Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold and Larry Niven

    1971; 320 pages.  New Author? : Yes (David Gerrold), and No (Larry Niven).  Genre : Classic Science Fiction; First Contact; Humorous Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 5½*/10.

    The new magician literally fell from the skies.  Well, technically he was in his nest, and the nest fell from the skies.  He wields powerful but strange magic.  And he seems more interested in testing the rocks and collecting samples of plants and animals than calling upon the gods to do marvelous things.

    Needless to say, the present magician, Shoogar, is none too pleased with the appearance of this interloper.  The magicians’ code demands a duel.  But the new guy seems totally ignorant of such protocol, and laughs off Shoogar’s threats of spellcasting.  Perhaps it’s more appropriate to place of curse upon him.

    And you know what they say.  “A land with two magicians will soon have only one.”

What’s To Like...
    The Flying Sorcerers is a standalone novel (without chapters), set on an alien planet with two suns and eleven moons, and inhabited by sentient humans in a more-or-less “Bronze Age plus bicycles” stage of development.  The basic theme is how they deal with a visit from a Space Age astronaut/explorer, aka “Purple”, the new Wizard on the block.

    The story in told from a first-person POV, a guy named Lant, who is kind of a mediator between the Shoogar and Purple.  It is written in “classic sci-fi” style, with a dash adult situations and cussing added in.  My favorite cussword was a made-up one, yngvied”.  You can also get high by drinking Quaff, or eating Raba-Root.  But beware the Dust of Yearning, it is a potent potion indeed.

    I liked the world-building details.  Things like a cultivation ceremony, homes that hang from trees (“nests”), and the “finger gesture of fertility’.  The inherent language issue is solved via one of Purple’s magical devices, a “Speakerspell”, and I liked that it had its own learning curve which led to some hilarious translating difficulties at first.

    The secondary themes are ambitious: Magic vs. Science, Purple introducing the natives to "civilized" things such as Assembly-Line Manufacturing, Money, and Possessions; and the Role of Women. There’s also some chemistry (the splitting of water to make Hydrogen and Oxygen) and Mechanical Engineering (flying machines) in the story, and since I’m a chemist, that's a delight.

    Finally, it seems like David Gerrold and Larry Niven were seeing how much wit they could weave into the story.  You’ll meet Lant’s sons, Wilville and Orbur; and be sure to note the names of the gods, they are actually a tribute to various Science fiction writers: “Caff” (Anne McCaffrey); “Virn” (Jules Verne), “Peers” (Piers Anthony), and even ‘N’Veen” (Larry Niven).

Kewlest New Word…
Antipathy (adj.) : a deep-seated feeling of dislike; aversion.

    “You, Lant.  You Speak for us.  You have been an Advisor as long as anyone.”
    “I can’t,” I whispered back.  “I have never been a Speaker.  I do not even have a Speaking Token.  We buried it with Thran.”
    “We’ll make a new one.  Shoogar will consecrate it.  But we need a Speaker now.”
    One or two others nodded assent.
    “But there’s the chance they might kill me if they find me too audacious a Speaker,” I hissed.
    The rest nodded eagerly.  (loc. 1004)

   I took another sniff – was it possible that this gas made people light-headed?  I wondered about that.  The other gas made things light – this gas made people light.  No, I’d have to think about that.  I took another sniff.  This new gas made people’s view of things rise above other things.
    Another sniff – how strange!  I knew what I meant.  Why weren’t there words for it?  I lowered my head again.
    Abruptly I was pulled away by Shoogar. (…) “What are you doing?”
    “Um, I was investigating the bubbles.”  (loc. 2750)

Kindle Details...
    The Flying Sorcerers sells for $9.99 at Amazon.  David Gerrold’s other e-book offerings are in the price range of $6.15-$12.76.  Larry Niven’s e-books sell for $5.99-$9.99.  For the record, I borrowed The Flying Sorcerers for free via my local library.  I really can’t say enough good things about this resource.

 “We don’t need your guilty-of-incestuous-rape sails!”  (loc. 2813)
    The were some minuses.  The storyline was not compelling and seemed a bit forced to accommodate the punny title.  The pacing was slow.  It took forever for Shoogar to invoke his curse, even longer to build the flying machine and make a trip in it.

    The Role of Women issue was unconvincing.  While it’s true that Purple inadvertently raises their status a bit, it seems like it’s only to get them from brainless animals to being capable of menial tasks.  The gods forbid that women should ever have any leadership qualities, or come up with any problem-solving ideas.  But hey, The Flying Sorcerers was written in 1971, so maybe this was a sign of the times.

    I also was amazed that Lant and his fellow Bronze Agers could quickly grasp the chemistry aspects of splitting water so easily to make two gases, but maybe that’s just the scientist in me coming out.

    Finally, there was an abundance of typos.  It looked like someone ran the hardback version through a scanning program, but never checked to see if everything came out okay.  That’s both sloppy and lazy.

    5½ Stars.  Add 1 Star if you hate books that make you keep track of dozens of characters.  Here, Shoogar, Purple, and Lant are all you need to keep straight, plus maybe Wilville and Orbur.

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