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?

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

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.

Ever by Gail Carson Levine


Ever

Plot: “Ever” is a story much like that in the Bible, in the book of Judges, where a man in battle promises G-d that he will sacrifice the first person that greets him if they win. Well, in the Bible, they win the battle and when the man returns home; his daughter comes out to greet him.

In “Ever”, however, Kezi’s, our heroine, father promises their god, Admat that if he heals his wife, that whoever congratulates him within three days he will sacrifice. All goes well until Kezi’s Aunt comes over for a visit; they had thought themselves safe from her because she was away. They had set up a guard to keep visitors away, but their Aunt, being a pushy woman, discards all warning and enters to congratulate her brother on his wife’s return to health. However, before the words are out of her mouth, Kezi quickly congratulates her father to save her Aunt and faints. She wakes to everyone crying around her, remembering what occurred, she too cries. After several hours, they plead with Admat to allow her one more month to live, before they sacrifice her. Admat’s alter candle flickers, signing to them that they have one month.

Through all this, the god of wind watches all that goes on; and slowly, without realizing it, falls in love with Kezi. After meeting with her in a wedding, and saving her from a horrible admirer, the god of wind tells Kezi that she can escape her death in only one way, by becoming a goddess. Leaving her parents with a note that she is well, Kezi leaves with the god of wind to prove she is a heroine and become a goddess.

Positive: The writing style in this book is quite different from the ones I have read so far. Instead of setting it from one person’s point of view, Levine sets each chapter from either our hero or heroines point of view. It was unique to me and I enjoyed it.

I believe the authoress makes it clear, that the father’s choice in making the promise he did to his god was completely foolish.

Negative: Our hero and heroine do quite a bit of kissing prior to marriage, and live together for one month, alone. They do not sleep together, except once when the authoress writes Kezi “snuggles close” to the god of winds. There are gods and goddesses in the book, so parents might want to caution their children, if they do not know already, that these gods do not exist.

Overall: I did enjoy this book, not as much as her other fairy tale adaptations, such as Fairest (previously reviewed by Sincerelyornot) and Elle Enchanted, but it was fun. It is a small 244 pages, but enjoyable to the end.

Though I will admit I did not find our heroines ‘heroism’ very heroic, I will not spoil it for you unless you doubt you will never read it.

I recommend this book if you feel the need to break from reality, a mental junk food that has a good story line.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

While traveling recently, my wife brought along the final installment of the Harry Potter series. Having read all of the books (entirely as audio books) and watched the movies, I finally am ready to write a little bit about them. For a long time, I have heard Christians rail on the stories as being anti-God, demonic etc…. I have heard Christians proclaim that the books can be used to teach people about God (like others have done with the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars). I say they are both wrong.

Before I make comments on the series generally, I’d like to give a few observations about this specific book. For starters, Rowling did an excellent job of wrapping up the series and pulling together threads from the last few books. It would appear that the last half of the series had a much more coherent plot structure than the first couple of books. The ending was satisfying and conclusive. There were no loose ends hanging around that opened the door for a sequel.

On the flip side, there was more profanity in this book than the rest of the series combined. Rowling is no longer writing for children (her original audience is either in college or graduated now). This book has plenty of death and violence but that would fit with the nature of war. Overall, I enjoyed the conclusion to this series.

Some Christians have argued against the use of magic. I hope they also boycott the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia for the sake of consistency. I don’t really understand that point of view and I probably only have one objection on that front. The Harry Potter books present magic in the hands of normal real-life children unlike other fantasy that sets the magical powers in a far flung world. There is a definite blurring of the edges between reality and fantasy in these books. I have been in the rooms of children and seen the Harry Potter craze; the materials encourage the children to practice “good” magic. Whatever. If children are believing this to be real, then there are other issues.

If I were to object to these books, it is because they encourage children to disobey, use profanity, and encourage general behaviors inconsistent with Christian character (think: revenge, anger, hate, theft, lying etc…). I will probably use them as training tools some day to teach my children about handling objectionable elements. But that’s me and I’ve got time before that becomes an issue so who knows? I could change my mind by then. 🙂 And those who try to use this to teach Christian values? Get your head screwed on straight. There is nothing Christian about these books. As there is nothing Christian about The Lord of the Rings.

One other negative. Rowling can’t write. Sorry. No offense meant, but she can’t. She has created excellent characters, a great plot line and an enjoyable “universe,” but that doesn’t mean she can write. Her books tend to drag along for large sections. In this book, Harry, Hermione, and Ron all sit around in a tent for months. Literally. Then occasionally, dumb luck would wander in and hand them clues to follow. After that, it was back to sitting around for weeks on end. (This goes on for chapters.) Her plots drag as if she were filling in words to make a bigger book that sells for a higher price. My wife and I were talking about Rowling and we’re not certain if she can transition to anything else. It will be interesting to see if she is successful at any new writing ventures.

Overall, I enjoyed the plot lines and would certainly recommend them to teenagers and adults. The creativeness of the stories make them worth reading. Rowling is certainly creative if she is anything. Still, there are plenty of reasons to object to the material included in these books. A parent should read them alongside their children if they choose to allow their kids to read them at all.

Your thoughts? Care to write a dissenting review?

Some earlier thoughts by Tim Taylor:
Magic and Harry Potter/
Harry Potter Continued/
Realism in Harry Potter/
Conclusion of Harry Potter Series/

Star Born by Andre Norton


Star Born

Star Born brings an interesting twist to science fiction (at least from my experience and perspective). Norton explores the differences of two groups of humanity that have developed differently for decades. That isn’t unusual in itself; what is unique is the subtle differences formed by climate, civilization, governance and genetic strains.

The group that colonized Astra settled into a peaceful existence with the natives of the planet. Technological skills were minimal, but a healthy symbiosis with the planet had developed. Norton obviously styled the settlers after Native American Indians. The “Westerners” or Explorers from Earth are full of strife and struggle with the influences that a complex culture places on people: one character, Raf Kurbi, from Earth stumbled into trouble when he mentioned feelings reminiscent of prejudice. That was an unacceptable faux pas regardless of the instinctual reaction an alien race brought up within him.

In the end, you have three main characters and four racial groups. Dalgard is chief of the characters and represents the Astaran colonists. Raf has traveled with new Terran explorers. Sssurri represents the Astaran Mer-people. Finally, Those Others from the past thought to be extinct.

Dalgard, on a quest to enter manhood, (joined by Sssuri) stumble upon evidence that the evil Others had returned. While Sssuri seeks help against this ancient enemy, Dalgard explores the ruined city of the Others to determine the extent of the return. Meanwhile, Raf and his party have joined forces with the Others who are desirous of assistance against their ancient enemy: the Mer-people. Raf and Dalgard slowly move towards each other and eventually bridge the gap created by a century of differences.

Raf must choose between obedience to his commanding officer who supports the Others and the unknown human being hunted by the Others that his gut tells him to trust. Dalgard, must stand in the gap to assist the Mer-people against this new onslaught of danger.

The decisions made in conclusion leave much to ponder. Are the two groups of humans to separate to be rejoined? Or are they not separated enough? Are the differences to great or to small? What benefit would be gained by rejoining contact now?

Overall? Fun book. Plenty of action, lot of intriguing interaction between the various groups. If you have time, pick this up and read it. Light reading with a creative environment but thought provoking if you want to spend the time and ponder it.

Links:
Buy it here
Listen to it here (Excellent reader by the way)
Read it here

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner


Queen of Attolia

Plot: As I mentioned in my review of “The Thief,” there are four countries, Attolia, Sounis, Eddis and Mede.

Our story begins in Attolia, where we open to find Eugenides sneaking through the queen’s palace. The alarm has been set and they are hunting him down, unalarmed Eugenie’s makes his way to the palace’s outer wall, he becomes increasingly troubled, as soldiers seem to be at every corner. After a good chase through the town, Eugenides runs through the olive groves to the river. It being dark, our hero does not see the boards, nailed between two trees, blocking his path. Banging his head he falls to the ground, unable to rise, the queen’s dogs grab him and keep him down until the guards come for him. After much debate and thought, the queen of Attolia decides to hang him, but through the Mede ambassador’s persuasion, she has Eugenides hand cut off. After a few days lying in pain in his cell, Eugenides is returned to his worried queen. Enraged at the anguish brought to her beloved thief, the queen of Eddis captures the next ten large Attolian caravans that come through the pass, she sends the people home and keeps the merchandise. Attolia tells her to return the merchandise or she will deem it an act of war. War it is.

Eugenides’s hand is healed and he has started appearing in public every now and again. We find out later, that he did not know about the war, only because he didn’t want to. When he does ‘find’ out, he takes action, which the reader will find to be fairly humorous. (At least I did.) Through a series of events, Eugenides is led to leave Eddis and return with a glorious plot for bringing Attolia to her knees. He plans to take a brigade of men and capture the queen of Attolia.

Positive: In this sequel to “The Thief,” the plot is a little more obvious, but not much.

For a brief period in the book our hero sulks around for a bit, but his attitude improves and he stops sulking. Eventually he comes to find, that, even with one hand, he is still dangerous to his enemies. Humor is given at just the proper times, to relieve the stress of seeing our beloved hero go through pain, there also humor when he is not in pain as well. There is not as much humor in this book as in the first, but its still just as funny.

The Queen of Attolia, though bad to start out with, becomes good and repents. This book demonstrates forgiveness, loyalty and trust. Something all of us could use.

Negative: The main negative actions in this book are lying and several swear words, there is little stealing. There are a few references to torture, but nothing is put in detail. Our hero gets his hand cut off, that goes in to some amount of detail, but nothing unbearable. (Thankfully) Following the loss of his hand, he has constant nightmares, which he wakes up screaming to. A woman is threatened with drowning and our hero is slapped a few times. Again, there are gods in this book, (of earth, sky, thieves, mountains etc.) but in the back the authoress states that they were all invented by her imagination. That just about covers it.

Overall: Just as the first, I liked this book very much. I have read it, and its sequel several times over. They are the type that you can read over and over without becoming tedious. Our hero is pure genius, as is our authoress who gave our hero life. And even though we learned much of his character in the first book, it is still unclear what he is really up to many times throughout the plot. The authoress has a fine way of bringing you into her books, and giving you hints as well as keeping the main plot a secret.

I recommend this book to all. If you like a page turning work of fiction, you will love Megan Whalen Turners “The Queen of Attolia.”