Wizardry Compiled by Rick Cook


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This sequel to Wizard’s Bane raised my hopes for a great discussion about the decentralization of power. Sadly, Cook passed on that opportunity.

In book one, Wiz shook up the world by creating basic spells as one creates computer programs. previously to his appearance in this unfamiliar place, only a select few could control magic. Now Wiz had granted magic to all people through the use of “magic programs.”

What happens when a society with no power is suddenly granted the power to be equal with their overseers? Chaos for one thing. The people began moving into the dark places and destroying every magical item in their path. Wiz created a spell for the people (called DDT) that granted a defense against magic. Someone hacked the program to destroy magic.

At the same time, Wiz, now elevated to the Wizardry Council, is playing politics and attempting to teach other students about “programming magic.” He is failing miserably and tearing up his marriage in the process. Ergo, Wiz heads out into the woods in a huff and is promptly kidnapped and transported to a far off continent by the remnants of the evil wizards he had banished. Wiz escapes, but is being hunted by a vicious creature created to sniff out his brand of magic and slaughter the one casting it. Now Wiz spends the majority of the book fleeing for his life and unable to use his magic.

Back on the farm, the people’s destruction of all things magic is creating a war between the magical people and humans. Since Wiz and his magic are the only things who can stop the coming war (and Wiz is missing), the wizards seek alternate solutions for defense. They send Wiz’s wife Moira back to Earth to retrieve some of Wiz’s friends. And here is where the book shines. Moira’s presence in the real world, her efforts to bring back programmers, and the responses of these geeks to this other life creates endless scenarios of fun.

The downsides: more profanity, crass situations and one adult situation. The last was really annoying as the only purpose was to create a situation that would setup book three. Seriously, there were other options. I couldn’t tell you how graphic it was as I skipped ahead. Just be aware.

Overall, if you read book one (and that is fun regardless of whether you continue in the series), then book two might make sense. I didn’t like book two enough (combined with the problematic material) to move on to book three.

Thoughts?

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The Supernaturalists by Eion Colfer


The Supernaturalists

Cosmo Hill, an boy abandoned and found on the hill he is named after. Quite the boy, in this futuristic world, Cosmo is subject whatever the boys home people do to him, simply because he is a no-sponsor. (a.k.a no friends/relatives to pay for his upkeep) To feed all these no-sponsor orphans, the orphanage allows various companies to perform chemical tests on the boys. Of course because of all this chemical stuff flowing through them, and the processed foods they get, the longest life anyone has is fifteen. Cosmo is fourteen and dreams of escape.

His chance comes when he is out with other orphans listening to music and their car crashes. Redwood, a very bad guy, tries to wrap Cosmo and his friend, Ziiplock, in the rib-breaking material for Ziplock’s smart comments. They escape, but in the process Ziplock dies and Cosmo gets very hurt.

A threesome group of Supernaturalists, teens hunting Parasites, invisible blue creatures who are believed to suck the life out of hurting people, find Cosmo. Cosmo learns that he too can see these Parasites, because of his near death experience, and so with his three new friends, embarks on a mission to kill the blue buggers before they kill them.

Negative: Not much, one of the bad guys is really mean, but he gets his just desserts. People get wrapped in stuff that breaks ribs and an orphanage mistreats all its occupants.

Overall: A good book, not quite the genius Artemis Fowl, (a series by Eion Colfer) but I enjoyed it. 🙂 Unfortunately my one of favorite character died, but be assured it wasn’t the main character. 🙂 If you’re looking for enjoyable mental junk food, with plenty of plot twists, this is it.

Wizard’s Bane by Rick Cook


Wizard's Bane by Rick Cook

I’m not much into fantasy, but this book caught my eye. Well, actually, my boss recommended it and it intrigued me. The one line description: a Unix programmer is pulled into another world where he develops a programming language for magic. That was enough to spark my interest.

Now, I’m not much of a programmer; mostly I can muck around with higher languages a little. Still, I understand enough to appreciate some of the finer points mentioned in the book. Don’t get turned off if you aren’t a programmer though. This is still a fun book.

Wiz, our hero, steps out of his office and into a strange world. He has just been sucked away from Silicon Valley into a world ruled by magic. The great wizard that summoned him is promptly killed by the Dark League; that would be before he tells anyone why he summoned Wiz in the first place. That leaves Wiz with a hedge witch named Moira fleeing the Dark League. Fleeing straight through the dangerous Wild Wood toward safety.

A good portion of the book details their flight to safety. Wiz is lost and confused; Moira bitter and resentful about her “babysitting” job. Wiz, while self-pitying, is also a bit of a martyr. He’s unprepared for this new life (he’s a programmer after all) and no one seems willing to recognize his frustration at being unceremoniously dumped into a foreign lifestyle with no preparation. They don’t particularly care about him nor understand why he was considered valuable.

Wiz is no magician, but he has an interesting skill. He can program. Everyone in this world can perform magic, but only wizards have skill at it. Wiz desires to create a programming language that will allow non-wizards to be able to run safely magical “programs.” (This idea of democratization of power is an interesting discussion and is being explored in the sequel that I am now reading.)

Once Moira is kidnapped and sequestered in the heart of the Dark League’s capital, Wiz enters a one man crusade against the evil. A non-wizard begins wages war on the strongest magical army on the planet. The stuff epics are made of….

Still, this was a fun book. Even if you don’t get into fantasy or programming, I’d love for you to pick up this relatively short book and tell me what you think. (There is some profanity.) I’d like to hear what other people think of this story and whether or not the whole programming thing works for you. Personally, I enjoyed it. What about you?

Say, anyone here have any programming experience? My best efforts can be found on this site: hit the forensics tab at the top of the page. That’s the best I’ve done. (And if you ask my old college professors, that’s probably miraculous as well….)

:-p

Timeline by Michael Crichton


Timeline

Can man travel through time? As cool as that sounds, I doubt it could be possible. I doubt it from a philosophical point of view: if I could travel in time, why couldn’t I change history? Crichton argues that no significant changes can be introduced, but his explanation falls a bit flat. Science teaches us that the introduction of new elements will always change the environment (ergo, by adding a new person in the past, we change history). So, could you go back and evangelize someone who has already died? So, no, I don’t think time travel could work even though it would be really cool.

In this book, Crichton bases his time travel on concept of the multiverse. This theory is based on quantum physics and Crichton does a good job of explaining it. (It’s a little disconcerting to have journalists treat this theory as tested fact….) Still, instead of actually traveling back in time, they travel via a worm hole back into an alternate universe at an earlier point in time via quantum mechanics. One of the biggest flaws with the logic is here: how can I modify something in a parallel universe and have it affect my current universe? Anyway, that’s nit picking. 🙂

If Crichton does one thing well, it’s that he manages to explain science in an understandable manner. Whether it’s a discussion of compression algorithms or quantum mechanics, he does the science justice.

Now, for the negatives: profanity, some descriptive Middle Ages violence, and an honest portrayal of the sins of the past. Not that he goes graphic in these sins, but they are stated and treated as common and unremarkable for that time. These things tend to be glossed over in modern histories, but Crichton doesn’t do that. He makes every attempt to ensure reality in this book.

In fact, this leads us to the benefit of the book: his historical accuracy. This book could be a treatise for the Middle Ages. Repeatedly, the characters lecture each other and passing people about an erroneous term: Dark Ages. In fact, the characters repeatedly tell us that western civilization owes the Middle Ages for modern financial, political, and industrial systems. All three areas were founded in the Middle Ages. In many ways, the time travel and the adventures of the time traveling team are merely artifices used to bring the past to life.

Any book that can cause my wife and I to stop and carry on scientific, political, sociological, or historical discussions is worth reading.

Oh wait, you wanted an idea of the plot? Novel idea for a book review…. This archaeologist is stuck in the past. His assistants/students go back to save him. Now go read the book and revel in the discussion and descriptions of an early period of life.

Brisingr By: Christopher Paolini


Brisingr

Just so we’re not confused: We are posting another point of view on Brisingr by another reviewer for more perspective. MTG

Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr is the third book of four in the Inheritance series, and I read it because I had already trudged through the first two books and wanted to know where the epic-length tale was headed. The reason I had first delved into his series was simply out of curiosity; I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a story about a boy and his dragon, right? And after the reviewing world hailed the series a masterpiece, I thought I should see what all the hype was about.

Brisingr (the word for “fire” in the ancient language) begins with Eragon, the last of the free dragon riders, who seeks the destruction of the evil beings who wreaked havoc on his family. He continues seeking for truth: truth about his life, role, and beliefs. He still grapples with his role in the destruction of the evil ruler, a Sauron-like character, who fell from his place as dragon rider years earlier.

Christopher Paolini grew up in Montana and graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. At the age of nineteen he published his first bestseller, Eragon (which also became a movie shortly thereafter). I was skeptical of this new writer at first, thinking that the only reason for his book’s popularity was because of the author’s demographics.

Paolini uses the English language masterfully (and even some of his created Elvish and Dwarvish languages), and I especially enjoyed his employment of new and exciting vocabulary words. His fresh ideas on fantasy bring to life his story; he does his best to avoid the hackneyed fantasy plots where the good guy always defeats the bad guy, gets the girl, and lives happily ever after. He also does a very good job of creating characters who act consistently throughout the plot without being too predictable.

The book’s jacket notes some praise for Paolini’s series: U.S. News & World Report says that Brisingr is “the new ‘It’ book of children’s lit.” I would contend that this statement is indeed far from truth. Objectionable elements crop up throughout the entire seven-hundred-page book. The gore factor in this book has been elevated much from the first two; the author goes into great detail of the manners in which the men die. Foul language is also scattered here and there. Paolini occasionally uses the words in a correct sense, but a majority of the time he uses the words simply as profanity. He has also skillfully woven in philosophical and religious tones. In one situation, a pagan god appears to the dwarves and blesses them. At another time, Eragon wonders if the atheism of the elves is the right way to believe. The book seems ambivalent on the issues and lends itself to further study. I would not recommend this book to children or young adults, who are yet forming their world views, and I think that those who commit to reading this series (this book especially) should do so with caution.

Brisingr By: Christopher Paolini


Brisingr

Plot: The third installment to the Inheritance cycle, originally a trilogy, begins a few days after where the last one left off.

Eragon, Roran and Saphira are hiding near Helgrind, a evil looking mountain that hides the Ra’zac, their hated enemies. They are watching a procession of people walking toward Helgrind. As they find out, the people are their to sacrifice to the Ra’zac, whom they consider gods. After a gruesome ceremony, the people leave and Eragon and Roran leave to wait until dawn for their attack on the evil fortress to rescue Katrina, Roran’s betrothed. Morning comes quickly and our two cousins set off on Saphira to find an entrance into the seemingly impenetrable mountain. As it turns out, the dark face of the mountain is a mere illusion. Finding this, the threesome fly inside; it is quiet, but soon the Ra’zac parents, large and ugly winged creatures, attack Saphira together, while their two children attack Eragon and Roran.

After a long fight, they rescue Katrina and Roran and Saphira leave Eragon, unwillingly, to stay and kill the last Ra’zac. He remains for his secret reasons, of course, he kills the Ra’zac and rescues Sloan, the man who betrayed Roran and his entire village to the Ra’zac months before. After learning Sloan’s ‘true’ name and sending him to the elves, Eragon heads back to the Varden on foot. He meets Arya along the way, finding out that she came to find him. Less than a week passes and Eragon and Arya arrive back at the Varden.

They have not too long to recuperate, for not a week passes before Galdaborix sends three hundred soldiers, (who cannot feel pain) to attack the Varden. Along with Thorn and Murtagh. Eragon and Saphira fly out to meet their long time foes in the air, and defeat them with the help of thirteen spell-casters below. Thorn and Murtagh, however defeated, get away. Thus ends the first battle of the book. Nasuada has ever increasing problems with the dwarfs and sends Eragon to encourage the dwarfs to pick a new king, before Galdaborix finds out that Eragon is not in the camp and tries to send Thorn and Murtagh back to attack the Varden.

Positive: Our liking of Eragon increases somewhat in this sequel to the sequel. Though he still could use a bit of help. He is learning to control his temper and tongue, which relieves us greatly. Galdaborix is shown to be even more evil in this book than in the last, and we come to wish him dead and gone long before the end. The author’s writing style is pleasant and detailed, if somewhat long winded. I must admit the book kept my attention most of the time.

Negative: There is a rather gruesome ceremony in the beginning, involving men cutting off their limbs in worship to the Ra’zac, and two slaves are left to be eaten by the Ra’zac. There is a contest between two leaders to see who is braver, which includes cutting ones arms repeatedly (namely eight times) until one of the two gives way and can’t take anymore. Gods are mentioned and one briefly seen. There’s the blood of battles, but not much else. (I think he spends two too many chapters on Roran, Eragon’s cousin.) A man is flogged with fifty lashes.

Overall: The author has a hugely complicated plot, one which is rather creative. I think he has bit too much detail at times. The author is, for the most part, very good at keeping ones attention engaged. I think I have enjoyed the first book best. I mostly enjoyed this book and would recommend it, if the forth makes up for the second and third.

Eldest By: Christopher Paolini


Eragon

Plot: The Eldest picks up where Eragon left off, in the Varden.

The leader of the Varden dies while fighting Urgals in a tunnel, Murtagh was with him and they cannot find his body and assume him dead.

Eragon grieves Murtagh’s loss, but he has enough going on that he cannot just sit and think about it. A war is on, and he must get training from the elves. He takes a long journey there with a dwarf and Arya. There, he meets Orimas and his dragon, his new teachers. Eragon stays for many months learning to control his magic etc. In addition, Saphira take flying and fighting lessons from Orimas’s dragon.

After many months Eragon and Saphira hurry back to the Varden because of trouble, Galdaborix is planning to attack the Varden’s camp. They arrive in time to be informed of all the details when, a few days later, battle is upon them.

Throughout all this, Roran, Eragon’s cousin, is saving his village, losing his betrothed to the bad guys, and taking his entire village on a trip to the Varden. He finds that Eragon is the only one who can help him rescue Katrina, so he is journeying to find Eragon and enlist his help.

Positive: Our hero seems to mature a bit in this book. We get to know him a little better, and the author does a good job of keeping your nose in the book. It is fun to see Saphira become better at flying and fighting in the air. The battles were well laid out and highly interesting to read about. The author did a good job in keeping some of the plot twists surprises, and they were fun to uncover.

Negative: Close to the end, Eragon is in a sort of dragon ceremony, and in order to summon the dragon spirit these twin girls have to do this special dance….naked. They have a dragon tattoo that runs on both of them, and it… I think…comes to life in a sense and talks to Eragon. I think there were a few swear words, and there is killing of course.
Our author’s elves are not very likable; they are rather stuck up and vain.

Overall: This was a well-written book, but there were several parts that could have been shorter, (his training) and the dragon ceremony could have been changed. I would call it memorable, but then again, I am extremely picky about the fantasy I read. It has to be really good to be a good book, not just enjoyable, but good.

So this book cycle will be good, if the forth is.