Sunday, December 14, 2008

High Wizardry (A Review of What Girls Should Be Reading Instead of Twilight)

Don't let the fact that this is young adult sci-fi/fantasy fool you - Diane Duane's Young Wizards series is beautifully written, vastly imaginative, and, above all, challengingly philosophical even by adult standards. (I usually read well-regarded literature and academic history books by the way, so that is not an uninformed statement.) Although High Wizardry is the third installment, reading the first two is not necessary to enjoy it, although that will make beginning appear somewhat confusing. Originally meant to conclude a trilogy (Duane has since written more), High Wizardry has a real epic feel to it as its young protagonist, eleven-year-old Star Wars fan Dairine Callahan, steps out of a museum restroom onto Mars, and ends up racing across galaxies with an ancient evil in hot pursuit, accompanied only by her magic computer and new powers she barely knows how to use.

The setting is easily one of the most varied and original I ever have come across in speculative fiction. The story begins in the suburbs of New York City and ends on a desolate planet in a galaxy forty trillion light-years away. Definitely the most memorable location is a vividly detailed interstellar "airport," where all manner of non-humanoids arrive and depart via a wormhole-like transport system. The action then swiftly picks up again, as the real chase begins and Dairine's jumps from one fantastic realm to another rather resemble a surreal vacation slideshow. Her ultimate arrival on a planet composed of layers of silicone launches what is essentially a discourse on life, death, evolution, and entropy. This is cleverly disguised, however, as a wondrous and dangerous encounter with a group of newborn AI's who merely wish to help the universe by forcing it to stop expanding. Of course, the real evil is precisely this expansion and "slowing down" of the cosmos, first set into motion at the very beginning of time by the fallen angel known as the Lone One, whose name is legion throughout creation. Every sentient race, including humanity, has long lamented its decision to accept his "gift" of death, but now, for the first time, a species might say no. A great argument eons in the making is about to begin, and Dairine is right in the middle. (Another unforgettable moment: someone's annoying pet turns out to be a tall, beautiful goddess in jeans, holding a blazing sword.)

A seamless blend of fantasy and science fiction, High Wizardry feels like a cross between Paradise Lost and Dan Simmons's Hyperion. Its main characters are primarily children, aliens, angels, and demigods, giving the novel an aura of innocence, hope, and wonder that contrasts poignantly with its grand evocations of war in Heaven and the cold immensity of the universe. It's optimistic without being sentimental: at the end of the day, there is good in everyone and even the worst sinner can go home again. Now why is it that Twilight - an unoriginal, poorly-written series that equates love with death - is adored by the masses while talented authors like Diane Duane remain largely unknown? Instead of giving your thirteen-year-old daughter Stephenie Meyer's drivel for Christmas, I strongly recommend you introduce her Dairine, Nita, and Kit instead. (Note: I disagree with the 9-12 age range gives for these books. I would say 11-14. They're just too dense for younger readers.)

Actually, you may recall that I mentioned High Wizardry in my Twilight post.


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