Starlight Mage

Volume 3, Number 15

Stephen R. Marsh

Suite 316 Union Square

1401 Holliday Street

Wichita Falls, TX 76308


Or why the characters move so fast.

Most writers and most FRPGers do not appreciate just how fast some real people can move. For example, in fast draw competition, to be competitive you have to be able to react to the signal, draw, hit two targets and reholster inside of .25 seconds. (The average person takes .5 seconds in order to hit the brakes in response to a red light.)

At ten-to-one slow motion that fast draw motion is only 2.5 seconds -- still faster than most writers or GMs would allow a character to act -- and still too fast when watching instant replay of slow motion cameras.

Trained speed is similar to trained running ability or body building. While, these days, I can't even comfortably walk twenty miles in a day I once dated a girl who, as the result of good training, was easily running twenty miles every day. Similarly, I may not be able to bench press much, but I've seen people bench over six hundred pounds.

I've lifted that six hundred pounds short distances (2"-3" or so) and when running Mentor discovered that my average reaction time is .19 to .18 seconds (averages per 10 to 12 attempts). I expect it would improve with practice.

Guess it really came home to me when I was watching the second Conan movie and watched Arnold do something that I know Arnold can do but that I did not really believe a fictional character could accomplish. Sure. Only in real life. Remember, most real people can do more than fantasy ones.


Songs of the Dancing Gods, Jack Chalker, Ballentine $4.95/322 pages.

Chalker has done a fair number of boy-meets-girl sub-plots. The clearest set of those is in his Lords of the Diamond series where each of the secret agent's mental clones ends up with (or as) the girl of his dreams.

More often, of late, Chalker seems to be writing boy-becomes-girl novels. Many of these are unsatisfying, have messy wrap-ups and in toto got him removed from several reviewers' lists.

Songs is a return to the Dancing Gods setting after the trilogy is over, but with the same characters. It does not have a particularly happy ending, evidences a great deal of disastisfaction with fantasy by the the author, and yet is an improvement. The book leaves open a XANTH sort of sequel (where the supporting characters become the main characters), but resolves the major conflicts.

Kent Montana and the Really Ugly Thing From Mars, Lionel Fenn, Ace $3.95/197.

I bought this book only because a green "New" sticker hid from me the horrible truth. This novel is by the same author who wrote Quest for the White Duck. Ugly is a major improvement.

It manages to be funny without smirking and to laugh without giggling.


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. However, Cooper seems to be rushing the production and the page count.

E.g. 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, but did not set up the logic of the resolution strongly enough.

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.

Be warned that there is some filler (Cooper is apparantly putting out two to three long novels in the series every year) and that often dramatically correct things happen at the right time without sufficient structure to justify them. Not bad though.

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 ti 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 human character well (though he could have stretched him just a bit more -- one more freeze and he could have made it to the end of time), 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.


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. Probably the only story out about a boy and a girl and their elf. Your mother won't like the bi-sexuality.

(Note that I liked Lackey's Children of the Night enough to overlook her ghosts and shadows. I'm currently ordering a copy of Burning Water.)

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: serious elements told lightly. These can be fun.

fourth: lightly told stories (with the snickers barely concealed). Generally, one of these stories has light elements and is told lightly, without strict attention to logic. Quest for the White Duck faded into this sort of mode at the end and is the reason I disliked Fenn so much.

Finally, there is light fantasy that combines all of the first 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.

Saints by Orson Scott Card, TOR $4.95/713 pages.

Semimythical semihistoric fiction. First printed as a romance novel, re-written as a hardback, re-released as a paperback, it combines elements from the lives of two Mormon pioneer women (Eliza R. Snow and another woman) and their mythical relations.

To confuse matters, while it contains the standard disclaimers (No resemblance to any person living or dead) it does contain actual historical individuals, "quotes" from "real" documents, and an "acknowledgement" section.

Very much Michner/Clavell type history (e.g. about as real as the novel Shogun was). The sort of thing where Madonna Monroe wakes up in bed with her husband John Kennedy to see Walter Cronkite reporting (live on the morning TV news) from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Different. Really different. Really, really different. Lots of pages for your money. Lots of sex for Card. All the suffering children make good and .... you know, typical Card stuff.

Better than Folk of the Fringe, selling all over at 30% off (and deserving the discount). Folk shows the results of Card when rushed and not sufficiently edited. Ok, but who needs ok from Card? I read Card's work when I need something great.

Shadowspeer by Jo Clayton, DAW $4.50/342 pages.

The middle of a trilogy about Shadeth/Shadow. This one reads like the middle. Well done, with a post-holocaust cover that bears some close examination (as the novel is not post-holocaust).

If you've read Clayton's Diadem series, this is the story of Shadeth, once trapped in the Diadem and now free. In book one she fled a rapist only to be kidnapped as a player in a planetary epic designed to end in destruction. With the help of a (well telegraphed) deus ex machina she escapes the enemy in book one.

She and her co-victims swear revenge.

In Shadowspeer they get about the business of seeking revenge before the bad guy gets them first. Most of the story is about the efforts and work put in by Shadeth in tracking down and cracking a very slight lead in very difficult circumstances.

The end sets up for book three by setting up a complete new stage for all the major characters to act on. Promises to be interesting.

Dare to go Hunting (sequel to Flight in Yiktor) by Andre Norton, TOR $3.95/248 pages.

Andre Norton closes the circle between her fantasy and her science fiction in this novel and continues the stories of several sets of characters (including the ones from Moon of Three Rings). A nice "typical" Norton book. (I know, there really isn't a typical Norton work, but this is the short of thing a reviewer means when he/she tries to pigeonhole Norton's SF writings).

The Cage by S.M. Stirling and Shirley Meier, Baen $3.50/402 pages.

The cover sold long before it ended up on the book, but the cover captures the two heroines well. No cage on the cover and very little cage in the book. The quoted review is misleading, the title stretched (but then the book is hard to title other).

While the cover would lead you to think of a female Gray Mouser/etc. team from Leiber, the story is not the tale of revenge nor is it a "buddy" story. The authors write about the development and evolution of the characters.

This makes all the difference in the world. I'm not fond of buddy stories told with sexual intertwinings (and this book, with its occasionally detailed polysexual couplings, does not pass the "mother" test for adolescents). I'm not fond of the bad guy's evil being handled on stage. I'm not terribly fond of anachronistic post-nuclear-holocaust fantasy settings with terribly grim and decayed societies.

However, all of these work in this novel and are central to the way the characters are developed and the kind of novel the authors wrote.

I'm not sure I can recommend the book, but it was interesting and well executed. I'll read the next collaboration by the authors.

Hawk & Fisher by Simon Green, Ace $3.95/213 pages. The lightweight of the bunch. Cover by Royo.

In theory this book is about the never ending war against crime -- a sort of "cops" book set in a slightly more prosperous setting than the Sanctuary series used.

In reality the novella is a detective novel with paper-thin characterizations. The clues are all clearly laid out and the material properly developed for a proper detective/mystery sort of book. You can solve it yourself if you read the clues right.

But. Urgh. The characters are only sketched and sometimes not believable. You can't just sketch some characters to have the setting be real. The honest politician. The devoted aide. The mystery man. The real hero. Just too many extremes all rolled into one without a word spared for any purpose unrelated to the detective/mystery story.

200 more pages and some better thought to the background and it could have been a fantasy novel. This book is merely a detective/mystery genre sketch with some fantasy props.


Carpe Diem. More later on this book. Enjoyed it. Kind of like the Keltaid, only the technology makes more sense, the magic is cleaner and the characterizations have more maturity and force. Best, the martial arts seem real rather than boilerplate listed and forced. You can tell I liked it and was irritated by the Keltaid book I read.

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