Note: If you haven’t read Young Wizards #1, “So you want to be a wizard”, and you care about the ending being spoiled, note that there are spoilers further down near the end of the blog entry.
There’s more really cool stuff that happened in this chapter of the book, which is back to focusing on Kit and the guys, though it looks like that alternating structure might be breaking down soon. From Stokes they move on to another wizardly ‘test site’ on Mars, and the first thing that they find out is that there’s going to be a witness, who they’ll have to both protect and hide the action from – the Spirit Rover.
Now, considering how well the Young Wizard books do at personifying inanimate objects, when I heard that Kit was going to meet Spirit, I immediately thought of this xkcd comic, and the response. Unfortunately, we don’t get any actual dialog, with the explanation that Spirit is so sophisticated and has so many security protocols built in that it makes her paranoid when somebody who’s not explicitly authorized talks to her, which makes a bit of sense. Of course, considering the dire situation, they were thinking in terms of making her forget signs of alien life on Mars, not casual chit-chat about how she really feels regarding her mission and never getting to go home.
For what it’s worth, I think my interpretation is between the two versions of the comic above, but closer to the latter – if I had to guess how Spirit might ‘feel’ about her mission, I think it’s unlikely she’d have ever gotten the impression that she was going to ‘go home’ after her mission, that she was pleased with all of the extra time that she got to spend travelling on Mars and all of the places she got to go, but still somewhat melancholy about being stuck and low on juice when there’s so much more out there to see. But this is a big side-track from the book, so I’d better get back to the plot.
The second test takes them into another semi-illusory sequence populated with constructs, based on subconscious cultural impressions that they have of Mars – here the setting is back in New Jersey, where Kit, Ronan, and Darryl have to face war machines from “War of the Worlds.” They manage to beat a few of them back, but they just keep coming, and it’s obvious that the only thing that would stop them for good is the same thing that stopped the originals – Earthling germs. The problem was, that took several weeks.
But Kit has an answer, he manages to work a time wizardry, to accelerate the progress of time in the area while keeping the war machines paralyzed, and defeats them that way. There’s a bit more excitement, with fighting off a few more robot scorpions, and Darryl blinking back to the Moon to block Spirit from phoning home with what she’s seen. Then Kit proposes that he go to the third test site alone, because these Martian tests have drawn on imagery from Darryl’s subconscious and Ronan’s, so it’s his turn, but he thinks that every time more than one of them get into the test, it goes out of tilt because it wasn’t programmed for multiple testees. Ill at ease, they let him transit over to the site near the Martian South Pole himself.
So Kit goes, and finds the new test environment waiting for him – a Martian city very close to those of Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom Mars books. There’s also a very particular Martian girl waiting for him, a pretty Martian in a Victoria’s Secret type outfit, like the one that he was drawing in History class way back in Chapter One. And she seems to recognize Kit as her long-lost boyfriend come home, calling him her brave warrior… and that’s the end of the chapter!
I guess I can’t stop from going on tangents this evening, because I want to give you another ramble for a bit about light speed and going past it, though the use of it in this chapter is actually really good – Darryl uses his natural ability to ‘be somewhere else’ without even having to use a transit spell to outrun a light-speed signal that they can’t let people on Earth receive. But in the Young Wizard series generally, there’s a lot of things that are portrayed as naturally happening at instantaneous speeds without a wizard having to ‘bend the rules’ for that, and that stands out to me as a violation of a lot of other good things about the Wizardsverse, the sense that wizardry is just a different way of working with most of the same forces of nature that scientists use, (with a few extra ones ‘thrown in’ that humans don’t understand yet,) and that what you get, you have to pay for.
I think it would make the most sense if, in this world, wizardly forces and effects happened at light-speed unless specifically pushed beyond it – which you’d need to do at certain times, routinely for interstellar or intergalactic transits. But, for instance, there’s a lot of going back and forth from Earth to Mars in this book, and that’s a distance of anywhere from four to twenty light-minutes. If it was explained that the transits took that much time, but you didn’t experience it yourself because your body was in-between places, that would just be a minor timing note that would add some realism and possibly add realistic complications to Nita and Kit trying to reach each other.
For another example that particularly bugs me, I’m going to go all the way back to the first book in the series, “So you want to be a Wizard.” Spoilers are ahead for the climax of that book.
This happens after Nita and Kit have gotten back to their own universe, and are just about to read from ‘The Book of Night with Moon:’
Suddenly, without warning, every tree around them shuddered as if violently struck. Nita could hear them crying out in silent anguish, and cried out in terror herself as she felt what they felt – a great numbing cold that smote at the heart like an ax. Kit, beside her, sat frozen with it, aghast. Fred went dim with shock. (Not again!) he said, his voice faint and horrified. (Not here, where there’s so much life!)
“The Sun,” Nita whispered. “He’s put out the Sun!” Starsnuffer, she thought. That tactic’s worked for him before. And if the sun is out, pretty soon there won’t be moonlight to read by, and he can–
Kit stared up at the moon as if at someone about to die. “Nita, how long do we have?”
“Eight minutes, maybe a little more, for light to get here from the sun. Eight minutes before it runs out…”
Now, though it’s good that Diane was able to work the eight-minute lag in one way, I don’t feel like that’s enough. We have the Lone Power putting out the Sun from Earth instantly. That’s not too bad – he’s portrayed as such a fearsome character that he could do that if he pleased, of course. The part I really hate is that Nita and Kit and the trees have this instantaneous metaphysical link to what’s happened, or an instant link to the Sun that they’ve never appreciated, so that they all know that the Sun is dead long before its light has run out.
And it would be easy to rewrite the scene otherwise, and even make it more powerful. Here’s how I’d do it. The trees shudder in confusion and anxiety as the Starsnuffer shoots a huge pulse of dark power out into the sky and around the Earth. Nita and Kit can sense that charge leaving, but they don’t know what it is, either. But Fred understands, and he explains it to them. When that charge, travelling at light speed, hits the Sun, the Sun will get snuffed out. And none of them are trained well enough to outrun it or powerful enough to stop it before it gets there – neither Nita not Kit have even done a transit spell on their own at this point in the series, never mind one that had to break light-speed.
It adds a little to the sense of impending dread and allows twice as much time for the battle hijinks, which is to the good since I think Diane already has too much material for an honest eight minutes. And then, once the moon goes out, everything else can proceed as before.
Okay, I’m all rambled out now. It’s a good chapter, and there’s more great stuff to come. Look for the next chapter review of ‘A wizard of Mars’ on Sunday, March the 13th.