Starlight Mage

Volume 3, Number 13

Supplement to Number 12

Stephen R. Marsh

Suite 316 Union Square

1401 Holliday Street

Wichita Falls, TX 76308


After a few pre-publication responses, I've decided that the WILL / Heroquest article needs some more examples.

Lets start with STALKING DEATH, a death god from the Gods' Age whose realm was NorthWest of the heart of the Lunar Empire.

Starting WILL: <18>

Rune: Death <14>

Skills > 90%: 5 <09>

Allied Spirit/Dark <08>

2 Special Powers <06>

40 million worshipers <13>

Glory <10>

A comparative Runelord with 20 followers and 3 points from glory would have a will of 10.

During the Godtime, STALKING DEATH came face to face with chaos in the form of a chaos demon servitor of the Devil who was leading a hoard of demons north. He drew on the power of darkness (allied Rune) for the counter-chaos power. He and the demon then fought.

Ever after, SD was a death and darkness god who specialized in fighting chaos.

Since his WILL was 23 at the time of the combat with chaos, any time that SD used darkness to combat chaos his effective WILL was 23 for the WILL v. WILL portion of the combat.

The will at the time of conflict was important since after the deed was done, SD added a direct rune (Darkness//-4 to WILL). He and three allies then formed a pantheon (-3 to WILL, one per ally) and he established two sub-cults (sword/death; cloak/dark) (-2 to WILL). His glory faded.

For anything new his will was only 4 -- a tempting target for even a Runelord--except that his will was still 26 for fighting (pre cloak and pre specials), 25 for special one, 24 for special two and 23 for any conflict with chaos (if he takes Darkness route). He was still pretty unbeatable in a fight.

However, as time passed his worshipers faded to only 250,000. That dropped his WILL to 2 by the time he had to face the Lunar Empire. She came as chaos, he took dark. She used fire. (antithetical runes are tripled in effect).

He could either be WILL 23 against her WILL x 3 or WILL 2 vs her WILL. Since her WILL was 19 he was doomed in either event.

His allies fled, breaking the pantheon and he escaped, though without his worshipers, cloak or powers.

SD is now one rune (death), five skills, no specials and no glory for a WILL of 9. With 100 followers (as in a hero cult) he would have a WILL of 11 (and for use of the death rune in combat his will is still the 26 from his heroquest). He is a dangerous (though limited) spirit. Freedom cost him everything.

Had he not given up his powers and had the pantheon stayed intact, losing the battle and the worshipers would have dropped his WILL to 0 or less and made him a slave of the lunar empire like many a god before him.



Nemesis (Book One of Indigo), Louise Cooper, TOR $3.95/294 pages.

Imagine if after the Pandora story was over, Pandora had been sent out to put all the demons out of commission that she had let loose. In a nutshell, that is the theme of the Indigo series. A young, headstrong princess opens a gate and lets seven demons loose. As a penalty, and to save the man she loves (not to mention the human race), she is forced to go forth and to slay the demons.

In the "golden age" of sf the book would have been a trilogy. Cooper looks to be writing at least eight books in her series. Which is good as they appear to be worth reading. Book One dragged a bit at the end; Inferno (book two) left me guessing through the last two thirds. Infanta (book three) was a bit too telegraphed and Nocturne (book four) took the series along well. Importantly, the heroine does not gain new powers and abilities each book. She starts book four merely older and wiser than she left book one.

The Revenants, Sheri S. Tepper, Ace, ?/342 Pages (1984 release).

I finally took the time to read this quest book by Tepper. The plot is a standard "people brought together to save the world" plot, but the execution is still superior.

The characters are different and fun. Jaer's body changes sex (and physical characteristics) regularly, another is a were-griffin, etc.

The tale is nicely done without plot drift or world shift. It is a much better than average example of the quest genre.

The World at the End of Time, Frederik Pohl, Del Rey $17.95/393 pages.

The "old timers" who write hard science fiction have all been doing "end of time" books.

An "end of time" book is one that stretches the characters out forever until they reach <or imply> the end of time. Poul Anderson's Tau Zero was probably the first hard science "end of time" book (compared with Stapledon's Last and First Men which was pop-culture sort of sf "end of time"), but the genre has been undergoing a resurgence.

Pohl does a good job with his alien, stretches his character well (though he could have stretched him just a bit more), and includes a fair amount of senselessness in the middle. Good, but not great.

DreamSpy Jacqueline Lichtenberg, St. Martin's Press $19.95/337 pages.

Lichtenberg is a trufan (like Pohl) who successfully moved over to being a writer. She currently writes with power and honed technique, yet does not abandon the fan roots to her stories. A typical Lichtenberg story involves some vampiric mode (JL started with the Sime/Gen stories) with need, domination, pain, sexual attraction and strong romance undercurrents. Adolescence all over again.

Her last two novels (Those of My Blood and DreamSpy) deal with the Luren, a race of essence vampires who benefit greatly from sex with their "victims." The Luren dwell as a race of genetic designed human derived specials in a high tech science fiction/fantasy Universe.

Luren are specially designed to bond with Dreamers -- a designed human variant whose special quality is that they dream -- something no other race (but most Earthly mammals) does. Luren use "influence" -- something similar, though different than telepathy (which is used by telepaths) or empathy.

The stage is a human dominated set of space empires with nobles, Human Telepaths, Luren and Dreamers. Except the Dreamers all dwell on an interdicted world.

The story dwells on the frision (sexual and otherwise) between a female telepath genetically designed to bond with dreamers, a male Luren and a male Dreamer as they fight against the forces of the telepath's evil female relations and strive for interstellar peace.

Surprisingly, the story is well done, the elements make sense and the items that would otherwise appear lurid or silly are properly integrated.

Worth a look.

God's World Ian Watson. Copyright 1979, published 1990. On library distribution lists.

Watson takes themes of life, death, the nature of reality and the wonder of love and manages to write a novel that is not overwhelmed by the subject matter. Imagine a civilization that lives half in this life and half in an afterlife that can be invoked and used to modify the present world. Give them FTL, gods and a charitable missionary spirit.

It is the year 1997 and the aliens have just made contact with the Earth by means of celestial beings in the local motifs (angels, djinn, taoists, etc.) inviting us to send a team to come visit them and to join them in the war between good and evil.

According to the spirit messengers and those they represent, Evil is embodied by cybernetic machine intelligences with insectoid brood servants. The machines seek to destroy the godlike living interface between life and death that the friendly aliens manipulate to recreate and refresh the world, to travel faster than light, and to invoke gods and angels to serve them in this world.

Well done. No preaching! Different, but smoother in execution (excepting the first chapter) than Ian Watson's previously published novels on grand themes. True "what if" writing.


Total Recall -- excellent. Well executed martial arts scenes, excellent adaptation of the original work (who would have thought that Philip K. Dick was going to start spawning megahits from his novels and short stories?). It is too bad that he is no longer with us.

Dick Tracy is a Howard the Duck sort of mild, well crafted, cinematic movie. It needs to be seen in a movie theater, not on television to capture the cinematography. It has too many artsy touches. For example, Pop Star Madonna plays a not too sexy, not too talented night club singer. Why not let her be sexy and let her sing? It is artsy to have Madonna play a second rate bimbo and second rate singer, but is it a good idea?

Young Guns, Navy Seals, etc.

I've known some Navy Seals. While some of them may be good looking (the one my wife used to date is also a professional model), they all share a mindset closer to an accountant than anything else that comes to mind.

Heck, even the Marine Recon Rangers I knew weren't as gonzo as the movie previews for Seals. Crazy yes. Gonzo, no.

The fact is, all of the special forces people I've known acted with precision and force. Exactness, but in motion. Snipers rather than sprayers (a sprayer is a guy who just hoses things down with an automatic weapon. Sprayers waste lots of ammunition and generally don't hit anything).

There is a hard precision that marks a professional fighter. The lack of that hardness is exactly what made Young Guns believable and the reason I'm skipping Navy Seals.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- a great dollar movie. My four year-old loved it. Clear plot, good costumes, nicely executed. Better than Dick Tracy.




The book Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Poul Anderson was one of my favorite Flandry stories. When Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon used the title it got my attention. When I found that the book was about elves in Los Angeles I decided to buy it. I've been meaning to pick up another Mercedes Lackey book ever since Mark Goldberg was so fenic about her. This one looked like a good one to try.

Well, the book has lots of "the right" elements. A human musician caught up in a war of elves, a menage á trois (or more, depending on how you read it -- it ends up with three), a de Lint vampire type (is it just me, or does it seem to you as if all of de Lint's bad guys are vampires of one kind or another?) and a cute modern setting. It even has the renaissance faires in it. This one didn't do it for me. Baen, $3.95/345 pages.

Sorcery and Cecelia, Patricia Wrede and Caroline Steverner, Ace $2.95/197 pages.

Extremely well done Elizabethean fantasy. Win picked it up for light reading, but it was worth the time.

Speaking of light reading, I really enjoyed Gardner/Infocom's Wishbringer. That was well done light fantasy of the first mode i.e.

first: light elements told seriously (a Midsummer Night's Dream).

second: light elements in a serious story (The Tempest).

<Note that a work, such as the Retief series, can combine the first two types.>.

third: lightly told stories (with the snickers barely concealed). <I don't like the final kind.>.

Finally, there is light fantasy that combines all three modes.

The Zork Chronicles by George Effinger/Infocom, Avon $4.50/290 pages is an example of a light fantasy combining modes. Such a work can only be judged by how it pulls it all together in the end. Zork (the book) comes away with a rating of "ok."

Wishbringer left me feeling as if I had played the game. Zork left me wondering what the game was about and how much I had missed. On the other hand, Zork had some nice serious touches and some good fun (where else do you see Campbell's hero cycle laid out, discussed and conformed to in a light fantasy?).

If you've played the game and read the book, let me know how the two compare.

The Death of Sleep by Anne McCafferey and Jody Lynn Nye, dedicated to Lida Sloan Moon. Preaches (e.g. page 102), contains some soft porn (e.g. page 125), and tells the tale of the life of Lunzie Mespil from the Sassinak novel by McCafferey and Moon.

Lapses include minuscule permanent memory space on college mainframes (the character upgrades from 320K to 2048K * * *), heavyworlders who are larger than normal humans (the square cube law works in reverse, don't you know), venereal diseases and body pests (say what? as a problem for the students at a medical school?), "distinguished woman of color (page 131)" (!?) and the rest.

All in all, not bad for science fantasy, not promoted as anything more. Baen, $4.95/380 pages. To properly evaluate it, compare it with Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy.

Citizen of the Galaxy, Robert A. Heinlein, and worth a re-read for the hidden humor. Rudbeck Cubed (in 1957!) and more in the way of subtle gems and gentle references. It is fun to see how Heinlein took the cliches and standard props of his era (slaves, free traders, etc.) and created a solid novel from it. Win wanted to know where I was hiding the sequel. If only I was.

Speaking of which * * *

Recently, in a rather pretentious (but not too readable) collection of "significant" science fiction short stories, a proposition was satirized. The proposition was that famous milieus ought to be opened and continued.

We kind of see it now. Arthur C. Clark's Venus series has other authors. Sanctuary/Thieves World; Lavlek; War for the Oaks1 :-); etc.

The writer asked the question of whether or not we really needed Heinlein's Lensmen novel (the one he got from Doc Smith and then didn't write) or more stories set in Andre Norton's Witch World or * * * you get the idea.

My response is yes. I'd gladly sacrifice Job for the last Lensmen story; I'm excited to see Crispin taking over parts of Norton's mythos; I enjoy seeing Darkover and Witch World short story collaborations by other authors in print.

Much of the Golden Age Science Fiction shared a number of background elements and assumptions and was stronger for that. The structure gives power and support to an author.

A good proof is a review of Cherryh's SF novels. The consistent background and setting adds power to the works. The same is true of Heinlein's "Future History" or Poul Anderson's "Mainline."

Compare these with fantasy authors who, while striving to find a setting, abandon the entire cultural fantasy heritage they were born with.

Footnote 1. War for the Oaks was a powerful story to which a number of books have since been compared. E.g. Drink Down the Moon -- a novel that had the same "feel" even though the plot was completely different and Knight of Ghosts and Shadows which really has a war over some oaks and live bands even if the the tone is completely different.

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