Off to be the Wizard (Audiobook) by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels

Off to be the Wizard Off to be the Wizard

by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Magic 2.0, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs, 15 min.
Brilliance Audio, 2014
Read: August 8 – 16, 2016


I’m just going to steal most of what I said about the book before and add a little bit at the end about the audiobook — and Daniels in particular.

The first thing Martin always did when he found some new data file was to search for his own name. It may seem egocentric, but Martin wasn’t worried about that. He had spent a lot of time thinking about himself, and had come to the conclusion that he was definitely not self-absorbed.

There’s a great temptation — and frequently a rush — when discussing an amusing/funny book in SF or Fantasy to compare it with, well — the name rhymes with Schmouglas Schmadams — this can be damning, because almost nothing can live up to it. So I’m going to resist even saying the name. If anything, I think you could say this was reminiscent of Schmon Schmalzi — only funnier.

Martin Banks is the rather unimpressive hero here — a college dropout, living in a poorly-furnished apartment, working in “a cubicle farm, . . . a fluorescent-lighted, beige-walled abattoir for the human spirit where he had to spend most of his time,” and doing some minor hacking on the weekends, just to amuse himself. He stumbles upon a way to manipulate reality, to change things just a little bit here and there around him. Being human, it takes very little time before he begins using that ability in a way to draw the attention of the Federal Authorities. Which is not all that comfortable, so he heads off to England in the Middle Ages where he figures he can do okay for himself, living as a wizard using these abilities.

That’s when things start to get really entertaining (and I had no complaints up to this point). Anything more I say on this front is a horrible spoiler, so we’ll just leave it with really entertaining.

This is a coming of age tale — and, as it’s about a Millennial, it’s a delayed-coming-of-age story. But Martin’s not one of those protagonists that you have to see mature before you like him — you connect with him right away (or you’re probably wasting your time reading on). He definitely doesn’t mature in your typical way, which is part of the fun. I can’t help comparing Martin to Wesley Chu’s Roen Tan. But without the stakes that Roen had to deal with (and a nicer mentor).

Most of the characters we get to know are met after Martin’s time jump — so don’t worry if you find everyone in 2012 a little shallow and undeveloped. They are, but other people won’t be.

There are several things in the book that won’t hold up to much scrutiny — like his ability to get a smartphone signal in Dover, England in 1150. Adapt the advice Joel and the ‘bots used to give us, “just repeat to yourself . . . you should really just relax.” It’s worth it.

The book is just littered with wit — from the extended jokes, the funny visuals, or little asides like: “The fact that wristwatches weren’t invented yet made it difficult to look impatient, but he managed.” On nearly every page, there’s something to make you chuckle or laugh — or at least grin. I laughed enough that it was annoying to my family — not that I cared, mind you. But it’s not just a yuk-fest, there’s a well-written story here, in a great world with some characters you want to spend time with.

Daniels scores again here — his performance didn’t really remind me of his work on the Iron Druid Chronciles, which, I have to admit I was a little worried about. I got a kick out of his voice choices for Martin and Jimmy in particular — Martin’s voice when he got excited was perfect. I’m not sure I liked his choice of voice for Philip — it reminded me too much of Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd (I’m probably the only person on Earth who hears that, so take it with a grain of salt), and I never got used to it. But I loved everything else he did, so who cares, right? If anything, Daniels’ narration helped the material (not that it needed it).

Meyer’s writing holds up to a second-read, even jokes/situations I knew were coming worked pretty well — more than well, actually, judging by my laughter. I enjoyed it as much the second time through as the first, so that’s a pretty good sign.

—–

4 Stars

Advertisements

An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

An Unwelcome QuestAn Unwelcome Quest

by Scott Meyer
Series: Magic 2.0, #3
Kindle Edition, 434 pg.
47North, 2015
Read: December 3 – 4, 2015

On this dry, stony outcropping, there was a castle so Gothic it might as well have been wearing black eyeliner.

Beneath the shadow of that Phillip and three of his friends/fellow wizards have learned that they’re part of a real life video game, with real life stakes.

How’d they get there? Well, one of the first things that every wizard is told when they come back to Medieval England is that if they become a threat to the wizards way of life, they’ll be stripped of their powers and returned to their own time. In Spell or High Water, we saw one wizard find a work-around for that. Turns out, he inspired another one, Todd, to do the same. Todd’s careful, and he bides his time before revealing to anyone he’s come back so that he can cook up an elaborate revenge scheme against those that he primarily blames for his exile. They have to survive a lethal video game for a chance to battle Todd face to face.

Since Todd was sent away before Martin and Roy arrived, Todd ignored them, leaving Marvin free to go grab Brit (the Younger) and Gwen to help. Their experience in the game is a little different than the others’ — for one, Todd doesn’t realize they’re there, so what happens to them is just part of the program, there’s no interaction between Todd and them, so there’s no obstacles or challenges designed with them in mind.

Once the setup was explained, I figured there’d be a lot of satire of video games, or this would end up being a parody of some. Not at all — sure, this isn’t a particularly well-designed game, so there’s some critiquing of the game, but that’s about it. Meyer finds his humor elsewhere (phew!). Mostly, the game is pretty easy — sure, there’s some disgusting bits, some dangerous parts, but on the whole, the “players” spend a whole lot of time without much peril. Parts of the experience were almost nice:

The men also agreed that the woods were quite nice and that hiking through them might be rather pleasant if they had a choice, but they did not. Unfortunately, human nature dictated that anything, no matter how pleasant it is, can become hateful if you feel you must do it. Just ask anyone who’s ever entered a pie-eating contest.

As is the norm by now, this book is filled with Meyer’s particular brand of humor — some word play, some situational humor, some sarcasm, some character-driven humor. There’s some friendship, some romance, a little villainy, and some stupid pranks. All told in a charming, engaging way.

I do think it’s time for this series to end, but I’m going to miss these characters and their banter, this world. This book made me laugh out loud, which I don’t do often enough while reading. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve chuckled at a waterboarding joke (don’t worry, it’s not offensive in context — really) — any book that can pull off that feat is worth a read.

Seeing that on the screen, that last sentence seems to be damning with faint and objectionable praise — really, it sounded good in my head.

—–

3.5 Stars

Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

 Spell or High WaterSpell or High Water

by Scott Meyer
Series: Magic 2.0, #2

Kindle, 443 pg.
47North, 2014
Read: August 1 – 7, 2015

“It was an act of stubbornness, not intelligence.” Vic nodded . “Sadly, I find that stubbornness often beats intelligence eventually. Stubbornness will beat anything eventually. That’s the whole point of stubbornness.” Martin didn’t like that idea. He agreed with it, but he did not like it.

This was not as impressive or surprising (or even funny, despite bits like the above) as Off to Be the Wizard. But it was probably a better novel. It’s not as fun, but it’s a better quality read.

It’s been a couple of months since Philip assumed the leadership of the wizards in Medieval England, and he’s getting bored. When the invitation to a summit of all the magic users in the world comes, he and Martin agree to represent their group. The women of Atlantis are the organizers, and they bring 2 of every group — all over the world and from all sorts of times. Turns out a lot of people have figured out how to tap into the computer program, and they’ve come up with unique ways of interacting with it. The summit is to come up with some rules to govern the use of magic (or whatever the groups call it) and how to stop/punish people like Jimmy (more on him in a bit) who abuse it. Before they can get into the meat of the summit, these two have to deal with a murder mystery, political intrigue, romance, romantic problems, and questions of free will/determinism (because who doesn’t think that sounds fun?).

Naturally, there’s a heckuva surprise waiting for them when they get back. But that’s not for me to get into.

Atlantis is run by sorceresses, and is really the only place on Earth (throughout history) that they’ve felt safe and comfortable — which is a pretty big indictment of the rest of the world, really. This is not to say it’s the land of the Amazons or anything — there are plenty of men around. Someone has to do the non-magical work around the city, right? The male culture that has arisen is the source of plenty of cheap jokes as well as a little cultural criticism for Meyer. Atlantis as a whole — the city and how it’s made, the political structures, the male/female roles, the culture — this is the best thing that this book has to offer. Meyer really had to put the thinking cap on to come up with this — and to keep it entertaining.

I realize the previous book ended with a strong indication that the vanquished foe wasn’t down for the count. But I’d hoped that we wouldn’t see too much of him anytime soon. So much for that. Jimmy, the Wizard formerly known as Merlin, was around for a major role in this book. A larger role, really, than he played last time. Now, I didn’t really like Jimmy as a character — I know we’re not supposed to “like” him because he’s the bad guy, but that’s not what I mean. As a character, he was okay enough for one book (especially a book focused on introducing us to the other characters and world), but I didn’t want/need more of him. I’m still not crazy about him, even after the events of this book that make him a better rounded character.

There’s probably fewer jokes per inch here than in its predecessor. But those that are there were solid, the voice of the narration is light and humorous enough that you don’t miss jokes. I’m not saying there aren’t jokes — there are entire scenes that are little more than extended jokes (most of them worth it). Like its predecessor, there are bits of this book that are just great, are worth going through the whole book for, even if the book isn’t your thing. For example, the conversation that Martin has with Gilbert and Sid, who are magic users who make a living doing stage magic. That conversation hits a sweet spot for me that little else can. You may not react that way to that conversation, but there’ll be similar moments for you (that don’t work that way for me). Actually, almost every conversation between Gilbert, Sid and Martin are pretty good, particularly where the former two explain to Martin why they don’t get along.

It’s the same world as Off to Be — same kooky guys, unique magic system and plenty of chuckles; but with a richer, better developed plot, and a more expanded world. Fans of the first will definitely want to check this one out.

And, hey, learning who it was on the grassy knoll? You can’t pass that up.

—–

3 Stars

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

Off to Be the WizardOff to Be the Wizard

by Scott Meyer
Series: Magic 2.0, #1

Kindle, 374 pg.

47North, 2014

Read: May 23 – 26, 2015

4 Stars

The first thing Martin always did when he found some new data file was to search for his own name. It may seem egocentric, but Martin wasn’t worried about that. He had spent a lot of time thinking about himself, and had come to the conclusion that he was definitely not self-absorbed.

There’s a great temptation — and frequently a rush — when discussing an amusing/funny book in SF or Fantasy to compare it with, well — the name rhymes with Schmouglas Schmadams — this can be damning, because almost nothing can live up to it. So I’m going to resist even saying the name. If anything, I think you could say this was reminiscent of Schmon Schmalzi — only funnier.

Martin Banks is the rather unimpressive hero here — a college dropout, living in a poorly-furnished apartment, working in “a cubicle farm, . . . a fluorescent-lighted, beige-walled abattoir for the human spirit where he had to spend most of his time,” and doing some minor hacking on the weekends, just to amuse himself. He stumbles upon a way to manipulate reality, to change things just a little bit here and there around him. Being human, it takes very little time before he begins using that ability in a way to draw the attention of the Federal Authorities. Which is not all that comfortable, so he heads off to England in the Middle Ages where he figures he can do okay for himself, living as a wizard using these abilities.

That’s when things start to get really entertaining (and I had no complaints up to this point). Anything more I say on this front is a horrible spoiler, so we’ll just leave it with really entertaining.

This is a coming of age tale — and, as it’s about a Millennial, it’s a delayed-coming-of-age story. But Martin’s not one of those protagonists that you have to see mature before you like him — you connect with him right away (or you’re probably wasting your time reading on). He definitely doesn’t mature in your typical way, which is part of the fun. I can’t help comparing Martin to Wesley Chu’s Roen Tan. But without the stakes that Roen had to deal with (and a nicer mentor).

Most of the characters we get to know are met after Martin’s time jump — so don’t worry if you find everyone in 2012 a little shallow and undeveloped. They are, but other people won’t be.

There are several things in the book that won’t hold up to much scrutiny — like his ability to get a smartphone signal in Dover, England in 1150. Adapt the advice Joel and the ‘bots used to give us, “just repeat to yourself . . . you should really just relax.” It’s worth it.

The book is just littered with wit — from the extended jokes, the funny visuals, or little asides like: “The fact that wristwatches weren’t invented yet made it difficult to look impatient, but he managed.” On nearly every page, there’s something to make you chuckle or laugh — or at least grin. I laughed enough that it was annoying to my family — not that I cared, mind you. But it’s not just a yuk-fest, there’s a well-written story here, in a great world with some characters you want to spend time with.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy and have promised myself that I won’t have to wait too long for it. A great mix of SF, Fantasy, Magic, Computers, the Middle Ages and laughs. What are you waiting for?

—–

4 Stars