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Fantasy & Science
Fiction Index
Index of Titles
Index of Authors
About This Area
1987
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1988
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Books to Look For
Fantasy & Science Fiction October 1988

By Orson Scott Card


William Sleator, The Green Futures of Tycho (Bantam, paper, 130 pp, $2.25); Fingers (Bantam Starfire, paper, 197 pp, $2.95)

I've already called William Sleator's work to your attention in an earlier column; since then I've read two more of his novels, and thought they were worth mentioning.

Sleator, you'll recall, is a "young adult" writer, which means that when young readers are first introduced to science fiction, his books are likely to be among the ones they read. We couldn't be making a better first impression.

There's a darkness to Sleator's books. Almost all deal with poisoned families, and his protagonist almost always feels isolated, even hostile to parents or siblings or both. In the horror fantasy Fingers, the narrator, Sam, loathes his younger brother Humphrey, an obnoxious child prodigy. When Humphrey at age 15 gets too big to be a prodigy anymore, threatening the family income, Sam is forced to compose phony musical pieces which they all pretend were "revealed" to Humphrey by a ghost of a dead second-rate composer named Magyar. But their pretense turns out to be real, as Magyar transforms both Sam and Humphrey into something more than they used to be before.

The Green Futures of Tycho again stars the singularly untalented brother among a family of genius children, but when Tycho finds an ancient alien artifact that allows him to go time traveling, he uses his new power to "set things straight" in his family. The result is a lesson on what absolute power does. It's also a telling exploration of family dynamics.

Neither book is as sophisticated or wise as Sleator's more recent Singularity, but both are rich and his understanding of the fears and resentments of the adolescent souls, however we struggle to control them. Sleator speaks to us all. My nine-year-old son is passionate in his enjoyment of Sleator's books -- and so am I.


Queenmagic, Kingmagic, Ian Watson (St. Martin's, Cloth, 205 pp, $14.95)

Ian Watson is a writer who never does the same thing twice. Furthermore, he doesn't often do the same thing anybody else has done. Queenmagic, Kingmagic can't be compared with anything except perhaps a screwy comparison like "This is how Pirandello might have written Lord of the Rings" or "With Queenmagic, Kingmagic, Franz Kafka meets T.H. White."

The hero, Pedino, who will be familiar to all of you who read Watson's wonderful novella "Queenmagic, Pawnmagic" in this magazine, is a young man who is found to have a "full-soul" when with his magical power he inadvertently murders a friend who had lecherous designs on Pedino's sister. Pedino is taken into the palace, where he becomes a magical White Pawn in the vicious ongoing chess game between black and white magic in this medieval world.

Watson's adaptation of chess to form the basis of a fantasy world is marvelously entertaining, but Watson is never content with a tour-de-force. Pedino becomes obsessed with concern about what will happen if one side actually achieves checkmate and the world ends. What next?

The answer is a mad tour of world based on Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders and other games, and by the time the novel ends, if your head isn't completely in a whirl you weren't paying attention. Queenmagic, Kingmagic is a frustrating book because it's so short -- just when another writer might think he was well begun, Watson is done. But it's hardly a criticism when the worst thing I can say about a novel is that I wish there were more of it. It's fast and funny and painful and desperate, and it raises questions that will make you uncomfortable for days as you wonder if our own world is quite real.


Suzy McKee Charnas, The Silver Glove (Bantam Starfire, Cloth, 162 pp, $15.95); The Bronze King (Bantam Starfire, Paper, 189 pp, $2.95)

The narrator of Charnas's new series of young adult novels is Val, a girl just coming into adulthood in Manhattan. She lives with her divorced mother, and their relationship isn't as close as Val would like -- her mom has troubles of her own. The result is that Val is pretty much on her own, except for her Granny Gran, who lives in a nearby rest home in New Jersey.

In The Bronze King, Val gets involved in an effort to stop a kraken from invading our world and swallowing it up. Charnas has conceived of a lovely kind of magic to keep such enemies at bay. There are key landmarks and structures in the world that make a kind of net, holding things together. A statue here, an old building there, and as long as they remain in place, we're safe, things won't collapse. But vandals and real estate developers, between them, have long been undoing our world until the kraken has been able to find a weak place where it can slip through and tear things apart.

Val teams up with a street magician named Paavo, who has been assigned as the magical guardian of our world, and a teenage boy named Joel, who is struggling with his identity in a musically brilliant family. Val also discovers that Granny Gran is one of the great wizards of our world, and at least some of Granny Gran's power has come down to Val.

To my delight, Charnas avoids both cliche and polemic. Joel and Val don't become good friends and have adventures together forever; and though Joel's attempts at being star of the show keeps him out of the climax altogether, Charnas doesn't turn it into a feminist lesson -- rather it's a lesson about not overreaching yourself in pursuit of glory.

The Silver Glove continues Val's story, only now the focus is closer to home. A renegade wizard is stealing the souls of old and helpless street people, and the only people who can possibly stop him are Granny Gran and her daughter and granddaughter. The wizard maneuvers to use our real-world laws against us -- he gets Granny Gran diagnosed as having Alzheimer's, poses as Val's school counselor to get control of her, and seduces Val's mother both sexually and emotionally.

Charnas handles the sex so delicately that I, as strait-laced a parent as you're likely to find this side of the 700 Club, have no qualms about handing the book to my children; she handles the human relationships so truthfully that I have no apology about recommend this "young adult" novel to serious adult fantasy readers. The stories are exciting, the tension is unrelenting, the people and places are wondrously real. With these books, Charnas joins Charles de Lint (Yarrow, Jack the Giant Killer), Megan Lindholm (The Wizard of the Pigeons), and Tom Deitz (Windmaster's Bane, Fireshaper's Doom) in the movement toward contemporary magical fantasy -- a much more promising literary development, I think, than contemporary horror.


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