18 October 2016

Books: The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold and Larry Niven (1971)

The Flying Sorcerers introduces Shoogar, the greatest wizard ever known in his village. His spells can strike terror in the hearts of even his most powerful enemies. But the enemy he faces now is like none he has ever seen before. The stranger has come from nowhere and is ignorant of even the most basic principles of magic. But the stranger has an incredibly powerful magic of his own. There is no room in Shoogar’s world for an intruder whose powers match his own, let alone one whose powers might exceed his. So before the blue sun can cross the face of the red sun once more, Shoogar will show this stranger just who is boss.”

About halfway through this book, I decided to do some research on it because, I admit, I was confused. I’m never been a hard science fiction reader, but I’ve been known to dabble in it from time to time. And while I realized the book was satirical in nature, it took me a bit to catch on to the joke that the writers were blending hard science fiction with doses of broad humor. The gist of book is primarily a tale about the efforts of a stranded astronaut to escape from a primitive world, but what I learned (and sort of understood as it progressed), was that David Gerrold and Larry Niven were aping Arthur C. Clarke’s three prediction-related adages of science fiction: 

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

And law three is what the two authors use in this book. I was also slow on the pickup, but soon realized that most of the names in the book are in-jokes –they seem based on real science fiction writers. They also sort of touch on the whole notion of how humans can introduce negative things into other cultures that have no notion of them. Purple -Dr. Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey? - is sort of the reason Star Trek has a Prime Directive, as he introduces things like crime, money, alcohol, the battle between the sexes, along with altering their entire ecology.

While I did find the book humorous, the authors also spent an inordinate amount of time describing the building of the ship that Purple needed to reach the location to send a signal to his mothership. It’s this sort of detail, while important to the story, is why I do not read a lot of hard science fiction. I find the whole mathematical details boring. The book’s comedy sort of wanes as it progresses, which is another thing I found distracting (and the whole atomic explosion that destroyed villages and killed and injured many villagers is just weirdly out of place), but I’m glad I read it.

Plus, I sort of liked the cover. I acquired it a year ago when I was in Portland during the filming of Something Like Summer and I just found this British edition worthy of a purchase at Powell’s. So sue me for buying a book because of its cover.

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