A tour of Barsoom

January 8, 2013

I’ve been spending some time on Mars lately – courtesy of Audible.com, and Scott Brick’s excellent narration for “A Princess of Mars.” Since New Year’s Day, I’ve followed John Carter from his gold claim in Arizona to the Incubators of the Green Men and on daring escapes through the hills of dry ocean beds. And along the way, I’ve met Dejah Thoris and a lot of other interesting Martians.

It’s a great science fiction adventure that doesn’t seem much the worse for all the decades that have passed since it was first written and printed, but I’ve also been aware of that vague sense that I’m finally catching up to something that’s been in the public cultural consciousness for a while, and specifically, that I finally understand some of the Barsoom in-jokes and references that Diane Duane filled A Wizard of Mars with. (And Diane’s title could be seen as a cross between “A Princess of Mars” and “A Wizard of Earthsea” 🙂 )

Other books I’ve been reading in 2013:

  • “House of Many Ways” by Diana Wynne Jones
  • “Maybe Baby” by Lani Diane Rich
  • “Dancing Barefoot” by Wil Wheaton

What have you been reading lately?

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The joy of being tagged and tagging.

February 25, 2012

So, I’ve been tagged. (Kinda had to hint around for it, but anyway…)

Two different batches of questions to answer today, and one more to ask of my tagees. First, from Mina Burrows:

– Where do you find inspiration?

All kinds of places. Sometimes I trip over a story idea from something random, sometimes it’s something in a book or tv show that gets me thinking of a different twist, sometimes I go and look for story prompts. And sometimes my muse brings me notions and I don’t ask her where she got them from.

– What’s your favorite TV show?

Of all time? Has to be Firefly. (Sigh.)

– What are you reading now?

‘Currant Events’ by Piers Anthony. ‘Inheritance’ by Christopher Paolini. ‘Star Trek New Frontier: Martyr’ by Peter David. ‘Deja Dead’ by Kathy Reichs. ‘A Twist of Malice’ by Jean Rae Baxter. (Yes, I multitask my reading.)

– What’s your favorite recipe?

A spaghetti sauce that I partly got from my Mom, and partly tweaked until it’s just the way I like it.

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A wizard of Mars, the last chapter. (16)

June 5, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

The final chapter of ‘A wizard of Mars’, to me, reads mostly like an epilog. The body of the story is already told, the climax has come and gone, and the main characters are talking through the post-mortem at a barbecue, working out things like the interpretation of the Red Rede prophecy, and how they managed to set up a temporal causality loop that influenced key events, by sending the Martian cities back into the past.

Mamvish is as funny a character as ever, especially when Nita’s father gives her some more tomatoes, and there’s an interesting little philosophical discussion with Tom, inspired by the fact that this is the first Young Wizard book that didn’t directly feature a manifestation of the Lone Power, the oldest source of evil, although Nita says that she definitely felt his influence, trying to bring about war on Mars, and between Mars and Earth.

Tom’s point of view, (and yes, he does sound a little like a proxy for a lecture from Diane, but I’ll let that slide this time,) is that it’s a sign that Nita and Kit are growing up. When they were younger, between raw power and viewing the world in simple terms, they were able to force the Lone One to become physical to take them on. Now, their practice of the art is going to be getting more complicated because of these changes in their lives.

After the post-mortem barbecue is done, Nita has a dream of Mars, with Kit, and Khretef, and Aurirelde in it, which is mostly more wrap-up, but at the very end, Kit brings up something that’s been left unresolved:

“Meanwhile,” Kit said, “something I forgot to ask you.”

“What?”

“Just what was it you called me back there?”

She shook her head. “Back there where?”

“You remember. Back at Argyre Planitia, when you were telling Aurirelde you didn’t have to keep yours in a cage.”

Nita stared at him, bewildered – then realized what he was talking about, and took a very deep breath.

“My boyfriend?” she said. And then Nita felt like cursing at herself for the way her voice squeaked with stress on the second word, turning it into a question.

Kit just looked at her. “Took you long enough,” he said. He grinned at her and vanished.

Nita’s eyes went wide, then narrowed with annoyance – and relieved delight.

“I’m gonna get you for that!” she said, and went after him.

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A Wizard of Mars, Chapter Fifteen

May 29, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

So, I’m drawing close to the end of my chapter-by-chapter recap of Diane Duane’s novel “A Wizard of Mars”, and I’d like to say that I’ve had a great time sharing this book with you. I’d like to try something else soon, possibly not chapter by chapter, but going through a book in installments as I read it, instead of a single review/book report of the novel as a whole, and I’m setting up a poll to see what possible titles there’s any interest in from my regulars.

So, at the end of the last chapter, Nita teleports into the throne room of one of the Martian royal houses, that of the Shamaska city, and she’s very pissed off and wizardly and competent and magnificent, as Kit said about her a bit earlier. So she tells off Iskard, the king, and Rorsik, his toadying minister, for the way they’ve treated the planet, and wizardry, and their people, and Aurirelde, Isakard’s daughter, and Khretef, her sweetie from the other side of Mars, the Eilitt. Particularly Nita rages on at the blindness of wizards letting themselves slip into an ‘us or them, we have to use wizardry against them because they’d do it to us’ mentality.

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A wizard of Mars – Chapter Fourteen

May 18, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

Okay, so, when we last left Nita Callahan, she was up against the Waters of Mars, as the Martian seer Aurirelde melted the icecaps, and blocked Nita’s shield or transit spells, figuring that that would leave her for dead. After talking over her options with her invisible friend Bobo, the essence of all wizardry, she decides that the only option is a big water wizardry that S’reee was telling her about way back in chapter six – the Gibraltar Passthrough. It’s a tough spell, with a high cost in energy that Nita has to pay and a complicated enough spell diagram that she could never draw it herself in time, but with Bobo’s help in that department, she just manages to pull it off and save herself.

Then she lets herself get mad, (which is when Nita usually gets seriously bad-ass,) and opens up a visual communication wizardry to the Shamaska headquarters, issuing Aurirelde a duel arcane challenge. If Aurirelde wants to prove that she can use the kernel to dominate her, then Nita will meet her face to face for the confrontation. And if not, Nita threatens to use her wizardry to take the Shamaska and Eilitt cities and leave the survivors to fend for themselves in the Martian badlands. Then she starts flying up through the Martian atmosphere, to get some distance from the surface, where Aurirelde’s influence over her wizardry will be greatest, because the kernel has the most power near the planet it controls. Nita’s under a time limit at this point – if she can’t settle with Aurirelde before the backlash of the energy she spent on the Passthrough hits, she’ll be helpless – and every big spell she uses in the meantime will bring that reckoning closer.

We cut away from Nita for just a few pages to get Kit’s point of view, trapped inside his old body by the re-emerged personality of his Martian doppleganger, Khretef. Kit can’t see and hear much of what Khretef’s been doing, but he caught a brief glimpse of Nita, when she came to the Shamaska throne room with Mamvish to confront the Shamaska leaders for the first time – and he comes to the belated realization that Nita is really hot when she’s pissed off. This gives him the motivation to fight for his freedom, and he starts a debate with Khretef, trying to argue him into giving up on Aurirelde’s crazy scheme and letting Kit help Nita. At the end, Khretef gives up, but tells Kit that he’s too late anyway.

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Young Wizards

April 29, 2011

Y is for…
Well, I thought that today I’d talk more about ‘Young Wizards’, one of my favorite fantasy book series, and return to my chapter-by-chapter review of Diane Duane’s book ‘A Wizard of Mars.’ In the last week of March, I got up to chapter twelve, so now we have a new chapter, ‘Oceanidum Mons.’

It opens with Nita alone out on Mars with her invisible friend, Bobo the essence of Wizardry – and Bobo tells her that he’s found Kit, but his status is flagged as occupied. Nita sends him a text message via her Wizard’s manual, which gets held for delivery later, and Nita has Bobo transit her back home to Earth for lunch. While preparing a chicken sandwich, Nita obsesses a little over the image she saw of the Martian girl, Aurirelde, in her Victoria’s Secret-esque outfit, and also how Kit had been paying attention to Janie Lowell at school in ‘that alleged skirt.’ But she shies away from dwelling on jealous topics for too long, and moves on to all of the Martian encounters that had taken place the day before, especially how different the ones Kit and his team were involved in versus Nita and her friends.

Looking for a reason for those differences, she starts to do some simple analyses based on power levels, ages, origins, and specialties, before hitting on the most obvious difference – the gender gap. Nita isn’t sure what that means, but it doesn’t give her a good feeling. Wondering if somebody from Mars might be trying to take advantage of Kit, she considers asking Bobo to plant a spy routine in his manual, the same way he did with Dairine’s manual computer, but isn’t sure what to make of the morals of violating his privacy, even if she’s motivated by concern for him. It seems too much like something the Evil Lone power would want her to do, and she holds off for the time being. Then Nita has a precognitive flash of Mars turning blue, and people on Earth panicking, and talks to Carmela again, finding out more about the strange Martian poem that Carmela had recorded in the library cave, the Red Rede, which seems to have some similarities with her visions, and possibly be a prophecy in itself.

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A Wizard of Mars – Chapter Twelve

March 27, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

This is a long chapter, with a fair bit going on, as we move towards the climax of the book. First, a short flashback of a scene that was skipped over in the last chapter – Nita going back to Wellakh, making sure that the stream of consciousness was taken out of Dairine’s information feed to Dad’s phone, and talking to Neleid again. Neleid mentions that Dairine is really ‘on fire’, as it were, with her sun-wizardry studies, and they talk about the possibility of Dairine sleeping over to avoid the long transits every day, but agree that it doesn’t seem necessary until Neleid and Papa Callahan have their meeting, and before Dairine suggests it herself.

Nita mind-talks with Kit a little before he heads off to church, and asks him to let her know when he’s going to head back to Mars, because she wants to come too, but Kit doesn’t sound too enthusiastic about that. Sure enough, when Nita heads over to the Rodriguez house, Carmela tells her that Kit came home from church and headed straight off to Mars first thing. The girls chat about the work that Carmela is still doing on translating the messages from the archival site in Arsia Mons, and how the text seems to fall into two categories – very slanted, propagandist history, with plenty of loaded adjectives about the struggle between the two factions, and this one evocative poem that doesn’t make much sense yet.

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A Wizard of Mars – Chapter Eleven

March 20, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

Okay, so last week, we left off with Kit transiting back home after his weird flashback experience of the not-really-native Martian people from hundreds of thousands of years ago. In this chapter, as it seems to me, the plot gets a lot more complicated, partly because Nita’s POV and Kit’s start to alternate faster.

Nita stays behind on Mars to cover up the site from Earth-orignating artificial satellites, after the boys leave. She gets a very brief vision of a Martian pop culture character from her own childhood – Marvin the Martian from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, though he isn’t named as such, but uses his catchphrase. Nita suggests to Bobo that he should prepare any available counterspell for an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

Nita also uses Bobo to get a replay of Kit’s experiences with Aurirelde, or at least the beginning of them. She’s able to figure out that though the appearance of Aurirelde was based on Kit’s fantasies of the Barsoom books, she’s based on a Shamask-Eilith person, and penetrates the illusion to perceive Aurirelde’s true appearance, which has gray skin and isn’t as exotically pretty by human standards, but still humanoid and relatable. She has Bobo try to run the name-analysis ‘wizard’ on Aurirelde to learn more about her – and the replay wizardry, which was running off the stored wizardry at the site, crashes partway through. Bobo tells Nita that he’ll keep working on analyzing the incomplete data.

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A Wizard of Mars – Chapter Ten

March 13, 2011

Okay, so, the points of view are starting to deviate a bit from the straight ‘Nita’s chapter, Kit’s chapter’ routine that we’ve had uninterrupted for the past six chapters. Nita has a short passage in her POV for the first few pages, but then it goes back to Kit for the rest, and his section is more critical to the plot, so I’ll start with his part.

In the third Martian ‘test site’, Kit finds himself in a sort of re-enactment of a very old scene with Martian personalities, and has to figure out the scenario and improvise as he goes, though the wizardry starts to dump information into his head as it goes. He’s playing the role of Khretef, a questor on behalf of the Martian city, though he comes from among their enemies. He speaks first with Aurilelde, the cute Martian girl who he met at the end of the last chapter, who’s Kretef’s girlfriend, and the daughter of the Master of the City. Her father, Iskard, sent Khretef out to find something very important, and he’s come back without it, though apparently (according to the dump information,) he knows were to find it. One of Iskard’s councillors, Rorsik, a rival of Khretef and Airilelde, tries to use this failure against the two Mars-crossed lovers. (And yes, I know that all of these Martian names are particularly hard to spell or pronounce.)

Rorsik starts to throw around threats about how Khretef and Aurilelde are in league with the enemy, and Aurilelde, who appears to be some kind of prophet, makes several remarkable pronouncements that appear to involve her seeing through the fourth wall of the re-enactment, about how wizards from another world have come to their planet, about how they’ve found the think that Khretef was looking for, ‘the Nascence’, and begun the tests… and that one of them is already here!

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A Wizard of Mars – Chapter Nine

March 9, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

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.

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