Volume 3, Number 10

Steve Marsh

2813 Montgomery Place

Wichita Falls, TX 76308

More Book Reviews:

The California Coast is a wonderful place. Two of my favorite places are Morro Bay and Cambria. Win and I hope to retire in Cambria some day. If you've ever wondered what would have happened if those two communities were merged into one, CAMBRIO BAY, a new novel, seems to be set in some mystic version of them -- complete with a magical equivalent of the local sprawling mansion. Nicely done -- the sort of thing I wish Wolfe would write -- and a nice novel to add to the author's works. On the automatic ship for most public libraries and worth the trip.

THE FATAL SHORE by Robert Hughes, Vintage/Random House, trade paper, $10.95 for 688 pages. Incredible stuff. Debunks some hoary myths about Australia and provides all the settings you've ever wanted. The footnotes are great -- detailing historical thieves guilds and how they came about, prison theories, and loads of neat stuff on colonization. If you've ever thought about "just ship all the criminals to some island in the Pacific" this is a must read.

THE DARK TOWER by Glen Cook, Tor hardback.

This book has gotten some mixed reviews from reviewers. Imagine the Rome/Carthage conflict * * * with semi-Christian Herodians for the Romans. Who bought off the Arab cavalry auxiliaries in the first campaign. And the Carthage equivalent serves a blood sacrifice prone mage-priest rather than a blood sacrifice prone god.

The book takes place in the time six or so years following the death of the evil mage and the fall of the city. Well written, another new style for Cook.

The style is "Mainstream." That is the best way to describe it. This is a Stephen King sort of book. Well written, well executed, full fleshed characters, a real plot, multiple levels of meaning, a prologue and postlogue (epilogues I guess they are called) and lots of referents.

Good, better than 95% of the SF out there, but not quite Glen Cookish enough. I don't really know what to say more about it.

SWORD AND SORCERESS, SPELLS OF WONDER, etc. The Swords and Sorceress series is currently drawing three times as much material as the editor can use. So, she is doing a parallel series. The material is what I would call good fan material. For a referent, George Phillies short stories are at the 75% line (better than 75% of what is being printed) for the series. Heck, George ought to submit a few stories.

THE CHANGELING SEA by Patricia McKillip, Ballantine, $3.95/153 pages. This is a wonderful story. The cover catches the feel of the book and McKillip is at her best.

It is a setting with the folk who live under the sea, those who live on land, and the tragedy and hope that comes of two of them meeting. The story is that of a girl who lost her father to the sea and of three young men -- two princes and a wizard. Grand.

THE DARK HAND OF MAGIC by Barbara Hambly, $4.95. Gasp. Luckily most places are charging less than cover. It is kind of a game. Everyone wants to be able to discount paperbacks. So, the prices are going up on the covers so that the price charged can show a hefty discount (e.g. I paid $3.71 on the $4.95 cover). Fine, except you need to watch out that you are not charged full cover where you buy yours.

The Dark Hand of Magic is another Sun Wolf story. It continues the romance a bit, develops the characters more, explains magic another facet, and is incredibly gritty. Too gritty for me, Win thought it was ok. Otherwise we both liked it. The book covers the down side of mercenary troops, military life and nasty politics with an enslaving wizard chasing the protagonist against that backdrop.

THE POWER OF MYTH -- Joseph Campbell as interviewed by Bill Meyers. What should have been Campbell's tightest book is the loosest. Ok for browsing, interesting, but loose.

HEROQUEST by Greg Stafford. Still not out, but * * * the new edition of Pendragon is due out shortly and you can use the mechanics from Pendragon to run Heroquests. Really. Take all skills and divide by 10 (thus a sword at 120% becomes Sword 12). Keep glory and traits.

Now, every time you are on the heroplane, use the Pendragon mechanics and rules. Keep skill gains (if any) on the percentile system (which slows them down).

And add a requisite called WILL. Every character starts with 18 points. Each runic association the character is sealed to (generally, each rune in each cult the character is a Rune Lord or Rune Priest in) costs a point of will for an allied association, 3 points for a direct association. Each skill that goes over 95% costs a point of will.

On the other hand, characters can gain will. Every 500 points of glory generates one point of will. In addition, each power of ten of worshipers a character has generates a point of will. (Thus 100 worshipers = 2 points of will; 1,000 = 3; 10,000 = 4, etc.) Reducing runic associations will free up the Will dedicated to them as will sacrificing skills that are over 95%. Finally, some heroquests can result in gaining will.

When WILL = 0 the character loses his or her free agency and becomes an NPC. This happens at any level of play. A god can become "NPCed" (so to speak) by gaining too many allies or by losing worshipers. Oakfed is completely controlled by his shamen because he spent all of his will. In current politics, Pavis is a good example of a god who overextended his runic associations. So is Sartar. Pavis encompassed too many runes directly, Sartar had too many allies. Will is very important.

Being raised from the dead, etc. costs a point of will each time it happens.

Try it. Pendragon mechanics can handle characters with scores of 35 or more (Lancelot) or 350%+ (that is 50 successful 5% increments, gained from 1,000 adventures after the character made Rune Lord).

DREAD BRASS SHADOWS, by Glen Cook and ROC/Signet/Penguin. $3.95 for 255 pages. Well worth it.

This fantasy story is the most fantasy story (vs P.I.[private investigator]) of the series. Complete of itself, gritty and interesting. A tale of too many redheads (too many gorgeous redheads), magic and danger, well wrapped together. I liked it.

THE EARTHSEA TRILOGY, new covers, glorious art, a fourth volume now out (but released as a children's hardback over $10.00 -- over the break price for most chains) and carrying the most arrogant and pretentious review on the inside of each volume. Until I see the Earthsea Roleplaying Game * * *

Seriously though, Earthsea is a pretty grim place. It sits always on the edge of disaster, strewn with warped earth powers, and between shadows. Life is brief, death is long and dry with an unending afterlife filled with dust where loved ones pass each other by and friends traverse the bleak country always alone. The author tries to soften the grimness with a brief pass at karma (the force of your life remains with the living), but the sadness and grief with which the characters react to those spirits called back from the dead cuts the soft alternatives to the bone.

I'm curious to see what is in book four.

SURRENDER NONE <The Legacy of Gird>, Elizabeth Moon, $4.50/531 pages and published by Baen. (discount price $4.05).

You'll have to look to find this book. Local bookstores carried tons of Sassinak novels and are carrying only one or two copies of Surrender None as a result. A pity. The book is a keeper.

While the author's technique and style have matured (and they were darn near perfect in the Paks novels), the novel is more memorable for the quality of detail and the accuracy of all the subparts. She has her law and legal interactions down with an accuracy and clarity I've never seen before in a fantasy novel. Her small and medium scale economics are exact. Her small unit tactics and weapon mixes (and interactions) are flawless. The farm lore and details are right on the money.

Of course the underlying story is so well executed and well told that you are likely to miss the fact that all of the technical details are so perfect or that the background is no longer derivative in appearance (excepting the horses -- but that seems to have been done on purpose). The book is a gem from every angle -- down to the social interactions and the anthropology and theomantics. I find myself wanting to buy a copy in acid free paper hardback.

Ok, it has a flaw or two. The prequel piece wasn't really needed. It fits the book, is thematic and is stylistically correct, but * * * the novel is so strong that it can do without it (like a beautiful woman wearing accenting jewelry who looks even better without the gems). And the novel is complete. May be a sequel coming, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part.

The novel can be read in several ways. The first is as the story of Gird, a serf who thought and who did what was right. It is a story of a man who chose to do right and of the struggles and sacrifices he had. The story is also a nicely executed Chaim Potok culture clash story with a stable resolution implied (and realized by the society in the Paks books). Finally, it is a powerfully executed justification and explanation of the world setting used by Moon for her fantasy stories. Master's thesis quality work.

To be honest, after the Sassinak stuff, I was hoping for a book as good as one of the Paks books but afraid of something aimed at "entertainment value." Instead I got a book with multiple levels of thought, and one that hit on areas that I've given a great deal of thought (much on a professional level). Moon covered all of the bases -- including the places she had been weak before -- and did it without weakening the tale. !!!

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