Non-fiction selection. Women Married to Alcoholics by Morris Kokin with Ian Walker. An excellent book, available at most libraries or by inter-library loan. Give it to anyone who has a relationship with an alcoholic.

The book is a little simple, but it cuts through the psychobabble generated by the half-baked sludge of popularized theory. (Not that current theories are not good -- the book embraces current theory -- but some of the sludge that gets through in the popularizations is crippling. The book does an excellent job of cleaning away the sludge and helping those who need it.).

Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, Steven Brust, Ace $3.50/224 pages. New ground.

Long, long time ago, when I can still remember (see The Day the Music Died), I used to run into SF stories that had weird settings with no explanation. I hated them. This is one of those stories, but with all the pieces -- including explanations.

I would note that HAGS (Herpes, AIDS, Gonorrhea, Syphilis) and THAGS (Tuberculosis, Herpes, AIDS, gonorrhea, Syphilis) are both real medical terms.

Cowboy Feng's is the story of a group of wasted human beings (i.e. typical musicians) who bounce through space in a bar as it gets blown through time on the coat-tails of nuclear blasts. In the process they face some mystery and a great deal of danger. Well written fire-fights, attention to the current cult music, and a nicely constructed story.

Ok. With more sympathetic characters I would have strongly recommended it. Brust just doesn't seem to have his settings and characters refined and tightened in his non-D&D adaptation work.

The Third Eagle, R.A. MacAvoy, Bantam $4.50/261 pages.

When I was in high school, back in '71 to '73, I knew a girl named Carla Olsen who looked a bit like the author's picture in the back of the novel. This is the kind of story she would have written. Pure SF, no fantasy (in spite of lots of temptation to toss in just a little), set in a very believable future setting.

While it is a good story, better than the average in the field, it is not as good as The Grey Horse or the Trio for Lute. I enjoyed the martial arts (an area I usually wince more than applaud) and was gripped by much of the novel. The teaser tells more than enough about the novel and the cover gets it right.

It is a fun turn on the martial artist from a genetic caste who is meeting his destiny in the strange and uncomprehending outside world. Well done.

The Dragon Never Sleeps, Glen Cook, Questar $3.95/422 pages.

After rereading it for the fourth time I can still say this novel should have won the Hugo. Powerful, well-written, tight. John T. Sapienza, Jr. was unable to put it down. It can still have that effect on a second or third reading.

Buy the next book in the series. It should be out soon. Buy the RPG based on the books -- it should be incredible. This is the far future as it should have been written about in the Golden Age. Logical, mixed, and filled with mysteries and opportunity.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Robert A. & Virginia Heinlein, Ace/Putnam

This heart of this story starts in modern times when gangs control the centers of large urban areas, when official corruption dominated some states to the point of constitutional crisis, when men gave up hope and laid down and died in Chicago and New York, when lotteries dominated certain social classes and when legalized cocaine use was so severe that men on their way to work lined up at pharmacies for their morning jolt. The military was woefully underprepared, the world was in turmoil and about to be hostile, and government seemed given over to fools.

I'm talking about the era that began in what is now known as the Gay 90s (1890 to 1920 when the Roaring Twenties began.) This is the time period that the heroine is born into and a time of such gritty violence, corruption and despair as our Country has never seen before or since.

This book is the last in the series that Heinlein tried to draw together in his World as a Myth or World as a Story setting. It was also his most impassioned in its propaganda since Heinlein began preaching in his stories (starting with Podkayne of Mars).

RAH uses the device of the heroine in jail, writing her memoirs as she waits for rescue or death, attended only by her faithful cat who walks through walls. The story, as is always true of RAH, is well written. Without the preaching it would have probably broken the charts.

Ah, but the preaching. RAH tells us how to raise children (even though he never had any in either of two marriages and never liked children enough to adopt), how virtuous incest can be, how the United States has fallen apart since "the good old days" as the people vote themselves bread and circuses, and how religious beliefs do not deserve respect or any legal protection since they are so stupid. (The old "your beliefs are so stupid and mine are so self-evident that yours deserve to be stomped on and mine should be made official" -- I see RAH looking out at me in N. Scudder's mask).

There are a few glitches. The divorce (introduced so that the heroine has no duty to use the deus ex machina go back and collect her husband along with her father), the presence of people who speak Stranger in a strange Land Martian, yet do not overrun the characters with Martian speaking demi-gods and theology, a group of villains, the revisionists, who are not detailed, and the ascent into Valhalla of some.

I don't know. RAH writes as if he was isolated from reality, had no historical perspective and believed Margaret Mead. <Margaret wrote Coming of Age in Samoa, a book on the sexual practices of those coming of age in Samoa. Since that time it has emerged that the Samoans told her what they thought she wanted to hear [you can draw your own conclusions about her from what she wanted] and told her almost nothing of the truth. Her work, which made her famous and which led a number of people down blind paths, is now a landmark in cultural contamination and things to avoid.>

He preaches so fervently. Has he never dealt with child abuse involving "willing" victims. Has he never studied the anthropology and sociology of incest taboos (or why they are virtually universal except for the Druze)? Isn't he aware that drug use, gambling, official corruption and the like go in cycles? One generation faces the difficulties of the problem, overcomes it, instills a strong feeling in their children and passes many laws. The grandchildren inherit the antipathy as a myth, the great-grandchildren as an attitude and their children start pushing the boundaries as the perspective has been lost. Then it happens again.

The real question, one that is never answered, is how to pass down a complete set of attitudes, from generation to generation, when the need for the attitudes fades if they are successfully passed. RAH wastes his time preaching attitudes that conflict -- or hasn't he noticed that those most likely to follow his sexual advice are the ones most likely to use drugs, not engage in military service and least likely to raise children with discipline. Look at the #1 Heinlein fan, Spider Robinson. He's also the number one proponent of drug use (though when the 60s revive he hopes they have better drugs this time) and the man I see least likely to have supported recent wars (er, police actions).

Interesting, no? Anyway, I could almost recommend this book and I loved the title, enjoyed seeing all of the series brought together, and disliked the preaching.

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