Saturday, December 06, 2008

WebMage by Kelly McCullough
Is Unique SciFi-Fantasy Romp

Kelly McCullough’s first novel, WebMage, cooks up a compelling dish of science fiction and fantasy, with a dash of romance. The recipe might look something like this:

Break off parts of William Gibson’s Neuromancer series, especially episodes about jacking into cyberspace and solving code mysteries. Crumble coarsely. Set aside.

Create a thick stew of spells, goblins, dragons, faeries, trolls, castles and warriors. I like the Harry Potter series for this purpose. Beat in some Greek mythos from Edith Hamilton and Bullfinch. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Season with wisecracks from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Bake for several hours.

The story posits web links where the world of the Greek Immortals overlaps that of geek mortals. For those of us who grew up when making a copy meant pounding out a document in carbon triplicate on an upright typewriter, praying that we’d make no typographical keystroke mistakes that could not be fixed with WhiteOut, the world that computers bring to our fingertips makes coding pretty darn close to magical spell casting anyway. So it’s a short leap to blend cyberspace with the Olympian space occupied by the gods and goddesses of ancient mythology. This is especially true if one had to take two semesters in ancient culture, as did I.

The plot concerns a fight for free will for humans and their webgoblin companions, as Eris, goddess of discord, battles the Fates, guardians of order, one of whom happens to be our hero’s great-great into ancient time grandmother. Our hero, Ravirn, experiences a value and identity transformation in the endlessly changing cosmos of chaos-verses-order. This may sound like a task for a brooding, romantic hero. Ravirn is more like a film noir detective, a man (figuratively speaking, for he is not human) of action, ready for anything, a quip on his lips while facing down death.

His is not the film noir world in which right and wrong are hard to distinguish admidst moody shades of gray. Rather, our web sorcerer’s reality is the brightly colored light dance of our times, in which colors and images flicker before his eyes in a dizzying and sometimes confusing array of cross-cutting. Truth, right and wrong, are still hard to discern as impregnable values.

WebMage popped off the library shelves as I was looking for a entirely different book by another author -- a happy happenstance. As it turned out, the other book was not to my taste, and I am returning it mostly unread. Not all fantasy worlds are created equal, and Cheyennne McCray’s witchy series includes S&M and too much predictable sex for my taste. If you have a taste for cyberpunk fiction or sword-and-myth fantasy, WebMage may be for you.

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