Saturday, September 3, 2016

Spell or High Water (Scott Meyer)

Spell or High Water
(The Magic 2.0 series, Book 2)
Scott Meyer
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Just a few months ago, Martin was an ordinary man living an ordinary life as an ordinary data entry wage slave. Now, he's essentially a wizard in medieval England. After discovering a hidden computer file that controls reality, he wound up traveling back in time, meeting a group of other hackers who made the same discovery and, like him, bungled things bad enough to have to flee in time to avoid federal investigation. It's a decent life, save the odd attempted coup/murder by other "wizards". Martin has friends, a certain amount of prestige and respect, and what amounts to immortality and magical powers straight out of a video game. Not bad for a no-name data entry guy from the 21st century.
Martin and his friend Phillip, as representatives of the Medieval England wizard enclave, are summoned by their old friend Gwen to the colony of Atlantis, where most female programmers-turned-wizards go after getting tired of the sexism of history and the constant awkward passes of their male colleagues. Here, the sorceress leader (Brit the Elder, creator of the magic-built city of Atlantis and chronologically-older version of Brit the Younger, who resents living in the shadow of her own future self) convenes a summit to standardize ethics of wizardry and prevention of power abuse. Martin carries faint hopes of rekindling (or, rather, actually sparking) a relationship with Gwen, with whom he totally blew things during their brief previous acquaintance, but soon bigger problems emerge. Someone seems to be using the summit as a means to assassinate Brit the Younger - and, if Phillip is right, the presence of Brit the Elder is by no means an assurance that Brit the Younger will survive.
Meanwhile, in the 21st century, Jimmy has spent thirty years plotting a return to Medieval England to confront the former allies who turned on him... and all because he simply tried to kill them for not following his psychotic scheme to remake medieval England in his own image. They thought they'd rendered him helpless when they stripped him of access to his powers - and any technology more advanced than an incandescent bulb - and returned him to his own time, but they didn't reckon on his most powerful gift: endless, unrelenting patience.

REVIEW: Like the first book in the series, Spell or High Water is a fun romp, playing with genre tropes and nerd culture without alienating those of us who don't make a living typing code. Martin's a fun yet fallible hero, nice enough to root for even as one snickers when his enthusiasm outstrips his brain. Phillip finds a new romance interest and an unlikely ally in his personal crusade to prove free will even in the face of a computer program that seems to predetermine reality: Brit the Younger, who stares (seemingly-irrefutable) proof of predetermination in the face every time she sees Brit the Elder. New allies and rivals come into play from across the wizard community, relationships sometimes complicated by the time travel inherent in their occupation. (A pair of 19th-century-dwelling magicians get off on the wrong foot with Martin and Phillip after citing an encounter in their own time - several centuries in the future from both Atlantean time and medieval England.) Meanwhile, Jimmy from Book 1 forms a partnership of necessity with Treasury agents Miller and Murphy, who watched Martin disappear - literally - while being interrogated over mysterious deposits in his bank account. It all makes for a fun and reasonably interesting, if occasionally scattered, plot, full of temporal paradoxes and programmer/wizard weirdness and the consequences of turning sexism on its ear (the ladies of Atlantis have created a society in which men do all the traditional "women's work" and serve as eye candy while doing so). Roy, the newcomer whom Martin is training at the start of the book (and who found the reality data-file much earlier, temporally, than other wizards even knew it could exist), feels like an afterthought after a fair bit of page count is devoted to him, and the Jimmy subplot's resolution seems a bit awkward unless it's setting up something for Book 3. Overall, though, it retains the whimsy of the first book, and I fully plan on reading the third as soon as possible.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Galaxy Quest (Terry Bisson) - My Review
Off to Be the Wizard (Scott Meyer) - My Review
Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (Grant Naylor) - My Review

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