Pros: Diverse work of fantasy that holds it all together.
Cons: the political explanations can make the beginning drag a little.
Would still be a perfect hero! This wonderful tale first printed in 1969 has everything you could look for in an adventure. Magic, technology, politics, intrigue, humor, deception, love and war set in a deceptively medieval society that exists at a crucial crossroad in history.
Rodney d'Armand is the younger son from a (somewhat) noble family in the distant future. He travels with Fess, a Faithful Cybernetic Companion who is a loyal family heirloom with a few hundred years under his belt and the robotic equivalent of epilepsy. Much to Fess' embarrassment he shuts down whenever his circuitry is overloaded by trying to handle too many variables at once, or when presented with highly illogical data. I can really sympathize with his predicament!
Together, they make a uniquely efficient team for S.C.E.N.T. (the Society for the Conversion of Extraterrestrial Nascent Totalitarianisms) which is a little known branch of the current galactic government, the DDT.The Decentralized Democratic Tribunal threw out the Proletarian Eclectic State of Terra (P.E.S.T.) some time ago. So, since S.C.E.N.T. was no longer needed in this capacity, what is their new purpose?To seek out the Lost Colonies, infiltrate their societies, and ensure that they are headed towards a democratic government. Sounds fairly easy, right? Easier than getting all these political abbreviations straight, anyway! Rod certainly thought so...until he lands on the planet the locals call Gramayre. Hiding his ship and taking the name of Rodney Gallowglass our unassuming hero sets out with Fess, convincingly disguised as a large black stallion, to find out the state of things in this strange Lost Colony...
In the dark years before the DDT, a group of tycoons decided they would be far happier, not to mention healthier, far from the grasp of the current government. So, they pooled their money, bought all the necessities, selected citizens by the "poeticness of their souls", called themselves the Romantic Emigres and set off into the stars. Gramayre (usually pronounced grim-whar) is an archaic word which means a book of magical works. I wonder if the original colonists had any idea how apt a name this would prove to be for their world?
Here, Rod finds their descendants still living in a roughly medieval society with architecture and styles ranging from the Dark ages to the Renaissance. This is the least surprising aspect in store for our humble hero! Apparently, the requirements that determined acceptability for the original settlers had unforeseen possibilities. A high concentration of latent PSI genes combined with long years of isolation and reproduction have produced a number of people who have ESP abilities!
These "witches and warlocks", or espers as Rod calls them, make up a fairly large section of the populace especially when you consider that only two known espers of any real strength have been documented in all the worlds that currently make up the DDT! Now, some of the talents of the witch folk seem to be gender linked. For example, a witch can move objects and thus fly upon broomsticks. A warlock can move himself by telekinesis or teleportation, but not other objects. However, the varied uses that can be gotten out of these two skills alone is amazing. As one might imagine, they are not the most popular of people and the usual attitude is pretty much what you would expect from those without such talents. Just think back to the old colonial witch-hunt atmosphere in our own history for a moment, and you will get the general idea.
Rod quickly learns just how much turmoil is brewing here, and he is hard pressed to deal with it all! Young Queen Catharine is attempting to make many reforms towards a more enlightened society and has already lessened the prejudice that the witch folk have endured. However, she is hot-tempered, arrogant, unwise and moving far too quickly and boldly for the comfort of her fellow nobles. The winds of rebellion are blowing hard through her court, fanned by the whispered words of each lords' strange Coucilor."Next to each of the great lords sat a slight, wiry, wizened little man, an old man; each had an almost emaciated face, with burning blue eyes, and a few wisps of hair brushed flat over a leathery skull." "Strange that they all look so much alike," Rod muses upon first view of them.
Tuan, the youngest son of the House of Loguire, was Catharine's childhood sweetheart, but after her sudden rise to the throne she doubted everyone's intentions, including his. In a maelstrom of uncertainty and anger she rejected Tuan's proposal, declared he treasonously sought only the crown, and banished him! Yet, the House of Loguire lead by Tuan's father, remains loyal to her when all others seem arrayed against her. Brom O'Berin, a dwarf with great wisdom and strengths, is now her only trusted advisor. Her right-hand man is a curious mix of hidden powers, unquestionable loyalty, secrets and honor. Rod wonders what motivates him.
Banished, the Queen's true love did not go far. He bides near the palace in the House of Clovis, a hidden organization which is stirring up the peasantry. Lead by The Mocker, Tuan rouses the common folk with speeches in the street encouraging them to demand their rights from those above them. The ideas behind his speeches recall too well those of Karl Marx or Huey Long and Rod begins to suspect off-planet influence at work here. What is the true motivation behind the House of Clovis? Does Tuan truly support Catharine or are his powers of persuasion being used for a darker purpose? Between noble and common discontent, how can Rod discover who is really behind the many attempts on the Queen's life? His tendency to discover and foil such murderous designs in the nick of time, using methods beyond local understanding is already earning him a reputation as a mighty wizard, much to his chagrin!
Perhaps the greatest surprise of all is the existence of another royal court here on Gramayre. The Fairy Court! The gallant Gallowglass is much surprised to be put to a test by none other than "that merry wanderer of the night", Robin Goodfellow. Rod discovers that they are more brands of "magic" working here than he first surmised! How can these and other magical creatures out of tales and legends be living here? Why do they support Catharine? Indeed, why do they meddle in mortal affairs at all? Will Rod's growing reputation as a powerful warlock become more than a personal annoyance and actually help him? What about Big Tom, a local who attaches himself to Rod early on and seems to know more than he is telling? What else could complicate matters in this political hotbed?
It is not long before Rod that there are two outside political forces at work on Gramayre. Anarchist and Totalitarian agents are each doing their best to sway things into their own arenas, but where are they coming from? Rod can easily understand why control of this colony is so important to both factions. The continued success of a Democracy depends upon communication. In a relatively short time, the DDT's populace will exceed the capabilities of modern communication, and then begin to break down into either an Anarchy or a Despotic rule. However, the common esper talent of telepathy is instant and not limited by distance. If Gramayre were to eventually join with the DDT, Democracy need never again fear collapse! To Rod's wonder and Fess' electronic dismay, evidence is quickly mounting that these agents may have come from further than beyond the reaches of space to prevent this from happening!
This marvelous tale by Christopher Stasheff is a unique romp and pleasure from cover to cover. It has great diversity yet never feels rushed or unfocused.I always marvel at how much the author managed to include in this single work. Not all in this series are as involved as this one and some simply could not compare for sheer enjoyment. This is the second novel, Escape Velocity being the first as a prequel to Rodney's stories that was written after Warlock In Spite of Himself. I continue to come back to this Stasheff piece with a fond and eager heart. I love beginnings, and this is the novel that opened up a whole new world of fantasy for me to explore. All you need is an imagination and a little time, and you too can become Gramayre's latest citizen!
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About the reviewer
Quinn Blackburn (Entwife)
Hello, my name is Quinn... yes, that really is my first name. :o) I also answer to Mom, and occasionally Entwife. I enjoy Beauty wherever I find it... Nature, Music, Art in all its forms... I believe … more
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Rod Gallowglass is a man of science who does not believe in magic. ** Gramarye is a world of witches and warlocks. Of strange abilities and phenomena. A world where society mirrors Earth's own Middle Ages, and a world headed for doom. ** Rod Gallowglass must become a part of the local fabric to save the world from both itself and external forces that threaten its existence. But to do so, he must put aside his own convictions and beliefs, and become a warlock, in spite of himself. ** A grand adventure mixing science fi ction with elements of fantasy, this is the book that launched a whole series (fourteen books and counting).