The Starlight Mage 25

Copyright 1991 by

Stephen R. Marsh

1401 Holliday Street

Union Square #316

Wichita Falls, Texas 76301

Temporary Return

Single Issue Only


West of Eden (The End of Innocence at Apple Computer) by Frank Rose. Viking 1989, 343 pages.

This is the story of how an egotist who couldn't manage people got bounced by a manager who wouldn't manage until forced to by the people. It is also the story of how Apple sold a $500.00 Mac for $2,495.00. Entertaining.

It could easily support a science fiction novel with a different technological breakthrough.

Isle of View (Xanth13) by Piers Anthony. William Morrow & Company, Inc. (a hardback), 344 pages.

Elfquest meets Xanth to save a dying young girl. (This describes how and why the novel was written and what actually happens in the novel. It is things like this that illustrate why Anthony deserves his fans).

Servant of Empire by Feist & Wurts. Doubleday, 580 pages.

Book 1 was "Petal Throne meets Shogun." This book is a generic romance novel crossed with trilogy Part II. While it is well written and while it (I assume) complements the other side of the Rift War saga, you need to be prepared for the underlying material and plot structure. Interesting.

Mazeway by Jack Williamson. Ballantine $3.95, 263 pages.

Aliens, a philosophical game, and not enough character development. Illustrates the difference between the old style writers and the new. Too bad in some ways. The idea is kind of neat but the execution was either too much or too little.

Williamson gives us too much "flash" and extra for this to be an old style SF novel, not enough fleshing out for this to be a new style one.

Phoenix (Vlad Taltos5) by Steven Brust, PJF (? -- vas ist PJF?). Ace $4.50, 246 pages.

Brust is a new writer (vis a vis Williamson as an old one). Note that the book is both shorter and more expensive, the cover has extra quality and that the hype is really heavy where the teaser should be.

This book is a step back from the increasing sophistication that the series was showing (the books increased in sophistication -- not in order of publication -- but rather in their internal chronological order -- a neat writing twist). This one sidesteps many of the building issues and tensions and sets the stage for a complete shift in the storylines.

I found myself wondering if Brust wasn't going through some mid-life writers crisis himself. His Vlad Taltos series sells well, but it is really just a write-up of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (with circa Eldritch Wizardry rules) that has an interesting explanation for psionics and a nice development of the elves/ humans/ etc.

The series suffered from the fact that the hero made his life as an assassin/whoremaster/etc./professional criminal/mafia boss. Brust suffers from an inability to write anything else with the same degree of depth, characterization and depth of plot structure.

Both seem to be trying to escape and redeem themselves.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Bantam Book $3.95, 370 pages.

Pages 1 to 30 illustrate some real aliens. Pages 31ff show why those aliens are not any different from you and I. Pretends to be the most accurate depiction ever of the space program but is in reality a much deeper and more powerful book.

The Eye of the World, 800 pages.

The Great Hunt, 600 pages.

Both by Robert Jordan, TOR. Trade paper or normal paper.

Piers Anthony hits it right on the head with his plug (printed on the cover). Compared to The Summer Tree, etc., it is a much better written series (at least to volume two).

(I was disappointed with The Darkest Road. The entire Lancelot and Arthur routine was grafted onto the plot. Arthur did little, made no significant difference, just waived the king spear about to little impact. Lancelot should have raised a central character from the dead but had forgotten that ability by the time it was needed, having already used it once just for journalistic show. Well written, the kind of writing that brings tears to the eyes, but still a graft that does not satisfy).

[On the other hand, with Jordan's book, one could have fun with a RQ adaptation of the Aes. Obviously, if POW > 18, then one begins to channel. Each point over 18 is automatically sacrificed to channeling and allows one magic point from the true source to flow through to spells each melee round.

A strong Aes, with perhaps 15 or 20 points of POW stored away in that fashion, could cast a lot of spirit magic or sorceries.

Spell learning is easy and automatic (rather than requiring teaching).]

Never Deal with a Dragon, by Robert C. Charrette. Cataloged in bookstores under Shadowrun. First in the "Secrets of Power" series. ROC, 377 pages/ $4.50.

Ok, first things first, the novel reads well. The writing style is smooth and clean. This puts it a step up from several commercial series and spin offs.

The plot is nicely handled and fairly clean. Readily (and properly) telegraphed, everything develops as it should.

I don't play Shadowrun and have not read the rules, but the story seems to be consistent with what I have been told about the game.

The characterizations are consistent with the genre, with a few weaknesses. E.g. Sally, the street mage. She enters, long hair and large breasts, having sex with Ghost, the cybernetic Indian warrior (whose criticisms of the society follow comments I've read on the game). The character taking us on the scene has fond memories of her and the lead character will soon have the same as she dumps Ghost (without a word of good-bye) to jump into the sack with Sam, generating bad feelings without explanation or acknowledgment.

Similar stuff happens here and there. The characters do get developed with backgrounds that justify all the twitchiness, but * * *

Speaking of which,

The first installment of the third Ender Wiggins novel by Orson Scott Card is out.

When we last saw Ender (in Speaker for the Dead), he was sitting in the middle of a host of potential deus ex machinas, at a loss of which to use in order to overcome a potential adversary. In typical Gothic romance fashion he takes the easy way out -- he uses none of them and lets the situation get really bad.

Not good. Seriously, Card has come a long way from his brilliant children tortured by adults. He now has brilliant adults tortured by children (makes one wonder just how often his children sleep all the way through the night).

His characterizations (when he takes the time for them) are powerful and moving. The latest Ender novel seems to have some real brilliance. It has best seller mainstream potential because of the scope of the writing, the gentle references and the powerful feelings.

However, in less than half an hour of reflection, I could have solved some of the major problems facing the characters (though, to be honest, not without turning the novel into a golden age sort of thing).

I had really assumed that somehow Plikt would speak for Andrew Wiggins in a way that ended the conflict.

*****spoiler warning. do not read the material inside the asterisks if you do not want to be tipped off on essential plot moves.

Ender has the following problem. A slower-than-light civilization exists that is tied together by slower-than-light space travel and instantaneous ansible communications.

Living in the network of instant communications is a computer related entity. (The books clearly state that the intelligence arose in the ansible network and was only influenced by the computer programs). The entity, Jane, has a minimum flow of ansible communications necessary to sustain life and is capable of complete control of any computer or ansible technology.

Her minimum size is that of the human sphere communications at the end of the Bugger war. Something that could be build as an artificial construct in deep space, with or without self-replicating robotics.

So, what would I have done with over twenty years to prepare for a visit by the dictatorship that rules the hundred worlds? The dictatorship that engages in eugenics, slavery, secrecy and military oppression?

First, I would have started building an auxiliary ansible network to create philotic strands for Jane. We are really just talking spaceships with ansibles on them. The cover to do it could easily be a secret government project of military drones. Build some self-replicating robots and establish non-planet based factories.

In twenty years, given the technology of the time of the Bugger Wars, Jane would have over 100 times her minimum mind space. With drones containing only minimal weapons, lots of computer, ansibles and power supplies, cyberspace would be real.

Second, I would engage in building virtual realities. While Plikt wrote for Ender, Ender could write for Jane and all that computer capacity on the drones could be put to use creating a virtual reality for the ships of the invasion/punitive fleet and those in contact with them.

The Chinese derivative culture of the new Ender novel could be set to work on a new system of government for the hundred worlds.

Third, I would take over the hundred worlds and re-structure them, hoping that my think-tank had succeeded in a stable system.

Thirty years down the line Jane should have enough computing power to do the trick, be capable of surviving even the death of humanity, and have the firepower to cure anyone of delusions of superior firepower.


Obviously this solution has some problems. It is mechanical and does not call for great personal stress for the characters nor for extreme plot tension.

It also is difficult. How does one tell the stories of Jane, Ender and the rest and reconcile humanity to them in the midst of (a relatively mild) civil war and change.


I suspect that most people saw some combination of the persons in the earlier novels, rather than Card adding a new set of people. A guess would be that Card was forced to shift to a new set of characters in order to get an outside handle on things. Starting with any existing character from the first two books makes it impossible to avoid the deus ex machina sorts of solutions.

As it is, I wonder if Jane did not give the Chinese derivatives a bit of virtual reality. The outside world thinks it is talking in, the inside world thinks they are talking out, but both are now in dream worlds. On a smaller scale, the same could have been done to daughter.

Anyway, that is my comment. Card gives no reason why Ender (or Jane or half a dozen other people) have not thought out ways to make Jane invulnerable and from there, how to use Jane's access as a trump card.

*****End of Spoiler*******

Choose Your Enemies Wisely, by Robert C. Charrette. Cataloged in bookstores under Shadowrun. Second in the "Secrets of Power" series. ROC, $4.50.

Ok, the first book was good enought that I went out and bought a scenario (The Universal Brotherhood -- good enough to justify buying it just to read) and then bought the rules. My copy of the rules is missing some pages (printed blank, I wrote FASA for replacement pages, still no reponse), but it was good enough I bought a supplement and another scenario.

And I bought the second novel in the series.

Better. Some of the twitchiness is explained, redemption may come yet.

Sir Twist, the wageslave become shaman from the first book, continues on his quest to find his sister. Lots of twists, lots of movement and lots of resolution. Better than the Dumarest or Diadem novels at giving a solid end while leaving the quest's end for the next book. Even better, I'd bet that the quest's end will occur next book.

Charrette writes suprisingly well for a "newcomer." He also manages to be completely true to the rules in his writing. Has anyone seen him under a different name or something? I'd like to see more.

The Dragon Knight by Gordon R. Dickson. Good, but too long between books. There is lots of good stuff available now. Worth a drop by the library.

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear. Good science fiction. Well done merges of science and science fiction in areas usually given over completely to science fantasy. E.g. pages 93 to 96 give us the model of how the mind works as is currently believed. Well explained, well handled. It is meshed well with the cyberpunk matrix basis thereafter. Well done.

Otherwise it is a good book. You know that sometimes Bear writes incredibly demanding novels, almost impossible to carry off. Other times they read like simplex transplants. This is a literary work of art and a decent book. Those things in that order.

May be more suited to an English Lit. class than the Hugo, but it demonstrates a wide range of skill, ability and depth in the author.

Silent Dances by A.C. Crispin and Kathleen O'Malley. It is Andre Norton with more text. Interesting stuff. Basically a deaf girl (the handicapped Norton hero) on a world of sonic danger (in a local where the handicap does not matter//is an advantage), conflicting races and nasty poachers (jacks). Classic Norton with an updated writing style.

The author catches the arrogance and anger of the deaf very well. (I've always wanted to react to an aggressive deaf person by taking off my glasses. This novel captures the same moving sort of passions and attitudes that inspires that response.) The aliens are Nortonesque.

This is a step up from the whining griffin series Crispin got involved in and has some promise if you miss Andre Norton whose output seems to have fallen.

My only regret is that it wasn't closer/set in Andre's world (but it may be, the time frame is different).



I currently have complete and revamped rules for heroquesting. Pendragon is no longer necessary to use the system, nor is Glorantha.

The essays are on floppy disk, in Wordstar 5.5 format. The files are:

SLM21 (27k) 14 pages.

This is a sample heroquest.

SLM22 (60k) 29 pages.

Heroquest I essay. The first essay, complete with comments on Mauer, Stafford and other systems of Heroquesting.

SLM23 (29k) 13 pages.

Heroquest II essay. The second essay, covering GM issues, trait packages, etc.

SLM24 (26k) 14 pages.

Answers questions, provides additional details.

3 the Character Sheet.

4 rules for racial and other mysteries.

These are available on 5¼" floppy disks, IBM format with Wordstar 5.5 file structure. Send me a dollar cash and fifty-four cents in postage and I'll mail you a floppy.

Previous editions are out an about. Feel free to copy them if you can find them.


SHADOW WARS (revisited)

For those of you interested in Runequest compatable rules for a near future in which magic has returned, I have two floppies of material.

These are in Wordstar 5.5 format, contain sample characters, settings and scenarios, and lots of supplemental rules, histories and related materials.

The files are also on the PUBLIC BRAND SOFTWARE bullitin board at (317) 856-2319.

I have two floppies (unarchived) of material, available for the dollar + postage as above.

As my "near future" is 1989, it is fure sure correct as to history.

Readily integrated into any Chaosium product campaign (Call of Cthulhu, Ringworld, Stormbringer, et al.)

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