Fantasy League Round 2: The Silicon Mage
And now it’s time for book 2, particularly since The Silent Tower ended on a cliffhanger. Though the spoilers are rather less epic than for the first book… watch out.
This book is pretty much the continuation of the last one. Our heroine, Joanna, does a bunch of hacking of the Suraklin’s stuff (he who body-snatched her jerk of a boyfriend). She gets a bunch of supplies, and follows him back through the Void to Ferryth to rescue Antryg and save both worlds from his evil plan to download himself into a computer built by Gary pre-body-snatching, powered by draining all the magic and hope out of both our world and theirs. (Epic spoiler: They succeed in saving the day.)
And now, the good, the bad, and the ugly:
1. Crazy Prepared — Joanna tries to do this before she heads back to Ferryth. Renaissance-type dress to pass for normal? Check. Gold and small gems purchased with a small slice of the bad guy’s supplies, to trade for local currency? Knife? Check. .38 colt? Check. Massive printout of bad guy code that she hasn’t had time to finish studying yet? Check. (This was the 80s. Nowadays, I assume she’d take a laptop and spare batteries.) Flashlight? Floppy with a worm to destroy the bad guy’s computer of evil? Saw, and spare carbide blades, for breaking Antryg out? Check, check, check. She later berates herself for forgetting to pack a better coat. I approve.
2. The Idiot Ball — Thankfully, the characters don’t play with this too much. Joanna’s baseline plan is “Hack computer; have the worm eat it.” Antry has “use the anti-magic device that was previously used to chain me up” as his plan, as backup to Joanna’s… which gets used when bad-guy Suraklin uses a little lightning to wipe the floppy. And, in addition to fighting the heroes with his massive magic skills, he imported a machine gun. His computer? Has a backup power supply, so if something goes wrong, he has time to zap people and then fix the problem. During the “gray periods,” when all hope (and much sanity, and the ability to do magic) is drained from everybody, people do carry the idiot ball sometimes… often, actually, but at least there’s an external excuse.
3. Now Introducing World #3 — Remember those holes in the Void due to due much interworld travel? One of them (finally) accidentally dumps an intelligent alien into Ferryth. Which is awesome. He’s a technician working on interdimensional travel who got curious. Unfortunately, he can’t breath the air. Fortunately, his body doesn’t decay and he can use his psychic power as a disembodied spirit. Unfortunately, he ends up a messed-up and confused poltergeist, munching on humans for their psychic energy, which makes him sick, and possessing their bodies, which also screws him up big time. He tries to reconstruct a body like his own using the corpses of humans worshiping him as the Dead God, which results in a monstrosity with four arms and a couple of ribs for incisors and … okay, TMI. This is generally well done, including the vagaries of the translation spell (for instance, “quantum” makes sense to Joanna, but not to Antryg). The main issue I have with this part? To try to talk him down, Joanna tries to remind him of his roots — by tapping out familiar number. Like pi, and Planck’s constant. Which is great… except she taps in base ten. Apparently, the alien guys use base ten, too. Which is strangely lucky. For that reason, sequences of integers like primes or the Fibonacci sequence would be a better choice in such a situation.
4. Power Problems — The issue here is Caris. Because Antryg is being hunted down, if he uses his magic for anything big in most of the story, our heroes will be toast. So, while they’re in the guise of being a doctor, student, and assistant, Caris (as the student) has to get enough information from Antryg to save a woman’s life. I am… impressed that Caris is able to pull this off. Granted, we’ve known Caris was mageborn from the beginning, and Antryg’s been giving him some proper teaching, but the closing-off-blood-vessels thing is more than we (or he, apparently) knew he could pull off. There’s a reference made later, to his grandfather stating he would have made a better healer than a warrior, but it still seems a bit out of the blue.
5. More Power — At least in Antryg’s case, the first book made a point of stating that he was the most powerful mage in the world. (As stated by Suraklin, no less.) In some sense, the big fight scene at the end is nicely done. Rather than having the big, flashy scene, a lot of it is purely countermagic — Antryg holding off the ever-increasing number of computer-powered spells until he and Joanna can get to it. After all, in real life, it’d only take one fireball to kill you. The problem here? Suraklin’s already uploaded. Supposedly, this means all magic is being drained from everywhere. Or, in other words… no mage can do magic except for Suraklin-the-computer. Which means Antryg should be helpless. There’s some comment in the first book where Antryg implies he’s at least resistant to the effect, due to having worked with Suraklin and being kind of nuts so that he can still do magic, since he still has hope. That doesn’t seem an adequate explanation.
6. Entropy Always Wins — How they end up beating Suraklin. They bust up his magic-draining power supply, so that he’s stuck running on battery power. They wait, resisting his magic and various attempts to kill them off, until his power runs out and he gets completely cut off from every other world, lost in the Void. (Presumably, had they died, he’d have worked on fixing himself. He then blows himself up, since being lost forever cut off from everything isn’t what he signed up for.) This ends up working with a rather nice theme about the Dead God — who died because that way he could be one with nothing, and win when the universe dies. Well, not nice, but you get the idea. But, regardless — it was a nice touch.