Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
October 2007

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Dial Books, Copyright © 2006
358 pages, $17.99, Hardcover
Age Group: 12 and up
(out of five) -- I Liked It

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but what we have here is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. As it turns out, it's a pretty good retelling. Some unique transformations of characters. For example, Hatter is a master at arms. Like James Bond he is loaded with all manner of secret weapons on his person. The Queen of Hearts, Redd, is meaner and more selfish than before. Cards play similar roles but they do it as mechanized decks. A two is a good card for defense but a four is better because he has more technology. And Alyss is no longer just a visitor to Wonderland, she is the daughter of the queen.

Genevieve, Alyss' mother, rules the Queendome of Wonderland. She has ruled in peace since she ascended to the thrown and exiled Redd (Queen of Hearts). In all of this time, say ten years, Redd has been planning and massing her armies. The attack comes on Alyss's seventh birthday. The kingdom goes up in smoke as Redd burns, pillages and murders. The first murders were the queen and her husband, Alyss' parents.

The only way to save Alyss is to hide her in a different world. Alakazam and she's in London. First a foster child, then adopted, and then almost married. The bulk of the novel is the telling of how Alyss gets back to Wonderland, remembers who she is and the war that takes place.

I think the book offers a unique contribution to the fantasy genre of speculative fiction. In The Looking Glass Wars, magic is powered by one's imagination. The stronger the imagination the more powerful the magic. Magic comes in two flavors: white and black. I sure you can guess which is good and which is evil. To my knowledge, magic and imagination have never been paired in such a manner.

However, The Looking Glass Wars did not truly follow one of the laws of fantasy. There must always be a price to pay for the magic used. It costs the hero something to use the magic. For example, when Richard, in the works by Terry Goodkind, uses the sword of truth there is extreme pain. Exhaustion is the most common effect of using one's magic. Therefore the magic must be used in a judicious manner. It is true that Alyss Heart becomes fatigued when she uses her imagination. Nevertheless, she never reaches a point of exhaustion where she cannot wield the magic. And her exhaustion was mainly due to using so much magic when she had just gotten her imagination back. In other words, the progress of our heroes is never slowed due to Alyss' inability to use her imagination.

Even though I liked this book and enjoyed reading it, there were many times when magical people and animals reminded me of other characters in other fantasy novels, TV or movies. For example, Hatter with all of his armaments that part of his clothing seemed very much like Mr. Gadget. The mechanized card soldiers reminded me of the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. Alyss's mother, Genevieve, made me think too much about Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I kept waiting for Mr. Peabody to tell his boy Sherman to set the Wayback Machine to 1999. There was no connection to anything like the chessmen. They were a unique creation being Rooks, Pawns and Bishops.

When Alyss' parents are killed, she is spirited off by Mr. Peabody and the Wayback machine (nah, it's Hatter and one of the chessmen who save her). She finds herself on the dark streets of London. She spends her time in our world trying to convince herself that her memories are just a fantasy. That Wonderland doesn't exist and her parents were never murdered there. Just when she has accomplished that she is forced to remember it again, accept it as truth and fight to save a kingdom she has forgotten.

Actually, the author invented a very cool way to get around the planet, visit other worlds and I'll bet if Hatter wanted to he could time travel. It's called the Looking Glass Continuum. Jump in a mirror and come out randomly at another or if you've learned to ride the beam head for a particular mirror. The only real trouble I had in this retelling of Alice in Wonderland was in accepting the transformation of the Cheshire cat into a giant, Ninja killer cat. He was simple minded too. Not at all like the Cheshire cat.

In spite of all these references to other works that floated into my mind, I don't think the author was making these associations on purpose. It was just my silly mind. I was happy to have read the book and the story is indeed memorable as are several of the characters. In truth, I found the book to be somewhat hard to put down.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Knopf, Copyright © 2000
933 pages (Omnibus), $21.99
Age Group: 12 and up
(out of five) -- I Really Liked It

The following book review comes from His Dark Materials trilogy as found in the 2007 Omnibus. The Amber Spyglass is the third and final book of the series.

Having finished His Dark Materials, I can say I am truly amazed at the complexity of this work. In fact, I'm not sure where to begin and what to give you to ponder.

Movement in and out of different worlds, humans, witches, angels, zombies, specters, ghosts, friendly daemons, life sustaining Dust, a compass of curious workmanship that tells you what to do and where to go and if you've made the correct decision, church domination and war for the control of heaven and earth. Mighty big stuff to fit together as smoothly as does Pullman. Picture fighting side by side with angels and ghosts and witches as the zombies and specters keep coming over the open ground. Odd companions fighting against odd foes against all odds. For example, allow a specter to touch you and it will drain the very life from you, leaving just enough to produce a zombie.

The Amber Spyglass makes it possible to see Dust, and Dust seems to be the glue that holds our universe, and all the parallel ones discovered in the trilogy, together. Dust is at the center of the story in each volume. The Amber Spyglass allows one to view the direction and thickness of the Dust flow. Until the end of this third volume, all of the dust in the universe was flowing away through holes cut by the Subtle Knife and left open. This is a major problem because it means the death of people, planets and galaxies in every parallel universe.

Working to stall this phenomenon and eventually stop it are Lyra and Will. They have found their demons, which they had to leave behind when they entered the land of the dead earlier in this volume. They are as inseparable as toast and jam and are unaware that they are falling in love. Or perhaps have been in love for quite some time.

In Lyra's world, everyone has a daemon. I envision them to be the embodiment of the daemons we carry inside ourselves. Lyra's daemon is a constant companion for life. What one feels the other feels. One never need be lonely or sad. Whichever one is, daemon or human, they have the other to comfort them. Daemons can also change their manifestation; changing from one animal to another in a nanosecond. It's true that daemons will take the shape of one animal about the time a person reaches adolescence. Which is a shame in that the ability to change form and function is very useful to the child Lyra. It is extremely painful to be separated from your daemon and when someone dies the daemon goes out like a blown match.

When Will first came to Lyra's world he had no daemon. This was a shock to everyone as they wondered how could he survive. Later when Will and Lyra travel to the land of the dead, Will discovers he has a daemon when they must leave them behind (rules of the dead). Will's daemon was inside of him. He had a companion all along and didn't know it. However this experience gives form and function to Will's daemon. He and Lyra have much trouble being reunited with their daemons. When finally they do meet up, Will is not surprised to see his beside Lyra's. The entire time in the land of the dead, both had felt like something had been ripped out of their chests.

Last month I complained and whined about the way human sexuality or the main character's coming of age was handled in a couple of other books. I found it to be crass. As I said before, young adults need not look to fantasy and science fiction to find out when they ought to have sexual intercourse. In an ideal world, this topic would be taught at home. Nevertheless, we do not have the right or the authority to tell young adults that they should lose their virginity by age sixteen or any other age.

Writers who give gypsy advice as if from some crystal ball take a lot of responsibility upon themselves. Philip Pullman has handled human sexuality in a very subtle, magical way. His method is one of the best. Here are some examples of human sexual development from the third book, The Amber Spyglass. Remember, Lyra is thirteen.

"Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn't known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, she felt other doors opening deep in the darkness, and lights coming on. She sat trembling . . ."

"The word love set his nerves ablaze. All his body thrilled with it, and he answered her in the same words, kissing her hot face over and over again, drinking in with adoration the scent of her body and her warm, honey-fragrant hair and her sweet, moist mouth that tasted of the little red fruit. Around them there was nothing but silence, as if all the world were holding its breath."

"Next day Will and Lyra went out by themselves again, speaking little, eager to be alone with each other. They looked dazed, as if some happy accident had robbed them of their wits; they moved slowly; their eyes were not focused on what they looked at. They spent all day on the wide hills, and in the heat of the afternoon, they visited their gold-and-silver grove. They talked, they bathed, they ate, they kissed, they lay in a trance of happiness murmuring words whose sound was as confused as their sense, and they felt they were melting with love."

This is the sweet way that first love should be presented. Do we need to ask Pullman if Lyra and Will had intercourse? I think not. If they did, it's of little relevance to this story. This beats Westerfeld's method from Peeps wherein Cal couldn't get over the fact that he had finally lost his virginity. And to a Vampire, think of that!

Another alternative would be not to mention human sexuality at all. After all, we never see people use the head on Star Trek and we still enjoy the episodes. Knowing toilet details is not essential to writing and watching good Star Trek.

The Amber Spyglass is a fitting conclusion to the His Dark Materials trilogy. All loose ends are woven together into a pleasing and satisfying end. A great trilogy within which to become lost.

An Audience for Einstein by Mark Wakely
Mundania Press, Copyright © 2005
172 pages, $12.00 Trade Paperback
Age Group: Young Adult
(out of five) -- I Liked It

Our story opens with one of the world's foremost minds wasting away in old age and on the verge of death. Dr. Percival Marlowe, often referred to as the professor, is dying just when he is on the verge of major discoveries. His life has been one major discovery after another. What can be done to extend his life that he may go on contributing some of the most profound knowledge to the world? Surely a Nobel Peace Prize winner deserves special consideration?

Dr. Carl Dorning, once a promenet neurosurgeon, has dedicated his life to finding a way to preserve the Dr. Marlowe's memories and transfer them into another human so that Marlowe may live on. If the book has a weakness, it's that no rationale is ever given for Dr. Dorning's obsession. Perhaps they are intended to be obvious. He dropped out of a prominent practice and research group and began his research on memory transfer with lab animals in a special lab he put together in the basement of his home. All at his own expense until Marlowe began funding him. Dorning is manic about preserving the professor's life. The fortune and glory that would be his somewhere down the road may be his motivation but he never reveals such. Dr. Dorning maintains throughout the novel that his sole motive is to preserve Dr. Marlowe so that he may go on contributing to the world's body of knowledge. Dorning does make some references about how his day will come. In the meantime, poor Dr. Dorning must drive an older model Mercedes Benz.

As mentioned above, we know that Dorning expects to become famous when he is able to release his techniques to the world. However, given the revelations regarding his techniques we are given at the end of the book, it's more likely that Dorning would end up in jail.

You could say that this scenario is another case of Present Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. We've all sat in history and postulated on how different reconstruction of the south might have been if Lincoln had lived. In the story it often appears that Dr. Dorning is trying to prevent just such a situation. How better off would we be if Dr. Marlowe had lived? No wasting of other's talent spending their lifetimes trying to complete Marlowe's work. Untold advances in science. It's as much to say that had Lincoln lived things would have gone better for the former slaves and there would have been no need for Dr. Martin Luther King. Oh, if Marlowe were still alive we'd have a cure for cancer by now. Dorning goal appears to make it impossible for the rhetorical question to ever arise. Marlowe will live on if Dorning has anything to do with it.

And we can't discuss this book without focusing on Miguel. He has the most to give and the most to lose. Dr. Dorning picks him off the street. Just another street urchin. Another homeless child. Surely, Dr. Dorning thinks, a life as Dr. Marlow would be a better life for the boy. In fact, isn't saving Dr. Marlowe more important that the life of one more homeless child? Isn't it justified even? Dorning lies to the boy about the outcomes of the experiment. Miguel is led to believe that he and Dr. Marlowe will be time-sharing the same body but the truth is that Miguel is expendable. And his tenacity to live has major impact on the story. There's more fight in this homeless child that Dorning expected.

What we have here is a story of good science gone wrong. Proper motivations fractured by the will to control life. Dr. Dorning is little more than another Dr. Frankenstein, the professor donates his brain and Miguel gives his life for the experiment. Here we are with another monster created with no thought to the sanctity of life or to individual rights. It is an end justifies the means story. It is an eye opener. And the Marlowe/Miguel monster cannot live.

This is a slick little science fiction story with good old hard science (astrophysics and neurology) compared to soft science (human development and family relations). I can appreciate stories based on either hard or soft science. Most others, I'm afraid, prefer hard science and the harder the better. This story should please both.

Winner - Fountainhead Productions 2002/03 National Writing Course

Winner - 2003 Author link New Author Award for Science Fiction

Finalist - 2003 Writemovies.com International Writing Competition


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