THE INTREPID ENCHANTER
by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
(Sphere Books 1988 £4.50 pp 498)
This is an omnibus edition of the five Harold Shea stories. They have been available at
different times in smaller combinations but this brings them all together for the first time. The
first three stories were written in the early 40's and the others more than ten years later but
they merge remarkably well.
Harold Shea is an insignificant American academic who discovers that he can travel to
alternate worlds through the use of pure logic. These worlds are those of ancient myth and
legend, but only those where magic has a part to play. For Shea has read The Golden Bough
and the other works of eminent anthropologists and knows that to primitive people the rules
of magic are as fixed as those of science in this realm of thought. So Shea enters his alternate
worlds by reciting lines of pure logic - "If P equals not Q, Q implies not P, which is eqivalent
to saying either P or Q ..." and then finds magic works by known rules - the laws of Similarity
and of Contagion. In other words, like all the best fantasy, The Intrepid Enchanter is based in
an extremely strong reality.
Once in these worlds Shea and his colleagues participate in comic/heroic deeds of dubious
chivarly, using their magic as well as their other abilities- Shea would come to several sticky
ends if he weren't a college fencing champion.
These books have obviously had a wide influence - you'll see it in Randall Garrett's Lord
D'arcy stories, in Christopher Stasheff's Warlock books, and, especially in the comic use of
mad warlocks, in Terry Pratt's Discworld. To any reader of those, you should try this volume.
To any one who wants reasonably literate reading I say the same. "The Castle of Iron" I
thought the best, but I know some people disagree with me.
Sphere Books apparantly is owned by Penguin Books now. This book has been well
produced and edited. I found the bibliographic information and Catharine Crook de Camp's
Foreward very interesting.
This is how it should be done.
SPIDER WORLD THE MAGICIAN
by Colin Wilson
(Grafton 1993 £4.99 pp395)
I read this book in an evening, as I felt sure that I would, not really wanting to put it down,
and am now vaguely anxious about the appearance of the next in the series. Five centuries
hence Niall will lead a revolt of humans against their death spider masters, and force the
arachnids to accept human equality. Then something will happen to threaten that peace. This
book ends with Niall, the hero, about to set off in search of the Magician of the title, so I've
got to know what happens.
This third volume owes most to Tolkien, and a lot of it describes Wilson's versions of
Minas Tirith and Moria, but they are only in the distance so far. Now Niall's brain-power
detects the presence of the Magician and the the threat he poses to the co-habitation of man
and Death Spider, the people discover medicine and the benefits of thought, and oddly a lot
about daily life in medieval Florence. The first part in which Niall plays detective is gripping,
and then scene after scene in different ways re-inforce that grip.
Those who enjoy this easy science fantasy ought to try Wilson's two or three science fiction
novels. They contain the same blend of invention and philosophy.
THE BROKEN GOD
by David Zindell
(HarperCollins 1994 pp862 £5.99)
Neverness was a book on its own. David Zindell has now begun a trilogy set in the City which
appeared in that first book. It threatens to be one of the longest trilogies for some time.
Essentially, it is a rites of passage novel, describing the life of Danlo The Wild, from his
childhood in a tribe of Neanderthals who live like Inuit, through his journey to the city when
the tribe all die (their brains running out of their ears) - though not before his grandfather has
had time to scarify his body, his being received by one of the benevolent giant aliens who
reside in the city, education and entry into the long apprenticeship of the Guild of Pilots, and
discovery that his father had sailed off into the distant stars and become a god.
Like most rites of passage novels, this is no ordinary passage. In its way, you know much of
what is going to happen - Tom Brown had Flashman, Danlo will have Pedar. Danlo spends a
lot of time considering the rights and wrongs of life - even though on entry to the city he has
undergone education downloading directly into the brain, still he judges a lot by the
Neanderthals' standards, especially taboo, which he calls Shaida, as if he does not learn a lot
about life after his upbringing in the ice cave.
This is very much a composite novel - I would say that its biggest debt is to Herman Hesse's
The Glass Bead Game and another big influence is the stories of Jorge Luis Borges (who is
quoted unacknowledged). In other words, this is a popularisation of literary fantasy. If you
liked Hesse, Zindell is not so different. If you like Zindell, you ought to try Borges and Hesse.
DARK MIRROR, DARK DREAMS
by Sharon Green
(AvoNova 1994 pp363 $4.99)
Sharon Green's career began with the 'Jalav - Amazon Warrior' series, which aimed at the John
Norman market. I went to check those against this new fantasy, but fortunately they seem to
have disappeared from my shelves, where this latest volume will soon follow. This new
volume is, though, nothing to do with the world of dominance and bondage, but a sequel in
We are in a world of magic and shape changing - where princes and princesses are warriors
and lovers. The parallelism of the title is some indication that this is actually the tale of two
pairs - one magicians, the other shape changers.
What makes the whole thing ghastly is the construction on two levels - firstly, the fantastic is
not epic, and secondly, the writing is mundane.
"Two glasses of wine appeared floating in midair next to his right hand, and he took one and
held it out to me.
"'For you, my lovely,' he murmured, his voice deepened to match the small, sexy smile he
wore." This is the bonding of a pair of leading magicians, and it reads more like the script from
a sixties television series. Surely, magic should be raised above the mundane - it is
extra-ordinary. This writing does not portray magic as epic, as extra-ordinary and does not
suggest the speciality of the characters. It is, though, typical, of this novel.
The whole thing was painful to read, and unpleasant to think about.