I’ve loved Greek, Roman and Norse mythology since I was a child — or at least, for as long as I can recall. I have vague recollections, in fact, of doing research on a word I had heard in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon: “Ragnarok”. In finding out its etymology, I discovered the whole of Norse mythology. And in studying Norse mythology, I found out a good deal about Greek and Roman mythology as well, which came in handy when playing the Final Fantasy games in order to know a bit more about the big bad monsters you had to fight — the vast majority of them were derived from Greek and Roman mythos. And on top of that, when others were playing Dungeons and Dragons, I was entranced with the world of Shadowrun, where trolls and elves and dwarves and dragons existed in a cyberpunk future world where you bodily hacked into computer Matrixes. I never had enough friends that were actually into RPGs to make use of the sourcebooks I’d picked up, but boy did I love reading them and thinking up campaigns.
Fast forward twenty or so years, and I’m in charge of the technology in my own little corner of my company, and I’ve named all the work servers I have access to, after mythological creatures: Chimera, Minotaur, Cerberus, Pandora, etc. I wanted to name one Jormungandr but people have a hard enough time with the server names I already have, so I figured I shouldn’t push it too far.
So, you know that I love mythology, and you already knew that I love technology. You could probably imagine, then, how impressed I was with Kelly McCullough’s WebMage, which I picked up after Stephanie Zvan pimped it over at Almost Diamonds, being friends with the author and all. It’s a brilliant little book set in modern-day about a computer hacker great-etc.-grandson of one of the Fates who can rewrite reality and perform magic through coding.
A few minor spoilers below the fold. Mostly just a plot synopsis though.
One day one of the Fates decides that free will is far too much of a pain in the ass to have to deal with, so Atropos codes up a spell called Puppeteer to eliminate it, subjugating all the sentient beings in all the realities (or Decision Locuses) in the universe to the will of the Fates so as to increase order and tip the scales of the eternal struggle between the house of the Fates and the house of Discord, their sworn enemy. Ravirn, the protagonist,
an elfin decker hacker and sorcerer extraordinaire, and his companion and familiar Melchior, evidently a sort of biological Transformer who can morph from laptop to webgoblin form at will, are approached to debug Puppeteer. They realize how much life would suck without any kind of free will, and rebel against the Fates, incurring the wrath of the Furies and Ravirn’s several cousins in the process. As is the case in all such books, he makes a select few allies in his uber-hacker lover (who is sadly distant for much of the book, as Ravirn dodges one danger after another), and the newly discovered familiar “underground” — which becomes a major revelation to Ravirn, that familiars like Melchior are actually sentient and have free will of their own, despite being created by their “masters”, and having upgradeable RAM and processors and hard drives and such.
Pretty much from page one to page the last, Ravirn is thrust bodily into one dangerous situation after another, escaping from each by the skin of his teeth. By the end of the book he’s practically a cripple, all his injuries piling up to the point where he has to make use of hydraulic prosthetics just to get around, and probably about as breathless as you are through the book’s entirety. The spells used by the hacker-wizards, like Scorched Earth, Patch and Go, and Jurassic Gas, are quite clever, and most of them are interesting if not in what they do, then at least what they’re named. Its pacing is extremely fast, producing that all-too-familiar sensation of needing to read just one more chapter before bed… so unless you have a lot of self-control, don’t read it when you have to get up early the next morning. You may find yourself pushing your bedtime off a little more than you should.
The book is replete with re-imaginings of otherwise common techie phrases like “coding in hex”, though I’m afraid this might somewhat limit the target audience to already tech-savvy folks. People who just like a magical romp will probably enjoy it anyway, and may even just accept the technobabble and take it in stride inasmuch as they might with your generic fantasy book with completely made-up phrases for the same concepts, so without loaning it to someone that’s less of a gearhead, I’m not sure how much it might put off the “common folk”. It’s written in an easy to read, conversational style that would probably make it suitable for a geeky young adult, given that it bridges the gaps between fantasy, sci-fi and classical mythology. And there are even a few not-so-subtle digs at our propensity to vote for people that work against our interests, buried fairly deep into the book, in a conversation between Ravirn and Eris, patron of the House of Discord (being Discord herself, naturally). Plenty of grist for the adult’s mill, so don’t be put off by my classifying it as a young adult book.
All in all, it’s a great read, and cheap at twice the price — it’s on at Amazon right now for $6.99.
(Full disclosure: buy using my partner code, and I might get an Amazon gift certificate! That means more book reviews for you! Yay! And more books for me! Also yay!)