A Wizard of Mars – Chapter Seven

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

This is a fairly short chapter, with an even shorter summary. I’m going to be trying to get the plot summaries to be more concise, instead of relating all the little stuff that happens, but this chapter makes it easy for me.

The guys – Kit, Ronan, and Darryl, go to a new Martian crater, one of the ones that the signal from the first egg went to. While investigating there, they see and interact with a bunch of wizardly ‘constructs’ in crazy forms, including fantastic Martian monsters and a ship of astronauts that claim to be from back on Earth. All of those guises, though, are being taken from their own minds, particularly a Mars movie that Darryl saw a long time ago, and they start to speculate on what this might mean. They decide that it’s the wizardries that the original Martians left behind testing them as a kind of self-defence system – if whoever discovers the message freaks out at these manifestations, and either run away or react aggressively, then they fail the test and don’t get to find out more. So they agree to move on to the next site in the message relay, investigating calmly but refusing to back off.

That’s about it for the important plot stuff that’s going on, as far as I can tell. So what else really impressed me with chapter seven, in terms of the writing?

A few things. One is simply that there seems to be a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the bits with the old Mars movie stuff come to life. I can almost picture Diane having the time of her life as she’s writing it, and that’s certainly endearing to a reader, as long as you can relate at least minimally to that enthusiasm. It reminds me, actually, of an anecdote that the author related in an interview that’s included in the audible.com version of ‘High Wizardry’, when she talks about going to the drive-in as a young girl or something like that, and she got to see “First Spaceship to Venus.” When she was older, she had a friend tape it for her, and was a little shocked that it had managed to capture her imagination so much, since the special effects were so bad. But I guess that she still has a soft spot for old sci-fi movies.

I really liked this one long paragraph of description right near the start of the chapter:

First Darryl, then Ronan, stepped to the edge of the force-field bubble that surrounded them and gazed out, not speaking. Kit knew why. Full day on Mars can seem matter-of-fact once you get used to it; just another panorama of red sand and rubble, just another blue sky, sunlight seeming as dimmed by blowing sand as by a Sun that’s fifty million miles farther away and twenty percent dimmer than it ought to be. But there was no making the same mistake at dawn or sunset. Then the surroundings became both bleak and beautiful in a way that was possible only here. That faint, thin hiss of wind, hardly to beheard; that sense of absolute, pristine barrenness, empty, but not in any of the usual ways – it all got under your skin, made you hold still and listen for some hint of the secret that was hiding from you, the real reason why this landscape seemed so studiedly unconcerned about your presence. It seemed to be saying “This isn’t your place: you have no business here. Do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter.” But it does. It does. All we have to do now is find out why…

Actually, that paragraph doesn’t seem so huge now that I’ve typed it out from the hardcover page into my laptop, but it’s a fair chunk of description, and has two longish sentences in the middle, but to me it flows well, capturing my interest. There’s some rule-of-three use in here – the sand, the sky, the sunlight, for example. And it starts with a bit of personal actions by the secondary characters, which prompts a personal reaction from Kit, and then there are the long sentences of description and interpretation, leading us to the emotional climax, the little virtual dialog at the end between Mars and Kit.

Oh, and one more little thought. In the actual book, in that passage I quoted, the last sentence, the word ‘does’ is not italicized or set off in any other way. I have to say that I’ve always found that convention a little annoying – it seems like whoever is arranging the type is too lazy to do anything but have italics on or off. If an entire sentence is italicized to show that it’s somebody’s thoughts, and one word inside that sentence needs to be stressed… then have it be the only word in the entire sentence that ISN’T stressed. Does that really make any sense?

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